Sunday, June 30, 2013

So Come Up To The Lab

Completely OT: During the summer of 1973, one of the designers for the theater where we were working brought in the London cast album of "The Rocky Horror Show," and we played it incessantly backstage. Wore. It Out. The next summer, the show itself was brought from London to the Roxy in Hollywood, and a bunch of us got tickets and headed forth to see it. We were shocked to find that most of the audience was suburbanites from Van Nuys and such -- we knew because of all the white belts, polyester shirts and pant suits, and the many station wagons being valet parked. But the show was amazing. Tim Curry was amazing. The whole cast was amazing. We cheered and whooped and carried on as if we'd seen some sort of miracle. Frankenfurter's entrance, though similar to that in the movie -- in that it involved an elevator and platform heels (and Tim Curry in a cape)  was a complete show stopper. The place went wild. And recall, the Roxy was -- and is -- quite a small facility, set up like a supper club, not a theater. The show took place all around and within the audience. It was extraordinary.

"So come up to the lab
See what's on the slab...."
So today (actually, yesterday, now, as I was diverted by other things before I could finish this post) was our day to hie ourselves up to Los Alamos. We didn't go to the lab as it were -- I wasn't even sure where the labs were until after I checked the map again when we got home. The labs are on a ridge across a ravine south of the town. There's one way in, and you have to have a pass.

I'm sure it's grand. The folks we know who are connected with the place are... well, unique, let's put it that way.

We would not have made it at all if I hadn't taken the Red Van in for a major service call the day before. We knew something was wrong when we could barely get up Sedillo Hill on the way back from Albuquerque on Thursday. I thought it might be the dust clogging the air filter, but no, it was time for a tune up, and time to stanch some of the leaks, too...

At any rate, while I was waiting outside the shop for the repairs to be finished and signed off, I was watching the sky in the north and east. There were storm clouds gathering, lighting flashing, but it was still quite warm, and the air was strangely still. Despite all the lightning, there was no thunder, which I took as a sign that there wouldn't be any rain either. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a brownish cloud moving in from the northwest. It looked fairly small at first, but it grew and grew, seemingly moving from west to east, but later I would learn it was actually moving in from the north and west, and I was seeing its looming height as it got closer.

It was a haboob. The first one I've ever seen or experienced.

I don't recommend it.

The dust cloud kept growing in height as it moved south toward the shop.  Drew, the man working on the van, said he was going to drive it around the block to make sure everything was good, and I watched him turn onto the street as the dust cloud reached it. The wind picked up strongly, whistling through the portal under which I stood. The dust and grit in the air felt like sandpaper as it hit my face, and I turned away. The sky turned brown, and then it seemed like we were enveloped in a brown fog. I'd say visibility dropped to no more than 25 feet.

The wind was howling, but we were completely wrapped in brown fog. It was an image right out of the Dust Bowl of the '30s.

After a while, the air seemed to clear a bit, and I saw the Red Van coming back. Drew acted like nothing had happened as he an an assistant checked a few more things under the hood before handing me the key and sending me on my way. I drove maybe half a mile to the east, to the post office to pick up my mail, and as I did, the brown fog enveloped everything again, and the wind was blowing so hard that limbs were breaking off trees and flying through the murky air and landing in the street. Great. I couldn't see more than twenty feet or so ahead, and limbs were crashing in the streets. Needless to say, I proceeded at a crawl.

When I got to the post office, another car pulled up, and the woman driving just sat there. I went in the post office, turning away from the wind and the dust and holding on to my hat, just as another man went in the other door. He said to me, "LOVELY weather we're having, isn't it?" I said, "Couldn't get much worse." "Just wait," he said.

He was right. By the time I got the mail and headed back out to the Van, I could barely find it. I had to keep my head down, which made things difficult, but the combination of the wind and the dust made visibility practically zero, something like a white-out -- only it was brown and the air was warm and the grit cut like little razors.

I sat in the Van for a few minutes while I waited for the air to clear enough to at least see whether I was backing into another car or not.

It didn't take too long. But by the time I got back on the street, the brown fog was back, and the other drivers and I drove no faster than if we had been caught in a winter ice fog (which I have been, as I'm sure most other drivers around here have been.) Finally, when I got close to home, the air started clearing and the wind started dying down. I could smell the pungent aroma of the dust through the a/c vents in the Van. By the time I turned into our driveway, there were even a few rain drops and almost no sign of the dust cloud any more.

The whole episode had lasted perhaps fifteen minutes. It was not pleasant at all.

Old timers say they haven't seen anything like it since the '50's -- or maybe even the '30's.

Later, I talked to a friend who lives on a spread about three or four miles north, and she said she'd heard the wind, but didn't see the dust cloud. She said the wind was so loud she thought someone was outside rolling her garbage can around. When I described the dust cloud, she couldn't believe it. A haboob. Like they have in Phoenix. She's lived in this area off and on for about 20 years, and she'd never seen anything of that magnitude. Mostly, she said, she's seen dust devils, some of them quite large resembling tornadoes, but never a huge wall cloud like I described.

The dust cloud came in from the north west, feeding on the drought-parched open fields, some of which have been plowed recently but not planted. Some of the local farmers have planted several times, only to dig up the stunted crops due to lack of rain. We may have had a wild time with the dust cloud the other day, but the amount of rain that followed it could be counted by individual drops. People are putting on a brave face, but realistically, it's frightening. Two towns -- Magdalena and Cloudcroft -- so far have run out of water when their wells ran dry, and they say that the reservoirs serving Santa Fe will dry up shortly. The Rio Grande is running nothing but sand and dust south of Elephant Butte. As bad as it is, there are still a surprising number of cattle out grazing on the next-to-nothing grasslands.

And yesterday, on the way up to Los Alamos, we saw pronghorn again grazing in their own fields.

The drive up was very scenic -- except for the smoke. Like last year and the year before, there are a number of large forest fires burning and when wind and weather conditions are just right, the whole region fills with smoke blocking views and making it difficult for people like me to breathe. I've been told I have mild emphysema from all those years I was a heavy smoker. These days, even fireplace smoke in the air will bother me. Forest fire smoke can get me into coughing fits.

Thankfully, that didn't happen.

When we climbed up the last few winding miles of cliff-clinging roadway to get into Los Alamos proper, I said it was something like the climb into Tahoe, and in fact, but for the absence of the Lake, the effect and the visuals are very similar.

Los Alamos and the labs are located on the ridges formed of volcanic tuff and lava flows by the Valles Caldera just to the west. For its part, the Valles Caldera is one of the largest and most recently active volcanic calderas in the country. It's said to have last erupted around 40,000 years ago, and it is still considered active. To see and realize just how extensive the volcanic formations around the caldera are -- mile after mile after mile, very thick, is to be reminded -- if a reminder was necessary -- just how impotent we puny humans are in the face of such enormous natural forces. The burned over Jemez Mountains just outside of town made clear what the presence of the volcanic formations might not have.

It seemed particularly appropriate to have that reminder in Los Alamos given what went on there and still goes on there.

This is a view of the Las Conchas Fire in 2011 taken from Placitas (the pic is from the WikiPedia). This fire burned into Los Alamos, threatening the labs and burning dozens of homes. It also destroyed important watershed, leaving the region highly vulnerable to flash flooding.

Most of the chatter among the the folks we were with in Los Alamos was about the drought and the increasingly harsh water restrictions people are living under and what can be done about it -- which isn't much. I'm still puzzled by the lack of cloud seeding in the area -- for there are clouds most days, and some are obvious rain clouds that drop nothing -- but there are unresolved issues with the process and much dispute over its environmental effects and effectiveness, so it's not being done to my knowledge at all. Part of the problem has been that the air is so dry, in many cases rain evaporates before it reaches the ground. Even seeded clouds would face the same atmospheric conditions.

So, in New Mexico, we suffer with drought and dust and wildfires while much of the rest of the country has way too much rainfall and massive tornadoes and other storms causing immense havoc. People are highly adaptable to changing weather conditions, but still...

Los Alamos is worth a return trip, not so much for touristy things (please) as for the diversity of insights we've found among people there. It really is a "thinking" place, and not all of the thinking is dedicated to blowing shit up with nuclear weapons -- as important as that seems to be among some members of the community. No, there are other things to think about. And many in Los Alamos do so.

Meanwhile, having seen the show live all those many years ago, the movie of "The Rocky Horror Show" was a real let down when it came out. I know it's got cult status now, and we've been to a few of the audience participation presentations -- which at least re-energize it. Of course we never considered producing the stage version when we were in that line of endeavor... While "Rocky Horror" not quite as time-bound as "Hair", it's still something of a period piece... in a manner of speaking.

Friday, June 28, 2013

“Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Yes. Well. Isn't that the truth.

Young Ezra sort of let the cat out of the bag the other day with his joking headline, "Does Edward Snowden Even Exist?"

So far as we know, Young Snowden has still not been seen in Moscow by any verifiable witness, nor, so far as I'm able to suss out from the numerous disordered and disorienting reports, was he actually seen on the flight from Hong Kong by other passengers. He has not been in communication with the media, either. As Bad Ezra has suggested, Snowden may not exist at all (of course he says he's joking, ha ha, but after a while, the absence of the major player in this drama does become the central fact of the story... "Waiting for Godot" anyone?)

There has been speculation that Greenwald and the Guardian have been had, on the premise that somehow they are too naive to realize when The Powers That Be are pulling a fast one for their own nefarious purposes. What those purposes are, we are not to know, at least not now, though there's a good deal of nasty business on tap, and having some kind of Big Terrible Sharks-in-the-Water Summertime "News" Distraction -- like the NSA IS SPYING ON EVERYONE!!!!1 -- is tailor-made for the summer news hole.

Who this Snowden actually is -- and who or what he's serving -- has become fodder for the Conspiracy Community such as we haven't seen for quite a long time, and the revelation of what are purported to be Snowden's chat logs from a few years back, though still largely under the media radar, give a remarkably different picture of the man than he has been presenting to the world since his Big Reveal and his subsequent disappearance.  Instead of a principled whistle blower, ever speaking Truth to Power, we see a Libertarian asshole fully wrapped up in and defending the National Security/Surveillance State.

These are not contradictory positions, by the way. Libertarians tend to be highly protective of (their) power and privilege. A primary way to maintain it is through a very strong security and surveillance state. Neither Glenn nor Snowden have suggested undoing the Security/Surveillance apparat in any case. All they want, they've said, is The Debate. But time was, Younger Snowden had no need to "debate" it. He wanted summary punishment for leakers. Shooting in the balls. That sort of thing.

The Conspiracy Community has come up with all sorts of elaborate explanations of this Snowden fellow's actions, most of which revolve around him continuing to serve the security/surveillance state undercover. In other words, he is still an agent, still on duty, still serving the state, though appearing to be a rebel on the lam. Webster Tarpley suggested the whole thing is a "limited hangout" to help enable... or prevent... what?

The revelations have certainly shaken up official complacency about domestic surveillance and have exposed all kinds of lying by public officials in the United States and around the world. Generally speaking, officials don't like that, and in the United States some of the embarrassment has been acute. The scurrying among them, particularly by Feinstein and Clapper, has been provocative but not particularly illuminating.

Note who isn't scurrying, however. Um. That would include the White House.

There's a clue to where the factional lines are drawn, and at least in outline, we should be able to tell who the factional players are. And with a moment's reflection, we should be able to figure out what the point of all this hullabaloo is.

As many have already noted, none of this is actually doing any damage to the Security/Surveillance Apparat. What it's doing is introducing pervasiveness of surveillance to the public in as dramatic a vehicle as possible, pointing out that there is no escape from it, and focusing the mind's eye on submission to it. Outrage may be widespread but it is futile -- at least for the rabble.

Certain categories of people and institutions, however, are loudly claiming an exemption from blanket surveillance. That would include the compliant and/or useful media, the major corporations, and elected and top-ranking appointed officials -- at a minimum. Others could be included in surveillance exemptions, one assumes, provided they prove their loyalty and pledge undying fealty to their betters. On the other hand, maybe not.

The end game is to use the surveillance and security apparat to keep the rabble in check forever. Re-read your 1984 and/or Brave New World to see how it's done. Surveillance does not serve the State as a weapon for suppression if the proles don't know it's going on, if they don't fear being watched, listened to, and caught.

The series of revelations about surveillance in the Guardian and elsewhere has served as fair notice, you might say, and thus it has served the State.

Even so, I get a strong sense of an Inner Party factional dispute playing out here.

It's not about the surveillance, and it's certainly not about the 4th Amendment -- which was largely mooted nearly a century ago when Americans went through their first Red Scare. A case can be made that the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments have been only sporadically operative at best for much longer than that.  Ask labor and civil rights leaders and historians.

Factional players in this drama have certain goals, of course. Some of them seem to want, more than anything, to discredit, indeed to destroy, the Obama Administration in particular and the "Democrat" Party in general. The level of vein popping Obama Hate on view would be unbelievable if it weren't for the fact that it's been present in some quarters since before he won the presidency. But there are other very powerful interests that are much more interested and preserving, protecting, and defending Our First Black President. Not so much because he is black as it is because he is slick. If you intend to keep the rabble in line, it is essential to keep up appearances, and so far, Obama seems to be handling that responsibility with remarkable ease. Does he know something we don't? Of course.

Meanwhile, the wheels are turning, turning, turning, implementing more and more and ever more of the neo-liberal/neo-conservative/neo-fascist corporate state, even while all eyes are on "Where's Edwardo?" and whatever TwitWar Greenwald is engaged in now. Those who rule us always look at crisis and catastrophe as opportunity to further extend their power and implement their programs.

This one is no less useful.

"Chinatown" indeed.

More murk.

Guardian Editors on Charlie Rose last night: (link will change by tomorrow, search on "Guardian editors Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson" for clip.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

And Then There's The Voting Rights Thing, The DOMA Thing, and The Prop 8 Thing

Why the Supreme Court is considered to have any legitimacy at all is one of those Mysteries we may never be able to settle. The Court has been acting quite lawlessly since... well, some would say, since forever (given Marbury v Madison, after all), but jeeze, they really set the standard for lawless "justice" with Bush v Gore, so I'll just date their detachment from any concept of law and justice on December 12, 2000. Others may disagree.

At least for a while, they were being led around by the nose by a forthright anti-constitutionalist, one Nino Scalia -- who was the motor behind Bush v Gore. Since his descent into full on dementia, however, his theocratic-monarchism has been overshadowed by the technocratic-corporate objectivism of one John Roberts, Esq, which explains why practically every significant decision out of the Marble Halls since his Elevation has turned on some of the most arcane legal reasoning in the Court's long history.

The Voting Rights Act was made inoperative the other day, much to the chagrin of voting rights advocates, I suppose, but the Court had been telegraphing its intentions with regard to the VRA for some time, so the decision was No Surprise. There is no right to vote in the Constitution, something which for some reason has never been remedied or even addressed in any comprehensive way. Instead there have been piecemeal efforts to extend the franchise from white property owning males to various other groups over the centuries, without interfering (much) with the States' Rights principle that the States, not the Central Government, are to decide voter-criteria. It's created some icky, cobbled together monstrosities and made elections far more difficult than they need to be.

This is supposed to represent the Genius of Our Founders, but it's nothing of the kind. It's a gawd-awful mess, and it's been getting worse for many a long year.

But that's really a separate issue than the Voting Rights Act which was a measure passed and renewed by Congresses for decades to ensure that the most egregious state-sanctioned racially discrimintory voting restrictions were done away with. Itg was a way of ensuring black voters -- in particular, but certainly not exclusively -- were brought into the system rather than excluded, despite the outrage of the Good Ol' Boys, especially in the South.

In making the VRA inoperative, the Court has said to the Good Ol' Boys, "Here's your playground back. Don't do anything naughty! Haw, haw!"

These people are sickening.

There has been an ongoing long-standing effort by certain interests to tighten and restrict voting rights nationwide. Now those who would undertake to do so have free rein. But then, what's there to "vote" for anyway?  If they can't control elections from one direction, they're bound and determined to do it from another. So here we go again. It's one reason people flirt with alternatives to Our Model, which is both anachronistic and unjust.

We'll see where this leads, but outwardly it's right back to where things were before the Civil Rights Movement.

Oh, but, they struck down DOMA and let stand gay marriage! Civil Rights Live! Yes, well, this is the kind of trade off you get from this Court. Massive civil injustice (such as the disabling of the VRA) on the one hand, together with a modest and generally cynical extension of "rights" on the other. Take away voting rights, but let people gay-marry to their heart's content. Sounds fair, doesn't it?

As far as I'm concerned, DOMA was a shitty measure, and Prop 8 was just nasty, but the underlying issue was never really dealt with, and it still hasn't been. I've long advocated that government not be in the marriage business at all, that marriage qua marriage be left to the religious institutions to do with as they please. And in that context, gay marriage has been going on for decades in churches and synagogues throughout this troubled land. Some religious institutions forbid it, but some do not. To my way of looking at it, that's how religious liberty works -- and should work.

The government should have nothing (much) to say about it. "Marriage" as such should not be a matter for civil law at all. Instead, all legal unions between couples should be civil unions. And they should be gender neutral. If you want to get gay-married, find a religious institution that will sanction it. There are many. On the other hand, if you want to set up a legal-couple household, regardless of gender, go down to the civil union registry and do so.

Well, of course, this idea is too radical. It would mean changing oodles of other laws, particularly regarding benefits and inheritance and so on and so forth, all of which refer to spousal and marriage and such and we can't do that, let's just legalize gay-marriage and be done with it. Ta-da.

That would be fine if marriage were not a religious sacrament to hundreds of millions. By legally enforcing a change who can obtain that sacrament (albeit from civil authority) and under what conditions, the foundations of rule and social cohesion tremble. Simply by taking marriage out of the gambit of civil authority and leaving it to the tender mercies (or...) of the religious divines, it seems to me the issue and the problem would have been solved neatly and correctly.

But no.

So now we have this strange situation in which in essence the Court has said states can go ahead and restrict the franchise however they want at least until Congress comes up with something new to foster voting rights, and by the way your vote doesn't matter anyway, because the Court will rule any way they want to get the outcome they desire, so ha ha, suckers!

The shameful spectacle of this Court goes on and on and on...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All Righty Then

Glenn is now whining that he is being "smeared" by various news outlets that have discovered details about his -- as he says, "complex and sometimes messy" -- past. I guess he forgot for the moment that the story isn't about him.

In any case, the issues these media outlets are addressing include lawsuits, adult videos, back taxes and an unpaid student loan. Ok. Got it. These are interesting, I suppose, to some people, but are hardly the kind of thing that constitutes a "smear." The classic smear campaign is a form of propaganda that seeks to impugn the character of an individual or group often through the repetition of falsehoods and calumnies which the target dare not refute for fear of giving them some kind of legitimacy. That isn't what's going on with Glenn, but he has long been notorious for accusing anyone of "smearing" him who raises questions about his motives or anything else he doesn't want to answer. And then, of course, there are those who dare to look into his pre-blogosphere/pre-Journolist life. Every one of them is smearing him. Right. Whatever.

Meanwhile, something that may mean something -- or may not -- has been posted over at Ars Technica: chat logs from 2009, featuring Younger Snowden, posting as TheTrueHOOHA, who was, as the article says, "a wholly different person" than the one we've been seeing in the media for the past few weeks. Such a wholly different person that I don't see how the twain can meet.

The person in the chat who is said to be Snowden (how this is known, I don't know, but apparently a record of users is kept by Ars Technica -- surveillance!), is freaking out because somebody leaked secret information about spying on Iran to the New York Times, and the Times published it. He's freaking out because Obama is planning to cut defense spending. He's freaking out because a POLITICIAN has been appointed by Obama to run the CIA. He's freaking out!!!!!1

Meanwhile, according to the story, Snowden is expressing his strong belief in libertarian principles AND the National Security State (which is employing him, after all.)

There is much more.

2009 was four years ago, of course, and young people go through phases. They change their minds about a lot of things.

But I really wonder if the Snowden of 2009 is really all that different... In 2009 he expressed complete devotion to the Security/Surveillance state and its secrets; he was livid about leakers. Livid. Now, of course, he's the Big Leaker... or is he?

Wheels within wheels. When this story is finally unpacked and the movie is out on feely-vision, I think we'll all be in for a terrific ride and as gasp-worthy a spy tale as has ever been put on the viewer.

Something tells me we ain't seen nothin' yet.

On top of which, Ezra needs a spanking...

The Phoenix Thing -- and Why This Surveillance Thing Matters

Phoenix Po Po -- illustration by Justin Renteria for the Phoenix New Times

I've been meaning to deal with the Phoenix Thing for some time but haven't gotten around to it because of all the hullabaloo over Greenwald's latest pissing matches on Twitter, and the Snowden Thing's endless twists and turns. I mean, there are priorities here, no?

In all the screaming about "Pay attention to the NSA! Only that! Nothing else! It's the only thing that matters!" it's been obvious to me that the NSA is not  the only thing that matters. This story will never really resonate with the People (as opposed to "Civil Liberties Extremists" -- who are not particularly representative of the popular interest and will in this country) unless they are able to see how it affects them.or the people they know personally.

Those stories are starting to be told, but you will not find them in the major mass media -- at least not for quite some time to come -- and you're even unlikely to find them in the Guardian, focused as it is on the Global Saga of Edward Snowden and the Other Players.

 So. What's been going on that might affect everyday people, and why should they care about it?

The story of the Phoenix Thing is one element; there are many hundreds of others, and when they are all put together, there is no one who is untouched in some way and on some level by the massive domestic surveillance apparat, no one who hasn't felt its consequences.

The Phoenix Thing is the story of what happened to Occupy Phoenix -- and by extension the Occupy Movement as a whole in this country -- as authorities assembled the necessary information and tools to brutally crush its public aspects and to turn its internal workings against itself.

The story is told in great detail by Monica Alonzo in the Phoenix New Times, based on interviews with some of those involved and documents pried out of officials. It is a harrowing tale of surveillance and official coordination for the suppression of dissent. Alonzo's report is based in part on material assembled by the Center for Media and Democracy, published by DBA Press in late May of 2013 titled:

Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street

Of course, there's been a certain level of "Oh, we knew that," casual indifference to the revelations and documentation, because in fact, most of those involved with Occupy knew from the outset that their actions and communications would be subject to intense surveillance by the authorities, and that those authorities were likely to include Our Fatherland Security Apparat.

Sure enough.

I think we were surprised, however, at the coordination and the brutality of the crackdown that ensued.

Phoenix and Sacramento may have been the first cities riot-clad police squadrons were deployed to suppress Occupy from the get go. Both, of course, are capital cities which may have had something to do with it. On the other hand, our dauntless po po, wherever they are, have to try out their intimidation gear and tactics in order to see if they work, and what better than to use them on such willing subjects?

The bulk of the Dissent or Terror report focuses on Arizona, particularly on Phoenix, and this is the description in the Phoenix New Times report:

Freelance reporter and DBA Press publisher Beau Hodai's in-depth report "Dissent or Terror" details how law enforcement officials used the resources of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, its Terrorism Liaison officers, and an intelligence analyst to track and report on the movements of individuals affiliated, or believed to be affiliated, with the Occupy Phoenix movement.

And, the author reports, this information — obtained using these taxpayer-funded resources — promptly was shared with those whom Occupy organized to protest. Police officials passed along details to downtown Phoenix bank executives and the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that joins corporate executives and lobbyists with lawmakers to produce conservative "model" laws. For instance, ALEC created the framework for Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the state's draconian anti-immigrant law.

Beginning to see how no one, ultimately, is immune from the gentle ministrations of the Police State?

As was the case elsewhere in the country, the crackdown on the extremely modest Occupy Phoenix effort was coordinated through the anti-terrorism Fusion Centers, some 70 of which have been established around the country with funding provided by the DHS.

Monitoring protesters isn't exactly what the feds had in mind as they poured as much as $1.4 billion since 2003 into creating and expanding 70 fusion centers across the United States.

In fact, a bipartisan probe in [October of] 2012 by a U.S. Senate subcommittee was critical of fusion centers for wasting money, getting used in ways that weren't strengthening counter-terrorism efforts, and stepping on Americans' freedoms.

I would, however, question just what it was the Feds had in their minds when setting up these Fusion Centers, because it appears their primary function has been to surveille and monitor leftish protesters and dissenters and to provide law enforcement coordination for the inevitable -- and often brutal -- crackdowns against demonstrators.

To continue:

The subcommittee investigation found the intelligence coming from the centers was "oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and . . . occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."

 Yes, well. Just redefine "terrorism" and they're home free.

Which is essentially what's happened over the past decade or so. Terrorism now includes practically any action or public statement which challenges authority (as long as it's from the "left"), or even, as I found out when dealing with  former revolutionary firebrand Mark Rudd at an Occupy event in Albuquerque, the wearing of certain clothing (let's say black) and disguises (such as Guy Fawkes masks and, most especially, bandanas.) All of these things and more can easily lead to a suspicion or determination of terrorism or at least terrorist "intent."

The Phoenix story details one part of a massive and intrusive surveillance infrastructure that goes far beyond the current focus on NSA surveillance. By comparison, in some ways NSA surveillance is probably less intrusive and pervasive than surveillance conducted at ground level by local and state police, National Guard  and military forces, and various other agents of state and -- more and more -- corporate power.

This surveillance drills right down to the individual and household level -- something NSA surveillance ordinarily doesn't do -- and combined with various other aspects of the Surveillance State can be as chilling as anything undertaken by surveillance/police states of past infamy. You think the Stasi was bad? Well, hang on, then.

Combined with McClatchy's reports on the Federal Services' institution of the "Insider Threat" program,  these reports of what is really being done day to day to keep tabs on the People on the one hand and to enforce conformity and compliance the other should be alerting everyone to the reality that we are living in a police state.

Instead of focusing on Glenn Greenwald's latest pissing match on Twitter, or Edward Snowden's dramatic revelations and escapes, or even on the various NSA surveillance programs, I think it would be much more useful to pay attention to what is going on in our own backyards, and what has been going on for years now.

How surveillance is being undertaken and used as a tool of suppression by local, state and corporate authorities has more direct effect on all our lives than what the NSA is doing on a national and international scale.

Which is not to say that the various Shadow-Surveillance and Super-Spy programs don't need attention and curbing as well. But if we're actually to have an informed debate about these things, it's worthwhile to know just how close the issue is to every one of us.

Here's Democracy Now's coverage of the Dissent or Terror report:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Never There

Imagine my surprise to click on today's Guardian update on the Snowden Thing to find this headline:

Edward Snowden never crossed border into Russia, says foreign minister

Who'd a thunk, eh?

Spy vs Spy, indeed. This is looking more and more like Inner Party factional struggle all the time.

But then, you never know...




 Well, Vladimir has now said that Young Snowden is cooling his heels in the airport awaiting his fate. Sure. Right. Whatever. Oh, yes. And that Fate does not include his extradition to the USA.

How is it that Young Snowden "never crossed the border into Russia," you ask? Simple. He's in a an international transit zone inside the airport. Not technically -- or apparently legally -- "in Russia" at all.

 So there.



Monday, June 24, 2013

Just Read This

Arun Gupta at the Guardian has posted a very good dot connecting story about Barrett Brown, the commerce in information and surveillance, and just how nasty the whole game is. Barrett Brown is sitting in jail in Texas because of his ties to getting some of the information on what was going on to the public (he posted a link).

There is more, much more, but Gupta puts it much of it together well.

Don't forget the connections with Michael Hastings...

It should be noted that HBGary which figures prominently in Gupta's story, is not actually 'gone' as Gupta states. Rather, HBGary Federal (a commonly owned and operated affiliate of HBGary, Inc.) was shut down as a separate company when HBGary itself merged with ManTech International in 2012. HBGary is still in business, and under ManTech's wing, HBGary's operations include the same sort of service to Federal agencies that HBGary Federal offered.  More here.

The Spy vs Spy Saga Continues -- As Snowden (Apparently) Awaits His Fate In Moscow

Word has it that Jet-Setting Whistle-blower-cum-Spook Edward Snowden did not get on the plane to Cuba for which he'd booked a seat. Instead, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister made remarks in Hanoi indicating that Snowden's request for asylum was being analyzed and considered by his government.

Typical delaying tactic. While the wheels turn mercilessly in the background -- Brennan on his way to Moscow, Kerry making remarks and not so veiled threats, who knows what spooks deployed for Emergency Extraction of the Fugitive, or whatever they want to do with him when and if they get the chance -- Snowden has once again disappeared. No one in Moscow is saying where he is -- or even if he is still there. [UPDATE 06/25/13: Or if he was ever there. Apparently no one on the plane from Hong Kong that was supposedly transporting him to Moscow could vouch for his being seen on the plane. He was not seen publicly at the Moscow airport -- though there were several reports of people seeing him, there was no way to verify them. This being a Spy Story and all, it's possible he was never there. Well, isn't this something. I just went over to the Guardian, and the top story was entitled: "Edward Snowden Never Crossed Border Into Russia, says Foreign Minister." Who'd a thunk, right?]

The aura of Cold War Intrigue hangs over this tale like a shroud, and it's disorienting to say the least. Many, many commenters seem to be of the opinion that the Implacable Enemies of the United States include Peking and Moscow and Havana --  ruled as they are by Iron Fisted Communist Totalitarian Police States, Stalin in the Kremlin, the inscrutable Mao in the Forbidden City, Castro the Devil in his rotting colonial palace in Havana. Communist spies and Freedom-loving counterspies are everywhere.

Making Snowden a Defector. Or Double Agent. Or Something.

Just the language surrounding this globe trotting reality show is anachronistic and bizarre. We are not living in the Cold War World of the 1950's and '60's but it surely seems like it when the blowhards on the teevee and on the internets and in print get wound up and commence to opine. To them, nothing has changed. The United States defends the Free World from the Perfidious Commies in Moscow and Peking (it isn't even "Beijing" to them yet) and Havana (oh, and Caracas, too, these days)  and Snowden is running straight into the arms of his Communist protectors.


Of course, it's all bullshit, but I've tried to fathom some of the nearly hysterical response to skeptics and critics of the Approved Narrative -- regardless of which side is putting it out, and there are distinct sides to the propaganda in this matter -- as practically a revival of Stalinist Era. It's not meant to inform (even if the information is lies.)

It is meant to compel: Obedience. Loyalty. Conformity.

One can only choose sides. One cannot question, speculate, or investigate on one's own. One is told what one is to believe -- by the experts, of course, never mind the fact that they have reverted to Cold Warrior rhetoric. One is required to focus only on one (or less than one) aspect of the story to the exclusion of all others. One is not allowed to speculate or question in public.

The dissonance of being endlessly told "It's not about Greenwald/Snowden!!!" while Greenwald is on every teevee show (yelling "It's not about me!") making it about himself, and Snowden is highly dramatically on the lam and treating with various diplomats and WikiLeaks, is quite deliberate in this form of propaganda. The point is to make it nearly impossible for casual observers to form an objective opinion about what's going on. The point is to obscure and confuse the real issues with dissonant orders so as to enable and require submission and compliance. Cops do this all the time, issuing conflicting commands or making statements that contradict reality, so as to disorient their targets and subjects and obtain their submission and compliance. It's messy, but it usually works.

One of the often-repeated orders is: "Focus on the NSA! That's the Only Story That Matters!" Well, apart from the fact that it isn't true,  that makes perfect sense. The truth is, the NSA is a part of a much vaster surveillance apparatus, it's not the only part, and it may not even be the most important part, and it is surely not the only part to be considered -- unless, that is, you don't want the rest of the story to be seen or told...

Oh. Of course. Propaganda.

"Corporations are bit players!" No they aren't. They are at the root and the core of the Surveillance State. They are fundamentally its creators and operators. "Don't look behind the curtain!" Of course not. Wouldn't dream of it.

"Focus on Government spying only!" No. The Government gets most of its information about you and me (all that domestic surveillance and spying) from the private sector. The private sector sells it; the Government purchases it. It's an example of the Free Market in action. What would you do to prevent this free exchange between a willing buyer and seller from taking place? "Don't confuse me with facts! Focus on the only thing that matters! NSA! NSA! NSA!"

 And so it goes.

This will continue until the Next Big Thing, and the Propaganda Ratchet will be tightened ever further. It's so obvious to me in this case that certain Stalinist Era propaganda tactics are being used to confine and control The Debate over the Surveillance State, and the use of these propaganda tactics is not confined to one side or the other of the issue. After all, the ever reasonable (though Uppity) President has been making appearances and remarks in which he says clearly disorienting (and false) things like, "It is transparent!" in reference to the FISA court, which operates in secret. OK then.

The point is to obscure and confuse the real issues, and both sides are engaging in it. This can lead a skeptic to believe that the "sides" are not really "sides" at all; they represent a factional struggle within the Inner Party and has nothing to do with the interests of the Proles.

Mmmm. Yes.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The McClatchy Report -- "Insider Threat"

[Note: Snowden is on the run, said to be in Moscow somewhere, possibly at the airport, possibly at the Venezuelan embassy, possibly elsewhere. The saga, they say, will continue tomorrow when he is scheduled to depart Moscow for another interim destination, possibly Havana, where they say he will then depart for his ultimate destination, possibly Caracas or Quito. There is no sign Iceland is prepared to grant asylum, but you never know in Spy Stories like this. UPDATED: Snowden, from an airport hotel room in Moscow, has requested asylum in Ecuador; Ecuadorian ambassador has been to airport; John Brennan is flying to Moscow. Much bluster and bombast from politicians. Greenwald engaging in numerous pissing contests with media. Quite a day.]

Yes. Well.

McClatchy is out with a story called "Obama's Crackdown Views Leaks as Aiding Enemies of the US" referring to the "Insider Threat" program that is essentially implemented across the entire Federal Service.


As some of my readers know, I was a Federal employee for more than a decade and was exposed to quite a lot of the Federal attitude toward workforce and the public.

One of the things that was most surprising to me about the Manning Thing was that the DoD and State apparently did not do anything about the breaches of security for almost six months. This was very strange to me. Whenever there was a security breach in my agency (and they were rare), protocols were changed within 24 hours and access to sensitive information was severely restricted in less than that. Nothing like that is said to have happened in connection with SIPRNet security and access, and it seemed to me that the lack of security response was a key to understanding that the Manning Thing was not quite what it appeared to be. I interpreted the reluctance to tighten security in that case to be a deliberate effort to entrap more would-be whistle blowers. A variation of the classic honey pot.

I don't know whether there have been any changes of protocol or tightening of security as a result of the Snowden revelations, but I haven't heard of any. In this case, since the breach was apparently not within the government but occurred among the vast contractor community which both serves and directs the surveillance state, it's hard to say what Booz Allen's response would be. They were, after all, quite slow in completing the paperwork for Snowden's dismissal.

Now McClatchy has reported on a much more comprehensive program of leak staunching within the Federal Government that would seem to be complimentary to any other action the government might take to limit or discourage whistle blowing and leaks and yet, given the fact that it depends on Federal employees essentially spying on and ratting out one another (and themselves!) in some ways it operates as a primary leak staunching effort. It's also quite chilling to any independent thought whatever within the ranks.

During my time with the government (1997-2009) I was aware that employees were surveilled and audited routinely and that their actions could be subject to discipline -- which was sometimes unwarranted. Some employees seemed to enjoy ratting out others. And I witnessed changes in the way the Federal workforce was regarded by supervisors and management. More and more emphasis was put on loyalty as we went from the Clinton to the Bush and then to the Obama administrations, until, by the time I left in 2009, it seemed that loyalty had taken the place of just about any other consideration.

But loyalty to what, exactly? To our oaths of office? Hardly. That was more or less taken for granted. No, a strenuous hierarchy of loyalties seemed to be instituted, which required personal loyalty to one's immediate supervisor and so on up the chain, until one reached the White House.

Reading the story about the Insider Threat program, though, I get the impression that the situation has... erm... evolved. The idea that all employees must be constantly vigilant and on the lookout for colleagues who don't quite fit the mold or are facing difficulties in life, and should even be reporting themselves, strikes me as completely absurd. And yet, I can see how it has come about from paranoia over leaks, and from something else that gets very little attention.

During the Bush/Cheney administration particularly, the entire Federal service was seeded with Bush/Cheney loyalists. These weren't necessarily political appointees. Many were civil service hires. Most of them are still there.

I dealt with some of the Bush administration political appointees, and I was surprised to find that many of them did not seem to be party hacks at all. Some were even competent. On the other hand, we were all well aware that as political appointees, they had been vetted first and foremost for loyalty to the Busheviks.

And to me the really chilling aspect of the report of the Insider Threat program is the implication that any internal deviance or resistance -- let alone leaking -- is a threat that must be suppressed; total loyalty must be enforced.

But to what and whom? My own sense is that the Internal Threat program is intended to enforce loyalty and suppress resistance to the neo-liberal/corporatist ideology that has become the standard throughout elected government. It's not so much a matter of being loyal to the Busheviks, it is more a matter of being a true believer in a neo-liberal/neo-conservative ideology and party line.

I believe it was called "Gleichschaltung" in the original German.

Several Things To Keep In Mind About This Domestic Surveillance Thing

*If all you're paying attention to is the NSA, you're missing a good 70% or more of the story, given that word has it (not from Snowden or the Guardian, btw) that at least 70% of the (secret) intelligence budget goes to the myriad private sector "partners" who actually do and analyze much of the surveillance and who design, build, and operate most of the surveillance infrastructure.

*The motivations of Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian in being the primary conduit for this story do matter, just as one would be interested in the motivations of Sy Hersh and the New Yorker or Judith Miller and the New York Times or Brian Killmeade and FOX. To attempt to deny that Greenwald's and the Guardian's motivations matter is an attempt to obscure the full story. Generally speaking, that's not wise in a case of this sort.

*While most of the surveillance revelations aren't new, the documentation is. The failure to produce documentation is partly why previous whistle-blowing efforts about domestic surveillance failed to carry the kind of punch this one has -- though they weren't ignored by any means. The documentation provided by Snowden to the press has reinforced the stories we've been told or have surmised about domestic surveillance over the years, and it has made quite plain that our worst suspicions about it were actually on the mark.

*It is not beyond consideration that this whole brou-ha-ha is a "limited hangout" operation. Such things have happened before and no doubt they will be done again. It could equally be that there are several simultaneous factors at play. We do not live in a linear, binary world in which only one path is open, only one fact can be considered true, and only one potential is possible.

*Let's keep in mind that at the time of the first surveillance bombshells from the Guardian, there were a number of brewing pseudo-scandals and potentially real scandals surrounding the Presidency. Benghazi. IRS. AP reporter surveillance. FOX reporter surveillance. And there was an ongoing background rumble over the failure of the Justice Department to charge and bring to trial any of the malefactors of great wealth who had plunged the country and the world into such economic misery. Keep in mind, too, that the initial stories were posted from Hong Kong -- which is Chinese territory despite efforts to obscure the fact -- while the Chinese Premier was meeting with the American President in California. Pretty much all of the pseudo- and potential scandals have faded from the "news" while this one has taken  primary attention.

*Don't forget the "news" is a corporate enterprise -- which includes the Guardian. There is little or no "independent media" of national or international scope and reach. All serve corporate interests. Why they focus on what they do -- and when -- is always a matter for corporate interest and determination. Just because a "news" outlet is presenting information you agree with or want to hear doesn't mean it is 1) independent; or 2) telling the truth.

*Corporations compete with one another for attention and pre-eminence, and they co-operate with one another in pursuit of mutual interest. Surprisingly enough, they can do both at the same time.

*In much of the western world, and certainly in the United States, government serves the interests of its corporate partners first. We refer to "captive government" in these cases. An exclusive focus on the NSA in these stories obscures the overall picture of surveillance in this country and it serves as a means to diminish the importance of the corporate sector in organizing and conducting the surveillance.

*How the surveillance is implemented and what is done with the information once acquired -- and by whom -- is still unclear, though the picture is somewhat less murky than it once was. There is an active information marketplace wherein data is traded and bought and sold like commodities. The government is an eager player in this marketplace, but so are many, many private sector interests. Who gets what information and what they then do with it is still enough of a mystery that most people have no idea what kind of information on them is accessible and to whom, and few have any idea to what purposes it may be put.

*The recent spectacular death of Rolling Stone and BuzzFeed journalist Michael Hastings has sent shock waves through parts of the media, though it doesn't seem to have affected other parts at all. By comparing and contrasting reactions it may be possible to get a better picture of media... complicity, let's say... in pursuit of powerful interest. Who do you protect? Who do you serve?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Curious Data Point of Espionage and the Surveillance State

We're scheduled to attend an event in Los Alamos next weekend. It will be our first trip up there, and last weekend we asked a friend who is retired from the labs whether we would have to pass muster at the guard-gate, and he laughed.

He said that when he first went up to Los Alamos to visit some people he knew who lived there, he was stopped at the East Entrance Guard Gate, and he had to identify himself, say what his business was, and when he said he was visiting, he had to provide the names and phone numbers of those whom he sought to see. The guard then called, and the people he was there to visit had to come fetch him at the gate and return with him to sign him out when his visit was done.

Sometime later when he was to be interviewed for a job at the labs (we actually don't know what he did there), he said he had to arrange for a pass to get into Los Alamos and then onto the facility, and it took several weeks -- he thought because he had to pass a preliminary background check or something -- and then he had to surrender the pass after the interview. The security system at that time was probably stricter than it had been during World War II when the very existence of the Los Alamos labs was secret.

He said there's no restriction on access to the town any more. There are no guards, no gates. It's all quite open... well, we'll see.

I saw on the news last night that a Los Alamos couple had plead guilty to espionage for attempting to turn over nuclear weapons secrets to... Venezuela. And I thought, "What kind of fuckery is this?!" I was not familiar with the story previously, though apparently it has been ongoing for several years and has been national news more than once.

I'm still trying to fathom it.

It appears this may be another good example of what happens to would be whistle blowers these days.

As it was announced on the news last night, the couple had made no actual overtures to share nuclear secrets with Venezuela; at all times they were being handled by FBI agents, and in fact they were arrested by FBI agents posing as Venezuelans. Yet another FBI sting operation...

Ah, but the whistle blower aspect has me intrigued.

According to this NPR story from three years ago, Pedro Leo Mascheroni was laid off from the labs back in 1988, and from that moment began what amounted to a crusade to blow the whistle on what he saw as gross mismanagement at the labs and titanic wastes of money on nonfunctional weapons systems. This goes back to 1988!

You could call Mascheroni a crackpot or a crank. That's certainly not unheard of in the physicist community, but many people apparently saw him as a true whistle blower regardless of any character or personality flaws (relate this to the constant calls to ignore any character or personality flaws of Assange, Manning, Snowden, Greenwald, et al, and concentrate solely on their revelations...).

From the time of his dismissal at the labs in 1988 -- apparently for his abrasive personality and his insistence on the merits of his own proposal for laser-fusion -- until his arrest in 2010 (and perhaps beyond, it's hard to say) he was insistent on communicating his dissatisfaction with the mismanagement he says he witnessed at the labs with some of the highest of the mighty in the land.

He would send dense and detailed letters to government leaders demanding action on both the mismanagement and waste of money he witnessed at the labs and on his own proposals for laser-fusion. On and on and on he went. It must have been terribly annoying, but according to former CIA director (and prominent neo-con spokesmouth) Leonard Woolsey, Mascheroni's proposals had merit.

OK then. Fast forward to 2007, and according to the indictment, Masceroni made contact with the Embassy of Venezuela, to what object is unstated. Later, in 2008, the FBI began a sting operation, in which an agent posed as a Venezuelan representative interested in nuclear energy. Mascheroni then agreed to provide the agent with a detailed 132 page report entitled "A Deterrence Program for Venezuela" (edited by his wife Marjorie, who was a technical writer at the Los Alamos labs until 2010)  which included information on Mascheroni's pet laser-fusion project as well as information on building a small nuclear weapons arsenal. His fee would be $793,000. Some cash is paid by the FBI agent.

In 2009, the Mascheroni home in Los Alamos is raided by the FBI. Documents and computers are seized. Almost a year later, in September of 2010, the Mascheronis are indicted for espionage and disclosing government secrets, violations of the Atomic Energy Act. They plead not guilty.

Three years later, they plead guilty and avoid trial.

Except for the length of time this story has been running (since at least 1988), it is typical of the kinds of dissent and disagreement and subterfuge that go on in whistle-blower cases, and it's typical in the way the FBI arranges to entrap trouble-makers of any kind (whether they be perfidious Muslims, Occupiers, whistle-blowers or something else) into felony charges which lead to said trouble-makers being silenced or sent away. It's become routine, so routine few even notice any more.

I don't know enough about this particular case to understand it in detail (and there is some highly detailed information available that I don't wish to get into at this point). But the outline is so similar to so many other whistle-blower and dissenter and perfidious Muslim cases that it's clear enough that it follows a common pattern.

"Step out of line, the man come and take you away."

There have been so many already, and here's another one in my own backyard as it were.

Additionally: so far as I know, Mascheroni never went to the media with his whistle-blowing, he only dealt with elected officials and administration personnel. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Repost of "On Appeals to Orwell"

About three years ago, I did a series of posts under the title "On Appeals to Orwell," based in part on what I thought was a serious -- and likely deliberate -- misapprehension of Orwell's thoughts and politics among a cadre of Libertarians and their fellow travelers who had adopted him as One of Their Own. The triggering issue was what I saw as the misuse of the term "tribalism" to refer to "mindless loyalty" which was being justified by reference to Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism" -- which never mentions tribalism, and in my view is not meant in any way to confuse tribalism with nationalism.

However, there is much more to Orwell and his perspectives as expressed in his writing, including his dismay at the march of totalitarian nationalism in his lifetime, including the many elements of it found in supposed western democracies. He was anti-imperial, anti-totalitarian, anti-surveillance, and anti-conformity. Yet he was, he said, politically a Democratic Socialist, far from the Libertarian Hero he's been made out to be.

He came to his highly negative views of totalitarianism and nationalism and their march throughout the western world, including Britain, from his grim personal experience in British Imperial Service in Burmah, and as a propagandist with the BBC during World War II, among many other experiences in his life.

I initially wrote this series of posts in response to what I saw as the misuse of his legacy as a means to promote ideas and an ideology that were quite contrary to his point of view. But looking over them again, I see they may have some utility again as we realize just how comprehensive the American -- and by extension, global -- surveillance state has become, something we might say Orwell was in on the ground floor of developing and implementing, and which he came to reject utterly.

So. Here are links to the series. Make of them what you will. I am quite fond of the early BBC kinescope of "1984" that is embedded in one of them!

On Appeals to Orwell, June 26, 2010


On Appeals to Orwell -- furthermore, June 28, 2010


On Appeals to Orwell -- furthermore II, June 28, 2010


On Appeals to Orwell -- UpSide Down, InSide Out, Round and Round, June 29, 2010


On Appeals to Orwell -- Attacking the Weak, Flattering the Strong and Evaluating Every Contact on the Basis of Advancement, June 30, 2010


On Appeals to Orwell -- The -Isms on the Home Stretch July 1, 2010


On Appeals to Orwell -- The Wrap Up and a New Day Dawning July 1, 2010

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Trying To Find Some Insight Into The Appalling Death of Michael Hastings

Without much luck so far.

The spectacular wreck of Michael Hastings' new Mercedes at 4:15 in the morning in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles on Tuesday came as a real shock to his many admirers in the journalist world.

What was he doing at that time in the morning driving around LA? Not that it's all that unusual... except that it is. The city never sleeps, of course, and there is always a story for an intrepid journalist like Hastings in the deepest bowels of Los Angeles. We all know about Hollywood Confidential. We've seen "Chinatown" and "The Two Jakes" or like me, we lived there, and we know there are many untold stories percolating just below the surface, many of which probably shouldn't be told, but some of which must be.

What was he working on? Was he working when he was out driving at 4:15 in the morning? Or was it something else? And why was he driving where he was?

Highland is a long street that goes up into the Hollywood Hills, where all sorts of dazzling mischief takes place routinely. According to witnesses, Michael Hastings was driving south on Highland, which would mean he was coming down from the Hollywood Hills if he had stayed on Highland, but there is no firm evidence that I've seen yet that demonstrates where he was driving from. As he crossed Melrose, down in the flatlands, traveling at a very high speed going south -- again according to witnesses -- he apparently lost control of the car and slammed into a palm tree in the median less than a block from the intersection of Melrose. The car burst into flames. This is the tree, from Teh Goggle street view:

A palm tree on Highland Ave near Melrose in Los Angeles

It's a tony residential/commercial area, but Highland and Melrose are both very busy streets in the daytime and well into the night, so it's not someplace I would want to live. People who live there, though, live there because of the proximity to Hollywood, and Hollywood is, after all, where dreams are made.

Apparently the crash was powerful enough to burst the water mains in the median strip, for in the video I posted previously, there is a gusher of water coming from near the crash site, a gusher which contrasts strikingly with the flames engulfing what remains of the car. The tree, however, appears to be almost undamaged from the crash. Palm trees can be delicate and yet remarkably sturdy, and this one certainly showed its mettle.

One witness quoted on KTLA stated that she heard what sounded like a bomb.

That sounds right to me. There have been any number of car crashes near where I've lived in the past (I don't know how to explain it....! ;-), and one of the most spectacular took out several olive trees and a fence at the front of our property. The crash sounded very much like a massive explosion. It shook the house. When we went out to inspect the situation, the twisted remains of a Camaro (as I recall) lay upside down amidst the fence and tree debris. Three full-grown olive trees looked like they had exploded from the impact. One was more or less intact though on its side; the others were in pieces scattered in the street and on the yard. The fence was toppled but not badly damaged. As we reached the car, its occupant managed to crawl out somehow. He did not appear to be badly injured, though there was a bit of blood on his face from a cut at his hairline, and he complained of an ache in his arm. He walked a few paces from the car and sat down on the remains of an olive tree to await the arrival of Emergency Services. We'd called before we went to examine the wreckage.

The Camaro -- or what was left of it -- was upside down, smoking and steaming in our front yard. A wheel had come off of it, as well as many pieces of chrome and fender and whatnot, and neighbors were collecting them from the street and managing traffic around the debris. The car did not catch fire. It was, however, completely demolished, strongly resembling one of those flattened former autos that come out of the scrapyards. It's amazing that the driver survived. He was apparently drunk, though I can't say for sure; he was pretty incoherent, and the police said he and the car smelled of alcohol, so I took it for what it was worth. How they could tell, I'm not so sure. From the sound of the wreck, I estimated that the car was going more than 70 miles an hour when the driver lost control, and reported as much to the police.

We lived on a curve of a busy street, and there were frequent wrecks at our place as drivers came around the curve at too high a speed, but nothing like this particular wreck had happened before, nor would anything happen like it afterwards so long as we lived there.

The section of Highland Avenue where Michael Hastings wrecked, however, was quite straight; there are no curves on Highland once it emerges from the Hills. Witness reports were that the car was traveling very fast, "maybe 100 miles an hour," as it sped south on Highland, and if he was maneuvering through the intersection at Melrose without stopping for the light at such speed, it would hardly be surprising he lost control of the car.  The wreck happened a few hundred feet from the intersection.

One witness seemed to be saying that he saw the car on fire as it crossed Melrose, but I have seen no confirmation, and the witness's English was poor, so I may have misunderstood him or that may not have been what he meant to say. But if the car was on fire before the crash, I think that might be a significant data point.

I would imagine there was surveillance video taken from several angles from the businesses at the intersection of Melrose and Highland. There may be some surveillance videos from closer to the scene of the crash as well. People in Hollywood are into cameras for some reason... So it should be possible to determine with certainty whether the car was on fire when it sped through the intersection.

Many people have remarked about the fact that Hastings' car burned at all, and I detailed a similar crash that happened in our front yard years ago in part to make the point that I have personally witnessed a similar sort of crash in which there was no fire, and indeed the driver walked away, injured to be sure, but whole.

Hastings was apparently burned beyond recognition.

Others have pointed out that cars often do burst into flame when they crash, so what happened in this case was not unusual. Since we've been in New Mexico we've seen many instances as well of automobiles -- relatively new ones, too -- seemingly spontaneously bursting into flames on the freeways or side streets. It's practically a daily occurrance.

According to what I read this morning, Hastings was in LA working on a story about Barrett Brown. Cenk Uygur posted this video on Current TV:

I don't know what to make of this story as Cenk seems to be all over the map in it. On the other hand, he's been dogging this story, unlike most of the media, so he may be on to something.

Earlier Cenk ran this piece:

Of course, it is all interrelated to the National Surveillance State that has been on the minds of many of the public and in the media since the reports of the surveillance of AP reporters, a FOX reporter, and latterly, of everyone under the rubric of "keeping us safe from terrorism."

Of course that's a crock. That is not why the surveillance is going on as anyone with half a brain should be able to tell. The surveillance is going on to keep control of a potentially restive population as more and more neo-liberal economic policies and neo-conservative warrior policies are introduced and implemented. It's obvious as sin. The knowledge that one is being surveilled is very effective at suppressing dissent and revolt. That's the point of it.

Michael Hastings apparently was worried -- even somewhat paranoid -- about being surveilled by the FBI or who knows what other agencies, and it's at least plausible to me that he could have been speeding down Highland at 4:00 am because he thought he was being tailed by some flatfoot agent of the Surveillance State and he was trying to escape or lose the tail. There are those who claim he was probably drunk or on some prescription like Ambien, and it's possible, but in either case, it doesn't really explain the speed he was driving at on a heavily utilized city street in Los Angeles at 4:00am. Even if he was drunk, that kind of speed under those circumstances would be unusual, unless... well, we don't know, and it is unlikely that whatever the Official Story turns out to be, that we'll find out any time soon.

Rest in peace, Michael.

UPDATE: There is another video from Loudlabs that apparently shows the Hastings car blowing through a red light at Highland and Santa Monica Blvd seconds before the crash on southbound Highland just south of Melrose. Apparently one of the Loudlabs camera cars had pulled into a service station at Santa Monica and Highland and left the camera running while attending to other matters. He was not aware that he had captured the Hastings car running the red light at Santa Monica Blvd.

My speculation was that Hastings ran a red light at Melrose too, and may have had to swerve to avoid traffic, leading to loss of control of the car and the subsequent crash. Nevertheless, that doesn't explain the explosion.

Video allegedly showing Hastings running a red light on Highland at Santa Monica Blvd just before the crash:

If this was Hastings' car (and there is no reason to think it isn't at this point) then it wasn't ablaze when it went through the red light at Santa Monica Blvd shortly before the crash. However, Santa Monica Blvd is about 4 and a half long blocks north of the crash site, or about half a mile. At 60 miles an hour (which was one estimate of the speed of the car) it would have been about 30 seconds before the crash.

What I want to know is where are the surveillance videos from the businesses along the route, especially at the corner of Melrose and Highland? There should be an abundance of evidence from them, but so far... not a lot has shown up.


LA Weekly is on it. 


Some questions so far unanswered:

What was Hastings doing in LA? [Barrett Brown is being held in Texas. I thought Hastings lived in New York.][[LA Times says Hastings had opened Buzzfeed's LA bureau last fall.]]

What was he doing driving so fast through Hollywood at 4:00am? [Not unheardof, but still...]

What about this brand new Mercedes C250? [Not the most expensive car on the lot, but was Hastings earning enough to buy one? ]

Was he drinking and/or abusing prescription drugs again? Who can verify?

Where was he coming from and where was he going? [There is a report, apparently sourced to Russia, that he was on his way to the Israeli Consulate when his car was droned; Death From Above and all that. Why he would be going to the Israeli Consulate is unclear, but if that's what he was trying to do, he was way off the mark, as it is located far to the west, on Wilshire Blvd. The easier way to get there would be via Santa Monica Blvd, but he blew through the red light at Santa Monica and stayed on Highland which stubs out at Wilshire, but it is miles from the Israeli Consulate.]

How did the car explode?

Let's not forget that LAPD and the LA Coroner are doing the investigation. Neither has a sterling reputation for truth telling, competence, and thoroughness. Left to their gentle minstrations, we'll never find out what really happened.


Scott Johnson's obit at BuzzFeed is a doozy. In it, he explains that Hastings had moved to Los Angeles, had bought the Mercedes last month, and that he was probing the darker underbelly of Hollywood, where, he said, "dreams come to die."  Yes. Well.

This is great. WikiLeaks claims Hastings contacted WL attorney hours before the crash because he was being investigated by the FBI. At first, the FBI LA office refused to confirm or deny they were investigating Hastings. Standard "no comment" comment. Then the LA Coroner positively identified Hastings from the charred remains in the car. THEN the Coroner said that they got the ID from fingerprint info from the FBI. THEN, the FBI positively, absolutely, in no uncertain terms said they weren't under any circumstances "investigating" Hastings.


Is it any wonder the tinfoil hats are on extra tight? And let's not forget that standard procedure in these cases is to issue all kinds of conflicting statements and whatnot. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Vile Treatment of Dissenters -- How Any Critical Thinking or Questioning Is Suppressed

The Snowden Thing has given rise to one of those phenomena of the internet and occasionally of print media that I have long objected to and find deplorable in the extreme.

It is the lynch mob mentality that is utilized -- primarily by supposed libertarians without irony -- to suppress any sort of independent or critical thinking or questioning of events taking place, so long as those events are being driven by designated "heroes."

I gave up hero worshiping well before adolescence, so I never really passed through the phase that seems to be so typical of the adolescent mindset. But hero worship has been integral to the Snowden Thing, and once he was designated a Hero by one faction, no question about him or his motivations was allowed. Raising any sort of question or reservation about his actions or his heroism was sufficient to mark one as either an Obamabot or a crackpot, or -- as happened to Naomi Wolf -- as an "NSA operative" (even though in jest) and thus all questions not mediated by Glenn Greenwald could be dismissed outright. The theory was that any questioning of Snowden was a distraction, probably deliberately engineered in the White House to defend the NSA and its surveillance programs and shift attention from the programs to the personalities of the whistleblowers and courageous journalists who were bringing this secret world to light.

Naomi Wolf has long been one of those voices in the dark that have been warning us of the impending or present destruction of our economic, political and social infrastructure and offering her insights about what is going on, who is involved, and what to do about it. I don't think she's always right, but I've never seen her as a dishonest observer or commentator. She says what she sees; take it for what it's worth.

Last week, she posted on some of her reservations and questions about the Snowden Thing. She was, she said, quite familiar with what she called "the whistleblower community," and Snowden didn't fit what she knew to be the common thread among them. He was an outlier, and some of what seemed to be going on with him and the way his revelations were being presented in the media ran directly counter to her understanding of whistleblowers, their motivations, and their actions once they decide to blow the whistle on matters of state.

She put it this way:

Some of Snowden's emphases seem to serve an intelligence/police state objective, rather than to challenge them.
Anyone who does any sort of critical thinking about this ongoing episode recognizes how it can easily serve the interests of the National Security State by making clear to everyday people that they can be and are being watched and that their data can be mined whenever necessary to make a case against them if they dare to get out of line. This is the way police states operate. They want you to know they're watching, and they want you to fear them.

Snowden provided the first documentary evidence we've seen of just how pervasive and potentially intrusive the surveillance we've long been told was going on actually is. And that opened the door for public officials, including the president, to talk about it repeatedly and in surprising detail, something they've always been reluctant to do ...until now.

This serves the interests of the police state, or we would not see it happening at all. If they didn't want us to know, they would clam up. They haven't. I say that's because they do want us to know, and Snowden has performed a useful service to the police state by documenting some of what is going on. I have no idea whether that was his and Greenwald's intent, but that has been the upshot.

Wolf points to Snowden's apparent media savvy as a potential red flag. It is something highly atypical, she says, of the whistleblower community on the one hand, yet almost universally understood and utilized by political operatives on the other. She points rather vaguely to the fact that he arranged for a talented filmmaker to shoot the interview with Greenwald in the Hong Kong hotel, but what she seems to have missed and probably hadn't heard or read when she wrote about it was that Snowden (apparently) went to the filmmaker (Laura Poitras) first, last January, and it was she who did the scut work to make the arrangements with Greenwald at the Guardian and Geller at the WaPo. According to some reports, a film deal has already been reached with Snowden, and Poitras has made clear that she intends to use her cinematic talents to extend the story in her own way and in her own time when she's ready.

Wolf wonders about Snowden's preparation apparent in the video interview in which he seems to be completely on message at all times, something very rare among whistleblowers, even though they may be highly intelligent and articulate. I would point out that staying on message is a political operative skill, one that takes some time to internalize, but one that Snowden has demonstrated in all his purported interviews and online appearances.  (I say 'purported' because some of his appearances -- such as the online chat at the Guardian the other day -- are deliberately impossible to verify.)

Wolf points to Snowden's repeated warnings to journalists that they are literally risking their lives and/or liberty if they are identified (by the state) as the "transmission point" of secret information. She points out that Snowden repeatedly emphasizes how much he is sacrificing to make these state secrets available to the public -- his high salary as a contractor, his home in Hawaii, his girlfriend, his family, ever returning to his country, everything he holds dear is now gone, and he will never get it back. Wolf sees this as a direct warning to other would-be whistleblowers: "Don't do what I'm doing, or you'll lose everything."

She points out (again) the obvious fact that any vibrant police state wants you to know that it is watching you and how very awful it can be for you to challenge its authority and rule. Of course. The National Surveillance/Security State has been an ongoing topic for more than a decade now. "Anyone who's been paying attention" knew they were being surveilled, but now, with Snowden's documentation, there can be no doubt about it by anyone. Everyone is a target for surveillance. All the stories which have proliferated in the media since the initial ones in the Guardian have hammered that fact home. The president doesn't deny it, but he has made clear that it is all very benign, we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads, and the numerous police state apparatchiks who have so cheerfully been testifying at hearings reinforce the message: "Nothing to worry about, it's for your own good, go on about your business, we're watching over you with the best of intentions, have a nice day!"

She mentions the importance of the sex-angle to maintain media interest, in this case, the somewhat strange business of the pole-dancing poetic girlfriend -- who ought not to be part of the story at all.

Wolf wonders about Snowden's purported disappearance and undisclosed "safe house" location somewhere in Hong Kong, pointing out that the whole concept of universal surveillance makes the idea of "safe houses" quaint to the point of ridiculousness -- especially so in a police/surveillance state like China, of which Hong Kong, yes, is part -- despite all the starry-eyed nonsense about its supposed independence and so-called liberty. (So did Snowden move from his plush hotel to the American CIA bureau he says is down the street? We don't know, but we can be all but certain his "watchers" know exactly where he is.)

She wonders where Snowden's lawyers are, as whistleblowers (typified by Assange, she seems to think) need counsel present at their sides at all times given their legal jeopardy. Apparently she forgot that Greenwald is an attorney, and at least during the Hunt for Assange, he was often acting as an ad hoc legal advisor to the fugitive. But wouldn't it make sense for Snowden to have other lawyers at hand? Some that could actually defend him in court should it come to that? (I think Greenwald said he let his law license lapse, though it could be reactivated, one supposes.) Does Snowden have other attorneys on tap? Who knows? Does he need them?

Wolf wraps up with the following:

But do consider that in Eastern Germany, for instance, it was the fear of a machine of surveillance that people believed watched them at all times — rather than the machine itself — that drove compliance and passivity. From the standpoint of the police state and its interests — why have a giant Big Brother apparatus spying on us at all times — unless we know about it?


The almost immediate explosion of condemnation in her comment section is instructive -- and typical.  

One is not to raise questions about Heroes!

After she was savaged in her comment threads, she was subject to any number of condemnations elsewhere, including attacks intended to shut down any kind of critical thinking about the backstory and how it affected the release of secret information.

One was permitted only to take sides, "hero" or "traitor," all other questions about Snowden and his secrets were forbidden.

Naomi did a followup post that explained her perspective a little more fully, but she has been silent about it since, and let's face it, silence from those who question is the objective of those who launch attacks against them.

Almost exactly the same tactics were used against Mark Ames, Yasha Levine and Katrina van den Heuvel when The Nation dared to publish a piece by Ames and Levine that raised questions about the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy (John Tyner) and his connections with various Libertarian causes connected with the Kochs. The internets exploded with vituperation against Ames and Levine, and attacking The Nation and van den Heuvel for their temerity in publishing such a "smear" to the point that van den Heuvel essentially conceded to the screamers and Ames and Levine have never been seen on the pages of The Nation again.

Naomi Wolf, Katrina van den Heuvel and others who point out anomalies and ask questions about Heroes are typically not their enemies. They are trying to engage in and encourage critical thinking about what's going on. They are subjected to smears and vituperation to the point where they often simply give up. It's sad and it shouldn't happen. But it still does.

Meanwhile, Webster Tarpley has weighed in on the topic of "limited hangout." Make of it what you will.


Michael Hastings was killed in a fiery crash on Highland Ave near Melrose in Los Angeles early this Tuesday morning.

Hastings, of course, was a well known Rolling Stone journalist who caused all kinds of trouble for the White House and the Pentagon over the years, and whose dogged determination to get the story was legendary in the field.

Raw Video, taken soon after the crash:

Witnesses reported what sounded like a bomb. The witness quoted in the video above -- though his English is poor (and I wish he were quoted in Spanish instead) -- indicates that he saw the car traveling very fast, maybe 100 miles an hour, on Highland, and that it was on fire as it crossed Melrose.

No wonder there is speculation this was a hit, not an accident.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Yves Smith Demolishes Private Sector Protestations of Innocence; Naomi Wolf Takes One in the Shorts For Daring to Raise Questions About Snowden and Teh Revelations

Two (well, three) links to add to the mix:

Yves Smith on the protestations of innocence by the internet and other corporate partners of the National Surveillance State:

Techies’ Efforts to Own #Snowden/NSA Surveillance Narrative = #Fail

Naomi Wolf Dares to Raise Questions:

One of her many critics for daring to raise questions about Snowden:

I may have more to say about this stuff in a follow up post, but one of Naomi's questions -- about where are Snowden's lawyers -- may have been answered by the way he dealt with questions during his live chat with Greenwald at the Guardian this afternoon. Looked to me like he was getting real time legal advice from Glenn given the way he was answering/not answering questions... Just saying.