Freedom of Speech or National Security?

Checks and balances require feedback.

The idea of getting feedback on your performance is nothing new. It means that another person- an employer, coworker, or auditor – can give you another perspective on your job performance. If your performance is dismal enough, perhaps they can fire you.

The government is not a parent- it's a contract which we enforce.

The government is no different. It is ironic that we are normally suspicious of the motives of the US bureaucracy, but when information is leaked about potential wrongdoing, we say, “The bureaucracy knows best! That was classified for a reason!”. Really now? How do you know this if the information is classified? Surely you don’t think the My Lai Massacre, Watergate, Pentagon papers, Whitewater, or Abu Ghraib are evidence that our government “knows best”?

Of course, there are definitely matters which must be kept secret. But when the government shows an inability to discriminate between real secrets and the information it owes to its citizens (and no, information which embarrasses incompetent officials at the Pentagon and State Dept doesn’t count as a “real secret”), shouldn’t we accept any risk necessary to publicly audit the government? Don’t we owe it to ourselves and to the world to occasionally lay bare the US government’s idea of what “secrets” are in order to ensure that the government is behaving in an acceptable manner?

I would like to take this opportunity to point out several things about the recent Wikileaks debacle. Much of the available data directly contradicts claims made by the mainstream media:

  1. Finding out that our government has acted in a criminal manner does not place us in danger- by the government’s own admission. The only unwise decision carried out by Wikileaks, in my opinion, was to publish the names of the Taliban informants in the Afghanistan War Logs.
  2. Wikileaks is now working with several prominent news organizations to examine and redact any dangerous information. That’s why only 1193 out of 251,287 cables have been released so far. If they were a terrorist organization, wouldn’t they have directly released them on torrent websites all at once without going through anyone else first?
  3. If Wikileaks wanted to unduly harm legitimate, honest Americans, then why did it make an offer to work with the US government to remove mentions of anyone in danger?
  4. And if the government truly valued US citizens, then why did it refuse to participate with Wikileaks’ request and then lie about ever having contact with Wikileaks?

    Julian Assange

  5. The women said to be accusing Wikileaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange of rape never originally made the accusation. In fact, one of them went so far as to throw a party for Assange and buy him a train ticket after they had relations. A prosecutor decided Assange’s trysts should be classified as rape. The charge was later dropped. Only after the first charges were dropped did the women actually make an accusation of rape and hire a prominent lawyer.
  6. Despite the fact that Assange was questioned by police in Sweden on August 31, stayed in Sweden an extra month to iron it out, and then later offered to be questioned further by video from Britain, Sweden violated due process and began legal proceedings, ordering his arrest.
  7. Assange was never involved in a “manhunt”. He turned himself in to British authorities.
  8. Anna Ardin, one of the rape accusors, wrote a blog post entitled “7 Steps to Legal Revenge”.
  9. Under the laws of the United States as determined by New York Times Co. v. United States and the mistrial decision in the Russo-Ellsberg Trial, Wikileaks’ actions are not illegal. The records of these decisions are publicly available

Here are some of the illegal/ethically questionable actions committed by the US government as revealed by Wikileaks:

  1. The Chinese Poliburo (instead of petty hackers) directed the intrusion into Google’s gmail systems, something which all gmail users needed to know. As a gmail user, I was under attack by a foreign power and my government didn’t tell me.
  2. The US is still doing business with Saudi businessmen who turn around and use our payments to finance militants. The US is sponsoring its own terrorist threat.
  3. Cables from the Saudi embassy indicate that the Saudis are attempting to gain access to government backchannels so they can wield the US as a tool against  Iran. Why should we let anyone manipulate us in such a matter? Aren’t we capable of making our own decisions?
  4. The US is unwisely continuing to give our tax dollars to Afghani officials who, the cables reveal, are smuggling it out of Afghanistan in suitcases.
  5. The US has been violating international law by spying on UN officials. The US stole everything from credit card numbers to DNA samples.
  6. There are details about plans to deceive the British parliament over the storage of internationally banned weapons such as cluster bombs on British soil.
  7. The US is bombing Yemen without congressional approval. The War Powers act does not legitimize such action after 90 days.
  8. In a case of “mistaken identity”, the CIA kidnapped Khaled El-Masri, a  German citizen, and tortured him for months. The CIA had mistaken El-Masri for the terrorist Al-Masri. When Germany demanded the US charge the agents responsible, the US threatened Germany, forcing them to back down and allowing the CIA agents responsible to go free.
  9. There are details about UK discomfort with US black planes flown from UK airbases. These unmarked missions have traditionally been used for extraordinary rendition to Syria for torture and spying on US allies.
  10. The US was in contact with Shell about Shell’s extensive monitoring of the Nigerian government and their subsequent political manipulation to acquire more favorable drilling contracts.
  11. Obama killed an international Bush torture probe undertaken by Spain.

All of this is available from the Cablegate database.

What's it worth to you?

Do I believe that the kinds of information Wikileaks released should be available all the time? Well, no, not at this stage of our history. But isn’t this particular release of information infinitely preferable to allowing our government to continue to manipulate us, pay people who sponsor terrorism, and undertake morally heinous actions against the innocent, and moreover, our allies? These leaks reveal that our government is not only guilty of crimes, but is also completely incompetent- upon finding that it gives funds to terror-supporting Saudi businessmen, our government can’t even appropriately remedy the situation!

Now we’re supporting the same government bureaucrats who seek to cover up their misdeeds in the name of “National Security”. There are even those advocating the assassination of Assange, in violation of all the laws we hold dear!

Is this what freedom and justice looks like?


The Central Fallacy of Anarcho-capitalist Libertarianism

hierarchies aren’t new

Since the Agricultural Revolution around 8000 BC, human society has been aggressively consolidating. Consolidation, framed as a human socioeconomic dynamic, gives rise to both large governments and large corporations, and the speed of the phenomenon largely depends on cultural and economic considerations. Furthermore, it is readily apparent to the conscientious historian that consolidation occurs continuously and, most importantly, accelerates in the presence of  high speed communication and transportation technology.

The nature of socioeconomic consolidation is such that if the anarcho-capitalists’ dream state were created, a dominant corporation or organization would eventually assume the role of government, except in unstable situations (Somalia comes to mind). It is naive to think that maintaining a conceptually anti-government position will result in any lasting benefit to individualism in the face of the almighty Corporation, and such positions are the reason I have never been able to take hardcore libertarianism seriously. The fact that I’ve never met a radical “anti-statist” libertarian with self-consistent views probably contributes to my view of such arguments.

If all governments were significantly downsized or eliminated, then private sector entities would eventually consolidate enough power to simply act as a replacement. It’s how the United States was founded, actually; most of the Continental Congress was composed of Plantation owners who consolidated their power into an organization which they formally incorporated (through treaty recognition as well as popular assent) as a federal republic. Plantations being, of course, the large economic power structure of their day, which, in the absence of any strong government influence, managed to keep the African slave trade operating for 50 years after every other Western nation had banned it.

When we further considering the existence of the government-market complex known as the Revolving Door, it becomes even clearer that that anti-government overgeneralizations have serious holes. Corporate influence from KBR/Halliburton, Chevron-Texaco, BP, and Shell Corp all essentially made the decision to enter Iraq using former employees in the PNAC crowd like Richard Cheney. In other words, the effective push for war was carried out by members of the corporate market but mediated by the government. It’s not a conspiracy- there’s surprisingly little organizationally centralized influence on the decision-making process. Instead, an emergent phenomenon caused government-market assets to all move in one direction, similar to how a disorganized flock of birds makes an emergent decision on which direction to fly.  The phenomenon is essentially based on the group dynamic which results from the mixing of similar individual priorities. The powerful result is the leaderless unity of business and political-class alpha males.

Authority emerges naturally, the state being no more artificial than the idea of an economic organization

A tempting aspect of human nature is the tendency to want to “scapegoat” a single, centralized entity- it makes assessing blame easier to contemplate. But very rarely can one simply make a throwaway assertion that person/government X is directly responsible for terrible atrocity Y. Most of the time, government serves as a structure which mediates market/popular sentiment, not the other way around. An understanding of both dynamic systems and game theory would greatly aid in understanding who/what to blame- and it’s typically not the government, but instead the socioeconomic system which underlies the government. What about IRS agents, policemen, and presidential cabinet members? In other words, “The State”? They’re all citizens too, and their attitudes reflect prevailing sociocultural ideas i.e. ideas about government legitimacy, economic value philosophies based on how they grew up (typically either egalitarian or rational egoist), views on strict hierarchy-based executive management, etc.

In the end, it is fairly clear that radical libertarians are attacking a symptom instead of the core problem. The problem is not the concept of government, except insofar as governments allow individuals to consolidate. Neither is the economy. One might as well condemn human society in general- after all, it is easily arguable that Nazi Germany was founded upon and enabled by the support of mob behavior. Government is just an incorporated ruling mob, a title given to a group of alpha males who would have already been largely dominant without the formal title. Attacking just the government or just the economy only amounts to an attack on a line in the sand.

September 11, 2010

Nine years ago, American citizens, fearfully watching this horrific attack unfold, believed the media when it falsely proclaimed that Islam, not just Bin Laden’s , was responsible for 9/11. They gave up their rights to the Federal Government, believing the government’s assurances that they would be safer. Despite the offers of the Taliban to give  Bin Laden a public trial (let’s face it- a criminal proceeding in an Islamic court under pressure from the US would go much further in delegitimizing Bin Laden than an invasion, and we could always grab him later since we would have known where he was)  and the offer of Hussein to give up his presidency, they supported the start of two costly and arguably unnecessary invasions because the government believed it was necessary. They rationalized the unsupervised, tortuous interrogation of prisoners that had not been declared guilty under our law. And in about 550 out of 775 cases, our prisoners turned out to be completely innocent and were released…but only because the Supreme Court forced the government to do so. Many Americans dismissed constructive criticism of this and other poor anti-terrorism policies as being “unpatriotic” or “treasonous”.

We were deceived by those who swore to protect us. But we assisted. We helped deceive ourselves.

We can honorably fight those responsible for this atrocity and repair the damage to our country without needing policies based on fear and revenge. We can allow our ideas of  justice to prevail without sacrificing our security.

Whistleblowers

My position on the morality of leaking classified material is best explained by the following quote:

“It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive over classification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another.”

Erwin Griswold
Solicitor General to the Nixon Administration

Obviously there are exceptions, but it seems that for the most part, the US populace’s knowledge of classified material leaked over the last decade does not endanger current military operations or national security.  Seeing as this is (theoretically) a democracy, should we not be informed of the actions that our government is taking to defend us, so long as the information does not concern current troop positions or combat strategy?

The problem with anarcho-capitalism

A few days ago, I came across a rather stunning comment on the Facebook “Your Say” application, which is often trolled by both Right and Left wing extremists (with the vast majority being extremely far Right). The gist of this comment, as far as I can tell, was that the poster’s state had severe budget issues, and that he hated Obama’s “socialism” because his state taxes were “killing” him. The man concluded with a statement about how Obama is destroying the Free Market by giving “socialized pay-outs to druggies and bottom-feeders”.

My response to his post is as follows:

I don’t know where you live, but we have some severe budget problems here in Indiana too…but I fail see how you connect those fees back up to Obama, who is in charge of the federal government, not the city, county, or state governments. 75% (9 out of 12 trillion dollars) of the National deficit is the fault of the Bush, and honest to God, I can’t understand this sudden fervor against Obama when the deficit was slowly filling for 8 years. I mean, I’d be all for joining these tea party movements against Obama, but I can’t out of principle, since they have demonstrated their utter partisanship by only protesting during a Democrat majority.

I think the fact that the richest 1% of Americans are wealther than the bottom 90% seems to contradict your last statement. We’ve not all just gotten lazier, you know. We’ve been victims of corporate lock-in.

Let’s use a recent issue that I have specifics on as an example..texting. We have only four primary cellular providers here in the United States (“free market” my ass) that all have increased their rates from 10 cents to 20 cents since 2005. In Europe (which actually has real market competition), the rate is almost always below a dime because of the fierce competition and lack of large monopolies in those countries.

The same goes for the following market sectors: Agriculture/farming (Archer Daniels Midland monopoly), Internet Service Providing/Cable Providing (Comcast/Timewarner/AT&T), Defense Contracting (Boeing/Lockheed/N-G/General Dynamics), Software Development (Microsoft/Apple), Retail (Walmart/Target/Kroger/Home Depot).
In a healthy economy of days gone past, there would be thousands of small companies on that list after each market sector, not just ~ 4 or fewer. This is what the “free market” has done to us. We really do need to rebalance the playing field in order to survive economically.

Additionally, I do not deny that a great number of leechers are drug addicts. Which is why we should test for drugs before we allow people to take advantage of our social support programs. But simply assuming that all such people are leeches is fallacious in the extreme.

I support social support programs and policies to increase Wall Street regulation to promote competition. I do not support bailouts or thrown-together health care plans. However, I do not think such things can automatically classify our current Administration as “socialist”, particularly as compared to the previous one. Only time will tell.

“The GOP’s Misplaced Rage”

bruce-bartlett

Bruce Bartlett, one of the nation’s foremost conservative economists and one of the inventors of supply-side economics (more commonly called “Reaganomics”), has written an excellent analysis of the current fiscal situation in the United States- and who should take the blame. The article can be found here.

The State of American Politics: August Edition

I struggle to be objective in a partisan political environment. So does everyone else, I imagine. But almost every time in recent months that I have heard a member of the Republican National Committee open their mouths, I have felt a strong desire to move in the politically opposite direction. To go farther Left.

At first, I thought this was a simple, knee-jerk reaction. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was nothing simple about the situation. And the situation is thus:

Point A.

The GOP reached the height of political hypocrisy during the Bush Administration. It doesn’t matter how much of that good old Afghani Opium you smoke, expanding the Executive Branch’s surveillance and detainment powers in no way resembles Conservatism. And while the GOP parroted the old one liner about decreasing government power, they were busy increasing the power of the private sector, including allowing the Oil Industry to determine policy regarding Iraq. Of course, those with half a brain know that the GOP’s disposal of anti-trust regulation negates any positive attempt to “decrease the size of the government”. Tyranny can be corporate just as easily as it can be political.

Point B.

A bunch of people that I thought might still have something resembling Christian values or morality decided that because safety supersedes liberty, country supersedes morality. Or in other words, American exceptionalism supersedes the Geneva Convention. Attempts to morally justify “Enhanced Interrogation”, Extraordinary Rendition, Indefinite Confinement, Hiring of Mercenaries (then Blackwater, now Xe Services LLC),  and the Abu Ghraib cover-up all fall flat. There is no way to reconcile the GOP’s position on traditional values with these actions.

Point C.

Many say that Palin will have the power of a Federal Executive (you know, that includes military power) when pigs fly. Then again, Bush won the 2004 election. At any rate, Palin, a person who apparently didn’t know Africa is a continent and cannot even balance a single city’s budget is in no way fit to handle either Foreign or Fiscal policy on a Federal scale. Why the GOP could even consider her as an option is completely beyond me.

Point D.

Running some of the dirtiest Election campaigns I have ever seen in 2008. You can portray yourself as representing good ol’ fashion values all you want, but when your ads start leaning desperately toward calling the other side a bunch of terrorists, people will see through your facade.

***

And there is, of course, much more, but I would be here all night. The point is that some time ago, my subconscious must have begun realizing that what is best for me is generally the opposite of what the GOP wants for me.

Speaking of Palin, have a look at this. She’s buying into the Obama conspiracy theories just as the 9/11 Truthers buy into the idea that Bush committed 9/11. Both sides being, of course, absolutely nuts.

I have not yet come to a conclusion one way or another about the current iteration of the Health Care Bill. However, I am quite sure that I will oppose any corporate attempt at manipulating me through fear tactics, which now seems to be the norm for communication among the Health Care Bill’s opposition.