Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollably. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all. - Joseph Heller; Catch-22Edward Snowden didn't tell us anything most of us didn't already sorta-kinda know, but instead just confirmed our creepy totalitarian state surveillance nightmares. Wait, no, actually he made them a bit scarier by exposing the corporate complicity giving the whole thing a fascist twist. Similarly, the character of Yosarian lying in the hospital bed at the outset of Catch-22 had already experienced holding another Snowden in his arms. This one spilled his guts too, literally onto the floor forcing Yossarian to confront his own mortality and the realization that death can, and will, take any of us, at any time, anywhere, and that survival is made all the harder by the catch-22s thrown up to block and muddy our path.
"All my options are bad" - Edward SnowdenEdward Snowden's caught in a sorta catch-22 though it's starting to look more like a no-win situation after watching the US order their western European 'partners' to close their airspace to Evo Morales' presidential jet after receiving some, um, bad information that Snowden was on board. He may have been granted asylum in quite a few of the countries he applied to but he had to be in the granting country for them to consider his request which is difficult, er, impossible if you're stuck in passportless limbo in transit at an airport in Moscow. In the book, Yossarian is introduced to the concept of catch-22 by Doc Daneeka who explains the problem, or catch, involved in requesting a psych evaluation which Yossarian hoped would find them unfit to fly dangerous missions:
"You mean there's a catch?"They've had each of us by the balls like this at some point, trapped in a bureaucratic black hole, looping around a Möbius strip application process or stymied by the slave labour internship motto: you can’t get hired unless you have experience; but you can’t get experience unless you’re hired. Now we're all supposedly caught in one, er make that two or three, in which we seem to be damned if we do and damned if we don't: the new security versus liberty balance that needs to be struck thanks to the Information, the global war on terror (I know, it's not called that anymore and that it has become the global war on you), and economic austerity. All three are examples that governments and their corporate cronies are presenting as catch-22s that their wisdom will guide us through but are nothing but false choices forcing us into vicious circles.
"Sure there's a catch", Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy.
"Most people prefer to believe that their leaders are just and fair, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, because once a citizen acknowledges that the government under which he lives is lying and corrupt, the citizen has to choose what he or she will do about it. To take action in the face of corrupt government entails risks of harm to life and loved ones. To choose to do nothing is to surrender one's self-image of standing for principles. Most people do not have the courage to face that choice. Hence, most propaganda is not designed to fool the critical thinker but only to give moral cowards an excuse not to think at all." - Michael RiveroYou can watch then-senator Biden debate president Obama on government surveillance but it's probably more illustrative to watch the the present double good duckspeaker in chief debate his candidate self from 2007 regarding the security versus liberty balancing act:
Thanks O, you almost convinced me that I didn't have to haul out the old Ben Franklin "[t]hey who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety", but not quite. Still, if you're an Obamabot or a terrorism fearmongerer, cognitive dissonance won't allow you to see the danger the slide from freedom to security, ever accelerating post 9/11, poses to us. They don't seem to have a problem with giving General Keith Alexander, who seems to have mistaken 1984 for an instruction manual instead of a warning, near complete control over their information lives and Strangelovian powers to wage cyberwarfare. Americans celebrate the Fourth of July without a Fourth (or Fifth) Amendment, air travellers the world over submit themselves to ever greater humiliations, home school advocates are classified as potential domestic terrorists by the DHS and now we know that everything we say, type and text is being gobbled up for analysis in the hope of finding the next Paul Revere, er, I mean terrorist.
Oh, speaking of traitorous heroes, Obama sure loves using the 1917 Espionage Act, a measure intended to prevent anti-war speech during WWI by treating it as sedition (note to Pelosi, Boehner et al. the word you're looking for is there in the act, sedition, not treason). Edward Snowden became the eighth to be charged under the act under Obama, double the number of times it was used by all his predecessors. Defenders of surveillance overreach invariably trot out the "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about" canard. If you, as an individual, non-threatening person, have nothing to hide then, yes, they’re probably right, until they're wrong, you personally may have nothing to fear. But those people who do put their heads above the parapet on your behalf, they will be the ones that feel the heat…It’s not about your personal privacy, it’s about the privacy of those who would stand up and fight for you.
"It has been the one song of those who thirst after absolute power that the interest of the state requires that its affairs should be conducted in secret… But the more such arguments disguise themselves under the mask of public welfare, the more oppressive is the slavery to which they will lead… Better that right counsels be known to enemies than that the evil secrets of tyrants should be concealed from the citizens. They who can treat secretly the affairs of a nation have it absolutely under their authority; and as they plot against the enemy in time of war, so do they against the citizens in time of peace." - Benedict de Spinoza, Tractatus PoliticusAh, where would America be without the global war on terror now approaching it's twelfth anniversary. Without it they'd never be able to justify the imbalance of having an economy that produces about 20% of the world's GDP while their bloated defense budget forces them to maintain a 40-50% of global military spending. Yeah, they spend more on defense than the next 13 nations combined. The non-stop invocation of the word terrorist has not only brewed up an alphabet stew of new freedom protecting acronyms but also given us a whole new dictionary to interpret the altered bearings of our moral compass: wars of choice, extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, indefinite detention, disposition matrix, black sites, signature strikes, they all sound nearly benign. It's all forced on us, a catch-22: we love our freedom, they hate our freedoms and will do anything to take them away, so we allow our freedoms and theirs to be taken away to wage a war to stop them from taking away what we've already given away. Or something like that. Yet the very policies of aggression and militarism justified in the name of combatting terrorism are creating the terrorists those policies are designed to combat. It is not their hatred but ours, US policy and aggression in the Muslim world, that creates terrorists as shown in the American government's own 2004 report. Indeed, the American government has been providing arms, money and logistical support to Al Qaeda in Syria, Libya, Mali, Bosnia and related Muslim terrorists in Chechnya, Iran, and many other countries. What's that you say? It goes back even further, like this:
wrote a paper, an economics paper you know, and governments around the world used their findings, economic findings believe it or not, to lend the cover of intellectual rigor to justify their policies, yep, economic policies, which have caused untold, immeasurable damage to lives around the world leaving millions worse off, or you know, deader than they needed to be thanks to class war weapons of austerity such as the sequester in the US, the fantastical belief in a magical creature known as the confidence fairy or even an oxymoron as blatant as the UK's expansionary fiscal contraction. What? You don't get it? Well, let me explain. First, economics is a joke, a fraudulent pseudoscience dreamed up to justify class warfare, a war in which the punchline is a catch-22 designed to keep the rich, rich and the poor, well, poorer.
How did it work? Easy. You see, though the whole kerfuffle is being sold as a simple Excel spreadsheet error, the truth is it isn't a bug but a feature. It works a little like the whole WMD thing in Iraq: you dream up a plan that seems suspiciously like a modern day Crusade and then come up with a whole bunch of reasons to put it into action, throw them at the wall by having your media stooges, er, Judith Millers, pound the drums of war and see which ones stick. You remember, right? Niger uranium forgeries courtesy of the Italian military intelligence SISMI (another oxymoron?), aluminum tubes for enrichment and a dosier sexed up by a lap dog ally to fit Americas claims which all lead to 16 words and a million or so casualties. The same playbook was used for austerity. In both cases we're seemingly left in a catch-22, one designed to find scapegoat for a manufactured crisis to enrich those at the top and control, crush or kill those down below. Ah, sweet confirmation bias, what havoc will you wreak next?
We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." - Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail
consternation to the fact that he chose to flee the idyllic paradise of Hawaii and protection of American law for first Hong Kong and then Moscow. They
The perfect foil to our Snowden is Heller's Clevinger, who trained with Yossarian at cadet school. A gangling, scholarship prize-winning, petition signing, discussion group attending, committee organizing Harvard undergraduate certain to go far in the academic world: "In short, Clevinger was one of those people with lots of intelligence and no brains...In short he was a dope". In describing Snowden, our fourth estate, those who should serve as a check on power but instead are subservient to them, having found they couldn't refute the message have gone after the messenger just as they did with Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and everyone else the public needs to know are guilty. Anyway, thanks to our distract-at-any-cost press we know Snowden seems handsome to both the Chinese public and Russian spies, is obviously weird as well as a grandiose narcissist, wasn't very neighbourly, didn't visit his mother enough and was a high school dropout who couldn't even make it through community college. Oh where would the world be without the infinite wisdom of the likes of Megan McArdle, Jeffrey Toobin and David Brooks? That's right, maybe debating the legitimacy of surveillance programs, their creepy government/corporate ties and the secrecy surrounding them instead of playing at armchair psychologist in order to incriminate a man before he's even had a trial.
In our catch-22 world, Snowden, like Clevinger, is guilty, otherwise he wouldn't be accused, of what it doesn't matter. Both men pointed out problems hoping for improvement, but Clevinger didn't understand that tripping while marching to class would bring accusations of "breaking ranks while in formation, felonious assault, indiscriminate behavior, mopery, high treason, provoking, being a smart guy, listening to classical music, and so on" while Snowden knew the price of exposing his superiors errors. Bradley Manning, found guilty by his president before his trial, waited over a thousand days for his trial, nine months of which he was forced to withstand torture in order to break his will. Clevinger faced a trial in which his accuser, Lieutenant Scheisskopf, was not only prosecutor, defender and one of the judges but also earned a promotion to colonel during the proceedings. Manning's is little different. Make no mistake, Snowden's civilian status wouldn't make a difference, neither would have alerting his authorities through the 'proper channels', one need look no further than the example of another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake and the persecution he has endured.
Finally, the key word has been whispered, whistleblower. There will never be a concensus opinion as to whether or not the term applies to Snowden, in fact there will never be an agreement on what constitutes a whistleblower. To my mind it is someone who releases materials or information that is of greater value to the public than the value of keeping it secret while the definition in the law refers to someone who "reasonably believes" he or she is disclosing a violation of law or rule or gross mismanagement, gross waste or abuse of authority. Snowden pulled the curtain back on the panopticon surveillance methods that contravene the protections of the Fourth Amendment which affirms "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Thanks to a judicially created exception to the ammendment in 1989 and the necessities of perpetual war, the definition of what is reasonable has been lost forever.
However, it is a moot point. In America, legal justifications can be invented to start wars, torture, kidnap and kill at will in order to keep war criminals walking the streets, laws and court ruling are made to protect corporations from charges of fraud, mislabeling, side effects, accidental death, destroying the food chain or blowing up the financial world, or failing that, those same corporations can just pay a fine and deny responsibility for defrauding millions while earning billions or aiding drug lords and terrorists. However, if you're an intelligence worker you were left out of the fig leaf of protection proffered by last year’s Whistleblower’s Protection Enhancement Act. Likewise, intelligence workers were excluded from whistle blower protections offered to military contract employees under the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Meanwhile, So, faced with the information he had, Snowden was left with the choice of saying nothing or reporting the abuses to his superior at Booz Allen and crossing his fingers he wouldn't get fired. Kinda sounds like a catch-22 again, doesn't it?
The noose is tightening around the neck of freedom yet its incremental nature has us all playing the part of boiling frogs (I think that's what you call a mixed metaphor). Even as the heat has been turned up recently with new revelations coming daily of IRS targeting of special groups, reporters being hounded, Americans being monitored and now even the whole world, most seem happy slowly cooking to death blissfully unaware of what is happening. If the US government wants to spy on someone they must ask permission from the court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a court made up of 11 judges appointed by one man without oversight or confirmation. When that man is an ideologue such as John Roberts, well, you get a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp as the only possible check on the Panopticon denies a whopping .03% of requests, 11 of over 33,900. Here we'd do well to remember poor Clevinger as once you're a suspect, well, they'll find something, "[t]he case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with."
Sure, the majority of even Americans see Snowden as a whistleblower, the world is more informed thanks to his bravery but unless you're a pro-Israeli lobbyist, the security state will punish you to send a clear message that government codes of conduct supercede those quaint moral ones. When trillions of new pages are classified each year and millions have security clearance (about 4.8 million potential Snowdens) under an administration intent on waging another war, this one on leakers (notice the parallel creepiness of Obama's the Insider Threats program and Captain Black’s "Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade" in Catch-22), you have a recipe for confrontation. Whether it leads to a world heralded by today's mainstream media in which even journalism becomes a punishable crime or we wake up to the threat and heed the words of a real journalism, Edward R. Murrow, "[w]e must not confuse dissent with disloyalty" is shaping up to be the ideological battle of our time.
"When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don't see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy." - YossarianIt's the cancerous influence of greed that makes the whole thing tick and so once again we not only need to look at the avarice displayed in Catch-22 to get a better idea of what's going on but the disease of esurience plaguing modern society. Marx called them rentier capitalists which sounds a bit too French so modern economists call them rent-seekers but are more easily understood by the monikers given to them by Adam Smith: indolent maggots, moocher-elites and parasites. The Wall Street code word would be extractionists but no matter the label, their rise to dominance clearly marked the transition from industrial capitalism in which production was reliant on extracting profit from labour to financial capitalism which is entirely reliant on squeezing profit out of existing assets. Heller's Milo Minderbender, the embodiment of modern business with no allegiance to any country, person or principle unless it pays him, represents the extreme out of control nature of capitalism in a catch-22 world where profit trumps ideology. The other characters' acceptance of and support for his M & M Enterprises mirrors modern society's moral complacency regarding sustaining power and gaining profit at the expense of the individual.
do with all the data but hire more people to analyze it and discover the data set is broad but shallow which will necessitate gathering even more data. Why do you think they're building a facility able to store 20 terabytes a minute and capable of storing 5 zettabytes, about 5 years of global Internet traffic. A near forgotten element of the Snowden affair is the exposure of the links between the public and private sphere. Sure, we've known of the dangers of the military industrial complex since at least 1961, the same year Catch-22 was published, thanks to Eisenhower's prescient warning but have sat back and watched the privatization of war reach ever more dangerous extremes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, we should be shocked at the close and still growing relationship between the NSA and Silicon Valley, a relationship that sees the same information, our information, feed the two-headed monster for government surveillance purposes and private business so as to stimulate desires and sell goods and services. The military industrial complex has morphed into the corporate military technological complex.
Thus far we've turned a blind eye to private mercenaries such as Blackwater, or should I say Xe, no wait, I think it's Academi now I think (it's so complicated avoiding prosecution!), Halliburton and DynCorp gorge from the public trough afforded by perpetual war as it's only about killing brown people in faraway lands. Now we know that we are in the sites of companies like Booz Allen just one of hundreds of private contractors employing over half a million people with the same access as Snowden. Oh, each of them are making six figure salaries to spy on you at your cost. In the fiscal year ended in March 2013, Booz Allen Hamilton, majority-owned by the nefarious private equity Carlyle Group (even the neoliberal apologist Economist agrees!), reported $5.76 billion in revenue, 99% of which came from government contracts. In fact, along with companies such as Science Applications International Corp, CACI and BAE Systems, private contractors suck up about 70% of the $75 billion US intelligence budget, a budget that has ballooned since 9/11, growing 250% between 2000 and 2010. Oh, and just like every other sector of the economy, that money isn't trickling down to you and me but to those who get to ride the revolving door. Again Booz Allen is the perfect example as the former director of US national intelligence John "Mike McConnell is now a Booz Allen vice-president while his successor in the director's chair is James Clapper, a former Booz Allen executive. Just like the banking, energy, agriculture, you name it sector, the same story can be told over and over again.
Just as we at first cheered Milo Minderbender's seemingly harmless profiteering at the expense of the ridiculous bureaucracy that perpetuates war, many would (and probably still do) defend such privatization as beneficial, perhaps even paraphrasing Milo's catchphrase claim that "everyone has a share" with something along the lines of "a rising tide lifts all boats". Much as the one time president of General Motors when asked if he could make a decision that would adversely affect his former company during the confirmation hearings for his nomination as Secretary of Defense answered affirmatively but added he could not conceive of such a situation "because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa", Milo believed "[w]hat's good for M & M Enterprises is good for the country". While this may have had a grain of truth in the productive phase of capitalism, the casino style financialization of the economy destroys wealth for all but the few and eventually begins to cannibalize itself. A cash-strapped Milo winds up contracting the Germans to bomb his own squadron resulting in the death and wounding of many men; a cash-strapped financial sector blew up the economy and blackmailed the public to bail them out, exploding national deficits which was then used as an excuse for austerity programs resulting in the death and suffering of many.
Um, where was I? Right, Snowden. Well, those who hadn't noticed that our wealth is being bled for the benefit of the few in a bottom-up transfusion before Edward shone his spotlight are more likely than not still in the dark. As Yossarian watched Catch-22's Snowden bleed to death he could do little more that say "there, there" as the morphine supply in the bomber's first-aid kit had been absconded by Milo for sale on the black market. Milo sold the squadrons parachutes and we sacrifice our social safety net. Even after Milo seemed to have gone too far, with American newspapers and congressmen denouncing the German bombing, all he had to do was open his books and show what a wonderful profit he made. Just as bankers and other members of today's elite, he gets away scot-free, keeps his ill-gotten gains and all is forgiven.
"Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases."- George Orwell; Reflections on GandhiFinally we get around to the final issue of personal integrity. Throughout most of the novel, (spoiler alert, go read the damn thing already!), before we have redefined Snowden's secret through Yossarian's conversion, self-preservation at all costs seems to be his paramount concern. Just as he knows the number of missions he'll need to complete will always be increased by his superior Colonel Cathcart until he winds up dead, we also know our freedoms will be diminished one by one until they are all gone. Yossarian's increasingly damaging acts of sabotage and disobedience make it clear to Cathcart he won't be promoted as long as Yossarian is around, and worse, the more he gets away with, the more hope he gives to the less powerful: "Say, if they do let you (Yossarian) get away with it (not flying missions), they'll have to let the rest of us get away with it, won't they?...I hope you do get away with it". Likewise, our Ellsbergs, Mannings, Schwartzes and Snowdens commit acts on our behalf that not only expose the wrongdoings of our leaders but also raise our hopes.
Ultimately, Yossarian is offered a choice between saving himself but having to lie about his experiences of war and saving his squadron by facing a court martial. His concern for others creates a new catch-22 as the secret hidden in the entrails of Snowden finally becomes clear: life is not worth living without a moral concern for others, but this moral concern endangers one's own life. In a way, Edward Snowden has helped show us that as a society we are being offered a similar choice: to continue on our path accepting (or, as ever, denying) a life of diminished freedoms in exchange for safety or to risk our comforts in search of something better. Every day that we accept what is being done to us we choose to save ourselves while leaving everyone else out to dry. Yossarian's choice of a third option, desertion, makes him an anti-hero, but his intent is made clear when he says "I'm not running away from my responsibilities. I'm running to them. There's nothing negative about running away to save my life".
We never learn if Yossarian ever makes it to Sweden but he left the army a free man. Our Snowden may never make it to Venezuela and has been stuck in a Russian airport for weeks but at least he's a free man. There comes a moment in Catch-22 when both the reader and Yossarian come to feel shame for our amused tolerance of the evil characters and indifference to what is occurring, first laughing at the absurdities then looking back in horror at what we laughed at. Patriots are those who protect us from governments which only feel the need to be "the least untruthful". If the very definition of treason and/or espionage involves the participants interaction with an enemy, then just who is the enemy with whom Snowden interacted? In this case it is everyone that is being spied on. We are the official enemy of the Corporate Controlled Government. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing. It is this simple, and this terrible. Catch-22 means whatever they want it to mean and it's no longer a laughing matter.
H/T to my wife for remembering random snippets of reality!
And a few more random quotes:
"The important thing is to keep them pledging," he explained to his cohorts. "It doesn't matter whether they mean it or not. That's why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what 'pledge' and 'allegiance' mean." - Joseph Heller; Catch-22
"The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government." - Thomas Paine
"This is the truth. You should decide whether we need to be doing this." - Edward Snowden
"Remember this, take it to heart, live by it, die for it if necessary: that our patriotism is medieval, outworn, obsolete; that the modern patriotism, the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation All the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it" - Mark Twain; The Czar's Soliloquy, 1905.
"I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors," - Jeremy Hammond
"The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair." - H.L. Mencken
"We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world." - Aaron Swartz
"In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People." - Eugene Debs; Voices of a People's History of the United States
"I want people to see the truth, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public." - Bradley Manning
"Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up." - Joseph Heller; Catch-22