Monthly Archives: January 2020
By John Kendall Hawkins
Astmatol : a spasmolytic agent used as a powder or in cigarettes. Astmatol is made of one part henbane leaves, two parts belladonna leaves, six parts Datura leaves, one part sodium nitrate, and three parts water. It is used in cases of bronchial asthma. Smoke is inhaled from the astmatol as it burns.
- The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979)
Terje Toomistu’s Soviet Hippies is a strange trippy film. It’s full of characters coming out of a thaw, as if you were watching George Romero’s zombies in Night of the Living Dead go backwards to where they started from and find themselves in the Amazing Mirror Maze at Mall of America® — liking what they’re seeing for the first time. But one dimension removed.
Coming out of the Cold War thaw was like that. Though the annus mirabilis is most often associated with the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution, both of which happened in November 1989, in fact, revolution was in the air throughout Central and Eastern Europe the entire length of that tumultuous year.
During the first six months in Warsaw and in Budapest, the years-long push for democratic reform had reached a tipping point. In August, Hungary and Austria held snipping ceremonies to cut through the barbed wire fencing dividing their countries and held “Pan-European Picnics” at the breach, through which thousands of East bloc citizens, escaped to the West.
In August, 2 million democracy-hungry people held hands and created a 650 kilometer long “Baltic Chain” through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In October, many thousands of Leipzigers chanted, “Wir sind das Volk.” And in December, Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were brutally executed by “the people.” By the end of January 1990, just a few months after the wall “fell,” the chimes of freedom were ringing in central Moscow: the first McDonald’s opened — leading to surreally long lines for Western fast food.
In a beerhall somewhere off U-Bahn station Heinrich-Heine-Straße (formerly Neanderthal Straße) someone muttered into his Liebfraumilch, “Schabowski, you dummkopf, you really fucked up this time.” It might even have been Günter himself. Or his drinking pal, Karl Brewski (formerly Brüske).
But long before this exciting thaw took place in the Cold War between East and West, some of the surest signs of returned life came first into the pallid cheeks of the Soviet Hippies that Terje Toomistu documents in her film. In a recent email exchange, Toomistu writes, “The first Soviet hippies that appeared in around 1967-1968 were usually from the families of intellectuals or those who had a powerful position, which ensured their access to foreign information and goods such as records, books, magazines.” But there were also radio stations that brought in Western music, and, in Estonia, where most of this film takes place, residents were often able to access the non-Soviet TV airwaves of Finland.
Music was key, and the first stirrings came as a result of tuning into Radio Luxembourg, where nascent hippies would listen to the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club was a revelation for waking minds), hard rock, blues and psychedelic music, such as Jimi Hendrix. When these tunes moved down from their brains into their fingertips the result, at least in the film, could sound like a unique mash-up of early Beatles experimentation, Cream, and Jimi, as if the Soviets, in their hunger, were gobbling up a Big Mac, fries, chicken nuggets and a vanilla shake at the same time.
Like teens in America and Europe, young Soviet hippies wanted to stand out, dress differently, wear their hair longer and unkempt, and generally vibe that they dropping out and turning on. They were to be, at first, a passive counterculture. Peaceniks in the style of John and Yoko. In America, the length of your hair could establish your political leanings in an instant — crew cut (conservative) to long hair (liberal). The movie and stage play Hair established the symbolism. Easy Rider demonstrated how dangerous hair could be. In the early hippie days of Tallinn, as in New York, the older generation wasn’t always receptive to coiffal challenges to tradition. “We have to cut their hair by force,” one hairdresser from Riga tells us, “or they have to get it cut themselves.”
The individuals depicted in Soviet Hippies were hippies, not yippies. They were drop-outs in a political milieu where excessive material desire was wasted, as there were few ways, for most people to satisfy their wants. Toomistu, who says she was primarily interested in an “anthropological” documentation of these alternative lifestylists, discovered, as she travelled from Estonia to Russia and back, that they had established a social network of like-minded individuals who shared homes in various cities across the USSR. The filming took place in the Ukraine.
Soviet Hippies is full of characters who tell little snippets of their ‘enlightenment’ tales as the film’s narrative progresses. There’s Aksel, who talks of how hearing rock for the first time “made him vibrate.” Old Long from Moscow who recalls how “The overdrive sound started to shake our collective consciousness.” Kolja Vasin of St. Petersburg and proprietor of Lennon’s Temple of Love, saw “something sacred” in the Beatles. Gena Zeitsev from St. Petersburg said the hippies felt “things you were prohibited to feel” by the Soviets. And Sergei Moskalev probably summed up the vibe best: “We lived in a highly regulated society. And any kind of deviance gave you a sense of ecstasy.”
Toomistu says the Soviet hippies were all about “…remaining true to your ideals, values and practicing kindness and love towards each other – which was already a very different emotional stance from the mainstream society. Plus having a sense of participation in the western pop culture and/or spiritual quests. (The Soviet Union was an atheist state.) Not participating in [a] society that seems to be based on lies and pretentious social roles.”
The hippies called the network “sistema” or the system. The film shows them getting together to lay back, listen to some tunes, and get high. LSD was uncommon, but Astmatol, a cigarette with the wacky tobacky combination described in the Soviet Encyclopedia, made into tea, brought welcome hallucinations to numb lives, just as it did to teens in America. “The unifying feature of the movement which hasn’t lost its importance,” says ascetic Aare Loit-Babai is, lighting up, early in the film, “is the non-violent attitude.” These hippies sought “kaif,” essentially the same expansion of the senses that their young counterparts in the West sought. On a visit to Viking, “a legendary hippie in Tallinn,” Loit-Babai voices over an animation of his Astmatol high, in one of the highlights of the film.
But everything changed on June 1, 1971 in Moscow, when a “Union-wide” gathering of hippies convened outside the US Embassy under the pretext of protesting the American war in Viet Nam. Though the Soviet government had given permission to gather and protest, for reasons not fully explained in the film, authorities got spooked by the outburst of loud but non-violent behavior of the placard-bearing protesters and shove came to Pushkin Street; hippies were roughed up and arrested; many were kicked out of school, lost jobs, and at least one student leapt out a window.
Terje Toomistu told me that this was a crucial pivot point for Soviet hippies:
There was a short period of time when the hippie movement became [politicized], and this changed the fate of the movement, pushing it deep underground, making it more radical, drug infused, and distant from any desire for political involvement. I think this is very important to understand and it largely explains the ‘escapist’ drive amongst the hippies during the 1970s.
The hippies had been given permission to demonstrate, so maybe it was the truly American audacity of free expression and the implicit middle finger to authority of happy hippiedom that Soviet officials caught wind of that irked them into action. Or maybe the put-down was CIA-agitated; another chance for Americans to show the world how the Soviets handle freedom.
Nevertheless, throughout the USSR, “socialism with a human face” inched forward toward a centrism, which was meant to be a kind of compromise with the authoritarianism. In short, a chance to purchase more Western goods, more Big Macs, and stuff made in Chinese sweatshops, like Nike shoes and iMacs. In 1989, even Berlin Wall chunks were sold as keychains in department stores. Americans now have their own centrism to worry about — two parties, one vision, and the “lesser-of-two-evils” voting is largely a case of trying to figure out which one of the two will fuck us less for the next four years. And we, too, have long lines for socialist handouts. Sigh.
The multi-award-winning film continues to make the rounds of small (mostly fringe) festivals. It’s quirky, but, as Toomistu has pointed out, it’s also an especially interesting document for those with a cultural anthropology bent. You can view Soviet Hippies at Vimeo on-demand for a few bucks. Those interested in more information on the background of the film-making, as well as aspects of Toomistu’s academic inquiry with the project, can view her TED Talk. Here is a generous sampling of the music soundtrack featured in the film.
By John Kendall Hawkins
You should never judge a book by its title, but with whistleblower Edward Snowden’ s Permanent Record the reader gets as close s/he can possibly get to the soul of a narrative before actually reading it. He means it: The American government, with help of its data-gathering partners, is gathering up information on every mobile or Internet-connected individual on the planet. They have a permanent dossier on each and every one of us. Snowden writes, “We are the first people in the history of the planet for whom this is true, the first people to be burdened with data immortality, the fact that our collected records might have an eternal existence.”
As Snowden puts it, “At any time, the government could dig through the past communications of anyone it wanted to victimize in search of a crime (and everybody’s communications contain evidence of something)… this is tantamount to a government threat: If you ever get out of line, we’ll use your private life against you.”
This implied threat is not conspiracy theory, not paranoia, and it is not new; it represents the criminal intentions of some agencies of government, often working in collusion with the Executive. The Intelligence Community (IC) has, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer once admonished Trump when he lashed out against them, “Six ways to Sunday at getting back at you.” (Apparently, Schumer accepts their criminality as ‘the norm’.)
We have seen how the system can be abused already. Frank Church told us all about it in the 70s, and so did the . The CIA was involved in the Watergate break-in. told us what the CIA was up to in Nicaragua. We all know now, and apparently have come to terms with the fact, that the IC was criminally involved in the brazen televised false testimony about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that was forced upon the world as a pretext for an unnecessary and illegal war against Iraq.
This latter criminal activity was recently the subject of the whistleblowing film, Official Secrets, in which GCHQ analyst Katherine Gun blew the whistle on her agency when she discovered that they were being coerced by the Americans into finding kompromat on members of the UN Security Council to force them to vote in favour of the war (to make the war technically “legal”). The UN was formed, in part, to prevent such future nation-state aggression. But Gun was really blowing the whistle on the NSA, who requested the kompromat – in fact, she was blowing the whistle on the blackmail activity of the GW Bush administration, who would have directed the NSA to gather such “intel.” An impeachable offense.
Snowden and Gun are whistleblowers, and not politically-motivated leakers. What they released were very serious revelations of the criminal behavior of government officials. Snowden revealed that the real war was not on Terror, but on human privacy. As he wrote in PM, “Any elected government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of a citizenry that regards surveillance as anathema to democracy has effectively ceased to be a democracy.”
Official Secrets also revealed that after suspect government actions leading to Britain’s decision to go to war with Argentina, the so-called Falklands War, the government tightened its whistleblower laws to make what Gun did illegal. She would have gone to jail for reporting a data burglary of Watergate proportions. Since a trial might have compromised American intelligence, the British government dropped their charges. We might have even seen how the Brits, too, use contractors, like, say, Orbis, to do the dirty work of dossier-gathering.
Now that the has been released, we have learned that Christopher Steele is no whistleblower along the lines of Snowden or Gun. His dossier was full of shit, and he may one day be hoiked into his own spittoon. How did he ever get to be called a whistleblower in the first place? Because he had the attentive ear of the MSM, in hate with the Trump administration, willing to listen to his off-the-record kompromat story (September 2016). It’s easy to understand MSM motivation, but they got sucked into a self-degrading compromise of their own. They might as well have been sitting down in a secret meeting with the National Enquirer. They got played.
(You could argue that the MSM – and the rest of us — got played before this way, when another whistleblower, Deep Throat, helped take down a hated president, Richard Nixon. But Mark Felt had an agenda: He resented not being appointed director of the FBI after Hoover died, and didn’t like it one bit when Nixon made a political appointment to the vacant seat. Had Felt been made director, we never would have had Deep Throat. It was nice to see Nixon go, but Felt was a leaker, not a whistleblower.)
As the Horowitz Report makes clear, , which was meant to titillate our late Capitalist prurience-conditioned minds, contained little ‘information’ (and let us recall, from the Stasi’s work, that information is not necessarily fact or truth) more intriguing than references to an alleged incident where Trump, while he was attending a beauty pageant, back in 2013, had some prostitutes piss on a hotel bed that he was told the Obamas had slept in.
Steele’s dossier was salacious and not verifiable. Instead, its veracity was built on Steele’s “reputation” (which was amped up, as they do, when building arguments from authority). Steele was to be seen as an expert on Russian affairs, even though he hadn’t been to Russia in years. He relied on so-called ‘assets’, who were either anything but, or non-existent by virtue of the protection of asset ‘cover’.
Off the record with the MSM, in October 2016, Steele approached David Corn to spread his smear to the Left through Mother Jones. Dossier information was published in MJ, and later in Buzzfeed, in each cased marked unverified. But let’s just say, Steele’s revelations were something less than the sinister implications of the Stellar Wind program whose details the New York Times quashed in October 2004, to prize-winning reporter’s James Risen’s dismay.
Though clearly unverifiable by the supposed best IC services in the world, the Horowitz Report makes clear that in October Surprise Month 2016, the FBI fudged information on the FISA warrants they obtained to legally gather information on Carter Page and, through him, the Trump Campaign. The Report makes clear that the FBI abused its power by essentially lying to the FISA court. Once again, government agencies, with tremendous spying power, opted to use the presumed veracity of their authority to lie instead, when the information didn’t suit their agenda.
Russia may have tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, in the same way America was all to when they did it to Russia in 1996, but so did Ukraine (according to and pieces), and, if the Horowitz Report is to be understood, our “special friends” the Brits. Maybe we should be asking – who didn’t try to interfere in the election?
But more seriously, the Report strongly suggests that elements of the FBI (at the behest of the Obama administration?) were messing with the American electorate themselves by using tainted information, developed by the Clinton campaign through FusionGPS, to get warrants issued against an opponent of their campaign in October Surprise Month 2016. In essence, it sounds like we might have been messing with our own elections.
Speaking of messed up elections, the 2016 Jeb Bush presidential campaign was, , the party that originally hired Steele to “build” a dossier on Trump. (One recalls that Jeb Bush was the governor of Florida when his brother George W. eked out a tiny victory in 2000 – a margin so slim, and contested, that the fact that his brother was running should have required an automatic recount of votes.) Bush has denied any direct link to Steele, but you imagine him placing a call to Hillary, one dynasty to another, and telling her about the Steele work and where to get it.
Trump has been rightly castigated by the MSM for buying into conspiracy-sounding stories about Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 election. In his infamous telephone call, he mumbled something about Crowdstrike, and the DNC servers in the Ukraine, and Biden – to hear him speak: There’s a lack of intelligence between his ears that must make the IC insane. You could see him just mumbling state secrets to Putin, because he’s a dumb shit. But, at the same time, bringing up Crowdstrike is not totally daft. (Now that we know that the “DNC Server” was not LAN-based but WAN-based, the hacking/leaking question takes on a new dimension.) It’s true that Dimitri Alperovitch, CTO of Crowdstrike, is a fellow at the Atlantic Council, where Hillary Clinton received a Distinguished International Leadership Award in 2013, and so that’s an obvious connection.
Not necessarily a big deal, but left out of the equation is the fact that Crowdstrike’s president, Shawn Henry, was arguably the most important agent at the FBI, before he retired after 24 years to join Crowdstrike. According to his , “he oversaw half of the FBI’s investigative operations, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide, international operations, and the FBI’s critical incident response to major investigations and disasters.” One wonders: Did he retire to become what Snowden was – a , better paid, virtually no public accountability for deeds done on contract jobs for the government? More importantly, perhaps, was he CCed in when FBI-Steele transactions were taking place?
But speaking of homo contractuses, why was Mandiant also brought in as back up to the DNC server investigation, given that they are one of Crowdstrike’s main rivals? They came to the same conclusion: The Russians did it. But it’s interesting to note that . So, again, it’s fair, given what Snowden tells us, to ask if Kevin Mandia took an early retirement from his Pentagon position to be a contract employee?
But back to whistleblowers. Our Citizen X, the Ukraine quid pro quo whistleblower. The MSM has released very little information about him, other than acknowledging that he’s a CIA officer, because they don’t want to publish details that would inevitably allow free-thinking individuals to work out who he is. The name of this whistleblower has been circulating for weeks in alternative-to-MSM publications, such as realclearinvestigations.com, run by, ahem, a former NY Times editor. There’s a lot of jumping ship going on: The Intercept is staffed with star reporters from the MSM who couldn’t hack it anymore.
If our third-hand-wringing whistleblower is who these alt-Indies say he is, then he doesn’t fit the criteria that Edward Snowden lays out — a Daniel Ellsberg type — but rather a pawn in the Deep State game. The one-and-only CIA analyst to ever go to prison (albeit deeply minimum) for whistleblowing, John Kiriakou, has weighed in on the master debate. “If he’s a whistleblower,” , “and not a CIA plant whose task it is to take down the president, then his career is probably over.” (I find this amusing, because I always thought of Kiriakou as a plant to apologize for the CIA torture program – he said it worked, but the Torture Report said it didn’t.)
Elsewhere, , “[I]nside the CIA, I guarantee you that people are saying, ‘Well, if he’s willing to rat out the president, he’s probably willing to rat out us.’ And so no one is ever going to trust this guy again.” So, according to K. either he’s a plant or his career is over. We’re told he’s back at the CIA resuming his career. But, because he’s anonymous, he might actually be another homo contractus by now. That’s what the Indie word is.
Unfortunately for the fused agendas of the MSM, our intrepid Deep State Throat, if the alt media information holds up, was a confidante of Joe Biden when he was the “point man” for Ukraine affairs after the CIA-encouraged coup there in 2014. In fact, according to Real Clear, the ‘whistleblower,” was more than that: Deep State Throat was Obama’s NSC director for Ukraine. This has been neither conformed or denied yet though.
There may or may not be anything to the Joe Biden quid pro quo he successfully executed in 2016 and bragged about on live TV, with minor hand-wringing by the MSM, but it is worth noting that the continued investigation into Burisma that Trump was pushing would also have resulted in the question: Why is Cofer Black on its Board of Directors (since just after Trump’s inauguration in 2017)?
It’s speculation, but not wild, that Deep State Throat, Obama’s former NSC liaison for Ukraine, received a call of his own, perhaps from the American embassy anxious to continue the anti-Russian work of the previous administration. As Edward Snowden writes in Permanent Record, “The worst-kept secret in modern diplomacy is that the primary function of an embassy nowadays is to serve as a platform for espionage.”
Because Western democratic citizens live in a politically dysfunctional world — Five Eyes nations are enforcers for nation-state gangster goons guarding their ever-acquisitive interests — without a respected unifying governmental agency, such as a real league of nations, we get nothing crucial done as a globe — see climate change. We’ve become hive-minded, interconnected in uncomfortable ways, and seem to be suffering from some kind of colony collapse of consciousness.
This would help explain how these things keep happening under our noses, while the MSM looks the other way. Or leads us in a rendition of Two Minute Hate. Prey to tiny cornball characters in cyberspace who see themselves as swaggering Gods. Snowden opines, “America remains the hegemon, the keeper of the master switches that can turn almost anyone on and off at will.”
By John Kendall Hawkins
Last week was a shocker for news.
First, there was the Guardian resurrection of Cambridge Analytica “whistleblower” Brittany Kaiser putting out the clickbait headline, ‘global data manipulation is out of control’. She was promising to release more damaging data about the 2016 US presidential election — in the coming months. Her book marketing tactic (Targeted, see the Times review) was endorsed by another self-described “whistleblower,” Christopher Steele, the British contractor who sold the dossier of turds to the FBI.
Steele commented, “…these problems are likely to get worse, not better, and with crucial 2020 elections in America and elsewhere approaching, this is a very scary prospect.” Both Kaiser and Steele interfered in the 2016 election themselves (on opposite sides! maybe even cancelling each other out.) So, what’s scary is that they’re promising to ‘do something about it’ again, and seem to be in league this time. Why the Guardian chose to link them this way is a mystery for the oracle.
Before I could fully recover from that prospect, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist James Risen went apoplectic over at the Intercept: “Donald Trump is a murderer.”
While I was digesting that, over at Rolling Stone, Andy Kroll was proffering the sadistic notion that holding up Nancy Pelosi’s deliverance of impeachment articles to the Senate was her possible tactic of holding back one article in order to try Trump on the other one later, closer to the election. A kind of political double-tap, and a precedent. But there’s been talk of multiple impeachments too. (Think Joe Pesci: Die, die, die.)
That’s all bad enough, but then you go ahead and make the mistake of thinking: Fuck, if Biden gets elected in November, the Democrats had better maintain a majority in the House at the mid-terms, because the Senate’s solidly Republican, and when he get’s impeached (fuckin count on it) probably for his Burisma/Ukraine doings, he could be the first US president to be canned. Mitch McConnell threatened as much on TV just yesterday. These professional quid-pro-quoers in Congress have been going tit-for-tat since Nixon. It was amusing until the circus distraction led to the 1% taking over.
But perhaps the biggest bullshit item of the week was the recent New York Times piece claiming Russians hacked into the servers of Burisma Gas. Forget the convenient timing of it and lack of logic — the suggestion that the same Russian GRU group that “hacked” the DNC in 2016 was now doing Trump another solid by seeking diabolical data on Burisma servers, while the MSM, at the same time ,claims the existence of such data is nothing but “conspiracy theory.” Well, wouldn’t the Russians know the score already? Can it be both ways?
Area 1 is the name of the security firm announcing the breach. No link to the website was offered, but that’s alright, I know how to do a little research, and soon found my way there. “It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for,” write our intrepid Times reporters, but this assertion is contradicted just a few graphs later, when the Times tells us that the “firm maintains a network of sensors on web servers around the globe — many known to be used by state-sponsored hackers — which gives the firm a front-row seat to phishing attacks, and allows them to block attacks on their customers.”
Well, by gum, if their specialty is watching the hackers hack live, as they claim, wouldn’t that suggest that they were watching the Russkies do their B-and-E in real time? And wouldn’t they have followed the mean red hackers all the way back to the mother lode of kompromat? There would have been forensic trails. See, logic tells me that’s what would have happened. But maybe the strangest thing about the Times piece was the presumably unintentional gaffe in one paragraph:
The timing of the Russian campaign mirrors the G.R.U. hacks we saw in 2016 against the D.N.C. and John Podesta,” the Clinton campaign manager, Mr. Falkowitz said. “Once again, they are stealing email credentials, in what we can only assume is a repeat of Russian interference in the last election.
Has the Times become so careless that they don’t bother with a quick copy edit? If Falkowitz was the Clinton campaign chair, we may have a Constitutional crisis on our hands.
Okay, who are these newbie-sounding Area 1 technologists? Well, all three co-founders of Area 1 — Oren Falkowitz, Blake Darché, and Phil Syme — are former hackers or programmers for the NSA. One notes that Darché was formerly a “principal consultant” at Crowdstrike, the DNC-contracted security firm. Then with a little data digging and dot matrix control, one discovers that one of the founders of Crowdstrike — no, not the Russian guy — is Shawn Henry, a 24-year veteran of the FBI, who “oversaw half of the FBI’s investigative operations, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide.”
But back at Burisma, why is there no mention in the Times article of Cofer Black, the ex-CIA director of the Center for Counterterrorism (CTC), who once vowed something like he’d fight terrorists until flies were skating across their eyeballs like they were at the Rockefeller Center. He joined the Board of Directors of the under-investigated Burisma shortly after Trump’s Inauguration in 2017? Did Black, who Burisma’s web profile describes as “an internationally recognized authority on counterterrorism, cyber security, national security,” get consulted, questioned, or de-briefed by Area 1, given Black’s expertise? Might Black have had conversations with the NSC officer (the unnamed Deep State Throat) assigned to Ukraine when he arrived — to go over the political terrain, as it were? Burisma employees were said, in the Times piece, to have been deluged by a Russian phishing expedition in an effort to get someone to take the bait: Did Black bite?
All of this ex-Intelligence Community (IC) activity in the private sector made me think of Edward Snowden’s memoir, Permanent Record, and, more specifically, his chapter Homo Contractus, which details how the system works. Snowden says that the main reason for the huge surge in private contracting since 9/11 is to get around congressional limits on hiring more IC operatives. There are kickbacks, he writes: cooperating Congressmen get “high-paying” positions at “the very companies they’ve just enriched.”
So, some ex-government employees and retired military types start up security companies and at job fairs poach government IC workers with high security clearances. “After all,” writes Snowden, clearance can take a year to obtain from the government, and rather than “pay you to wait around for a year for the government approval. It makes more financial sense for a company to just hire an already cleared government employee.” And, after he negotiated his salary upward at his interview, Snowden was hired by a private company to do public work — with no real accountability to the public.
Snowden seemed to be working for Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell Computers, but he was actually working for the CIA and, later, the NSA — at their offices. In other words, the jobs were just cover. If something went wrong with an operation conducted by a contractor, then the contractor could be blamed, which is what happened with Snowden, he says; his leaks were a ‘rogue contractor’ problem.
So, considering Snowden’s insider observations, many questions emerge about these various doings: Are Oren Falkowitz and Blake Darché still working for the government, but under the cover of private contractors? What about Crowdstrike’s Shawn Henry? Hell, for that matter, what about Cofer Black — is he a homo contractus in the Snowden style, doing the US government’s bidding at Burisma? What’s Black’s take on Trump’s telephone pressure on Zelensky to start up the investigation of Burisma again?
I am reminded of something I read from Kevin Mandia, founder of Mandiant (since merged with the CIA-startup FireEye), a few years back. He gave testimony before a congressional subcommittee on intelligence back in 2011 and it was double-take stuff:
The majority of threat intelligence is currently in the hands of the government. Indeed, more than 90 percent of the breaches MANDIANT responds to are first detected by the government, not the victim companies. That means that 9 in every 10 companies we assist had no idea they had been compromised until the government notified them.
Think of what he’s saying here. Back in 2011, in 90% of the cases companies victimized by hackers first found out about it from the government. The other part of the equation is that companies like Mandiant, FireEye, Crowdstrike, etc., are called in to be ghostbusters to the presumed spooks hacking at company secrets.
I don’t blame James Risen for his rage. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who may have been driven from the Times due, in part, to the timidity of their national security reporting: In October 2004 they quashed an extremely important public information story just before the election that would harmed George W. Bush’s re-election chances by revealing that his administration was illegally eavesdropping on Americans — information that would have come nine years before Snowden ended up detailing it, in 2013.
But I never read Risen refer to Bush as a murderer in the media, although his illegal devastation of Iraq was nothing short of mass murder. Risen never called Obama a murderer, although his use of drones, especially in targeting American citizens overseas (including a teenager sitting at a cafe), was premeditated as can be. Poor Risen may have snapped with Trump, and who can blame him. We have a cartoon figure in charge of real people.
Similarly, talk of multiple impeachments is pure crazy talk, and sadly, once again, the Democrats, who aren’t much better than the Republicans (remember: Americans vote the lesser of two evils) and play right into the hands of would-be electoral manipulators who seem intent on making the 2020 election a referendum on the Trump presidency rather than a contest of the best ideas for progressing a 200-year old democracy into the 21 century with devastating issues to solve — like Climate Change..
What the fuck are we going to do if He wins again — or worse: we accept the crypto-mandate that states He must lose at any price, even a secret Banana Republic intervention (think: Henry Kissinger) that will finish off any pretense that the country is free?
By John Kendall Hawkins
They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town.
- Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”
They walked in from the Left.
They walked in from the Right.
They walked in to Judge.
They walked in to Fight.
They came to determine the fate of two hushed words: “Joe Biden.”
Officially, the articles (the charges) are: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Remove “Joe Biden” from the telephone transcript of a July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and the top Ukrainian servant of the people, President Volodymyr Zelensky, and there is no impeachment. Just quid pro quo. Same ol’ same ‘ol Congressmen know like a second pledge of allegiance.
Me and some buddies gathered and walked to see the show, sneaking into the peanut gallery, the nosebleed seats, the democratic bleachers — call it what you will — by a means I won’t reveal, except to say it reminded me of my pre-pube years weaseling my way into Boston Garden to watch Espo and Bobby Orr. But our expectations were decidedly lowered at angel heights in the Senate chamber. Lots of hoi-polloi had beat us to it and the heights were full-throated and busy-lipped. Everyone shared an opinion on the buzz below.
I heard one guy say Congress (urged on by the MSM) was thinking of making the theatrics a seasonal event, including some kind of playoff format. The guy in front of me, who looked an awful lot like Christopher Steele, was laying down a bet on impeachment with Irish booky Paddy Power, which had Trump heavily favored to beat the rap (1/50).
All eyes were on Nancy Pelosi, as she struggled with eyelineritis and handed out cheap black plastic pens, and mumbled something about freedom, while pointing to a hashtag. Souvenirs of the iconic House member walk to the Senate could be had at recess some aide announced.
There was lots of talk of multiple impeachments. Soften him up now for the October Surprise impeachment on tax evasion or murder or OCD-ing it on the emollients (manus manum lavat, goes the law). Something criminal, instead of just political. It’s a better viewer experience.
There was even talk from the raucous bluebird section, toodling and tweeting about retroactive impeachments, which brings to mind quantum and new Dr. Who episodes and all kinds of evil scenarios. George Washington smoked pot, he owned slaves — he not only crossed the Delaware; he may have crossed The Line a few times. (And what’s with the wooden teeth? Did he go to a dentist who used a woodpecker to drill away his cavities?) We could finish Nixon’s impeachment; and impeach Gerald Ford for criminally pardoning him. We could impeach Clinton again for setting back philosophy studies 1000 years with his trippy “is/is” comment. We could impeach Reagan for his trickle down voodoo that handed us all over to the 1%. On it goes…
The attractive woman wearing a tight Che T-shirt (I love women in uniform) over my shoulder was cackling about how McConnell, Graham, and Alan Dershowitz were seemingly threatening to tit-for-tat impeach into the foreseeable future. One mud pie tosses the other.
The intent of the current articles of impeachment seem to be a Democrat party punishment for Trump’s presumed (and still anything but proven) theft, with Russia, of the 2016 presidential election, as well as a determination to prevent him from the presumed stealing of the next one — with the help of the comedian in charge of Ukraine, who must miss his IMDB 7.2 rating by now.
Leroi Jones, my bud to the left, who is seething and looking like his head might explode, points out that the Democrat impeachment is just a clown show; they could have impeached Trump on all kinds of awful things, like the Suleimani hit, but they don’t want to, as they don’t want to take that abuse of power away from a future president of their own. Elizabeth Warren might be called upon early to prove her mettle ala Hillary “Hanson” Clinton, because she’s a woman (but it depends on what your definition of is is). LeRoi showed me an ear piece in the Black Agenda Report, to which I have in the past donated, to bolster his rap.
An announcement said that multiple whistleblowers had now come forward to bring down Trump, as their lawyer vowed he would do in 2017. “Maybe some of them could be put in storage for later impeachments,” the wise guy a couple of seats over snarked.
Then it was loudly announced that Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz would be coming to Trump’s rescue. Dershowitz successfully defended a serial pedo in Flo-ho; Starr went after Clinton and his affair with an intern and brutalized him, but devastated her life. When Starr didn’t get far uncovering evil in the Clintons’ Arkansas real estate dealings, he went after sex charges and their cover-up led to impeachment. (FTR, Clinton got re-elected anyway — by a landslide, sorta,)
A reaction shot on the big screen showed Monica Lewisnsky outraged by Starr’s appointment. It must have brought back impeachment tears, said the guy directly behind me. “Are you f—ing kidding me,” she reportedly gaped.
The conservatives are calling it a “coup cabal,” or, at least, that’s how Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch refers to the impeachment. JW’s too right wing for me, although I had to doff my Patriots cap when they FOIA-ed the Obama administration conversations with film director Katherine Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. JW produced documentation that the film was a propaganda flick (with classified information about the Abbottabad raid shared with the filmmakers) originally intended to be released in October 2012, just before the presidential election, but moved back as a result of criticism. Bigelow called the film “journalistic,” but it did seem to contain supernatural elements.
My buddy Dave, a few seats over to the right, was sardonically gassing, “The Joe Biden speech where he crowed about firing the investigator of Burisma in exchange for Ukraine receiving 1 billion dollars. Big Joe Biden tough on corruption. What he didn’t say is that no further investigations of Burisma have taken place since that firing. Nicely played, Joe.” I was hoping not to hear about Burisma, the Day-Glo elephant in a very dark room. Next thing, someone might be inappropriately referencing Coffee Black, the “ex” CIA executive on the Burisma board.
But then I was distracted from distraction by more distraction, as T.S. Eliot would say, and, in front of me, a dazzling blonde with an iPhone was viewing an interview with Kelley Anne Conway, threatening, in that aggressively passive tone that makes you just crazy, that if the Demos called witnesses, the Repugs would do the same, and they had better be careful of what they wished for, because they would call up Hunter Biden, and, her tone seemed to imply, go to town on him.
Mikey, three seats to the left of me, who hates everything, muttered, “After reading the Horowitz Report, what I want to know is whether we aren’t interfering in our own elections.”
“Bakhtin and the mischief of the carnivalesque,” whined an intellectual to my right somewhere; my fist cocked instinctively, and I was ready to roll out the barrel should his chin require it. He went on, like a taunt, “The problem with the deep state isn’t whether it exists or not — Ike and Snowden have said it does, and the nice middle class man from PBS, Bill Moyers, has chipped in too — but whether it’ll just turn out to be one more shallow enterprise run by machines….”
I got edgy, and we had to leave. I wasn’t sure I cared about Democracy anymore. I looked down at the proceedings one last time. And saw a vision not so splendid in the dark and now intimate room. More walking, and Lady Liberty, er, re-oriented on a dining table, all the little festival legislators pigging out in the pork barrel. Hmph.
When I got home, I didn’t bother getting off my high horse. Fuck it. Patriots, too, get tired blowing the warning trumpet and having nobody respond. They just want to hit the hay and settle into the nightmare democracy has become. And sleep the sleep of sleep.
No somnambulism allowed.
by John Kendall Hawkins
The System is the Solution.
– AT&T slogan circa 1970
If you look too long into the deep state, the deep state also looks into you.
– Variation of a Nietzsche cliché
Fifty years ago, from a cell in Chicago, Abbie Hoffman wrote in his introduction that “Steal This Book is, in a way, a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika.” Infused with his infectious levity and intelligence, the book seemed to follow up on his 60s walk-the-talk credo: “Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”
The Military-Industrial conspiracy that President Eisenhower theorized about to Americans as he left office in 1960, has taken over, and spread its tentacles, and turned the country into a prison — until, the only way you can determine if you have a parole in the offing any time soon is by checking your Credit Report (and even that checking is held against you).
So, the first thing Steal This Book represents is a moral and political confrontation. Steal the fucking thing. When you can set off a revolution in someone’s head — or at least make it spin — just from reading the title, and forcing the would-be reader to consider their imprisonment in the system where they and their desires exist solely to feed The Man, then you are some kind of agent provocateur.
Abbie was pssst-ing that he’s on a jailbreak and would you like to come along. Liberate the fucking thing and join him in survival mode in the wilds of freedom, the book would tell how to tunnel through — dumpster-diving is in the offing, snatching clothes from Goodwill boxes, hitchhiking across Amerika, and even enjoying the occasional fine dining — but lo! “halfway through the main course, take a little dead cockroach or a piece of glass out of your pocket and place it deftly on the plate.” Then scream bloody Mary. (And put that on the tab, too.) Abbie’s kind of theatrical democracy was being-in-the-world, or being-as-activism, not just surfing and burfing,
I was reminded of Hoffman’s Steal This Book when I began reading the recently released ‘survival manual’ A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity by Tim Schwartz. Like Abbie’s book, the title presents a concept that would rattle most people today: public service: whoa. From the circus in D.C. to the oligarchical masters we call the 1%, you’re not seeing much public service these days.
If Abbie blew the whistle loudly and often from the outside, Schwartz is calling for a sneaky insurrection from the unknown interior of the MIC that we call today the deep state (DS). In a globalized world, the DS is virtually unfathomable. Scary stuff to go up against, but A Public Service explains in great detail how to do it. “If you see something you think is wrong but don’t know how to do anything about it,” Schwartz writes in very Ralph Nader-like prose, “let this book be your guide.”
Schwartz doesn’t challenge us to steal his book — at least not explicitly — but he does admonish the would-be reader, “If you can, purchase this book anonymously or gift it to a friend anonymously.” Why? Because, in the world we inhabit and in the system we belong to, every purchase is databased, and presumably — Schwartz’s implicit warning — whoever purchases a how-to book on whistleblowing will be referred, algorithmically, to a list of potential state threats requiring further eyeballing — a disposition matrix, if you will. So, like Hoffman, Schwartz might as well be telling the would-be reader to steal the fucking book.
A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity is not just a how-to book on exposing corruption and wrong-doing; it is also a very important snapshot of our era. If Abbie was all about liberating the mind to open up a world of adventure in being and getting stuff free, Schwartz is all about “compartmentalization,” of living two lives (at least) in a System that hungers for your privacy: you need to offer up an effigy-self to keep the data-deus ex machina types at bay. Schwartz makes it very clear: If you want to whistleblow you could be risking family, career, marriage — even your life. “Frankly,” he writes, “we’re still just at the beginning of this era of privacy invasion.”
You should never judge a book by its title, but with whistleblower Edward Snowden’ s Permanent Record the reader gets as close s/he can possibly get to the soul of a narrative before actually reading it. He means it: The American government, with the help of its data-gathering 14 Eyes partners, is gathering up information on every mobile or Internet-connected individual on the planet. They have a permanent dossier on each and every one of us. Snowden writes, “We are the first people in the history of the planet for whom this is true, the first people to be burdened with data immortality, the fact that our collected records might have an eternal existence.” This is germaine to Schwartz’s world view, and cites Snowden regularly.
There are three main sections of A Public Service, roughly corresponding with the sub-title of the book: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity. In the first section, Schwartz provides a cultural and linguistic context, as well as the work (and life) of whistleblowing. Different cultures have different words and connotations. The Finns, for instance, say ilmiantaja, which suggests fink or rat. A google search of klokkenluider, from the Dutch, “evoking the idea of someone ringing the church bell to warn the town of danger.” In America, Ralph Nader gives the term whistleblowing “a meaning of moral courage.” He should know.
Though Schwartz acknowledges that Snowden meets the criteria of what he would call a ‘whistleblower’, he goes out of his way to put the emphasis on action throughout the book. He writes, “As an example, instead of saying ‘whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg,’ we might simply say, ‘Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.’” Thus, we would say, Katherine Gun, who revealed that the NSA had hit on GCHQ to gather kompromat on UN security members to blackmail into supporting the Iraq war. And, as Schwartz cites in his introduction, Peter Buxtun, who documented how a Tuskegee study on syphilis in the 60s intentionally neglected to treat African-American volunteers with the venereal disease — even though treatment was available.
With the emphasis on action rather than labels, Schwartz is hoping that a person will keep in mind the overwhelming value of the public service they are providing, rather than dwelling on how they will be perceived with the label. Whether the revelations will come from the Corporate world (Du Pont, Monsanto) or the U.S. Government (Stellar Wind, “Collateral Murder”), and no matter what the issue — sexual abuse, electoral fraud, pay-to-play, high crimes and misdemeanors — Schwartz emphasizes the importance of guarding your identity. Though it seems, at times, that whistleblowers are coming out of the woodwork all over the place, it’s important to acknowledge the malevolent partisan atmosphere that defines the political theatrics in Washington these days and the tone it sets nationally.
There is a very specific set of procedures for gathering documentation to support your proposed revelations, which, in the compartmentalized life Schwartz alludes to earlier, may involve purchasing a second computer device (say, a Tablet), staying away from SIM cards, using encryption, amping up your discretion, wearing disguises when you purchase, transacting with cash, going to free wi-fi, purchasing small denomination VISA gift cards, stalking yourself (to see what they have on you already). “You are your data,” he writes, echoing Edward Snowden in Permanent Record, and, again, “Your data will be used against you.”
Frankly, it sounds like a conspiracy theorist’s kit, in some ways, but if you choose to blow the whistle, expect to be hunted down, retaliated against, and be dealing with paranoia. One side or the other will want to get you. Compartmentalization is key. Schwartz writes, “We are in a digital arms race. The surveillants have more time, money, and power. The only way to win this war is by adopting an alternative frame of mind: compartmentalization.” I’m thinking: Joseph Conrad: “The Secret Sharer.”
This raises another crucial point: “find a partner.” Schwartz advises that it is always best to seek out the counsel of a lawyer first — but, he says, “It’s important to find a lawyer who understands the intricacies of your situation and who aligns with your ethics..” Better not just call any ol’ Saul. Another potential partner to release your documentation to is a journalist. Schwartz says you need to do your homework on a journalist. He writes, “Beyond having an understanding of the topic, a journalist partner should be able to convey the issues involved to the public. Edward Snowden was very deliberate in approaching Glenn Greenwald.”
You should be very careful in trusting someone internally, whether in the government milieu or corporate. “Once you tell someone internally,” writes Schwartz, “your anonymity and the protection that comes with it have the potential to be lost forever.” And, he adds, driving home the danger here, “In 2018, the Global Business Ethics Survey found that 40 percent of the time that an employee exposed wrongs, they were retaliated against.”
Perhaps the most difficult area of government to blow the whistle on is the one needing it the most: the Intelligence Community. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, after Trump lashed out at the IC, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Further, the only CIA whistleblower to ever go to jail for leaking, John Kirikaou, has said that IC whistleblowers are unfavorably looked upon and can expect their careers to end suddenly.
If you can accept the discretion required for partnering and the need for compartmentalization, then maybe you’re ready for the most difficult part: mastering the technology involved in keeping you and your documentation hidden and protected. Schwartz reminds, “Protecting your identity is the priority, and anonymity is the key to success.” As indicated earlier, it can require the care and dedication of having a second life. These are dangerous times for whistleblowing. Be anonymous and encrypted. Schwartz insists: “Go install Signal right now. Go install Wire right now. Try them out!” AND “Email is not a recommended communication technique!” And, by the way, make sure you tell yourself you won’t become a film star — it’s for the public service, and you may have to settle for knowing your revelations helped right a wrong.
Speaking of films, if you need or want Hollywood inspirations for pursuing the second life of whistleblowing, dozens of movies have been made on the subject.
It’s hard to tell whether this is a sign that whistleblowing works, or we’re so fucking corrupt that the best we can hope for is to see a decent movie produced from the revelations with an IMDB rating of 7 or above.
A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity contains a number of other sections that would prove valuable. There’s a section on Risk Assessment, where you ask yourself such questions as: “Who doesn’t want you to disclose this information? Who is your adversary?” There’s a section that suggests several starting point questions you can ask your partner once you’ve settled on one. There’s some example scenarios to coax your situation. There’s even Edward Snowden’s initial letter to Laura Poitrast to get his 2013 revelations going.
The Appendix includes a “social contract” offered to the reader, including, “In writing this book, I have tried to provide usable information on tools, techniques, and systems allowing the reader to be anonymous, private, and secure.” AND “I will never intentionally harm you, the reader.” All of this nice and reassuring, but unnecessary. In fact, it might even be a little disturbing that a writer feels the need to assure us he’s not out to fuck with us.
It’s an excellent book for the task it sets itself. Sane, sober advice. No jokes, no sarcasm. The book not only tells you how to prepare and succeed as a whistleblower, but gives a heapin’ helpin’ of sage advice. If you’re going to be a critical thinker in the current era, guard your privacy and integrity with your life: beware the eyes all around you and the shivs sheathed (shhh) but ready everywhere. As in the film Network, a whistleblowing about the MSM’s endless blatherscheissen, we should all be mad as hell now, with our heads out our windows, and whistling madly that we’re not gonna take it any more.
By John Kendall Hawkins
“He could see it comin’ through the door as he lifted up his fork.”
Bob Dylan, “Joey” from Desire (1976)
Thirty-five years ago, Sergio Leone’s long, brooding masterwork, Once Upon A Time in America, was released and received mixed popular and critical responses (depending upon which version was watched — the long European version or the much shorter American version). Like his previous award-winning Civil War saga, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, 18 years earlier, themes of brotherhood and betrayal, the fragility of civilization, and the ultimate moral bankruptcy of pursuing money at the cost of humanity.
The one Leone gem ends in a graveyard showdown — imagine the greed implicit in knowing that a pot of gold is buried under one of those graves at, say, Arlington Cemetery and you stand there with a spade determined to dig up every grave to find it; the other ending, a black Mack garbage truck, an implied suicide, and 35 years of shared memories laid to waste. A young Robert DeNiro, playing an old jaded man, looks on, and you can see it sinking in — in to you, the viewer, an epiphany you don’t even want to think about, amplified, in each film, by an almost-cruel Ennio Morricone soundtrack. DeNiro looking to where friend James Wood used to be: You talkin’ to me?
As I watched an old DeNiro, playing an old Frank Sheeran, at home processing his betrayal of old friend Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) — the betrayal amplified by Peggy, his knowing and unforgiving daughter — in Martin Scorcese’s new Netflix film, The Irishman, I remembered that face stare after the garbage truck receding into the darkness. Sheeran had lost his best friend and daughter forever in one action, the murder of Hoffa, a psychic catastrophe so profound that, though a lapsed Catholic, he seeks out confessional absolution — in the end, a stand-up guy kneeling before the ear of an inscrutable God. The mystery of faith. Why have you forsaken me.
That look of unbearable sin, coming after more than three and a half hours of rapt viewing, opened up the caskets of a lot of old memories, related tangentially to the film’s themes. I recalled an early childhood growing up in Boston, the hoodlum “Whitey” Bulger calling the shots in the Irish-American neighborhoods of Charlestown and Southie, depicted in the media like the Nicholson character from The Departed, and his brother, Billy, calling the shots, and packing the groceries, in the Massachusetts senate. There was the morning in the late 60s when, a la Stand By Me, I discovered a bullet-riddled body in the mud behind a bar, a target of the city’s gangland violence, as I walked up Bunker Hill Street to school.
After moving, I remembered briefly attending the Michaelangelo school, not far from that beacon of revolution, the North Church, in the Italian-American neighborhood known as the North End. A kid in one class, a clown, danced around like James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, and reminded me years later of Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs. Dove la biblioteca? I repeated, in my best Brad Pitt accent, when my sexy teacher said, “Ripeti dopo di me,” and threw the book at my accent with those deep brown eyes. They were coming by land and sea.
Occasionally, I played street hockey there, in a playground, next to the garage where the Great Brink’s Job was done in 1950, until I wore out my welcome, by returning a hip check up against a chain link fence, delivered by a bully-in-the-making, who thought he was a Bruins enforcer. Turned out he wasn’t, but hadn’t gotten the message. At least, that’s what I tell myself, and what good’s memory if it doesn’t flatter. Rhetorical.
The Irishman is a movie about storytelling, myths, history and memory. Like Leone’s Once Upon A Time, which is based on Harry Grey’s autobiography, The Hoods, which chronicles the doings of Jewish mobsters in Manhattan during the Prohibition, The Irishman is adapted from a nonfiction account of mafia hitman Frank Sheeran’s time with Jimmy Hoffa, titled I Hear You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. These emphases on Jewish and Irish psyches is a welcome change from the long-stereotyped “thinking” Italian-American hoodlums are dressed in on screen. And Bogart, Cagney, Edward G., and John Garfield drilled each other with cardboard gats throughout my childhood. Still, they could be nasty.
But The Irishman is a story within a story within a story, and then some: There’s Scorcese’s tale to us, the viewer (with our unique responses); there’s Sheeran’s reluctant confessions to Brandt (for a book) and to a priest (for his soul); there’s the memory of confessionals as places of stories that priests (mere humans) must hear and collect (how did they do it?) and absolve (for a week, until the sinner and his voice returns with more); there’s the narrative tension of mafia omerta juxtaposed with Jimmy Hoffa’s bluster, and Sheeran’s agony of being that tension’s middleman; there’s the story of what criminals tell their families and the implicit weight of those stories carried out into the “real” world by the ones they love; intertextuality meets intratextuality; and, there’s the story of all these old actors reuniting for this film, like family.
Early in The Irishman you could almost believe you’re watching an Oliver Stone film, as a case is made that the truth of John F. Kennedy’s assassination is finally being revealed: Mobsters delivered the Illinois vote Kennedy needed in 1960 to win the presidential election, and when his brother, Robert, the attorney general, went after mobsters responsible for his victory, something had to be done. We see these same mobsters, working with the CIA and Cuban exiles in Miami, working to overthrow Castro, to make Cuba safe for casinos and capitalism again, angrily blaming Kennedy for the lack of air support that would have made the Bay of Pigs invasion a success. Something had to be done.
But then you realize Scorcese’s just messing with us, reminding us: It’s only a movie. It didn’t really happen that way. Kennedy had enough electoral college votes to win the presidency– without Illinois. So he owed the mobsters nothing on that account. And according to some plausible historical accounts, regarding the Bay of Pigs invasion (Ike’s idea), Kennedy refused to risk escalating World War 3 we’re in, from a cold war to a hot one by bombing Cuba, so no air support.
And this, too, is just a story — my take on what Scorcese was doing with a screenplay adapted from a book, written by a prosecutor, with an agenda, based upon the ‘confession’ of a conflicted hitman telling tales, drawn from omerta hearsay infused with goombah mysticism. It’s only a movie, but Scorcese is an old man looking back, like DeNiro, at a garbage truck receding, carrying away the past, and you the viewer, if old enough to remember, stuck with that WTF feeling. The nostalgia for a nostalgia you can no longer feel.
Along with DeNiro and Pacino, The Irishman features Joe Pesci (playing a marvelously subdued mobster, Russell Bufalino), Harvey Keitel (mobster Angelo Bruno), Ray Romano (Bill Bufalino), and Ann Paquin (as grown up daughter Peggy Sheeran, who does an excellent job expressing her rage and disgust at what her father represents). The film purports to tell us, finally and definitively, who killed Jimmy Hoffa. But it’s only a story that may or may not be true. Charles Brandt, while convinced that Sheeran killed Hoffa, spends some time in his Afterword and Epilogue somewhat defensively looking for corroborating evidence that his confession was true. Scorcese does the same. I Hear You Tell Stories. Despite Scorcese’s adaptation of Brandt’s account, there are alternative views out there.
The Irishman is about the fall of Jimmy Hoffa; about his charisma and power over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; and, about how he wielded enormous influence by using the union’s pension fund to get things done, such as start-up money for Vegas casinos. But Scorcese’s Hoffa has serious animus in his dealings with mobsters who con, blackmail and extort their way into power plays. Jimmy believes he’s paid his dues in the Just Is system; he’s climbed to the top through will and skill, without compromising. Pacino plays Hoffa as a tragic figure, full of hubris, going up against the underworld deus ex machina, also uncompromising. Something had to give.
For all intents and purposes, Hoffa effectively disappeared from public consciousness 52 years ago, when he was sentenced to 14 years for jury tampering, fraud and bribery, and that disappearance has become, like Who Killed JFK?, bigger than the man himself. The charges against Hoffa don’t have a lot of moral or operational separation from the mobsters he cinematically despises. Richard Nixon commuted his sentence in 1971 (arguably, because Hoffa’s unions supported his presidential candidacy in 1968), but he was forbidden from pursuing a return to his throne before 1980. By then, it wasn’t his union anymore. He just wouldn’t accept it. But so what. For a young Netflix generation, Hoffa’s rage against the dying of his light only works as Story. We postmoderns can’t relate to it as reality.
And yet, since the days when Robert Kennedy made the dissolution of gangsters his priority, beginning in the 60s under JFK, there seems to have been a steady decline in their influence, or else they’ve changed their game. By the time Frank Sheeran took out “Crazy Joe” Gallo, while he was lifting up his fork at Umberto’s Clam Bar in New York on April 7, 1972 (depicted in The Irishman, and deepening my understanding of the Dylan song), mobsters were already at each others’ throats, having more than their usual intramural gunplay fun, thanks, in part, to the turmoil caused by the passage of the RICO Act, signed into law in 1970 by none other than Richard Nixon.
In 1984, then U.S. Attorney Rudy Guliani went Eliot Ness (channeling RFK) and, setting up a 450-officer task force, went after the so-called “Commission” — five families, based in New York, in charge of organized crime throughout America, including Lucchese, Gambino, Columbo, Bonanno and Genovese. Many high profile arrests and convictions were painted across the pages of the press, some more lurid than others. Guliani even claimed he had the RICO goods on the Clintons. Such RICO convictions paved the way for Guliani’s mayoral ascension. Once his “stoic calm” during the collapse of his city, all around him, on 9/11, made him a hero (somehow) and he was dubbed “America’s mayor,” his reputation was bound to free fall when he became Donald Trump’s legal mouthpiece.
Jimmy Hoffa wasn’t around to watch the collapse of union power in America in the 80s. The idea of “union” seemingly crash-landed in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan, former head of the Screen Actors Guild, fired 11,000 air traffic controllers who went on strike illegally. Rather than planes falling out of the sky, Americans saw Reagan replace the lot of them with new controllers immediately and without much fuss: bringing ka-chingaling on the political cachet front for the newly-elected Reagan, who seemingly manhandled the Left in one fell swoop.
As financial magazine The Motley Fool, put it a few years back:
When Reagan led the Screen Actors Guild walkout in 1952, roughly a third of the entire American workforce belonged to a labor union. Today, about 12% of the workforce is unionized. Corporate profits are at an all-time postwar high as a percentage of GDP, and wages as a percentage of GDP have fallen to an all-time low….
About the only place unions seem to have any real clout any more is in professional sports. Fiscal conservatives have been calling the shots since Reagan.
I’m haunted by DeNiro’s face, as it watches things recede and disappear, not sure if the quiet despair is his projection as an actor, or my projection, looking back at increasingly fathomless memories, as I grow old. The Irishman seems a kind of swan song, not just for the talented ensemble — Scorcese, DeNiro, Pacino, Pesci and Keitel — but for looking at the past. It’s over. America is no place for old white men. No value judgement: Just a fact.
But more, we ignored Ike’s warning: he’d have been dismissed as a conspiracy theorist if he were alive today, saying the same thing. The MIC has won: we are in a virtual coup, with so much of the budget (and so much of that secret) delivered to the Masters of War in endless battle against Terror (Man’s oldest nemesis), and the predators of Wall Street becoming the eyes on the pyramid schemes depicted on every dega dollar. Now there is the Deep State that Snowden says controls us all. We have a president, likened to a mobster (and familiar with mobsters depicted in Scorcese’s film), and once having been sued under RICO for a scam. He is half-assedly befriended and legally protected by Rudy Guliani.
If there’s a black lining to this silver screen gem, it’s that this might end up being one of Donald Trump’s favorite films, despite the fact that it doesn’t feature him in any way. But he’ll be able to read between the lines and express fond reminiscing about broking power, him and Rudy working the postmodern mob.
But Lo! Lady Liberty with her torch was there a moment ago, but disappeared into that black Mack truck passing by, out of which no light can escape.
“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.
- O’Brien to Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Seventy years ago, on August 29, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first nuclear bomb, and became the only other state power on the planet, after the United States, with nuclear WMD. Thus commenced an ever-expanding arms race between the two global powers in what became known as the Cold War. Democracy versus Totalitarianism, duking it out, like rock’em-sock’em robots (sold in America; means of production: Marx!), in proxy battles from Central America to the Middle East to Vietnam — held in check by one lone term of engagement: MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. America has been at war with Russia my entire life. That year also saw the publication of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which enacts a future where such forces — Oceania and Eastasia — have gone from Cold to Hot.
Thirty five years later, the real-world Oceania and Eastasia, flashed hot eyes at each other, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev not blinking. Reagan was all Bonzo giddy, feeling oats he hadn’t felt since his Hollywood Western days, pressing a presumed advantage — telling Gorby to “tear down that [Berlin] wall,” touting Star Wars (an ICBM missile shield defense system), and waxing so jocular, at one point, that during a break in a radio interview Reagan’s flippant words (“the bombing begins in five minutes”) put the Soviets on edge — and red alert. (An even more flippant NBC commentator quipped that the alert may have been triggered by a lone drunken Russian officer).
But it wasn’t all a Deep State chucklefestival. Two graphic films depicting nuclear annihilation, Threads (1983) and The Day After (1984) reminded everybody just how close to MAD Oceania and Eastasia were getting. Tensions were ratcheted to the breaking point: The Soviet economy was teetering; the Berlin Wall fell five years later; the USSR crumbled and Gorbachev eventually gave way to the Russian Trump — Boris Yeltsin. Oceania giddyupped into Eastasia with strings-attached das kapital shortly thereafter. Not every Muscovite was gleeful to see the Golden Arches roll into town, driven by the clown-Christ of capitalism, Ronald McDonald. Nyet, some nationalists griped, while scarfing down a Quarterpounder™ with cheese — and borschtroot — and condemblating how to meddle in future American helectoral process.
Thirty five years later, we have our own clown-Christ of capitalism, pre-kompromised, installed in the Oval Office, the result of, US intelligence agencies allege, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, a form of sado-masochistic paranoia seems to have gripped the nation — the president (“Fake News”), the MSM (“Putin’s Puppet”), the People (“they looked left, they looked right, but they couldn’t tell the difference”). In his new biography, The Ministry of Truth, Dorian Lynskey notes that just four days after Trump’s 2017 Inauguration, “US sales of [Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketed] by almost 10,000 per cent, making it a number-one best seller.”
Lynskey attributes this panic-driven sales soar to claims by the new administration that Trump attracted the “‘largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.’” It was a wild claim, immediately debunked by the MSM, but doubled down on by Trump adviser, Kelly Anne Conway, who dismissed the glaring evidence and pronounced that the new administration would be opting to go with “alternative facts.” Alarm bells went off across the media frontier. As Lynskey’s citing of the statistic suggests, this sounded an awful lot like the “doublethink” gobbledygook of Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, Nineteen Eighty-Four. If people were going to be living in a parallel universe, they wanted to know what to expect.
Like Dorian Lynskey’s previous work, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, in The Ministry of Truth the author shows he is adept at showing the confluence of ideas expressed by the voices of myriad protest leaders, whether through song or, if you will, dystopian visions. Ministry is a biography limited to an exploration of the etiology of Orwell’s masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four (and to some degree, Animal Farm).
In Part One, Lynskey traces the roots and evolution of Orwell’s creative and political ideas, his experiences fighting fascists and communists; and, the literary influence of H.G. Wells, Eugene Zamiatin, and a wealth of others in a cross-pollination and intertextuality that not only help define the genre but demonstrate the interpenetration of human ideas in general. In Part Two, Lynskey traces “the political and cultural life” of the novel, from Orwell’s death to Trump’s Inaugural.
Like so many other European and American Lefties who signed on as mercenaries to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39, George Orwell came away from the shattering experience thoroughly disillusioned, his ideals in disarray. “The fascists had behaved just as appallingly as he had expected they would,” Lynskey writes, “but the ruthlessness and dishonesty of the communists had shocked him.” He’d come to fight in a great battle of Good versus Evil — writers like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn and John Dos Passos had come to bear witness — but “[w]hat he found was ‘a bad copy of 1914–18, a positional war of trenches, artillery, raids, snipers, mud, barbed wire, lice and stagnation.’”
Further, reading battle reports, Orwell discovered “that the Left-wing press [was] every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right.” However, aside from the usual horrors of the war and the way they were reported, Orwell did experience moments that would prove useful in his writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lynskey writes, “Orwell found in the trenches a superior version of the cleansing egalitarianism that he had found among the tramps, and it made him a socialist at last.” A ‘cleansing egalitarianism’ (Brotherhood) is a key theme in his dystopian novel.
In another incident helpful to his fiction, he refused to shoot a fascist with his pants down, mooning melancholically, and noting of the brotherly Francophile that he was “visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him” while he’s shitting. But in a later incident, Orwell is so rattled by a rodent that he opens fire, “thus alerting the enemy and triggering a fierce firefight,” that was nearly catastrophic to his comrades in arms. Rats turn out to be Winston Smith’s greatest fear, at the end of the novel, and the means to breaking down his ego.
Probably the biggest disappointment Orwell took away from the war was the behavior of the communists; he’d served with a Marxist militia unit (POUM) and saw their atrocities close up. Lynskey wonders:
Why did Orwell criticise communism so much more energetically
than fascism? Because he had seen it up close, and because its appeal was more treacherous. Both ideologies reached the same totalitarian destination but communism began with nobler aims and therefore required more lies to sustain it.
The left hand of the Right clasped, behind the back, the right hand of the Left, in any photo shoot together — if you looked hard enough.
Orwell began reading up on Stalin’s regime, including American journalist Eugene Lyon’s description of Stalin’s Five Year plan, which included “the nose-thumbing arithmetic” of “2+2 = 5,” which is so crucial to Winston Smith’s brainwashing. He read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, whose depictions of purges and show trials (think, Goldstein, and, later, Winston Smith) further amplified his contempt for Stalin and his fear of totalitarianism. The two world wars, I and II, with the Great Depression in between, had drained civilization of its hope, vitality and wherewithal. Out of the morass rose ogres — Franco, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, and arguably even Truman (if you counted the dread that the questionable use of the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented) — as if to finish us off.
However, no one had a greater influence on Orwell’s generation than the literary colossus, H.G. Wells. Prolific, prescient, extraordinarily innovative, and widely regarded as the father of modern science fiction (Mary Shelley just rolled over in her grave, uneasily), in some ways Wells was the perfect tonic for an age that had torn humanity apart with with world wars, tyranny, and economic misery disseminated across the globe.
“Wells predicted space travel, tanks, electric trains, wind and water power, identity cards, poison gas, the Channel tunnel and atom bombs,” writes Lynskey, “and popularised in fiction the time machine, Martian invasions, invisibility and genetic engineering.” He also developed notions of a “World Brain” and anticipated the World Wide Web (sorry, TimBL). Further, he was a force behind the establishment of the League of Nations. Wells was an inspiration in a time stuck in the human morass described by T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland.
Wells, in turn, was inspired by early readings of Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, all of which required the reader to imagine with the narrator an alternative or new-and-improved world. Thus, Wells bequeathed us The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Outline of History, The Shape of Things to Come, and an enormous trove of essays and other public writings with enormous influence. All of these were enormously important to Orwell as he developed his own utopian visions.
But Orwell had seen what he’d seen in Spain, and knew the dark heart of Uncle Joe Stalin, and was, writes Lynskey, like “many writers [of his generation] consumed by the idea of decadence and decline.” H.G. Wells’ cautionary utopianism didn’t quite cut it for the lot of them. “It is no exaggeration to say that the genre of dystopian fiction evolved as it did because so many people wanted to prove H. G. Wells wrong,” Lynskey writes. There seemed to be something of the Wagner-Nietzsche competitive intimacy in Orwell’s approach to the Genius; while Wells emphasized Siegfried, Orwell and friends were all about the Götterdämmerung.
Orwell was a social democrat at heart, but he longed for something deeper and more radical, which seems to be why he was so devastated by the failures of communism. Plato had taught him that if humanity could see the Good, and the error of their ways, uncovered by dialectical reasoning, they would pursue it naturally, out of self-interest. This melancholic view (that would later infuse Winston Smith’s experience of his world) gets reinforced when he comes across the work of American Edward Bellamy — specifically, Looking Backward — 2000 – 1887.
As Bellamy’s title suggests, the novel moves backward, progressively, towards the squalor and dehumanization of the early Industrial Revolution. Lynskey notes:
When he looked around at the United States of America in the Gilded Age Bellamy saw a “nervous, dyspeptic, and bilious nation,” wracked by grotesque inequality. Millionaire dynasties controlled the industrial economy, while the labouring classes worked sixty-hour weeks for low pay in unsafe factories and sweatshops, and lived in foul slums.
In the novel, the protagonist Julian West falls into a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep in 1887 and wakes up 113 years later in a “socialist utopia,” where crime is regarded as a medical problem treatable with drugs. This got Orwell thinking.
But perhaps the single most influential piece of literature that Orwell came across, in the lead-up to writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, was Eugene Zumiatin’s We. As Lynskey points out, by coincidence Orwell had already completed an outline for his dystopian novel when he discovered Zumiatin’s work. They share some structural similarities: each features a fall guy who becomes the focussed target of hivemind hatred; a shy protagonist driven astray from his social programming by flashes of free thought and a sexually-liberated female; thought police (Guardians for Zumiatin), and forced mind-mending (from ‘I’ thinking to ‘We’ thinking). Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley nicked some ideas from We.
But Orwell had a turn at the accusation as well. Lynskey writes, “Karma came for Orwell in the form of several critics who accused him of plagiarising We.” But Lynskey dismisses them, insisting that the genre itself is rife with such borrowings and intertextuality. He answers historian Isaac Deutscher’s claims thusly:
[Deutscher] accused the author of borrowing “the idea of 1984, the plot, the chief characters, the symbols, and the whole climate of his story” from We… [but] Deutscher wildly overstated the similarities between the novels. Two: as we have seen, Orwell had already written his outline months before he read We. Three: Orwell made repeated efforts to get Zamyatin’s novel republished in English…. surely not the kind of thing that plagiarists usually do.
So there. “Originality is a vexing concept in genre fiction,” Lynskey adds.
But Lynskey is even more caustic with Ayn Rand, one of Orwell’s more vocal critics. Writes Lynskey, “There are critics who insist that Ayn Rand could have written her 1938 novella Anthem without ever having read We, and good luck to them.” Rand penned the novella “in three weeks,” and, Lynskey claims, it “is We rewritten as a capitalist creation myth, with paradise as a building site…The book’s working title was Ego.” He clearly objects to her Objectivism. Talk about getting hoiked into your own spittoon.
Later in his life Orwell faced more pressing criticism than the question of whether he plagiarized Zumiatin. Perhaps, so traumatized by what he’d seen in Spain and saw happening in Stalin’s Russia, Orwell developed a list of 38 writers — communists or sympathizers — that he turned over to the Information Research Agency, a government agency, that he recommended they not hire because of questionable allegiance to the Labour party. Apologizing for this behavior, Lynskey writes, “It is legitimate to be disappointed by the very act of sending such a list to a government agency (even a Labour one), but the edited version was at least largely accurate.” Hmm.
Some critics were having none of that apology. Lynskey quotes Marxist historian Christopher Hill who opined, “I always knew he was two-faced. There was something fishy about Orwell…it confirms my worst suspicions about the man.” But the late great polemicist (“Beat the Devil”) Alexander Cockburn “couldn’t disguise his glee: ‘The man of conscience turns out to be a whiner, and of course a snitch, an informer to the secret police, Animal Farm’s resident weasel.” (His full article is a fun read.) Does this spell the end of Orwell’s Truth? Should we never read him again? I don’t know, but, when you think about it, Winston Smith’s character takes on new dimensions with this incident — that final betrayal of all you love and everything, and all its implicit future snitching to protect We.
However one feels about Orwells’ late-life failures, Nineteen Eighty-Four has exerted its familiarity and gravitas since his death in 1950. We are all familiar with the terms of our engagement with his work. Lynskey writes:
The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police, Room 101, the Two Minutes Hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and the Ministry of Truth.
Of those terms, perhaps the answer to the equation “2+2=” may be the most pertinent to the contemporary political situation we find ourselves facing in Washington and around the world. How would you answer, brother?
Nineteen Eighty-Four’s principal concerns have been reprised in Western culture, in one form or another, for decades. For example, Lynskey describes the “aviphobic” David Bowie’s fall into “paranoia and panic” in the 70’s and how it affected his work (his Diamond Dogs album was originally meant to be called 1984.) Bowie was not alone in his feelings of demise. “IRA bombs…stagflation…a miners’ strike…an Arab oil embargo…blackouts, petrol rationing, reduced television service, and non-functioning elevators, Britain began to feel like the opening pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” writes Lynskey. In the 80s, with the advent of personal computing, even commercials, such as Apple’s highly controversial ‘1984’ Super Bowl Ad, were produced to reflect a desire to break free from mind-imprisoning Conformity. In 1990, a film version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was released, which extends the Orwellian vision into what could be a near-future reality.
Today, Oceania is otherwise known as Five Eyes, and Oceania moves in history in a world of the wars, never-ending, destruction by remote drones and online corporate-government profiling, leading toward neo-fascism or some new unthinkable form of totalitarianism. It remains to be seen when the public should have begun its Orwellian panic, whether it was in the aftermath of 9/11 — or sooner — or with the Carnivalesque decay of Exceptional Democracy. “We are an empire now. We make our own reality,” is attributed a coy Karl Rove, and it sounds like a celebration of doublethink, a movement in the direction of 2+2=5.
Lynskey wants to locate it with the Trump Inauguration, with the return of Doublethink and Newspeak. But he does remind the reader:
Orwell’s fear that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world” is the dark heart of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It gripped him long before he came up with Big Brother, Oceania, Newspeak or the telescreen, and it’s more important than any of them.
Lynskey’s words are well-taken, but I believe we must beware that Trump might be Goldstein and that hating on him has been preordained.
Toward the end of his life H.G.Wells lost his mojo for mankind. In his last published work, Mind at the End of its Tether, Wells wondered aloud, as it were, if it wasn’t time to replace the human species with something more evolutionarily desirable. Like Nietzsche, Wells seemed to long for a Zarathustrian Übermensch; he tired of being a tightrope walker in the largely indifferent marketplace of conventional ideas.
Five more years of Two-Minute hating on Trump should do it (maybe even just one). Like a soul orphaned in a mechanized world — like Winston Smith — I can almost hear a fat lady singing as it all comes out in the wash she’s hanging on the line:
I love ya
By John Kendall Hawkins
Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”
– George Orwell, 1984
Fuck Orwell. He’s another one. Always dispensing with the dyspeptic dystopias, but, when you’re not looking, he’s gathering names of Commie suspects and handing them off to the government, like a rat on someone’s face, forever. You get overwrought, in these days of bad wine and paper roses, trying to figure out who’s on the up-and-up, and who’s trying to bring you down real low. If you read the news too carefully, you risk spinning your mind right off its axis. Who is a whistleblower and who is not? What are they really whistleblowing about? Is it fake news you’re reading? Or is real news the one with the paywall? Is it all a conspiracy? Or just a theory about conspiracies? Maybe Notre Dame committed suicide in some kind of defiant Nietzschean act of spontaneous combustion.
Anyway, some old stale Marx crept back into my thinking, not that I ever understood him very well anyway (which is probably why we could never make him work (he became more a battle of hermeneutics than a sustainable philosophy (we argued till dawn in our Che tees and khakis, passing round the bong))), and I wondered, while reading the Guardian, about the means of production, about who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past, and and my head began spinning again. The fuck, if Orwell was any help — at all.
Because there it was yesterday in the Guardian, journalist Carole Cadwalladr announcing the imminent release of thousands of documents detailing “the inner workings” of the now bankrupt data firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA). Cadwalladr broke the story about how Facebook was colluding with CA in an effort to manipulate the emotions of users to modify their behavior — specifically, during the Brexit referendum and during the 2016 US presidential election. Did CA machinations force Brexit on the UK? Did CA con enough bumpkins in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to hand the electors to Trump? A Netflix film, The Great Hack, was streamed and introduced us to self-described whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, who took us on a two-hour tour of CA’s data chambers and Brittany’s conscience. It’s hard to say which was scarier, but The Great Hack is a worthy watch.
CA and Brittany Kaiser have been in the rear view mirror for awhile now, as we’ve settled into the long impeachment season, and are all, more or less, preoccupied with the imagined horror of His reelection and four more years of ‘substance’ abuse in Washington. And yet, here Brittany was again, in the Guardian, caterwauling about more data devil dogs, and providing, through Twitter, Wikileaks-like access to a trove of further evidence of CA’s ‘Machiavellian’ shenanigans. I bit. I downloaded zips on John Bolton, Brazil, and Iran, and was so underwhelmed by the offerings that I felt I’d been had. Targeted emotions — now with psychographic datadazz; age-old, so what, meh.
The headline of Cadwalladr’s article is: Fresh Cambridge Analytica leak ‘shows global manipulation is out of control’. But there’s no evidence of that in her Twitter ‘release’. And the promise that more information will be released “in the coming months,” seems like a self-serving pronouncement to keep her relevant, leading up to the 2020 election. It’s almost like she’s still working for CA and wants to use their data (but not as originally intended) to shape voter thinking and to sell more copies of her recently released memoir, Targeted, which the New York Times implicitly panned (along with her claim to whistleblowerhood).
But the Cadwalladr piece is interesting for another whistleblowing reason: She cites, authoritatively, none other than Christopher Steele. She writes of Kaiser’s cache:
It comes as Christopher Steele, the ex-head of MI6’s Russia desk and the intelligence expert behind the so-called “Steele dossier” into Trump’s relationship with Russia, said that while the company had closed down, the failure to properly punish bad actors meant that the prospects for manipulation of the US election this year were even worse.
Has she failed to read the Horowitz Report, which cites the judicial mockery of the FBI’s use of Steele’s long-debunked dossier to falsely obtain FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign? How he sat the MSM down for an off-the-record chat about his ‘findings’ in July, while pushing his compostings at Mother Jones and the ‘progressive’ Left in late October 2016?
There are a lot of outstanding questions about Steele and his dossier that have yet to be answered. Like how has he been allowed to declare himself a whistleblower? Is that all that’s required, self-declaration? And a pun-like statement to Vanity Fair: “The greater good trumps all other concerns.” Then why the anonymity? Why the resistance to visiting America, for whom you, a Brit, have so much concern? Why did Cadwalladr drop his debunked authoritative voice in the middle of her piece?
At the time of his dossiering, our man of Steele had not been to Russia, where his ‘contacts’ were left behind, in years. And he left in fear for his life as “an enemy of Mother Russia.” The more you think about this election-meddler the more he sounds like a British version of homo contractus; the kind of still-connected (private) spy GCHQ might have called upon to develop kompromat on, say, UN Security Council members, as depicted in the whistleblowing film, Official Secrets, to manipulate their votes.
Yesterday, after I carefully considered the value of the Cadwalladr piece and its terrifying premise that global manipulation was out of control and Trump might win again if we didn’t put up force fields against Facebook ads by November, I watched a movie on Vimeo: Spinning Boris. The humorous 2003 film, starring Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber and Anthony LaPaglia, recounts the ‘true story’ of Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 reelection.
By 1996, few government workers were getting paid on time and there were long lines for food, especially fast-food. Then Yeltsin invaded Chechnya, and everyone hated him. According to “Yanks to the Rescue,” the Time magazine article that the film’s script seems to be based on, Yeltsin was “favored by only 6% of the electorate and ‘trusted’ as a competent leader by an even smaller proportion” and sure to lose to the Communists, when American political consultants were brought in to get him re-elected.
They brought with them the usual American kit of topical polling, focus groups, people-touching, and image manipulation (re-packaging). The taciturn Boris Yeltsin began kissing babies and dancing like a bear on stage, his white coif was moussed, ads smiled, and a drunken karaoke Elvis impersonator (late stage) slurred, in EFL-English, the Commies’ “secret maximum plan” to bring Mother Russia “back to the Middle Ages” and round up democratic reformers if they won, which was used in an eventual negative ad campaign.
They also used gizmos, such as the perception analyzer, an early algorithm device, that helped the consultants to track patterns of response to emotional stimuli. But, at the end of the day, they realized they were dealing with what Americans have had to suffer through for decades — lesser-of-two-evils voting. Despite his bad numbers, all the consultants had to do was make sure voters understood that Yeltsin was the only alternative to Communists (in the lead with 21%), and to then undermine the Commies.
One thing the movie plays up, and the Time piece ignores, is that US President Bill Clinton, and the CIA were, at the very least, “watching” the consultants in action. It’s the CIA that wants to know what the “secret maximum plan” of the Commies is, and we can be sure that wouldn’t have been okay with what they heard. We can be certain that the long lines at Mickey D’s were seen by the CIA as symbols of the Russian hunger for American-style drive-through freedom — not to be dis-enfranchised by Commie indifference. Maybe these consultants were cover. And God forgive my cynical, conspiratorial vision, but I can’t help but wonder how many people in that long, long, long line at the Golden Arches received quid pro quo coupons for voting Yeltsin.
So, what does all of this have to do with Cambridge Analytica, Brittany Kaiser, Christopher Steele, and the 2020 US presidential election ahead? I’m not sure — I haven’t been convinced — that interfering in an election requires anything more than all the usual suspect techniques we’ve seen in the past: Bill Clinton heckled GHW Bush with a guy in a chicken suit for ducking debates; political ice cubes were said to have been embedded with ‘sex’ by Hidden Persuaders; handing out free Wendy’s coupons might make a difference in a lesser-of-two-evils election choice. Even Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, caught on a hidden camera, seems to have conceded that blackmail, not data, might be the most efficient method.
I’m uncomfortable when I hear the MSM pushing the concerns of pseudo-whistleblowers like Kaiser and Steele, who have fucked with previous elections, and are now seemingly using their own previous deceit to market themselves as consultants in upcoming elections. (You could even say that Kaiser and Steele’s work offset each other in the 2016 election.) Where’s the proof that Cambridge Analytica, through Facebook, manipulated enough voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to swing the 2016 presidential election Trump’s way? Or fixed Brexit? None of what CA purports to do is as effective as good old voter disenfranchisement in select districts.
Now that we have people ‘coming out’ as whistleblowers all over the place, like it’s the latest trendy lifestyle, to control the narrative, to raise the authoritative value of Big Data, especially when it comes to human manipulation, and require tools of the government (contractors) to interpret and confirm the value of the data bits, it’s beginning to smell like Orwell all over again — an attempt to control the Now, and he who controls the Now controls the Past and… It’s that Black and White. Snowden warns in Permanent Record: Big Data as an Old Testament God with a New Testament Judgement Day for each and every one of us.
I had a vision recently, of the Russians and the Yanks getting into a spy vs. spy tussle for the ages — a WWE grudge match in a cage — with a competition to take out political leaders everywhere, despite their worth, and replace them with harlequins, so that at species end, Nero fiddling while climate change burns, everywhere we looked it becomes a case of clowns to the political Left of me, Jokers to the Right, stuck in the middle finger.
Doublethink about it.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Living near London back in 2001, several months before 9/11, I took my family on a driving tour to Northwest England, up to Windermere in the Lake District. We spent a night in a quaint thatched cottage and drank deep wine by a smoky fire. We trod on trails, along with a multitude of others, along the lake Wordsworth was said to have wandered lonely as a cloud. On the drive home, we stopped at the Ruskin museum, and I, despite tired protests from the kids, went inside and considered the exhibits of his genius, and revelled in flashes of the cathedral moments Ruskin once inspired in me.
But the highlight of our trip, not so far from home, was stopping in at Stratford-on-Avon, birthplace and burial site of William Shakespeare. We strolled the streets, checked out Anne Hathaway’s digs, and watched, inside Holy Trinity Church, as my young son slipped under a barrier and commenced a horrid iambic tapdance on Shakespeare’s grave, if it was Shakespeare’s grave: a sign read his skull was missing, which made me picture some nob out there playing Alas, Poor Yorick with the Bard’s head. I thought I recalled some cheekery out back in the yard, facing the Avon, another sign, near a pauper’s grave, suggesting that Will had been given the ol’ heave-ho into the lesser bric-a-brac of bones — a la Mozart.
More recently, I’ve learned that a ‘non-intrusive’ radar scan has been done of his grave — and that nothing’s there under the slab my son had jigged on, not even iambic dust — a whole TV special was done on the anniversary of his supposed mortal death 400 years earlier. Nobody really seems to know where his restless bones reside. Other scans have followed — both science and psychological: An anthropologist thinks the Bard must have been smoking “compounds strange” when he wrote; some homosexuals require that the Bard be gay (“Google any famous name plus the word gay and you’ll find that someone’s beaten you to the speculative punch.”!). Agendas everywhere.
Postmodernism used to be fun. I felt privileged, as an undergrad, to be part of the carnival of delight that academic relativists brought to course methodology, freeing minds everywhere from the cultural battlefields where once they were mere Canon fodder in shoot-outs between Great Men too big to fail. Once unheard, unsung voices from the wilderness were emerged from a countercultural revolution — Black voices, Feminist dialectics, multiculturalism up the ya-yoo, and new ways of seeing — helpful critiques of the male gaze and reader-response theory — all for the betterment of humankind. I loved the way Angela Carter made a basket case of the Big Bad Wolf. Who doesn’t like claiming to have read Foucault? We hate torture, because it’s not who we are, but academics spend all their time interrogating geniuses to get at their dirty little secrets.
No canonized writer has suffered more up-digs over the centuries than the Bard. Was he really Christopher Marlowe (or versa visa)? Could a working class kid really write about the Royals? Really? Did he rely too much on Plutarch when he penned Henry V? Shakespeare Analysis became a thatched cottage industry. A lot of it legitimate scholarly interest. As Harold Bloom, and others, have pointed out, there was a “School of Resentment,” overcompensatory in its nature, that rigorously stripped ‘the Greats’ of their excessive influence on culture, and became the new orthodoxy. But things really got going when the resentimentalists unloaded on Shakespeare and the Western Canon shot its last wad.
Speaking of cannons shooting worthy wads, the Globe Theatre burned down in 1613 during the premiere of Henry VIII — originally known as All Is True — after a cannon was fired marking the entrance of Henry VIII and a bit of wad landed on the thatched roof and started a fire that consumed the Globe. Shakespeare had begun collaborating with a writer named John Fletcher, accounting for the inconsistencies of language in the reading of Henry VIII.
Most recently, Smithsonian magazine reported on Petr Plecháča, a Czech Republican scientist, who took a special interest in identifying the separate threads of language between Fletcher and the Bard in All Is True, and, using artificial intelligence (AI), he was able to determine their separate voices. Kind of like an academic exercise in intertextuality. Except using a Support Vector Machine to scan and deconstruct the play instead of relying on scholarly conjecture. In essence, the AI performed a danse macabre across Shakespeare’s grave and found two sets of bony algorithms. Hackles happened. I went to Plecháča’s study and ran for my life when I seemed to be reading that Henry VIII aside, the SVM may have proven that Fletcher virtually wrote The Tempest alone. Gulp.
I wrote a letter to Petr:
Recently I read an article that featured your algorithmic study of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. Interesting.
Sounds a lot like the plagiarism application Turn It In and its scanning features. Is there a difference between your method and the method used by software to analyze the typical suspicious (and they all are all plagios until proven original by Turn It In) undergrad?
Can we expect a comprehensive scan now of the Bard’s entire works? In short, will you be taking off his gloves? Where does Christopher Marlowe fit into all of this?
Also, many academics (with agendas) have been making passes at the notion that Shakespeare was a homosexual onaccounta his sonnets and certain coy-boy references in his works. Can we expect an algorithm to “out” the Bard once and for all?
Thank you so much ahead of time for your consideration of my thoughts (I claim) on the matter. I look forward to your keened and advanced counterpoint.
He never replied.
O, the evil that algos do. Like postmodernism (and maybe only possible because of such thinking), algorithms possess a kind of built-in scientific rationalism that denudes human perception, even as it unravels the mystery of our discrete object of desire. Imagine looking at a rose, wafting in your nose, absorbed by its mystical complexity — when you are interrupted by a voice in your head that describes that object as a function of parts, a mechanical plaything of your synapses, and nothing more. You can have it both ways, but only one way seems human. Call me a romantic if a rose has me swimming with endolphins and giddy with new porpoise.
If Google, Amazon and Facebook, along with the surveillance state, have shown us anything with their algorithms, we are in danger of passively accepting our human processes as mathematical formulas controlled by centralizing forces that shape the way we see and feel. Control us, by knowing how to stimulate us, bespokenly. It’s subtle now, but it’s there, in the tea leaves of the time we spend on line, our synapses symbiotically fired by the ons-and-offs of the InterMind. Are we the assimilatos for, or the accommodators of, the New Machine Age?
I wonder what Shakespeare, if he were alive today, would make of our burning globe. Would he be able to handle the rhythms of modern English — its natural mythopoesis absorbed into the jingles and jibes of end-stage capitalist decline? Or would he, like Abu rolling over in his shallow Ghraib, be just another voice lost in the Age of Terror?
No wonder his grave is empty.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Those of us who care about the criminal excesses of the Orwellian dystopia that we find ourselves thumb-driven under by predatory algorithms that ferret out our alpha waves for “security” and commercial purposes, might want to remember that if not for legitimate whistleblowers we would know next to nothing about what the Bastards are up to. It’s a far more depressing world for the knowing, but like climate change, we’re no better off for the ignorance. So, here’s to Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning — all of whom have given up their freedom in order to reveal the criminality and deceit of the Masters of Endless War and pocket Marshall plans (Rebuilds ‘R Us). Here’s to our Three Amigos in this festive season of convenient whistleblowing.
First, thanks to Julian Assange, who told us years ago that the Bastards just wanted him to be put on a plane to Sweden so that he could be put on another plane to America — against his will. He rightfully sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid such extradition that would have made him a circus clown before a politically-motivated ‘national security’ trial in America that would have seen him jailed for life. The MSM took his wiki goodies and made money selling papers with them, but bailed on him when the government told them to attack his character. Now, out of self-interest, the MSM will be forced to begrudgingly defend Assange’s journalism credentials should he be forwarded, like a soccer ball, to America’s fascist foot.
It looks grim for Julian. He will be tried, if brought to America, under the Espionage Act, a version of which has been shored up under each of the Five Eyes super-surveillance partners. His best chance at avoiding being putsched before a show trial is for lawyers to show that Spanish security company, UC Global, hired by Ecuador to provide security for its London embassy, actually spied on Assange and his visitors with mikes and cams, and handed their work over to the CIA. This would (or should) demonstrate that Assange can’t receive a fair trial in America (again, the reason he took refuge in the embassy), and provide lawyers with the ammo they need to knock back the extradition.
Now would be a good time to catch up on the issues surrounding his case, and, really, the best way to do that is by reading the collection of supporting voices — from computer technicians to philosophers — put out by OR Books, an independent publisher, In Defense of Julian Assange. Next, write to him. You might actually be able to get a message to him, in this festive season, if you go online and send him a letter — either through L-Mail, which takes your e-message and snail-mails it to him, or, more conveniently, you can use Email A Prisoner (don’t forget to use a VPN). He’s said he wants messages short and sweet. Maybe send him a joke or limerick. I sent him a poem.
And there’s Edward Snowden to salute. Others have made zoodles of dollars explaining the importance of his 2013 revelations, including Glenn Greenwald, who won a well-deserved Pulitzer for his details of Snowden’s global surveillance revelations and his subsequent escape to Russia. Then Snowden put out Permanent Record, his memoir full of insider details of the deep state (his words) that he worked for as a kind of demi-god of data — before its criminality (his words) made him unable to go on lying and collecting for the government. He revealed, with diagrams, how the US government spies on everyone connected to a communications system — Internet and mobile services. Importantly, he shows how contractors (see chapter, Homo Contractus) are the ball carriers of the deep state.
Unfortunately, but predictably (his words), the US government sued his publisher to take his book profits away — and they won. Snowden, now larfing as a much-sought-after six-figure online speaker, has suggested that the public buy a copy and hand it off, when finished, to a friend. Great idea (remember the days of file-sharing)! A short cut to obtaining a free copy of his memoir is to visit the wondrous Internet Archive where several borrowable copies are there for downloading. “I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how,” he writes of his decision to whistleblow. “I’d had enough of feeling helpless, of being just an asshole in flannel lying around on a shabby couch eating Cool Ranch Doritos and drinking Diet Coke while the world went up in flames.”
Thanks again to Assange and Wikileaks, for risking further criminal abuse, by helping Snowden escape from Hong Kong. And remember that the audacious Obama would have nailed Snowden had he been on the Bolivian president’s airplane when it was forced down. This gangster cut-him-off move might have led to a hot WWIII had the plane been Putin’s, instead of Evo Morales.
Edward can be reached in his exile, either by mailing him at Freedom of the Press Foundation or through his account at Twitter: @Snowden .
And finally, thanks to Chelsea Manning, for getting the ball rolling back in 2010 with the Iraq Logs and Afghan Logs, but, most devastatingly, the so-called Collateral Murder video that not only showed s double-tap helicopter gunship attack on civilians, including two Reuters reporters, but provided the gunship audio that suggested jolly titillation as bodies fell. The video demonstrated, among other things, that the so-called War on Terror was going to involve its own moments of terrorism, with not a lot of hand-wringing, once the gloves were off.
Chelsea was court-martialed and sentenced to 35 years for delivering classified information to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence (after six harsh years in the slammer) — just before the Trump inauguration in Jan 2017. In February 2019, she was found in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury looking to gather evidence on Julian Assange and Wikileaks and put back in jail. Then, upon release, told a new grand jury to fuck off, and is back in prison again on contempt charges. She reasoned that, “[T]his grand jury seeks to undermine the integrity of public discourse with the aim of punishing those who expose any serious, ongoing, and systemic abuses of power by this government.”
As with Assange above, Manning can be reached through a convenient write and snail-post system, called Jmail. She can be reached by post at:
The William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center
2001 Mill Road, Alexandria, Virginia 22314
You’ll have to call the switchboard to get her prisoner ID number.
In this festive season, as we ready ourselves for the short-lived Senate dismissal of the House’s impeachment of Trump (yawn), just in time for the presidential primary season, let’s remember that there are still other things that we can do to bolster the defenses of Assange, Snowden, and Manning, as they ready for consequential appearances before judges in the next few months. We can, for instance, put our heads together and try to force the government into ‘necessity defense’ legislation that Assange and Snowden could use in the future to defend themselves. And we could also file, online, Freedom of Information Act requests, say, the Rogers-Brennan-Clapper emails leading up their DNC hacking assessment in 2016.
Me, a couple of days ago, I filed a FOIA for access to the poems Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was said to have penned to his interrogator’s wife after 183 waterboardings. I very much look forward to reading these ‘Sufi sonnets’. Talk about curing writer’s block, huh?