Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Twisted Logic: The Kafkaesque Saga Continues

Imagine if you dunked the Obama Pretzel into a cup of your favorite winter-time comfort beverage. Not only would it get increasingly soggy, it would inevitably dissolve into a pathetic clump of dough, never to be a popular taste sensation again.

That now appears to be the fate of the secrecy-obsessed president. Even with a complicit federal court actually agreeing that we the citizens have no right to see all the sorry excuses the Justice Department has dreamed up over the years to cover up for the human rights abuses perpetrated both at home and abroad, there is no longer much public appetite for Obama's bag of propaganda goodies. We have Edward Snowden to thank for that.

 Still, it isn't stopping Obama's soggy pretzel logic. The latest morsel: a federal court panel has just decreed that if the abuse stems from an informal closed-door bull session amongst goons, it is not official policy. And if it's not official policy, then it's none of our beeswax either what the government does to us or how they justify it. The logic of the court decision upholding the illogic of the Obama administration is eerily reminiscent of Franz Kafka's Before the Law, a parable in which the legal gatekeeper, insisting that the system is transparent, strings the supplicant along for a lifetime while simultaneously denying him entry.  Charlie Savage of the New York Times explains the 21st Century version:

The memo establishes the legal basis for telephone companies to hand over customers’ calling records to the government without a subpoena or court order, even when there is no emergency, according to a 2010 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The details of the legal theory, and the circumstances in which it could be invoked, remain unclear.
The document at issue is a classified memo issued by the Office of Legal Counsel on Jan. 8, 2010. A report later that year by the Justice Department’s inspector general at the time, Glenn A. Fine, disclosed the memo’s existence and its broad conclusion that telephone companies may voluntarily provide records to the government “without legal process or a qualifying emergency,” notwithstanding the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The F.B.I. had asked for the memo as part of an investigation by Mr. Fine into problems with the bureau’s use of so-called exigent letters to obtain telephone and financial records without following any legal procedures.
The bureau, which has abandoned exigent letters, said that it did not employ the legal theory outlined in the memo when using the letters, and that it had no plans to use it in the future. But Mr. Fine warned that the existence of the Office of Legal Counsel’s theory created a “significant gap” in “accountability and oversight,” and urged Congress to modify the statute. Lawmakers have not acted on that recommendation.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit in 2011 seeking to obtain the memo under the Freedom of Information Act. But a District Court judge ruled that the memo fell into an exception to that law covering materials developed when the executive branch is deliberating internally about what policy to select, and a three-judge panel on the appeals court agreed on Friday.
The Office of Legal Counsel issues binding legal advice to the executive branch. If it says something is permitted, officials who act on that advice are essentially immune from prosecution. Its power to adopt secret legal theories has come under greater scrutiny since a string of controversial opinions it produced during the Bush administration, including signing off on warrantless wiretapping and on the brutal questioning of detainees.
Meanwhile, rather than lambasting Obama, the editorial board of the New York Times today merely asks that he simply honor his campaign promise to be "more transparent" about government illogic and malfeasance. I mean, if he's going to spy on us, the least he can do is release the secret recipe of the Obama Twisted Pretzel to make us all feel better about it! Hmm. It's the parable of the Gatekeeper all over again. My comment:
Every day we're confronted with more examples of the erosion of democracy and the rising specter of totalitarianism.
While we're not yet denied the privilege of choosing between two pre-approved big money parties, that whole Bill of Rights thing is starting to come apart at the seams. And meanwhile, according to the P.E.N. American Center for human rights and literary expression, one in four writers working today reports self-censoring as well as avoiding social media and certain topics in emails and phone conversations because they are convinced that Big Brother is watching. And of course, he is.
The Sunlight Foundation and other open government groups decided to give Obama a transparency award early in his first term. To their dismay, Obama closed the ceremony to the press. That was perhaps our first clue that his administration would be Nixon-on-steroids.
Besides winning too many Kafkaesque court decisions upholding secrecy for the sake of secrecy, Obama is also seeking fast-track Congressional approval for the corporation-friendly Transpacific Partnership while refusing to allow anyone but corporations see what's really in it. He has even implemented an "Insider Threat" program mandating that government employees snitch on each other.
When Obama brags about transparency, I wonder if he isn't just reveling in the knowledge that all our lives are now an open book, whether we like it or not.
That polar vortex may be retreating, but the big chill is here to stay.
I ran out of allotted characters at that point. So let me add that the big chill is here to stay unless enough people get together and thaw it out. And judging from the comments from other readers, it's the type of heat not likely to warm the alleged hearts of our feckless leaders.

Oh, and speaking of Kafka -- the Orson Welles film version of The Trial is now available on Netflix (and probably elsewhere online too, since the copyright has expired.) Highly recommended. Here's just one of its all-too-familiar scenes:

Transparency in the Age of Obama


Pearl said...

In case you missed it, more NYT censorship:

Norman Pollack
is a trusted commenter East Lansing, Michigan 6 hours ago (on NYT transparency editorial)

"Late, is better than never (except that, as here, the gentle wrist-slap may make it seem nothing more need be done). NYT once had, under O.A.S., a proud history of defending civil liberties (e.g., Pentagon Papers). Now, very different! Obama quote on openness, so patently false, should be grounds for impeachment. Office of Legal Counsel: you say, withholding opinion is deeply troubling; actually, OLC itself, its very existence and use to justify and
cover up repressive, illegal policy, is even more troubling.

Fight with all your might lack of government transparency. It is a growing cancer, ultimately destroying freedom of the press itself. Mazzetti's article yesterday on the FBI break-in is superlative, yet my Comment was suppressed because I suggested the analogy between the FBI and the Gestapo. (Readers can find the letter as part of my article, "True Patriotism," in
today's CounterPunch.) Your influence is wide-reaching, and therefore should be seen internally as a special responsibility to uphold values of truth. Instead, NYT gives the Obama administration a free pass on massive surveillance, drone assassination, and other evidences satisfying a functional definition of Fascism. You refer to 'an ever-expanding shroud.'
Good. Follow through. Otherwise, the shroud will be a burial garment for all of us, including democracy, a free press, the very concept and practice of DISSENT.

If this Comment is published, I shall be surprised."

(You can access Counterpunch on Karen's Blog Roll)

Karen Garcia said...


There have been a few "trusted commenters" who have had their comments removed after unmoderated publication. One writer responding to my Douthat comment the other day suggested that Douthat be fired for using discredited right wing think tanks as source material, and they took his comment down. Then he wrote another comment asking why it was taken down, and that one was removed too.

I read Norman Pollack's column, with the removed Times comment, on CounterPunch and could see no basis for the censorship. The FBI IS Gestapo-light, and never more so since it turned into an institutional agent provocateur in the wake of 9/11. (They set up marginalized people in phony terror plots to justify the ongoing War on Terror. That is a fully documented fact.)

But anyway, for your placation, the Times has a new redesigned web page, designed to make your experience "sleek and intuitive." Yechhhh. And the refurbished readers' comments feature scrolls at a snails pace -- you'd think they want to suppress various viewpoints while pretending to be transparent and egalitarian themselves!

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Karen, you write: "... Mr. Fine warned that the existence of the Office of Legal Counsel’s theory created a 'significant gap' in 'accountability and oversight,' and urged Congress to modify the statute. Lawmakers have not acted on that recommendation."

Of course they haven't acted. Current U.S. governmental executive-branch power is not really about preventing terrorism, but rather, wielded in the service of preservation/expansion of that same governmental power plus corporate profits/dominance, and Congressional "representatives" also wish to extend their years in office, while being indebted to those same corporate entities. So what we see is nearly all theater.

And as far as the "judicial" branch is concerned, we shouldn't expect much justice there either. "Kafka-esque" is an apt metaphor, but one drawn from fiction. For one based on reality (but which the New York Times would have undoubtedly censored): It is well-documented that during the Nazi Third Reich, virtually all "justices" were more than willing to be active enablers of tyranny. The same could be said for "justice" during the regimes of Pinochet and countless other dictators.

As bad as all the above is, it should not be forgotten that among the greatest dangers are popular acclimation and cynicism. Whether on matters of governmental abuse of raw power such as imprisonment and torture, the less-dramatic but more common abuses such as warrantless searches and surveillance, or our fascist-like unfettered capitalism at the expense of social and economic justice, one of the greatest obstacles to transformative change is the degree to which worsening conditions become the new norm to which the populace adapts itself, physically and psychologically.

Governmental abuses of power such as those under the "COINTELPRO" and "CHAOS" programs of the '60s and '70s provoked a fair amount of popular outrage, and the Church Committee hearings and at least some action. In our ever-more "managed" "democracy", we haven't yet seen enough popular outrage — so of course no comparable Congressional action (let alone the stronger executive/legislative/judicial reining-in of power that is needed).

Popular knowledge isn't power, if acclimation and/or cynicism dominate.

As you said, "... the big chill is here to stay unless enough people get together and thaw it out."

Jay - Ottawa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay - Ottawa said...

Here's the link to YouTube's copy of Orson Wells' "The Trial." A freebie. With Anthony Perkins who, as in all of his films, acts as though he's uncomfortable in his own skin. A minute short of two hours. Sure to clarify the whole situation about the law.

Pearl said...

"Stealing J.Edgar Hoover's secrets", video, is worth watching. But you have to go the NYTimes search section to pull it up. I don't why they are hiding easier access.

Fascinating interview and photos of the Vietnam protests which one forgets how overwhelming they were. We need that fervor again. And how interesting that until now the Snowdens of the past remained silent. I think they felt the time was ripe to tell the truth and why they stole the files. Hope it has some affect on the present goings on.

empyre said...