Continuing his effort to keep his twitter feed wild and crazy and important, President Trump recently issued a series of broadsides against members of the media. He seems to spend a lot of time tweeting, and significantly less time doing everything else. Though amusing, these mini-communiques are coarsening our national conversation.
They say American democracy is a shining beacon to the world. But this year perhaps more than ever, friends and family members aren’t talking to each other because of their choice of a presidential candidate. Surely there must be some way to disagree and discuss and argue without hating one another.
Originally published at Breaking Modern:
ISIS hackers successfully penetrated Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts. Virtual war is virtual hell, isn’t it? Next they’re going to try to take Pinterest. But we’re ready.
Not long ago, journalists were expected to work stories by getting out of the office and tracking them down. The new breed of online journalists who have replaced them sit on their butts, monitoring tweets in the hope that some celebrity or politician will say something stupid so they can trash them. This is what, in an age of minute budgets, passes for journalism.
We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.
In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.
Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.
Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.
Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.
Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)
“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)
“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”
Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.
The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.
Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.
The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.
It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.
It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.
Or answer the phone.
Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.
Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.
Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.
Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.
In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.
Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.
Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”
Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Why We Care About Mr. Mushroom Head
Media coverage and thus most over-the-water cooler and cocktail party chit-chat about Anthony Weiner obsessively focuses on what the scandal — or circus, or freak show, whatever it is — says about him. More interesting, yet utterly ignored, is what it says about us.
The historian Richard Hofstadter began his classic book “The American Political Tradition” by quoting the 19th century journalist-economist Horace White. The Constitution of the United States (and by extension the nation’s Ur political philosophy, White wrote, “is based upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. It assumes that the natural state of mankind is a state of war, and that the carnal mind is at enmity with God.”
Americans assume that people are basically bad. That, left to exercise their free will, people will usually succumb to their basest impulses. As the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, an ardent Calvinist, wrote: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.”
If people are scum, it follows that they must be controlled. Americans accept Lord Acton’s aphorism that power corrupts; thus we admire the wisdom of the founding fathers for crafting a system of government based on checks and balances.
A corollary of the assumption that people are inherently bad is that the ability to resist temptation is rare, and thus admirable. George Washington, we are told, stands as a paragon of virtue for retiring, Cincinnatus-like, resisting the siren call of his admirers to stay on as a sort of American king. The perfect American leader is like Washington — self-effacing, self-denying.
When Anthony Weiner, then a relatively obscure, verbally combative New York Congressman, was, um, exposed sending photographs of his genitals via Twitter in 2011, what happened next initially followed a familiar political redemption narrative. He resigned, apologized, and vanished for a while. A little while. Then he gave a pair of carefully crafted interviews that put his attractive wife, and by extension their marriage, front and center.
He apologized again. No more sexting, he promised.
Next he announced his candidacy for the mayoralty of America’s largest city. Though not necessarily a step down in his career, neither was it perceived as an attempt to leap forward.
So far so good. Weiner climbed quickly in the polls, and no wonder: though few people could identify with his proclivity for self-photography, it didn’t seem as serious as actual cheating — boning a young intern in the workplace, for example. New Yorkers are fond of feisty politicians, even more so nowadays when people feel betrayed by a system run by and for the 1%.
As a liberal Democrat, Weiner didn’t face accusations of hypocrisy (c.f., former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a “family values” right-wing Republican who bashed gays on the Senate floor while cruising for them in the St. Paul airport men’s room). Anyway, New York is the most liberal city in the country, hardly a bastion of Bible Belt self-righteousness. It didn’t hurt that his principal rival, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, was a singularly unattractive candidate, physically as well as politically. Few New Yorkers have forgotten Quinn’s perfidy in using her City Council to overturn term limits — which had been passed by a wide margin on the ballot — so that her ally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could run for a third term.
But then a low-rent website, The Dirty (!) revealed that Weiner had continued his old shenanigans. Not only was he sending out more photographs of his junk to random women online, he was carrying on cheesy virtual relationships with them. As Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC, this was something new: lying in the apology. And things got worse from there. It wasn’t just one woman, maybe it was three or six or whatever, who could really count? These days, the man who would be mayor can’t even say that he has stopped.
With the media, Democratic Party establishment, and even his wife’s mentors, Bill and Hillary Clinton, aligned against him, Anthony Weiner is plunging in the polls. It’s hard to imagine how he could recover by next month’s primary.
When you talk to voters in New York, they’re more amused by than disgusted at what Weiner did. Taking photographs of your penis, after all, is silly. Getting sexually aroused, or expecting women to get sexually aroused, by sexting seems kind of juvenile. It’s a boring kink, like a foot fetish. It isn’t gross, but it’s incomprehensibly goofy. Most people react to this sort of thing with a shrug. Whatever, if it makes you happy. And if his wife’s okay with it, why should we care?
What people really hold against Anthony Weiner is his lack of control. Clearly this man has a compulsion. All he had to do to become mayor of New York City was to stop sexting for 18 months. Clearly he couldn’t help himself.
It’s not the sin. It’s not the sexual proclivities, the unusual desires. It’s his lack of stoicism. His inability to suppress his compulsion.
Like all cultural assumptions, we take this one — our admiration for those who know how to play the game and our contempt for those who can’t/don’t — for granted. But it isn’t universal. Former Italian prime minister and media baron Silvio Burlosconi may well be heading to jail for tax evasion, but Italian voters didn’t give a damn about his prodigious sexual appetites, which manifested themselves at his notorious “bunga bunga” orgies, which featured under-aged prostitutes.
It’s easy to see how the inability to resist one’s primal sexual urges might make one a poor candidate for a position that required top-security clearance, for example. But Mayor of New York? I don’t really know the answer.
If the trash gets picked up on time and the subways run faster and the streets get cleaned and the schools improve, would it matter if the city’s chief executive spends his spare time setting up just the perfect shot for his private parts? If poverty is reduced and development is managed intelligently and the city’s budget gets balanced, would there be much harm in emailing dirty photos of himself to Midwestern floozies?
Like I said, I don’t know the answer. But we should be thinking about these questions — about what our societal priorities ought to be — more than about what is going on in Anthony Weiner’s brain.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
The Least Most Untruthful Analysis of Obama’s Orwellian Dystopia
Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian says “a lot more significant revelations” about America’s colossal Orwellian surveillance state are coming down the pike — courtesy of the thousands of pages of classified documents he obtained from Edward Snowden, the heroic former CIA contractor. That should be fun.
In the meantime, we’ve got a pair of doozies to digest: Verizon’s decision to turn over its the “metadata” — everything about every phone call (except the sound) to the NSA, and the PRISM program, under which the biggest Internet companies (Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, etc., pretty much all the top outfits except Twitter) let the NSA read our emails, see our photos, even watch our Skype chats.
Establishment politicians and their media mouthpieces are spinning faster than a server at the NSA’s new five zettabyte data farm in Utah, doing everything they can to obfuscate in the hope that we’ll forget this whole thing and climb back into our pods in The Matrix.
So let’s get some clarity on what’s really going on with 10 things you probably don’t know about the NSA scandals.
1. PRISM, not Verizon, is the bigger story.
Government-aligned mainstream media outlets like The New York Times and NPR focus more on Verizon because — though what the phone company did was egregious — it’s less indefensible. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Obama says. (When that’s what passes for reassurance, you’ve got a PR problem.) PRISM, they keep saying, is targeted at “foreigners” so Americans shouldn’t be angry about it. But…
2. PRISM really is directed at Americans.
“Unlike the call data collection program, this program focuses on mining the content of online communication, not just the metadata about them, and is potentially a much greater privacy intrusion,” notes Popular Mechanics.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to Congress that the NSA does not collect “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” “Not wittingly.” As The New York Times said in an uncharacteristically bold post, this is a lie. Here’s what’s behind the Rumsfeldian logic of what Clapper describes as his “least most untruthful” testimony: “What I was thinking of,” explains Clapper, “is looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers of those books in the metaphorical library. To me the collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the books off the shelf, opening it up and reading it.”
In other words, the NSA collects the search histories, emails, file transfer records and actual live chats of every American. They store them in a data farm. Whenever the NSA wants to look at them, they can. But according to Clapper, this isn’t “collecting.” It’s only “collecting” when they choose to read what they have.
I have bought several books. They’re on my shelf. I haven’t read them yet. Have I “collected” them? Of course.
I don’t want the NSA to read my sexts or look at my dirty pictures. The fact that they may not have gotten around to it yet — but have them sitting on their shelves — doesn’t make me feel better.
3. President Obama should be impeached over this.
Richard Nixon was. Or would have been, if he hadn’t resigned. Obama, his top officials and his political surrogates have repeatedly and knowingly lied to us when they said the NSA didn’t “routinely sweep up information about millions of Americans.” He should go now. So should others who knew about this.
4. PRISM and other NSA spy programs are not approved by courts or by Congress.
White House defenders say the surveillance — which is, remember, a comprehensive vacuuming up of the entire Internet, and of every phone call ever made — has been approved by the legislative and judicial branches, so there’s nothing to worry about. But that isn’t true. The “FISA court” is so secret that, until last week, no one had ever seen a document issued by it. It’s not a real court. It’s a useless rubber stamp panel that literally approves every surveillance request the government asks for. In 2012, that’s 1856 requests and 1856 approvals.
Very few members of Congress were aware of the Verizon or PRISM programs before reading about them in the media. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a few select Friends of Barack, that’s it. That’s not Congressional oversight. Real oversight occurs in full session, in public, on C-SPAN.
5. There is no evidence that NSA spying keeps America safe. And so what if it did?
According to government officials, PRISM saved the New York City subways from being bombed in 2009. Actually, the alleged would-be terrorist was caught by old-fashioned detective work, not data-mining. There is zero evidence that the NSA has saved a single American from being blown up.
But so what if it did? In recent years, between 15 and 17 Americans a year died worldwide from terrorist attacks. You’re as likely to be crushed to death by your television set. It’s sad for the dozen and a half victims, of course. But terrorism is a low, low national priority. Or it should be. Terrorism isn’t enough of a danger to justify taking away the privacy rights of 320 million people.
6. This is not a post-9/11 thing.
We’re being told that PRISM and the latest Patriot Act-approved surveillance state excesses date back to post-9/11 “make us safe at any cost” paranoia. In fact, the NSA has been way up in your business long before that.
Back in December 1998 the French newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur revealed the existence of a covert partnership between the NSA and 26 U.S. allies. “The power of the network, codenamed ECHELON, is astounding,” the BBC reported in 1999. “Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism…the system is so widespread all sorts of private communications, often of a sensitive commercial nature, are hoovered up and analyzed.” ECHELON dates back to the 1980s. PRISM picks up where ECHELON left off, adding the Internet to its bag of tricks.
7. Edward Snowden expects to be extradited.
U.S. state media wonders aloud, “puzzled” at whistleblower Snowden’s decision to go to Hong Kong, which routinely extradites criminal suspects to the United States. But Snowden’s explanation is crystal clear. All you have to do is listen. “People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions,” he told a local newspaper. “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.” Snowden could go to Ecuador, or perhaps Venezuela or Iceland. He’s staying put because he wants to face trial in the U.S. And I doubt he’ll cop a plea when he does. He wants a political hearing so he can put the system on trial. In the meantime, he’ll use the time it’ll take Obama’s legal goons to process the extradition to talk to journalists. To explain himself. To make his case to the public. And, of course, to help shepherd those new revelations Greenwald mentioned.
8. Caught being evil — or collaborating with evil — Google and other tech companies are scared shitless.
And they should be. Consumers and businesses know now that when Big Brother comes calling, Big Tech doesn’t do what they should do — protect their customers’ privacy by calling their lawyers and fighting back. This could hurt their bottom lines. “Other countries will start routing around the U.S. information economy by developing, or even mandating, their own competing services,” speculates Popular Mechanics. Europe, worried about the U.S. exploiting the NSA for industrial espionage, began working on work-around systems that avoid U.S. Internet concerns.
9. 56% of Americans trust the government’s PRISM program, which the government repeatedly lied about. What people don’t know should worry them.
You’re not a terrorist. You don’t hang out with them. So why worry? Because the data collected by the NSA isn’t likely to stay locked up in Utah forever. Data wants to be free — and hackers have already proven they can access the NSA. Some want to sell it to private concerns. To insurance companies, so they can determine whether your buying habits make you a suitable risk. To banks. To security outfits, to run background checks for their clients. To marketers. Mining of Big Data can screw up your life — bad credit, can’t get a job — and you’ll never know what you hit you. Oh, and don’t forget: governments change. Nixon abused the IRS and FBI to attack political opponents. Innocuous census data that collected religious affiliations was used by the Nazis to round up Jews when they came to power.
10. In the long run, the end of privacy will liberate us.
Everyone (who isn’t boring) has a dirty secret. The way things are going, all those secrets will be as out as Dan Savage — and just as happy and self-assured. Blackmail — the nobody-talks-about-real-reason-PRISM-is-creepy — only works if most dirty secrets are hard to come by. But if everyone’s got a nude photo online, if everyone’s sexual deviations are searchable and indexed, the power of shame goes away as quickly as it does at a nudist colony. By the time the surveillance state plays out, we may look back at 2013 as the year when America began to move past Puritanism.
If we’re not in a gulag.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Based on an actual conversation between me and another member of the human race, this cartoon is a commentary on the shrinking attention span of the American public. Quite literally, I had a college educated friend fail to understand one of my tweets because he skimmed it rather than read it. You know society is about to collapse when 140 characters is simply too much.