Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Baby It's Cold Outside

 There's a big chill, and it has nothing to do with the new Polar Vortex (named Gorgon, because of its many tentacles) now writhing its way through the lower 48.

Americans who write for a living (or for free, for that matter) are still afraid to jot down every thought that comes into their heads, lest the all-seeing icy eye of the government Gorgon be watching them. It's the reptilian chill felt round the world, but the head, or epicenter, of this particular monster is smack dab in Washington, DC -- or more aptly, within the Surveillance State snake-pit located in and around our nation's capitol.

In the latest survey conducted by the PEN American Center, a literary and human rights association, more than half the participating 800 American writers reported that they self-censor. Government surveillance is the culprit, they say, and has "significantly damaged U.S. credibility as a global champion of free expression for the long term."

The polar vortex of this internalized censorship is churning all over the writing world, with other less-free countries all shook up because  the United States has been revealed to be not quite the bastion of democracy and free speech its leaders still insist it is. Turns out that the Land of the Free subpoenas reporters, jails reporters' sources, and generally bends over backward to suppress information, like torture reports.

 The United States is the all-seeing, crawling eye with global surveillance capabilities. As the One Indispensable Nation, it resides on a high peak of frozen unaccountability.

  The PEN survey expands on its findings from last year by not only questioning American writers on the horror they feel, but by comparing the writing habits of Americans with their foreign counterparts.

It found that American writers are just as afraid of creepy-crawly government surveillance as writers in such authoritarian countries as China. Writers in democratic and undemocratic countries are equally worried. And that leads one to believe that the concept of democracy itself needs to be redefined in this Age of Abnormal. All the world's an oligarchy, and all the men and women merely serfs, maybe? From the report:
Vast majorities of writers around the world said they were “very” or “some-what” worried about levels of government surveillance in their countries, including 75% in countries classified as “Free”by Freedom House, 84% in countries classified as “Partly Free”, and 80% in“Not Free” countries.
These  levels are consistent with the findings of PEN’s October 2013 survey of U.S. writers, which showed that 85% of American writers were very or somewhat worried about current levels of government surveillance. The high level of concern among U.S. writers mirrors that of writers living in the other four countries that make up the “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance (Australia,Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom), 84% of whom are very or somewhat worried about government surveillance. Writers are not outliers when it comes to their level of concern about government surveillance. Eighty percent of Americans surveyed in a Pew Research Center poll released on Nov.12, 2014, agree that Americans should be worried about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and internet communication.
Writers are so spooked that some of them were even afraid to respond to the PEN survey itself, lest the government take extra steps to monitor the fearful scribes. One writer complained that surveillance has cast a "ghostly and intimidating cloak" over his or her communications. Another woman describing herself as the daughter of Holocaust survivors said that compared to the NSA, the East German Stasi was amateur hour.

Writers in both free and not-free countries report avoiding speaking and writing about certain topics in public, as well as in their email and phone conversations, and have either refrained, or considered refraining, from conducting Internet searches on topics which might be considered fraught.

If for no other reason that it damages the US's reputation around the world, PEN is urging that the dragnet surveillance conducted by the NSA and other intelligence agencies cease -- or at the very least, that the government offer more transparency about whom it monitors and why.

I guess they haven't yet swallowed the government propaganda that were it not for Edward Snowden, writers would still be feeling free to write about whatever they want. What we didn't know couldn't possibly hurt us, right?  Until it comes out that the government is monitoring reporters, and that somebody like James Risen can get subpoenaed and threatened with prison unless he tells Big Brother what its monitoring of him could never reveal: his inner thoughts and the identity of a whistleblowing source.

It's a coincidence that Risen is in court, refusing to help the government prosecute a CIA whistleblower, the same week that the PEN survey came out. It's a coincidence that the Obama administration is shielding CIA torturers but vindictively prosecuting an agency employee (Jeffrey Sterling) who apparently had the courage to disclose the CIA's messed-up plot to mess with Iran's nuclear program.

Attorney General Eric Holder, while sanctimoniously promising he will not send Risen to jail for failure to comply, is nevertheless vindictively keeping this reporter twisting in the wind anyway, holding him up as an example of how uncomfortable and expensive the US can make life for writers should they write down thoughts and facts not conducive to the oligarchic national security. It's not-so-subtle mind control.

Risen is entering the eighth year of his battle with the Justice Department over a book he wrote that embarrassed the Bush administration. He is only the latest high profile example of Obama's war on whistleblowers. If a famous writer like Risen, protected by the most powerful newspaper on earth, can be persecuted this way, where does that leave others without the financial and legal resources to defend their civil rights?

The Obama administration is sending a definite message to all of us, and to government employees at every level: don't even think about talking trash about us. If you see something, don't say something. As Risen himself put it, Obama is "the greatest threat to press freedom in a generation".

So it's no surprise that the US has fallen a record 13 slots, to 46th place, in Reporters Without Borders' annual report on global press freedoms.
Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it. Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.
This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.
US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.
The UK fell a less drastic three spaces, to 33rd place, due to its smashing of Guardian computers in the wake of the Snowden revelations.  The UK doesn't even enjoy the same constitutional rights, including a shield law, as Americans supposedly do.

Still, we're not the worst of the worst. In other countries, organized crime and non-state violence severely curtail the freedom of the press. Four Guatemalan journalists were murdered last year, and Egypt has imprisoned Al Jazeera reporters for doing their job. Kuwait fell 13 places because a new law was passed which fines writers $1 million for criticizing the Emir, and sentences them to 10 years in prison for insulting Allah, Mohammed, the prophets and even the prophets' wives. In Greece and Hungary, journalists are at risk for physical attacks by the fast-growing fascist movements being spawned by neoliberal austerity measures.

So whether or not prison and violence against reporters are real or whether they're threatened, writers all over the world are feeling similar levels of fear, and they self-censor accordingly.

It's the globalization of state-sponsored terror and the war against independent thought. Hard, soft, in-between; physical or psychological: terror is still terror.

Meanwhile, there's always propaganda to calm our nerves. This recently-released official White House photo, for example, purports to show some staffers doubled over with hilarity at something mouthed by the Jokester-in-Chief. But the subliminal message -- be sycophantic or be sorry -- comes through loud and clear.


Kat said...

This was in an article about a recently renovated school:
(the principal) reminded the assembled students that she has a favorite new feature: the video surveillance cameras that line the hallways and the building’s exterior walls. Being a good student means doing the right thing even when you don’t see anybody watching you, Johnson told the group, And “guess what — somebody is almost always watching you.

“So remember, I can always, always, always, always see what you guys are doing.”

start 'em early teaching them the art of self censorship.

I've censored myself. I wrote a letter to the editor responding to the racist Ferguson rants. Not published, but I thought twice about writing another in direct response to the "police under siege" articles. I'm afraid of them.

Zee said...

“Eighty percent of Americans surveyed in a Pew Research Center poll released on Nov.12, 2014, agree that Americans should be worried about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and internet communication.”

Yet it is clear that the politicians whom we send back to Washington year after year have no intention whatsoever of reining in the NSA and other agencies who routinely spy on all of us.

It would appear that the “[e]ighty percent of Americans” who are “worried” about our government spying on its citizens aren't worried enough to rise up on their haunches and defend their privacy by bombarding Washington with calls, e-mails and letters of outraged protest.

And even if we/they did, would our pols listen? I doubt it.

On rare occasions, such as the Bush administration's attempt to ram “immigration reform” down our throats, senators and representatives listened to the citizenry and did a rapid about-face. They also backed down—if I remember correctly—on the Stop On-line Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in response to overwhelming opposition from the citizenry.

But such actions on the part of the public are few and far between.

Opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was widespread, but it was shoved up our collective you-know-what anyway by a Congress that just knew that it knew better than the American public. And, frankly, even if the public were to rise up in its righteous wrath and demand that the government stop spying on us, legislators would simply ignore us: no member of Congress wants to be seen as “soft on terrorism” or to be in—or running for—office, if and when a significant terror attack occurs again on American soil after he/she voted to order the NSA to stop spying on us.

So despite overwhelming public opposition to the U.S. government spying on its own citizenry, it's not going to change any time soon. In fact, it will probably just get worse.

“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever. —John Adams (My bold emphasis.)

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.—John Adams (My bold emphasis.)


“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” —Benjamin Franklin


Zee said...

Off topic, but just way too funny to ignore—

Harvard Ideas on Health Care Hit Home, Hard


“WASHINGTON — For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed...

'Harvard is a microcosm of what’s happening in health care in the country,' said David M. Cutler, a health economist at the university who was an adviser to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. But only up to a point: Professors at Harvard have until now generally avoided the higher expenses that other employers have been passing on to employees. That makes the outrage among the faculty remarkable, Mr. Cutler said, because 'Harvard was and remains a very generous employer'...

Richard F. Thomas, a Harvard professor of classics and one of the world’s leading authorities on Virgil, called the changes 'deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.'

Mary D. Lewis, a professor who specializes in the history of modern France and has led opposition to the benefit changes, said they were tantamount to a pay cut.
'Moreover,' she said, 'this pay cut will be timed to come at precisely the moment when you are sick, stressed or facing the challenges of being a new parent.'

The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.”
(My bold emphases.)

Well boo-f******- hoo!

The terms of the Hahvahd health care plan sound better than my own, wherein I have an annual deductible of $750 per individual and pay 20% of “most other services” until I reach an “out-of-pocket” limit of $2,500 per individual. (Please note that I am not complaining. I am very happy with what I've got; indeed, I count myself as blessed. I'm merely ROTFLMAO at the whinging of the the Hahvahd faculty at the huge burden* that has suddenly been placed on poor, underpaid, little them!)

Wealth re-distribution is great, I guess, until its yours that's being distibuted.

*"While a survey by the American Association of University Professors portrays a downward trend in compensation for professors, Harvard University remains the highest ranking private university — the average salary for a full professor is $198,400." —Google

Brand on the Rocks said...

Karen, you have once again pulled together information from several sources that reveals a startling reality.

Zee said...

Oops! I was slightly off.

While the average salary for a full professor at Hahvahd is indeed $198,400, the average full-time faculty salary is a mere $151,262, which, of course would include associate and assistant professors.

The average salary for those least of Hahvahd demi-gods, the untenured assistant professors, is a pathetic $109,800.

Life is tough for those Hahvahd faculty who, as one of my dissertation advisors once put it, get "paid to do [their] hobby."

Zee said...


Forgot to mention that the source for the Hahvahd salaries is:


Denis Neville said...

When I lived in Germany, I visited Dachau on the 25th anniversary of its liberation. A survivor’s recounting of his experience remains with me today. How could that have ever happened? Why did it happen?

Today I am asking myself similar questions about what is happening in our nation and across the world. Democracy? Freedom? Security? What in hell is going on? Who are these politicians and their corporate masters, who seemingly lack any conscience, and how can they behave as they do? Evil knows no political party.

Why and how are so many manipulated into doing their bidding without even knowing it?

“Pathocracy is a disease of great social movements followed by entire societies, nations, and empires. In the course of human history, it has affected social, political, and religious movements as well as the accompanying ideologies and turned them into caricatures of themselves. This occurred as a result of the participation of pathological agents in a pathodynamically similar process. That explains why all the pathocracies of the world are, and have been, so similar in their essential properties…

“The actions of [pathocracy] affect an entire society, starting with the leaders and infiltrating every town, business, and institution. The pathological social structure gradually covers the entire country creating a "new class" within that nation. This privileged class [of pathocrats] feels permanently threatened by the "others", i.e. by the majority of normal people. Neither do the pathocrats entertain any illusions about their personal fate should there be a return to the system of normal man.” - Andrew M. Lobaczewski, Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes

An Amazon reviewer of Lobaczewski's book writes:

“In this book I have learned that most, if not all of the governments of the world, have been taken over by a pathological infection from just a small group of psychopaths who understand the psychology of normal people to a very high degree and they have corrupted these governmental structures to the very core. These psychopaths have silently, but with mind boggling persistence and stealth moved in and taken over and hollowed out the very soul of humanity using lies and deception as their weapons of choice. These psychopaths, this inhuman race of pathological deviants, who do not have the capacity to feel conscience and feel the pain of another, now literally rule the world.

One psychopath can terrorize an entire town, even an entire city. The majority of normal people are now ruled by a minority of psychopaths and they have basically made our governments criminal networks. Criminal governments. Those working for these governments are now working for what basically is a criminal enterprise and they don't see it because they are in it and profit by it, yet it is these people who are determining our future and the future of our children.

Mankind is becoming a willing slave to the pathocratic structures created by the inhuman obsessive greed of this small percentage of humanity that cannot feel conscience. This book is a MUST READ. Only by knowing what we are dealing with can we do anything about it without going in circles. We are dealing with an intelligent predator that feeds on the soul of humanity. It seems to me that there are only a very few who are now speaking of psychopathy and (macrosocial) Evil in the way Lobaczewski speaks of it, since it has been suppressed for so long, but knowledge of the behavior of these deviants, these snakes in suits, is essential so we can recognize this "predator within our midst" and then do something about it with any real and lasting results.”


Pearl, M said...

Although the well to do are sure of being able to obtain a 'good education' if they 'qualify' it usually involves being educated on how to hold on to their wealth and power. The rest of the citizens will at least be hopefully educated in how the realities affect their lives the next step becoming educated in how to fight this unbalance effectively. Education can be a word representing the positive and negative of its performance depending on your personal point of view.
The word education in my large dictionary describes its meaning in numerous variations and not similar terminology necessarily.
Using this term in a discussion therefore involves clarification of how one views its meaning and purpose.
And therefore where and by whom most of the money is marked for 'educational' purposes directly affects its role in a nation.



Pearl said...

Sorry about the abnormal spacing etc. this new 'prove you are not a robot setting' is confusing. I meant to list my two university degrees with my name to prove it does not necessarily represent a superior intellect.

Cirze said...

Did everyone see that the psychopaths in Congress moved on their first day back to screw with the funding of Social Security and Disability leading to the reduction of benefits or increase of costs to all future recipients?

It's happening as we breathe, folks.

And no one's leading the charge to protect us little guys.

Larry Lundgren said...

At about 1 AM today 7 January I woke up to the BBC World program interviewing a journalist/reporter presently in a dangerous country, maybe Syria.

He explained that in order to protect himself he practices complete transparency by making everything he writes available.

He said he needs to do this to have everything on record if when things get too dangerous he can take refuge in his safe home country (maybe England?)

Since I only heard this on awakening I do not have more but simply mention this even though I do not understand why or how this would protect him.

Larry Lundgren, Linköping, Sweden

voice-in-wilderness said...

Realizing the USA has survived some very bleak times, such as the Civil War and the Great Depression, I still see no hope for reversing the decades-long abandonment of the kind of democracy we thought we had.

Ask yourself what would reverse the militarization, surveillance, government for sale to the high bidder, and extreme concentration of ownership of everything that matters? I can see no events internally or externally that would restore our democracy. I hope the vision in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" of a boot stamping on a human face forever," is wrong, but ...

pete v said...


I'm not saying the global pathocrats are in fact a cleverly disguised race of aliens.

But they're aliens.

Krzys said...

Really? PEN writers are afraid to write because of the surveillance state? That's some level of narcissism. Do CIA/FBI/NSA care what WRITERS of all people do? Does anyone?

Has there been any prosecutions for writing anything in this country?