Obama On Intelligence Reform: Same As It Ever Was

Obama On Intelligence Reform: Same As It Ever Was

We’re not smart enough to appreciate Barrack Obama. To cut the story short, that’s his press conference on intelligence oversight this past Friday. He proposes no changes really to current intelligence practices.

For those crediting Snowden and his odd travelogue for initiating this conversation? Here’s Obama’s ante so far: (a) a new Community website explaining that everything is constitutional; (b) a new someone called a ‘privacy officer’ at NSA with the immense power of an empty in box; (c) co-opting the Blumenthal-Udall-Wyden procedural bill proposing a special advocate to participate in select FISA proceedings to contest government representations; and (d) yet another outside group (joining President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and its Intelligence Oversight Board) to meet and do what?

A bit underwhelming. Even as opening gambit.

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A Day In Edward Snowden’s Moscow Life – The Secret History

Cut to scene: Ed Snowden flees to Hong Kong, spending his 30th birthday there at the Russian consulate. Yet we are told his immediate run to Moscow was both unplanned and caught the Russian government completely by surprise. Some tabulate the cascading coincidences intertwining Snowden and Russian operatives or their known consorts. The sheer weight of incidents is non-trivial.

As with all things, data by itself is not information. The key questions remain unanswered: (i) when did Snowden decide to be an adversary of the U.S. government?; (ii) how did he reach that decision – by himself or did Others recruit or encourage him?; (iii) carrying out his actions, did he have help and from whom?

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Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

Episode Recap

State of play so far since our last episode. Putin bemoans now being stuck with an unwelcome Christmas present (Snowden). Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offer Snowden asylum but can’t get him there. The man of the hour meanwhile finally seeks asylum in Russia yet’s vague about ceasing public ‘anti-U.S. activities’, a pre-condition set by Putin.

Greenwald in turn threatens the U.S. with the worst disaster in history should anything ever happen to Snowden – while decrying that people pay too much attention to Snowden. And the U.S. hints about canceling a tete-a-tete with Putin after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

So we ask you to join in our poll:

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The Amnesiatic Society And Institutions Of Permanent Memory

L’Affaire Snowden is pretty much a Rorschach test. Except with consequences.

We haven’t weighed in almost at all so far. Frankly, most of the froth — from allegedly scandalized American sans cullottes to the security Nomenklatura — have been acting according to pre-determined, pre-ordained scripts. It’s been a bore. And doesn’t change the status quo.

Former NSA Director Michael Hayden conceded after Snowden’s debut that the Verizon order and the PRISM slides contained almost nothing not already in the public domain. NSA’s major concern? The release tidied everything up in one morsel for grokking by a Twitter-debauched, nanosecond mentality. Snowden’s initial leaks were that most dangerous of things: meme friendly.

If there’s one thing America in the Age of Obama can do well, it’s consuming memes. Still, why would a society obsessed with forgetting yesterday in return for a transient dopamine fix today take a stand on privacy now? Some of it’s politics to be sure. A white God Emperor King presiding over socialist authoritarianism from 2001-2008 is an all too different kettle of fish to someone, er, half white. So the Movement’s reaction is pre-cooked. Then there’s the motley crew (note the e and w) of long time privacy activists, Mac Book Air anarchists, Twitter self promoters, Net Roots types and everyone else who long since sold their souls to Google, Amazon and Facebook. Who here thinks this assortment can create durable politics when the memes grow stale? To take on and prevail against Nomneklatura planning on global, decades-long scales? These are institutions of permanent memory.

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Dealing With The Clueless Leading The Clueless

Americans finally talk about the elephant in the room. Obama is infatuated with detachment and rhetoric. We called that one since 2007.

Still, what took Progressives and Liberals — now 6 years after the fact — so long?

Tout le monde now knowingly declare Obama’s signature trait when facing a manageable political situation is to do nothing. His political inaction empowers implausible Rightist narratives to coalesce and gain traction through sheer repetition. He transforms initially manageable circumstances into viable Rightist political narratives.

Benghazi. IRS. AP surveillance. And so on. Each have differing fact patterns and political consequences. Each also easily telegraphed a warhead for Rightist narratives. Pro-active political engagement would meet and combat those narratives. Perhaps Obama the cynic may not care, knowing these memes really will mature in the 2016 campaign.

Many felt shock seeing an aged Clinton masterfully demonstrate the joy of political combat this past season. Politics is about engagement. Triangulation and other sins aside, Clinton engaged and neutralized Rightist resurgence. The country he turned over in 2000 was far more stable and available for purposeful, constructive non-Rightist politics than in 1994. What will Obama bequeath us?

But it’s not all Obama’s fault, even if mainly so. The ‘Commentariat’ and permanent government are transactional. If diagnosis is easy, what to do about it?

That’s our challenge. We’ve all predicted the political incompetence. We may be galled that professional or self-promotionally visible Liberal voices come to party only now. But he still has 3 years to go.

Thoughts On Boston’s Crisis, The New Tribalism And Participatory Meaning

Thoughts On Boston’s Crisis, The New Tribalism And Participatory Meaning

Events in Boston last week illustrate how technology shapes our personal identity. And how little we understand the process. Boston shows us a foretaste of the new tribalism that relies on ephemeral situations and adrenalin to create a sense of belonging. It will change what it means to be an American.

Boston Is Saved By An Angel

What Is The New Tribalism?

First, the definitions. We’ll start with new tribalism is an individual’s sense of self, belonging and loyalty. That sense of self is defined by participating in communal activity responding to an ad hoc event or crisis. Here, it’s a new tribe following a terrorist bombing. This new ‘tribe’ is interesting because its values can supplement traditional ones, at least temporarily.

Doubtlessly you are already asking, ‘So is it really new’? In the past, rallies and concerts might be seen as the forerunners to today’s phenomenon. Certainly true of the Party rallies in the 1930s, for example. And the various ideologies of the now trite ‘happenings’ and ‘sit ins’ in the 1960s, as well as mass spectacles of Woodstock, etc.

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State of Play Spring 2013

Enough time has passed since the election for us to ask “What precisely has been learned?”

Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, “Not much”.

Our politics remain inert and non-enrolling because there aren’t any, aside from the febrile paroxysms within the Movement. We remain isolated and suspended, our very expression of self denied by the suffocating paralysis of Obama and the Democrats’ admonition “At least we are not Them”. Their impotence is imposed upon us.

Witness the Commentariat. What to make of self-identified progressives and liberals [sic] trolling CPAC in 2013? Old 6 years ago. How little understanding still. One well known ‘liberal’ commentator asked “Why do Republicans allow CPAC to happen?” And so on. Decrying Politico’s transactional information culture misses that’s always been DC.

More damningly, the same Commentariat continuously is surprised by events. After their ‘reporting’ these last years purporting to explain Movements, political and economic histories. Do they not read their own words? Demonstrating that the last 20 years taught them nothing. Leaving us further stifled.

The Post November Hangover

It’s Just Something In The Eye

Cheney et al. re-taught the world the basic lesson: process is not politics. Process can serve political purposes, can illuminate and clarify values and goals, but by itself is a nullity. Yet for the last five years, non-radicalized political space in America has been wholly subsumed by nothing other than process and related commentary. We remain stupefied, distracted from concrete engagement by empty rhetorical ephemera and Tweets.

Nothing has changed.

That’s not to say, for example, that real choices aren’t being made. They are. But as defensive reaction to a fraction of a minority’s submersion in ritual role-play as self-identity. So we are dosed with ‘victories’ permanently enshrining 99% of Cheney’s tax cuts. Surely, you have another favorite.

Perhaps you are thinking health care? Recall health care largely began in the House. With the Senate trailing. A disaster in the making because the other Branch remained bizarrely mute at times – after the infamous Tauzin meeting. Many times the entire enterprise careened into near failure needlessly (from the Ds point of view). Labeling the legislation Obamacare later does not make it so. These words have profound meaning.

As one example, Andy Pincus, former General Counsel at the Clinton Commerce Department, largely on his own initiative and tardily dominated a Republican controlled conference successfully on a major bill that affects your very ability to read this. The EOP wasn’t even really paying attention. Pincus manipulated the appearance of EOP interest to sow discord among Republican factions.

Don’t take our word for it. Committee staffers for a once powerful ex-senator from Texas railed in the press about the Republican debacle. Among others who blamed Lott, etc.

That’s just example when a departmental lawyer can have an impact on a frozen, tectonic situation. The level of toxicity then only seems less with time. Knowing when and how to engage is crucial. Or being lucky. It’s possible Pincus never planned or even knew how Republicans perceived his role. But he acted even if as Quixote.

So back to today. Dinners are nice. Phone calls, too. But if not wed to an expression of goals transcending serving process they’re ultimately nihilism. All of us here have long prepared for accepting calamity by disengaged default in lieu of catastrophe. Long before others, our hearty band here diagnosed the Disengagement Disease (AKA as Goldilocks Syndrome – ed.). November’s sweet escape from Movement’s grasp turns sour quickly.

If only so-called progressives, etc. mocking CPAC, for example, could husband that energy building real, tangible post-2016 politics. All of us in our hearts feel their lack. Perhaps the 2008-2012 crowd took our measure correctly. And dreams of escaping our marginalization become merely recursive. One thing we do control: our hope.

Keeping Up With ‘The Americans’

Keeping Up With ‘The Americans’

Pop culture fascination with the covert continues to crest. Under Bush besides the torture porn of ’24′, NCIS began its long run exalting ‘warfighters’ and hierarchical obediance. We endured the Bournes’ editing and celebrated a more brutal Bond.

And it continues. “Homeland” has become a ‘Starbuckian’ touchstone. “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” pull crowds. Even lighter, sillier cable fare like the CW’s “Nikita” and USA’s “Burn Notice” name check espionage argot.

And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne

And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne

So what to make of FX’s new series, “The Americans”? Larval CIA employee Joseph Weisberg (1990-94, no overseas) launched it all. He runs with the 2010 ‘Anna Chapman Spy Ring’ sensationalism but places his ostensibly married Soviet ‘illegal’ couple in Reagan’s 1981 America. The producers add some “Californication”-esque gestures; within the pilot’s first hour the female Soviet spy fellates a hapless presidential confidante, ostentatiously wiping her mouth afterwards and is later shown raped brutally. She also asks said confidante, supra, if he liked her finger up his ass. Quelle shock!

If It’s Phil Collins, It Must Be The 80′s

But is it any good?

When credits rolled, we asked “What did we just see?” It’s all preposterous, of course, as it must be. A show survives if it entertains. Here, the team generously drops gratuitous and titillating details to provide a modicum of verisimilitude – beyond say, “Burn Notice”. Yet for all that “The Americans” likely will be a soap opera.

The Soviet husband likes American malls and wants to defect. The wife is fiercely opposed, clinging to a memory of Moscow in 1962. And their kids! Already their young boy seems to have the hots for the next door neighbor’s daughter. Her dad’s an FBI counter-intelligence agent (yes, really). Oh, and there’s a KGB general. He pops up somehow at the end in D.C. to tell the female spy he’s fighting off extremists in Moscow while defending the motherland.

The atmosphere is the show’s real star and asset. Like Miami Vice, the show wants us to notice the music, style and set decorating. The clothes accurately are post 70s muted browns and not the much later, stereotypical big hair, neon and mullets. (Watch for Members Only jackets in future eps). They’ve gone the extra mile recreating 1981 on a basic cable budget. The music from Phil Collins to Pat Benatar is true to that year’s charts. (The only bum note was using The Who’s ‘Eminence Front’ as the FX TV ad campaign, which was from 1982).

Still, atmosphere can carry only so far. A soap opera requires caricatures acting broadly. The show’s premise and conceit point the other way. And nothing suggests ambition to deconstruct the American self-image through the eyes of its Soviet protagonists. Leaving us with what, precisely?

We doubt we’ll stick around after initial novelty dissipates. Aside from name-check fan service, it feels like Oakland, no there, there. (For that matter, we’ve never been able to sit through a re-watching of the recent “Tinker, Tailor” remake; the original BBC show remains sublime). Many pulp series have overcome inauspicious pilots. Will be interesting to see if we’re given a reason to care in time.

Why Liberals And Non-Rightists Lose The Deficit Hawk War

Striking how today’s Washington deficit and debt debates echo Continental arguments and policies in the 1920s and 1930s. As before, Malthusian linear extrapolation of today’s circumstances leads to a cataclysmic future. Ideology and epistemology fuel and derive sustenance from that apocalypse.

While E.J. Dionne is not often cited here in the bunker, he did sum up the Malthus Cheerleaders well:

The moment’s highest priority should be speeding economic growth and ending the waste, human and economic, left by the Great Recession. But you would never know this because the conversation in our nation’s capital is being held hostage by a ludicrous cycle of phony fiscal deadlines driven by a misplaced belief that the only thing we have to fear is the budget deficit.

A major reason Malthus walks among us again is so few American policy makers are economically literate. And shrink from basic maths. Economists aren’t much better. Consider how ideology as ‘free trade’ ignored mercantilist manipulation from Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore, Seoul and Beijing because ‘consumer welfare’ was the immutable barometer. (Lawyers, too – remember the Chicago School (law and economics) influenced decision that Japan couldn’t dump TVs in America because Japan was a capitalist country and firms don’t do unprofitable things).

MPHG

Adding to difficulties? The federal budget’s opacity and arcana induces a particularly sudden coma. Only the most fanatical (masochistic) dive in. Thus, Paul Ryan’s outsized public presence. And David Walker’s. Who, you ask? A previously obscure U.S. Controller General, he launched his Comeback America Initiative to sound the alarm of budgetary doom without massive and immediate cuts. Omnipresent in D.C. and its Acela Mid Town adjunct, Walker comes perilously close to demanding an emergency government of national deficit reduction act. If you wonder where Joe Scarborough got his talking points (and Mika, too) look no further.

What Ryan and Walker (and les autres) provide are essentially crib sheets for how to sound informed while not really understanding the math, economics or actual budget mechanics. They dodge questions by barraging arcane factoids and posing existential act or die false binaries. They’s also spent years building to this moment. Even if their public notoriety seems overnight. It’s that trifecta – seeming expertise, simple solutions (draconian budget cuts) that people can analogize to their home cheque book, and relentless Malthus meme promotion.

There’re no corresponding figures promoting growth engaged across this full spectrum engagement. Who can and will feed the sound bite news entertainment machines. And walk the halls of Congress, lobbying with hard simplicities. Or taking years to build national grass roots movements.

Bruce Bartlett, for example, as a Republican budget and fiscal analyst long argued for spending restraints under Bush. And was fired for his troubles. He also understands that growth is the solution to debt and deficit constraints. Still, he’s an outlier in most Movement/Republican circles and by temperament and training more wonky than meme political. (Meant as a compliment, Bruce). Krugman has similar but even more profound limits. And so on.

To see E.J. Dionne above write a column is nice. Or the Daily Beast writing that E.J. Dionne wrote that column (albeit showing pretty shoddy understanding of macro-economics 101). This highlights our point. When columns are themselves noteworthy, it underscores the vacancy on the actual political playing field.

Are we wrong? Who’s the champion for a growth-led strategy?

Obama’s Inauguration 2013: Sometimes A Little Is Enough

Watching Obama move through ritual and choreographed set pieces yesterday, one couldn’t help but imagine it had things gone otherwise in November. That mercy alone validates another 4 years of tactical placeholding.

That’s not to say Obama’s post-November actions reek of the same political ineptitude and disengagement that marked his tepid first term. He’s beginning to show glimmers that he finally grasps his role is inherently political. That it is OK to win and be seen winning. His decision to spin off his electoral database/network into a 501(c)(4) for future political deployment is likewise encouraging. Could Goldilocks be a thing of the past?

Obama On The New, New Frontier

Obama On The New, New Frontier

Yet it’s still remarkable how feeble these steps are after the last 12 (30) years. Democratic triumphalism now is particularly disturbing. The underlying political incompetence of the Democratic party has not changed. Assuming temporary Movement narrative disarray will be permanent just an example. More damning, the sophomoric gloating of a permanent future majority on birthrates alone is utterly dubious.

Malthusian extrapolation of future generations based on 2012 demographic voting blocks is simply not professionally defensible. True, Republicans debate whether Obama represents a tectonic shift or a personality-led (read ‘black’ but not on their powerpoint slides) phenomenon. But to assume blithely that Latinos, etc. will bestow offspring genetically committed to Democrats is to squat on sand. Beyond a turnout machine, what have the Democrats or Obama really built?

Let Obama Be Reagan . . .

Sadly, not much. People too young actually to remember Reagan tell us Obama was ‘Reagan-esque’. Albeit of the so-called progressive bent. Those ‘progressive’ cable bloviators who do remember Reagan utter banal delusions that we should return to the Reagan era’s collegiately and bi-partisanship. That Reagan was a kindly grandfather who just had a fixation about the Soviets. Ignoring Iran-Contra, the Sandanistas, Bork, Zero Option and SDI.

All nonsense. First, Reagan’s election (and inaugural addresses) culminated the Movement’s first massive co-opting of the Republican Party. Not the converse like Obama. Aside from shared sentiment, there is little to suggest the Democratic Party as an institution is configured for such a political campaign.

Second, Obama has it backward. The Movement was already solidly entrenched, coordinated and linked by infrastructure before Reagan’s election. The Movement hit the ground running. For example, when Heritage published ‘Mandate for Leadership’, Morton Blackwell and many others had already placed key personnel on the Hill and provided troops to sweep into the Executive Branch. Case in point? Gary Bauer, who toiled over at the Education Department at an obscure junior level, believe it or not. And so on across the Administration.

Finally, the Movement as a coherent (if amorphous) collection of ideological strands was already a real local and state presence before Reagan won in 1980. The Movement’s strands may have bickered internally but all sure as hell knew the enemy, and all were dedicated to its destruction. And when they began in the 1970s, they were willing to work for a future triumph knowing it might be far off.

The differences with the Democratic Party 2013 or Obama’s GOTV apparatus clear. MSNBC, Twitter, etc. might compress the time required for replicating the Movement’s meme distribution ala Reagan. But cadre development and building institutions take time regardless. Certainly more than the year (year and a half?) available to Obama before 2016 overshadows all.

Obama’s campaign database might be a useful first step in that direction. A long term political realignment requires a more robust infrastructure intellectually and physically than one election’s volunteer mobilization and GOTV.

To seek a Reagan-like political alignment, Obama (note not the Democratic Party) would be bizarrely trying to do on the fly, upside down. It’s a shame because we urged the Democratic Party and ‘progressives’ to start this effort since 2005. Had that happened, much that happened yesterday would have profound and real impact. Today it’s just, well, hope.

Can Obama build a durable political transformation now, when he is already a lame duck walking? It’ll be interesting to watch a man so utterly disdainful of political engagement try.

Still, how pleasant to write this instead of witnessing November’s alternative lurching to life.