The bourgeois conception of “free speech” in the U$

Reprinted from the Leftist Critic blog where it was published on Sept 3, 2018. Editor’s note retained in article.

Note: The following article is reprinted from Dissident Voice. This is part 2 of an article series on there called “a “sudden bout of atypical decency”?” I have engaged in some editing of my own here in this version. I made one change, apart from slimming down footnote 2, which I feel ashamed to admit and sick to my stomach: I accepted a form of censorship just so Part 2 could be published. It is in paragraph 9. I removed a whole section because they have a different conception of speech. The exchange I had is noted below this article.* I have added in another two lines in this version of the article about speech as well, which is similar to those I proposed as a compromise with their view, but this was rejected, since I apparently wrongly perceived  their position, leading to more email negotiating as you could call it. After I made this change, the editor told me: “Thank you, LC.  DV has published your submission…It would be a good idea for you to go over it and make sure I didn’t miss anything and that everything is in its proper place. The title of Part 1 had to be cut because of its length (if you were wondering) and I’d suggest it looks better with the subtitle. For Part 2 the title you submitted was used but the subtitle is the main title in Part 1. DV does that so that there is no confusion if Parts 1 and 2 show up in a search with the same title. (Just explaining in case you were curious about the titles.) All the best and here’s hoping DV will hear from you again sooner rather than later. In the meantime have a great school year.” Yes, I am going to school again, that is true. But, apart from that, I will submit to Dissident Voice again, but won’t let myself get in a situation like this again, knowing Dissident Voice’s bounds. As always, I look forward to your comments on this article, as I may be faulty in my views when it comes to these matters.

In part 1, I talked about the power of social media giants and claims of “free speech” on their platforms. Again, I am referring just to the U$, as I am most familiar with the debate on “free speech” there. In the future I may expand this analysis to other capitalist countries.

The bourgeois conception of “free speech” is so ingrained that Nadine Strossen, a former president of the ACLU, can spout on The Real News about a “we the people” government in the U$, while declaring that government regulation through net neutrality and antitrust laws, along with consumer pressure, and “free speech” (or counter speech) can stop the bigots in their tracks. This is a laughable notion from a person who says porn should be tolerated (not restricted or banned), is currently a contributor for the Federalist Society, criticized campus speech restrictions, and was a friend and fan of Antonin Scalia! She also, infamously, defended the actions of former ACLU president Anthony Romero, who had agreed to “screen the organization’s employees against terrorist “watch lists”…in order to qualify as an officially approved charity for federal employees,” advising the “Ford Foundation to “parrot” the Patriot Act in formulating controversial new restrictions on the speech of its grantees,” and trying to impose “very broad confidentiality agreement and technology rules on ACLU employees,” as argued by former ACLU board member Wendy Kaminer, who also harshly criticized the organization for its policies on civil liberty. As The Onion joked in one article, when Strossen was president, the ACLU declared that it would “”vigorously and passionately defend” the Georgia chapter of the American Nazi Party’s First Amendment right to freely express its hatred of the ACLU by setting its New York office ablaze on Nov. 25.” That’s how ridiculous the ACLU is, without a doubt.

Last year, the Supreme Court held, in Packingham v. North Carolina, that a North Carolinian law that restricted access of sex offenders to social media violated the First Amendment. More than that, this case, which was the first major case on the topic since the Reno v. ACLU case in 1997, opens the floodgates for “free speech” to apply to the internet as the latter is considered analogous to a public forum, perhaps leading to further jurisprudence.  But more than being a supposed victory for “free expression,” which was likely cheered on by the ACLU, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion raises the question of what parts of the internet would fall under First Amendment protection.  In this opinion, followed by a blistering dissent from Samuel Alito, Kennedy, clearly a tech optimist, wrote that the First Amendment is a “fundamental principle” meaning that “all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more,” adding that this now applies to cyberspace, including social media, with users engaging in a “wide array” of “First Amendment activity” that is “legitimate” and “protected.”

He added that the digital age has a “vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be” which can quickly change, while implying that the First Amendment may offer some protection for access to social media and the internet. As for social media, he argued that it not only allows “users to gain access to information and communicate with one another about it on any subject that might come to mind” but that it is the “modern public square” that, in his view, allows for people to explore “the vast realms of human thought and knowledge…mak[ing] his or her voice heard.” This is clearly an optimistic view of social media which often is filled with utter and mundane garbage. I think social media includes many more pictures of people showing off their dogs, newborn babies, and silly cat videos, than those who engage in discussion that opens “human thought and knowledge.” What is Kennedy smoking here?

With this decision, the arguments of those like the ACLU that want “an uncensored Internet, a vast free-speech zone,” the EFF that wants “sufficient legal protections for users and innovators,” and Strossen, are clearly boosted. Still, this does not mean there will be “free speech” on the internet anytime soon. While the general conception is that “anyone can say anything online,” this is not only changing but it is inaccurate because intimidation is not protected speech on the internet, along with inciting violence, making threats of violence, privacy invasion, defamation, copyright infringement, inciting a riot or inducing lawbreaking, “fighting words,” false advertising, and disrupting school activities, to name a few. While some say that the First Amendment asserts that that one can express themselves “without interference or constraint by the government,” the fact is that a government can “place reasonable restrictions on free speech, such as those that restrict the time, place, and manner of the speech.”

Some have tried to use the Packingham decision to declare that there should be “free speech” on the internet. Others, like White nationalists and Neo-Nazis, have gone even further to draw a parallel between private shopping centers and social media platforms! If this connection was to be made, which is a remote and absurd possibility, those on social media would not be able to “unreasonably intrude” on the private property rights of these platforms, having to “reasonably exercise” their rights while their ideas would not be allowed to have “free rein.” Additionally, their words and actions would have to be deemed peaceful, orderly, and not disturbing the functioning of these platforms, with the latter allowed to restrain the “time, place, and manner” of user’s speech. They could be prohibited from imposing “blanket and total prohibition on the exercise of First Amendment activities” of users but they would also be allowed to restrict those engaging such speech so they did not obstruct or unduly interfere with “normal business operations” or does not impede, distract, or interfere with the business itself.

Furthermore, anyone who engaged in substantial damage or physical obstruction of social media could be restricted or banned, along with being prohibited from annoying and harassing individuals. At the same time, while users could have the right to “freedoms of speech and religion” they could also be restricted if there was a public space where they could use their rights apart from social media, and by the fact that the U$ Constitution provides no protection or redress from a private person or corporation, with the 1st and 14th Amendment not applying to action “by the owner of private property used only for private purposes.” This is not what the bigots would want! Even with these interpretations, Twitter could still say it is a private sector company, which requires users to abide by their rules. Additionally, it is worth noting that these social media platforms are not public since the “supposed public square is actually a small group of digital platforms owned by an even smaller group of giant transnational corporations,” a fact that should be obvious. [1] Even Mozilla, which says that “the principle of free speech is a foundation of Western democracy” admits that “free speech gets more complicated in private spaces – that is, spaces not owned by the government…private businesses have every right, legally, to refuse service to individuals who don’t adhere to their stated policies.”

Jimmy Dore and others have said the First Amendment should be applied to Facebook (and other social media) because they see it as a public space and have also said that such outlets should be public utilities. Now, in order to be a public utility, these social media companies would have to be classified the same as other companies providing “a service to the public such as transport, energy, telecommunications, waste disposal, or water and any other public goods and services.”  The question arises: are companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to give a few examples, public service corporations that engage in operations that “serve the needs of the general public or conduce to the comfort and convenience of an entire community,” which currently includes “railroads, gas, water, and electric light companies”? Well, we know they are clearly private companies with operations which are “executed by private individuals,” comprising some of those in the corporate (or private) sector which is “responsible for the allocation of the majority of resources” within a capitalist economy.

Now, to be a public service company, they would have to “provide a service to the public” which includes “transport, communications and the like.” These social media platforms likely would fall into the category of public service company rather than a public service corporation because they do not necessarily serve the needs of the general public or conduce convenience or comfort of an entire community. Instead they gather private information and make it public, selling it for profit, having great power over people’s lives. Likely such efforts to make social media a public utility will fall flat because the U$ government is legally obligated to “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation” even with other provisions on civil liability.

The bourgeois conception of “free speech” is taken by some to an extreme, like Noam Chomsky, who defends the speech of holocaust deniers for “civil libertarian” reasons, opposing existing (and justified) laws that criminalize Holocaust denial across Europe, including Germany, saying that it is a violation of their inherent “liberties” even though it actually an effort to prevent those from spreading lies about the Holocaust, a terrible period in Germany’s past. The Holocaust during World War II was not unique to human history: the unconscionable atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, genocide of indigenous peoples of the Americas, the ongoing genocide of Palestinians, and the genocide in Rwanda, count among the worst horrors of humanity. As it is not illegal to discuss the deaths of these horrors, apart from Rwanda, it is also not illegal to discuss the deaths during the Holocaust, which number in the tens of millions, as high as 17 million if all victims of persecution are counted as argued by Donald Niewyk, including Jewish, Soviet POWs, Polish, Romani, disabled, Jehovah’s witnesses, and gay peoples, to just name a few of those deemed undesirable by the Nazis. Perhaps denial or support of these horrors of human history, apart from the Holocaust, should be criminalized, but this likely will not occur because a good number of individuals still support the aforementioned horrors, sometimes gleefully. As a result, such denial of horrors is a way to support existing capitalist narratives. The situation will only be changed if there is a new, alternative narrative, perhaps only possible under a new system. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognizes the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (Article 18) and “right to freedom of opinion and expression” (Article 19) is limited by the fact that everyone can be subject to legal limitations to secure respect and recognition for freedom and rights of others, along with meeting “the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society” (Article 29). [2]

There are many laws across the world when it comes to speech, with some countries trying to experiment different levels of censorship online, irking those who defend the bourgeois conception of “freedom of speech,” with some even bringing in anti-communist rhetoric to complain about “the lack of transparency found in Soviet-style governance structures” disappearing in Eastern Europe. Some, like the horrid organization, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) have declared that “the best antidote to tyranny is free and spirited debate, not suppression of speech,” which Jimmy Dore basically expressed on his show, while others like HRW or The Guardian complain about the “Great Chinese Firewall” and challenges “journalists, bloggers and dissidents” have to undertake. This has led to a list of “enemies” of the internet and efforts to break through claimed “closed societies” (one organization gives the examples of Iran and China), believing that making these societies “open” will bring goodness to the world. This id despite the fact that the internet has “been a revolution for censorship as much as for free speech” as The Guardian admitted back in 2008, which anyone with sense would recognize.

The majority of those in the Western Left are indoctrinated to think they are free, leading them attack other leftists across the world who holding power as noted by Andre Vltchek. However, his analysis is faulty since he incorrectly describes China, part of the revisionist triad (the other two countries in this triad are Laos and Vietnam), as communist when it has actually been on the capitalist road since 1976, with a form of state-supported form of capitalism which is different from that of the West, and saying that Russia’s policy is “clearly anti-imperialist” when it is actually just nationalistic.

Clearly, some individuals have more of an ability for speech than others. As the subreddit of /r/communism puts it rightly, which I still agree with even though I was ousted as a mod after I began criticizing China as capitalist rather than saying it is socialist (consensus of the subreddit’s mods), “speech, like everything else, has a class character, and that some speech can be oppressive.” This is something those who believe in the bourgeois conception of “free speech” cannot and will not acknowledge. In the capitalist society of the U$ this manifests itself by capitalists like Robert Mercer, the Koch Brothers, George Soros, Pierre Omidyar, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and many others, having the ability to publish and project their speech more than those on meager budgets. Basically, this means that ordinary people, the proletariat, have no influence (or power in) on the decision-making and politics of the U$ despite all rhetoric claiming they have such influence. How this manifests itself in the world of “free speech” is it means that those capitalists who are hatemongers can spread their horrid message far and wide while those who try to counter them get less exposure. [2]

We do not have to give such speech “respect” as some have declared we should, since there is the idea of the heckler’s veto, where a public event is canceled or suppressed due to “interruptions, protests, or violence” or the threat of such actions, one of the many tools, apart from de-platforming (not by social media outlets, but literally in person or by organizing against them online) which can be used to fight against bigoted or otherwise detestable individuals. In the end, there should be criticism (and efforts to counter) corporate control over information but this does not mean we have to defend hateful speech. Instead, those who speak truth to power, especially on the political Left, should be vigorously defended. As Michael Parenti once put it, “democratic victories, however small and partial they be, must be embraced…We need to strive in every way possible for the revolutionary unraveling, a revolution of organized consciousness striking at the empire’s heart with the full force of democracy, the kind of irresistible upsurge that seems to come from nowhere while carrying everything before it.” Victory to the proletariat! A socialist world is possible!


Notes

*First message from DV editor at 3:23 AM on Sept 1  which confused me:

Hi, LC,

I’ve gone over Part 2 and it’s ready for publication apart from this sentence:

The bourgeois conception of “free speech” is taken by some to an extreme, like Noam Chomsky, who defends the speech of holocaust deniers for “civil libertarian” reasons, opposing existing (and justified) laws that criminalize Holocaust denial across Europe, including Germany, saying that it is a violation of their inherent “liberties” even though it is actually an effort to prevent those from spreading lies about the Holocaust, a terrible period in Germany’s past.

Holocaust is defined as the destruction or slaughter on a mass scale (especially by fire or nuclear war) which means what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki were holocausts; they, too, were targeted deliberately for annihilation.  Synonyms include ethnic cleansing (which the Palestinian people are well familiar with) and, of course, there’s genocide, etc.

We can start with the Original Peoples of North America and move on to the present day.  If these horrors are all out there for discussion, then so too should the events that occurred during WW 2 in Germany and Poland.  We don’t hear of people being charged because they denied the Roma holocaust, do we?  According to Romani scholar, Ian Hancock, over 1.5 million Roma were killed in Germany and Poland during this time; unfortunately, the total will never be known because (a) most were illiterate and signed their names with an “x” and (b) countless were shot on sight in Europe without ever reaching Germany.  Is it illegal to discuss their deaths?  And what about Rwanda?  I could go on.

When I hear from you with respect to this sentence, I will publish it.

My reply at 9:35 AM on Sept 1:

I agree with you that the Holocaust is only one of many horrible crimes in human history, one of the many genocides. I would like the sentence to stay if possible. I don’t know what you are asking me here. Is it that you think I should clarify this sentence, remove it, or what exactly? If it is something to add, I would be willing to say in a new sentence after this one:

“The Holocaust during World War II was not unique to human history: the unconcisble atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, genocide of indigenous peoples of the Americas, the ongoing genocide of Palestinians, and the genocide in Rwanda, count among the worst horrors of humanity. As it is not illegal to discuss the deaths of these horrors, it is also not illegal to discuss the deaths during the Holocaust, which number in the tens of millions, as high as 17 million if all victims of persecution are counted as argued by Donald Niewyk, of Jewish, Soviet POWs, Polish, Romani, disabled, Jehovah’s witnesses, and gay people, to just name a few of those deemed undesirable by the Nazis. Perhaps denial or support of these horrors of human history, apart from the Holocaust, should be criminalized, but it not usually the case, with a good number of individuals still support the aforementioned horrors, sometimes gleefully. This is often to support existing capitalist narratives and the situation will only be changed if there is a new, alternative narrative, perhaps only possible under a new system.”

A message from DV’s editor on Sept 2nd at 6:33 PM, implying that all events (including the Holocaust) should be “open to debate” and that laws prohibiting Holocaust denial are apparently bad, while also bringing up the fake idea of the fire in the theater excuse about free speech, an analogy which is TOTALLY false, as I remember reading in A People’s History of the Supreme Court:

I am not asking you to do anything.  I’m saying that DV prefers not to publish it.  And the sentence that you propose doesn’t speak to DV’s concerns.  What happened in Germany and Poland is the only event in history that cannot be discussed without fear of legal repercussions.  How and why did this happen?  Yet the deaths of the Roma, which occurred at the same time frame, are out there for discussion and anything else. You don’t see a problem with this?  You go on to list several other events that could be criminalized.  This is very problematic.  Free speech is not meant to be a slippery slope.  Once some speech is criminalized, where does that criminalization end?  DV supports free speech within bounds of common sense, not by disingenuously starting a dangerous riot by screaming “bomb” in a packed theater, for instance. Historical events should be open for discussion, debate, all of them. If they are not, why not? I would suggest you take a look at that initial sentence again.  DV will not be publishing it nor the addition as they are now. Other than that, it is ready to go.

The editor sent another at 6:34 PM about the “topic of that sentence,” which I will not quote entirely as it gives out personal information. I will quote the parts that do not involve such information where the editor said “I think you’ll find that it would be ready for publication once the topic of that sentence had been dealt with.  I have just sent you an email re same.” I replied to this saying at 10:06 PM that same day “Yes, I saw that email and am responding to it shortly.”

My final message at 11:04 PM, after composing the email and trying to watch Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, in which I accept getting rid of the “offending” line, begrudingly. Note that I am NOT disagreeing with my previous position here, just agreeing with her general point even though I still hold fast by my original views:

I agree with you that historical events should be open for discussion and debate. I also understand DV’s position on speech and as such, I am willing to strike the initial sentence (and the one I proposed) from the article so that it can be published since the rest of the article is acceptable. I would rather replace it with the following: “The bourgeois conception of “free speech” is broadly held across the Western World.” Then the rest of the paragraph follows that.

– LC

[1] Paul Blumenthal, “The Problem Isn’t Alex Jones’ Free Speech, It’s Digital Platform Monopolies,” HuffPost, Aug 11, 2018

[2] I would say that the U$ is standing against the principle outlined in the UN’s Millennium Declaration that “men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice. Democratic and participatory governance based on the will of the people best assures these rights,” the Vienna Declaration saying hat “the speedy and comprehensive elimination of all forms of racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is a priority task for the international community” and violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which says that states “condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races…condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination…[and] shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offence punishable by law.” The U$ is also clearly violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) which says that “freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” and especially the provisions that prohibit “any propaganda for war” or any “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

Snowden’s “adversarial” deception

Snowden as spotted in Russia in October 2013

Originally  published on the Leftist Critic blog on May 12, 2016.

This post was analyzed for mistakes and other content in January 2019, as part of an effort to engage in self-criticism. At the time I read Tarzie’s blog, The Rancid Honeytrap, regularly. The posted there in August 2017, over a year ago. Since, the blog has been totally silent, the same going for Sassy Sorenstein’s 100 Flamingos and a wordpress called sillroasty, linked to on the side of Tarzie’s blog, while some of the blogs linked like Once Upon a Time (on blogspot), blckdgrd (blogpost),and Nathan Fuller’s wordpress still seem active.

Recently, I was pursuing Twitter when an interview with celebrity whistleblower Edward Snowden popped up. I’ve criticized Snowden before on this blog as supporting Apple, a company that collects much data but claims it is “pro-privacy.” This post looks at a recent Q&A with Snowden in the Columbia Journalism Review which was promoted by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a foundation which has Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Snowden himself, John Cusack, John Perry Barlow, Laura Poitras, Micah Lee, Rainey Reitman, Trevor Timm, and Xeni Jardin on its board of directors. This organization, founded in 2012, also thinks Pentagon projects like Tor are great. This post could examine such a foundation, but since Snowden, as he admitted himself, is already a celebrity whom has wide influence it is best to look at his words and their symbolic meaning. [1] In sum, I read it, as Tarzie would say, so you don’t have to.

Snowden, of course, in his privileged position, can talk about the bourgeois media from afar. He claims that there is a “changing nature of the public’s relationship to media” with the media “strong” but less willing to “use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization.” He goes on to say that back in the past, the media culture assured that media was “intended to be a public service” but now that is lost because of “the 24-hour news cycle.” This “observation” fundamentally misses the role of the bourgeois media in and of itself. Snowden by almost acting nostalgic in acting like media in the past served the public is almost in line with the speech by Edward R. Murrow in 1958 saying that television “can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire…[but] only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box” which arguably removes the role of television in capitalist society. Even if one pushes that aside, it is silly to say there is a “changing nature” of mass media in U$ society considering that the bourgeois media has always been tied to the profit motive to sell more papers (in the case of newspapers) and garner a bigger audience, while keeping in place the existing capitalist system. Did Snowden not watch the classic movies Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), both of which warned of the dangers of concentration of media control and power? This is not anything new, not in the slightest.

Worst of all is Snowden’s comments on The New York Times. He almost acts aghast that even the Times, which he implies is a paragon of virtue, is not challenging the government. As the Times‘s own media kit shows, their audience is predominantly male, over 35 years old, college graduates, and in a professional/managerial position, along with total expenditures for the audience as a whole in the hundreds of millions, making them all some level of the bourgeoisie. The International Business Times has similar data showing a predominantly male and college graduate audience with differing political perspectives mostly ranging from moderate to liberal. Similarly, the International New York Times has even more high-level audience with a high percentage in senior management and a household income over $367,000 a year. This shows that Times basically has a bourgeois audience to give it “All the News Lies That’s Fit to Print” which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Snowden goes on to claim that competition in the media environment means that “institutions are becoming less willing to serve the public to the detriment of themselves.” He further adds that this role is “typically exercised through the editors” and that “the distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world.” This “observation” makes a number of assumptions. For one, it implies that bourgeois media outlets have a “duty to the public.” That is utter crap and he knows it. Any capitalist or capitalist business that does not make a profit will go out of business. Secondly, his focus on editors is misleading. I say this because he NEVER mentions the role of advertisers in determining media content, as even Noam Chomsky has outlined in his Propaganda Model or Michael Parenti noted in his varied books on the subject. This shows the weakness of his analysis and how it fails to take into account the reality of bourgeois media.

There’s more horribleness. Snowden goes on to say that there is more competition in the current media environment despite the fact that a small handful of companies have control of much of the bourgeois media in the U$, especially in the print, telecom, cable, and tech sectors, with companies like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Gannett, and Tribune Publishing Company, to name a few:

Made using Chartgo. Data from a reformist NGO called Free Press. Usually it is said that six corporations (GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS) control 90% of the media in the U$, but this may misconstrue the power of corporate control in certain areas more than others as one has to define what qualifies “media” and “news” which is harder and harder to do these days. Free Press says, themselves, that “giant corporations own more and more of our news media. Focused only on the bottom line, they’re cutting journalists and gutting newsrooms nationwide” but makes no claims about media consolidation. If one measured by reach of their stations, this could create a different picture, perhaps.

Snowden then claims that such competition among publishers has led to “hybrid publications” like BuzzFeed, which in his words creates “an enormous amount of trash and cruft” with their “content…engineered to be more attention getting, even though they have no public value at all” and that “they have no news value at all.” He later tempers this by saying that “if it’s not going to be BuzzFeed, it’s going to be somebody else” and that “this isn’t a criticism of any particular model” and that these outlets “don’t have a journalistic role, it’s a reportorial role.” I think he has a good point about BuzzFeed. However, I think his description of attention-getting content and having no public value applies all of the Celebrity Left personalities. Hence, his own words could be used to describe his own Twitter stream, which has, as he said about BuzzFeed, “no public value at all.” After all, aren’t secretive oligarchs basically controlling media and social media?

Snowden goes on to talk about the James Rosen and AP case. He argues that this is “suddenly chilling” because it silences “the traditional work of journalism” but then claims that journalists need to use tradecraft used by the CIA because using VPNs could “get you in real trouble in these areas of the world” like Bangladesh. Yet again, this perpetrates the idea that the “West is best” and even justifies the CIA as something to model after. This shouldn’t be a surprise since he admits that before he came out as the NSA whistleblower he had “never talked to a journalist in any substantive capacity” and that he worked as an intelligence officer for the CIA and NSA, saying “everything is a secret and you’ve got two different kinds of cover.” This is disturbing to say the least because it makes it seem that Snowden is proud of what he did for the NSA and CIA, not calling them out and even calling for them to be abolished, at minimum. What he did for the CIA for SIX YEARS he hasn’t talked about much, if at all. Remember when he said this in 2013: “I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA. I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.” What utter bullcrap is that? Anyway, the most laughable thing he says is that “the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace.” I doubt that very much. After all, as Cryptome reported in February at the current rate “it will take 20-620 years to free all documents” gathered by him, with governments and business benefiting the most, along with media and NGOs benefiting as well. I’ll get to the Panama Papers later.

It doesn’t get any better. Snowden states that the government may even engage in prior restraint and that there need to be “institutions working beyond borders in multiple jurisdictions” so that “the journalists could play games, legally and journalistically more effectively and more quickly than the government.” He then goes on to engage in one of his many self-congratulatory statements claiming that “I was, in fact, quite famous for criticizing the press.” Putting aside his ego-supporting statement, the fact that he supports those he considers journalists (whether  they are or not) “playing games” is worrisome. It basically means that journalists, or those he considers journalists, can just be pawns in “challenging” the government!

From here, there are a number of self-congratulatory and hence egoist remarks from Snowden himself. He claims to be surprised by the  “impact” of his revelations, claims they are special, claiming that unlike in 2006 when “there was a warrantless wiretapping story in The New York Times” and that his revelations “transformed” the public debate. Then he tries to act humble by saying “I personally see myself as having a quite minor role” and that “I was the mechanism of revelation for a very narrow topic of governments,” that he didn’t have access to court orders from the Department of Justice. He then goes on to boast that he predicted how people would treat him, that the media were useful in making an argument and reporting his leaks. He then almost claims like he is an authority who can tell journalists (or those he considers journalists) how to report a story and says that “my ultimate goal was simply to get this information back in the hands of the public” despite the fact that much of what he found has NOT been released as of yet. He then goes further and claims that he believes in “traditional American democracy” whatever that is, a term that refers to an idolized form of bourgeois democracy in the US. He even goes further and says that “if I had stayed in place at the NSA as a source and they had asked me for this document…[it] actually brought risks upon them that could have led to new constraints upon journalism.” That’s so nice of him to look out for the NSA. Not! Snowden also claims that working with journalists (or those he considered journalists) changed his “understanding of journalism” and that “public knowledge of the truth is more important than the risks that knowledge creates for a few.” I don’t even think is worth analyzing what he says in a self-congratulatory fashion as it is all wrapped up in puffing up his ego like a puffer-fish blows itself up to take in air or water so they aren’t as vulnerable to predators.

His self-congratulatory statements couple right with those in which he says that Glenn Greenwald and co are great. In his magical view, Glenn Greenwald. Ewan MacAskill, and Laura Poitras, along with the Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman, “simply represented a system that I did not believe could be overcome before the story could be put out. By the time the government could get their ducks in a row and try to interfere with it, that would itself become the story.” Once again, this implies that all of these writers are somehow adversarial, a view that is utterly laughable. It’s about as bad as the “glowing” response they had to the new fawning Snowden movie by Oliver stone. Lets not forget that Greenwald was once a lawyer for Big Tobacco companies. As Mark Ames writes,

And this is where whistleblower-irony becomes so dense, it collapses on itself: Because one of Wachtell Lipton’s young associates working on the Philip Morris lawsuit against ABC-TV was a lawyer by the name of…Glenn Greenwald. We know Greenwald worked at Wachtell Lipton’s New York office at the time of Wachtell’s lawsuit because Greenwald himself has talked about working for Wachtell, beginning in 1993 as a summer associate, then joining out of law school in 1994, and staying on until the end of 1995…Perhaps Greenwald had no idea that the law firm he chose to work for was representing Philip Morris in the most talked about case of 1994. That even though his own boss, Henry Wachtell, was a regular on national TV news defending their tobacco clients, he was still oblivious. Greenwald perhaps didn’t watch television. Or read newspapers? It’s reasonable to assume Greenwald—ever the diligent researcher—must have joined Wachtell fully aware that they were helping gag whistleblowers and threatening journalists: Greenwald says that he chose to work for Wachtell in 1994 after being recruited by over a dozen top law firms. But of course that doesn’t necessarily mean he worked on the specific Philip Morris case. Except that a billing ledger discovered in the tobacco library shows Greenwald’s name in a Wachtell Lipton bill to Philip Morris…Other Wachtell Lipton memos show Greenwald’s name prominently displayed on the letterhead in aggressive, threatening letters against ABC-TV, against whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, and against whistleblower Merrell Williams…One Wachtell letter to ABC’s lawyers with Greenwald’s name up top, dated December 14, 1995, warns that Wigand’s testimony in a Mississippi tobacco trial is “in direct defiance of a Kentucky Court order”— and demands that ABC turn over their source’s private testimony to Wachtell Lipton…Greenwald’s name appears on the Wachtell Lipton letterhead of threatening legal letter after letter—targeting ABC-TV and tobacco whistleblowers …the question is, why has he never said peep about Wigand and Merrell Williams? Greenwald styles himself as the most fearless outspoken defender of whistleblowers today—and yet he has absolutely nothing to say about the most famous whistleblowers of the 1990s, a case he worked on from the other side…Again, in the two decades since, whistleblower champion Glenn Greenwald has never said a single word about this case or about the role his law firm played in crushing TV investigative journalism. As far as our research can tell, Greenwald has never taken a position on tobacco laws or  spoken about the horrific death toll smoking is taking…Besides Greenwald’s belief that Big Pharma should be able to sell all of its drugs to any adult who wants them, a very tobacco-industry-esque argument—there’s little to suggest anything like regret, remorse, or any reaction whatsoever to his work on behalf of Philip Morris’ lawsuit against adversarial journalism and whistleblowers. Quite the contrary, Greenwald went on to a close friendly (and paid) relationship with the CATO Institute, one of the tobacco industry’s most active friends in the think tank world.

Back to Snowden, he claims that “the more powerful the institution, the more skeptical one should be,” talks about Daniel Ellsberg, how Greenwald represents the “purest form” of journalist that he doesn’t see it as a problem that he has “too much faith” in the press. He goes on to say that what need to be changes are “the values of the people in these institutions that are producing these policies or programs.” Yet again, this pseudo-change sentiment is a joke. Snowden of course does not want the system to crumble or even challenge entrenched bourgeois values. But neither does Greenwald or any of the other Celebrity Left personalities.

Most interesting of all is what he says about Twitter, claiming that “individuals can build audiences to speak with directly” which is deceptive because inherently some will be able build bigger audiences than others. He claims that “whether it’s a hundred people or a million people, individuals can build audiences to speak with directly” which is a way that new media actors and “malicious actors” end up exploiting “what are perceived as new vulnerabilities in media control of the narrative.” He goes on to say that on Twitter “there are a lot of celebrities out there on Twitter, but really they’re just trying to maintain an image, promote a band, be topical, remind people that they exist. They’re not typically effecting any change, or having any kind of influence, other than the directly commercial one.” Once again, like what he said about BuzzFeed, this analysis can easily apply to himself and other Celebrity Left figures. Arguably they promote an image (a brand to be perfectly frank) and aren’t really making any change, at least not that which matters. At the same time, these personalities do have an influence and he is wrong to say that celebrities do not typically have an influence because they definitely do. For instance, if Beyonce did not have the influence she did, supported not only by her own wealth but thinkpieces across the internet, then there would be no one pushing her songs and image (or brand) as pro-“feminist” or  pro-“black power.”

Near the end of the interview, Snowden claims that there is much that can be done to move forward, at least in the way he wants. First of all, he does not call for eliminating espionage laws, but he claims that there should be “an international framework” for protecting whistleblowers, and claims that the way to implement this is “culture” and a “press that’s more willing and actually eager to criticize government than they are today.” He goes on to say that countries across the world “are embracing the idea of state secrets” and that “we’re increasingly monitored and tracked and reported, quantified and known and influenced” while politicians are “becoming less reachable and also less accountable.” Yet again, Snowden is acting like everything will work out and that capitalist governments will serve their subjects. This is patently absurd. Additionally to claim that the media will  criticize the government, he is once again pushing away the importance of the profit motive, a motive that shows that no one can just push for the bourgeois media to be reformed as it is a press that is fatally flawed.

Beyond his self-congratulatory message that his revelations has an impact on “the publication on the culture of government,” his laughably optimistic (and incorrect) ideas that “secrecy will not hold forever…the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace,” he then goes into almost defending Facebook. He claims that everything will be fine if companies like Facebook are “selective” about certain posts to take down and have no restrictions whatsoever, but then asks if private companies should determine “the limits of public conversations.” He then spews some words which aren’t important to mention. At the end of his Q&A Snowden claims he has an answer: moving to “public policing”:

“The real solutions here are much more likely to be in terms of entirely new institutions that bound the way law enforcement works, moving us away from the point of military conflict, secret conflict, and into simply public policing. There’s no reason why we could not have an international counter-terrorism force that actually has universal jurisdiction. I mean universal in terms of fact, as opposed to actual law.”

Regardless of his qualification about what “universal” means, this proposition of an “international counter-terrorism force” is ridiculous. After all, he is naive to think such a force would not be used for imperialist purposes. At the same time, he may think his idea is fine since he is ignoring and/or doesn’t recognize where power lies in capitalist society and in capitalism worldwide: with the bourgeoisie whom oppress the proletariat

We finally move onto the Drone Papers. Snowden claims that “releasing” these “papers” was an “extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago.” He goes onto say that these papers are “things that we really need to know to be able to analyze and assess policies” but that this was denied by”major” media outlets like the Times but that The Intercept “saved” the day as “one journalistic institution that breaks the story.” To be honest, this is utterly ridiculous. For one, as Cyrptome’s most recent tally shows, at most, 15.24% of data/files of the Panama Papers have been released but more accurately, the percentage released to date is .0021%. If Snowden, Greenwald and co actually had courage they would call for all of the documents to be released and put in a searchable archive like the Cablegate search, which now includes cables from the 1970s and 2000s.

There is more I’d like to say about the Panama Papers here. For one the whistleblower who revealed the information frames himself almost as a crusader for justice and goes on to explain his ideas, along with claiming he is bringing about a “digital revolution.” which fall into the bourgeois political spectrum nicely. But then at one point he declares the following:

For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own, as was my decision to share the documents with Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International  Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), not for any specific political purpose, but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale of the injustices they described.

To me this almost seems like a dodge. He is claiming that he is independent of such forces. However, even if he did not work such entities it is still possible one could say that he could be manipulated, I don’t see why not. Let us consider before going forward that VOA, an U$ government propaganda outlet promoted the Panama Papers with a guide to read them. Also, we should recognize that one of the organizations that is releasing this information, the Center for Public Integrity, is funded by big foundations such as the Open Society Foundation and Ford Foundation along with George Soros’s Open Society Institute. Should we ignore the views of Swiss banker whistleblower Bradley Birkenfield who said the following to CNBC:

“The CIA I’m sure is behind this, in my opinion. The very fact that we see all these names surface that are the direct quote-unquote enemies of the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Argentina and we don’t see one U.S. name. Why is that? Quite frankly, my feeling is that this is certainly an intelligence agency operation.”

Should we ignore that USAID is basically funding ICIJ and by extension this Panama Papers release? After all, USAID is basically an appendage of the murderous empire. Should we ignore how media, such as The Guardian, which Snowden would laud with praise, twisted the revelations to implicate Russian President Vladmir Putin in corruption? Should we ignore how the liberal media outlets like Truthdig, Slate, New York Magazine, and PBS News Hour are promoting the Panama Papers? Should we ignore who funds the Center for Public Integrity or how Wikileaks and Greenwald are promoting the releases? There is much more on the Panama Papers, but it can be convincingly argued that the releases and the papers themselves are a form of negative propaganda.

I could go on with this post, even citing some of the articles by Douglas Valentine, but I think what I have said so far is sufficient. Perhaps I could have said more, but this post is just one of the many criticisms of Snowden and celebrity left personalities, something that few do because they are sucked in by the allure of celebrity or their veneer of being adversarial. That is all.


Notes

[1] In a fawning interview with The Nation, this exchange ensued:

The Nation: Speaking of films, we understand that in addition to Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour, a couple of others will be made about you.

Snowden: Anything to get people talking about the issues is great. I’m not a movie guy. I don’t know all this stuff that comes with celebrity. I don’t know who the actors will be and stuff like that. But anybody who wants to talk about the issues—that’s great.

The Nation: You already are a celebrity.

Snowden: People say that, but I’ve only had to sign autographs for “civ-libs” types. And I autograph court orders.

The Nation: Maybe, but you need a strategy of how you’re going to use your celebrity, for better or worse. You own it. You can’t get rid of it.

Snowden: [laughs] Well, that’s kind of damning!