Archive for category: Commentary

Now. And this. And, if true, the time and place to draw the line. (But not true: UPDATE)

15 Jun
June 15, 2013


So this allegation falls on its ass, and rather quickly, too.  The desire to reach beyond the known facts into the realm of speculation is pretty high in general, but on a spy story it’s even stronger, it would seem.  In any event, I’m leaving this post up regardless.  Lots of good discussion in the comments section, but more than that, it represents the line at which I believe a civil liberties intrusion rises to an unconstitutional and indefensible standard.  This was hyped.  But again, there is no reason not to be wary of government overreach.

The original claim, now denied and dormant, is here, followed by my own, earlier comments:

In my original post criticizing the hyperbole over the Verizon phone metadata gathering by the NSA and the revelation of a court order for that program, I wrote this:

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To and Fro. And Real Respect To Mr. Shirky For Checking In, Regardless.

14 Jun
June 14, 2013

In response to yesterday’s expressed disappointment with a Guardian column that challenged the original post on the NSA controversy here, Clay Shirky, who authored that essay, showed up in the comments section this morning.  That’s a mensch.  All credit there.  I’m going to highlight his comments and my answer to continue to focus my argument here.  And perhaps maybe move the argument off of who is Simon, or Greenwald, or Andrew Sullivan, or Thomas Friedman, or Janet Mayer, or Michael Moore, or Glenn Beck, or certainly, Mr. Shirky himself,  where they come from or what they might or might not know given what we think we understand of their background.  That stuff does not improve argument; it weakens argument.  Content matters.  The arguments themselves matter, not who we think made them or why.  Come to think of it, everyone just now arguing about who Edward Snowden is  might similarly inoculate themselves against the great viral scourge of  argumentum ad hominem, and focus, instead, on what Mr. Snowden has actually revealed — both good and bad for the republic.

Anyway, from Mr. Shirky:

I’m sorry I’m just getting to this now.

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The Guardian: I Am Straw Man, Reborn

12 Jun
June 12, 2013

There’s no problem whatsoever with the U.K.’s Guardian reporting the leaked Verizon court order, engaging with Mr. Snowden, and publishing the known details about that NSA program, as well as PRISM.  It is not in committing an act of premeditated journalism that such an august publication entered the realm of self-aggrandizing hyperbole.  The journalism is the job.  It was in the additional editorializing of the lead reporter in telling us exactly how “indiscriminate” the NSA program was.  Such characterization jumps past the known into the argumentative, and actually undercuts the fundamental journalism.  The NSA program involves a great amount of phone data, but it has by no means been proven indiscriminate.

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Counter-Arguments: Gathered and Answered

12 Jun
June 12, 2013

I am on a new server, one that claims to be able to handle a bit more volume.  With all the confidence such a claim inspires, it might advance the debate if we take a shot at systematically addressing all of the main criticisms and counter-arguments that resulted from my previous post on the NSA controversy.  For purposes of clarity, let’s do this in the Q&A form.

Q.  First of all, you do know that you are a crypto-fascist and naive shill for the burgeoning surveillance state.

A.  Yes, apparently so.  Yesterday, I was a neo-Marxist arguing against the totalitarian overreach of the drug war and the need to decouple capital from our governing processes.   You go issue to issue, ignoring all the proper ideological prime-directives, and eventually you wear all the names.

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NSA and FISA commentary: Calling it.

08 Jun
June 8, 2013

Okay, folks, I want to thank everyone, sincerely, for engaging in what has been for the most part an aggressive, sincere and genuinely relevant discussion of the Verizon data controversy.  At points, I looked around and thought that the debate at this little corner of the web was far more specific and rooted than much of what occupied the op-eds and 24-hour cable channels.  You all brought a lot into the mix.  And with rare exception, everyone stayed largely on substance and avoided ad hominem and other rank fallacy.

For my part, I remain convinced that the Verizon call data should be used as a viable data base for counter-terror investigations and that its misuse should be greeted with the hyperbole that currently adorns the present moment.  On the other hand, the arguments of others convinced me that while I still believe the differences between call data and a wiretap are profound, and that the standard for obtaining call data has been and should remain far more modest for law enforcement, the same basic privacy protections don’t yet exist for internet communication.  There, the very nature of the communication means that once it is harvested, the content itself is obtained.  And the law has few of the protections accorded telephonic communication, and so privacy and civil liberties are, at this moment in time, more vulnerable to legal governmental overreach.  That’s a legislative matter, but it needs to be addressed. In this day and age, e-communication between individuals, if not public posts on public sites, should have the same measure of legal protection as telephonic communication.  So that has shifted for me. This is not to say, of course, that I believe there aren’t legitimate and plausible reasons for law enforcement to sift the internet, or that a PRISM-like monitoring of the internet doesn’t have relevant counter-terror value. But that the acquistion of interpersonal communications involving U.S. citizens and domestic internet traffic — and note that PRISM is currently aimed at overseas data only, according to the revelations about its legal underpinnings — should be subject to legal prerequisites comparable to telephonic surveillance. Thanks to those who made clear that PRISM and the telephone call data harvesting are proceeding under different standards. +++ (See note below.)

Which, for me, is the point.  A good, specific and focused argument makes everyone think better.  Unless it pisses everyone off.  One of the two.

But now I’m gonna call it.  This got bigger and longer than reasonable and, indeed, the amount of traffic actually took down the site several times, so that it seems I will need to be changing my digital homeroom in the future.  Anyway, what’s left of the weekend beckons all of us.  My purpose in engaging on particular topics is to make this small site a focal point for serious debate.  If you took anything personally, you might want to reconsider this underlying purpose and rest easier.  Unless it was a rare moment when I genuinely meant something personal, usually in response to something comparable.  In which case, go fuck yourself.

In any event, thanks for everyone’s contributions and passion.  Especially that one fella with the last name Simon who found my analogy to the Baltimore pay phone DNRs to be in his words, “shaky.”  We will agree to disagree, but goddamit, kiddo, what am I paying college tuition for if you’re not going to follow me in rhetorical and philsophical lockstep?  For real, when you don’t carry your own kid, you know you have an argument on your hands.

The best to all who played here.


+++  You know, it is astonishing how genuinely foolish much of the world becomes when nuanced discussion is reduced to 140-character morsels.  Since posting this polite thank you to those who engaged in a long and detailed debate, I have been made aware that this paragraph has been cited repeatedly on twitter as evidence of my having reconsidered the argument of my original post.

For real, folks, the level of non-cognition required to make such a mistake requires either 1) the attention span of a small, nervous rodent or 2) an overwhelming desire to dismiss an opponent’s arguments at the first, vague opportunity.  It’s a little ridiculous that I have to create this addendum to declare that nothing in the aforementioned paragraph contradicts anything in the original essay, which dealt with the Verizon telephonic intercepts.  News accounts regarding PRISM were published after I posted the original essay. Second, the paragraph makes clear that I am not adverse to the idea of PRISM as a comparable capture of internet metadata and public-post content under the same legal privacy standards that currently apply to telephonic communication.  I see a viable national-security purpose in the collection of internet data as well. However, thirdly, I recognize that currently, U.S. law has not yet accorded personal internet communications the same protections as telephonic content, and therefore I am not averse to seeing the legal level of privacy for emails and such raised in a corresponding fashion.  And it was a result of the continuing discussion on this site and the contributions of others here that I came to fully recognize and speak to that distinction.

If, reading the above, you still rush to Twitter to declare that Simon, newly christened as a crypto-fascist and/or naive surveillance state apologist, has now retracted his original argument, you are either very dense, or very dishonest.  A serious question:  Is the increasing brevity of communication on the internet making us less intellectually capable, or at the least, less attentive to substance?


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