By John Kendall Hawkins
…[M]en should be treated in such a way that there’s no fear of their seeking revenge…
-Nicolai Machiavelli, “Mixed Principalities,” The Prince
“You come at the king, you bess not miss.”
– Omar, The Wire
Donald Trump sat with Recep “Cepi” Erdoğan
At a nez à nez cafe in the Golden Horn,
Fog over the Straits, fishmongers singing the blues,
Their little secret summit all over the news.
They gazed, they preened, with their fincan pinkies high,
Just two kings talking — evil eye to evil eye.
DJ flashed his grand, bizarre smile and sneered, “The Press
Is all over me and the country is a mess.
I fear some Lefty might impeach me with a gun
And I’ll find myself leaping in front of my son.”
Cepi laughed at that, and said, “Well, listen to this:
When they did Khashoggi — Oh, I watched with such bliss.
I jail journos, make them watch Midnight Express for fun.”
“Enemas of the State,” they harmonized, “Undone.”
They laughed about Idlib, and al-Baghdadi’s face
When he realized there was no escape cave in place.
Trump said, “He died like a dog and blew up the kids —
I lied,” he smirked, “Abbottabads Abbottobids.”
Cepi howled, “Badda bing bang boom — politics!
Nothing wrong with you a good hamamin’ can’t fix.”
The garson brought the tab and DJ made a lunge —
He didn’t want Cepi to think he was a sponge.
But Cepi was quick and snatched the bill and snickered,
“Your money’s no good here,” said Cepi; they bickered.
“CNN’s the most phoney fakes of news,” Trump said.
“What about the Kurds?” he mimicked the talking head.
At that, Cepi gave the garson a second glance,
Took back his tip, and made the poor waiter’s eyes dance.
The two good buds arose, Cepi winked and they strolled.
DJ said, “Mohammad got back to me to scold.
He said sweetly, ‘Donald, that wasn’t very nice’
To treat my discombobulations as a vice.
What if I’d made fun of your curtsy and laughed
To your face?’” Cepi cracked up, thinking DJ gaffed.
“There goes that Trump tower in Riyadh,” howled Cepi,
And slapped DJ on the back, dancing, two-steppy.
DJ morosely followed his Turkish delight.
They strode through the twists and turns of the Taksim night,
Down cobblestone streets, Cepi, like Virgil, leading —
Well, maybe if Virgil had had no real breeding —
And on the buds strode, ignoring the blood-kurdling screams,
Cepi saying, “Journos” (wink) “at work in their dreams.”
DJ pictured Maddow, with new bounce in his bones —
In fact, all the press! — and their screams became his koans.
After their purgatorial conversation,
They came to the Red Light D and knew their station.
They passed pervs, punks, pimps and glassed-in storefront cages
With dancing mannequin-like Beatrices of all ages.
Cepi said to DJ, “Go have a pussy grab.”
Trump groaned, “No can do, Cepi, my hand’s in rehab.
Until after November.” They left Paradise,
With the promise of pleasure still twinkling their eyes,
They giggled and goosed all the way to Taksim Square —
Pigeons out of control, broken heads strewn everywhere,
Tumbleweed tabloids, Atatürk’s pic on the ground,
Tarzan-like prayer calls, cab honks, and no other sound.
“DJ, you gotta break a few eggheads” (puffing)
“If you wanna make an Om.” But Trump’s mind was muffing
Back in the Red Light D. Cepi said, “Listen to this,
If you want to kill the king, you’d better not miss.”
By John Kendall Hawkins
- Abbie Hoffman, his war cry from Fuck the System (1967)
The System Is the Solution
- AT&T ad, circa the 70s
One of the funniest bits I can remember reading about Abbie Hoffman was the time he tried to get himself arrested at a police station and the cops wouldn’t bite. His friend, and fellow Yippee, Paul Krassner said, “We went to the 9th precinct. Abbie wanted to get busted to show solidarity between the hippies and the ethnic groups. But they wouldn’t arrest him.” The Yippies had a sit-in outside the police station, where Abbie carried on, telling cops: “I want to be arrested because I’m a nigger. You’re arresting my black brothers. Arrest me.” He was invited inside the police station to talk.
Inside the station house he jumped from desk to desk, and demanded to be arrested. They laughed at him. So he leapt off the desk, “going, ‘Na, Na!’” and kicked out the glass from a trophy case and ran. One cop yelled, “You goddamn bastard, now you’ve had it.” They chased, but he got away. He called days later to arrange his arrest. About 40 cops were waiting for him at the rendezvous point, when a van pulled up “and about seven guys come running out who look exactly like Abbie Hoffman with the big Afro and they run into the crowd and the goddamn cops are chasing all of them!” Then, Hoffman called to them, “Yoo Hoo! You Hoo! Here I am!” And disappeared.
Vintage Abbie. Seven cops holding up seven Afro wigs — like they scalped ‘em.
In Steal This Book, his street survival manual, Abbie had advised the reader to keep on hand a few costumes for street theater and escapades. You never knew when a ‘nice’ suit bought at Salvation Army might come in handy to score a free meal at a decent restaurant (bring your own cockroach or broken glass). Costumes had played their role in spoofing justice at the Chicago 7 trial in 1969, when Abbie and Jerry Rubin had come to court one day wearing judges robes — and, when told to take them off NOW!, they revealed cops uniforms underneath. The judge was a Hoffman and Abbie had even called him Dad and offered to set him up with some Hoffman (LSD). The whole trial was a trip, including the outrageous bounding and gagging of a black man.
But serious contemplation was also at work behind Abbie’s modus o; it wasn’t all hippie razzmatazz. This week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sentencing of the Chicago 7 and for Abbie’s later writing of his introduction to his timeless paean to freedom, Steal This Book, which Abbie called “a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika.” With all the proliferating criminal breaches of privacy and freedom by the System since 9/11, as described in copious detail by Edward Snowden’s revelations in Permanent Record, Abbie’s description of Amerika has never been truer. On February 19, the Chicago 7 were found guilty of inciting a riot during the DNC convention of 1968, as well as, for their courtroom antics, 175 counts of contempt of court. The convictions were later overturned on appeal.
In his introduction, Abbie simplifies his Yippie war cry with a three-part approach to take in the counterculture revolution against the System — i.e., the Military-Industrial (MIC) system that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech. First, we must Survive. Abbie writes, “Revolution is not about suicide, it is about life.” And that really is the serious thread of practical philosophy that informs Steal This Book. There are ways of surviving, essentially off the grid, if you’re willing to live the lifestyle — and a lot hippies did. Free food, free clothes, free communications, free books, free accommodation all there to be had.
The second part is Fight. “We cannot survive without learning to fight,” he writes, and “The purpose of part two [Fight] is not to fuck the system, but destroy it.” The System is definitely not the solution. And, again, with the prospect of a Democratic party offering no real alternative to the economic plight many Americans find themselves in — and people getting themselves ensconced in debt slavery by taking one of those candy-colored credit cards they practically give away (and you thought sub-prime mortgages were a potential global economic disaster) to pay their bills. Remember how much fun it was to play personal pyramid scheme by paying off one credit card with another? Fuck the system. Destroy the MIC.
Finally, there’s Liberate, which is essentially a guide on how to live free in four cities: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco and LA. But it’s the attitude of community action that comes through that makes it worth reading. Steal This Book is not anachronistic, it’s alive and well, and remains a feisty little blueprint for expressing your freedom in a locked-down world.
Abbie took ‘taking the mickey out of’ the MIC to heart. He didn’t just talk the talk, he strat the strut. Just a year before he and the Yippies ran Pigasis for the presidency in their Festival of Life outside the DNC convention, Abbie had had a go at the Industrial (or corporate) side of the MIC by leading revelers to the NY Stock Exchange and raining dollar bills down on the brokers below. As Larry Sloman describes it,“The brokers started scrambling, pushing each other, grabbing for the money. When the avalanche subsided, they actually looked up at the gallery and demanded ‘More’!” As the straight press chased him with the 5Ws, Abbie shouted over his shoulder, “Guerilla Theater,” laughed, and hopped into a getaway cab.
In October 1967, during a mass protest march on the Pentagon, Abbie took the mickey out of the Military side of the MIC when he convinced officials he could levitate the Pentagon and entered into negotiations as to how high. Said Daniel Ellsberg, working on the Pentagon Papers at the time, “Levitating the Pentagon struck me as a great idea because removing deference from any of these institutions is very important….” Abbie’s friend, Sal Gianetta described the scene: “Ab was adamant that the fucking building was gonna go up twenty-two feet… If the fucking building went up twenty-two feet, the foundations were gonna crack, so there was discussion about foundations and cracks, it was fucking unbelievable.” Abbie and the officials negotiated the levitation down to three feet and “they sealed it with a handshake.”
Just before the event, Abbie had contacted John Garabedian, a reporter for the New York Post, who relates how Abbie informed him that
hippie chemists had invented a new wonder drug which combined the best properties of LSD with a drug called DMSO…[and] on the day of the march to the Pentagon…hippie chicks would fill squirt guns full of this love potion…and squirt them on the soldiers or anyone else of an evil or war like frame of mind thereby causing them to want to stop making war and immediately make love.
Talk about love as a battlefield.
Ironically, the military developed this idea later. It became the Gay Bomb, winner of the Ig Nobel Peace prize in 2007. It, too, would have caused the enemy soldiers to ‘turn on’ each other and orgy-up the battlefield. Presumably, the idea was scrapped when an ear got whispered into and some General Studly suddenly realized, like a freight train, that with a shift of wind the blowback could be devastating. More Pentagon levity.
After Abbie went underground in 1974 to avoid going to trial for dealing cocaine, he continued, as Barry Freed, to be an advocate for change and to defend communities from the destructive powers of the System. Living in upper state New York, he helped fight against the dredging destruction of the St. Lawrence River system by the Army Corp of Engineers. However, having to keep his head down and his psyche out of the limelight didn’t suit Abbie and, word is (p.277), he became gloomier and more depressed as time went on. Being without his wife, Anita, and son, america, deepened his suicidal ideation. Still, his work with Save the River was extraordinarily important.
Abbie showed he still had a working protest finger in 1986 when he and Amy Carter (and others) defended their arrests following disruptions of CIA recruitment efforts on a college campus in Massachusetts, successfully arguing in court with a ‘Necessity Defense’ that their minor criminality had the far greater public benefit of shedding light on the criminal activities of the CIA in Central America. This event was a welcome alternative celebration to the crap provided to the public during the televised Iran/Contra hearings, during which Oliver North successfully marketed himself as a hero.
Not long before Abbie committed suicide, he was still at it, trying to rouse the troupes, in a series of debates with his old Yippie pal Jerry Rubin, who’d gone over to the other side. In his last Yippie versus Yuppie debate, in Vancouver, in 1988, the two tangled over the same ol’ question: Can the System be effectively resisted from the outside, or must change come from inside? Rubin made some good points, noting that “male chauvinism helped take down the movement,” and that Yippies “were not open to self-criticism,” but when he calls the Babyboomers Yuppies taking over the reins of government, Abbie rightly points out that Rubin is just a “born-again capitalist” and that Yuppies are not new; they’re a throw-back to the so-called Status-Seekers of the 50s, making Rubin a regressive, not a progressive.
As if to demonstrate how much air has gone out of the 60s party balloon, during the Vancouver debate one female student ran up on stage and attacked Rubin with a cream pie, disrupting the event. It was almost comical watching the woman make her escape, nobody giving a shit; even the camera seemed indifferent. It was hard to tell who it was more embarrassing to — Abbie or Jerry. The entire debate is worth watching. It’s available here.
Looking forward to the horror show ahead in November, what with Democrats seeming in disarray — Warren fading fast, Bernie looking ancient, Biden looking done, and Buttgieg on the ascent: You can almost see Trump handling any of them on stage with his nincompoop’s invective in October; you can smell re-election; you can almost predict the world’s end can’t be far behind. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Abbie here for some guerilla theatrics; to maybe lead Congressmen in an Augustus Boal tactic or two — Legislative Theatre, making laws as psycho-drama, senators acting out citizens without health insurance, representatives acting out young people crushed by student debt, Pelosi tearing up the military budget, and Abbie presiding like some genius clown shaking us loose from the gravity of the situation.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Who is this guy, Jim Mitchell? Evidently, I overslept and woke up smack dab in the middle of the post-Truth era. Where does a man get the moxie to have his work comprehensively condemned and declared illegal by a Senate Intelligence sub-committee, and then turn around, look us square in the eye, and declare he would “do it all again’? But that’s what Mitchell, the so-called “architect” of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) did the other day at a pretrial hearing before the military commission at Guantanamo.
How can this guy be a self-described “strong supporter” of Amnesty International? Has he read what they’ve published about his tactics? Look: “The perverse ‘work’ of these psychologists has dramatically set back the global fight against torture. The interrogation methods they championed have had a rippling effect around the world.” Amnesty International should immediately cancel his subscription, telling him they refuse to take money bloodied by torture. But maybe it was a generous donation.
The American Psychological Association (APA) is appalled enough by his behaviorism, although he is not an APA member, that they’ve tried to take away his license to practice counseling (presumably) in Texas. Emotion denied. Why Texas? It’s like he’s performing some kind of stations-of-the-Cross — first Alaska, then Florida, then Texas, sweet Jesus, can a presidential run be far behind? Or maybe he’s angling for a job in the recently relocated to Texas Black Museum — where it — and he — spiritually belong.
Where did this guy get his hubris? Who inflated his ego? Why was he hired in the first place? Sydney Gottlieb must be rolling over in his grave. We have a country that for little more reason than amped-up paranoia brought into the USA after WW2 some of the most evil war criminals known to Man under Operation Paperclip, whose rhetorical motto was: Why hang them at the Hague when we can hire them to help kill baddies before the Russians do. Vivisection. Mind control. Eye-ball poppings. They really knew how to take the glove off back in the day.
But Mitchell? Master of Science in Psychology from the University of Alaska. Specialty: counseling. Not Maslow’s arty-farty Self-Becoming kind, but the woof-woof-inspired salivation army of those who’ve learned to be helpless and who only Jimmy can rebuild with his science degree. (I try to picture Mitchell’s Alaskan clients and their unique delusions.) And then, lo, there’s more: a PhD in nutrition. Thesis: For hypertension, what works better exercise or diet? After he’d relieved Zubaydah of his hyper-tension, did he offer dietary advice? We already know there was plenty of exercise. What am I missing? Just how long did I over-sleep? Is it some kind of CIA gag?
And Mitchell didn’t like it when he was called “a pussy” by some CIA hombre calling himself “The Preacher,” who detained the psychologist himself at a “black site” against his will, and forced Mitchell to continue waterboarding Zubaydah — even after Mitchell had reached a breakpoint rapportment, and said, “no more.” But, Mitchell tearily explained at the Gitmo hearing, he went ahead and pseudo-drowned his newfound poetical buddy again anyway, because he was ordered to (remind you of another famous psychology experiment?). Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, when all was done and done. And he’d do it again.
But he did ‘rat out’ Charlie Wise, the Preacher, to the ICIG for bringing to the EIT table Sydney Gottlieb’s KUBARK manual that Wise used to train Contras in Nicaragua, including rectal feeding. Wow. That IG report makes Jim Mitchell a bonafide whistleblower. I don’t know if that’s irony or what. But Mitchell ended up winning his “turf war” with Wise, because soon thereafter the asshole Preacher, and his laying-of-hands-on approach, retired from the CIA, lived a cloistered life (as far as we’re allowed to know), and died of an apparent heart attack in 2003.
However, nothing Mitchell did surpassed his “I’d do it again” overzealousness of waterboarding the presumed, and to this day merely alleged, Mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khaled Sheik Mohammed. KSM was blubbooled 183 times. In the film, The Report, Jim Mitchell is depicted as panicky, because the effectiveness of his EIT is being seriously called into question. (In the film, his CIA colleagues don’t look convinced from the beginning, as he shows powerpoint slides of his intended techniques). Because the legality of what they’re doing depends on the effectiveness of EIT (“It’s only torture if it doesn’t work.”), Mitchell and the CIA are keen to show amazing results. KSM is broken, becomes genteel, and writes “tribute” poetry to an interrogator’s wife, they claim.
Of course, it was CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, in an interview with ABC’s Brian Ross, that provided most of the details of what happened to Abu Zubaydah and KSM. Kiriakou claims that, because “they hate us more than they love life,” drastic measures are required to get through to them. A conflicted Kiriakou told us that waterboarding worked (p.5), that it provided valuable information (p.6) that helped thwart future attacks, and that though he now regarded it as torture he left open the door for using it again. Like Abu Zubaydah, waterboarding produced another poet. (p.12) The CIA, he said, now had sufficient leads developed. “And — as a result, water-boarding, at least right now [my italics], is unnecessary,” (p.8) Kiriakou said.
But one wonders how Kiriakou and Mitchell would answer Dianne Feinstein’s question posed in the film: “If it works, why do we need to do it 183 times?”
I try to avoid thinking of the Torture Report any more, because then I have to remember Feinstein’s committee report was only necessary because the CIA destroyed the video tapes of their interrogations of detainees before they could be evaluated. I’d also have to recall that CIA Director John Brennan ordered a breach of the sub-committee’s computers — almost certainly a criminal violation of the separation of powers. (And he’d certainly do it again.) When I do find myself thinking of all this depressing shit that must betoken the end of empire (if not more), I try to use an alternative entryway — like Sid Jacobson’s visual learner-friendly version of the Feinstein committee’s findings: The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation.
But probably we should honor the artist and poet-in-residence at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaydah, which probably has more emotional depth and verisimilitude embedded in the arresting drawings than Jacobson’s. I don’t know if KSM draws, but I have a gut feeling he’s going to turn out to be some kind of beat poet. Recently, I filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain copies of KSM’s poetry. If it was written on Uncle Sam’s dime, then it belongs to our exceptional democracy and we should be able to see it.
I would love to read KSM’s paeans and tributes to CIA rapport-specialist Deuce Martinez’s wife. (Did he show her pictures?) I almost feel inspired enough, in thinking about it, to write a paean to her myself. I would volunteer to collate and honestly edit Gitmo detainee poems, illustrated by AZ and other graffiti artists, and publish them on Amazon for Kindle download.
I pace, wondering what sounds I will hear, and think of the office water cooler blubbooling — in iambic pentameter. The Misfit at the end of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” free-associates. John Donne comes back, like Quasimodo, to fuck with this old tolled-out “soul.” I hear:
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Fucked, and under water.
by John Kendall Hawkins
…[B]oundless mental energy, imaginative outbursts of inventiveness and creativity …without this illness Dr Johnson’s remarkable literary achievements, the great dictionary, his philosophical deliberations … may never have happened….
JMS Pierce, describing the effects of Tourette’s syndrome on the great Samuel Johnson
I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world. I’m black. They never let me forget it. I’m black all right. I’ll never let them forget it.
From the classic A Tribute to Jack Johnson by Miles Davis
According to my mother (RIP), my first verbal expression was not Mama or liebfraumilch, like a lot of kids, but Jell-o — J-E-L-L-O — but, then, she also confided, later in life, that I came from Cherokee stock, and that my Dad broke broncos in rodeos. (It even inspired an early poem.) So, you had to gently consider the source on these matters, keep your visits short, nodding a lot as she played out Mother Mitty, and seek out reality-based thinking back home on the business end of a bong.
Somewhere along the line, probably while the smoke was still bubbling, I gave some thought to the origins of language (as you do, sitting there like a stoned Rodin) — not my language, with its pudding proof of a neglected childhood spent placed before a TV set, introjecting jingles and their subliminal messages, remembered six decades later against your will — but human language, the big soup, how we climbed out, and went from twitching primordial gefilterfish to quantum orgasmatrons of higher thinking we can’t help telling each other about on Facebook, and Liking, almost against our wills.
Well, something happened, a brownout maybe, and when I came to, in late middle age, I recalled I had degrees in philosophy and language. So, I must have spent years thinking about all kinds of cogitos and summa cums. But, speaking as an old fart frankly, breaking wind, as it were, at both ends of the candid, I came to recall that in the great navel-gazing debate over consciousness nobody knows to this day whether it’s an innie or an outie. The same’s true of language. Is it the chicken or the egg of consciousness? I used to know, but I forgot, so I picked up Don’t Believe A Word, by David Shariatmadari, to remember.
Shariatmadari’s not bad at reactivating all the learning channels of yore with his survey of the gringo’s lingo; I could feel bright neurons lighting up (and the dim wit of my many meurons, too). He’s got all the bases and graces of language covered — origins; class, race and cultural differences; finding language in other species: insects, animals, computers; thought and communication; wordplay and translations. And he devotes a whole chapter to challenging Noam Chomsky’s ‘language instinct’ and its evolution.
But, as I read, I started thinking about my pudding proof again and what came before my cry of Jell-o. Before all of our cries of Jell-o. At what point did thoughts and language come spontaneously combusting out of our brains, as if our ganglia-jungle were suddenly woken up by Johnny Weismuller? That’s what I was wondering. However, Shariatmadari doesn’t really address ancient languages — or more specifically, the oral tradition we all come from, so we’ll never know, from this book, how language produced by oral-centric people is (or was) different than that produced by the meaning of, say, reading this page.
That’s fine. I put on my beanie for a minute and recalled a book I’d read as an undergrad, titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. The interesting thing the book posits is the notion that language preceded consciousness, that the left wing and right wing of the brain were in constant dialogue, creating gods, making us functional schizoids, until the imaginot line was breached and a unitary consciousness emerged. “Iliadic man did not have subjectivity as do we,” wrote Jaynes. “He had no awareness of his awareness of the world, no internal mind-space to introspect upon.” There was no consciousness of consciousness, like that which informs a review such as Shariatmadari’s Don’t Believe A Word.
The nearest Shariatmadari wants to get to the origins of language is through the lens of certain academic presumptions: Chomsky’s language instinct, which the author wants to challenge; and, what he calls the etymological fallacy, putting a lie to the notion that tracing a word back to its root meaning clarifies a modern understanding. Shariatmadari not only devotes an entire chapter to reducing the value of Noam Chomsky’s long-held, and widely accepted, language acquisition gene, but comes at him right from the introduction on.
Universal Grammar, the common rule or set of rules underlying all grammars, can be understood as akin to the Collective Unconsciousness archetypes of Jungian psychology — the grammatical structures, like the archetypes, are there already and will develop over time naturally. As Chomsky puts it, “We do not really learn language; rather, a grammar grows in the mind.” It doesn’t matter what culture you belong to, what tribe, what language you speak, from English to Mandarin. Underlying his UG is the precedence of syntax, with surface structures (idiosyncratic) and deep structures (universal).
Shariatmadari describes Chomsky’s crucial later concept, Merge, “which apes, birds, dolphins and every other species lack. It is what enables children to acquire language so quickly and dramatically, because they perceive, beyond the jumble of words at the surface, an inner order… Merge is the holy grail.” Because of this function humans are able to generate an infinite number of sentences out of one set of rules.
But for Shariatmadari there’s more to it than mere functionality. Whereas Chomsky posits that “the overwhelming use of language is internal — for thought,” Shariatmadari emphasises a more primary social purpose. He writes, “[L]anguage is fundamentally a social phenomenon. Its structure does not derive from an internal blueprint, but from the general cognitive abilities of a social species, and external factors….” And, really, his whole book is not about how we think about language, but, rather, how we engage each other in social situations and experience in a variety of spheres — “psychology, sociology, neuroscience, anthropology, literature, philosophy and computing.” Although, the author does push for greater self-consciousness. In fact, he suggests that we may be entering a new paradigm regarding language similar to Galileo’s heliocentric splash.
Shariatmadari also cites the etymological fallacy — tracing a word back to its root as an authoritative explanation for a current usage, which the author declares can be “a form of deceit.” He cites, as one example, how following such a trace for the word ‘treacle’ could leave one “in a pickle” because ultimately it means “a wild or venomous beast.”
He goes on with another example, “I have legs. Words have meanings. But is the ‘have’ in the first sentence the same as the ‘have’ in the second? Obviously not.” Obviously not. He goes hilariously further with the word ‘slab’. He says it’s “an example of word-as-tool. Its meaning, in the context of a building site, was to get someone to do something that would help build a wall.” (Yell ‘slab’ to a mate driving away in a ute in Australia and he’ll bring you back a sexie sixie of XXXX beers. If he’s a real mate.)
Well, anyway, Shariatmadari’s stated concern with these trace-backs is that “the institutions that define standard language: universities, newspapers, broadcasters, the literary establishment” might employ such fallacies to maintain control of meaning, as they did with the Canon, before postmodernism came along to bust their balls. Nuff said.
But Shariatmadari’s position may be a little overstated. We learn much by tracing, say, the word ‘tragedy’, as Nietzsche did, back to its goat beginning. And, as another example, it’s important that, say, the root of the N-word, which literally means black, and goes a long way toward demonizing a quality a human cannot change, even if he wanted to.
This discussion seems to lead naturally into Shariatmadari’s somewhat jocular section of the alleged demise of language proposed by certain elements of the upper establishment. Shariatmadari spends a chapter discussing the popular highbrow notion that “language is going to the dogs.” What does he mean? Prudes, pedants and English teachers, other than Robin Williams (RIP), worry that postmodernism, the replacement of critical thinking skills with standardized testing, the clickety-cluckety noise of the Internet, have led to an Anything Goes approach to language as a conveyor of ‘deeper meaning’. I profess a fondness for sonnets, so I can understand the thinking here.
As an example of such prudery, Shariatmadari trots in a British organization to have their imperial say:
“[The decline of the English language] is something the Queen’s English Society…has been trying to prevent. ‘Some changes would be wholly unacceptable,’ the Society says, ‘as they would cause confusion and the language would lose shades of meaning.’ With a reduced expressive capacity, English would no longer be up to the task of describing the world around us, or the world inside our heads.”
Again, to a certain degree I concur. One frightening thing for a literate person is the prospect the author raises of a future world that no longer even comprehends Shakespeare’s “old” English.
First, it was going to the groundlings, to the feisty little Falstaffs in the crowd, but now, according to the haughty culture, English is going to the mad dogs. But Shariatmadari says implicitly ‘phooey’ and that degeneration is a sentiment that has been common throughout the evolution of language. Like a latter-day Will Rogers, he agrees that ‘nothing is the way it used to be — and never was.’ As far as he’s concerned, language is alive and well: “Most democratic freedoms have been preserved and intellectual achievement intensified. Information has become far more accessible, news media have proliferated and the technological advances have come thick and fast.” If it comes down to it, Fuck Shakespeare is a development he seems okay with.
But I’m not sure I agree with Shariatmadari’s oblique (o bleak!) optimism. Look at the state of the mainstream media he describes as conduits of productive information. No, for me, it recalls a Nietzsche nugget regarding Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press — that’s great, he said, but then the Germans went ahead and threw it all away by inventing the dirty noisy newspaper. Things kind of got out of hand from there, just as they did with poor ol’ Tim Berners-Lee and the WWW in our time. Pearls before swine. The road to good intentions turns out to be the road of excess, with neither leading to any real wisdom. As newspapers have been in the past, the Internet today is largely only good for wrapping up fish, or kindling a small fire to cook it on.
The prudery Shariatmadari refers to is further expanded in a section that discusses Race, Class, and Cultural differences. He who controls the narrative arc controls what happens to the characters. Thus we get spin cycles in the news; attempts to control how information is processed by hearts and minds. Shariatmadari provides examples of how these motifs are played out in the social milieu.
For race, he cites ebonics (or what he calls African American Vernacular English, or AAVE) as an example of how a ‘second language’ can work to empower Black people, such as in its expression in hip-hop, while also providing cover for White criticism of a historically marginalized group’s lack of assimilation. It’s also self-reinforcing on each side to the point that the dominant side (The Mighty Whitey) can’t even understand Mr. Ebony. Remember Archie Bunker and his tussles with Lionel Jefferson next door and the communication gap? Shariatmadari paraphrases the Bunker mindset, when he cites an Oakland Department of Education decision: “The desire to bend over backwards to accommodate an ethnic group’s sensitivities was trumping the need to deliver a high-quality education to the students….” (But it’s okay to bend over forward for the upper class?)
Similarly, in discussing Class, Shariatmadari cites the language differences of the Upstairs/Downstairs experience of shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue versus Klein. Citing a linguistic study by Bill Labov, among many differences over time he notes how in Saks how clear and well-enunciated “fourth floor” rings from employees, while at Klein he hears, instead, “fawth flaa.” You could tell where someone might shop just from how they handled Rs. One is reminded of the Harvard student Matt Damon gets initially punked by, onnacounta his Boston accent, which he later pays back in spades and the famous punchline: “So how do you like them apples?” Nuff Said.
On Shariatmadari goes, “When you say something you send out social signals.” (Indeed, what would be the point of cracking the wind with a tongue whip, if not to communicate your desire to an other? Grrrr. Minnie.) He cites an amusing example for cultural differences — the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious. Unlike the Rolling Stones, who Shariatmadari claims were putting on “a bluesy drawl” to please Americans when they sang, You make a dead man cum, in “Start Me Up,” he claims that if “Sid Vicious tried to sound American he would’ve been seen as inauthentic – something that was anathema to the punk ethos.” (In the punk bar I used to hang out in, if the regulars didn’t like the look of you — maybe you were dressed like Jim Carroll — when it came your turn to swan into the mosh pit, everybody moved away while you were in mid-air.) We’ve all laughed at attempts to sound like another culture, even fascist ones.
There’s a section where Shariatmadari seems to go off the rails some, going all Tourette’s for a minute, with a flush of coprolalia (familiarly knowns as, talking shit) maybe channeling Samuel Johnson. It’s hard to tell sometimes:
“I can say ‘Fuck me!’ as an exclamation, but I can’t say ‘Fuck me precisely’ or ‘Fuck me by midday’ without reverting to the literal meaning. ‘Fuck me!’ is an emotional signal rather than an example of propositional speech.” No fuckin comment.
And, the Turks say: Avrupalιlaştιrιlamayanlardansιnιz, which means ‘You’ re one of those we can’t make a European out.’ And we say: antidisestablishmentarianism, which means ‘You’re one of those we can’t make a good Catholic out of.” Will they ever see eye to eye?
The author continues on with a few other areas of interest, most notably human attempts to communicate with other ‘species’ — including insects, animals, and computers. He describes the expressive dance of bees, but there is no language. We have a long history of trying to find consciousness in animals, so that we can communicate, but to sometimes crazy ends. And he sporadically makes references to computer-speak, which he reckons could, in the future, be most efficiently programmed with Sanskrit (!). By the time I was finished I felt I needed a good sit-down session with a compassionate shrink — and found Dr Eliza, who helped get me to another day.
Nietzsche always said that when you look into the abyss, look out mofo, because the abyss also looks into you. I’ve taken that wisdom on board and made it part of my practical philosophy, and find myself these days looking into the abyss reflecting on the philosopher Harold Lloyd’s simple visual motto. If you must take the mickey out, begin with yourself. Einstein said the universe is warped. Like Lloyd, I can totally relate. Pass the bong.
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.