When you become a whistleblower

Yesterday Edward Snowden came forward and outed himself as the whistleblower who leaked information about Boundless Informant. This system developed by the NSA with major corporations, enables raw data to be analyzed and processed in the cloud, including IP addresses, so sender and recipient information can be tracked to rough location. I’m not going to politicize here, but I do want to talk about how Edward Snowden chooses his words.

In the remarkable interview with the Guardian about why he blew the whistle on the NSA, Edward Snowden uses the second person ‘you’ to hedge the details of his unique role and position. The speaker using ‘you’ disguises and generalizes his own experience and range of choices, inviting ‘you’, the listener, to imagine how you or anyone else would do the same thing if it happened to you. Likewise, he uses the simple present to generalize rather than the past tense to report on what he did.

‘When you’re in positions of privileged access like a systems administrator for these sort of intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee. And because of that you see things that – uh – may be disturbing. But over the course of a normal person’s career you’d only see one or two of these instances. When you see everything, you see them on a more frequent basis, and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses, and when you talk to people about them – uh – in a place like this where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously and, you know, move on from them. But over time, that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up, and you feel compelled to talk about it. And the more you talk about it, the more you’re ignored, the more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realize that – uh – these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who is simply hired by the government.”

Overall, he comes across as quiet and self-effacing, and very principled when he uses ‘I’:

  • ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’
  • ‘I do not expect to see home again’

For the full interview see the Guardian (interview by Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong, 12min 35sec)

Democratic Conventions

I found Michelle Obama’s speech very interesting to watch. She’s an icon to professional women, and a fine speaker, obviously, and so beautiful. Her messages are reassuring, reasserting values and good, decent, community-building citizenship, telling stories to remind everyone how what Obama has achieved is based on his “down-home-and-real” deep-seated beliefs. All good.

But seeing her performance (and it is classic prime-time TV) brings home what it means to have to “do rhetoric” to be elected, because it includes applying a thick veneer of perfect public protective polish on top of stories engineered and strung together to pull heartstrings. That will in fact make you go ah! or ugh!, depending on whether you are actually ready to have your heartstrings pulled and to surf in on party patriotism, or not. Me, I sit here dourly scratching my head and think: Do they really have to pile all that on? Do they really have to play the “conventional” card?

Maybe, yes.
But then again, maybe no.

After all, there’s Bill Clinton. Unconventional, passionate, wild, real Bill. Rules of rhetoric? of course. Populist? always. Clichés? no. Going through Republican arguments point by point, and defusing them. And then zooming in to focus on Obama’s continued commitment to bipartisan politics (a key element in his politics from the start):

“He also tried to work with Congressional Republicans on Health Care, debt reduction, and jobs, but that didn’t work out so well. Probably because, as the Senate Republican leader, in a remarkable moment of candor, said two years before the election, their number one priority was not to put America back to work, but to put President Obama out of work.
Senator, I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to keep President Obama on the job!”

And the best part is how he builds on his own work to say that we need cooperation:

Through my foundation, in America and around the world, I work with Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are focused on solving problems and seizing opportunities, not fighting each other.
When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics, but in the real world, cooperation works better.
What works in the real world, is cooperation!

Not only does Bill Clinton still love politics, he still makes politics fun, because he’s got real, muscular, scrappy values. Yeah! Whoop! Come on, damn the veneer, let’s get down and be political!

Text of Bill Clinton’s Address to the Democratic Convention, September 5, 2012, WSJ Washington Wire

Right-wing hate moves into the mainstream

The violence against elected officials by hate groups in the USA this past week was a real shocker. Racism and homophobia are penetrating into the mainstream. “Rage on the Right” is certainly nothing new, it’s long been a part of the right-wing militia movement, the militant wing of the “patriot movement” who say they are protecting civil liberties against a government they see as an enemy (see Rage on the Right, 2003.) But a new study just published, Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism (summary here), shows that various streams are mingling.

Listen to this interview with the author of the new study, Mark Potok, on NPR. A survey on Republican political opinions shows that

  • 2/3 of Republicans think Obama is a socialist
  • 47% of Republicans believe the “birthers'” idea that Obama was not born in the US and is therefore not legally eligible for the Presidency
  • 38% say that Obama is doing some of the things Hitler did
  • 24% say he may be the Antichrist

Today, the face of the government is the face of a black man. That draws the anger, fear and frustration of the white racist militiant right. And coincidentally, the Democrats are losing support among white men. The next Republican presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, has the uncanny ability to play to exactly that crowd.