Thursday, May 29, 2014

Double Helping of Ick

Last night I had more on my mind than listening to a double helping of Ick on the television. Maya Angelou was dead, and I was more moved by her passing than I thought I would be. In trying to compose something of a memorial, many memories were triggered, both of her and of times gone by. She represented something that had the power of good, I think. A curative, even a cleansing power.

But then the teevee was dominated last night not by thoughts or memories of Maya Angelou, not by any mention of her come to think of it -- though there must have been and I missed it -- but by two rather bizarre appearances or apparitions, one on Charlie Rose of the execrable Victoria Nuland-Kagan, in which she went on and on about all the "opportunities" Russia has "missed" to join "the community of nations," the other, of Edward Snowden canoodling with Brian Williams in Moscow (cameo by Glenn Greenwald) that seemed like yet another scripted sales pitch -- or training lecture -- from this man.

I found I was not able to listen to either of them closely. Their words and their bearing struck me as false from the get-go, in Nuland's case partly because of her artificially courtly "diplo-speak" and her distracting hand movements and her constant pushing/catapulting the propaganda; in Snowden's case because of his apparent forthrightness that I've seen too often among government types, a forthrightness that masks layers of lies, deceptions and sub-rosa threats. I said at one point to Ms Ché, "I find I don't believe a word this man is saying."

Both had foils. Nuland's was not Charlie Rose, who was on vacation or something, but the New Yorker's David Remnik who actually comes at the topic of Ukraine and Russia from a position of (some) knowledge, having been the Washington Post's Moscow Bureau Chief during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, understanding and speaking Russian, and personally knowing some of the players on the current Russian/Ukrainian stage including Vladimir Vladimirovich. Remnick wasn't necessarily gentle with Nuland-Kagan. He challenged a few of her daft notions about Ukraine and Poroshenko and Russia's "invasion." She was able to parry by fluttering her hands and arching her brow at his temerity, but as I say, he knows something about what's going on and who the players are. She can't bullshit him the way she can bamboozle Congressmembers, for example. But when he had the advantage over her, he didn't pursue it, no doubt in order to preserve Charlie Rose's access to her and her ilk in the future. Challenging her lies last night was not worth upsetting that applecart.

Brian Williams and NBC had been shamelessly teasing and promoting last night's apparition of Young Snowden for a week, the final tease before the reveal being the statement by Snowden that he was "trained as a spy" by the CIA. Something that has been disputed by former CIA operatives, one of whom is featured in the video clip I posted yesterday. "Everybody" is supposed to have been talking about Snowden last night, at least according to Williams and NBC, as if somehow this hasn't (quite) become a stale story, its sell-by date having long passed.

I was rude last year by calling it a "Summer Shark and Missing White Boy" Story, not really "news" at all, more an entertainment for those so inclined to fill the summer news hole. It was marketed exactly like every other Summer Shark story had been for years, and its content was almost as slight. We knew about the presence of sharks in the water -- and most of us knew it was fairly rare for anyone to be bitten. We knew that people, mostly white and mostly women, went missing sometimes, and finding them or finding out what happened to them was constant summer news fare (remember Chandra Levy?)

We knew too, or at least we should have, that there was a vast and growing corporate-government surveillance state that could and did track our lives online, in intimate detail. Many of us knew that "assurances of privacy" were bullshit on stilts. Not that necessarily anyone in a position to do anything about it cared a whit about what you were doing or saying online.

We knew, or we should have, that cell-phones were essentially radio transmitters and communications via cell-phone are easy for government and corporate droogs to intercept and analyze if they should care to.

We knew, or we should have, that elements of the corporate sector and the government keep voluminous dossiers on every single one of us they can find.

The Snowden Trove offered up some of the details of how the NSA, seemingly in a vacuum, accomplishes some of this domestic and overseas surveillance, and as I pointed out over and over again, the NSA is hardly the most important or pervasive factor in domestic surveillance, that we are being watched by layers and layers of corporate and government surveillance entities (there is often no difference), and the obsessive focus on the NSA alone is and was counterproductive -- assuming anyone actually wanted to do anything about domestic surveillance overreach. Initially, but for a few voices on the margins, there was no mention at all of the intricate interweb of surveillance we are subject to. It was all NSA, all the time.

Later, as the summer faded and the story seemed to languish, mention now and then was made of the way Google and Facebook and other corporate players collect and analyze mountains of data on users and non-users alike -- and how they share this information with the government. When Omidyar entered the picture, there came some stories about how he and his companies, especially eBay and PayPal, are intimately interconnected with government and law enforcement, how he is personally no stranger to the White House, and how his companies' surveillance of users and their data is interlinked with government surveillance activities.

It took quite a while, but eventually, it was pointed out in the mass media that the surveillance state is pervasive, and surveillance data is widely shared between all kinds of public and private agencies and interests, not solely by law enforcement, either.

So here's Young Snowden in a sit-down at an Unnamed Moscow Hotel with Brian Williams, flogging the NSA story once again, and supplementing it with his personal saga of a man on a mission, still working for the US Government, and a patriot to the core.

Of course, Greenwald has a book out, and that seems to be the impetus to a whole lot of these stories, but Greenwald -- though his book was flogged briefly during a segment -- was definitely the bit player in this drama. He was barely there at all.

I found myself not listening to Snowden much of the time, in part because his delivery is so artificial and scripted. I recognized the style of his presentation right off, back in the Summer Shark period, as that of a government trainer, which Snowden says he had been for the DIA (a fact that wasn't widely known until recently). As a trainer, you learn -- or you read -- a training script and you deliver it the same way every time. Pausing for questions, you answer carefully, conscious that what you say needs to reinforce rather than refute the script, and if the script is factually in error, you make note of it and pass that on to your superiors, you do not make an issue of it with the trainees, and certainly not with the public.

That was his initial style, that is his current style. I call it a sales pitch because in essence, that's what it is. As a government trainer you are selling a product: the correct way to do things according to the standards and procedures of your agency.

The fact that Snowden adheres to this style of presentation rigorously despite the fact that he is supposedly this great and amazing whistleblower has always disconcerted me. It's as if there is no "real" person there at all, almost as if he's a robot of some sort -- which in fact he has been during some of his presentations. What he has to say is almost identical in every apparition, there is no deviation from the script, and his personal narrative has been cobbled together and is maintained with great rigor. That as they say is that. Who knows whether any of that narrative Snowden presents is true or not? Much of it is disputed by those who ought to know, but they're in a strange position vis a vis Snowden in that they may "know" but they can't truthfully "say." There is little dispute over the veracity of the material from the NSA trove that's been released so far, though interpretations may vary somewhat. But the tale Snowden tells of himself -- which is a big part of the narrative -- is murky at best.

For his part, Brian Williams was soft-balling the entire time, following a script of his own. It was almost as if the whole encounter had been carefully rehearsed beforehand. Maybe it was, I don't know. But Williams broke no new ground, and he did not challenge Snowden's narrative.  In fact, he constantly reinforced it.

Perhaps the worst thing about both the Nuland-Kagan and Snowden appearances last night is the "normalization" factor. They were conditioning exercises -- among so many we're subjected to these days. They weren't illuminating, they were normalizing a kind of monstrousness. Monstrousness in terms of American international relations with Russia, Europe, and the Ukraine. Monstrousness in terms of the Surveillance State which we're immersed in and which Snowden says he wants to "improve."

The media served the role of courtier in both interviews, more so in the case of Snowden. At least Remnik challenged some of Nuland's bullshit. Williams never challenged Snowden's -- or Greenwald's for that matter.

We the Rabble are just supposed to believe, I guess, and henceforward never question unless given leave to do so by our betters.

Sickening. And more than a little bit frightening...

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