by Gilles d'Aymery
"The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to destroy them."
—Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (Swann's Way, 1913)
(Swans - January 2, 2006) SPYING ON AMERICANS, aside from the seasonal festivities, was an unordinary part of the news during the past few weeks. We learnt that the Pentagon was keeping a database of "potentially" dangerous organizations such as the Quakers or whatever "Grannies Against War." The FBI, we were told, has been keeping a close eye on a variety of would-be terrorist-abetting organizations like the Catholic Workers ("semi-communistic ideology," no less), PETA, and other dissenting entities and individuals. We also heard about the New York City police planting undercover agents during legal demonstrations by antiwar activists or bicyclist-advocates-turned-anarchists through the infiltration of the ACLU. Finally, le coup du roi: The New York Times, after sitting on the story for one year, revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been wiretapping and eavesdropping on American citizens, on American soil, for the past four years on the order of the president and without going through the legal process put into place by Congress in the wake of Richard Nixon's mischief in the 1970s. In other words, Mr. Bush allegedly ignored, or circumvented, the law of the land.
QUESTIONS: Why such a flurry of spying revelations at this time, during the holiday season? Why such an uproar on the part of politicos and the chattering class, and the armchair activists? Are the elites turning against one of their own? (Corporate news is tightly controlled -- e.g. the New York Times was able to sit on an important story for an entire year.) Is the state sending an obvious message to real activists ("we are watching you")? There must be some rational reason or reasons for these sudden revelations.
NO EASY ANSWER on my part, but a lot of puzzlement by the seemingly outraged responses to these stories that should not be news to anyone. The most important one, the NSA sneaking on US citizens -- is almost risible to this observer. In the prelude to Iraq War II, the main media disclosed that the NSA was eavesdropping on members of the UN Security Council. The story had no legs. In the spring of 2005, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson expressed concern upon learning that the [then] nominee for ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, had on ten occasions asked the NSA to wiretap US citizens, including Richardson. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked for the NSA transcripts that Bolton had obtained. The State Department refused to provide the information. Bolton's nomination was delayed by the Committee. Bush went on with a recess appointment. That story had no legs either. Whether Bush broke the FISA law may be newsworthy and will certainly be the object of intense debates and political skirmishes in the weeks ahead, but the NSA intrusions on American lives are decidedly not new.
HYPOCRITICAL EXCEPTIONALISM: How come Americans find it justifiable to have the NSA spook on the entire world, friends and allies included (add Echelon on the commercial side of the equation), but get into a frenzy when the agency turns upon them? This is baffling. It's okay to spy on everybody else worldwide, but, hey, not on me! Wake up people. It's like whining about US oil consumption as you jump into your SUV to drive to the next Earth First! demo outside of town. You can't have it both ways. Create a monster, which is what Truman did in 1952, and it'll come back to bite you eventually. If it's okay to spy on them, it's also okay to spy on you.
AS TO THE OTHER PECADILLOS, courtesy of all the agencies the state operates with your money to make your life miserable, especially if you happen to disagree with, and actively oppose, the government's policies (of either party)...I mean, what's new under the sky? Tapping phones, intercepting e-mails, infiltrating groups, even publications, with agent provocateurs, is an age-old state practice, not even particularly American at that.
IF MEMORY SERVES, 10 months or so ago, a contributor to Swans ended a post on our internal mailing list with the words "Long Live the [Iraqi] Resistance!" Another member was quick on his feet to remind everybody that here, in the U.S., some pretty strong anti-sedition laws exist and that such statements, in the midst of the war in Iraq, could easily be interpreted as a treasonous act. Nothing new. During the Algerian War of Independence, French nationals who sided with the Algerians were deemed unpatriotic, traitors to the state, and sentenced to jail... Another member of the mailing list, far away from his country of origin, dismissed these concerns. Fffff, he posited, the US government does not give a poop, all the while recommending that life in the USA was hopeless and that, consequently, we should leave the belly of the beast as soon as humanly possible. One can run to the hills or go into exile, but it won't change the historical actuality. A state, when feeling threatened, will increase its repressive policies ten-fold if need be. Kill them all, god will choose her own.
MORE RECENTLY, another contributor, in an intellectually well-constructed post to the list, advocated "sedition, subversion, and sabotage," as a potential strategy to follow. Err, I shut that conversation real fast! Sedition, subversion, sabotage...three words that must be close to the top of the list of tagged words in the data-mining processes set up by all the spying agencies. Somewhere, a faceless bureaucrat, under instructions from his boss, having a job to keep and a family to sustain, unaware of the context in which a discussion takes place, or naturally loathing any dissent, pulls the plug. Next thing you know, your name is added to the list of potential dangers (aka, "terrorists," domestic or otherwise) to the state. Again, this is not an American-centric behavior. All states act similarly. The first and fourth amendments to the US Constitution, in the eyes of our rulers, are fast becoming as quaint as the Geneva Conventions.
KAFKA SHOULD BE REBORN, not as a Christian Evangelical, mind you, but as an observer of the paranoia and the folly that keep entangling the American mind. I, for one, could care less about the FBI, DIA, NSA, CIA, TALON, ECHELON, TIA, and other countless acronyms. I've taken for granted from the day I had to go through an FBI check in the 1980s (and hence have a "file") to operate legally on the New York Futures Exchange that I was an integral part of the system -- that is, I was being watched. I take for granted that they may (or may not, depending on the priorities of the season) intercept my communications with the outside world. "Hi, Mom, how are you doing?"
IN AN ERA when bank and medical records are fully catalogued by credit companies and the insurance industry; where people's consumption is carefully tracked, Web browsing fully monitored, etc., the very concept of privacy is obsolete. Another few decades and all newborns will have a tiny chip inserted at birth and everybody will be monitored from the womb to the grave.
FOR THE DINOSAURS OUT THERE, here is a refresher:
Following the news that Mr. Bush ordered the NSA to eavesdrop on US citizens without obtaining court warrants, it may be useful to recall what the same Mr. Bush said on April 20, 2004, in Buffalo, New York:
"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires---a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."
VALUE THE CONSTITUTION? Did not Mr. Bush, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the US Constitution, "solemnly swear that [he would] faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and [would] to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States"?
DARN IT, "We do not torture."
TWO MEMORABLE CITATIONS from our straight-talking president: Bush recently recited his latest breviary (with a hint of contrition):
"Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world's terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the War on Terror."
Three years earlier, in order to justify invading Iraq:
"Imagine a terrorist network with Iraq as an arsenal and as a training ground."
Yup, in America you can have it both ways: Get your candy handy and keep your money steady.
THE IRONIC NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION AWARD goes to Justin Raimondo, the bombastic editor of Antiwar.com. In his inimitable modesty, he wrote on December 30, 2005, "If I can make a New Year's resolution on behalf of the Antiwar.com staff -- that small but intrepid and very hardworking band -- it is to reiterate our continuing pledge to report the truth to the best of our understanding, without wearing ideological blinders and yet also without ever forgetting (not even for a moment) our commitment to a more peaceful and also a freer world." Reporting the truth, a favorite American exercise, combined with plausible deniability (according to one's understanding) should place Raimondo in the good company of the New York Times and other truth-telling iconoclasts such as David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, and his favorite punching bags, AIPAC and Israel (the government of). His bragging about "wearing no ideological blinders" must fall into the Comedy Central category of best joke of the year!
THIS IS THE TIME OF THE YEAR: According to Mother Jones (December 2005) "U.S. donations made thus far per victim of 9/11, Katrina, and the tsunami, respectively: $736,771; $2,827; $1,173." And once again, the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund is recording less donations than last year. As always, people with the most assets give proportionally less to charities than people of more modest means: they are half as "generous." (See NewTithing Report on Charitable Giving.)
NEVERTHELESS, MR. BUSH IS RIGHT, the economy is growing, at least for the happy few. According to the 2005 World Wealth Report, a yearly study by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch, about 77,500 people in the world were worth at least $30 million in 2004, one third of them live in the USA; just about 745,000 were "mid-tier millionaires" (assets between $5 and 30 million); and 7.44 million pour souls only had assets between $1 and 5 million. The respective change between 2003 and 2004 was: +8.9%, +7.9%, and +7.2%. Overall, these people had a combined net worth, excluding their primary residence, of $30.8 trillion, an increase of 8.2% over 2003. The study projects that this global net worth will reach $42.2 trillion in 2009.
PATRIOTIC DUTY TO THE SHOPOCRACY: we too felt obligated to help prove Mr. Bush correct through high consumption spending, aka Xmas shopping: Jan and I are happy (or guilty) to report that our household's gifts were limited to minimalist expensive items. We bought two books: Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country, and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Nothing more... Oops, sorry, I also had a slice of bûche de Noël from the Bay Bread Boulangerie in San Francisco -- you know, a French tradition... I guess, we should be sent to consumerism re-education.
JOYLESS BUSH: On December 4, 2005, the Kennedy Center honored Tony Bennett, Suzanne Farrell, Julie Harris, Robert Redford, and Tina Turner for "their lifetime contribution to the arts and American culture." The show was broadcast on CBS, December 27, 2005. As the tradition has it, Mr. Bush and bella Laura attended the ceremony. She seemed to enjoy herself, bearing her customary angelic smile and clapping profusely. In contrast, our great leader and defender of civil liberties (he is, he is...if not I'd long have been disappeared or deported via some extraordinary rendition process) was stone-bodied with a waxy face. Having to applaud the tributes to Robert Redford, or Willie "Just how much oil is human life worth?" Nelson and Quincy Jones honoring one artist or the other, looked particularly tedious. His demeanor, which the show producers endeavored to hide or ignore as much as possible, indicated both boredom ("I'd rather be biking and brush-clearing in Crawford") and plainly aggravated ("what am I doing here? These fly-shits did not even vote for me. This Nelson traitor...he's against the war in Iraq. Screw 'em all. I'm the president. When is this damned show goin' to end? I want to go home."). His body language accurately depicted the man's appreciation of the diversity of the American people -- "you are with us or you are with the terrorists." Since you are not with us you must consequently be with the terrorists; and if you are with the terrorists, you must then logically be a terrorist. Bush, henceforth, spent the evening of December 4 in the midst of terrorism and, to look at him, it was an excruciating experience.
BOONVILLE NEWS: Anyone who's followed the news is aware that California, in particular Northern California where I live, has been battered by winter storms. Rain has been on and off for some three weeks now; more on than off. Two or three days ago, we got between eight and ten inches of rain in a 24-hour period. I've no idea how much rainfall we've sustained in the past three weeks but 20+ inches would not surprise me. Compared to the flooding in other localities -- Healdsburg and Guerneville along the Russian River, The Napa Valley, etc. -- we have nothing to complain. Only a few mud slides and leaks around the house.
Three roof leaks...eventually patched with the help of Speedy Hulbert (thanks Speedy!)...and another one yet to be found that's destroying the dry wall in our bathroom and bedroom -- and it keeps raining as I type helplessly and try to put this issue of Swans to bed. Like everybody else, I am sick and tired of the weather...and slightly depressed. Enough said.
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
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