On Government Secrecy and Citizenship ~ Charlie Pierce asks the Right Question

by on June 14, 2013


A. Solzhenitsyn ~ like you, he thought his mail was safely boring. (c/o Wikileaks Commons)

UPDATE (6/15):

BloombergBusinessWeek has a fascinating little chart about how 9/11 has been very, very, very good to Booz, Allen & Hamilton.  And just so we all know what a grift this whole thing is, there is a helpful note that 70% (!) of the US intelligence budget goes to connected contractors like B, A & H.  Nearly half a million contract workers have “top-secret” clearances–the information overclass enumerated right here–and the value of their contracts just keeps going up and up, never mind budget cutting and sequestration for silly things like infant food aid. No wonder Gen. Clapper got a stomach ache when he heard of Snowden’s revelations–the thought of the gravy train derailing for his former (and likely future) firm must have been most upsetting.  And, by the way, these private contractors are already engaged in dirty tricks and ratf*cking illegalities to deal with critics.  In fact, a creepy little cabal of Palantir, Bank of America, HB Gary all sought to target professionals with an interest in aiding leakers like Wikileaks–very much a Hooverian enterprise.  Lee Fang of the Nation reminds us of the attitude of these companies’ executives towards rule of law, and it should send every apologist running to the hills,

One Palantir official wrote: “We are the  best money can buy! Dam it feels good to be a gangsta.”

Yeah, I’m sure the 4th Amendment is safe in their hands.


There is a very great deal that can be said about the NSA scandal now, finally, embroiling Washington. Unfortunately, much of what is being said is pure bull-and-highgrade-shit spun by some of the country’s most important “opinion leaders” whose ravings make them seem to be hackish PR assets of the intelligence complex.  (And guess what?  That actually is not a silly thing to think.  Many of the former generals who gave expert unbiased opinion on how great and righteous our military affairs were during the TWO wars we FUBAR’d were assets of the Pentagon, while great and glorious spook master John Brennan was, himself, the guy who inadvertently outed our ally’s, most likely Britain’s or Saudi Arabia’s, double agent in Yemen–which was then dutifully repeated by “independent analyst” Richard Clark on ABC News).  Of course, we have to put up with the amateur psycho-analyzing of a bunch of frightened, middle-aged “columnists” (whatever the hell those are–in Richard Cohen’s case it’s something t do with making up clever little Jr. High putdowns like “fools and Frenchmen”–big hint, Dick, the French were right).  Additionally, we get the  totalitarian ravings of various politicians, including those of the House Homeland Security committee’s chairman, an honest-to-God supporter of guys blowing up civilians when, you know, those guys drink Guinness.  The bulk of our public discussion on the fact that the NSA (and others) are trolling through your private affairs like a meth-crazed identity thief is speculation on Edward Snowden’s nefarious motives or whether Glenn Greenwald is a bad, bad man for making Democratic partisans have a sad or whether you think that you are too boring to be spied on.  Might be nice to instead consider the ramifications of having such a massive surveillance state.

This last meme, about being boring, really makes me chuckle in an evil way.  As if being “normal” or “insignificant” is some sort of magic armor.  Let me say this very slowly as an historian of Stalinism–they shot a whole lot of people in the 1930s in the USSR who were waaaaaay more boring than you.  As in, “rise at sunrise and plow fields (without a horse, since all horses had died) until moonset and rejoice at your bowl of kasha” boring.  Most of the people shot by Stalin in 1936-39 were not elites but simple peasants rounded up in so-called “Mass Operations.”  And unlike the rituals of denunciation in urban purge meetings or the spectacles of humiliation that were the show trials, most of the victims caught up in the mass operations were just names on a list (I’ve seen such lists).  The said lists being constructed primarily on secret denunciations, often by a person with a grudge, or fitting into certain social categories (hey, “signature arrests”!).  Many of Stalin’s victims were too illiterate, even if they spoke Russian–the language of repression, to understand what was happening to them.  Evgeniia Ginzburg’s searing Into the Whirlwind has a telling anecdote.  While a cattle car full of women prisoners were being subjected to a hellish, trans-continental “transport” to Kolyma, they swapped tales of their trials and convictions.  One prisoner’s presence mystified the group, an aged and illiterate babushka who insisted she had never even sat on a tractor.  The story came out that she was convicted as a dangerous, counter-revolutionary Trotskyite but this word had no meaning to her, so she thought she had been charged as “Traktorist,” i.e., a tractor driver.  Do you “boring” people think you are less “boring” than this babushka Trotskyite?


‘Trotskyists’ and tractorists in the women’s barracks. (c/o Wikileaks Commons)

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Purpose Of The NSA Snoop Machine Revealed

by on June 13, 2013

The Midnight Curve

A senior, although not current, official of the NSA today revealed the targeted purpose of its vast snoop-and-scoop Internet spying apparatus and, incredibly, it is this – time travel. The wholesale capture of the Internet past, and the current and ongoing capture of the Internet as-it-is-occurring, with exponentially increasing levels of granularity, is allowing NSA servers to knit together what is being called an Intertinuum, a dynamic and reverse-traversable image of our whole wired world. Future NSA agents (timeline classified) have been/will be inserted, Tron-like, into the Intertinuum, whereupon they are able to travel back to Internets past, to single time slices for the purposes of simple recon, but also to temporal slabs within which they are able to interact with the Net in past-time. In short, people, they click among us. They search, they post, they comment, they Like and troll, all to divert, dissuade, and disarm terror plots. The key point that needs to be driven home to critics of the program is that these brave cyber retronauts are acting against heinous terror plots which, for them, have already come to terrible fruition. They act, so that we may never have to know the horrors they have seen. The list (classified) is a gruesome butcher’s bill.

Interestingly Twitter was left out of the program, which otherwise sucks in the entirety of integrated cyberspace, so that it could serve as a kind of paradox/contagion-free umbilicus enabling Future-Forward HQ to communicate with its Time Cops and keep them apprised of how effective their actions have been/will be. It was from FF HQ at an undisclosed point in the future that a personal message Tweet was received today by intelligence chief Clapper from Field Marshal Nugent. The message contained assurances that the gentle nudges of the NSA are indeed guiding us along the best of all possible time-tracks. (Less reassuring was his later general Tweet, since deleted: Beware the Ninny-State!) So relax. Sit back and surf. And kindly turn off any add-blocking programs, allow popups, enable cookies, and, whatever you do, don’t download and start using that silly Tor Browser!

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Goosin’ With The Gestapo Hepcats

by on June 10, 2013

This film short is called “Lambeth Walk – Nazi Style” and was made by Charles A. Ridley in 1941. He re-edited existing footage of Hitler and Nazi soldiers (taken from the propaganda film “Triumph of the Will”) to make it appear they were marching and dancing to “The Lambeth Walk”. He used the music because members of the Nazi party had called the tune “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping”. The re-edit was distributed uncredited to newsreel companies in the US and UK. Made 60+ years before YouTube, it is regarded as one of the first political remix videos.

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Edward Snowden ~ NSA/PRISM Whistleblower

by on June 9, 2013

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
The Guardian

The NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it analyses them and it measures them, and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that’s the easiest most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. While they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government, or someone suspected of terrorism, they are collecting your communications to do so. Any analyst, at any time, can target anyone.
– Edward Snowden

Period Pieces

by on June 9, 2013

Kinetoscope Parlor 1894

You’ll hear it in the blues, in country, in roots music, in alt+country, insurgent country, or less-breathlessly in what’s being called Americana these days. John Fahey (1939-2001) called it American primitive guitar, and he played it on the steel-string acoustic which he pioneered.

He was raised on bluegrass and country, but found the blues upon hearing Praise God, I’m Satisfied by Blind Willie Johnson. Here, Fahey’s Desperate Man Blues has been paired – with magical results – with the sort of short film that would have played in the arcades on Thomas Edison’s kinetoscopes, or peep-hole viewers over a century ago.

Originally posted Dec. 8, 2010

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History–A Useful Way to See It

by on June 9, 2013

Your World since Jesus (c/o of the Economist)

This chart, care of the Economist’s Chart of the Day blog, is in some way the very essence of historical reductionism.  By estimating all economic output side-by-side with estimated person-years (and, yes, there’s an awful lot of guestimates producing those two numbers) it presents an extraordinary picture of human economic and demographic progress.  Clearly, two things jump out at one.  The first is that there are a lot more people (a lot more–1 billion or so in 1800, 7 billion now), living a lot longer.  Most people who have every lived have lived recently.  Second, the Industrial Revolution, contrary to the fads of the economic historians, was a real revolution.  The burst of productivity and output (and, of course, levels of resource utilization) are an order of magnitude higher than the pre-industrial world.  This tremendous economic leap shows no signs of abating.  This shift into a new global gear has any number of important implications, the most obvious being that if distributed properly, this largess should annihilate deprivation in every corner of the globe.  It is hardly surprising that the welfare state became a viable option in the 20th century and seems very confusing when elites in the leading economic zones argue that “we can’t afford” this or that aspect of social provisioning (such as education, health and jobs).  No wonder that those economies which ignore neo-liberal orthodoxy are doing just fine.  The entire world is surfing on an enormous wave of economic production and surfing the wave instead of trying to divert its waters to a tiny elite is probably a better option.

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Introducing Disorderly Conduct

by on June 8, 2013

Perhaps you caught Alexis Goldstein on one of her several appearances on UP with Chris Hayes, where she named names and kicked ass on all matters related to Wall Street chicanery. Whether it’s the politics and legalese of financial nonreform, or the intricacies of derivatives trading, she seems to really know her shit. And now she and fellow OCCUPant and journalist Jesse Myerson are collaborating on a podcast; Disorderly Conduct (NSFW) promises lively discussion of “political reforms and transactional politics, and utopian ideals”. Formal launch is planned for August, but they have released a preview episode which you can play below. There is also an earlier one that you can hear on the Beyond the Pale podcast for May 12. We may well hear from Goldstein alone prior to the maiden voyage of DC as she recently crowd-sourced funding for a podcasting mic, a cause I was only too happy to contribute to as hers is a voice that ought to be heard, loud and clear, on the Inter-commons.

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Fire In The Briarpatch

by on June 3, 2013


The Briarpatch, a pugnacious periodical from the pearl of the prairies, Regina, Saskatchewan, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its first print edition back in 1973. Fiercely independent and wholly reader-supported, this venue for the vexed and the visionary is in fund-drive mode and calling for new Sustainers to help it continue its mission to provide original reporting, insight, and analysis from a grassroots perspective for years to come.

Another reason for the Briarpatch to celebrate is its recent recruitment of Andrew Loewen as co-editor/publisher. A prolific blogger here at the Paltry, Loewen brings to the Briar his prodigious wit, drive and fire-in-the-belly. Radical sapiens should give the Briarpatch a read, and lend it their support.

This issue of Briarpatch marks our 40th anniversary of publishing. Former staff members and volunteers reflect on 40 years of scraping by and thriving as a grassroots magazine of radical politics, from a four-page newsletter titled Notes from the Briar Patch in 1973 to a magazine with national reach. Joe Catron reports from the Gaza Strip on fishers and farmers on the front lines of occupation, Aaron Lakoff writes on resistance to repackaged neoliberalism in Quebec’s North, and Leanne Betasamosake makes the case for a diplomacy of love.

The Briarpatch anniversary donation drive continues through June 23.

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Real Wages Fall Again–Media Ignores It

by on June 3, 2013

Dr. Kenneth Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Misouri-St. Louis and blogger at Business Insider, has actually read the turgid 2013 Economic Report of the President–in particular Appendix B-47, “Hours and Earnings in Non-Agricultural Industries, 1966-2012.”  Since literally nobody else, he found, in the media cares about this stuff, he has decided to report the grim news.  Real wages continue their relentless generational decline, remaining well below their 1972 peak.  The data covers about 80% of the workforce (they cover production and non-supervisory workers in the private sector) and shows a number of disturbing trends.  First, despite productivity more than doubling in this period, workers’ wages are still 14% of their peak.  While this is not as severe as the relentless attack on workers’ wages in the Reagan years (by 1992 wages were 22% below peak), the improvement in real wages in the Clinton years came to an abrupt standstill in the Bush II years and have resumed their fall in the Obama years.  In fact, they fell another 0.2% in 2012.  An average worker’s weekly pay (in constant 1982-84 dollars) was $295.49 in 2011 but fell to $294.83 per week in 2012.

Ah, the sweet smell of recovery!  Now, keep in mind, as Dr. Thomas points out, that this is the engine of inequality–increases in productivity that are not shared with the workers who produced them (at least in part, I want none of this “takers v. makers” silliness) lead to ever greater concentrations of wealth among fewer and fewer people.  And please note, this nonsense of “preserving the American dream” so the next generation is not poorer than the present one is patently ridiculous for the vast majority of American workers, who already have a much lower take-home pay than their mothers’ and fathers’ generation.  Statistically, your kids will be more poor than you.  Statistically, you are poorer than your parents.  Apologists for this state of affairs like to point out that some goods and services are much cheaper these days, so of course people can now afford the computer processing power that only a large company could buy in 1972.  Given the fact that so many other basic commodities from fuel to housing to health care to education are so much more staggeringly expensive than they were in 1972, this is hardly an argument made in good faith.


Company Store in the Mining Town of Capels, West Virginia, 1938–The Old-fashioned Way of Keeping Your Workers Poor (c/o Wiki Commons)

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Billy Childish ~ I Go With What I Am Like

by on June 2, 2013

Prolific musician, writer, painter, mustache-cultivator, and Artist in Residence at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, Billy Childish gives a few minutes of his valuable time to Berlin’s eNtR.

Part 2 after the break.

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Geoff Berner And The Pack Mule* Panacea

by on June 1, 2013

Friend of the site, Geoff Berner, has a new video to go along with his stomping crowd-pleaser When DD Gets Her Donkey, Everything Will Be Alright. It’s a cure for what ails you.

For more of what ails you, let me recommend That’s What Keeps The Rent Down, Baby, a wry take on creative urban gentrified poverty and its discontents. Have you hugged your mugger recently? Do.

*Yes, I know a donkey is not a mule.

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Blues For Grendel

by on May 31, 2013

Grendel of Beowulf, Wikipedia. By J.R. Skelton

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man. So said Dr. Johnson. Unfortunately not all pain is thereby abated.

Body (2004) from Patrick McHale on Vimeo.

I made this video in a month during the summer of 2004 by sneaking into Cal Arts to use the equipment. Whenever the security guard came around I’d turn off the light and keep quiet… but during the day I felt safe enough to blast 80s rap tapes I bought from Goodwill. I also got in trouble for sleeping in the parking lot one morning. Those were the days.
Patrick McHale

Via Cartoon Brew

Originally posted June 21, 2011

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