The Regularity of Evil

Read Jennifer Granick’s account of My Dinner With NSA Director Keith Alexander.

The two most striking things were, first, that General Alexander — the head of one of our biggest intelligence agencies — can’t even conceive that a member of the establishment might be to the left of Senator Wyden. Any world view that puts Senator Wyden as the leftmost pole of legitimate domestic politics is seriously impoverished, maybe dangerous.

Second, there’s the clash of cultures: “trust us” (from a body proven again and again and again to grossly mislead) verses the lawyer’s view of ‘if men were Angels‘.

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15 Responses to The Regularity of Evil

  1. Earl Killian says:

    A couple of quotes on this subject by Chomsky illustrate this. First:

    The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

    And from Understanding Power:

    Today the methods are different—now it’s not the threat of force that ensures the media will present things within a framework that serves the interests of the dominant institutions, the mechanisms today are much more subtle. But nevertheless, there is a complex system of filters in the media and educational institutions which ends up ensuring that dissident perspectives are weeded out, or marginalized in one way or another. And the end result is in fact quite similar: what are called opinions “on the left” and “on the right” in the media represent only a limited spectrum of debate, which reflects the needs of private power—but there’s essentially nothing beyond those “acceptable” positions. … So you see, in our system what you might call “state propaganda” isn’t expressed as such, as it would be in a totalitarian society—rather it’s implicit, it’s presupposed, it provides the framework for debate among the people who are admitted into the mainstream discussion. In fact, the nature of Western systems of indoctrination is typically not understood by dictators; they don’t understand the utility for propaganda purposes of having “critical debate” that incorporates the basic assumptions of the official doctrines, and thereby marginalizes and eliminates authentic and rational critical discussion. Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits—that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.

    Chomsky is a perfect example of someone who is typically excluded from “acceptable debate.”

  2. At some point will you blame Obama for being complicit in the lies and unconstitutional acts of these agencies, or would that be racist?

    • Obama is in some sense lucky in his enemies. The idiocy and racism of the people running around calling for his impeachment inoculates him from any serious examination of whether the NSA’s excesses can be traced to him, much less what the consequences should be if that’s shown to be the case. (I don’t think we know to what extent Obama was really in the loop; it’s certainly possible he was very substantially informed — and of course that’s how they now choose to spin it — but I don’t see that as either proved or obvious.)

      • The “trust us” mentality you criticize with respect to the NSA comes directly from Obama:

        “Do some of these systems end up being like a loaded gun out there that somebody at some future point could abuse? Because there are no allegations, and I am very confident — knowing the NSA and how they operate – that purposefully somebody is out there trying to abuse this program or listen in on people’s e-mail,”

        Michael, in the quote above, Obama states that he “know[s] the NSA and how they operate.” That is what lawyers call an ADMISSION. You cannot sit there and try to defend him with a claim of ignorance. He knows what the NSA does, and he does not care.

        That speaks to the content of Obama’s character. The question is, when will you?

        • I’m far from an Obama fan. He’s been timid. He’s surrendered much that he should have fought for. He’s supported some evil policies. Sadly, things could be even worse.

          I supported Obama energetically in the first general election because the alternative was so bad, and the prospect of Palin a heartbeat away was even worse. I supported Obama in the second general for much the same reasons. In both cases my support consisted more of trashing the opponents than praising the candidate. (Recall Friday McCain bashing?) I’m no great fan of many of the administration’s polices, and that goes double for many things the Justice Department has done. Like I said, Obama is lucky in a way in his enemies.

          There’s no question that Obama has chosen to own the NSA’s activities. I am fully open to the idea that he’s telling the truth about having endorsed them every step of the way. The reason, though, that I wouldn’t be surprised if this endorsement was only post-revelation PR isn’t because I think Obama is or was too virtuous to sign on to these programs — I don’t — but rather because I can imagine that the NSA might not have gone that high up to get clearance for at least a good chunk of them, especially the parts that interact with the FISA Court (aka the FISC).

          But then again, perhaps you are right, and we should take the President at his word. So much the worse for him, then. I would characterize it as a failure of judgement rather than character, but I’m not sure that much turns on the distinction. It’s very bad either way.

          • “I can imagine that the NSA might not have gone that high up to get clearance for at least a good chunk of them”

            So what? Kids don’t ask their parents before they break rules either. The question is, what response once broken rules are discovered? Assuming, arguendo, Obama was truly ignorant of NSA abuses, IRS abuses, Bengazi and Fast and Furious cover ups, at what point does his “sparing the rod” with his underlings cross the line between poor judgment and a flawed character?

            Investing in Solyndra was a failure of judgment. Repeatedly lying to the American public and fanning racial flames is a character flaw. A CHICAGO politician tells you to TRUST government, and you call that poor judgment, not a character flaw? Puh-lease.

            With Bush, you had a much lower threshold:
            http://www.discourse.net/2004/10/is_this_the_smoking_gun_on_bush_national_guard_record_and_why_you_should_care/
            There you told us that Bush was a liar based upon irregularities or inconsistencies regarding his National Guard service.

            Do you seriously contend you hold evaluation of Obama’s character to the same standard as you did Bush?

      • Vic says:

        The NSA’s excesses can be “traced to him” because he is President. There is no further standard needed. There is not some Federal Rule of Evidence that must be satisfied. He is the Executive and is responsible. And claiming non-responsibility due to being kept in the dark by his own agency is equally damning. He is the President – if he can’t manage to be in charge, he has no business being in the job. Fire people if that’s what it takes. Obama too often acts as if the things his branch of Government does are news to him as much as to us.

        Add to that the fact that he has acted Unconstitutionally on numerous occassions, has taken for himself an effective line-item-veto whenever he wants, and consistently lies about what his administration is doing (and has his undelings do it as well) both to the American people and Congress. EVEN IF YOU SUPPORT what Obama is doing, you cannot deny his methodology.

        While I don’t particularly support impeaching him, these actions of his are CLASSIC “high crimes and misdemeaners,” the prerequisite of impeachment. Look at the historical definition of the terms (it does not refer to crimes, it refers to breach of trust and abuse of power. It is more akin to a breach of fiduciary duty than robbing a liquor store).

        One need not have any hint of racism to argue that Obama has overstepped and should be impeached. he could be impeached, as could ANY President, for acting Unconstitutionally on numerous occassions and breaching the trust of Congress and the American people.

        The “gift” that Clinton and his ideology-saturated supporters gave us is that we now have realigned our moral compass so that pretty much only murder is considered bad form for a politician, and the standards for impeachment are now (in the common mind) aligned with the standards for proving a crime. Any time a politician has to resort to “I didn’t do anything illegal” you can be certain he did something wrong.

        • Barry says:

          “The “gift” that Clinton and his ideology-saturated supporters gave us is that we now have realigned our moral compass so that pretty much only murder is considered bad form for a politician, and the standards for impeachment are now (in the common mind) aligned with the standards for proving a crime. Any time a politician has to resort to “I didn’t do anything illegal” you can be certain he did something wrong.”

          This is pretty much a signed confession of a Tea Party person, who has washed Bush from memory.

  3. Vic says:

    “The General seemed convinced that if only I knew what he knew, I would agree with him.”

    That’s the problem in a nutshell right there: The idea that at least SOME members of our Government feel that what they do can somehow be completely separate from everyone else, yet justifiable. The existence of a shadow Government is, to them, simply a reality of living in the modern threat environment and they are POSITIVE that if we just knew what they know, we’d agree.

    The problem with this is that it is just not how our Government was ever intended to operate. We don’t ALLOW a secret shadow Government in our founding documents. Our Government was specifically set up NOT to allow this. The subsequent “protections” that have been put in place (FISA, etc.) are often just legal square pegs in the round holes of our Constitution. There is very little that is Constitutional about FISA courts and the limits of what NSA (and others) can do and are doing. It is only occurring because those in power don’t grant the power to anyone else to stop them and the American people just let it all happen – because it’s really too complicated to think about and nobody wants to get blown up, right?

    Now it is a valid point that the Government, as it was set up, is perhaps not optimal for secretly tracking terror threats on the other side of the world, but that’s the Government we HAVE, and I’m just surprised that so MANY people are so willing to just give up on the full measure of our freedom and uniqueness in the world without even demanding the ELECTED Government keep track of the actions of the unelected one! We have Senators – SENATORS – that claim to be as surprised as we all are about what NSA is doing, and claim to be as stonewalled by NSA as I would be if I reached NSA’s switchboard with a couple of questions. If this is toi go on for the sake of fighting terrorism, them AT LEAST Congress should be in the loop – which they are absolutely, clearly, not.

    This just isn’t even remotely right or in keeping with the vision of our Founders. We cannot have a secret Government, with secret courts, with unknown powers, and no apparent accountability within our checks and balances system. It is just NOT Constitutional in ANY sense, other than there is nobody, no Congressperson, no Court, no citizen, no anyone, with any ability to say “no” to what’s going on. Even the Federal Courts can’t step in unless someone can actually raise a valid suit – which is just about as unlikely as unlikely can get. It is all essentially “legal” because nobody can stop it. Is THAT how things should work!? Steamroller Government?

    I find it completely shocking how MANY people, on both sides of the aisle, are OK with our Government doing whatever it secretly decides to do, while patting us all on the head and saying that if we only understood…

    • Vic you are way off base. If it were a republican in office, michael would be blogging a post every other day on this. Has michael written a single post on Bengazi? the IRS? Or has he swallowed Obama’s line that these are “phony” scandals?

      The right is very upset by the NSA, IRS and other abuses. Only the left-leaning media is portraying otherwise.

      I remember very well how wide and broad michael’s civic interests were when Bush was in office. My, how they’ve narrowed under Obama. Under Obama, michael’s treadmill fiasco gets more thought and consideration from him than Obama’s abuses and failures.

      • Bengazi is a totally fake scandal (except to the extent we’re covering up a CIA gun/missile-running operation).

        I haven’t followed the IRS issue as carefully, but whether or not some field folk acted wrongly towards everyone or more wrongly towards some people or were just confused about regulations or acted reasonably may be debatable; there doesn’t seem any sensible reason to suggest that whatever wrongdoing there was could be traced to the White House.

        I blog less these days primarily because I’m really really busy.

        • Are you kidding? The president, secretary of state and UN ambassador pimp a bogus cover story (youtube video) for weeks, knowing all along it was a terror attack, and this is not a scandal? Where is the transparency?

          With respect to the IRS, why did Lerner take the 5th? The “local, low level agent” excuse has already been blown out of the water, knowledge of the conservative organization targeting did reach DC, the only question is how high.

          I am busy too, but I demand answers from the government. Baffling that you would not trust the NSA, but you would the IRS and State Department, as if somehow putting different letters in front of a piece of the government can make it somehow more trustworthy.

          And in all of these cases, even if no evil is afoot, Obama’s responses have been partisan, unconcerned, deceptive, childish, amateur, and divisive.

      • Vic says:

        First, I neither apologized nor accused Michael of any view on all this. My suspician is that he is probably more in line with my view on this than on a number of other things, but that is neither here nor there. My post has nothing to do with what Michael may or may not think. Period.

        Second, I have no information whatsoever, and I doubt you do either, that the GOP establishment in Washington is, in the majority or in a significant number, and outspoken critic of what the NSA is doing. There are a couple of people we hear from, but beyond that, most of the mouth moving I hear from them is that they support having an NSA doing secret things, just not THESE particular secret things – leaving specific vague (being that it’s all just playing politics, not actual moral outrage).

        And unfortunately, even if significant numbers of U.S. citizens are upset by all this, it doesn’t matter. Their have no judicial or Congressional authority to stop it, and there are simply not enough to overcome the vast numbers of Americans who simply don’t care – so there is little chance of specifically voting people out. The system has been rigged by being made secret. There is simply NOTHING that can be done so long as a REAL Court can’t step in, and so long as a supermajority in Congress won’t rise up against it.

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