Thursday, May 23, 2013

That Damnable Revolving Door

So Gasland II premiered in Colorado Springs tonight, with an appearance by director Josh Fox, and sure, there were plenty of updates about the people of Dimock, PA, Pavilion, WY and many other places that were just as grim.  It is obvious the U.S. is declaring shale areas to be "National Sacrifice Zones" in which it is deemed cheaper to buy out the homes of all who live near fracking sites, making them sign nondisclosure agreements in the process, than to adopt regulations to insure that fracking is either conducted safely, or not at all.

What is more disturbing are the number of ethical sacrifices people are willing to make on a regular basis.  We see this most explicitly when energy companies and developers of LNG port sites talk in public about how wonderful it will be when the North Pole ice cap melts, so energy barges can travel unhindered among northern ports in Canada, Scandinavia, and Russia.  We see it when energy companies hire Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who worked for PSYOPS and military intelligence divisions, who reorganize PR departments so they are managed like a counterinsurgency campaign against the "terrorists" who would oppose fracking.  This kind of activity makes me lean to generalizations to insist that anyone who works for the extractive energy business is morally suspect.

And then we have the problem of the revolving doors.  Leading Pennsylvania and New York state government officials, as well as federal government officials, quit their posts to work for the companies they regulate.  Of course, you say.  That's as prevalent in the military industrial and resource management sector as it is in energy.  That still does not make it right.

Yes, yes, all business is prostitution to a certain extent, and one can't fault everyone who leaves a nonprofit or government post to go into for-profit industry.  But any move to greater prostitution along the "misrepresenting for profit" line should be taken with due consideration for what kind of ethical lapses might be made.  I've seen many in my field of journalism go into corporate PR as traditional journalism disappears.  Obviously, working for Cisco or Dell can't be seen as being as damaging as working for Lockheed-Martin or Halliburton, but one would hope that people draw firm lines in the sand as they start sliding down the slippery slope of moral rationalization.

One thing that Fox showed in his sequel to Gasland is that few in the Obama administration, including the president himself, have made admirable ethical choices.  Those mid-level EPA officials, as well as former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, finally had to leave the agency when the desire to cover up blatant fact on fracking-fluid contamination got in the way of good science.  And we won't even get into the cesspool that is Congress.  I left the movie feeling that there really is no one, at local, state, or federal level, that can stay in government without compromising basic values.  And so many of them choose the revolving door.  Where are the people who will stand up and say, "I will state facts based on the research conducted, make regulatory decisions as they need to be made, quit my job if money gets in the way of my ethics, and refuse to join the companies I formerly regulated."  The ranks of such people are dwindling by the day.  And what we are left with is independent people working in retail, the arts, non-profits, etc. who look at government and transnational corporations and say "I want nothing to do with any of you."
Wes Wilson (formerly of EPA) and Josh Fox

That's the kind of line I'll draw.  I simply won't have any track with people who will sacrifice their morals for the sake of making what they call a living wage.  The revolving door is a death wage.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Proceed At Own Risk

Benghazi, IRS vs. Tea Party, Ryan Fogle, Justice Dept. vs. Associated Press.... is the Obama White House facing the same cascade of scandal that ensnared the Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton administrations in turn?  Perhaps, though one must subtract the Republican reality distortion field that surrounds at least two of the scandals.  It might also speak to a Justice Department that has always seemed incapable of serving the needs of justice (not just under the deplorable Eric Holder, but perpetually, harking back to the days of John Mitchell).

But the biggest source for scandal is the proverbial living-room elephant that neither major party dare name: the fundamental incompatibility between global imperial national-security state and bottom-up democracy, which has served as a drag on a constitutional republic since 1947.  A nation that runs according to the parameters of the National Security Act of 1947, NSC 68, Patriot Act, FISA Bypass, and various cryptography and atomic energy statutes, is simply not one that can be managed according to the rules of a democracy.

Since so many Americans enjoy specific perks from the U.S. maintaining its top-dog role in this game of King On the Mountain, I'm not too optimistic about taking this discrepancy to a direct vote.  A majority may well favor ditching the Bill of Rights in order to keep their toys,  But here's what I would demand: If the nation is going to accede to the existence of covert divisions of acknowledged agencies, or entirely covert agencies and operations, then those agencies must operate from the principle that the risk they take through plausible deniability remains with the agency itself.  Journalists cannot and must not be prosecuted by learning what they can of agencies' missions.

Frankly, I was a little surprised when the Obama administration did not attempt some form of prior restraint when pictures of sloppy Moscow CIA agent Ryan Fogle (above) appeared worldwide on May 14.  Of course such an effort would be futile in a Web and social network age, but it doesn't mean that the White House (particularly Attorney General Eric Holder) wouldn't try.  After all, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the mid-1980s that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which made it a crime to publish the names of CIA agents, was perfectly constitutional.  Later that same decade, the USSC said that covert agents with CIA, DIA, or Special Ops Command need not behave with any constitutional constraint when operating in other countries.  And all indications are that the USSC will approve the warrantless monitoring, operated globally by NSA and NRO on a 24/7/365 basis, and approved by Bush in 2002 and given ex post facto validation by Congress in 2008, under something called "FISA Bypass."

This impunity and arrogance to protect government from the eyes of probing media may have gotten a thumbs-up from all three branches of government, but it is still unconstitutional and wrong.  Eric Holder has prosecuted nine journalists under the Espionage Act.  The only time such prosecution is warranted is when a journalist is handing over information to a foreign power.  Publishing something the government wants to keep secret is not a crime - it merely means that the covert agency is not doing its job.  Whether the media source is WikiLeaks or a small Baltimore newspaper covering the headquarters of NSA, it is not legitimate to prosecute that source for leaking secrets.

Our laws actually are worse than that.  IIPA and FISA would criminalize the dissemination of secrets that originate with the government.  But under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, all information on fusion energy and H-bomb technology is "born secret."  That means that if you figure out in your head the architecture of the H-bomb, the government can classify your brain.  Many people think that this law was tossed out after The Progressive won its H-bomb case in 1980, but all that happened was that the Justice Department dropped its prosecution when it became untenable.  The Atomic Energy Act still stands.  And sections of various cryptography acts passed over the last century make it a crime to publish information about electronic monitoring -- even if such information is informed speculation coming from a reporter, and is not based on government information.

The only way to move to a just society is to demand that covert agencies take their own responsibilities for maintaining secrets, and not get the Justice Department involved in prosecuting those that would expose government behavior.  The second and necessary step is to de-link all government branches and agencies from the strictures of the national security acts passed in the Cold War years of the 1940s and 1950s.  Oh, so you thought Obama was leading us in that direction?  Haven't seen much sign of Gitmo closing, have we?  Haven't seen any Espionage Act cases against journalists dropped, have we?

The global imperial infrastructure is not going to end tomorrow.   There are hundreds of U.S. military bases, intelligence bases, and embassies the size of military compounds, flung worldwide across every continent, which are not going to close tomorrow.  But the time to begin the process is now.  Ending the Republican and Democrat reliance on the national security state would help ease the budget crisis, and make our nation more genuine in its supposed interest in democracy.  But it sure is hard to see any interest in moving in this direction from either major party in mid-2013.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Noise Annoys

OK, kids, it's Deep Kafka time - or maybe the John Cage/Pauline Oliveros hour of deep listening.

When scientists pondering the likelihood of extraterrestrial life talk about the conditions for carbon-based life forms, some sci-fi buff in the crowd usually will pipe up, "Why assume carbon?  Why not silicon-based life forms?  Why life based on matter made up of known elements?  Why not replicating energy fields?"

I often feel this way in discussions of music and audio creative arts.  Why assume any baseline rules at all for what constitutes music?  Is the solving of a mathematical equation a type of music? (Remember that in pre-Copernican days, the ratio of orbits assumed in an Earth-centered universe created an orbital-resonance inaudible hum that was called "music of the spheres.")  Even if we grant that music is based on the mathematical manipulation of sound waves, what about waves of too high or low a frequency for human hearing?  Is melody required?  Is a scale with a specific number of steps?  Must there be a recognizable rhythm, or harmonics with a certain predictable ordering?

It's a good time to ask these questions, as the noise artists of the 1990s are beginning to gain new mainstream respect, in the same way the wildest of free-jazz pioneers of the 1950s gained new respect in the 1970s.  Jeff Fuccillo has digitized the back catalog of the legendary Union Pole Tapes and offered MP3s for sale.  Several collections of Harry Pussy 1990s recordings have come to light.  The No Neck Blues Band has put its entire catalog on iTunes.  And many will probably despise these offerings, or find them terrifying.  That is precisely the point.  When Pauline Oliveros discussed her Deep Listening concept with Bill Forman of Colorado Springs Independent prior to a recent UCCS concert, she suggested people should find pieces of music that disturbed them, and listen to those pieces over and over and over.

This self-description of No Neck at the time of the iTunes release indicates the creative sparks being released through the mainstreaming of noise: 
 2013 marks 20 years of activity for the No-Neck Blues Band (NNCK), New York City’s premier altruistic free-music cabal. During this time, NNCK have released 40 plus LPs, CDs, singles, and cassettes, documenting a Fin de vingtième siècle sound that incorporates the contradiction of spirit and self, the risk of fear, and the gestalt of ritual combination. They have been compared to Sun Ra, AMM, The Godz, Amon Düül, Yahowa 13, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and The Quicksilver Messenger Service, and have toured and/or collaborated with John Fahey, Träd Gräs Och Stenar, Embryo, Circle X, Royal Trux, Harry Pussy, and the Sun City Girls. Yet despite all of this, the group remains enigmatic, contested, and largely unknown. Their “hiding in plain sight” anonymity and emphasis on encryption and obfuscation has rendered their place in history unclear, no doubt quite deliberately; though now exclusively for DESTIJL we see something of a change in strategy. In a move at once antithetical to their perceived “stance” and seemingly faux-nostalgic, NNCK has released their entire back catalog digitally, along with detailed descriptions of each release as well as an oral history of sorts comprised of quotes from co-conspirators, allies, and friends of the band, with stories of rooftops, ritual objects, fascist bombings, and more. This mother lode of sound and lore also comes peppered with links to previously unseen NNCK videos + related links.)

Now, I fully expect (and would encourage) fans of different types of visual or audio arts to bluntly state that they found a certain work remarkable, or to pass by with a wave of the hand, saying "Not my cup of tea." But the person who claps hands decisively over ears and leaves the room yelling, "That's not music, that's noise!" is only displaying gross stupidity.  And they should be roundly denounced for being so stupid.  On a more mainstream level, the music fan who might love classical or bluegrass or classic rock, but allows as how they can't stand country or hip-hop, should be exposed as being no fan of music at all.  The way to engage in Pauline Oliveros's form of Deep Listening is to throw all assumptions away.  Let your appreciation of audio arts proceed without any rules or guideposts.  Let it flow, whether its audio, extra-audio, or orbital hum.  And particularly if it seems at first listen to be excruciating noise.  You just might learn something.