In an extraordinary act of defiance against the state, Cupertino, California-based Apple, Inc. refused to comply with the Obama administration after a judge ordered the company to breach its customers’ privacy and contracts, act against its own policies, terms and self-interest and “help” the government decode and destroy the company’s invention and property, the iPhone—all under compulsion in the name of national security.
Leave aside legal, ethical and philosophical consideration of national security implications inherent in the FBI’s public admission that it can’t hack a dead terrorist’s government-issued cell phone, contradicting the Obama administration’s claims that such authority is both successful and crucial to the nation’s defense. As Apple’s chief executive officer explains in his February 16 response, the Department of Justice’s demand that Apple create a means of decoding a single iPhone possessed by the state after an Islamic terrorist attack amounts to all of the above violations of Apple’s individual rights. And, as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision affirms, a company is properly regarded as an individual with absolute individual rights.
Democrat Ron Wyden, a U.S. senator from Oregon and staunch advocate for Americans against the surveillance state, agrees with Apple, declaring that the judge’s order is “unconstitutional”. Wyden, like Edward Snowden in a post on Twitter, correctly implies that the Obama administration’s demand is an inversion of government’s proper role. As Snowden (who is said to have been moved to his heroic whistleblowing by The Lives of Others) posted, “the FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around.” I made a similar and related point in defense of Sony contra the U.S. government over the government’s abdication of national defense in the wake of an attack on one of the Culver City, California company’s movies (“The Undoing of Sony’s ‘The Interview‘”).
Click to Read Letter
By posting the letter, Apple is fighting back. Exercising its right to absolute freedom of speech, asserting its property rights and the right to run its own business, the company co-founded by Steve Jobs issued the unprecedented public warning against the dangers of mass, unchecked government surveillance and made what amounts to a call to citizen action. In his letter to Apple customers, CEO Tim Cook refuses to accept the legitimacy of the judge’s order and instead insists upon recognition of Apple’s individual rights.
Apple’s letter is a declaration of independence against the oppressive state. The company leads in defending man’s rights against the surveillance state—to my knowledge, not a single technology company has publicly and unequivocally supported Apple’s letter and position—and, whatever its flaws and contradictions, such as referring to the United States as a “democracy” when, in fact, the U.S. is fundamentally a republic, Apple is, in today’s context, 100 percent right and should be supported by advocates of liberty and capitalism.
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, whom I interviewed in 2011 when he ran for president in 2012 (read the interview), reduces Apple’s persecution to essentials with a good example: “[I]f the FBI comes across a safe in [a legally sanctioned search of a criminal’s] house, the warrant and permission do not mean it can force the company that manufactures the safe to create a special tool for opening its safes, especially a tool that would make other safes completely useless as secure storage. That’s the situation that Apple’s dealing with here.” Indeed, other than the Clinton administration’s proposed V-chip censorship mandate for all television sets, which failed, I can’t recall a more sweeping manufacturing mandate to violate the rights of individuals.
I’m also not aware of any support for Apple among the field of 2016 presidential candidates.
On the contrary, bombastic GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, appearing on Fox and Friends, denounced Apple’s position. “Who do they [Apple] think they are?” Trump asked. “They have to open it up.” Trump—who supports government-controlled medicine, the massive surveillance state and arbitrary government seizure of private property—said: “I agree 100 percent with the [judge]. In that case, we should open it up.” […] “We have to use common sense.”
In this context, “common sense” means faith in the state—the massive, unchecked surveillance state that can order any company or individual at its arbitrary discretion to create a means to absolutely violate the individual’s rights. Not surprisingly, a Fox News panel with Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, columnist A.B. Stoddard and conservative columnist Stephen Hayes concurs with Trump’s opposition to Apple. They are the embodiment of what Ayn Rand called “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” which was Rand’s first major campus talk, delivered 56 years ago today at Yale University.
As left and right commune in faith—belief without evidence—in the omnipotent state (the NSA,ObamaCare, TSA), one voice of reason opposes in principle and action the initiation of force against the individual; Apple, which refuses to go silently to its—and America’s—doom. As usual, a private, for-profit enterprise, in keeping with the nation’s history of singularly great acts of rebellion against tyranny such as the Boston Tea Party, sets an example in achieving the moral, i.e., egoistic, ideal in action. What happens next will be interesting, potentially decisive and either encouraging or horrifying, and possibly crucial to whether the nation remains in any sense a republic based on individual rights.
Another contender for best movie in this year of fine movies is Universal’s version of Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs. As a dramatic portrait of the creator who radically changed the world, it is magnificent. At last, writer Aaron Sorkin’s (Moneyball, The West Wing, The Social Network) breathless dialogue style is filtered and tethered by director Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire), or by Sorkin. The outcome is a poetic depiction of a true American fountainhead. (Read my thoughts on Steve Jobs and my thoughts on Apple).
With an electronic score to match the time frame, which runs from the mid-1980s to the final months of the 20th century, Steve Jobs moves in talking pictures, marking the creative life of a genius in three acts of grand halls filled with crowds, featuring singularly distinctive machines made possible by Apple, the Silicon Valley, California company Steve Jobs founded with Steve Wozniak—arguably the world’s greatest, richest company—and the people in Jobs’s life.
A brilliantly visionary producer talking with people about making products starts the movie. The opening scene displays his insistence upon perfection in a new product, the Mac, at Apple’s Flint Center introduction of the Macintosh personal computer following the revolutionary Super Bowl advertisement based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The film’s conflict pits Steve Jobs against the world. But it also purports to put Steve Jobs against the audience because it is apparent that the audience is supposed to detest, rather than try to understand, what Jobs says and does. In fact, modern society pushes the audience away from what Jobs wanted, sought and achieved: perfection in integrating form and function in each aspect of life through fostering man’s autonomy. Apple’s ethos is individualism.
Steve Jobs is the individualist.
However, Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs wants, gets and trades more, as Apple does, with a measured achievement in addition to perfection in one’s work—a meaningful, happy life as one’s proper purpose. The ethics of egoism is embedded here if you know how to look for it, though I don’t know if today’s audiences will expend the effort. The tale this simple and magical movie shows and tells, and it’s extremely verbal though not in that irritatingly smug Sorkin tone, is an elegantly rendered tale of a life lived large yet always in the moment. Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is sharp and arrogant, not flip and smug, and he strives to be balanced and whole.
“Artists lead,” Jobs tells a colleague with whom he’s at odds, and one of the things I like about this movie is how skillfully it dramatizes that the greatest minds are usually in conflict with the whole world, “hacks ask for a show of hands.”
Jobs is not a martyr, as depicted here, and it’s worth noting that this is based on a book by the author chosen by Jobs after he read the writer’s biography of Albert Einstein. Jobs is not portrayed as tortured or monstrous. In dealings with people in his company and life—Apple CEO and mentor John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, The Martian), confidante Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, Little Children), an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston)—he is, like Walt Disney, driven, difficult and daring. Steve Jobs covers the essentials, in thinly drawn, clean and meaningful lines, winks, nods and links to the logo, the machines, the designs, and how Jobs lived; how he ate, listened, relaxed, celebrated, controlled and conducted—mostly, how he thought.
This is not a documentary of Jobs’s business history. There’s no Cube, eWorld or Pixar. Instead, it portrays life in certain, selective products and those moments which align with the launch of those products. So, the impending failure of NeXT at an opera house is placed in its proper context in the second act as lead-in to the iMac in the third and final act at Symphony Hall. Mac fans, Apple employees and evangelists and the press are never far from view, as is Lisa, his daughter, who represents the evidence of progression for a rebel who was adopted, defied laws and rules and dropped out of college. “It would be criminal not to enjoy this moment,” says a character who becomes a friend.
This is the theme of Steve Jobs.
His technology, accounted for and credited to proper sources, including the Apple II, exists merely to serve the moment, not the other way around. Think different, a screen with Apple’s motto says, in one of at least two crucial, dissolving transitions. Steve Jobs does, honoring truth even when it’s inappropriate, improper or hurtful. Among those affected include Wozniak (Seth Rogen, The Guilt Trip), who is as right as Jobs in a climactic encounter, Sculley and a longtime Apple principal (Michael Stuhlbarg) who demonstrates that those who most deserve to get close to the man of the mind are often driven the farthest away.
As Jobs, Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), who looks more like Sting from The Police than Steve Jobs, is as intense and engaging as ever. The actresses playing Lisa also shine and so do others in the cast, with Winslet getting the laugh lines. The audience is likely to be split, not between Mac faithful and those with contempt for Apple, but between those who revere both the perfect union of controlling one’s own life and work and the requisite for achieving it—absolute freedom—and those who seek to manage life and work or have it managed and controlled by others.
Steve Jobs is a passionate movie and not in a Hollywood way. The passion here comes from the art of thinking, the contemplation, the stretching, the using and the experimenting. Technology is not depicted as an end in itself to Steve Jobs—it is not his religion—it is a means of activating his best within and doing it here on earth. With inspiration from singer-songwriters, taking the audience and Jobs from imagination to full awareness of reality, the two-hour Steve Jobs—a rare Hollywood hymn to one Ayn Rand called the most persecuted minority, the individual, specifically the individual who creates to make money—zips by like childhood.
Like the life of Steve Jobs, it ends too soon and with genuine wonder at the world. (Go here to buy the DVD and here to buy the Blu-Ray edition).
When an individual moneymaker takes a moral stand on principle, realizes it with action and wins, the activism ought to be studied as an example in success.
This week, recording artist Taylor Swift provides such an example. Swift, a pop country music star, recently took to Tumblr (a blogging platform) to write a letter of activism (read Swift’s letter here). Swift explains that Apple’s new Apple Music streaming service precludes payment to artists in the first three months. Swift argues that this is wrong. In a persuasive, simple letter implicitly based on egoism, not altruism, because she predicates the letter on achieving her own values in an explicit expression of magnanimity, Swift makes the case for what amounts to intellectual property rights. Swift advocates what Ayn Rand called the trader principle, the essence of capitalism. As Swift concludes her letter to Apple: “Please don’t ask [artists] to provide you with our music for no compensation.”
Besides Swift’s fundamentally acknowledged fact that Apple’s terms are Apple’s to set, what distinguishes Swift’s activist letter from other forms of celebrity activism is her recognition of the good for being good. Swift does not malign Apple. In fact, she titles the post “To Apple, Love Taylor” and proceeds to express her “reverence” for Apple’s innovation and achievements. This demonstrates an understanding that acting in accordance with the company’s professed philosophy of human progress through new ideas is consistent with trading value for value. Harnessing the power of an artist that leftists and racists should regard as a beneficiary of “white privilege” or being among some inexplicably causeless “one percent” of wealthy millionaires, Swift, who has previously expressed support for Barack Obama, offers a perfectly rational example of selfish activism.
The letter is selfish, as against self-centered (as she points out when she writes that the issue of paying artists “is not about me”, which in this context is true), because in writing it she seeks to gain, keep and advance her values; in this case, the ability of artists to earn money to create. In a wider sense, the successful artist posting such a letter deepens the bond with fans and adds credibility to his brand. Swift’s letter succeeds on a number of levels in dispelling the myth that capitalism and benevolence are incompatible. Swift gains value as described, the struggling, unknown writer gains, her competitors also gain, and so do her patrons, employees and partners. The customer gains with greater funding for all artists which leads to more creation, variety and competition. Apple, too, gains from the compliments, publicity and Swift’s endorsement for the new platform and a better grasp of what top artists want and how they may communicate.
Capitalism is, in fact, win-win.
Taylor Swift’s letter displays an understanding of this principle. She does not seek the unearned. She also does not merely “kill them with kindness”, as a cynic might claim. The letter, praising Apple for allegiance to progress and innovation, is not structured for unearned guilt, vanity or opportunism. Swift’s letter ends with a thought which begins with the word ‘please’ extended as a courtesy, not with an arbitrary demand that Apple has a moral duty to serve others and sacrifice its profit. Swift backs her words with action, withholding her property on principle. This is the essence of good, selfish, rational activism (read my thoughts on activism here) in a dispute among good, selfish, rational men.
Those inclined to flame, troll or otherwise rant against anyone who deviates in the slightest degree from one’s values ought to look at Taylor Swift’s letter and learn from her example. This is activism that succeeds. As Apple executive Eddy Cueposted today on Twitter (and, as I teach in my social media course, social media is a crucial, legitimate tool for selfish communication), after granting Swift’s request: “We hear you, [Taylor Swift]…Love, Apple.” The exchange, namely that they are free to have it, is why I love capitalism.
Verismo (a poorly named product pronounced like ‘gizmo’ preceded by the ‘ver’ as ‘vurr’; vurr-izmo) by Starbucks produces a nicely brewed cup of strong, black coffee.
Bought on sale at a Starbucks near me, and the basic model, pod-based coffeemaker periodically goes on sale for $99, it came with a box of 12 brewed or 12 espresso coffee pods. The instruction manual is well-written, including an easy set-up guide – I’m fairly low-tech and need to read things twice to catch on so I don’t press the wrong button – regular use steps and cleaning guide. I haven’t done the monthly cleaning and maintenance yet and will update accordingly. I like the fact that the machine requires a short cleaning after each idle time. In other words, it shuts down automatically after idle time and then needs a quick cleaning upon startup. This maintains the machine.
I’ve previously used a basic Keurig coffee machine, which I think clogs more easily. In my experience, Keurig customer service is awful. With Verismo, I’m taking any problems to my nearest Starbucks. So far, I’ve found (and Verismo may prove to be a hassle, too) Verismo design superior to Keurig. It’s true that Verismo has fewer pod options than the Keurig-based line of variously branded K-cups (including a wider selection of Starbucks’ own K-cups). But convenience is a plus for me and I am happy with the dark roast choices. Still, I hope they add the French Roast as a brewed pod. Verismo also offers espresso, Americano and milk pod for latte options that lack with the other machines. Tea is also possible with Verismo. Pods are pricey, of course. I buy what I like in greater volume on the Starbucks site for price breaks and I also use coupons, specials, deals and other coffee products such as Starbucks’ Via and free in-store refills with my gold card through Starbucks Rewards program.
Essentially, after initial set-up, here’s how Verismo works: fill the removable water container, turn on the machine and place a cup on the tray. Wait for go signal, pull the silver lever down in one swift motion without a pod inserted, run a short cleaning discharge, then empty the cup of dispensed water. Replace and repeat after inserting a brewed, espresso and/or latte pod this time. Prepare coffee to taste. Voila, enjoy. The whole thing takes a few minutes tops.
Brewed pods (I’ve tried Verona, Sumatra and Pike Place) require removal of a silver tab on bottom that keeps freshness until ready for brewing while espresso and milk pods are ready to drop right in. Spent pods fall into a separate, removable container upon lifting of the silver lever for next use. Empty the spent pods every so often. If it sounds complicated to new single use pod customers, then Verismo will take getting used to. The process gets easier, though. The biggest advantage besides convenience is easy clean-up. The downside so far? A small discharge of water upon lifting the lever and closing it again and a little splatter. Mostly removable parts make using the machine easier and I like the simplicity. I’ve also used Soft Brew and French press systems and I love those for really strong cups of coffee but they’re a major hassle for prep time and cleaning the used coffee grounds. In this sense, I think machines using pods are a major advancement in coffee production. I prefer Verismo to Keurig.
Taste is excellent, though not as robust as a freshly brewed cup at Starbucks, but close and equal to or better than Starbucks’ K-cups. Some Verismo users complain about coffee not being hot enough and this is not a problem for me. I don’t always accept, let alone like, what Starbucks does (as I wrote here) but Verismo is a fine entry-level product for premium coffee drinkers.
When American whistleblower Edward Snowden decided to disclose classified documents detailing indiscriminate mass government surveillance of the American people, he turned to journalist Glenn Greenwald to provide the narrative and tell his story. After following meticulous, cryptic instructions and cooperating with another Snowden-designated intellectual, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and his newspaper The Guardian, Greenwald traveled to Hong Kong last May to meet the anonymous source who claimed to have evidence of the National Security Agency’s widespread, systematic spying on Americans (and global leaders). Greenwald’s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State is his tale of those days in Hong Kong when he met with the hero who would be accused of being a traitor to what is best described as the U.S. surveillance state and the weeks that followed.
Greenwald is a leftist who has no problem using terms such as jingoistic, which set off alarm bells for the rest of us. He is pugnacious and, at times, sanctimonious. He oversimplifies issues and makes assertions that would have more credibility had he provided notes and an index [6/5/2014 update: he has since added an index to the iBooks version]. He doesn’t address legitimate concerns about U.S. national security with enough seriousness given the context of the worst act of war in U.S. history by Islamic terrorists operating through state sponsors, such as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which are cowardly and do not admit sponsorship as explicitly as they endorse and advance Islamic fundamentalism. Greenwald shows an inability to contrast his position with others, which results in a dry retelling of facts that undercuts a compelling narrative. No Place to Hide is uneven in this sense and would be more interesting if it contrasted various perspectives and addressed opposite viewpoints more thoroughly. There are too many infographics and screenshots of Snowden-leaked documents. For what amounts to a historic act of heroism against the rise of a U.S. dictatorship, the book lacks a proper exposition. Reading about metadata dumps is more urgent – and the issue is urgent – when the author examines and explains what the disclosures mean to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Despite its shortcomings, Glenn Greenwald has written an important book about today’s emergent totalitarianism in America.
Beginning with a strong, involving narrative about coming to Hong Kong to stake his claim on earning the 29-year-old national security clearance-approved Snowden’s trust, Greenwald discloses his own background, perspective and position which illuminates why he was chosen by the young libertarian government worker who began to distrust the government. Greenwald is a fine writer and reporter in general, demonstrating both his knowledge of facts, history and relevant counterpoints and his ability to integrate what he knows with what matters. As he asks early in the 700-plus page book: “Will the digital age usher in the individual liberation and political freedoms that the Internet is uniquely capable of unleashing? Or will it bring about a system of omnipresent monitoring and control, beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past? Right now, either path is possible. Our actions will determine where we end up.”
In this essential statement of the basic choice Americans face, Greenwald is 100 percent correct. Whatever one thinks of Snowden’s actions – traitorous, heroic or a mixture of the two – treating technology as a religion, as too many do, is a grave error and the world’s only nation based on individual rights, a status that no one can deny, is in danger of a total betrayal of its founding principles. To read and think about the author’s assertions and account of Edward Snowden, a high school dropout who has gained support from credible intellectuals such as Objectivist thinker Leonard Peikoff and columnist George Will, is to take facts and values – as well as one’s future – seriously.
Greenwald, who is also a lawyer, writes that, having unknowingly been the recipient of an anonymous e-mail from Snowden as “Cincinnatus” in Greenwald’s overwhelmed inbox, he eventually and favorably responded to the whistleblower’s propositions. He met with filmmaker Poitras, who confided at a Marriott hotel in Yonkers that she, too, had received anonymous e-mails from this unusual person. Greenwald says that he felt kinship with the source because he soon realized, after extensive back and forth exchange, that his new, prospective source “had been driven by the same conviction, writing almost on a daily basis about the dangerous trends in US state secrecy, radical executive power theories, detention and surveillance abuses, militarism, and the assault on civil liberties.”
Nevertheless, Greenwald admits that he wondered about the anonymous source’s motives. Greenwald writes that Snowden, not yet known to Greenwald as Snowden, responded via encrypted e-mail that “I want to spark a worldwide debate about privacy, Internet freedom, and the dangers of state surveillance.” Snowden added: “I’m not afraid of what will happen to me. I’ve accepted that my life will likely be over from my doing this. I’m at peace with that. I know it’s the right thing to do.” Greenwald reports that while he was inclined to take Snowden at his word, he reserved judgment until they met.
When they finally did, amid gripping, page-turning secrecy recounted in No Place to Hide, Greenwald was impressed. Meeting Snowden with Poitras in Hong Kong, accompanied by a reporter for the Guardian, getting two hours of sleep per night, was stimulating and nerve-wracking. Greenwald would learn between 2013 and the present that the North Carolina native was influenced by Greek mythology, Latin, the ideas of Thomas Jefferson – and playing games (“… Snowden had learned from immersion in video games … that just one person, even the most powerless, can confront great injustice.”)
All of this was in service of government document disclosures that Greenwald maintains he knew had the capacity to change the course of history.
“[T]he NSA was secretly and indiscriminately collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, at least. Virtually nobody had any idea that the Obama administration was doing any such thing. Now, with this ruling, I not only knew about it but had the secret court order as proof…Even more significant, the files—along with the Verizon document—proved that the Obama administration’s senior national security official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, lied to Congress when, on March 12, 2013, he was asked by Senator Ron Wyden: ‘Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?’ Clapper’s reply was as succinct as it was dishonest: ‘No, sir.’
As Greenwald writes:
The president, who had campaigned on a vow to have the ‘most transparent administration in history,’ specifically pledging to protect whistleblowers, whom he hailed as ‘noble’ and ‘courageous,’ had done exactly the opposite…Obama’s administration has prosecuted more government leakers under the Espionage Act of 1917—a total of seven—than all previous administrations in US history combined: in fact, more than double that total. The Espionage Act was adopted during World War I to enable Woodrow Wilson to criminalize dissent against the war, and its sanctions are severe: they include life in prison and even the death penalty.”
Tracing media coverage since the first disclosures were reported in his Guardian articles and others in the Washington Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage, Greenwald chronicles the past 12 months, from early support for Snowden to the current mixtures of support and opposition amid nonstop smears and calls for arrest and trial from the government, the quasi-state-controlled media and academics. “Now, a giddy gallows humor crept into our dealings,” Greenwald writes. “I call the bottom bunk at Gitmo,” Snowden joked as he contemplated our prospects. As we talked about future articles, he would say things like, “That’s going into the indictment. The only question is whether it’s going into yours or mine.” Mostly he remained inconceivably calm.”
Though he asks the reader to take too much on faith, undermining his arguments, Greenwald makes a strong case for the truth of Snowden’s disclosures as proof that the United States is becoming an illegal, immoral police state. “The US government had worked very hard over the past decade to demonstrate unlimited power,” he rightly observes. “Taken in its entirety, the Snowden archive led to an ultimately simple conclusion: the US government had built a system that has as its goal the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide. Far from hyperbole, that is the literal, explicitly stated aim of the surveillance state: to collect, store, monitor, and analyze all electronic communication by all people around the globe. The agency is devoted to one overarching mission: to prevent the slightest piece of electronic communication from evading its systemic grasp.”
Laying out the document points, graphs and highlights in page after page, No Place to Hide demonstrates that the secret FISA courts designed to protect national security rarely reject NSA applications to target Americans with surveillance. From its inception, he argues, FISA has been a rubber stamp; in its first 24 years, FISA rejected a total of zero government applications while approving more than twenty thousand requests. Greenwald notes that Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Mike Rogers amount to NSA lapdogs. The amount of data being collected and stored, according to Greenwald, is astonishing: “Once Internet-based communications were added to the mix, the total number of communication events stored was close to 1 trillion …”
With a huge, government center being constructed in Bluffdale, Utah, he cites a report that the state will add four 25,000-square-foot halls filled with servers, complete with raised floor space for cables and storage and more than 900,000 square feet for technical support and administration for collecting and examining actual content of emails, Web browsing, search histories, and chats. In fact, Greenwald writes, thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans know that the government is building a massive secret surveillance system backed by an agency that seeks global surveillance domination. He asks: what does limitless surveillance mean for us as individuals, in our own lives?
And he answers in shocking details that do not begin to examine what total government-monitored society means, advocating the apparently now-radical idea that “the desire for privacy is shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human.”
He procceds: “We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgmental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.” Citing Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in the 1928 case Olmstead v. U.S., Greenwald frames man’s rights as the essence of laissez-faire: “The right to be left alone [is] the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people.”
Greenwald goes further than a peek at what Snowden’s leaks mean for America’s future, extending the surveillance state – predominantly the NSA, to say nothing of the TSA, the IRS, the VA and other alphabet government bureaucracies including of course the new monster ObamaCare – to daily life in a psychological reduction evoking George Orwell’s 1984 and other horrifying visions of dystopian future.
“What makes a surveillance system effective in controlling human behavior is the knowledge that one’s words and actions are susceptible to monitoring,” Greenwald writes. “This principle was at the heart of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s eighteenth-century conception of the Panopticon, a building design he believed would allow institutions to effectively control human behavior. The building’s structure was to be used, in his words, for “any sort of establishment, in which persons of any description are to be kept under inspection.”
The philosopher’s Panopticon solution, he says, is to create an apparent omnipresence of the inspector in the minds of the building’s inhabitants: “The persons to be inspected should always feel themselves as if under inspection, at least as standing a great chance of being so.” They would thus act as if they were always being watched, even if they weren’t being watched, Greenwald writes. The result is total compliance, obedience and conformity.
Greenwald argues that the surveillance state forces the entire population to silently submit to total government control.
As he notes, one U.S. senator told CBS’ Early Show in 2006: “I don’t have to listen to your phone calls to know what you’re doing. If I know every single phone call that you made, I am able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive.… And the real question here is: What do they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with Al Qaeda?… And we’re going to trust the president and the vice president of the United States that they’re doing the right thing? Don’t count me in on that.”
The senator opposing metadata collection was Joe Biden, currently vice president in the most anti-American administration in history.
But conservatives should note that it was a left-wing Democrat, Idaho Sen. Frank Church in 1975, who warned against the dangers of mass surveillance, which was first imposed on the U.S. population in earnest by President George W. Bush after 9/11. Addressing the prospect of mass domestic spying in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Church predicted: “That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything—telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyrant … the technological “capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance … is within the reach of the government to know.”
Speaking of the Islamic terrorist 9/11 attack, Greenwald dispels the notion that mass government spying works to stop acts of war, noting that, before September 11, the NSA already “had a warrant to establish surveillance of everyone connected to Al Qaeda in America. It could follow them, tap their phones, clone their computers, read their e-mails, and subpoena their medical, bank, and credit-card records. It had the right to demand records from telephone companies of any calls they had made. There was no need for a metadata-collection program. What was needed was cooperation with other federal agencies, but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the investigators most likely to avert the attacks.
The government was in possession of the necessary intelligence but had failed to understand or act on it.”
As I have previously observed, post-9/11 acts of war, whether mass murders at Fort Hood, Boston or Benghazi – Greenwald cites other attacks by Moslems – continue unabated in spite of mass data sweeps, including siege-specific warnings of plots against America.
The media, Greenwald writes, hastens the rise of fascism. And he cites an interesting exchange with his friend Andrew Sullivan who wrote privately to Greenwald that Sullivan’s interview with the New York Times (about Greenwald’s reporting on Snowden’s disclosures) was slanted by the Times with smear questions. Whether Greenwald is, in fact, a journalist, blogger or activist, a distinction with clear legal implications for Greenwald, is also addressed and explored. As a writer, journalist and activist – and, from H.L. Mencken to Glenn Greenwald, what chronicler of injustice is not at once all of those? – I found the section on the press fascinating and chilling.
Greenwald argues that the media, especially Obama administration propagandists such as NBC’s David Gregory and Chuck Todd, provide in toadying shows such as Meet the Press “a place where political power goes to be amplified and flattered, where only the most staid conventional wisdom is heard, where only the narrowest range of views is permitted.” In a particularly repulsive quotation, he unmasks New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks for mocking Edward Snowden because Snowden is symbolic of “the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.”
Again, Greenwald goes deeper than merely compiling damaging evidence of weak opposition. Once he’s past the substance of Snowden’s disclosures, and with relative ease and powerful persuasion, he explains why the free press, i.e., freedom of speech, is crucial to daily life and he offers a thin, silver lining when he notes that, thanks to Snowden, the Committee to Protect Journalists, described as an international organization that monitors attacks on press freedoms by the state, issued its first-ever report denouncing the United States. The October 2013 report, written by Leonard Downie Jr., a past executive editor of the Washington Post, concluded that the Obama administration’s efforts to control information are “the most aggressive … since the Nixon administration.… The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations … interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent.”
By examining divergent media coverage of his highly controversial source, smeared as a high school dropout, community college student and narcissist, Greenwald points out that Snowden is, to most intellectuals, part of a false dichotomy: obedience to the establishment or radical dissent from it. By this account, he argues, duty to the state is the only sane and valid choice and being a radical is crazy and illegitimate. Defenders of the status quo, such as David Brooks, Jeffrey Toobin and most of NBC News, reduce one’s radical opposition to the prevalent orthodoxy to mental deficiency. To the obedient, radical dissent is evidence, even proof, of deficiency.
“With that false premise in place,” Greenwald writes in his most astute argument, “society pays great attention to the motives of dissenters, but none to those who submit to our institutions…Obedience to authority is implicitly deemed the natural state. In fact, both observing and breaking the rules involve moral choices, and both courses of action reveal something important about the individual involved. Contrary to the accepted premise—that radical dissent demonstrates a personality disorder—the opposite could be true: in the face of severe injustice, a refusal to dissent is the sign of a character flaw or moral failure.”
Of course, this viewpoint applies to the smears against Greenwald, too, and he has suffered greatly – such as when his partner, David Miranda, was detained without cause by the British state – for refusing to obey the surveillance state. Every person who seeks to speak out against what he sees as tyranny – a blogger, podcaster, or citizen at a public hearing – should read and think about Edward Snowden and No Place to Hide. That Greenwald touches on, though he does not quite understand, the principle of objective journalism, is critical for anyone seeking to be his or her own advocate against government-controlled food, beverages, roads, schools, health care, cars, drugs, banks, industry and life. Maligned for coming at Snowden and his surveillance disclosures with certain principles, he argues, rightly, that “[t]he relevant distinction is not between journalists who have opinions and those who have none, a category that does not exist. It is between journalists who candidly reveal their opinions and those who conceal them, pretending they have none. The very idea that reporters should be free of opinions is far from some time-honored requirement of the profession; in fact, it is a relatively new concoction that has the effect, if not the intent, to neuter journalism.”
In today’s distorted Orwellian culture – which is sure to engulf everyone that speaks out against the Department of Water and Power or the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Whatever the Government Dictates Tomorrow – objective “means nothing more than reflecting the biases and serving the interests of Washington orthodoxy.”
Tellingly, lest readers conclude that grievances against the NSA are Tea Party, black helicopter conspiracy nonsense, as defenders of the status quo and fascist enablers (usually one and the same) insinuate, Greenwald, who has since introducing Snowden bravely started his own journalistic enterprise, gives the reader a backgrounder on the New York Times‘ new executive editor, Dean Baquet, the one who pushed out Jill Abramson (and, according to Greenwald, she was only slightly better than the Times‘ new pro-statist czar):
Dean Baquet killed a story in 2006 by his reporters about a secret collaboration between AT&T and the NSA, based on information given by whistle-blower Mark Klein. He had come forward with reams of documents to reveal AT&T’s construction of a secret room in its San Francisco office, where the NSA was able to install splitters to divert telephone and Internet traffic from the telecom’s customers into agency repositories. As Klein put it, the documents showed that the NSA was ‘trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.’ But Baquet blocked publication of the story, Klein recounted to ABC News in 2007, ‘at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and then-director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden.’ Shortly thereafter, Baquet became Washington chief for the New York Times and was then promoted to the position of that paper’s managing editor. That the Times would advance so willing a servant of government interests should come as no surprise.”
So this is the new order of post-9/11 media: submission of the press to the state. It is, Greenwald writes, the opposite of what so-called liberals or progressives once claimed to have held as the goal of their highest ideals. As the author observes, shortly before he died in 2005, Vietnam War correspondent David Halberstam gave a speech to students at Columbia Journalism School. “The proudest moment of his career, he told them, was when U.S. generals in Vietnam threatened to demand that his editors at the New York Times remove him from covering the war. He had, Halberstam said, “enraged Washington and Saigon by filing pessimistic dispatches on the war.” The generals considered him “the enemy” since he had also interrupted their press conferences to accuse them of lying. For Halberstam, infuriating the government was a source of pride, the true purpose and calling of journalism.”
This shrinkage is what the New York Times, journalism, the press and the public has come – and been reduced – to: sycophants for fascism and all in a mere 40 years.
This is precisely what makes Edward Snowden a hero. As Greenwald, himself a hero in some sense despite his negatives, writes of the young American in his aptly titled No Place to Hide: “An ordinary person in all outward respects—raised by parents without particular wealth or power, lacking even a high school diploma, working as an obscure employee of a giant corporation—he has, through a single act of conscience, literally altered the course of history. Even the most committed activists are often tempted to succumb to defeatism. The prevailing institutions seem too powerful to challenge; orthodoxies feel too entrenched to uproot; there are always many parties with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But it is human beings collectively, not a small number of elites working in secret, who can decide what kind of world we want to live in. Promoting the human capacity to reason and make decisions: that is the purpose of whistle-blowing, of activism, of political journalism. And that’s what is happening now, thanks to the revelations brought about by Edward Snowden.”
And thanks to the writer – and journalist and activist – who reported those disclosures.
Though it comes at a premium price, and there are aspects of doing business I don’t like, I choose Starbucks for a conveniently mobile cup of coffee, snack and place to meet and work. The coffee is dark, strong and brewed fresh and there are many choices of beverages. Food is convenient. Cafes are generally clean, well-kept and conducive to writing or story conferences, which makes Starbucks an attractive option. I patronize Starbucks often enough to use the mobile app for payment.
I use both Starbucks’ app on my iPhone and as part of Apple’s Passbook. After loading a dollar amount onto my Starbucks account, I walk up to the cashier, activate my app, place my order and put the device in front of a scanner and that’s it; the transaction is complete and my order has been received and paid for. I get my order after it’s made and, as they say, I’m good to go (or stay). The app calculates how much is left on my account or “card”. When I get enough gold stars for a free salad or coffee, I just inform the cashier and swipe the iPhone app. With my gold card app status, coffee refills are free and I use the app for that, too. The app, which also allows free downloads of games and songs, kept track of my favorite stores and order combinations, items and drinks.
In recent days, Starbucks upgraded the app. The interface is streamlined, though Starbucks has eliminated the personal preferences option, and a tip option is available for the first time for those customers who choose to add a tip to their Starbucks transaction.
Herein lies the app’s problem. The tip amount is pre-designated by Starbucks. There is no free choice; Starbucks provides a few amounts as tip options, starting at 50 cents, and leaves the customer no choice to decide for himself exactly what amount to tip. The lack of control gets worse. In addition to losing the ability to choose, Starbucks has applied the same presumptuous principle to its reloading feature. When the customer goes to reload a dollar amount on the app, such as $25 (the minimum amount is $10), Starbucks smuggles in an auto-reload function that presumes the user wishes to designate that amount for an automatic reload that will automatically charge to one’s credit card every so often. This sneaky feature, which is deceptive at best, is not clearly communicated or disclosed. So when one goes to add the new amount, it’s easy to mistake the auto-reload for a regular reload. One must select ‘Never’ which is not readily apparent as an option.
This is a systemic problem with today’s technology. The default technological position, such as accessing a live operator, is too often designed or intended to discourage or deprive the user free choice and control – look at Facebook – in the name of convenience or automation. As a business model, this makes no sense. Such an approach presumes the customer deficient without evidence, never a good idea unless producing an inherently deficient product, and by diminishing free choice, ultimately chases the loyal customer away. In my case, I attempted to manage the account online without success – discovering another Starbucks flaw on its Web site; the inability to deactivate auto-reload – and had to call customer service to correct the error. Starbucks did ultimately resolve the dispute. The upshot: a loyal customer was given reason to doubt and distrust trading with Starbucks. The app upgrade with the dubious feature backfired, at least as far as I’m concerned. Starbucks app users are hereby forewarned about inadvertently activating automatic reloading. As always in any trade, and especially in an increasingly anti-capitalist society, which discourages good business practices, buyer beware.