Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scott Horton Says It Better

Heather and Ivan Morison’s latest work at the first One Day Sculpture event in New Zealand was this gargantuan work filling a street in the centre of Wellington, Journée des barricades. The brief was: “to produce a new work that will occur during a discrete 24-hour period over the course of one year.” The scuplture, continuing the Morison’s vision of a world teetering on the edge of impending chaos, was erected on the night of 13th December, created out of urban debris including wrecked vehicles, and dismantled the following night.

Over at Harper's, Scott Horton went through the structural changes that have occurred in our government and its institutions since the 9/11 attacks. It's not a pretty picture.

  • The military has become a professional mercenary operation, quite different from the citizen-soldier model of the Founders. Mercenaries/contractors now outnumber the regular military, they handle many of the core military functions and are essentially unaccountable for their behavior. Not only is the current military model corrupt beyond measure, it's murderous and arguably a very dangerous anti-democratic and insidious institution churning away constantly in the background.

    Over the years, I have suggested many times that we are on the cusp of a military coup, with St. David Petraeus groomed and ready to take over whenever it looks to The Powers That Be like our experiment in civil self-governance has run out of steam. I still don't doubt the potential for such a coup. But Horton seems to be taking it a step further. He doesn't say so explicitly, the implication of the hand-over of the nation's military to contractors and mercenaries is that the coup, if it comes, is no longer a matter of an institutional military taking over (which most people could understand at least if not agree with) but has become a matter of a shadowy parallel -- and parasitical -- mercenary military force taking over not just the military but the government itself. Even St. David Petraeus is a figurehead under that scenario.

  • The CIA has become a paramilitary and detention force, rather than an intelligence gathering operation. Of course, given the numberless spectacular intelligence failures of the Agency, dating from well before 9/11 and continuing up to the present, it's little wonder.

    I have often advocated the abolition of the CIA for cause. It's not simply that it is useless, it is counter useful. It was seeded with Nazis, among other anti-democratic interests, from the outset, and it has never wavered from its flawed origins. The appalling things that it does, and its ongoing failures, are built in to the structure of the Agency. It cannot be reformed. It must be abolished.

  • The NSA has become a massive domestic surveillance bureaucracy. The good thing about it is that it puts a lot of people to work who might otherwise be on the unemployment lines, so there is that. But what they are doing, surveilling and gathering information on everyone pretty much all the time, runs deeply counter to the notions of individual privacy and freedom from domestic surveillance that supposedly guides the nation from its founding principles.

    Institutionalized domestic surveillance is perhaps the key legacy from the 9/11 transformations. That and civic bankruptcy, but who's counting money when there is an existential enemy to fight?

  • The Justice Department has become a highly charged and highly politicized institution that doesn't protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law, it protects and defends its clients, whoever happens to be the top dogs at any given moment. The human wreckage it leaves in its wake? Collateral Damage. Oh well!

    I've often called for the abolition of the Department of Justice as well, for essentially the same faults as Horton is pointing out: it is a politicized -- indeed, practically gangsterized -- hollow imitation of "justice" set up and run for the convenience and protection of those in power. It cannot be reformed; it must be regenerated from the ground up.

    Horton rarely goes all the way in his assessments of this or that, and here he does his usual service by pointing out what has happened, but he doesn't indicate what it means.

    I would put it this way: there was a Judicial coup on December 12, 2000, in which the Supreme Court lawlessly intervened in a presidential election dispute to put its favored candidate in the Oval Office. The rest of the government in its entirety acquiesced to this coup, with neither a struggle nor even an objection (except from the Congressional Black Caucus, and we saw how far that got.)

    Within a few months of the installation of George W. Bush into the Oval Office, key institutions of the United States were (I hate to say it, conveniently) attacked through the agency of both external and internal forces, whether by premeditation or coincidence I do not know. I am speaking not only of the 9/11 attacks, but of the subsequent Anthrax Attacks as well.

    These attacks were the spur and the trigger for what has amounted to a revolution from the right that transformed the government and the economy of the United States, paralyzing the one and destroying the other -- in service to... what?

    I don't think anybody knows anymore. We are on a spiraling downward path that The (Deceased) Devil Osama seemed intent on making sure we got on. But to what object? Certainly it hasn't led to the termination of our imperial sway in Araby. Not yet it hasn't.

    The economic collapse and the forced impoverishment of tens of millions of Americans has yet to give rise to an internal revolt -- that's actually sustained.

    From what we can tell, those on top are doing better than ever, not just in the United States, but throughout the world, at the expense of the powerless masses everywhere.

    A relative handful of Gods Who Walk Among Us are benefiting beyond belief at the current state of affairs, but no one else is. And seemingly, nothing can be done about it.

    The list of institutional changes in the American government subsequent to the attacks mentioned may give us a clue to why no -- left -- populist movement anywhere in the world is currently successful.

    While I cheered for the Egyptians and Tunisians in their efforts to free themselves from their fossil-dictatorships, events since have shown that the "revolutions" were not quite what they were cracked up to be -- and their advocates hoped they would be.
    To say these revolutions are incomplete is an understatement, but what we've seen in Libya is of a different order altogether and has been clearly engineered by imperialist forces within Libya and abroad to capture the natural resources of Libya for the benefit of certain Euro-American interests. The "revolution," in other words, is from the right.

    What do we do about it?

    Most people, quite naturally, will yield so long as the impositions of the victors are not too onerous. But there is no limit to the exaction and extractions of the MOTUs. No limit at all.

    At least there is a continuing occupation of Wall Street (actually, a park near Wall Street), and the protests over BART's killer cops -- and other authoritarian issues -- continue in San Francisco, and people are getting angrier and angrier at what they see happening all around them. Slowly, but perhaps surely, Americans will learn to take control of their fate once again.

    October can't come soon enough.


    1. Watched "Children of Men" again the other night. One of the best movies in recent years. If you haven't seen it yet, it's a must. But watch it on DVD for the bonus features, which include commentary by Naomi Klein and Zizek, amongst other lefties. It's a rare collaboration between movie-maker and real lefty activists.

      Basically, the majority of the movie is set inside one big city-wide "sculpture" of the sort you mention above.

      . . .

      As for the surveillance. Chicken or egg stuff in a sense. The more government privatizes itself, the more it turns away from even minimal social good benefits, the more it needs heavy duty surveillance. Because the people have nothing good to associate with government, only bad. It becomes all Old Testament, Yahweh-volcano-god stuff, and nothing remotely like the Sermon on the Mount.

      It's doing everything it can, on purpose or not, to alienate the population, which will eventually result in mass revolts, which the government will have to stop via lethal force. The government may now fear internal revolt more than any external threats. But it never had to be.

      If both on the domestic and international front, it did nothing but concern itself with "social good", there would be little reason for "surveillance" in the first place. The only reason it doesn't do the obvious is economic. Duh, as the young kids used to say.

      Profit. It's not the devil made them do it. It's profit.

    2. Ah, dystopia. I haven't seen all of "Children of Men", only some of it -- maybe ten minutes or so of much shooting, running, urban destruction, war in the streets, calamity, birth of a baby, etc.

      It's a vision of Beirut back in the day, of Sarajevo, Srbrenica, Grozny, half of Africa, anywhere in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, on and on, and we should never think that we are immune. Ultimately, there will be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

      Visually, the effect is that of a sculpture -- so long as you are not in the midst of it. If you are, then I'm not too sure you notice it. People are so very adaptable, even in the ruins. It's just the way things tend to be. Sometimes worse, sometimes better.

      And we're all transients on this earth.

      I will have to see the whole movie though, and with the commentary.

      When I was searching for pictures of barricades, my thinking was that the government has barricaded itself away from the People, quite deliberately -- and fearfully. It's not just the terrorists they fear; it's you. And me. Your neighbors. Friends. And relations.

      All of us are ultimately suspect, all of us are to be feared, and so the government hides itself away from us. We don't know the half of what's going on. Even on the Inside, I'm convinced no one really knows the whole story.

      But the transitory sculpture I finally posted just grabbed me for its visual power and its ambiguity. Who is barricading what and from whom?


      The surveillance technology may be relatively new, but not the program. We've gone through greater and lesser periods of surveillance but we've never been free of it, and the notion that we have isn't borne out by history.

      And most people think it's a good thing. They're not afraid of being tagged and followed. They have no idea, though, just how pervasive the Surveillance State really is. How many layers there are, how many opportunities for... well, let's say mischief.

      It's not paranoia to say that practically everything you do and say is monitored, everywhere you go is tracked, every purchase you make is recorded. There is so much raw data, though. Very little is sorted or useful in any rational way. But it is there, and if need be, it can be drawn on for all kinds of needs. Such as all the lefties who were raided and subpoenaed by Patrick Fitzgerald in his pursuit of suspicious visitors to the 2008 convention in St. Paul.

      As one example of many.

      No, there is little sense of doing social good within our government, but the truth is there has never been.

      So our government remains suspicious, fearful, behind its barricades, operating in secret, operating capriciously, operating in service to its sponsors.

      Not you. Not me.

    3. Technology is an obvious key. While governments in the past may have wanted panopticons, they couldn't achieve them. They simply didn't have the man-power to do it, and that man-power was needed to overcome space and time, especially across such a vast nation.

      Now it can. And we all help simply by doing what we do every day.

      Not sure if you heard about it, but Yahoo, apparently (not confirmed yet), was blocking some emails from being sent to alert folks regarding the occupation of Wall Street. We knew that they and Google scan emails, but ostensibly solely for ads. This was never going to be where it stopped.

      That's the worst kind of "public-private" partnership, etc.

      BTW, found this on the Verso site, and followed several links into a wonderful world of ideas.

      I'd love to go to their conference. Always have been intrigued by the idea (and reality) of the Commons, and their notion of it not really being an issue of the state, or even "public" per se, as previously thought of. Need to get deeper into the weeds of their thought, but I'm liking what I read so far. A 21st century version/vision of C without the baggage of the past. No more statey state, etc. Well worth the look.

    4. People can build their own networks, if they want to:

      Pirate Box: Simple Wireless Network in a Box

      (It's a cumulative thing, the more of these built the bigger the Darknet... but the bigger it is the more likely for government attacks.)

      Honestly, though, it just makes sense to continue to use the corporate network for now. People could use codes and steganography.

      The fact is, the corporate network is pathetically insecure. Passwords suck. I have a friend who worked for a big investment house. When she needed to access actually sensitive financial data, trust me she used token based security... not a password. Of course, your bank still has you using rather pathetic password to get into your life savings... but that's because you aren't really important.

      I'll never have much fear of google or yahoo, after all they are providing people something "for free."

      My Mom told me about the strangers with free candy when I was a child.

    5. The question I've raised a few times is why haven't the electronic operations of Ruling Class been brought down yet by some of the many electro-frontier-saboteurs running around the globe?

      Those operations are as vulnerable as SIPRnet was (and I think still is) insecure.

      What would be the upshot if they were made to cease?

      Just wondering...

    6. Well, I'm not really sure. I'm strictly an outsider looking at the activities of LULZsec and Anonymous. Of course, bringing down SIPRnet would encourage the government to implement better security, so that may be it. Poor security on SIPRnet makes it a good source of information. If you have a secret tunnel into a bank, it makes more sense to repeatedly rob it then to blow it up, I think.

      Or it might just not be interesting to them, they'd rather take down Playstation Network and cost Sony millions.

      They have done some interesting things related to government activities:

      Anonymous speaks: the inside story of the HBGary hack

      HPGary is typical of government privatization, pay more money for amateur night quality when setting something up inside the NSA would have done a better job.

    7. they'd rather take down Playstation Network and cost Sony millions.

      That seems to me the key. It's mostly mischief, not really intentional action.

      HBGary is back, apparently doing better than ever.

      SIPRnet was never secure, wasn't really intended to be. After Manning apparently handed over most of its content to WikiLeaks, though, it took months and months for the DoD and State to institute even mild security protocols for users of the network. That was what was shocking to me.

      I know from personal experience that the government is quite capable of securing its data if it wants to.

      So much of what passes for our economy is basically nothing more than automatic trades and speculation, all of which should be essentially "unpluggable" at the whim of some saboteur, but it's never happened, never even come close. I don't know whether anybody's tried.

      That's the chief vulnerability of our Ruling Class, which I'm sure they know.