Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Unbearable Rightness of Being Certain

Giving lie to the conventional wisdom that bipartisanship is dead, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today heaved her well-maintained self upon an increasingly crowded luxury bandwagon of Washington insiders, bull-horning to anyone who would listen: Bring Me the Head of Edward Snowden!

The more that the Democratic and Republican elites are joining hands in public to celebrate the death of the Constitution via massive domestic spying by the United States military, the more obvious it becomes that not only is the pseudoleft completely dead, it has been utterly replaced by the Big Righty Right.  If only we'd had PRISM before Nine Eleven, gushed Pelosi, we might have prevented Nine Eleven! This is what she burbled at a press con today:
"Certainly it would have improved the chances of doing that. I can't say with certainty that it would have, but it certainly would have improved the chance," she said. "It did give more opportunity to surveil."
Pelosi joins John Boehner, Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid and practically the whole Washington establishment in demanding that Edward Snowden be arrested and prosecuted for basically embarrassing the whole Washington establishment. They are, once again, blatantly acting in direct counterpoint to the mere citizens who elected them. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that at least a third of Americans consider Snowden a patriot, not a traitor, with another half unsure, and only a small minority believing he should be prosecuted. (this, despite the fact that a Gallup poll just a few days ago showed that half of us are not too bothered by being "surveilled" by the government. Maybe this will change as more people start paying attention.)

Meanwhile, yet another military poobah appeared before Congress yesterday to glibly claim that the National Security Agency spying apparatus has thwarted "dozens" of terrorist attacks. Naturally, he was not pressed for details or actual evidence. Names are being withheld to protect the nonexistent.

Meanwhile, not satisfied with calls for Snowden's arrest, resident Congressional xenophobe Peter King is also demanding the head of the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald,  When he made the outrageous McCarthyesque accusation that Greenwald intends to blow the cover of  CIA operatives, King was not pressed for details or actual evidence.

You can sometimes tell when generals and politicians are lying by their body language. The NSA's James Clapper, for example, nervously rubbed at his bald pate the entire time he lied to Congress. Other liars betray themselves by failure to make eye contact, rapid blinking and sweaty brows. But then there is that subset of psychopaths who are able to lie calmly and coolly because they lack a moral compass. They are the scariest of all.

And Peter King is in a class all by himself. His lies are debunkable because they're stupid. He only has to make his lips move to betray his mendacity. Here's Greenwald's takedown.

And here's John Oliver's takedown of the media coverage of Bring Me the Head of Edward Snowden.

With so many powerful movers and shakers trying to take us for a ride in their effort to declare the Constitution unconstitutional, we need all the takedowns we can get.



James F Traynor said...

At last! They admit it. They no longer fear us as voters. They don't have to. There are no unions (or jobs) left, no counterbalance to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They rule by an irrational fear of terrorism and now fear of them. Things are really going to get ugly. I'd hoped this could be done by reform within the Democratic Party but now this is out. Not even a glimmer of that hope remains.

What now? Who knows? Demonstrations? Look what came of OWS. I really think the country is finished. Were I reasonably young, or had enough money, I'd head for Australia. The best hope for the educated young is to emigrate

Jim - South Florida said...

Oh why why why why why won't some congresscritter stand up and shout back at Pelosi, "If only we'd had a sensible foreign policy before Nine Eleven, we might have prevented Nine Eleven!"

pete v said...


***flame alert***

Ron Paul is retired.

spreadoption said...

Okay, it's time for some spirit-liftin' to go along with our truth-exposing and revolution-planning (Well, two out of three, anyway).

Springsteen + Fogerty

Plus ca change... eh!

Jim - South Florida said...

Oh, Pete V, I'm not a Pauline. :)

Now we're going to arm the Syrian rebels, who are fighting against Russia-, Iran- and Lebanon-supported Assad. And are infested with fundamentalists. I wish peace, security and freedom to Syrians as much as anyone, but....

Pearl said...

What exactly does Ms. Pelosi mean by the following statement she made about the Snowden affair?

"It did give more opportunity to surveil." (referring to Prism) But she also suggested the administration's blanket sweep of domestic phone records was
not authorized by current law.

"That is not what either of these bills does, not the Patriot Act nor 702 [of the FISA law]," she said. "

Enlighten us, Karen. Just what is responsible for the administration's blanket sweep of domestic phone records? Thank you.

Karen Garcia said...


I can only assume that there are many more revelations about more programs and mystery laws yet to come. Greenwald has intimated as much. Pelosi sounds muddled by the secrecy oath screaming inside her head.

One point that Dana Priest made in "Top Secret America" is that the surveillance state is so vast that no one person actually knows all of what's in it. No one person is in charge. If a president did nothing else for his entire term in office, he could never learn all there is to know about it. It has become a living entity feeding upon itself and growing, growing, growing, all the time. Like the Blob.

The only solution I can see is for Congress to cut off the food supply. Fat chance, since their jobs depend on the money continuously flowing.

Anonymous said...

Bob Reich's column this evening provided some words of warmth for me.



Jay - Ottawa said...

Should we be worried? No postings from Glenn Greenwald in “The Guardian” since Sunday, five days ago. Where in the world is GG? Under the floorboards of a sampan plying its way to Iceland with Snowden also hidden on board?

Still no fresh revelations about the NSAees, which had been promised by “The Guardian.” A couple of days ago the NYT said the Hong Kong police probably know exactly where Snowden is since he checked out of the hotel and will probably arrest him prior to complying with the US request for extradition. Is this the inevitable denouement in store for us, or has Snowden given them the slip, still one step ahead of everybody else?

I keep dialing GG and EJS, but they probably threw their smart phones in the harbor for some reason.

annenigma said...


I had the same concerns about Glenn's postings, but you need only go to Glenn's twitter feed at to see he is still very busy, mostly doing interviews on the the national media circuit. That in itself is good news. He has good links on his Twitter site too relating to the Snowden/Spygate affair.

Jay - Ottawa said...


Thanks for that reassurance. Another debility of old age: I am twitterless and teeveeless and facebookless.

After I sent my flare up over Sardonicky, I circled back to "The Guardian" for the third time this morning. Bingo!.

From one of GG's paragraphs about Democrats trying to refocus attention on nonessentials like the whistleblower and the reporter:

"But that won't happen. The documents and revelations are too powerful. The story isn't me, or Edward Snowden, or the eagerness of Democratic partisans to defend the NSA as a means of defending Preisdent Obama, and try as they might, Democrats won't succeed in making the story be any of those things. The story is the worldwide surveillance apparatus the NSA is constructing in the dark and the way that has grown under Obama, and that's where my focus is going to remain."

Still, in light of what Karen reported above about the ire of key DC leaders against Snowden, I worry about him and Greenwald. I read elsewhere that the FBI is in the process of drafting criminal charges. And the UK just announced it won't give sanctuary to Snowden.

The so-called left is jabbing elbows into neighbors in their ranks. See Greenwald's column again about an article critical of him in "The Nation," of all places. Our beloved NYTeX, meanwhile, front-pages an interview dripping with lawyerly dismissiveness on the import of Snowden's revelations.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

With surveillance in the news, here's the anecdote I promised about surveillance of my parents during their visit to the Soviet Union in the early '70s:

At the time, my father worked in U.S. government civil service, for the U.S. Navy, and my parents decided to take a tour to the Soviet Union. (Given his position, he undoubtedly had to notify the U.S. government, perhaps even obtain permission). And he considered the possibility of surveillance, so at no time during the trip would he "talk shop". Anyway, in one hotel room during the trip, my parents apparently mentioned aloud to each other a variety of things wrong with the room, including lack of a "backup" roll of toilet paper, a curtain that didn't close properly, a bulb in a table lamp that had blown out, and a variety of other things that I don't now remember. At some point, they went down to dinner. Upon returning to the room, all the items they mentioned, including some not immediately obvious, had "magically" been fixed!

What should one make of that? Clearly, it was not the expected result of probable surveillance, it seems more like what one would expect from a surveillor "unclear of the concept". Yet it happened. It was far enough along in their trip that any surveillance probably realized by then that my father was not going to say anything of any use. So perhaps it was a message of intimidation, i.e. "We're watching you, don't (for example) meet with any dissidents".

I bring up this anecdote because I think modern U.S. surveillance operates according to the exact same rationale, even if different in the specific methods. That is, surveil, and collect as much information as possible. Additionally, intimidate. For the powers that be, it's a win-win situation. For the people, and our supposed democratic republic, it's lose-lose.

By the way, a watch that they purchased there as a souvenir quit working within a few weeks. Just as many parts of the U.S. infrastructure no longer work properly --- while, like the Soviets, we devote way too much of our national resources to militarism and surveillance.

James F Traynor said...


Loved your comment in today's Krugman. And apparently so did a lot of other people. You can bet your ass you're on a list somewhere as are some or all of us commenters. Nom de plumes won't help in this game.

Zee said...


An hilarious story of “not-quite-ready-for-prime-time” surveillance!

Like your father, I would have had to have special permission to travel to the Soviet Union—later, Russia and all the other off-shoots of the Soviet Union. So I never went to those places, and now, in retirement, probably never will just because of old concerns as to who may still be watching.

Not that I have any secrets to divulge, but who knows what Kafka-esque series of events might converge to put me in a difficult—if utterly unwarranted—position? Better safe than sorry.

Be that as it may, and knowing and trusting myself as I did, I worried far less about any foreign efforts to seduce or spy on me than about my own organization's “counter-intelligence unit's” efforts to trip me up during the latter portion of my career, post-Wen Ho Lee.

We used to joke about the unit's “Rat Out Your Buddy” on-line training programs, but never directly to management's face. Outspoken though I might have been, that was one area in which I never "messed around."

After I retired, one of my former colleagues finally made that mistake, and spent quite some time on the corporate security organization's “rack” until he was once again deemed “fit to serve.”

While I continue to try to maintain my anonymity on the web, as James Traynor says, it's probably a waste of time where Uncle Surveillance is concerned.

Still, it may keep the ordinary, civilian, whacko snooper from suddenly appearing on my doorstep with some bone or other to pick with me.

One does what one can.

Zee said...

And on the subject of surveillance, it appears that CBS News has confirmed that both personal and corporate computers belonging to one of its reporters, Sharyl Attkisson, have been "hacked."

It remains to be seen who did the hacking, but Attkisson, who has reported in depth on ATF's "Fast and Furious" cross-border, gun-walking scandal, as well as upon the events surrounding the Benghazi massacre, is no darling of the current, surveillance-obsessed administration.

Neil Gillespie said...

Have the D.C. movers and shakers read about privacy and the Fourth Amendment, lately?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Pearl said...

Neil: I suggest you send an official copy of the Fourth Amendment to our President with a note as follows:

Mr. President, I am sending you this article re. the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution in case you missed reading it due to your hectic schedule.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. John Smith
Main Street
Any State, U.S.A.

Neil Gillespie said...

Thanks Pearl. In the past I have written to our President, which letter was either ignored, or answered by someone else with predictable talking points. To get the actual attention of our President, and to receive a response from Him, I understand that requires making a campaign donation in an amount that would support me for many years in my modest lifestyle.

Our President, as a former Constitutional law professor, knows more about the Fourth Amendment than me anyway. So how can our President allow Constitutionally-protected rights to be reduced to a ‘parchment guarantee’? (a term favored by Justice Scalia)

From the NYT February 6, 2012, "‘We the People’ Loses Appeal With People Around the World", see the last sentence.

"...Justice Antonin Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. "Every banana republic in the world has a bill of rights," he said.

"The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours," he said, adding: "We guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Big deal. They guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of street demonstrations and protests, and anyone who is caught trying to suppress criticism of the government will be called to account. Whoa, that is wonderful stuff!"

"Of course," Justice Scalia continued, "it’s just words on paper, what our framers would have called a ‘parchment guarantee.’"

Seems like our Constitution has become a banana republic ‘parchment guarantee’ too.

Zee said...


I seem to recall that you are an attorney yourself, though I could not verify that through your website. Something seems not to be working quite right there.

But if my recollection is correct, why would you defer to Barack Obama on matters Constitutional? (Unless you were being sarcastic, which is sometimes lost on me.)

The guy is a faux "Constitutional lawyer" who has never published a scholarly law article in his life, let alone, on Constitutional law! Nor has he ever even argued a case before the Supreme Court.

And besides, he was only an adjunct perfesser at that, meaning that he was a part-timer at the University of Chicago, picking up that annoying classroom time that cut into the “real” scholars' research work.

Obama's entire stint at University of Chicago Law School, along with the myth that he was any kind of real “Constitutional law scholar,” was a fraud perpetrated on the American people—particularly the Left—which they gobbled up like pigs at the slop trough. (And that does a serious injustice to pigs, who are a damned sight smarter than that.)

You know far more about Constitutional law than Obama—if, indeed, he knows anything at all about the subject—but then I suspect that you already know that, 'cause I'm a sucker for your sarcasm!

Zee said...

I wish I could say that I'm surprised that there's a whole private surveillance industry—apparently legal—that is dedicated to (1) spying on various segments of society on behalf of their equally-private employers, (2) developing “astroturfing software” to sway public opinion, (3) falsely tarnishing the reputations and credibility of other individuals and organizations, and (4), God knows what-all else, all for the purpose of profit.

But, based on a lifetime of experience, I'm not.

I'm not prepared to offer hard evidence as to what percentage of the human population is just plain bad—or ready to be bad if the price is right, but it's not vanishingly small; based on my experience, it's a significant fraction.

In addition to the garden-variety thieves, fraudsters and killers that plague America, we now know that there are plenty of bad guys—who may even think that they are good guys—who are willing to spy on their neighbors for fun and profit, all on the government payroll.

Then, there's the sub-swarm of government contractors working for Uncle Surveillance, who are doing the same thing because there aren't enough Feds to go around. All of them “cleared” to read your e-mails and listen in on your 'phone calls simply when the spirit moves someone higher up the food chain, with an even higher clearance, to order them to do so.

“We don't need no stinking warrants!”

Meanwhile, government's so-call “trusted partners,” other private corporations, feed information to the Feds and the contractors about their own hardware and software's vulnerabilities, which helps Uncle Surveillance to better spy on us.

Because I love the metaphor so much, I once again return to pete v.'s “Möbius” strip of human nature and the nature of human government.”

It may not keep you awake at night, but it certainly does so for me.

Zee said...

And then, of course, there's Obama's private, extra-legal army:

"The men from Blackwater USA arrived in New Orleans right after Katrina hit...

When asked what authority they were operating under, one guy said, 'We're on contract with the Department of Homeland Security.' Then, pointing to one of his comrades, he said, 'He was even deputized by the governor of the state of Louisiana. We can make arrests and use lethal force if we deem it necessary.' The man then held up the gold Louisiana law enforcement badge he wore around his neck. Blackwater spokesperson Anne Duke also said the company has a letter from Louisiana officials authorizing its forces to carry loaded weapons...

With President Bush using the Katrina disaster to try to repeal Posse Comitatus (the ban on using U.S. troops in domestic law enforcement) and Blackwater and other security firms clearly initiating a push to install their paramilitaries on U.S. soil, the [Iraqi] war is coming home in yet another ominous way. As one Blackwater mercenary said, 'This is a trend. You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations.'"

"Up against the wall, disaster survivor! We're the good guys, come to save you from yourself!"

Fred Drumlevitch said...


With regard to your thoughts that "a significant fraction" "of the human population is just plain bad --- or ready to be bad if the price is right", I have to agree. But the last part of your statement --- the "if the price is right" --- is a big caveat. And there are others. Sometimes the "price" (that is, incentive or reward) is not money, but power, status, prestige. Sometimes it's a deep unit cohesion --- which is what militaries try to develop and then manipulate. Sometimes it's the mass psychosis of crowds, as with lynch mobs or rioters. Sometimes it's the delusion of "belonging" to something "greater", Nazi rallies as well as modern American political ones, both Republican AND Democratic, spring to mind.

How much "badness" is truly innate, as opposed to conditioned by the various types of incentives and rewards operating in modern societies, is a difficult question to answer, but the detrimental modern societal forces are substantial. Unfettered capitalism, with everyone only looking out for himself, is certainly one of those forces, but it would be naive to place all blame there.

The ultimate question that any society that wants to operate with decency and freedom must answer is how those harmful forces --- internal and external --- can be dissuaded or controlled without the cure becoming worse than the disease.

Nowadays, though, that issue isn't even been considered. We're moving rapidly in the wrong direction, empowering badness in a multitude of different ways rather than attempting to diminish it.

By the way, Snowden was probably considered the ideal employee for the surveillance state: little formal education, and therefore little formal exposure to the humanities, literature, history, political thought. Yet he seems highly thoughtful, and in his revelations certainly has done the right thing. It'd be interesting to know how he came to his humanistic-political consciousness. You can bet that the system is right now scrutinizing his past reading material, film and television viewing habits, friends, and everything they can lay their hands on, for insight into his transformation --- and so they can factor it into a "principal component analysis" to be applied to current and future employees. Perhaps the powers-that-be will find that Sardonicky was on his reading list!

Neil Gillespie said...


No, I am not an attorney, and I did not go to law school. (my degrees are in business and psychology). I just point out that our President, as a former Constitutional law professor, knows more about the Fourth Amendment than me, because I am not an attorney, and I did not go to law school. I do not defer to him on the Constitution, just acknowledge his legal training, which may be overstated as you note.

One problem with lawyers and the legal mind, a law degree is a narrow field of study, and it does not make one qualified and competent on every topic. Yet increasingly lawyers and the legal mind are running our country (into the ditch). Many federal and state senators and congress people are lawyers, which tends to shut out other viewpoints and more efficient ways of doing things, including governing.

For an explanation of this phenomenon, see Dennis Jacobs, The Secret Life of Judges, 75 Fordham L. Rev. 2855 (2007). Available at:

Below are some out takes from The Secret Life of Judges. Dennis Jacobs is Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"...I sometimes think that the problem at bottom is really a lack of respect by lawyers for other people. Judges live chiefly in a circle of lawyers....

But outside that circle there are people who are just as fully absorbed by other pursuits that deserve consideration and respect. Judges need a heightened respect for how nonlawyers solve problems, reach compromises, broker risks, and govern themselves and their institutions. There are lawyers on the one hand; and just about everybody else is the competition in the framing of values and standards of behavior.

In that competition, judicial bias has eroded the independence and influence of doctors, medical administrators, insurance underwriters, engineers, manufacturers, the military, the police, wardens and corrections officers, the clergy, employers, and teachers and principals....

Another consequence of biased vision is the assumption that if something is of great importance, it can be safely left to lawyers. That is fine when it comes to statutory interpretation and such, but lawyers lack humility in approaching great matters. As judges, we tend to assume that adversarial hearings and expert testimony will render the judge omni-competent and fit to decide the great questions, and that a legal mind is the highest and most useful development of mental capacity.

The legal mind is indispensable to lawyering, and for other purposes it is perfectly okay in its way. But it has its limitations. For example, every problem-solving profession-except ours--quickly adopts as preferred the solution that is simplest, cheapest, and most efficacious, or (as they say)
elegant. Also, our legal mind is invasive: It has institutional advantages for subordinating other modalities of thought, and it presses those advantages. And it is triumphalist about its expansions of influence. The uninitiated, who lack the legal mind, are harnessed to our purposes as jurors or are put to the margins. What nonlegal professionals think can be dismissed as arbitrary and capricious, or (if needed to assist the legal process) can be classified as expert opinion, to be weighed by us and by our standards.

The legal mind can hold its own with the competition in terms of rigor; I have one, and I make no apology for it. But at least I have come to admit that, depending on the question, the legal mind may be insufficient or may be inferior to the moral imagination; the scientific method; the practical arts of healing, politics, and entrepreneurship; the promptings of loyalty, faith, and patriotism; and the experience and expertise found elsewhere and among others...

As a matter of self-awareness and conscience, judges should accept that the legal mind is not the best policy instrument, and that lawyer-driven processes and lawyer-centered solutions can be unwise, insufficient, and unjust, even if our friends and colleagues in the legal profession lead us that way...

Jay - Ottawa said...

@Neil (and the rest of you still hanging back in this discussion)

First, the old joke:
Q. What’s 100 lawyers in a steel box at the bottom of the ocean?
A. Well, it’s a start.

Thanks for bringing forward Judge Jacobs’ wise counsels about the limitations of his guild. Now that you and he mention it, we probably are where we are because the undue influence of lawyers.

Our trinitarian founding document, the US Constitution, not only makes the cream of the lawyerly lot co-equal, what is more important is that the Supreme Court (historically mostly lawyers most of the time) have the last say on just about every subject affecting the rest of the population. There are great exceptions but, as I read Jacobs, in general the education and practice of most lawyers may have toughened up their brains but it also tends to have hardened their hearts.

The law is the right arm of money in so many cases. Thus by putting lawyers into affairs as final arbiters, we’re merely strengthening the hand of Wall Streeters and their many wannabes. One longs for the wisdom of alternate thinking depicted in secular literature and even some humane religious writers.

In a way, we in the US are in somewhat the same bind as Iran. Iran has a mature politics, an advanced educational system and a mighty long history of accomplishments. But the whole damn machinery of their government – elections and laws and bureaucracy – is overseen and can be overturned at will by a handful of religious worthies who, as our with our supremes, have the last say on just about everything for everybody.

Iranians in the street are pushing back against the mullahs as best they can, and so should we push back against the lawyers. How about at least three to five, or maybe all, of the justices’ seats being reserved for non-lawyers? But then from which fields, and which people within those fields are not compromised by their own narrow disciplines and by ladder climbing and, once again, by money? At the top we need savants who are intentionally un-rich and from a variety of humane disciplines –– with lawyers, if we must have lawyers, employed as mere technicians.

Neil Gillespie said...

@Jay - Ottawa

Interesting comparison with Iran and its mullahs, you are on the right track. Unfortunately the rule of law is one of our religions in America.

The problem of lawyers in elected office was recognized long-ago, the so-called missing Thirteenth Amendment, titles of nobility. See the Mother Jones story March 4, 2013, "N.H. Republican Lawmakers Allege Missing Constitutional Amendment Was Purposely Deleted in 1871"

"For 142 years, the federal government has kept a secret: A little-known constitutional amendment, designed to prevent people with "titles of nobility" from holding public office, was ratified in 1819 before being deleted from the document as part of a conspiracy by power-hungry lawyers and bankers. But the original 13th Amendment is technically still on the books; we just don't know it."

Apart from the so-called missing Thirteenth Amendment, the Constitution itself contains a similar prohibition. See U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, clause 1, the contracts clause, "No State shall...grant any Title of Nobility". States grant a license to practice law, whereby lawyers, known loosely in America as "Esquire" or "Esq.", automatically become "officers of the court" and essentially have a Title of Nobility. A license to practice law, in my opinion, is an asset worth millions of dollars. Among other things, it allows lawyers to collect "extraordinary rents", an expression used by Theodore Franks, an attorney who posted a story at Point of, "Stop complaining about the legal job market".

Franks ends his piece with this: "But stop whining. The minute you become a member of the bar, you're a member of a cartel that permits extraordinary rents. And with 21st-century technology, you don't need a lot of help to make it out on your own."

I disagree with Judge Jacobs on one point raised in his essay "The Secret Lives of Judges" (perhaps my only disagreement), this statement:

"The military types (I am not one) seem to control themselves through a concept of honor. Maybe judges should consider their example. I concede that a country could do worse than suffer rule by lawyers: I would prefer a tyranny of law to life under a military regime. But outside our professional sphere, the dominance of the legal profession and the judiciary is resented more than we appreciate."

What happened to rule of the PEOPLE and by the PEOPLE? Not a military junta, and not the rule of lawyers, but a "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" as described by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address.

While Lincoln was a lawyer, he did not attend law school, but was self-taught. For many years after the Constitution was signed, until about WWI, this was not unusual. Today almost every lawyer must be a graduate of a law school approved by the American Bar Association. Critics claim this leaves many new law graduates with big student loans, often in six-figures.

Also see Philip K. Howard and Howard is a lawyer, and author of several books on this subject, including "Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America"

But as a practical matter, good luck getting lawyers and the rule of law out of our lives.

Zee said...


As it turns out that you're NOT a lawyer, I can safely follow Jay with another "lawyer joke:"

Q: What's the definition of a "legal education?"

A: A special form of brain damage.

The excerpts from the article by Judge Jacobs are spot-on. I look forward to reading the entire article, which I have printed off.

The arrogance of many lawyers reminded me of something that I saw as I skimmed The Limits of Power for other purposes recently.

It was a lawyer, Douglas Feith—perhaps the most arrogant and feckless of the Pentagon officials who "planned" the Iraq debacle—who headed up the Office of Special Plans, whose intelligence analysis of the situation in Iraq was entirely wrong, but which provided Dubya with all the bogus or slanted “intel” that he needed to justify a pre-emptive war.

General Tommy Franks, who had his own failings as a general, described Feith as “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet.”

Let's hear it for the lawyers.


I like your assessment of lawyers as “mere technicians.”

Anonymous said...

"By the way, Snowden was probably considered the ideal employee for the surveillance state: little formal education, and therefore little formal exposure to the humanities, literature, history, political thought. Yet he seems highly thoughtful, and in his revelations certainly has done the right thing."

I think so highly of what you write, but you really missed the boat on this one. Even an Ivy League education is so highly specialized these days, and the focus is so much on prep for GMAT, MCAT, etc., that very few Ivy League grads get anything resembling the humanities.

I've written before that the high-GPA Ivy Leaguers I've worked for couldn't tell Robespierre from Rabelais. But it's worse than that - they can't tell Thersites from Thucydides.

A refusal to teach the basic principles of the first democracy - and it was in many ways an extreme version of it - is tightly linked with acceptance of the security state.

One last point: some of the most insatiably inquisitive people I've met came out of the Marine Corps, and most of them had little education beyond high school. But unlike the "meritocrats" who populate the Ivies, they were actually interested - in a starry-eyed kind of way - in the Great Books cannon.

They never assumed (unlike the "meritocracy") that they understood everything, and their humility in approaching these works was really refreshing. Their exposure to a "lower" class of people, rather than an insular bubble, also enriched their understanding of these works.

Zee said...


Here, I think that you may have misunderstood what Fred was saying.

"Snowden was probably considered the ideal employee [by the likes of Booz Allen] for the surveillance state: little formal education, and therefore little formal exposure to the humanities, literature, history, political thought. Yet he seems highly thoughtful, and in his revelations certainly has done the right thing."

From this I infer that what Fred was saying is that though Booz Allen may have thought of Snowden as an "ideal" employee, he turned out--against the odds calculated by Booz Allen--to be exactly like one of your "insatiably curious" Marines who lacked much in the form of formal education, but had/have minds that ask questions and demand answers.

Never having had an Ivy League education--though I once worked at one of those universities and didn't think all that much of the place--I can't speak to the kind of education that they now offer.

But I can attest to the power of an inquiring mind--and sheer aptitude--over a formal education.

One of the "technicians" that worked in my laboratory should damn' well have been a staff member, save for his lack of credentials. But he was brilliant and persistently curious.

He was up-to-date on every measurement technology available, and his knowledge of data-acquisition software was encyclopedic. Indeed, what he coded was far better than any commercial product.

He made me--and other staffers--look very good, and I did my very best to make him look good, too, right up until my retirement.

Sadly, he passed away shortly after I did so, but I have never forgotten that a mere degree alone does not confer talent.

Anonymous said...


Thanks, I understand, but where I feel Fred's subtlety failed (and it's a minor point in relative terms) was in not making explicit what seems obvious to those of us who labor for the "meritocracy":

HAD Snowden been amenable to a formal education, the conformity of current system of higher education would likely have obliterated his appetite for truth-telling. The current system looks a lot more like the Chinese Civil Servant examinations of centuries past. Essentially, an exercise in creating automatons amenable to the powers that be. Or like the baccalaureat of the late 19th the 20th centuries, which had a habit of failing great minds like Zola.

(Ellsberg was an entirely different kind of man, from another era of American higher ed, he was more like a William Binney. Or Drake. IMO, The beauty of Ellsberg is his appreciation for Snowden and his ilk.)

I like hearing about your curious staffer. I wonder whether he would have been happy or unhappy with a promotion where, say, he had to manage people. Such tasks require maybe a different kind of curiosity.

By the way, I have a feeling I know something of Snowden's possible "low-brow" but nevertheless thought-provoking reading habits. I'll write about that later.

Anonymous said...

BTW, just want to suggest amid all this lawyer-bashing:

Glenn Greenwald is a lawyer. Et sans Greenwald, no Snowden.

Lincoln was a lawyer. Bill Kunstler was a lawyer. Cohn, that lady who runs the ETF, is a lawyer. Michelle Alexander and Ron Kuby are lawyers.

Medgar Evans, I believe, was a lawyer.

I could name quite a few scientists, business leaders, physicians and others who have soiled their respective professions. But it would be as irrelevant as lawyer-bashing.

Neil Gillespie said...

@Anonymous and "lawyer-bashing"

Your comment suggests you either did not read or understand the posts on the legal mind and its harm to society, or the essay by Dennis Jacobs. That is unfortunate, but you are not alone in your uninformed opinion. This is a root problem in our broken society, one not being discussed in a meaningful way. We do not have a properly functioning legal system. Instead, we imprison more of our own citizens per capita than any country. The old productive manufacturing jobs (long since shipped elsewhere) have been replaced by criminal industry jobs. But any profit on locking up people is short-sighted, and a ruinous public policy for our country.

Your reference to "lawyer-bashing" reminds me of those who cry "class-warfare" as a gratuitous put-down to any legitimate discussion of economic disparity.

Medgar Evans was not a lawyer, but a business major and civil rights activist. Glenn Greenwald no longer practices law, he is a journalist. The late Bill Kunstler was a radical civil rights lawyer, and by definition not part of the narrow legal mindset that is harming our country. I suppose Greenwald fit that role when he was practicing. Michelle Alexander is the author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." That is fine. The problem lies with those greater numbers in the profession who wrote and enforced the original Jim Crow laws, or the greater number in the profession currently perpetuating the New Jim Crow. Outliers are the exception to the rule.

Don’t know "Cohn, that lady who runs the ETF", but it doesn’t matter. This problem is not about individual lawyers, or a few beneficial radicals and progressives in the profession. It is about the majority, the narrow legal mindset that finds a way to make usurious loans lawful and legitimate, or finds a way to kill citizens by extrajudicial drone strike. Or finds a way to skirt the Fourth Amendment and invade privacy as a matter of public policy. Corruption is now written into the law by far greater numbers in the profession.

My comments show Lincoln was a self-taught lawyer who had the right idea, a "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" described in his Gettysburg Address. Today we are very far from that ideal.

Jay - Ottawa said...


Nothing against any particular lawyer. Like some rare PhD's, the relatively few noble lawyers manage to rise above the training, socialization and general impulse of their guild. The majority are dull hacks, buttressed by very clever rascals in the corporate suits, adding to the burdens of common people.

The complaint was about their excessive, balance-tipping presence across the political landscape and their tendency to mob key public institutions for their own benefit.

Wouldn't you say that Greenwald and the others you list – did you mean to leave out Ralph Nader? – are exceptions to the rule?

Anonymous said...


1) I would never disagree that the legal system is broken. For that I would blame the legal profession, but in terms of our present extraordinary rates of incarceration, a point established by lawyer and law professor Michelle Alexander, I would certainly give equal if not more blame to law enforcement lobbies, private prison lobbies, taser manufacturers, et cetera. Oh, and businessmen who profit off of prison labor. And psychologists and health care workers who are often paid extraordinary salaries to work within the penal system. All stand to profit off of prisoners' misery.

2) You state that Greenwald "no longer practices law" as if this means his legal training has nothing to do with his particular skill. You also describe him as a "journalist", a point which he would probably take issue with.

We might ask ourselves: "Why is it that Karen writes what she writes, and Glenn Greenwald writes what he writes?" Because as much as they may agree, their approach is entirely different.

I would suggest that is at least in part because Karen's background was as a reporter/journalist. She is currently a blogger. She is a hell of a writer, and an important voice.

Greenwald's background was as a corporate lawyer. In Greenwald's own words from the recent NYT profile:

“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”

Mr. Greenwald’s writings at The Guardian — and before that, for Salon and on his own blog — can resemble a legal brief, with a list of points, extended arguments and detailed references and links. As Andrew Sullivan, a frequent sparring partner and sometime ally, put it, “once you get into a debate with him, it can be hard to get the last word.”

(end quote)

Without that legal training, Greenwald could not do what he does. I love Zee's and Fred's writing, but as scientists, they do mot have the rich understanding of the law to write what Greenwald does.

(I'm typing on a handheld, so I'll continue in the next numbered comment.)

Anonymous said...

(cont. to Neil)

3) It is very interesting to me that you take such particular aim at the legal profession, without seeming to acknowledge that other sectors may be just as, if not more, broken.

Let me provide two rather obvious examples: the finance sector and the military, both of which, arguably, have done more harm than Joe Blow the public defender or even Joe Blow the corporate attorney.

But wait - here's another very broken sector: the US healthcare system which, despite all those brilliant, non-lawyer MD's, remains the most expensive system in the world with, truly, the shittiest results.

Is that all the fault of physicians? No, obviously not. It is what we call "multifactorial", Neil. US doctors work in a for-profit system that rewards them not for preventing disease, but for treating it. There is actually no incentive, beyond the personal, for doctors to make people well. That is why you do not see the AMA demand that children get nutritious school lunches and an aggressive physical education, even though states are going broke treating T2 Diabetes and heart disease. How is it that doctors escaped your ire, Neil? Interesting.

I have interviewed the staff of our local public defender's office. They're making about $30K annually, and they're some of the smartest, hardest-working people I know. They have taken on some of our city's most corrupt police, and they have - metaphorically - balls of steel, even the women.

In cities across America, Neil, there are public-interest lawyers busting their asses for people like me and you. And guess who else is a bunch of lawyers? The ACLU.

So perhaps we should consider that the lawyer-bashing (let's call that part of it for what it is) that took place here today is, at best, misguided.

It lumps an entire set of workers under one hateful banner, instead of looking at all the factors that come to play.

Zee said...


I'll look forward to your thoughts on Snowden's "reading list."

I doubt that my colleague would have really enjoyed a "promotion," but he certainly could have used the boost in pay--and would have deserved it.

Sadly, in the organization which employed us both, salaries and promotions were increasingly constrained by degree in our latter years there.

And I doubt that my colleague would have suffered gladly the fools who thought they knew ever so much more than him because they had a degree that attested to vast knowledge about a very narrow area of study.

Neil Gillespie said...

@Anonymous and "lawyer-bashing"

"I would never disagree that the legal system is broken. For that I would blame the legal profession..."

Thank you Anonymous for acknowledging that the legal system is broken and the fault lies with the profession. Given we agree on that point, I do not understand your replies. Yes, issues may have "multifactorial" causes, but the objective evidence shows a broken legal system is the main cause. Also, you are mistaken when you refer to lawyers as "an entire set of workers". Lawyers are not "workers". Lawyers are officers of the court, educated professionals, part of a protected guild, and one of the highest paid occupations in America. A law license is worth millions of dollars to a competent attorney.

As I wrote before, this is not about individual lawyers, it is about the broken legal system at the hands of the profession, and what that means for our country and economy. Perhaps you do not understand the connection between law, finance and the economy. A good place to begin is the ABA Law News Now, Dec-18-2008, "How Did Lawyers Enable the Meltdown?"

"In the game of blame that followed the deepest financial implosion since the Great Depression, bankers and money managers have borne their share of attention. But how much blame should lawyers bear? Plenty."

"As legislators, they helped remove restrictions on commercial banks that allowed them to get involved with subprime mortgage-backed securities."

"As regulators, they allowed leverage at investment banks to increase largely unchecked. As judges, they made it harder for shareholders to bring suits to stop the financial shenanigans."

"As counsel, their legal opinions gave sanction to deals that, in the words of the analysts behind them, "could have been structured by cows.""

By the way, the Glass-Steagall Act (1933) was a 34-page document that protected the economy from 1933-1999 until the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act repealed Glass-Steagall in 1999. Subsequent legislation, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, is thousands of pages, due to increased involvement in financial matters by the complexity-loving legal profession.

One problem with the profession is self-regulation, which does not work. To understand why not, read Dave Marston’s book Malice Aforethought. Marston is a former U.S. Attorney, and Harvard Law grad. The book is very readable, and accurate. Published in 1991, the profession has gotten worse. The model rules of professional conduct shown in the book are essentially the same now as in 1991.

"They all have undergone the same tough initiation, and once admitted to membership, all have sworn the same oath. They live by their own rules and have fiercely resisted efforts by outsiders to penetrate their clan. The have a code of silence that makes the Mafia’s dreaded omerta seem gossipy. And while the organization rigidly limits the operations of its members to their assigned turf, their criminal activities within these areas are surprisingly varied." (Page 22, paragraphs 4 & 5)

"The organization enforces its own discipline, and outsiders can piece together only the most fragmentary picture of the process. But while hard statistics about crime and misconduct by its members remain elusive, there has unquestionably been a sharp escalation in recent years" (Page 23, paragraph 2)

"In every state, the organization has tentacles that reach into the legislature, as well as intimate knowledge of the local criminal justice system. Laws that might threaten operations are vigorously opposed, and when members are convicted of crimes, punishments are often lenient." (Page 23, paragraph 4)

"It’s not the Mafia. Not the Medellin drug cartel…The members are all lawyers. And the organization is the American legal profession." (Pages 23-24)

Neil Gillespie said...

@Anonymous and "lawyer-bashing" (continued)

It is unclear why you are upset that I wrote Glenn Greenwald is currently a journalist and not a practicing lawyer. The fact that Greenwald worked "at the high-powered New York firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he represented large corporate clients." [NYT June 6, 2013] does not lend bona fides to working or middle class interests. However I am glad Greenwald is no longer serving corporate overlords, and found journalism, which is a higher calling, in my opinion. His approach to journalism you described is just a spin on the term "investigative journalism".

Your disparagement of doctors is misplaced. Ambulance-chasing lawyers reportedly drive up the cost of medical care, along with doctors who must practice costly defensive medicine. There are arguments on each side of this issue, but one thing is certain: Medical malpractice litigation is expensive, adversarial, unpredictable, and inefficient.

Even Judge Jacob wrote: "judicial bias has eroded the independence and influence of doctors, medical administrators, insurance underwriters, engineers, manufacturers, the military, the police, wardens and corrections officers, the clergy, employers, and teachers and principals...."

"In cities across America, Neil, there are public-interest lawyers busting their asses for people like me and you. And guess who else is a bunch of lawyers? The ACLU."

You have a misunderstanding of the ACLU, and so-called public-interest lawyers. Generally, the ACLU does not directly represent people. Instead, the ACLU looks for a member lawyer to take a case, which is often, but not always, limited to litigation that provides an award of attorney’s fees. Private lawyers who take public-interest lawsuits on a contingent fee basis operate in a similar fashion. This is not to discount their work, it can be valuable. But cases can also be wasteful when certain lawyers use the same "professional plaintiffs" to sue others on minor technical grounds, then hope to extort a settlement rather than pay for a legal defense.

Law is amoral. Foreclosure mills are law firms employed by banks, specializing in the speedy processing of foreclosures, often through deceptive and unconstitutional proceedings where homeowners loose due process, and their home. You may want to read the letter of Congressman Elijah Cummings about foreclosure mills to Inspector General Linick of the Federal Housing Finance Agency at the link.

Elder theft under color of law is an underreported crime often involving lawyers, guardians and the courts. The cost to society is over 10 billion per year, according to the video.

Break the Silence: Elder Abuse in America

Also see, Final indignities, Jeffrey Good, Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist

Neil Gillespie said...

@Anonymous and "lawyer-bashing" (conclusion)

President Richard Nixion was a lawyer, and resigned the presidency in lieu of impeachment and removal from office. Bill Clinton, a lawyer and 42nd President of the United States, was impeached by the House of Representatives on two charges, one of perjury and one of obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998.

Finally, many lawyers were responsible for The Holocaust. There are too many to list, so here are three. Frick and Kaltenbrunner were executed for war crimes at Nuremberg. Sandberger was the last high ranking Nazi SS officer (and lawyer) alive when he died in 2010 at age 98. Sandberger studied law at the University of Tübingen and earned the highest grade in nine years in the state bar examination. "A total of 5,643 executions were carried out under his command on Estonian soil during the first year alone of the Nazi occupation." See the link below.

Nazi lawyer Wilhelm Frick, tried for war crimes at Nuremberg and executed.

Nazi lawyer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, tried for war crimes at Nuremberg and executed.

Nazi lawyer Martin Sandberger dies age 98

Anonymous, please learn about the amoral nature of law, and its harm to society.