Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Price of Non-Conformity In The "Reality Community" Is To Be Cursed with Cooties

It's hard for me to stop thinking and marveling at the many obviously ridiculous and unrealistic features of the Snowden-Greenwald cult on the pseudo-leftist blogs and in the media because it offers so many insights into why we can't do anything in politics.  In a way, it sums up my seven years of blogging on the failure of the left to gain power and make change.   I'll recap the problems with the bizarre faith in those two cult figures at the end of this post but more generally, the reaction to anyone bringing those up is interesting.  A few of the major features of that reaction are the accusation of heresy, the accusation of apostasy, the accusation of questioning the agreed to narrative based almost entirely in what Snowden and Greenwald have said about their own behavior and what it means.   It is based in a will to believe some things that are quite unbelievable on the basis of the known facts.   In short, it's a secular-religious phenomenon of the fundamentalist variety.   Which is hilarious considering how many of those in this cult spend so much of their time deriding exactly those things they are doing when it is someone else doing the believing,  deriding other people, quite often, on the basis of things they don't believe and often actively oppose.

I see a lot of that as the same kind of thing we all experience in school as adolescents.   The observation that blogs frequently devolve into high school or jr. high is made often enough that it seems like a banal cliche. But it is a cliche that seems to me to be spot on.  And not only blogs but in other social and quasi-social professional milieus such as the media.   I'm seeing a lot of professional pressure being brought on those who have questioned the Snowden-Greenwald narrative, I'd guess quite a bit of that pressure in the understood danger of their readership shrinking and their market value being destroyed.   The percentage of the population who reads generally liberal to lefty journalists and opinionators is rather small to begin with, if you are declared to have cooties on a few of the more read comment threads, I'm guessing it could drive you into nearly immediate obscurity.   I look at Charlie Pierce and wonder if he feels the pressure, endangering his relatively recent explosion into the national scene after decades of being largely a New England phenomenon. The excellence of his work, the reasonableness of his skepticism over those two members of the godhead of the godless congregation of the internet, won't protect him from the anathema I was seeing declared in several rather dangerously influential places.   I don't know if his response to Jeffrey Toobin's pretty good question* is a sign of the pressure getting to him but I don't see much of a response.   You can read a quite fine exploration of that and more here.   Charlie Pierce wrote an interesting response, which is provocative in its questions and assertions, not all of them in ways that Charles Pierce intended.   And in some of those is a good outline of the problems with both the narrative gospel of the cult but, more generally, the degenerated standards of those who join onto it.

The current state of play seems to be centered on the new family fun game, How Much Of A Dick Is Glenn Greenwald Anyway? I decline to play. It is a stupid, wasteful exercise because, frankly, the vessel doesn't matter to me. The information that it carries is the only thing that matters. What has Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage, revealed that isn't true?

The problem with this is that almost everything other than the things based on the leaked documents depends entirely on what Snowden and Greenwald have said, and they are the ones who made themselves and their motives a major component in the story.

I don't want to hear that we all knew it already. I don't want quibbling about how the data sweeps work, and how they might not be as horrible as they're being made out to be because I don't trust the people making that argument.

Well, of course you don't because you've been a real journalist.  You never take an interested parties assertions about what they've done on faith, you never consider it to be disinterested because you can easily discern the FACT that they are as interested as could be.  That was the basis of your skeptical - actually JOURNALISTIC - treatment of what Snowden and Greenwald were saying.  You might have noticed, especially, that Snowden's travel itinerary put the lie to his assertions because there was no way to make sense of those.

I don't to hear about how the fudging of the details of David Miranda's arrest somehow lessens the credibility of what we now know. I don't want to hear how it may have inconvenienced our all-too-human-mistake-prone heroes in the NSA, who are they all, all honorable men. What do we know now because of the revelations that is not true? The fact remains that we do not know any of this without Snowden's revelations to Greenwald and, thereby, to the world.

Ah, there's a big problem with this because we only know what Snowden and Greenwald have chosen to reveal.  We don't know that we actually know the entire truth about any of it.   Greenwald doesn't because he has no idea what, if anything, Snowden kept back from him.   And Greenwald's record of accurate reporting of what was released is known to be far less than good, it's been pretty bad and obviously self-interested.   Which might or might not get him called "a dick" but it makes him a crappy reporter on issues which he is so personally invested in.   AND CHARLIE PIERCE, YOU KNOW THAT BECAUSE YOU ARE A REAL JOURNALIST.

The national conversation is not even happening. The NSA is not owning up to its all-too-human mistakes. The FISA Court isn't retroactively flexing to prove it isn't the intelligence community's poodle. The authoritarian impulse has not even been given the brief pause we currently enjoy. None of this happens without Snowden and Greenwald and, as a citizen, I could care less that people think Glenn Greenwald is full of himself. Don't invite him to dinner.

Here is the heart of the problem because the NSA was certainly known to be a danger  long, long before Snowden or Greenwald were known, and the FISA process was known to be an inadequate oversight of their activities and Cass Sunstein and his ilk is hardly a person who inspires confidence that he is even capable of understanding the dangers of the establishment to democracy.  It's fairly obvious that Barack Obama - the most nearly liberal president we've managed to elect in thirty-seven years - doesn't get that or chooses not to get that.  And once the obvious problems with the selling of the heroic Edward Snowden falls apart - Snowden, in whom Glenn Greenwald has invested his entire credibility and fame and adoration - once Snowden's myth  falls apart, which it almost certainly will, the imposition of real civilian control of intelligence will be one of the biggest casualties.  The reaction to the revelation of his defection and betrayal and the consequences are known, there will be an enormous backlash.

Why do I say that the Snowden myth will fall apart?   His own behavior, his own activities and the physical locations he and his advisors have put him in.   His choice to defect to China when there were so many other and entirely less compromising avenues available to someone working in intelligence is the most obvious of all the few objective facts in this story.

To summarize what I conclude from that and China trading him with Russia instead of the United States,   here is what I had to repeat in a blog discussion yesterday.

I am certain that the Chinese government would make absolutely certain that they had everything Snowden had with them before allowing him to go to Russia where they could be certain that Putin and Russian intelligence would be ruthless in getting hold of it. Snowden, due to his desperation to stay out of U.S. government hands gave both governments all the leverage they needed to force him to give them everything and any encryption codes to it. If that wasn't the case either government would have traded him to the U.S. government in exchange for something they wanted. The U.S. government could have made them a better offer for Snowden encryption in tact than he could offer without handing over the information.

I am absolutely certain that both governments, by now, have whatever he had with him. I assume that the American government considers everything he had access to is lost. 

If I were either a Chinese or Russian dissident in contact with people in the U.S. I'd be extremely worried about what Snowden gave them in exchange for him not being delivered to the United States government.

I strongly suspect Russia wasn't his idea but a deal worked out between China and Russia to give Russia a chance to get the information he had with him. If there's one thing I'm absolutely certain of, China would never have let him go to Russia with a huge number of classified American documents that China didn't have first. He'd either still be in China or the United States if he hadn't given China full access, China having traded him for something they wanted more than his still protected files. He really wanted to get out of Russia. I'm certain him being there means Russia has also had access to everything he's got. 

If a Chinese or Russian version of Snowden came here with a mountain of stolen intelligence do you think that the CIA, FBI, NSA etc. would not do everything they could to copy it and get its encryption? Especially if they were desperate to keep from being sent back, giving American intelligence a rather massive threat to wield against them? 

What do you think would happen to the equivalents of Greenwald, Poitras and Miranda in that scenario? I suspect one or more would die and their bodies would show odd signs of having been exposed to polonium or some such thing.

I point out that no one (including you) has said exactly what laws the NSA has violated. You reply, "If so, the law is an ass." That may be, but that's different from saying that the NSA was some kind of outlaw agency.  Jeffrey Toobin    RMJ has some excellent points to make about this story on his blog and especially at the link above.

Update:   I've been sent a few comments about this post from the vent-o-sphere, clearly not on the basis of a reading of it.   When those brats get hold of an issue, it's guaranteed to fail politically.   The effective civilian oversight of the NSA and other spy agencies is doomed until the adults take it back and discuss it unafraid of their venting.


  1. The FISA Court isn't retroactively flexing to prove it isn't the intelligence community's poodle.

    Case in point of my problem with Charlie Pierce: the Obama Admin. released a FISA court order (previously classified) from Oct. 2011, where the court found an NSA program violated the fourth amendment. Not only did the NSA work to change the program to bring it into compliance, but what's "retroactive" about 2 years ago?

    I'm no fan of NSA, period; but honestly, can we base this conversation on facts rather than on "whatever I think, it's true!"?

    I remember when the "reality based community" claimed that's what the opposition did. And now....?

  2. Odd isn't it how the "reality community" can turn on a dime. I really like how they love to hate on the Muslims until some self-appointed Rev. decides to burn a Quran. Allegedly liberal, college educated (somehow I guess they figure all with accents from North of the Mason-Dixon Line) mocking and dissing Muslims is AOK. But not the great unwashed. This is a tribal thing, largely. Snowden and Greenwald are members of their tribe. Though I wonder what they'd made of the 2009 Snowden who said leakers should be "shot in the balls".

    Obama isn't very good at getting out ahead of this kind of thing. He doesn't get how it works. It reminds me of when he called Atrios and four other elite bloggers in to explain it all to him. What do you think of his appointment of Cass Sunstein?

  3. What do you think of his appointment of Cass Sunstein?

    Not much. Nor am I surprised by it; just disappointed. Obama is a product of elite private schools, and no matter how much he disguises it with his time as a social worker and in Jeremiah Wright's church, he's an elitist most comfortable with the intellectual theories of the elite. The differences between he and Romney are in some ways profound (Romney really believes the economic claptrap he spouted before that hidden camera); in other ways, they are indistinguishable.

    And you're right: tribalism explains the various "conversations" on the web about this topic very well.

  4. That's how I see Obama too. When I read that his mother shipped him back to his grandparents because boys in her family all went to private prep-schools and I saw that he'd never attended a public school for a day in his life it confirmed what I'd suspected. I think it colors everything he does, his "Race for the Top" is symptomatic, the winners are winners and everyone else is a loser.

    If we had a healthy liberal movement based on really egalitarian principles we might be able to get electable nominees who weren't always going to sell out the people we're supposed to be fighting for. As it is, they go wild for people like Obama because they don't really believe in the legitimate agenda of the real left, they're too fond of looking down on the people we're supposed to be supporting - well, some of us are actually of that class, ourselves. They are snobs so they can support elitists. Only the underclass can sense when they're looked down on and, while they've had everything taken from them, their pride is all they've got left. And so many alleged liberals want that too. If you haven't read Mother Country yet, Marilynne Robinson's discussion of the incredible stinginess of the Fabians and their insistence on absolutely dispossessing the poor of everything they had is an eye opener.