TIA, DARPA, FSM, Hitchens and Merle Haggard the Maoist

So let’s join Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge at a recent Pentagon press briefing, where he’s addressing concerns about the Pentagon’s bold new plan to have Admiral John Poindexter personally review exactly what you bought in Safeway last week and all the dirty movies you ordered up in Motel 6, last time you were on the road.

Poindexter, you’ll recall, is the bespectacled seadog who, as one of Reagan’s National Security chieftains, instrumented another bold effort in synergy, later known as Iran/Contra, which involved shuffling money and guns along the axis of evil from Iran to the Nicaraguan contras in defiance of US laws at the time. Poindexter got nailed for lying to Congress but was later pardoned.

Back to Aldridge:

“We established a project within DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, that would develop an experimental prototype — underline, experimental prototype, which we call the Total Information Awareness System. The purpose of TIA would be to determine the feasibility of searching vast quantities of data to determine links and patterns indicative of terrorist activities.”

Aldridge reeled off the TIA research menu: rapid language translation, using computer voice-recognition techniques; discovery of connections between transactions — such as passports; visas; work permits; driver’s license; credit card; airline tickets; rental cars; gun purchases; chemical purchases — and events — such as arrest or suspicious activities and so forth.

What about privacy? Aldridge is soothing: “We’re designing this system to ensure complete anonymity of uninvolved citizens, thus focusing the efforts of law enforcement officials on terrorist investigations.”

This is too much for one reporter, who cries out, ” How is this not domestic spying? I don’t understand this. You have these vast databases that you’re looking for patterns in. Ordinary Americans, who aren’t of Middle East origin, are just typical, ordinary Americans, their transactions are going to be perused.”

“It is a technology that we’re developing,” Aldridge offers by way of response, meaning that DARPA is merely assembling the software package. “We’ll have to operate under the same legal conditions as we do today that protects individuals’ privacy when this is operated by the law enforcement agency.”

The press dutifully howled about Big Brother and Orwell, which is perfectly fine, but which misses the sad truth that DARPA is limping along in the wake of reality. For most practical purposes Total Information Awareness got here years ago. Police reports, criminal record, mortgage records, credit history, medical history, former employment, DMV data either lawfully or with artifice any competent private investigator can get the skinny on you. Wiretaps? My local lineman tells me that years ago the cops stopped even asking the phone company for an okay to monitor calls. Try buying a gun and see how many questions you have to answer.

I took a Gloucester canary to the Arcata Animal Hospital the other day to have a cyst gouged out of its wing, and was handed a form demanding not only such intimate details as whether I fed my birds green vegetables but also my social security number. Back in 1936 they said these numbers would be secret and (so the late, great Murray Kempton used to recall) Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon, campaigning against Social Security, used to proclaim, “Mark my words, that number will follow you from cradle to grave.” He was right about that one.

Not so long ago our friend, and CounterPuncher, Susan Davis, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana, described how at work one day, she’d gone to Amazon on her computer and ordered up a used copy of Estelle Friedman and John D’ Emilio’s breakthrough book “Intimate Matters: a History of Sexuality in America.” You can guess what the Amazon server did next. It brought to Susan’s attention a long and most unchaste list of books about sex. But since she was writing a profile for CounterPunch of Gershon Legman, a folklorist who was also a sex researcher she skimmed these lists to see if there’s anything she could use. Up popped “A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis,” with enthusiastic academic as well as popular reviews.

Susan added “A Mind of Its Own” to her shopping cart, browsed some more, placed her order, picked up her papers and went off home. Her husband met at the door with an upset look at his face. “You’ve just had an urgent call from Capital One Visa. They want you call back RIGHT away!”

In Susan’s ensuing conversation with CapitalOne Visa, a young woman inquired whether she had just placed several orders with “a bookstore, for items totaling about $45”. Susan allowed as how she had. What was the problem? “I’ve done much bigger volume in a single day than that.” “Just a routine check,” said the woman. “Is it the content of what I bought?” Susan wondered aloud. “Or is it that a few months ago I reported my Visa card lost and had to get a new one?” Neither, she was reassured , “just a routine check.”

We live in the world of the routine check. Vary your shopping travel patterns and the credit card company is programmed to start asking questions. A national ID card? We already carry one, known as a driver’s license. Somewhere I still have an Vermont driver’s license from the l970s. A bit of white pasteboard. No photo. I once offered it to an officer of the California Highway Patrol, who gazed at it bemusedly before throwing it on the ground. The cops have a battery of pretexts they use, so that they can stop any driver anywhere and run a check. Ask any black person, of any income bracket, how many times they get checked driving across, say, Los Angeles.

Big Brother? Big Brother figured out laws in the 1980s, enthusiastically passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress, which laid the legal groundwork for imprisoning and disenfranchising black people in vast numbers. When it comes to social control, DARPA has nothing to offer in its quest for total transparency except total confusion, which remains our last best hope. Call it informational entropy: the more they collect, the less sense they can make out of it.

How, as a Young Man, I Experimented With Beer, and Other Terrible Confessions

Listen to John Kerry, one of the hopefuls for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, trying to cover his ass in an interview with the New Yorker’s Joe Klein. “I knew how to have a lot of fun, sometimes too much. There were plenty of times when I was disengaged, frivolous, four sheets to the wind on a weekend.”

As Jeffrey St Clair remarks, “We’ve now entered a new age of Political Puritanism, where every presidential campaign will begin with a tear-stained confession of drunkenness and lechery in a former life, a month at Hazelton or Betty Ford, and weeks or even years of sobriety. Since when did Utah become a wedge state? Can you really win votes in Milwaukee or Pittsburgh snivelling like this? Where’s Wilbur Mills when we really need him?”

Can’t we just stipulate that all those the popular mandate have at some point “experimented” with drugs and booze.

Hitchens in Berkeley

So what finally happened when Christopher Hitchens came to the UC Berkeley campus to an event commemorating Mario Savio and offered his habitual tirades in favor of dropping bombs on Iraq? Mostly what transpired was an exercise of controlled, unfree speech that would have been the envy of the UC authorities Savio defied.

Here are excerpts of an account by Joseph Anderson.

“I was the ONLY person actually present last night to verbally protest Hitchens at the dog & pony show, known as the Hochschild & Hitchens discussion (interview), at the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture. And I know there were others who strongly disagreed with Hitchen’s selection.

Last night’s program was a travesty and a sham: a travesty to the memory of Mario Savio and a sham of an exercise in critical examination of the issues of war & peace. ..There was no other protest of any discernable kind regarding Hitchens’ selections, except for a 8-1/2×11-inch word processor paper sign that Aaron Aarons occasionally held up reading, ‘Hitchens’ Presence Tonight Insults Mario’s Memory’, and “Hitchens Tonight, Bush in 2003?”) Lynn Hollander [Savio] is totally unconscious of the many ways in which she contradicts herself, as well as the spirit and philosophy of her late husband (and I think that is very sad).

” For all the talk about “free speech”: for one, Lynn Savio wouldn’t even allow one of the Mario Savio Award recipients herself, Harmony(?), from making a brief comment (presumably about Hitchens’ pro-war comments) during Q&A about the proceedings. Lynn said that the Award recipient herself could only ask a 1-minute question! Lynn also said that no one in the Q&A line could make any statements, but limited people to only 1-minute (token soundbite) questions! So much for “free speech”.

“In fact, since the award recipients also made comments during their speech regarding war and peace, and imperialistic wars, in general, and the impending U.S.-Iraq war, in particular, they should have been allowed up on the dais themselves to field questions from the audience too–perhaps giving answers differing from Hitchens. Without any effective way to challenge Hitchens on some of his lame pro-war assertions, and with his ability to just cast off even more lame, and often what passed for ‘witty’ (glib and fatuous), responses without the possibility of informed rebuttal, I don’t know why anyone would seriously participate in the further pretense of Q&A.

“When I was making my verbal protest at the microphone Hitchens signaled to Lynn that I be cut off–well before my 60 seconds was upA friend of mine (Carla) said that she happened to be sitting up front near Hitchens and she heard him say to someone else that it was ‘rude’ for the award recipients to be making statements against the war in Iraq (as well as other “U.S. imperialistic wars”), given that he was pro-war. ”

Don’t Blame the Free Speech Movement

On November 21 we ran Michael Rossman’s account of how the leaders of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley failed to stand up for Lenny Glaser, aka Lenni Brenner. Set up by UC Berkeley authorities Glaser was packed off to state prison for a three year-plus term for possession of a roach. Responding here to Rossman is Mitch Freedman, now chief of the American Library Association.

“Michael Rossman is wrong to attribute cowardice to the Free Speech Movement. He confuses the actions-‘cowardice’ as he puts it–of the FSM Steering Committee with the body of FSM. I’m one of the masses that comprised the FSM. The Steering Committee never told us a thing about Glaser’s arrest–and I attended just about every demonstration. Had the Steering Committee informed everyone about it, the outcome might have been different, but then he could talk about the FSM’s cowardice (or bravery) depending on the whole group’s action. The Steering Committee wasn’t the FSM–everyone who showed up at the demonstrations, sat-in, and worked against the university’s repression were the FSM. Rossman can keep the appellation of coward for himself and those on the Steering Committee who silently went along with keeping Glaser’s arrest quiet, but he shouldn’t slander the FSM.

“Incidentally, Glaser/now Brenner, was the first political speaker I remember hearing at Berkeley during my years there as a graduate student, 1961-1965. I admired his courage and indefatigability. He was out there day after day wailing away regardless of how many or how few were listening.”

The Antiwar Movement in the 1960s

Not so long ago I decried the effort by Marc Cooper, David Corn, Todd Gitlin and others to redbait the current antiwar movement, insinuating that all the demonstrators are dupes of Saddam Hussein, Ramsay Clark and the Workers World Party. Corn went on the O’Reilly Show to reiterate his allegation of dupedom.

Someone has to do the organizing, and thus far it’s been the Workers World Party, which doesn’t mean that everyone left the recent demos in DC and the Bay Area with the WWP’s secret plan for revolution burned into their synapses. I pointed out that “It wasn’t until 1966 and 1967, that the left, particularly the Socialist Workers Party, managed to stage the big anti war rallies that that broke forever the pro-war consensus, and set the stage for more radical actions. And by then there was that potent fuel for an antiwar movement, the draft, which prompted Stop the Draft Week.”

This passage elicited some interesting correspondence, starting with a note from that excellent historian of the left, Stew Albert:

Dear Alexander C. Actually, the first big march against the war took place in NYC in 1964 on May 2. It was somewhat covertly organized by the Maoist Progressive Labor Party. Thousands marched from Harlem to the UN. And a PLP front group, the May 2, Movement was born.

“The next big event. that I recall, was organized in Berkeley in 1965 by a coalition of New Leftists, CPers, PLers and yes the SWP. The coalition was called the Vietnam Day Committee and its most prominent member was Jerry Rubin. The VDC organized a massive teach-in and several very large marches in BerkeleySDS jumped in organizing a teach-ins in Ann Arbor and elsewhere and a big protest demo in DC. The SWP began showing itself in a strong way in the later 60’s but as a force more moderate and experimental than Dave Dellinger’s pacifists.”

Stew added that my overall point “holds up very well. If Maoists organized the event it did not create a compulsory Maoism. Same with the Trotskyists. All these groups helped build the peace movement. Though the great thing was that a new left developed, that was able to work with them -and put aside the anti-Red biases of the 50’s social democrats.”

So Stew was saying is that there were anti-war activities before that, and some pretty big ones, too. And that there were lots of other leftists involved. He is right. No doubt. But, as Frank Bardacke points out in another useful note, “the earlier demonstrations didn’t break ‘forever the pro-war consensus.’ It was the big, peaceful marches followed by seven-and-a-half hours of speeches which did that. Broke the cold war consensus, and nearly bored the movement to death in its crib.

Other notes on Sixties history: Jeff Cohen comments that “SDS was big in the ’65 DC event. The Pentagon protest in ’67 was more counter-cultural, Yippie-types, etc. Ed Sanders did the incantation to levitate the building. In Detroit, SWP was at the center of all mass antiwar rallies.”

And from Tim Harding, in a communication relayed by Ed Pearl: “Dear Ed: The SWP in the US was extremely important in building the anti-war movement in the 67-71 period. Fred Halstead was one of the most important leaders at that time in the mobilizations. Alex gives them too much credit, but they had an excellent principled position and worked very well in that leadership. This last week on the Lawyers’ Guild program on KPFK they discussed that period in the context of the Red Baiting of the role of Workers’ World in the current movement and gave credit to the SWP for one national coalition and the CP for another. SDS were important too but not by any means alone, and mostly in the early period. As you know, the FSM was a regional development and not a national organizer group. Fred Halstead’s book OUT NOW is a useful history.”

And from Mike Klonsky: “Thanks to ALEXANDER COCKBURN for the American Journal piece. The new respectable neocons from the left were never really that left to begin with. Even in the 60’s, one in particular was hanging out on campus with the respectable Young Democrats while those scruffy, long-haired SDS students, left-wingers, commies and young activists were getting arrested at the nearby Van Nuys Air National Guard base trying to stop the bombers heading for Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

“By the way, it’s should have been noted that it was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) who organized the first massive anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C. in 1965.”

And Finally…Was Merle Haggard in the RCP?

From a CounterPuncher: “This is worthless as news, but interesting as gossip. I remember hearing back in the 70’s that various Maoist activists (RCP probably) were talking to Merle a lot. Who knows what the truth was or what came of this, but it’s enough to say that Merle was never the jingoist that his songs made him out to be. “Okie From Muskogee” was a goof, after all, that became a big hit by accident. I always thought that Fighting Side was a marketing ploy, like those other lousy follow-up songs that pop artists were constantly recording in the 60’s. Merle is true to his roots in an era when other country stars don’t even have them. Go listen to White Line Fever or Branded. That’s the guy who wants to punch Ashcroft in the mouth.”

To which Dave Marsh comments: “does ANYONE out there pay attention to the contradictions of populism? He meant ALL those songs–and the ones he’s singing now, too.”

And this just in from Bob Morris.

Stand Down. “The Left-Blog blog opposing an invasion of Iraq.” This is a collaborative weblog with about thirty weblogs from Left, Right, and Libertarian viewpoints posting why they oppose an Iraq War and what we can do to stop it.

The commentary here is excellent, quality stuff. http://www.nowarblog.org


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.