Pardon Us, Snowden

The deep state likes it that way – the deeper the better, away from prying eyes, insolent questions, democratic digging. All the more alarm then when one of its own, Edward Snowden, released droves of classified material showing that the National Security Agency, center piece of the deep state, was unlawfully spying on millions of Americans – phone calls, emails – and using the information for political purposes.

Unforgivable. Snowden landed in Russia to avoid arrest under the rarely used Espionage Act, a relic of World War One. But President Trump may be forgiving. He says he is considering a pardon, and a US. appeals court has ruled that NSA’s mass surveillance is unlawful, as Snowden insisted. A few adventurous office holders have made a similar pitch. It could be good politics at a time of excessive acrimony in the U.S. Then, too, the President, himself an outsider, may have some affinity for another outsider like Snowden.

Edward Snowden

Not that he was an outsider at NSA . He was well integrated into the community and valued for his internet wizardry. He liked his job and had enormous ambition for the internet until he witnessed its misuse under the management of longtime NSA chief Keith Alexander who asked in some frustration: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?” That confirmed Snowden’s fear that NSA was determined to erase all private communication in the U.S, maybe in the world. It would be a vast extension of human power, he said, without accountability – the antithesis of democracy.

Beyond that, how useful was it? A flood of facts from “all the signals” are difficult to put together in any meaningful way. Failure to connect the dots led to the surprise attack of 9/11. Bits and pieces of information had been on hand but not collated. When asked how many terror attacks had been averted by NSA, Alexander could come up with only one doubtful example

Snowden has been criticized for not going through proper channels before becoming a public whistle blower. But experience argued against it. One after another, previous whistle blowers had got into serious trouble for challenging policies however misguided. As a Congressional staffer charged with oversight of NSA, Diane Roark took her concerns about domestic spying to every official she could think of. To no avail. NSA Director Michael Haydn defended his program on the grounds that “we had the power.” While she was suffering from breast cancer, the FBI raided and ransacked her home. Refusing to plead guilty to any spurious charge, she was finally left alone with tattered body and reputation.

Snowden has asked the President to pardon other whistle blowers currently under fire, but Trump supporters remain divided on how to handle him. Neocon Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he should be executed for treason, while Republican Representative Matt Gaetz calls for his pardon. Coincidentally, Snowden’s antagonist, former NSA boss Alexander, has been named to the board of prospering Amazon. The issue of freedom vs. secrecy is very much alive.

Narcos Is News

The Drug Enforcement Administration, established by President Nixon in 1973, has been overshadowed by the more celebrated CIA and FBI. In the television series Narcos, two swaggering FBI agents taunt a DEA undercover: “Dogs at airports now do your work.” They picked on the wrong guy. The DEA agent helps bring down the notorious drug lord Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo, now in prison, though that is hardly the end of the story of a battle that continues uninterrupted to this day.

The show pulls no punches as it tries to get to the heart of the matter. The drug villains are no cardboard creations but full bodied portrayals. Gallardo, elegantly played by Diego Luna, is a loving family man while perfectly vicious as a cartel boss. He dreams of creating an organization that mirrors any legitimate business, and he approves the hideous torture of a DEA agent who threatens that business.

The agent, real life Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, discovered a 2500 acre marijuana field in an obscure setting in Mexico. Gallardo’s cartel is enraged, but as one member notes, the field will be worthless once the U.S. legalizes marijuana, which implies a certain futility on the part of everyone. Suffering Camarena is drilled full of holes for a product that will soon be discarded for more profitable cocaine.

Enrique “Kiki” Camarena

The series shows that the problem is far larger than just trafficking. Politics are involved at the highest level. Outfitted in a tuxedo that seems as comfortable to him as working clothes, Gallardo attends sumptuous dinners as a ranking member of the Mexican elite. The president returns his calls, may even call him. Billions of dollars of drug money, thanks to American consumers, keep everyone content. Only unrelenting DEA pressure brings Gallardo to justice. But in the show’s final scene, Gallardo tells his DEA antagonist that by putting him out of action, you have splintered the cartels into various parts that will be even bloodier and more dangerous.

Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo

And what of U.S. involvement? The film doesn’t go there except to note accurately that American drug consumers finance the cartels that run and ruin Mexico. Without the demand there would be no supply. But are there powers beyond consumers that keep the drug trade going? Is there a culpable American establishment akin to Mexico’s? “Narcos” producers, why not take a look?

Knocking Grant Down

Ulysses S. Grant was not born to privilege. He grew up in a modest house in a small town in Ohio and followed his father in tanning animal hides for leather. Showing no particular aptitude or ambition, he attended West Point which he hated. After that he tried his hand at a number of businesses all of which failed. He got in the habit of some heavy drinking. Not the stuff of statues.

Then in 1860 came the outbreak of the Civil war. He joined up and found his calling, becoming a skilled fighter as well as commander. Imperturbable, fearless under fire, he won the admiration of his troops and caught the eye of President Lincoln in search of a general who could face down a determined Confederacy. As commanding general of Union forces, he fought stubbornly, making some costly errors along the way, until his adroit maneuvers culminated in a crucial victory at Vicksburg that assured the defeat of the South and Lincoln’s reelection. He was the man of the hour.

Ulysses S. Grant on Horseback

He was less successful in his second career as U.S. President. Embroiled in a politics he couldn’t quite understand, he was unable to cope with the get-rich- quick schemes that followed the war and almost any war. Retirement came as a relief and off he went to see the world. Along the way he ran into German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who had united Germany and thus had something in common with the general who kept America united. In a remarkable conversation in 1878 between two major figures of the 19th century, Bismarck remarked that it was sad to fight your own people in a war.

“But it had to be done,” said Grant. “Yes,” said Bismarck. “You had to save the Union just as we had to save Germany.” “In the beginning,” replied Grant. “but as soon as slavery fired upon the flag, it was felt, we all felt, even those who did not object to slaves, that slavery must be destroyed. We felt that it was a stain to the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle.” He even restrained his impetuous General Sheridan so that the war would not end too quickly without the abolition of slavery

Bismarck went on to say that there had been an attempt on the life of Germany’s King Wilhelm, a sincere republican in principle, “ and one of the kindest old gentlemen in the world, and yet they must try and shoot him.” Replied Grant: “The influence which aimed at the Emperor’s life was an influence that would destroy all government, all order, all society, republics and empires.”

Anticipating the eruptions of the next century, he spoke prophetically but of course did not live to fight that battle.

A Riot To Remember

In July 1863, the war was not going very well for the northern Union forces as they tried to defeat the Southern Confederacy. Recruitment was slipping in a sign of war weariness and casualties were staggering. To try to replenish ranks and encourage more volunteers, the Republican Government under President Lincoln took the step of establishing a draft, a serious extension of national power. Opposed to the war, the Democratic Party denounced the move as a threat to civil liberties.

Those likely to be drafted then took action. They were mostly Irish American immigrants with few means, living in cramped often fetid quarters in New York City. They had low paying jobs without the benefits available today. They were indifferent to slavery and feared that if they went off to war, freed blacks would replace them. Adding to their anger was the fact that those with money could buy their way out of the draft or find substitutes. It was a rich man’s war, they complained, and a poor man’s fight.

“Charge of the Police on the Rioters at the ‘Tribune’ Office.” Harper’s Weekly, Aug. 1, 1863.

Unimpeded, they took to the streets. There were no statues to be tumbled but plenty of damage to be done otherwise. They attacked, looted and burned stores, often owned by blacks, and police stations and Protestant churches. They lynched several blacks with genuine nooses. They particularly targeted known abolitionists and their newspapers like the New York Tribune. At a time of more assertive journalism, editors armed their staffers to confront the rioters. New York Times editor Henry Raymond, a top Republican, wielded a newly invented Gatling gun to defend his paper.

But there was no stopping the riot with available forces. Police tried but were undermanned. Federal troops normally nearby had gone off to war. In desperation, Washington rushed several regiments from the war in Pennsylvania to the city where they fired on rioters the way they had on Confederates. That did it. Twenty thousand troops maintained the draft and kept the peace for the remainder of the war. More than one hundred people had been killed, most of them rioters.

As it turned out, the draftees were not needed very much. There were about 46 thousand of them compared to 800 thousand volunteers who did most of the fighting and dying. The riot was an indication of seriously divided opinion in a war that cost more lives than any other in U.S. history, and it should be noted that Irish Americans, removed from the slums, fought willingly and gallantly in subsequent wars.

Black Lives 1860

In the year 1860 American blacks were locked into slavery. Then the Civil War began which liberated the slaves at the cost of 360 thousand Union lives, mostly whites with ten per cent blacks who had been freed. They died, yes, but usually with the battlefield agony that preceded death. It was not a pleasant thing.

Lt. Colonel Richard Irwin, who participated in the Union capture of Port Hudson in 1863, describes the battlefield: “Our loss in the two assaults was nearly 4000, including many of our best and bravest officers. The heat, especially in the trenches, became almost unsupportable, the stenches quite so, the springs gave out, the creek lost itself in the pestilential swamp and the river fell exposing to the tropical sun a wide margin of festering ooze. The illness and mortality were enormous. The labor of the siege, extending over a front of seven miles, pressed so severely upon our numbers, far too weak for such an undertaking, that the men were almost incessantly on duty. And as the numbers diminished, the work fell more heavily on those that remained. From the first we had nearly 20 thousand men of all arms engaged before Port Hudson and at the last hardly 9000, while every other man might well have gone on sick report if pride and duty had not held him to his post.”

Battle of Port Hudson / J.O. Davidson – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

This of course was just one of innumerable battles in the four year war. It was sustained by a cause that was both clear and uplifting – the abolition of slavery, which distinguishes it from current U.S. wars that seem to have no particular purpose and unlike the Civil War don’t end in victory. To be sure, not all who fought necessarily opposed slavery. They reflected northern opinion which was divided. But they fought nonetheless and thereby contributed to the cause that prevailed.

There were other reasons for the war: a need to prevent southern secession and preserve the union and an increasing hostility between north and south. As always, hotheads on both sides yearned for a violence they would not be able to control. But at the heart of the conflict was the issue of slavery. Without that there would have been no war.

The war did not solve all the problems between the races. Years of brutality and discrimination against blacks continued on the long road to equality. But the Civil War set the precedent. There was no going back. The enormous bloodshed – far beyond any other U.S. war – settled the matter. Standards for justice are very high today. No shirking allowed. But what more could be asked of the Union soldiers who gave all they had?

Freud Up To Date

In a somewhat controversial piece celebrating Jewish genius, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens makes a surprising omission. Absent from his list of Jewish notables over the years is famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. This may have been a lapse on his part, but it does reflect current opinion. Freud has little to say to present times, rooted as he is in outmoded concepts of the role of sex in human life and unconscious drives over which we have no control.

For Freud sex was unforgiving. Infancy wasn’t spared. That’s where it all began in confusion over mother and father, leading by stages to sexual fulfillment or repression and neurosis of which psychoanalysis held the cure. No such thing, said later analysts. Free will still exists and accidents even happen that are not dictated by fate.

Sigmund Freud – By Max Halberstadt – [ Christie’s]

What’s more, Freud is definitely out of place today, very politically incorrect. He was condescending to women and considered all departures from normal sexuality a matter of arrested development. Politically, he was a conservative who favored strong man rule, though not, to be sure, Hitler who drove him from Vienna. He detested America with all its talk of equality while enjoying chats with that teller of tall tales Mark Twain. Today he would probably be closer to Trump voters than to the elite of Manhattan who once adored him. So goodbye to Freud.

But not so fast. His probing of the unconscious has ties to world affairs. Like everyone, he was appalled by the barbaric eruption of World War One after a century of general peace and prosperity. He rejected the common explanations – too much nationalism, too little love, not enough communism and a dozen other ideological cures. The reason he concluded in his book “Civilization and Its Discontents” lay in the permanent drive of aggression in every human that surpasses even the sexual drive. “The inclination to aggression is an original self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man that constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization… All life essentially consists of the struggle between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species.” Which wins depends on the determination of humans who recognize what they face and are not misled by the spurious reasons that lead to wars, including U.S. wars since 9/11. It’s the Freudian cure of self-recognition – Freud up to date.

Beauty of the Plague

For ten days in 1820 the English poet John Keats was forced to remain at sea in the bay of Naples. It couldn’t have been a nicer place to be quarantined from the typhus – the epidemic of the time – that was ravaging Italy. “One of the most sublime locations in the world,” writes Frances Mayes in the New York Times in an appreciation of the poet whose work was a culmination of the romantic era that  found beauty in almost everything.

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