Those Who are Silent on the Defense of Edward Snowden

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day.  This is a holiday that means a great deal to me.  In 1776, courageous and principled people took a stand against tyranny, pledging, as the Declaration said, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  High-sounding words, but full of meaning.  And if that weren’t enough to make the day special, 150 years ago saw the forces of the Union strike a tremendous blow against slavery at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.   However uncomfortable it makes the contemporary cynic, these were people risking everything for the sake of principle.

The fight against oppression has come full circle; where once it was waged by the United States government, now that government has become the oppressors, and the fight for freedom must be waged against it.  The most recent defender of freedom is Edward Snowden, who exposed the anti-democratic actions of the United States, for which he is being slandered by the corporate controlled media, and pursued with a fury George III and Jefferson Davis couldn’t even have imagined.

Several writers I know stepped up and took a public stand against the persecution of Edward Snowden by sending in statements of support to the World Socialist Web Site; some others, perhaps not comfortable with the WSWS, have written statements of support in other places.

But I can’t help but notice some of the ones who haven’t. Without naming anyone in particular, some of those in the sf community who have been most vocal about gay rights, and feminism,  and anti-racism, and various forms of what is called social justice, have been strangely silent about this broad-based attack on democratic rights here in the US, and, indeed, internationally.  Why is this?

Might it be that they want to stay with “safe” issues, in the sense that anyone you make angry with it can be written off as not worth the trouble?

Might it be that these people are only interested in issues that–whether they are consciously aware of it or not–stand to benefit only those in upper 15% of income levels?

Might it be that they know, or at least sense, that this is a problem that cannot be solved within the confines of capitalism, or, at least, that it challenges society at a deep, fundamental level that what is called social justice only pretends to?

To me, it is tremendously revealing about the nature of these politics that their most fervent advocates are failing to take a clear stand in defense of someone who dared to take an action that benefits the masses of the people against the most powerful enemies of freedom.  Instead, they remain secure in concentrating on issues that fall comfortably in line with those in the middle-class mileu in which they (and, to be sure, I) live and work. They remain secure in concentrating on issues in which they can be comfortably self-righteous without threat to their careers.  They remain secure in concentrating on issues that are comfortably acceptable to those in power.

While Edward Snowden is hounded from country to country, and the full force of the United States government comes down him because he dared to tell us all things we need and deserve to know,  they remain secure and comfortable.

It is revealing; it isn’t pretty.




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79 thoughts on “Those Who are Silent on the Defense of Edward Snowden”

  1. Don’t just write on the WSWS. Also write to your congressman and your senators and to Obama.

    It isn’t a giant effort. You can say it does no good but it might still do some good. If it does no immediate good but it persuades more people that the system is broken and can’t be fixed by legal methods, that is still doing some good in a perverse way.

  2. If the system is broken and cant be fixed by legal methods what is the point of writing letters? Letter writing wont inspire the comfortable Americans to abandon their 2.5 kids and white picket fence for call of war. Have Mel Gibson movies taught you nothing ?

  3. Re the OP, a lot of people just don’t get why this is a big deal. They doubt their own judgment also. And they are afraid of their government. The latter feeling should be the light-bulb that goes on to tell them that yes, our government has gone too far.

  4. And don’t forget Bradley Manning, who I’m about to make a post in support of.

  5. The whole system is outrageous.

    I think it’s not capitalism or fascism or any of the comfortable old systems or theories that actually had principles in which people actually believed. It’s the pragmatic tyranny of cynics who believe in nothing at all except self-aggrandizement through deception and control.

    I don’t think it’s even essentially corporate in character, except to the extent it subverts and manipulates corporations, as it does most other elements of society. But there is no actual conspiracy, no trilateral commission or illuminati group doing this; it’s just a set of pernicious attitudes that have congealed amongst governmental power-wielders, who typically are not themselves CEOs or wielders of enormous amounts of capital, even if they are in the 1%.

    Since control is really the key term, I suppose you could call it cyberneticism, but of course that would be a bad name because of the connotation implying it has something to do with computers. And really, it doesn’t deserve a name, because it’s not a movement or a theory, just a tendency.

  6. I’m no genius but I pay attention to the world around me. The information released by Edward Snowden came as confirmation of what I already knew about our government and how they operate. I’ve been around since 1957 and I can’t not count the number of times this country has disrepected and insulted my intelligence with lies and omissions and then gotten caught. I aplaude Edward Snowden. I can live with the truth. Its the lies that make me afraid of what’s going on in the world.

  7. “If the system is broken and cant be fixed by legal methods what is the point of writing letters?”

    There’s a chance that the system is not that broken. Even a small chance is worth the small effort of writing.

    There are a lot of people who don’t believe it’s that broken. If it is, they will see it faster if they write in and see the broken results. Encourage people to do that — you get an improvement either way. I also heartily recommend Obama’s suggestion box.

    When they set it up it sounded good. People could show what they care about, and the government could use that to figure out popular things to do. But in practice people sign petitions and get 25,000 or so signatures and then they get a response that stomps all over their idea. In each case the petition gets sent to the government expert who is already in charge of dealing with that issue, and he explains why his current policy is exactly the right thing and the complainers are wrong.

    So for example the petitions to legalize marijuana were sent to the current Drug Czar, who repeated the same old Drug War slogans while explaining that the right thing to do is keep marijuana illegal and keep arresting people as fast as possible.

    The petition to withdraw from Afghanistan was answered by somebody who explained that we have to fight them over there so we won’t be fighting them over here, and we had to support the Karzai administration which is making great strides to turn Afghanistan into a liberal democracy and kill off the Taliban, etc.

    In every case I looked at, the petitioners were told that they were wrong to want change, and the expert who knew best was already doing perfectly.

    I’m sure the original intention was to show how responsive the Obama administration was to new ideas, but in practice it tends to convince anybody who looks at it that the system is completely broken.

  8. Nicely observed. I like representative government in theory, but bourgeois democracy ends up being a sophisticated version of oligarchy: the cats are still running Mouseland.

  9. Y’know, is exactly like petitioning the king a thousand years ago: You can petition, but you won’t get a result unless the king feels like it.

  10. “Since control is really the key term, I suppose you could call it cyberneticism, but of course that would be a bad name because of the connotation implying it has something to do with computers. And really, it doesn’t deserve a name, because it’s not a movement or a theory, just a tendency.”

    Maybe it’s just Parkinson’s Law.

    Back when the USA was thinking about nuclear war with the USSR, for awhile they added X% new warheads a year. They had to figure out where to target them. They had something like 60 warheads aimed at Moscow, and 40 at another important site. They had a warhead aimed at each important bridge, and they were aiming them at important crossroads because they had run out of better targets when they realized that they were going too far. But they couldn’t bring themselves to quit increasing the number because the Soviets were still increasing theirs. It took a treaty with the USSR before the US government could decide to stop making more warheads.

    Now they have new spy technology available, so they keep “improving” it as fast as the new capabilities become available.

  11. “Y’know, is exactly like petitioning the king a thousand years ago: You can petition, but you won’t get a result unless the king feels like it.”

    It’s worse than that.

    “Your Majesty, Sir Horace has been ravaging the countryside and raping and pillaging among your own peasants. Please make him stop.”

    “Thank you for telling Us about this. Your concerns are very important to Us. We are busy, so We must delegate this issue. Someone supremely qualified will decide what to do and choose a response to your petition. We have determined that the person most qualified to decide this issue is Our advisor, Sir Horace.”

    They chose the Drug Czar to respond to the petition to legalize marijuana! The very one who would lose half his power if they did that! Could there be a worse choice?

  12. For personal reasons I won’t go into I generally do not respond to things in “internet time” You will note that in the past I have seldom responded to a post on the day it appears. Here is a post I made today on Snowden (and Manning) which I forwarded to the address in your post of a few days ago on this subject:

    short URL:

    Full text
    A July 4th reminder: Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning is a whistleblower. Both are heroes, exposing information the public needs to know. Although critics (and in the case of Manning prosecutors) of both men claim some of the information released caused harm beyond exposure and embarrassment of people in power, no one has been able to document any such harm.

    Showing the ability of opponents of our civil liberties to maintain two contradictory arguments at the same time, many of those arguing that these two men have done great harm also claim that the information they revealed is of no significance. The truly savvy, some argue, already knew everything that Snowden and Manning revealed. The truth is most whistle blower reveal information that is widely known, but officially denied. At the time the Pentagon papers were published, it was clear to anyone paying attention that South Vietnam was an artificial State propped by the United States, with no popular support in any region of Vietnam. But that fact was dismissed as crazy ranting in “respectable” public forums such as the NY Times – at least in the United States. The publication of the Pentagon papers moved that fact out of a limbo where it was known, but not discussed where the public might overhear. The Pentagon papers did reveal very important details that were not already known. The the key gain it accomplished was to move obvious facts out of the realm where they could be sneered away.

    Manning and Snowden have performed a similar service. They have, of course revealed important details that were not previously known. But their key contribution to the public good was to provide evidence of information that has been widely discussed in alternative media, that can be easily deduced from publicly available information and provide evidence that even “respectable” outlets could no longer ignore or try to sneer away. Manning made it impossible to ignore the routine use of murder and torture by the US government outside its borders. Snowden made it impossible to ignore the routine privacy violations both inside and outside US borders by the United States government. Anyone who dismisses this as unimportant does not understand the role of open secrets in repressive regimes. Facts that everybody knows, but that “respectable” discourse denies are a critical to maintaining elites in power. It is a form of soft power that reinforces hard power.

    So what Manning and Snowden revealed are important. As I have said many times before, I consider the the attempts to smear them Howler Monkey politics. Throw your own excrement at the messengers delivering bad news, and hope enough sticks that the stink cause people to ignore the message. It is not a means of discourse decent people normally use. However since, the shit-throwing continues, I will take a moment to say that Manning and Snowden have performed a heroic service, and in spite of all the smears are heroes.

    It is a disgrace that Bradley Manning is being tried rather than treated as a hero and even more disgraceful that he was subjected to years of torture before trial. It is a further disgrace that he is not even being given a fair trial, that he is being tried in part on hearsay evidence, and upon evidence that he is not allowed to see and refute, and that his lawyers are not allowed to make key arguments in his favor. It is also a disgrace that while the prosecution makes selective leaks to damage his name, he his prevented for the most part from replying and arguing in the same court of public opinion where he is being attacked.

    It is no wonder that Snowden chose to flee rather than subject himself to this. I urge, with no hope it will be listened to, that our leaders cease to pursue Snowed. I also urge, with a bit more hope, that Evo Morales and other leaders of nations that claim to be independent of the USA, issue travel documents to Edward Snowden so that he can reach a country where he can apply for political asylum.

  13. A petition can be a very powerful way to organize people on an issue. If it does not end with submission to the King, er President but actually is used to mobilize the people signing the petition then it is useful. Of course going through the White House site where only the executive branch has access to all the people signing is not the best way to do this. A site where the petition organizers can offer those signing the petition an option to be contacted if they are interested in further actions is much better.

  14. There are a dozen new things every day for me to be upset about, and make statements about. If I made a big personal statement of where I stand on each one of them, I’d never talk about anything else. But because of your call for it, I did go and make a statement of support for Snowden.

    Now I feel much more uncomfortable about having done so, after reading this post.

    I made that statement because I believed it. But apparently I was actually passing a secret ideological purity test, to prove I’m allowed to speak out about sexism or racism or homophobia or any of the other problems in the world. If I had decided to spend my energy on some other fight, I would be judged insufficiently dedicated to what I “should” be concerned with.

    I stand by what I said in support of him. But now I regret having posted it; I wish, at least, that I had gone with my original thought to pause and take a few extra days in crafting what I was going to say on the matter, so that I would’ve missed this hidden deadline.

  15. It’s a fascinating regret. I look forward to Steve’s response. I suspect it’ll have to do with there being different kinds of issues, some that bourgeois folks are willing to address and some that they cannot. Socialists have always been willing to fight racism, sexism, and homophobia–there are socialists among the earliest champions of each of those battles–Oscar Wilde, Bayard Rustin, Emma Goldman, Charles Fourier, etc. Alas, the bourgeoisie has not been nearly so considerate in fighting for anything that might inconvenience them.

  16. Well said, Steven, as are the comments that followed. Unfortunately, I agree with Will’s observation regarding the king’s response to the petition. This instills a sense of despair. But despair should not be a block to speaking out. Instead, it should inspire a person to exclaim. The cries may awaken self-preserving fire in ourselves and those around us.

  17. Fade: Thank you for the thoughtful remarks. For what it’s worth, you aren’t the only one to say that (among others, my youngest daughter agrees with you), and it does make sense. I’ll have to give this some more thought, and I’ll try to have something coherent to say about it in the next day or two.

  18. I don’t usually use my LJ like that, and I don’t feel my LJ has much influence. I’ve signed some petitions and written to some legislators. I am very, very unlikely to post stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily post because somebody has decided that if I don’t it must mean something in particular.


  19. Pamela: It’s pretty obvious that, to at least some degree, I’ve misfired, or you wouldn’t have felt the need to explain that. More thoughts as they occur to me.

  20. The security and privacy fight is the one that disproportionately benefits and impacts the upper class, not those of feminism and other social justice movements.

  21. Steven, thanks for the response. I admit to some strong feelings here. Mostly, I feel hurt. I thought I was responding to an important political issue; but now, it seems like I was being tricked into taking a test with a hidden deadline, to see if I was Good Enough to be allowed to complain about other things.

    If there are more tests like this, I’m going to fail. I’m busy a lot. I’m tired a lot. Most days, I’d rather post about something I’m translating or cute pet antics than about politics. Some days, I’d rather post about a march against an anti-choice bill (that will, when it inevitably passes, kill a lot of poor women in this state) than post about whistleblowers. Some days I’d rather just read a book, or throw a ball for my dog.

    I’m inevitably going to pick different battles to talk about than you do. That’s true for all my friends. I cannot be expected to stand up and be counted for every single issue that you care about the most. I don’t expect you to do the same for all of the ones I get engaged in, either. There are too many important things in the world needing change for any one person to care about all of them, and I reject the idea that focusing our time and energy where we can and where we care should be scorned.

  22. Toni, it only affects the upper class because exposing their manipulations weakens them. That’s why it’s so important. So long as the gap between rich and poor grows, a disproportionate number of women and folks of color and GLBTQ folks on this side of the gap will continue to suffer.

    This isn’t to say you can’t choose your battles, of course. It’s only to say that there are battles which bourgie folks will fight and battles which they’ll avoid out of self-interest.

    If Steve wants to drop this whole discussion for the time-being, I’ll understand. No one wants anyone to feel bad about the struggles that they’re comfortable committing to. We each have to judge our strength and act accordingly.

  23. Will-
    Aren’t all battle-choosing decisions made out of self-interest? Even when your self-interest happens to be a cause that primarily affects a group of which you are not a part?
    And my point is that it is rich white guys banging on drums about privacy and security and mansplaining that the solution is a socialist revolution of overthrowing the government and erasing everyone’s bank information while feminists are screaming in the streets of Texas to protect poverty stricken women from loosing access to reproductive health care.
    So I think the arguement of battles being chosen out of self interest is at least as big a problem for you here as it is for me.

    Also, for the purpose of my comment, and also reality, you can include yourself as a member of the upper class who is vested in this fight.

  24. Toni, the easiest example: Marx and Engels didn’t choose their class interest.

    I’ll let Steve speak for himself, but I suspect he’s strongly feeling like he wishes he’d been able to explain this better. I know I am. I don’t know a single socialist who believes the struggles of social identity groups don’t matter or shouldn’t be fought–we’ve literally bled for them–if you’d like me to tell you about being beaten for being a niggerlover, I’d be glad to.

    The point for socialists is that there are additional battles to be fought: this is very much a case of “embrace ‘and'”. If I was in Texas, I’d be marching. I marched in Tucson to protest Arizona’s racist stop-and-search law.

    As for me being a member of the upper class, do come over sometime for some bubbly in the mansion. I’ll tell the peasants to look decorative.

  25. Okay, the last paragraph amused me, but it probably wasn’t helpful. I apologize for that.

    Dad was a farmer’s son. Mom was a druggist’s daughter. Late in his life, her father invested some money in a local business that boomed, so at the age of fourteen, I went from a little cinderblock house in a blue-collar neighborhood in Florida that was remarkably like the one you lived in on the north side of Minneapolis, only smaller and not as nice–it had no basement, and Dad and I made another bedroom by enclosing the carport–to a prep school and a private college, where I got to observe the upper class. I didn’t have the money to dress as well as them or to vacation where they vacationed, but I observed them. I was mighty privileged in that. The last of Grandpa’s money let me buy the house we had on 38th Street. if you think that’s upper class, we really gotta talk about class in the US sometime.

  26. I don’t think this is a security/privacy fight, so much as it’s a government-secrecy and due-process fight. Or rather, the security/privacy stuff is more of an entree into a more general issue.

    The question is should the government be allowed to govern in secret with no oversight? Should its very laws and policies be secret? Are people really entitled to due process of law, with justice administered not only by judges but by their empaneled fellow citizens, or is that just a fraud? I think those questions affect pretty much everyone, regardless of the details of NSA chicanery.

    So that is a pretty abstract set of questions, compared to particular people in a particular place being unjustly and illegally deprived of health care. But its abstraction and lack of immediate urgency doesn’t necessarily make it a lesser question, though that may be true as well.

    No one can say for sure which of many concurrent fights against injustice and oopression is greater or lesser, or what people should regard as urgent and what they can let well enough alone. It’s always going to be an individual’s decision.

  27. Will-
    Thank you for helping understand the socialist perspective. In general, I have plenty of reliable instruction on that topic, but hey, informed opinions are always good, even when they come with what feels like some not-entirely undeserved condescension.

    I’d have no trouble believing that you feel that some of the social justice fights have been socialist fights, or that all of them all really boil down to class issues. I’d don’t have any trouble believing you have fought the good fight for many causes I care about, Will. I know you are a good person even if I personally think you are consistently the wrongest person to ever be wrong on the Internet. I know that, even when I disagree with you and think you words are hurtful, you are coming from a good place. I know that you want an open discourse and an exchange of ideas and if you’re lucky to change a few minds.

    It really isn’t that I fail to understand you. I just don’t agree with you.

    And I’d love to come over and help you prove to me that I have unjustly lumped in the wrong socioeconomic class, if for no other reason than it is always lovely to see you.
    But you have a house, and more importantly for the sake of my argument, you have phone and Internet access. I don’t say this to imply that you live a life of luxury, but rather that you are above a certain economic threshold and, therefore, you have digital security concerns of your very own, and not simply ethical arguments against it.

  28. Toni, no one deserves condescension, and I’m very sorry when my humor comes off that way.

    And I’m also sorry you haven’t been over. We’ve been slowly painting the place, and we’re intending to be more social once the kitchen and hallway are done.

    As for my economic threshhold, here’s a bit from a blog post I made a while back:

    “If the world’s wealth were shared today, each adult on the planet would have money and possessions equal to $43,800 US. If the world’s income were shared, over the coming year, each person, regardless of age, would get $10,500. In that world, Emma and I would have a shared wealth of $87,600 and a shared income of $21,000. If we had children, each child would add $10,500 a year to our household. Since we don’t have children, by the end of the year, we would expect our combined wealth and income, excluding expenses, to be $108,600.

    “Which is about what we’re looking at for 2012.

    “Which makes us richer than we’ve ever been.

    “And as rich as everyone could be.”

    My calculations turned out to be pretty accurate:

    We had about the median income for white Americans, which was far more than the median income for folks of color, of course, but my greatest complaint with identity politics is it does absolutely nothing to address the problem of class mobility that hinders poor folks of all hues and genders in the US. The only way to help poor folks in the long term is to share the wealth, which is why I’m a big fan of Basic Income proposals. Bourgeois types love to say education will make things better in the long run, but economists like Matt Bruenig have done a mighty convincing job of establishing that hasn’t worked and isn’t going to work.

    Sorry for going on there, but putting numbers in perspective can be tricky.

  29. Will-
    No apologies are necessary for being condescending, I give it as good as I get. And you don’t have to apologize for not inviting me to your house, although if I have just wrangled myself an invitation I will be more than happy to make good use of it.

    Again, though, your economic status both now and historically is only relevant to me insofar as it means that you are in the position of having digital information that you might theoretically want private and the government not to grant themselves secret access to.

    As to your point about “identity politics” I think you are both wrong and off point. I would argue that it is not education nor classism, but the social position of women that is the silver bullet. That every race and every socioeconomic underclass benefit from the empowerment of women, socially, politically, physically, and yes, economically… But, hey that’s where we disagree.

    My comment was, and still is about the fact that my father’s characterization of feminism as only for the upper 15% is blatantly and provably wrong. Whereas his crusade is provably and obviously a fight that will not personally affect a person poor enough to be without a phone or computer.

    The fight for women’s rights, and women’s reproductive rights being the most obvious and glaring of many examples, is something the directly effects all women and therefore all people, from the richest person (albeit much less) to the person so poor they have no place to live or telephone.

    We won’t change each others minds here. That’s totally cool with me.

    But since I’m at it anyway…

    I think that implying that perhaps some anonymous outspoken liberal members of the SFAF community (or writers specifically) are refraining from making comments publicly out of some kind of cowardice is both a little bit convoluted and fairly tactless.

  30. I do not believe that Edward Snowden is a hero. I think he has taken heroic action and also behaved cowardly. I think that if Snowden really believed in his cause he would have let it be the story. He would have stayed here, stood up in court and said, “this is wrong and I won’t be silent. If my patriotism is against our laws than I will fight that battle, even if loosing means going to prison.”
    I believe that releasing that information was patriotic and heroic. I believe running away and hiding and becoming the story was not.

    I stand with Bradley Manning.

  31. I fully expect you to make good use of that!

    One last note on “upper class” since you brought it up: Here’s the distribution of wealth in the US: the bottom two quintiles own effectively nothing (.1% and .2% respectively). The third, which I’m in, owns 4%. The fourth owns 11%. The top quintile owns 85%. The top 1%, where upper class begins, owns 40%.

    That top quintile continues to get a bigger and bigger piece of the pie, and nothing identitarians propose will change that.

    Regarding Manning and Snowden, the point is not about privacy—I live a pretty open life. The point is about government lies. I assume the Pentagon Papers are musty history to you, but the situation was exactly the same: exposing the truth forced the government to make changes, some that were cosmetic and some that were substantive.

    We agree that empowerment of women is a good thing–the word “feminism” was coined by a male socialist, after all. What I don’t understand is why you hear that it’s a choice of one or the other when we’re saying that for socialists, it’s both, but I should’ve been asleep half an hour ago, so sleeping on this is undoubtedly a good thing.


  32. Toni, just saw your last note. Bradley Manning didn’t run away because he was caught. He’s been held in barbaric conditions for three years–it’s no wonder Snowden wants to escape that. You want him to be a martyr, and if the Obama administration gets him, he’ll become one, but I can’t fault anyone for trying to do good and survive.

    Well, that’s more than enough. G’night!

  33. I don’t think it’s an either or, and as far as I can tell you don’t think it’s both. We both believe that financial and gender as well as racial and every other kind of social inequalities are wrong. The important distinction to be made is that you believe the solution is to eliminate capitalism and I believe the solution is to eliminate patriarchy.

    As far as your Snowden point… I think there are many impoverished people in this country, and in the world, who don’t know the luxury of indignation and fury about government lies, secrets, or coverups because they are too busy peeing into a cup to get their food stamps or whatever.

    I stand by my original statement: The security and privacy fight is the one that disproportionately benefits and impacts the upper class, not those of feminism and other social justice movements.

    Enjoy the sleeping!

  34. Since you say you can take as well as give, i gotta note this: “as far as I can tell you don’t think it’s both.”

    Please, always give people the benefit of the doubt when they tell you what they believe. They may be mistaken, but they’re usually telling the truth as they understand it. Perhaps the weirdest thing I encounter on the internet is this notion from people who have one ideology that people who have another must be lying when they’re not convinced of the validity of theirs.

    When I went to sleep last night, I was wondering why you thought a socialist of any stripe wouldn’t support the abortion fight in Texas, especially when it affects poor women. Then I realized that talking about identitarians confused the issue for identitarians. Abortion rights for poor women is not a third-wave feminist issue. It’s a first and second wave feminist issue. It’s an issue that can be addressed via protest and the law, and the goal is simple: to legally protect poor women’s opportunity for abortion. It isn’t an identitarian feminist issue of whether parsing language will reduce sexism and somehow make a better world. It’s an equity feminist case that is as simple as can be: poor women are threatened by men and women (remember that almost as many women oppose abortion as support it) who are trying to limit poor women’s access.

    As for eliminating patriarchy, I began to suspect there was a problem with that notion when Maggie Thatcher came to power, and after watching Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton, I am even less convinced that changing ruling class men for ruling class women will make a better world. That strikes me as an example of voting for white cats instead of black cats in Mouseland.

    I’m on food stamps. You don’t have to pee in a cup for them. If you did, you would still have to pee if we had a capitalist matriarchy instead of a male-dominated capitalism.

  35. Toni-
    I must dispute the idea that the “security and privacy fight” is just for the upper class. Granted, they have more to lose than those who have little. But, as most governmental abuse affects the poor and or powerless more than those who can defend themselves, so will this.

    It is not only telephone and computer data that is being stored, sorted and used to control the populous. Both faces and license plates are being digitized and stored. Go to a protest? You are on record. Drive home, or “someplace you don’t belong”? You are on record. Buy a Trac phone because you can’t afford a contract? You are on record. Need someone convenient to arrest? You are on record.

    The “corporate owners” may benefit more from the data gleaned from the middle and upper class. The “police state” will always come down heavier on the underclass. And of course those that disagree – Socialist, Libertarian, Feminist, Atheist or Religious.

  36. Wow. You people have gone on a fantastic journey with what was a fairly simple statement from Steven, perhaps truncated, perhaps a bit offensive, but nevertheless,quite simple.

    A man is being victimized and his life threatened because he acted on a principled belief: that what the government is doing is a violation of the very foundation of said government, and that people who know the truth would act on the truth. This is not a “single issue” question, folks, this is the ding-ding-ding that sounds a new round in a long-building battle. It involves all of us, whatever other issues we choose to pursue.

    Will people respond?– I urge you to read the wsws coverage of the anniversary celebrations of Gettysburg. Their single picture of thousands of people marching across the battlefield in commemoration is enough to let you know that the ideals of that battle still have great meaning. Yes, only those with some disposable income were there — I was not. But it stirred my faith as nothing else has done in a long, long time.
    (The link is

    No one can do everything — some of us are too old, too poor, too involved in protecting other, less encompassing, rights, too cynical. But everyone can do something. My reading is that Steven was only saying that when the issue is this vital, those who can, must.

    Toni. You will find no more fervent supporter of a woman’s right to make her own medical choices than me. I will explain why whenever you chose. But those rights take a second place to the right to eat, have shelter, have work, and have the right to speak out and organize against injustice without threat. More is at stake here than at any time in your lifetime. I’m just saying….

  37. Excellent point about the storing of faces. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (which has been pretty much gutted now), my dad got hold of the FBI file on us. It mis-identified Mom: there was a picture of Dad marching next to a friend who was identified as Mom. It amused us. But I can’t say I’m comforted by the thought our current snooping government will be more efficient.

  38. Will, your comment at 10:29 pm was cruel and not how I like to see my friends speak to my other friends.

    Everyone: I’m shutting down this thread as soon as skzb posts his current comment.

  39. Fade: Among others, I heard from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who pointed out that it sounded like I was trying to shame people into responding in a particular way on a particular timetable. Mea culpa. I can understand why you and some others reacted that way, and I wish I’d done better. As Patrick said, some people have lives (I’ll be spending this weekend at Convergence, for example, and not available for many things that are more important. Welcome to life.) The biggest problem is that the post was a product of anger and frustration, mostly about things I don’t explicitly discuss there. Someone like me, who claims to try to understand social processes scientifically, ought not to post out of anger and frustration without sending it through several filters. I apologize for what Cynthia refers to as “a bit truncated, perhaps a bit offensive.” She’s right on both counts, and I think that’s where the trouble was.

    I’m not going to go back and fix the post. I said what I said, now I can live with it. But…hmmm…how to put this. There are ways in which I honestly don’t care if someone is hurt, and ways in which I do. Theodore Beale may have been hurt when I referred to him as a white supremacist; somehow I can live with that, because he’s the enemy, and I was right. But when I’ve hurt someone I care about because I was careless, and was imprecise because I was frustrated, then I don’t like that so much. I apologize.

    Toni: Thanks for taking the time to enter the conversation, and for your thoughtful contributions. To respond, for the moment, to one of the most important things you bring up, I would say that Snowden has become, at this point, a symbol, and in a very good way. The reactionaries want us thinking about what a terrible person he is (and are happy to make things up to back that) and fill us with “he should have”s. But to us, he represents integrity and courage of conviction in the fight against tyranny.

    The point is, Toni, that I hear you saying we should discuss the issue of government spying, not the issue of this particular man. To me, discussing the issue of this particular person is *exactly* to discuss the issue of government spying; because it is over the issue of his persecution that the true positions of the media, the democrats and the republicans are best exposed–and this exposure, in turn, is a powerful force in affecting the thinking of millions of people–in helping millions of people come to the conclusion that the solution to tyranny rests, not in the actions of tyrants, nor in efforts to convince the tyrants to be nicer tyrants, but in the other-throw of tyranny itself. Given that I believe this to be the case, naturally I am favor of activities that help clarify it for millions of people.

    In terms of my actual position–now, less angry, perhaps a tiny bit more sensible–Cynthia has expressed it very well and I’ll stand by what she said, only wishing I’d done a better job of making that clear in the first place.

    I am, for the moment at least, letting Jen shut down comments; perhaps I will open them up again when I have more time to monitor things.

  40. Now that I”m back from Convergence and can pay some attention to the blog, comments are back on again.

  41. Fade, I am as sorry as can be that my comment at 10:29 seemed cruel. I don’t usually fall back on this, but for once, I will: Emma said she didn’t read it that way either. I don’t know if this is a generational thing. Connotations change–“whatever” was more objective when I was young, and now it’s dismissive–so maybe a word or a phrase that I used has a connotation that I simply don’t know. Or you may’ve thought I meant to include you among “bourgeois folks”–I did not intend to imply that. Or maybe I’ve just got a reputation for being cruel, so when there was doubt, that became the default interpretation.

    If I can make amends, I will do so gladly.

  42. Will, for what it’s worth, I’ve been mostly responding to the primary post. I haven’t had a lot of energy for detailed reading of most of the comments here. But, yeah, I do assume that I’m included among “bourgeois folks” when people refer to such. I own property; I’m more or less middle class; I’m white, never been terribly poor, inclined towards trust for authority and rules. I have said before, not entirely jokingly, that if there is a class-based revolution, I’m going to be one of the ones up against the wall.

    Some of my frustration comes from the way I’ve seen similar arguments put forward in other places, on other issues. I’ve been told so many times that if I don’t speak about this particular issue, whatever it is that the person making the statement has decided is the One Important Issue, then all of my other statements are hypocritical, or meaningless, or fraudulent, or otherwise improper. And so I have very little energy or patience now for being told what I “should” agitate about.

    There’s just so much wrong in the world. And I have so little energy available for dealing with it. I do tend to assume that others are the same, and that when they make a statement on any one issue–desert conservation, or trying to bring back local songbirds, or harassment at sf&f conventions, or fixing one’s pets, or the treatment of gay men in slash fanfic, or whitewashing in film adaptations–that they’re working with the same limited energy that I am. They can only talk about so much, and that’s the particular issue that they feel they can contribute on, where others affect them less intensely, or they just don’t think they have much to say that other people haven’t said already.

    I’m glad other people are talking about Snowden. But I have so little to say about him, because I know so little. General support I can make. Beyond that? I leave the talking to people who know the issues better. So when someone else chooses not to post about it…I figure they’re weighing their own attention, energy, interest, information. And a lot of people are going to come up with, “No, it’s not particularly necessary that I say anything about this particular issue. It’s not my area of expertise or focus.” I’m okay with that.

  43. I want to look at why the original post sounded so offensive.

    The general idea was of course correct. There are people who pay attention to their particular issues — issues that are likely to affect *them* even though they are themselves privileged — and ignore important things that matter at the core of society.

    “But I can’t help but notice some of the ones who haven’t. Without naming anyone in particular, some of those in the sf community who have been most vocal about […] , have been strangely silent….”

    This gives the impression that Steven was thinking about particular people, that he would name particular names except he chose not to.

    Then he comes up with insulting reasons for them not to speak up. Like, they’re afraid to offend people who’re truly powerful, like government workers. Or they *only* speak up for issues that affect *only* the top 15%.

    But I think the central thing was the implication that he was thinking about particular people. So everybody who might have been the people he was thinking about, took it personally. Not necessarily people who actually fit the description, but people who thought Steven might think they fit the description, people who thought Steven might have been thinking about them in particular.

    And when it felt like personal reproach, they resented it. Probably they did not feel shamed into writing to support Snowden.

    “Do not enter into political discourse without knowing what you want to accomplish and why, after which you can give some thought to how. ”Because he’s wrong,” is not a sufficient reason. Now, if I can just remember to apply that rule to myself, all will be well.”

    There’s describing the phenomenon of the stylish liberal who upholds stylish causes but not the most important causes. That’s something that deserves thought.

    There’s getting people to support Snowden. That’s worth doing.

    There’s venting frustration at people who don’t support Snowden enough. That may be counterproductive to do in public. Or maybe it can be done with just the right technique and get a good result.

    Well, everybody vents their feelings sometimes. It’s a sign how much people care about Steven’s opinions that they got so upset. No big criticism or offense intended, I just think these were the details that were important in what happened.

  44. Fade, thanks for the response. I’m grateful.

    Don’t worry that you’ll be included among the bourgeois folks. For socialists, it’s allegiance, not identity, that matters. If the revolution comes, just shout “comrade!” or “sister!” and hug someone.

    Steve’s told a story elsewhere about his feeling he couldn’t do enough, and the advice he got from, I think, David Walsh. It’s a good story, so I’ll leave it for him, but I’ll spoil the punchline now and say everyone has to measure their strength and then do as little or as much as they can, and not worry a bit about not doing more. “From each according to ability, to each according to need” isn’t just an economic system: it’s a philosophy.

  45. J Thomas, speaking as one sometimes socially clueless person to another, I don’t think this is a good time to analyze what went sideways here, but I do think “It’s a sign how much people care about Steven’s opinions” is very accurate.

  46. Now that comments are open again, I want to remark that while I agree with a bunch of what Toni Brust said, I do take a different view on one point.

    I don’t think that privacy, surveillance, and the panopticon state are issues important only to middle-class people with computers and smartphones. The fact is that we interact with the emerging global data net on a nearly constant basis — when we shop, when we get medical care, when we take the bus. Networked computing power coupled with geolocation is baked into more and more of our daily lives, even if we never use a computer or a smartphone. Even those of us who live “cash only” lives cast a vast data shadow on a daily basis. And as the NSA revelations demonstrate, the “metadata” that we constantly shed, parsed by the increasingly-powerful tools available to the big commercial and governmental players, is entirely enough to identify us and deliver our private lives into their hands.

    Except when the world press gets briefly excited by a whistleblower like Snowden or a muckraker like Greenwald, this stuff is mostly going undiscussed. Indeed we seem to be practicing a kind of willed forgetfulness about it — much of what Snowden revealed was already known as long ago as 2005, albeit in less detail.

    In other words, these aren’t issues that poor and working class people don’t need to care about. The kind of power we’re handing to outfits like Google and the NSA _will_ be used for forms of social constraint and control that, absolutely, will fall disproportionately on those with less social capital and fewer financial resources, unless we make a big, broad issue of it on multiple fronts.

    Steve isn’t wrong to identify it as a top-level, universal concern. I just think he was mistaken to suggest that everyone needs to engage with the issue in his manner and on his schedule, and that those of us who did otherwise were doing so out of discreditable motives. But Steve has already acknowledged those problematic aspects of those remarks, so I see no need to further belabor the point.

  47. Will, Fade, Emma, anyone else interested: I read that one comment as insulting because “that’s fascinating” sounds to me a lot like when my mother-in-law said my spaghetti sauce had “a lot of… flavor.” Also the thing of inclusion with bourgeois folks, which has been covered.

    On one hand, maybe I shouldn’t keep kicking the koopa shell by commenting on this again. On the other hand, since I’m the one who pulled the dick move of pointing it out and then closing the thread, maybe a little follow-up from me is needed.

  48. This conversation illuminating, as to how other people are reading what I post about politics. Or specifically, what I don’t post.

    See, I never would’ve posted about Snowden without prompting. Not because I don’t approve of his whistleblowing. Not because I thought the subject was unimportant. But because I have no useful information to add to the conversation about him. I’m not someone who’s been affected by surveillance in a significant way, I don’t know a lot about how it’s done or what it means, I’m not already involved in related political or professional issues… I would’ve said nothing because I wouldn’t want to muddy the conversation with noise, compared to the signal coming from people who have thoughtful things to say about the topic. Patrick’s comments up above explain things well; I’d rather read that than add my less useful flailing to the conversation.

    Part of this is that in the subcultures I hang out in, it’s generally accepted that the people with the most right to talk about a topic are the ones who know the most about it. I can talk in a useful manner about women’s rights because it affects me directly; I’m unlikely to discuss issues of racism nearly as much, not because I don’t care, but because I don’t have a lot of useful data compared to that provided by someone directly affected by racism. I’ve mostly been quiet in discussions of harassment at conventions, because I don’t feel I have useful additions to that conversation.

    If you want me to talk about surveillance and privacy issues during Sulla’s dictatorship, I’d have something to say there! But modern surveillance? I listen to other people explain it better.

  49. Fade, I can tell you a little bit about Snowden. He released some important information and then he ran. And then recently he released more information that affected trade talks and caused a big embarrassment for the USA with friendly foreign nations we were spying on.

    That proves he did not release everything at once. So it’s reasonable to assume he has more secrets he may release later.

    From there we can lose ourselves in speculation. Why didn’t he reveal all the secrets at once? Maybe he wants to bargain. He could get some sort of reward to reveal some secrets to governments, or to not reveal some. Or maybe he had a sophisticated plan, and he figured if it all came out at once it would make a splash and be forgotten, but if he spaces them out they will have more effect. For example, after people rationalize out that the metadata isn’t so bad, then he shows us that they’ve been collecting the actual info too….

    He could be a patriot who wants the public to know the truth. Or he could be some sort of gloryhound who wants to make a splash and did not at first figure out it could lose him his life. Or he could be an agent of a foreign nation, and the foreign nation has a careful plan. That nation’s plan might accidentally align with the interest of the US public, stranger things have happened before. Snowden could at some point start releasing disinformation, things that in fact are not true, and the US government would not know how to deny them. A foreign government might have the resources to produce US documents that look real.

    So the US government wants to get him back before he does more damage, but they don’t know how. Everything they do makes them look worse.

    “I would’ve said nothing because I wouldn’t want to muddy the conversation with noise, compared to the signal coming from people who have thoughtful things to say about the topic.”

    The information matters because people can do something about it that matters.

    In a democracy, what you think matters even when you are ignorant. A whole lot of people who get upset can make the government change direction somewhat. So your outrage counts.

    In nondemocracies it matters even more. The stakes are higher. Cuba fell because a whole lot of people were just not willing to put up with Batista, and he ran away. The Philippines fell the same way. And the Shah. When enough people get upset, the government falls apart. That says nothing about what they get afterward, but for that time they have their say. When it’s too few people they get punished, maybe massacred.

    In either case and in all the shades of gray in between, you have the choice to express your outrage even when you are not the most knowledgeable. In an actual democracy if you do it too soon and then not enough others go along, you can look like a fool in public. As it gets toward the other end you may face increasing consequences, so it takes even more courage.

    In all cases the people who have already committed themselves will want you to commit too.

  50. J Thomas, I appreciate the information.

    As you say, “In all cases the people who have already committed themselves will want you to commit too.” I appreciate that desire. Of course we want other people to join in our outrage when we’re already there. It was amazingly heartening when I went to a political march and other people showed; it would’ve been deeply depressing if almost no one had, and I would have thought, do they care?

    But of course lots of people people care and still don’t show up. I went to maybe a quarter of the events associated with that same march; I might make it to more, and I might not. People have jobs and disabilities and kids and pets and goals and bills and fatigue and a need for sleep and travel distances and lack of transportation and emotional limits and all sorts of other things that would let them care about that exact thing, but not show up.

    There are no infinite resources. We portion out our own to the best of our abilities and judgment. I can only be outraged about so many things in a given day (or week, or month, or year) before I stop being functional as an adult. If I’ve already hit my limit? I am going to put “being a functional adult” higher on the priority list than meeting someone else’s standards for commitment to what they’re outraged about most.

  51. Note that this is a comment which may be off-topic, and is from someone who isn’t connected at all to the US, so might be irrelevant to the conversation. Feel free to ignore!

    As the comments have gravitated towards discussing the Snowden case a little, I thought I might chip in information from a different viewpoint.

    While I don’t know whether people are discussing more the man himself or the things he revealed in the US, in most other countries the issue seems to be mostly about Snowden–why he did what he did, what’s going to happen to him now, etc. So international sources of information, like the internet, will mainly focus on this.

    In Australia, where I live, this is probably because what he revealed doesn’t seem like a big revelation. It might be a hangover from our British Imperial days, but our thoughts on the matter seem to be ‘there’s a polite amount of spying/ignoring sovereignty that a country can do to its allies, and the US crosses the line because of ignorance of these manners’. About a decade ago, I went on a high school trip to our capital city, and the bus driver pointed out a big column in the main part of the city with an eagle statue on top that was a present from the US. Someone commented that there were probably spy cameras in the eagle’s eyes, and everyone laughed. If people think that America spies on other countries more than other countries, /of course/ they’d collect all the information they can on their own citizens. It’s just what they do.

    So, if, as people in the comments have said or implied, the local US media doesn’t focus on what was revealed and what it means for US citizens, and the international media doesn’t, then it seems like it is important for people in the USA to talk about this, just to get the point of view across that this isn’t who leaked this information that is important, it is the information itself.

    The guy is being persecuted, yes, and instead of feeling embarrassed about being caught out the USA government is pressuring the world to send the guy back to them, but it is going to keep doing this sort of thing until people stop focusing on how they’re treating a single citizen and start shaming them about how they’ve treated the lot of you. If what he revealed is important, he will be treated like a whistleblower. If what he revealed isn’t important, he will be treated like a traitor.

  52. This is the way power has always worked. The powerful don’t want to be audited. They have their divine right and only give power to the people when it gives them more power (relative to their peers – who are the only people who count).

    For a few centuries, they benefited by having communities with productive, skilled workers – and their communities benefited by that. But that doesn’t seem to apply now. So the people don’t matter. If we don’t matter, we don’t need to know. We don’t need to be educated or skilled.

  53. Maybe they just don’t like putting money down on the losing side. First rule: Never bet against the house. How anyone could think their own made-up preferences like ‘justice’ or ‘right/wrong’ are real things, much less matter more than Having the Power, I will never know.

  54. What I appreciate most in Mr. Brust’s body of work is his humor. The man makes me laugh. Invoking patriotism for comments on a socialist website in support of an American traitor, now that there is funny, I don’t care who you are. Well played sir, well played.

    Rod Rubert

  55. Rod

    Please provide you arguements for why Snowden is an American traitor. Not all of us on the forum are socialists and I have seen support for him from conservatives and liberaterians as well.

  56. Rod Rubert — Not funny, and that was an asshole comment. If I notice a comment like that again, you’ll be banned.


  57. Rod, you might have done better to say

    “Invoking patriotism for comments on a socialist website in support of an American patriot, now that there is funny”.

    But maybe not enough better. A whole lot of socialists believe that the USA has done well at human freedom etc, and they want it to do better. Patriotism can involve looking at how to help the USA become what it ought to be, more than just supporting the government in doing whatever it does.

    So when you imply that socialists are not patriots, they may take it as an insult.

    Speaking for myself, I see no conflict between being for the USA and being for world government. We should take the first step toward world government by inviting Mexico to join the USA. If each Mexican state became a US state that would be 31 of them, which is about right. We could eliminate a lot of our problem with illegal immigrants if every Mexican was a US citizen. Our southern border would be much shorter and easier to patrol. We would be a de facto bilingual nation. It would be a good thing for both nations. And one small step toward a benign world government.

  58. Rod Rubert:

    “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” –Carl Schurz, US Senator and a general in the US Civil War

  59. I don’t particularly like government lies; government secrets I’m negotiable on. Gathering data in secret is unsuprising; publicly lying about gathering data in congressional oversight committees (instead of, for example, saying “can’t comment”) I find obnoxious. Misleading the congress and public as to what is being done likewise. So I applaud Snowden for revealing that.

    I also think he should be prosecuted for it.

    If congress wants to come along and say “hey, we were lied to, here’s a law that says Snowden can’t be prosecuted, so neener neener executive branch” then that’s fine too.

    If you accept the idea that a government has to have some secrets (and some people won’t accept that idea), then there have to be some serious penalties for revealing them, or there won’t be any secrets. If the government is secretly abusing its authority, then it is to be hoped someone will speak up. In a country composed of reasonable people, maybe one in a thousand, maybe one in ten thousand will be willing to risk jail for speaking up. Seems about the right ratio to me.

    The fact that we are storing metadata for every phone call or email sent seems to me to come under the heading of stuff that shouldn’t have been done secretly, despite the fact that doing it secretly enhances the value of the data to secret spy organizations. They made the wrong call there, as spies are wont to do.

    There is a valid and valuable use for that data in combating crime, terrorism, etc. There are obvious pitfalls to having the data stored. This is the sort of question that politics is supposed to resolve, not spies. Kudos to Snowden for taking the risk to reveal it, but if there were no consequences, then there was no risk, and that would be worse.

  60. F. Stevens, let me give you an example.

    The Obama campaigners believe that they won the last election because they kept giant databases of voters. They tracked which ones they thought would vote for Obama, and they did their best to get those voters to actually go to the polls and vote.

    They didn’t so much try to persuade the unpersuaded. You never know how that will turn out. They tried to maximize voting by people who agreed with them, and that won the battleground states.

    They tried to get people to talk to their relatives and their neighbors. You are more likely to vote if somebody you know and care about asks you to, than some random staffer So their databases tried to track that data.

    The GOP has started to copy that approach but they are still way behind. They argue that if X million white Republicans who didn’t vote had voted, it would have made all the difference, and they argue about which ideological failing left those voters sitting at home. But maybe it wasn’t ideology at all.

    This is precisely the sort of thing that the NSA does far, far better than the Democratic Party. If one party secretly got that data, it would be worth more than a billion dollars in campaign contributions. If Democratic theories are right, it would be decisive in elections.

    You might not care which party dominates the government. They might seem just the same to you. But if you want politics to resolve the metadata question, you had better not have NSA metadata deciding the politics question….

    Similarly, suppose you are interested in ecology and environmentalism. The NSA is tracking which environmentalists you are exposed to, and the NSA is estimating which of them might become terrorists. If someday there is an act of ecoterrorism, they might decide you should be picked up as a preventive measure, depending on who you read and who you comment on. This is potentially an effective way to crush dissent.

    Any dissent can lead to terrorism, and dissent travels over informal conversational networks which NSA tracks. You might not care about people who want to change the structure of the government — that might seem to have nothing to do with you — but I think it’s a bad thing when the government uses force to prevent all nonviolent structural change. And it’s unfortunately true that any dissent can potentially lead to acts of terrorism, which can be prevented by crushing the dissent before it gets too far….

    The US government gets a temporary advantage over actual terrorists and foreign governments by keeping this stuff secret. That advantage erodes quickly. It’s probably about time to shut it down, or else release the technology to the public. These same methods would be a big help to citizens of all kinds who want to find others with similar interests.

  61. As a practical matter, neither the Democratic nor Republican parties have the infrastructure to handle the amount of data being held and used by the NSA, nor is there any way they could build such an infrastructure without it being reported. Therefore access to the data would have to be through the NSA’s databases.

    In the same sense that I do not believe there will be a military coup in the U.S., I do not believe that the NSA would allow this to happen without it being reported. Not the NSA as a monolithic agency, but rather the NSA as a government agency comprised of individual workers.

    Can I imagine a dystopia in which someone has successfully done this? Absolutely. Do I think it could happen in real life? Yes, perhaps in China. Do I think it will happen here? Probably not. Do we have to be vigilant to prevent it? Yes, that is why I think storing this data is an example of a question that should be decided publicly, and that people should be aware of it being done.

    As a counter example, let’s say Pakistan has a revolution and is taken over by people really pissed at the U.S. This is not so unlikely, as we are really good at pissing people off. So they load up a nuclear bomb on each of 5 fishing trawlers sent to NY, Washington, Boston, LA, and Seattle. They might have to fiddle a bit to get a boat next to Washington, but hey, they’re wacko and it is nicely symbolic.

    With all that data stored by the NSA, then any one thread unravelling in Pakistan or people here reporting to them about how to avoid coast guard or customs or whatever else we have gives us the chance to grab all the boats before they arrive. Without that data, we are potentially screwed.

    I know trusting our government isn’t trendy, and is frequently unwise. I wish half the electorate didn’t have the right to vote (as long as I got to choose which half). But the government is there as the best solution we have available to an intractable problem, to wit, governing people… especially the job of governing that half of the electorate that I would apparently prefer to disenfranchise. The idea of technology providing a permanent government that could never be removed or fixed is frightening, but so is the idea of a crazy person deciding to combine smallpox and ebola in his basement laboratory; and, knowing people, I find the second the more likely scenario.

  62. “As a practical matter, neither the Democratic nor Republican parties have the infrastructure to handle the amount of data being held and used by the NSA, nor is there any way they could build such an infrastructure without it being reported.”

    As a practical matter, they would be given only what they have the most use for. Not more than they can handle.

    “In the same sense that I do not believe there will be a military coup in the U.S., I do not believe that the NSA would allow this to happen without it being reported.”

    When it became plausible, there would be rumors that it happened whether it did or not. Compare the leaks about corrupted Diebold voting machines. About prepared US detention centers that could hold 2 million people. Truthers about 9/11. Or the many unconfirmed stories about what NSA did, prior to Snowden. Sure, these stories get out whether they are true or not.

    “So they load up a nuclear bomb on each of 5 fishing trawlers sent to NY, Washington, Boston, LA, and Seattle.”

    We have had detectors for nukes entering harbors for well over 40 years. I understand that over the last 20 years the detectors have gotten small, portable, and still reliable. Perhaps some sort of excellent shielding could leave those undetected? Maybe as little as 15 centimeters of lead in all directions would be enough to reduce emissions below the critical level? I don’t know how sensitive that stuff is.

    But — you want to assume a Pakistani government that’s willing to send Pakistani fishing trawlers into our ports and blow them up? We worried for 40 years about the USSR doing that. Probably we have the possibility pretty well contained by now.

    “With all that data stored by the NSA, then any one thread unravelling in Pakistan or people here reporting to them about how to avoid coast guard or customs or whatever else we have gives us the chance to grab all the boats before they arrive.”

    I think you give NSA etc far too much credit. How about a nuke smuggled inside one container in a container ship? Or the old standby, smuggled in with 20 tons of marijuana? Maybe you could get a job writing for a TV show. Every week you come up with a new fantasy for how terrorists could attack us, and then you have the NSA catch them. Or maybe you could get a job writing those stories for a lobbyist who wants to increase funding….

    “I wish half the electorate didn’t have the right to vote (as long as I got to choose which half).”

    Whyever would you want that? When they think they can vote it makes them less dangerous. Which half of the electorate would you want to be *more* dangerous?

    “The idea of technology providing a permanent government that could never be removed or fixed is frightening, but so is the idea of a crazy person deciding to combine smallpox and ebola in his basement laboratory”

    Have you ever tried to get an Ebola sample? It’s *hard*. That stuff is so dangerous to researchers they’re paranoid about it. Smallpox is hard too, you’d probably do better to synthesize it from the code. Why would you expect them to go together? One is an RNA virus, the other DNA. But I’m probably looking at it in too much detail. I expect people in basement labs will be more dangerous by accident then on purpose. I don’t see anything to do about them.

    But about internet snooping — if we can’t suppress it, it should be available to everybody. The big power imbalances come when a few entities have a secret weapon. When anybody can do it, we adapt. If NSA makes all their data and analyses publicly available, it won’t be so dangerous.

  63. Random paranoid terrorist stuff response:

    “As a practical matter, they [political parties] would be given only what they have the most use for. Not more than they can handle.”
    My main point was that getting them data like that would be a nontrivial exercise in secrecy. And sending data to a political party is a completely different kind of secrecy in that everyone involved would know it was wrong, including those working inside the political party; and any one of those people could leak the secrets. Even political operatives have been known to have ethics, of a sort.

    “When it became plausible, there would be rumors that it happened whether it did or not.”
    Why was Snowden a big deal? Because he had proof. “Everyone knew” that the NSA tapped phone calls overseas/etc. The thing that pushed it over the edge in the press was the proof.

    “We have had detectors for nukes entering harbors for well over 40 years.”
    Yes, I know. I’d research what it would take to foil the detectors, but I don’t want to wind up on an NSA list. Joke. Sort of.
    The reason I chose Pakistan was as a smaller nuclear power with the potential for being taken over by zealots of one flavor or another. I skipped container ships because of.. well, other issues with container ships. I chose fishing trawler because everyone has heard of Russian fishing trawlers, but now-a-days a yacht would probably make more sense.
    All of that was a randomly chosen terrorist act by a nation state with the potential to impact lots of people. If I were planning an actual attack, I’d stick to areas I knew more about.

    “[You can easily come up with fantasy terrorist scenarios]..I think you give the NSA too much credit.”
    Of course I’m giving the NSA too much credit. But on the other hand I have had actual work experience in using big data to figure things out. Not spy things, but stuff. I think you are giving the NSA too little credit.

    “Have you ever tried to get an Ebola sample? It’s *hard*.”
    Once again, random example. Smallpox is a known highly contagious disease, Ebola a known highly deadly one with no vaccine. It wasn’t intended to be a practical, it was intended to give a flavor of scary. If you want practical, walk into a hospital and get a sample of MRSA and fiddle with weaponizing that.

    “I expect people in basement labs will be more dangerous by accident then on purpose. I don’t see anything to do about them.”
    Believe it or not, you can find people like that with the whole big data thing.

    Internet snooping response:

    “But about internet snooping — if we can’t suppress it, it should be available to everybody.”
    Hell no. It should be regulated to crap, and available to researchers and spies.

    “The big power imbalances come when a few entities have a secret weapon.”
    That’s why it shouldn’t be secret. I already said it shouldn’t be secret. My entire point was it shouldn’t be secret, that making it secret was a mistake, and it was exactly the sort of mistake you would expect a spy agency to make.

    “When anybody can do it, we adapt.”
    I see this a species of Heinlein’s “if everyone had a gun, the world would be a better place” argument. I always thought that was utter crap. In real life the faster draw is not always the better person, and there is a constantly renewing supply of mentally ill, depressed, or just plain obnoxious people. You think drunk driving is bad? Everyone having a gun would be a nightmare. Likewise everyone having access to unlimited data about everyone else.

    This whole big-data, internet snooping thing is and should be a political question, in the best sense of the word ‘political’. It would help if we didn’t have gerrymandered idiots in congress working on such questions, but that is a separate issue to be solved in a different forum.

  64. What is the Outlook for Future Social Security and Medicare Costs in Relation to GDP? One instructive way to view the projected costs of Social Security and Medicare is to compare the costs of scheduled benefits for the two programs with the gross domestic product (GDP), the most frequently used measure of the total output of the U.S. economy (Chart A). Under the intermediate assumptions employed in the reports and throughout this Summary, costs for both programs increase substantially through 2035 when measured this way because: (1) the number of beneficiaries rises rapidly as the baby-boom generation retires; and (2) the lower birth rates that have persisted since the baby boom cause slower growth of the labor force and GDP. Social Security’s projected annual cost increases to about 6.2 percent of GDP by 2035, declines to 6.0 percent by 2050, and remains between 6.0 and 6.2 percent of GDP through 2087. Under current law, projected Medicare cost rises to 5.6 percent of GDP by 2035, largely due to the rapid growth in the number of beneficiaries, and then to 6.5 percent in 2087, with growth in health care cost per beneficiary becoming the larger factor later in the valuation period.

  65. “I’d research what it would take to foil the detectors, but I don’t want to wind up on an NSA list. Joke. Sort of.”

    No joke at all. Unless it changes, people will need to develop that double-think. “Before I find out this piece of information, is it something the government would suspect me for trying to find out?”

    It’s important that our internet searches be above suspicion.

    “But about internet snooping — if we can’t suppress it, it should be available to everybody.”
    “Hell no. It should be regulated to crap, and available to researchers and spies.”

    Maybe you’re right. I’d want to see the evidence. Oh, you say I can’t see the evidence because the evidence is part of the stuff I shouldn’t see?

    “The big power imbalances come when a few entities have a secret weapon.”
    “That’s why it shouldn’t be secret.”

    You seem to be arguing that we should know they’re doing it, but we shouldn’t be able to do anything about it or do it ourselves.

    “When anybody can do it, we adapt.”
    “I see this a species of Heinlein’s “if everyone had a gun, the world would be a better place” argument. I always thought that was utter crap.”

    When something is very important and it gets restricted to an elite, that helps keep the elite an elite. Guns are a trivial example of that. It doesn’t much help to have a gun when it’s you against the SWAT team. But if one group can have them and another can’t, that maybe says something ugly.

    If extensive data on people is restricted to an elite, over time they *will* misuse it. Let everybody do it and we will adapt. We don’t need an elite slowing that adaptation.

  66. “Maybe you’re right. I’d want to see the evidence. Oh, you say I can’t see the evidence because the evidence is part of the stuff I shouldn’t see?”

    No, the evidence is something everyone should see; the data isn’t.

    Everyone should be allowed to own a knife? Yes.
    Everyone should be allowed to own a sword? Maybe.
    Everyone should be allowed to own a gun? No.
    Everyone should be allowed to own a nuclear weapon? Hell no.

    “You seem to be arguing that we should know they’re doing it, but we shouldn’t be able to do anything about it or do it ourselves.”
    We should know they are doing it, and we should not be able to do it ourselves. Being able to do something about them doing it is open to debate.

    “When something is very important and it gets restricted to an elite, that helps keep the elite an elite.”
    Here is where we have the difficulty: I don’t see our government as an ‘elite’ that gets to have and control stuff I don’t have. I don’t find the fact that they control our countries weapons of war scary, except to the extent we have to have them in the first place. I find it a little scary that the IRS has my tax records, but that is just because I know their security sucks.

    I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. There are always abuses of authority, and some are systemic, especially in the regulation of companies that need regulation. But I don’t think we as a people are in any imminent danger from that data, so long as everyone knows it is there, and we regulate the crap out of using it. Once you have a nice big bureaucracy built up around that regulation, I’ll feel more comfortable about it.

    Perhaps I am warped because my father worked in the government, gradually becoming a medium high level manager, but I met lots of people who worked in the government. They were just people, and they were far less controlled by their political ‘masters’ than you would think. They have a union. They are tough to fire when incompetent, and even more so when they are not. Overcoming that bureaucratic inertia to take control of the country… I just don’t see it happening quickly enough that the ship could not be righted prior to the success of the venture. You are jumping past that point to the point at which ‘they’ have already taken everything over. In that case, we would be screwed. But you can’t skip the actual process of doing it.

    I could see it happening in another country that has different traditions in their government, but not so much here.

  67. “Everyone should be allowed to own a knife? Yes.
    Everyone should be allowed to own a sword? Maybe.
    Everyone should be allowed to own a gun? No.”

    I don’t disagree. So let’s get rid of the guns. Every gun that doesn’t exist is a gun that can’t be used by somebody who shouldn’t have it.

    “Everyone should be allowed to own a nuclear weapon? Hell no.”

    OK, let’s get rid of the nukes. Every nation I trust to have nukes is a nation I trust never to use nukes, and which therefore doesn’t need them.

    “I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses.”
    “Perhaps I am warped….”

    It isn’t just government. Private businesses are storing lots of data and learning how to use it. We will have to adapt. Secrecy about the leading-edge technology holds us back.

    “I have had actual work experience in using big data to figure things out.”

    If you would tell us about that, it could surely be interesting.

  68. “So let’s get rid of the guns”
    Clearly not practical, at least not in the U.S. That we should not allow everyone to own a gun is, in any case, not the same question as not allowing anyone to own a gun. How to draw that line is fun work for politicians. When enough people have been killed, perhaps they will get around to it.

    “OK, let’s get rid of nukes”
    Heh. I was referring to individuals owning nukes, not nations. I cannot conceive of a situation where I would want individuals owning them. I’d love to get rid of them altogether, but I’d also love a sudden outbreak of world peace followed by a kick-ass beach party. Not going to happen.

    “If you would tell us about [big data work], it could surely be interesting.”
    Doubt it. It’s just trying to predict supply and demand so that there is enough widget ‘a’ in location ‘b’ . Lots of people are doing and have done variations on it in lots of industries.

    “It isn’t just government. Private businesses are storing lots of data…”
    Absolutely agree there, but the original topic was Snowden (i.e. government data). The type of data I’m willing to let the government (my government, in a “we the people” sense) have access to is not the same as that I want businesses to have access to. However, secrecy isn’t the problem there, it is lack of effective regulation.

    As for people having access to the same data as corporations, there are two problems. Infrastructure to deal with the data (your PC won’t handle it), and the bigger problem of data collection. Both could probably be solved sufficiently well to get usable data with NPR style “donate money to the cause” and “donate data to the cause” drives. It would be interesting to see how an “open source” style big-data setup would work. The data would probably be very unreliable if based on manual entry, but still usable.

    An example of how that could work?

    Your local grocery store probably has “join this club so we can track your purchases, and everyone who does gets discounts on some clearly marked items in the store”. It is a an obnoxious program in that the special discounts you get are pretty much the same prices you used to pay… it’s just everyone not in the program has to pay more. Printed on your receipt “you saved 33% using Safeway club!” And yet, I buy the same things and my total expenses for the week don’t seem to be 33% lower than they used to be. Or any lower, for that matter. It is a tax on people who don’t participate in giving away their data.

    Even worse, there are “private sales” where they target you and give you a ‘special’ price on items. A special price that no one else knows about. It is a short trip from there to being able to price things differently for every product and every consumer to maximize the profit you can make from them. How do you feel about the idea of going into a store, standing next to me in the checkout lane, buying exactly the same things I buy, and paying $20 more? Is that good for the country in any way at all?

    The reason it works for the store is that people don’t know what the ‘real’ price is or should be. Enter big data. If collectively people send in location, item, and price data a couple times a month there is an enormous amount of useful information that could be derived from it. It makes it much more difficult for the secret pricing strategies that are starting to emerge now, and gives data to people on where to go for the best deal on infrequently purchased items, and data to researchers who can derive who knows what useful information from it. It could even improve our ability to track inflation, and provide an extra check on the numbers the government puts out.

  69. “So let’s get rid of the guns”
    “Clearly not practical, at least not in the U.S.”

    It isn’t politically feasible because too many voters want guns. The mechanics of it are not difficult. We’d probably need to legalize some drugs and then use that prison space for gun offenders, for up to 10 years or so.

    “OK, let’s get rid of nukes”
    “Heh. I was referring to individuals owning nukes, not nations.”

    That’s easier than getting rid of US civilian guns. Nobody really wants nukes. Nobody wants to get into a nuclear war. Nobody wants to live with the consequences of winning a nuclear war against a nonnuclear nation. It’s just that everybody takes a nuclear nation more seriously. If the USA was willing to get rid of our nukes, probably everybody else would go along. We’re the biggest holdout. Not that making the world safe for conventional warfare would necessarily be entirely good….

    “The type of data I’m willing to let the government (my government, in a “we the people” sense) have access to is not the same as that I want businesses to have access to.”

    Businesses will collect whatever they can that they believe they can use or sell.

    “As for people having access to the same data as corporations, there are two problems.”

    Private companies which have the data could charge for it. Searches similar to previous searches should cost less. Or maybe I’m too out-of-date on the topic to see the problems.

  70. “Private companies which have the data could charge for it”
    The problems are competitive (they could use my data to see what I’m doing, to steal the best parts of my market, etc) and legal (you can use data on your own customers for yourself, but selling it is a whole ‘nother ball of wax).

  71. “Private companies which have the data could charge for it”
    “The problems are competitive (they could use my data to see what I’m doing, to steal the best parts of my market, etc)”

    The best competitor would not have that problem. If another competitor has to buy data from you to see how to outcompete you, they will not be a problem.

    “and legal (you can use data on your own customers for yourself, but selling it is a whole ‘nother ball of wax).”

    That will need to be changed.

    Amazon and Google etc can go into any businesses they want, and use their information advantage, and nobody can compete with them without building their own internet companies comparable to Amazon and Google? The peasants may revolt if they are denied their illusion of free enterprise.

  72. “The best competitor would not have [a problem selling their data]”
    Simply not true. You couldn’t pry out the really useful data with a lever from here to the moon.

  73. “The best competitor would not have [a problem selling their data]”

    “Simply not true. You couldn’t pry out the really useful data with a lever from here to the moon.”

    I don’t mean that they’d be willing to sell data without thinking it out first.

    I mean that it would not be enough for somebody else to outcompete them. If they have data on you, and you can get data on them, and the result is that you can outcompete them, that says they are not in fact the best.

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