The Untruth Shall Keep You Free

Gen. Clapper lies to Congress under oath

On March 12th, during an open congressional hearing, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) took some time to spell out a precise question to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:

“Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

The question, apparently because it was so difficult to understand, had been forwarded to Clapper the day before, to give him time to memorize the “yes” or “no” answer that Wyden expected.

Clapper’s reaction was not unlike that of an unprepared student called on by the teacher. He squirmed and barely looked up. “No sir”, he answered, poking at his forehead and immediately looking down again, hoping to signal he was too busy switching his mike off and on to be bothered with such trivial questions.

“It does not?” insisted Wyden.

You see, Wyden is on the Intelligence Committee, he’s one of the handful of Senators in the know, but is sworn to secrecy.  His question was a set up, an attempt to reveal to the American people things he cannot not reveal himself. Only two years ago Wyden had clearly attempted to warn us, telling us in a speech that, had we known what he knew, we would have been “appalled”. But of course we went like “what? who? CSPAN? Wyden? Who is this guy, and most importantly, where the heck is the remote!?”

So he’d been trying to tell us something for a while, and Clapper’s response signaled another failed attempt. “It does not?”, insisted Wyden, maybe hoping that the other would change his answer to: “actually, come to think of it, yes! I’m sorry Ron, I had forgotten all about it!”

But the look on Clapper’s face was telling an altogether different story: “You bastard! You know very well what we do! You’ll pay for this!”

  As his index finger continued to scratch a hole in his forehead, Clapper with tremendous effort glanced up again and said : “No, not wittingly”.

  I feel pretty confident that had we been presented with two betting options,  “truth” or “lie”, most of us humans would have dropped money on the “lie” without waiting for Snowden’s revelations which in fact confirmed that the National Security Agency is taking it’s job of spying maybe a tad too far.

So that’s that. Clapper lied to congress. He didn’t say “I can’t reveal that”, or “we gather only certain information”, etc. – he just went ahead and said “no”.

He even had one day to prepare to evade the question, and the question was so generic (any information at all) that answering with an “of course we collect some information! We’re the NSA for crying out loud!” would not have surprised nor particularly incensed anyone.

John Oliver: no spy should have that big a tell!

Gen. Clapper lies again, but this time no one understands him

  Why did he simply lie, with only a minor pathetic attempt at a straight face, will forever be a mystery. Or will it? Because, according to Clapper, he did not lie, his was just the “least untruthful” answer to the famously unanswerable question… “when are you going stop beating your wife”. Yes, that is indeed what an ever more confused Clapper revealed to NBC on June 9th.

  What??

  Ok, he’s an old man, think of him as your aging grandpa, except not retired in front of the tv watching the lives of the rich and famous but actively watching the lives of billions of people, and please try to understanding his ramblings. Clapper was referring to the fallacy of asking a yes or no answer on a behavior that’s assumed to be true, like “have you stopped beating your wife?”, which, no matter whether you answer yes or no, makes you into a wife beater.  “When are you going to stop…” does not require a yes or no answer of course, so it’s just something he said, part of his spy bag-o-tricks: just say stuff that sounds profound but doesn’t make any sense, and people will eventually give up trying to understand you.

  So, what he was actually saying to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell was: I was asked a question that assumed the NSA collects any kind of information, which is not true, we don’t collect any kind of information.  Hence, I gave the least untruthful answer on a question that was wrong to start with. Here’s exactly what he said:

  “I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked — ‘When are you going to start — stop beating your wife’ kind of question, which is meaning not — answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no, so I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying ‘no’.”

  Effectively, in justifying his answer, once you sort through the spy mind-screwing that makes you think he’s a senile old man and clarify what he actually implied, Clapper lied again to NBC by saying: the NSA does not collect any kind of information on anyone, and any question based on the assumption that it  does  is unanswerable.

Gen. Clapper goes all the way

   Emboldened by what can only have been a blank, stunned stare on his interviewer’s face,  James Clapper felt like adding wood to the confusion fire, and said: “And again, to go back to my metaphor. What I was thinking of is looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers— of those books in that metaphorical library– to me, collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.”

  Ah! that explains it all. When we say “collect”, they say “read”, as in “do you open up and read butterflies?”.  The intelligence community simply uses a different vocabulary, possibly secret.

  Let’s humor grandpa. Let’s then rephrase Ron Wyden’s question:

  “Gen. Clapper, does the NSA read any of the information it may happen to have gathered pertaining to millions or hundred of millions of Americans”?

  “No, not wittingly”

  They never read things that they collect, er, gather, er, run into. So either the General is lying even under this new interpretation, or the NSA just likes to build new storage facilities  where to store their Zettabytes of information, never to read any of them, all a big and costly joke at our expenses. They must be having a lot of fun anticipating the day in which they’ll reveal that inside their new massive storage facilities they’ve  only been running NSA tournaments of beer pong.

When secrecy runs amock

  As I hope you can see from the above, not only Clapper has committed perjury and lied to the United State Congress, a crime for which he will probably never be prosecuted, but he has done so – I dare say – for no good reason. I seriously think that at that very moment grandpa lost the ability to discern the context, the possible consequences of his answers. He found “no” to be easily the safest answer to avoid further scrutiny, and dished it out, giving us a good insight into what happens when you get into the habit of using secrecy and lies to get rid of people asking too many questions: you loose track of whether or not it is necessary – or even more importantly, legal – to tell the truth or to be transparent.

  Like many, many intelligent individuals pointed out, the terrorists know very well that all emails, tweets, Facebook posts and phone calls are monitored, and revealing it will not surprise them. As far as the others, those whose plots have supposedly been foiled just by spying on their emails, don’t worry, they don’t know better anyhow, you’ll still catch those people. Why, there have been many credible leaks about the surveillance state before, most Americans and non-Americans knew about it, and they – like me – are not even particularly interested in keeping their opinions and conversations private, if it wasn’t for the kind of authoritarian world lack of privacy can, and will if unchecked, bring about.

  I am confident that people whose “careers” depend on secrecy do read the news, at least those about discovery of secret NSA spy rooms, NSA spy programs affecting tens of thousands of Americans, and so on, and out of what we may naively call an abundance of caution, may decide to use alternative methods of communication other than the traditionally bugged telephone or newly bugged social media.

Plug the narrative holes

No, the real reason for most of the secrecy is that the NSA does not want us to know. The story we’re being sold is that there’s this wall between us and the others, which by the way includes about 7 billion non Americans, with resident aliens being in or out depending on whim. This wall guarantees  – so we are told – that inside the prison, er, the happy room, we can frolic and enjoy free speech, privacy, fair competition, a shot at the healthy version of the American Dream. They are protecting us from them – the non Americans. You will be told that your rights, unlike the others’, are protected. They will tell you that with a straight face, quoting 51 percent accuracy in the surveillance system’s ability of telling whether or not the surveillance target is an American or not, as if it was some big deal technological achievement and not, as John Oliver smartly put it, simply “a coin toss, plus 1 percent“.

It is when cracks appear, when suddenly we find ourselves outside of the room and as we peer through the windows we notice there’s less and less people in there, with less and less rights, that we may ask ourselves exactly what and who is being protected.

The American Dream play space is only existing in stories and glossy magazines. The reality is all around us, from weekly banking crimes to wanton arrests, secret prosecutions, torture, economic disaster, environmental destruction, falling wages, loss of skills, decrepit infrastructure and a corrupt, inept, squabbling government.

It is the American story that’s being protected through secrecy. The narrative that says we are free and fulfilling our nation’s mission statement, and that we should therefore keep plugging along, without asking for substantial, systemic change because the story is still intact, honesty is still an American virtue, and law and order are the pillars of our civilized society.

And so while we may find comfort in the oft repeated slogan “The truth shall set you free” we are now asked to accept another, infinitely more sinister add-on: “only the untruth can keep you free”. Keep believing that you are free, and for all subjective intent and purposes, you will be.

Related:

NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants

NSA Prism is motivated in part by fears that environmentally-linked disasters could spur anti-government activism

People over Profits

prof·it

/ˈpräfit/
Noun

A financial gain, esp. the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent in buying, operating, or producing something.


the mainstream dissenter apron

Masters of the obvious

The last time you were at a barbecue, did your guest by chance walk about in a “people over profits” apron, smiling broadly and secretly waiting for someone to ask him “so, what’s that about”?

Or, more likely, have you ever noticed that some folks in your home town  sometimes feel compelled to march about the city holding signs stating that the individual’s rightful place is above profits, and not below?

At first glance this is surprising, as it would seem obvious that people are more important than the extra value they produce. A vote on it would probably be considered an insult to voters’ willingness to oblige the theatre of politics.

Why, people’s lives are the most important thing of all!

Mainstream society itself reflects the message that even a single life is far more important than all the money in the world. Just watch what happens if a kid gets stuck in a deep well. No expense is spared to try and get him out alive. No mayor would ever say, while peering down the hole… “you know, to get that stupid kid out is going to be hard… why don’t we just go about our business and let him die, it’ll save us quite a bit of money!”

The argument, then, seems to be already settled. Additional proof is that there are no aprons nor mugs promoting the opposite message of Profit over People. There is really no debate at all, or there would surely be merchandise to arm both camps!

So why even bother to make a sign, or an infant body suit for that matter, and flaunt it as if we needed to argue such an obvious position at all?

It’s like making a mug that says “the Mug” on it.  Everyone  instantly agrees with that statement,  it’s hardly a point that needs underscoring… unless of course you’re trying desperately to be original and can’t think of anything, nothing at all to print on a mug. But even then, why not stick with Jesus holding a giant cigarette surrounded by cigarette balloons, I think that would be enough, no need for weak attempts at shocking originality.

The hidden opposition

Still, while 99% of the world surely agrees that profits should be gained after humans are taken care of and not otherwise, there’s this thing, this effect that magically manifests when you see a guy on a street corner with a sign that says People over Profits.

this dude doesn’t know what’s coming  (photo by Paul Cone)

He may be just posing for a picture, thinking finally!, here I am with a message that even my wife can agree with, but next thing you know the cops show up and, wasting no words, explain to him just how wrong he is.

Believe it or not, the statement People over Profits is often eyed suspiciously.

It’s an offensive statement for vast numbers, a sign of impending revolution for some, and even a shorthand for petty thievery for an older gentleman I’ve met in Santa Monica: the man, as youngsters were merrily painting such an agreeable statement on a sign, came by explicitly to state the point that even if he was older, he knew the hidden meaning behind those  words – “I know what that means: ‘I want to come to your home, kick you out of your apartment and live in your home!’ “

He made it clear to me that there must be some confusion about what people over profits means, so I’ve given the matter some ponderous thought, to see if I could understand why folks who are seemingly well meaning and decent all around can disagree on such fundamentally clear moral issue.

The real reason why we disagree

For starters, I know the defenders of profit at all costs  are ultimately on the same side as their apron wearing counterparts. No one in their right mind, except the reptilians among us, would wish harm on another living being, unless it is to preserve their own well being.

For example, let’s pretend for a moment that we had enough profit for everyone. That we had plenty of cash, about 31.2 billion dollars each, and that not only surviving, but vacationing on the moon would cease to be a matter of tightening one’s belt. Unlimited money, unlimited resources. Planets lined up waiting to be exploited, universes begging to be filled with our waste.

In this made up fantasy, let us assume that some folks had nothing, but all that we needed to do was to simply make new money for them. Forget for a moment about inflation, overpopulation and all that. Give them all they want, it won’t cost you anything.

So my question is, if helping someone else cost us nothing, nothing at all, if lending a hand did not affect our welfare, would anyone object to doing it? Of course not. We would immediately vote in a department of Helping People, creating unlimited welfare for all.

It is important to understand this, because it helps us identify what the disagreement is about. Yes, People over Profits is about whether or not people have a right to acquire resources at the expenses of other people, and how much of those resources they should hoard, but only in times of scarcity. When there’s plenty to go around, we’re all as generous as they come. So let us remember that, it may seem obvious but it is very very important. The reason why we have the debate at all is only because of the apparent scarcity of resources.

Eliminate scarcity, and we’d have no further use for people over profits merchandise.

The means and the goal

So when we have throngs of loud protesters yelling at champagne sipping psychopaths watching from their balconies, in the end they both agree. People are more important than profits, and the psychopaths do their best to let everyone know how beneficial profits are when working for people, people like themselves.

The premise for the whole confrontation though is that there are not enough profits, not enough resources for all, so necessarily some will be left without, and some will hoard, out of infantile fear of running out before eternity is over.

Why are there not enough profits for everyone? It’s not because there’s not enough resources, at least not so far in our history. They may be less, they may be getting polluted and we can talk about that, but we’ve had, and we still have, a pretty good run.

We’re even growing food for 10 billion people, yet millions die of hunger every year.

It’s because there’s an artificial scarcity of profits.

Before explaining further, I’d like to help the reader – especially if American – to get past the feeling of “crimethink” (entertaining unacceptable thought) that will arise once I point the finger towards the current capitalist system.

First of all, I strongly believe the goal, the whole point of capitalism is something we can all agree on, communists, socialists, whateverists:

“The goal of capitalism is to get us all to Star Trek, where we’re zipping around the galaxy in luxury starships and you can get anything you want, from a souffle to a free guitar, just by asking a gizmo on the wall. “

While some people may be more interested in a beautiful meadow littered with wild horses drinking from our very own sparkling stream rather than a spaceship, that’s more or less the idea – individual well being, freedom of choice, and good times all around, whatever that may mean to you personally.

The debate about capitalism is another case of people yelling at each other while fundamentally agreeing. Why? In this case because we confuse the means, that is the capitalist system, with the goal, that is well being.

Scarcity is abundance!

It’s ok to openly talk about whether or not a solution really works to solve a problem, but somehow we’re told over and over not to talk about capitalism – never to question its basic tenets. Why?

It’s not  that the folks who are credited for giving rise to the modern capitalism about 500 years ago were so smart, nor that they were doing it to better everyone’s life for that matter. They just figured out how to get rich themselves, most of them while still teaching their kids not to walk over the edge of the Earth or they’d fall off.

And how do you get rich yourself? By having something that other people want. Oh yeah, the more they want it, the more rich you become.

In the end, to really make it big, you should convince others that what they want the most is something that you are in a good position to generate without much effort, like your good looks, or pieces of paper you can just scribble on or print, that they’re willing to borrow at high interest. You know, regular people can be convinced to kill each other for no reason at all, as long as you wear a tie, a white coat, or speak pretending you know what you’re talking about.

To realize we’re idiotic monkeys is very humbling, but also in a way it sets you free – it’s no use pretending, and those who do suddenly just look as funny as monkeys with ties.

But of course, since we are curious monkeys, for something to be valuable and wanted it has to be scarce. If everyone was super good looking, fashion magazines would go hunting for the rare ugly model.

if money is scarce, is more valuable

When the currency of exchange is scarce, then you have a systemic scarcity built in the very mechanism that you are using to supposedly relieve scarcity. You have created artificial scarcity, and by manipulating the amount of money available you control how desperate people are to get it, and therefore how profitable having money to give is.

If the only way you can acquire food and water and shelter is by using a currency of exchange, it doesn’t matter if there are 16 million empty homes in the US, because the 3.5 million homeless cannot get in them without money!

So you see, in this case the problem is not the lack of homes, it’s the scarcity of the currency of exchange.

Today, in our debt economy which requires ever growing amount of currency to pay the interest on old debts, the primary scarcity we are fighting is that of money, not of the resources we need for survival. We can’t get those resources not because there aren’t any, but because we need money to get them. And money is kept scarce by the debt economy.


Scarcity of currency is built into the capitalist economic system

a cute kitten so you feel good

Rather than me trying to talk about why the system we’ve idolized will never bring welfare for all,  I wholeheartedly suggest spending 43 minutes of your time to watch

Sacred Economics: An Evening with Charles Eisenstein

Eisenstein is a master storyteller and not only can help us to understand why “everybody is always in competition with everybody else for never enough money, because it’s mathematically part of the system“, he can also make us appreciate that there are other possibilities, and none of them has to do with you living under a bridge while the rest of us party hard on your white carpeted floors.


People over profits
, yeah

So what’s the point of the apron wearing weirdos? Their point is that a system is just a system, a solution is just a solution and if a solution doesn’t work, if a solution for scarcity becomes the problem in itself because it creates scarcity, then that solution is plain wrong and we should talk about changing it, because it’s supposed to work for us, not us for it.

To keep asking people to sacrifice their lives for a solution that doesn’t work for them is morally wrong and creates a whole lot of problems for everyone, at so many different levels.

Apparently, there are many other solutions out there, except that the dialogue about them is not a welcome one.

The problem is that for about 1% of us, usually those who give the orders and print the news, the scarcity of money, a resource of which they have much, is working just fine – the more scarce money is, the more valuable the money they have becomes, and the easier it is for them to acquire vital resources – like water for example – which then they can sell to us for money which we have to work really, really hard to get – if we’re that lucky.

So, next time your neighbor sneaks out of their home in the middle of the night to avoid the shame of being evicted, think about why it’s happening.

And the next time a politician points a finger at people who have tried and tried again but were part of the mathematical, unavoidable effect of scarcity, think about why it’s happening as well.

It just may happen that your heart and mind – after an initial attack of cognitive dissonance, will open up a bit, and next thing you know you’ll be heading to the store to proudly buy yourself one of these.

It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.

Henry Ford

They Never Learn

Newspeak creepings

Shortly after having landed in Vancouver, I opened a newspaper and read how the city was installing new bins that were easier to open and dig through than the existing ones, in an apparent gesture of goodwill towards the town’s many “binning entrepreneurs“.

That made me feel good. What a considerate things to do, so typically Canadian to be concerned for the less fortunate. But there was something odd in that feeling. I felt good about the binning entrepreneurs too. About the way the destitute and the desperate were defined. Binning entrepreneurs. That made it sound good, like a real job, a step in the fantasy ladder we climb to get to the fantasy top.

Opportunity Street

Opportunity Street

en·tre·pre·neur

/ˌäntrəprəˈno͝or/
Noun
  1. A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so.

Aren’t these binners a necessary ingredient of the welfare of a capitalist system, the given percentage that has to be poor to keep down salaries, the sacrificial lambs at the feet of the mirage that help profits climb to the top by chilling the masses’ rightful expectations of a fair shake at any level of their picturesque ascent towards paradise on Earth?

According to the tenets of the capitalist ideology, even if all of these people got off the street tomorrow and became big time recycling businessmen, an equal number of individuals would have to take their place as the poor and destitute, the starving and destroyed, in order for the capitalist economy to stay “healthy”. That’s just how it works.

But here it was, black on white – some people apparently seemed to choose dumpster diving as a career and, according to the definition, they even took financial risk to embrace their glamorous career! They’re just “partners” in the great rat race!

Still, something wasn’t quite fitting… as Chris Dillow mentions in his article Unemployment, Well-Being and Capitalism, “capitalism requires that there be not just unemployment but that the unemployed be unhappy”.

That created some sort of cognitive dissonance in my brain… The word entrepreneur, while not synonymous with happiness,  is definitely a positive word, full of uppity feeling, and yet I was pretty sure that most of these folks didn’t grow up dreaming of embracing binning as a career, and that the system is built in such way that the very poor ought not to be happy, lest many more people choose the path of happy poverty, without slaving for someone else just to stay away exactly from such careers as binning.

Just how many conflicting concepts such as binning entrepreneur did I hold in my brain?

One come readily to mind: “collateral damage” – it’s lateral, on the side, it’s damage like breaking a vase or hitting a wall, ops! Even google images seems to think collateral damage is almost fun, just a movie!

Another one is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which seemed to be something one catches, not too good but not too different either from a venereal disease. It’s out there, no one’s fault, no one to blame. Unlike the WWI “shell shock”, PTSD just made me feel like some minor disturbance that a pill or two might take care of. (maybe one of these pills).

As you live long enough you see words manipulated to affect people’s ideas. It is, indeed, Newspeak. George Orwell also had a good definition for the choice we make when confronted with cognitive dissonance, when we briefly understand there’s a conflict between what we are safer to believe, often the words we are offered by politicians and  “public relations” humanoids, and what we instead might know to be true.

from the Rational Wiki definition of Newspeak:

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.”

So yes, Newspeak is widely used, I’m sure you can find plenty more of it just paying attention, by acknowledging those slight pangs of discomfort that sometimes your brain experiences when hearing a word or a phrase.

Of course, like most, I am comforted by newspeak, I have a strong bellyfeel, like George Bush’s  “gutfeel”, or gut feeling as he naively called it, and so from that day on I started to refer to myself no longer as a debt slave, but as a successful debt entrepreneur…