Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Media Rants: Reformers and Hacks in Politics and Media

Reformers and Hacks in Politics and Media

By Tony Palmeri

From the August, 2013 edition of The SCENE

Asked what steps his administration would take to apprehend National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, President Obama said he was not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” In fact, the administration immediately revoked Snowden’s passport, bullied nations that dared offer asylum, and colluded with cowering European governments to engineer the shameful spectacle of the forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Vienna upon suspicion Snowden might be aboard. That Dick Cheney and Ari Fleischer openly support the administration’s stance ought to give us pause.
Snowden vs. Obama underscores the truth of the late journalist/historian Walter Karp’s insight in his classic 1973 book IndispensableEnemies that the tension in American political life isn’t between Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives, but rather reformers and hacks. Driven by a moral vision and idealism, reformers act on principle.  Driven by self-preservation instincts, hacks act in accordance with the demands of the structure of power. Anyone who’s ever worked in academia, corporate America, or other hierarchical institutions knows the same principles apply there too. Hacks aggressively undermine and marginalize reformers not just in politics, but in establishment media. The Snowden Affair presents a striking case study of the reformer/hack dynamic at work.
We live in such unprincipled times that when someone genuinely acts on principle our tendency is to be suspicious. Snowden’s statement of July 12, 2013 is enough to make a hack’s head explode:

Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.

It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.

I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: "Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring."

A handful of establishment politicians now use Snowden’s revelations as a basis for questioning the legality of the NSA’s expansive surveillance model, but few defend the leaker. As I write in mid-July, only retired Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey had the cojones to stand with Snowden; in an email to him he wrote: “I believe you have done the right thing in exposing what I regard as massive violation of the United States Constitution . . . I wish you well in your efforts to secure asylum and encourage you to persevere.”

Snowden responded by saying in part, “I only wish more of our lawmakers shared your principles - the actions I've taken would not have been necessary.” Indeed our own “progressive” Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin to this point only mimics the hacks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: “I do not believe that Edward Snowden acted at all appropriately. I think he should be tried. Let’s bring that before a jury of his peers.” Seriously Senator? Does the treatment of Bradley Manning and other whistleblowers provide even a scintilla of hope that the present United States government is capable of treating Snowden fairly? Legendary Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg thinks not, and penned a Washington Post piece explaining why: “Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.”

As for the establishment media, the London Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald (the journalist who received the leaked materials) continues to do a remarkable job of demonstrating how in almost every country of the world the substance of the NSA documents receives prominent coverage. Only in the hack controlled US media do we see an obsession with Snowden’s personality, personal life, and other irrelevancies. MSNBC is especially deplorable these days; now a pathetic, moderately left of center Fox News style propaganda machine that Jeff Cohen callsthe official network of the Obama White House.”

Swedish Sociology Professor Stefan Svallfors recently nominated Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. His nomination letter suggests a desire to put the Nobel organization on the side of reform as opposed to hackery: “The decision to award the 2013 prize to Edward Snowden would . . . help to save the Nobel Peace Prize from the disrepute that incurred by the hasty and ill-conceived decision to award U.S. President Barack Obama the 2009 award. It would show its willingness to stand up in defense of civil liberties and human rights, even when such a defense is viewed with disfavor by the world's dominant military power.”