Freedom fries with milquetoast

I was amused to read that Republicans in the US were attacking President Obama for not dropping everything to fly to France and succor our friend and ally in its time of need.

“This is simply no way to treat our oldest and first ally,” [Rick] Perry told The Washington Post. “President Obama should have stood with France in person, defending Western values in the struggle against terrorism and showing support for the victims of this despicable act of terror,” Perry said.[…]

“Our president should have been there, because we must never hesitate to stand with our allies,” [wrote Ted] Cruz.

Because, we know that if there’s anything Republicans care about more than defending scatological satire targeted particularly at conservative religious figures, it’s the centuries-old alliance, built mutual respect and admiration, with the cheese-eating surrender monkeys petulant prima-donna of realpolitik French.

It’s almost as intense as their abiding love of the Ukraine, for which John McCain attacked Obama’s and Angela Merkel’s response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea last year as “playing into Putin’s hands” and “milquetoast” respectively.

The worst of it is, he can’t even get a side of freedom fries with his milquetoast anymore.

Helicopter parents avant la lettre

I’m always intrigued by the eternal present of “nowadays”: Trends that rise and rise like an Escher staircase. Just now I was coming to the end of Anna Karenina — which I had expected would be just Madame Bovary on the steppes, but it was vastly more — and found this passage:

“He assures me that our children are splendid, when I know how much that’s bad there is in them.”

“Arseny goes to extremes, I always say,” said his wife. “If you look for perfection, you will never be satisfied. And it’s true, as papa says,—that when we were brought up there was one extreme—we were kept in the basement, while our parents lived in the best rooms; now it’s just the other way—the parents are in the wash house, while the children are in the best rooms. Parents now are not expected to live at all, but to exist altogether for their children.”

“Well, what if they like it better?” Lvov said, with his beautiful smile, touching her hand. “Anyone who didn’t know you would think you were a stepmother, not a true mother… Well, come here, you perfect children,” Lvov said to the two handsome boys who came in…

The time when children knew their place, and parents could enjoy themselves, is just a generation past, and apparently it always was.

Spying on allies

Reading about President Obama’s speech on the significant but minimal changes he is planning to make to US intelligence gathering in the wake of (but in no way as a consequence of, it goes without saying) the Snowden revelations, I found myself wondering: How much shit are US allies expected to take? I don’t mean their leaders (who have been promised a personal exemption from espionage). I mean the average people, who have put legal regimes in place that prevent their own governments from spying on them. Why should they be more accepting of spying by the US?

And it’s not as though there’s nothing they can do about it. The solution would be to limit the role of American companies in the European market, particular with regard to sales of computer technology and collecting private information. As well as monitoring US embassies and diplomats more closely for engagement in illegal espionage. The US is assuming they won’t dare, because of the economic power of the US, the goverments’ reliance on US military and diplomatic power. That’s probably true, in the short term, but it’s clearly going to be an expensive, ongoing drain on US influence.

And then there’s the recent full court press by US legislators on the various intelligence committees to assert that Edward Snowden is a foreign agent — a pretty egregious assertion to be making publicly, since it would potentially make him liable to the death penalty. For example, here’s Michael McCaul, chairman of the House committee on homeland security:

Hey, listen, I don’t think … Mr Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself. I think he was helped by others. Again, I can’t give a definitive statement on that … but I’ve been given all the evidence, I know Mike Rogers has access to, you know, that I’ve seen that I don’t think he was acting alone.

What’s most interesting is that, for all the bluster about “evidence”, it sounds like the claim he’s making is, the NSA couldn’t possibly be so incompetent that some random guy could just come in and walk off with their complete files. Since Snowden is obviously not a master criminal, it can only be that he was being steered by brilliant, nefarious foreign intelligence services.

It’s not hard to guess who put the idea in his head that the NSA couldn’t possibly be so incompetent…

Outsourcing espionage

In the light of recent developments, including the vast trove of NSA documents downloaded by Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden, and the revelation from those documents that the US has been systematically violating its treaty obligations by spying on the SWIFT international financial transactions system, some comments by Janine Wedel in her book Shadow Elite take on new significance:

Through SWIFT the US Treasury Department sought and gained access to large numbers of financial and communications records. Treasury then established the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, run out of the CIA, to analyze the SWIFT data and later shared it with the CIA and FBI. It also hired Booz Allen as an “independent” auditor, which, along with SWIFT, reviewed Treasury’s logs of information searches… As Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, put it: “It is bad enough that the administration is trying to hold out a private company as a substitute for genuine checks and balances on its surveillance activities. But of all companies to perform audits on a secret surveillance program, it would be difficult to find one less objective and more intertwined with the US government security establishment.”

To sum up that interaction: A private company, given “government” access to sensitive and private data about citizens of the United States and other countries, not only worked alongside government to analyze the data, but then also (supposedly) oversaw the process.

Is there any surprise, then, that the self-watching watcher had no safeguards in place to prevent a newly hired employee from walking off with all these super-secret data?

There have always been those who have claimed that capitalism is inimical to tyranny. Usually some ideological affinity between capitalism and democracy, or in a practical sense that tyranny is bad for business, which depends on the initiative of many well-informed independent actors (rather in the same way that European economic integration in the early 20th century made war self-defeating for the economic elites, hence impossible; or, so it was argued). But maybe there is some truth to this claim in the Leninist sense: When we come to hang the capitalists, they will bid on the contract for the rope. Given opportunity to accumulate vast secret power through spying, or to make vast profits by outsourcing the espionage, at the risk of exposing the secret government, American elites couldn’t resist the lure of the cash. Stalin would never have made that mistake.

I suspect that Stalin would have done very well on the marshmallow test, for what it’s worth.


Can Russia stab us in the back?

Who knew that things had gotten so intimate between the erstwhile Cold War adversaries? Senator Charles Schumer (of New York) says

Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife.

As Mr Schumer surely knows, the “stab in the back” is a favourite antisemitic trope, or more generally a reference to treacherous fellow citizens who are “behind us” because we think we can trust them, while our eyes are focused on the enemy across the border. They are the internal enemy, taking advantage of our attention focused on the external enemy.

1919 Austrian postcard.
In Schumer’s telling, Russia is the one on the right.

Now, Russia is a powerful nation, and I hope that the US has a reasonably cooperative diplomatic relationship to it, but I would never have thought it was a US ally.

So, what I want to know is, who screwed up and let the Russians have our backs?

Of course, we wouldn’t have this problem if Snowden (like Bradley Manning) was gay. Maybe we should stop giving security clearances to heterosexuals. It’s too easy for them to get asylum…

“I hope the Russians love their secrets too…”

Remember back in the 1980s, when Sting and Prokofiev teamed up to extol the blessings for world peace that would flow from recognising that Americans and Russians deep down shared the same basic needs? Now the headlines read

Russia’s Putin tells Snowden to stop US secrets leak.

Okay, the cynics will say that east-west agreement on imprisoning political dissidents isn’t really on a level with “loving their children”, noble-sentiments-wise, but when former enemies can work together to cover up each other’s spying on their allies — well, when you get right down to it, how far is that from lions-lying-down-with-lambs territory? Put this together with the climate catastrophe, and we must truly be living at the end of days…

That this heartwarming rapprochement is happening just as Cold-War so-called allies are betraying the US, on  the pretext of protesting against being themselves the targets of NSA espionage — WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO HIDE?! — is all the more poignant. Sniff. I think I have to go drown my Weltschmerz tears in shots of Freedom Vodka (TM). За нашу дружбу!