Monday, February 6, 2017

The Good News Is That There Are Books You Can Delve Into To Reflect Upon Life In Fascist Dystopias. The Bad News Is Whether What Your Choice To Do So Says About You Gets Communicated To . . . And Could You Consequently Lose Essential Freedoms?

Donald Trump's assumption of the presidency has everyone reading about life in dystopias.  His meeting with vote-suppressing meister Kris Kobach. . . Would you like to read about real life?
G-Damn!  Three featured New York Times articles in on virtually the same subject in just three days. .  What books Americans are reading! . . .

. . .  It must be pretty important!

And it is!  It is important to know that Americans are reading!  And what the multiple Times articles all tell us is about the incredible surge of Americans now choosing to read novels about fascist dystopias.

Three NY Times Articles About The Sudden Popularity of Books About Fascist Dystopies Tell Us  . . .

Below are the Times articles with some extracts.  Please not that I have bolded to supply, in one small respect, some emphasis.  (Enjoy the overall repetitiveness of these articles overall.) 

•    Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics, by Alexandra Alter, January 27, 2017
"The Handmaid's Tale" is among several classic dystopian novels that seem to be resonating with readers at a moment of heightened anxiety about the state of American democracy. Sales have also risen drastically for George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984," which shot to the top of Amazon's best-seller list this week.

Other novels that today's readers may not have picked up since high school but have landed on the list this week are Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel, "Brave New World," a futuristic dystopian story set in England in 2540; and Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," a satire about a bellicose presidential candidate who runs on a populist platform in the United States but turns out to be a fascist demagogue. On Friday, "It Can't Happen Here" was No. 9 on Amazon; "Brave New World" was No. 15.

The sudden boom in popularity for classic dystopian novels, which began to pick up just after the election, seems to reflect an organic response from readers who are wary of the authoritarian overtones of some of Mr. Trump's rhetoric.

* * * *

. . .  Since the inauguration, sales of the novel ["1984"] have risen 9,500 percent, according to Craig Burke, the publicity director for Signet Classics, a paperback imprint at Penguin. . .

* * *

"It's a frame of reference that people can reach for in response to government deception, propaganda, the misuse of language, and those are things that occur all the time," said Alex Woloch, an English professor at Stanford University who has written about the roots of Orwell's political language. "There are certain things this administration is doing that has set off these alarm bells, and people are hungry for frames of reference to understand this new reality."
•    Why `1984' Is a 2017 Must-Read, by Michiko Kakutani, January 26, 2017
The dystopia described in George Orwell's nearly 70-year-old novel "1984" suddenly feels all too familiar. A world in which Big Brother (or maybe the National Security Agency) is always listening in, and high-tech devices can eavesdrop in people's homes. (Hey, Alexa, what's up?) A world of endless war, where fear and hate are drummed up against foreigners, and movies show boatloads of refugees dying at sea. A world in which the government insists that reality is not "something objective, external, existing in its own right" - but rather, "whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth."
"1984" shot to No. 1 on Amazon's best-seller list this week, after Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to President Trump, described demonstrable falsehoods told by the White House press secretary Sean Spicer - regarding the size of inaugural crowds - as "alternative facts." It was a phrase chillingly reminiscent, for many readers, of the Ministry of Truth's efforts in "1984" at "reality control."

* * *f

Not surprisingly, "1984" has found a nervous readership in today's "post-truth" era. It's an era in which misinformation and fake news have proliferated on the web . .   sow doubts about the democratic process.
•    George Orwell's `1984' Is Suddenly a Best-Seller, by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, January 25, 2017
George Orwell's classic book "1984," about a dystopian future where critical thought is suppressed under a totalitarian regime, has seen a surge in sales this month, rising to the top of the Amazon best-seller list in the United States and leading its publisher to have tens of thousands of new copies printed.

* * * *

Prof. Stefan Collini, a professor of intellectual history and an expert on Orwell at the University of Cambridge, said that readers see a natural parallel between the book and the way Mr. Trump and his staff have distorted facts.

* * * *

“That kind of unreality that is propagated as reality is what people feel reminded of, and that’s why they keep coming back.”
It’s great that there are books, recognized classics, that you can delve into to think more deeply about the thought control, lack of freedom, lack of democracy, and lack, even lack of reality, that is possible in fascist dystopias.  Reading such books you may even find tools to deal with such dsytopias and to stave them off. . .

The Bad News: What Reading These Books Tells. . .

But there is a flip side.  Have you thought about the bad news, about how reading those very same books could actually cause you to loose your political freedoms and political rights?  Have you thought that it might deprive you of your right to elect the president?  Deprive you of your right to elect any of the government officials who are supposed to represent you?

Consider this: Your choice when you read these books will say things about you (just as those articles in the Times wanted to make that exact point) and think about who that will be communicated to.

Certainly you have noticed that when you shop for something online everyone seems to know exactly what you have been shopping for?  You shop for underwear, a new refrigerator, a certain kind of electronic equipment, or even a medicine, and all of a sudden the advertisements and a emails are following you around suggesting to you and reminding you about how, where and when to buy that underwear, that new refrigerator, that electronic equipment, and the medicine you were interested in.. .

  . . Since I have been researching this article Hulu is following me around with an ad telling me to watch `The Handmaid's Tale.' 

Amazon Says. . .

The little bit of emphasis I provided with my bolded text above called attention to how the purchase of these dystopia books involved, in all the instances being cited, sales that were being kept track of by Amazon, which despite having opened its very first brick and mortar store recently, does almost all of its selling through the internet.  Amazon is also a huge monopoly, increasingly vertical in multiple respects, able to use the data it collects to undercut its own sellers, which, because it should therefore be subject to anti-trust actions, puts it in a significant and inextricable relationship with the federal government.  What kind of relationship exactly does Amazon have with the federal government?: Well, for one thing, it’s head, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, which has a powerful lot to say about the stature of all the government officials who regulate Amazon.

Amazon says: “Customers Who Bought [Orwell’s `1984'] Also Bought-  `Brave New World' by
Aldous Huxley,  `Animal farm: A Fairy Story,' by George Orwell, `It Can't Happen Here,' by Sinclair Lewis.”

Amazon says: “Customers Who Bought [Sinclair Lewis’ `It Can't Happen Here'] Also Bought-  `1984,' by George Orwell,  `Brave New World,' by Aldous Huxley, `The Origins of Totalitarianism,' by Hannah Arendt, `The Handmaid's Tale,' by Margaret Atwood, `The Plot Against America,' by Philip Roth.”

AND customers Who Bought Orwell’s “1984" and Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can't Happen Herealso voted for. . .

Running The Electorate Through A PRIZM That Divides Into A Spectrum. . .

What begins with commercial marketing soon migrates to the political realm.

In his recently published “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble To Get Inside Our Heads,” author Tim Wu writes about the revolution in advertising that occurred in the 1970s with the advent of PRIZM* (Potential Ratings in ZIP Markets).  It was a way to profile Americans for targeted advertising that, computers doing the sorting, used public census data about the U.S. population spread throughout the nation’s newly created ZIP codes to go beyond the simplest categorizations (“young or old,” “male of female,” “black or white,” “Northerners vs. Southerners”) and subdivide and geographically locate forty characteristically distinctive identified “clusters” or “subnations,” not one United States, “all calling the same continent home.”
(* Not to be confused, despite the ominous similarity of name or potential similarities, with the National Security Agency PRISM surveillance program that whistleblower Edward Snowden made famous that collects data from at least nine major U.S. companies, including,Google, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, YouTube, AOL and Yahoo.)
Wu explains that PRIZM could be used so precisely for marketing maneuvers that in 1982 the Coca-Cola company was able to introduce Diet Coke, its new diet cola, without cannibalizing the sales of TaB, the diet cola it already had on the market.  It did so by avoiding, “advertising Diet Coke in Tab clusters, and even began mailing TaB drinkers coupons for their preferred cola, so as to neutralize any collateral damage.”  In this regard, Wu tartly observes:
It was entirely in keeping with the ultimate claim of PRIZM that you could say different things to different people and win them all.  And it goes a long way toward explaining the system’s later importance in politics.
Tim Wu's book: "it goes a long way toward explaining the system’s later importance in politics."

From "Microtargetting" to "Nanotargeting"

With computers and the data we now collect about people, political marketing and targeting of potential voters has gone a long way beyond PRISM.  On a segment of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” broadcast in July, well before the presidential election, Barry Bennett, a former adviser to the Trump campaign and the former campaign manager for Ben Carson, explained to NPR host Robert Siegel the phenomenal precision with which the electorate can be sliced and diced for political action, selective communications, get out the vote operations, etc:
SIEGEL: What about other aspects of, you know, what had been modern political campaigning - microtargeting specific groups, a get-out-the-vote operation, having staff out there? You think it's all going to be proven to be obsolescent in this cycle?

BENNETT: No. No, I think that, you know, what we used to call microtargeting - I guess what we have now must be nanotargeting because we've gotten so much better at it. And we now have personality scores on the voter file. I - not only can I tell if you love or hate guns, but I can tell you what emotional response I can elicit from different kinds of messages.

SIEGEL: This is all to decide whether I'm worth working on to get me to the polls...


SIEGEL: ...Or calling up again.

BENNETT: Whether I want you to vote - go vote or whether I think you're a lost cause. So - I mean, all that has really, really progressed. But I can now target you through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or even Snapchat because we know a lot more about you. I mean, we used to be very proud that we had, like, 50 sets of data points on you. Now we have 8,000, 9,000, 10,000. And, you know, we can go through every tweet you've ever made and append that to the voter file.
(See: Former Trump Adviser Gives Closer Look At A Non-Traditional Campaign, July 11, 2016.)

It’s frightening enough that U.S. voters can be selectively misled with nano-tailored lies and misrepresentations.  Its frightening too that these lies can be efficiently injected into your little bubble of consciousness through Facebook which acknowledged that during the last leg of the it changed its algorithm to allow more false news favorable to Trump, frightening that there were armies of Twitter bots, a superior one in Trump’s case, to target you for such communications.

Banishing Unwanted Voters

That’s frightening enough, but what’s more frightening is that after a campaign has communicated with you through all the various means at their disposal, and once they have decided it’s not “worth working on” on you to get you “to the polls,” that it’s not worth “calling up again,” and when the decision they have made about whether they “want you to vote” is that they don’t want you to vote. . . . Well, you need to understand that means are being undertaken to ensure that voters, in fact, don’t vote, or that, if you do vote, your vote is not counted.

There are all sorts of ways to neutralize the voters whose votes are not wanted.  Some of the nasty old traditional ones involve deceptive practices like distributing in a neighborhood where you don’t want people to vote, flyers with the wrong date for an election (maybe only in Spanish), or incorrectly informing people like students that they can’t vote.  It can involve insanely long lines to votes in those neighborhoods where voters are to be stymied while there are short lines in neighborhoods where voting is encouraged.  Voters can be suppressed through voter ID laws that become even more effective at discriminating between who can and can’t vote if motor vehicle registration/drivers license/ID offices are shut down in poor and ethnic neighborhoods and if you allow gun licenses to serve as voter ID.

The neutralization of votes can also sometimes show up in the exit polls.  It's because so many of the ways to neutralize votes involve not counting the votes of people who, overcoming other obstacles, believe they actually they succeeded in voting, and whose votes should have been counted, that investigative reporter Greg Palast who specializes in these issues (with many others agreeing with him) thinks that Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote by about 3 million, also did not actually win the electoral vote.  And that, according to a PBS Frontline documentary, is apparently what Trump’s own campaign experts and the nation’s top Republicans believed too.

What spoils things so that the cast votes of voters don’t get counted?: Voting machines so broken or deficient that they are incapable of counting votes is one maneuver.  Such machines get deployed in the particular neighborhoods where votes are to be squelched.  Trump ostensibly won the state of Michigan by just 10,704 counted votes, but Palast calculates that there were more than 75,000 votes in Michigan that went uncounted mostly in “historically Democratic” Detroit and Flint, Michigan, majority-black cities.

Palast in his research, investigation and reporting also focuses in on the voter purges using a Republican-launched company called Crosscheck of thousands, entering the stratosphere of six digit territory,* that converts into uncounted provisional ballots the votes targeted for elimination of voters with Black, Hispanic, Asian and Muslim names.  These eliminations are pretexted on claims the eliminated names, across many different states with Republican governments, are similar enough to suspect either double registration and voting, or voting by convicted felons.**  Palast’s review of the documents and interviews of the perpetrators of these schemes (watchable in his film “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”) demonstrate the pretexts to be farcical.  As intensely as Republicans loudly crying wolf have searched they have found virtually no evidence of voter fraud (which is punishable by a significant federal sentence of five years in prison.). . .virtually no evidence.

. . . As of now, Trump is fielding new pretexts for purging: suspected non-citizenship, or unacceptable Muslim beliefs.
(* 449,922 voters purged in Michigan, 589,393 purged in North Carolina, 270,824 purged in Arizona.)

(** With an unprecedented level of mass incarcerations, discriminatory in nature the rules against those convicted of felonies voting is a significant disenfranchisement of black voters in itself.)
And finally, as voting forensic expert Jonathan Simon has been covering for fifteen years there is the question of unverifiable voting machines, such as in Pennsylvania that can be hacked and all too likely have been.

Trump Team And Exit Polls Agree In Concluding Trump Did Not Win The Election 

All of this adds up to a huge difference between the counted votes and the probably now more accurate exit polls, which is why those agreeing with Mr. Palast think Trump didn’t actually win the election and why even Trump’s own experts apparently agreed.

The Frontline documentary, “Trump Road To The White House,” is flawed in ways that I someday must write about, but its beginning quoting experts from the Trump team is telling:
On Election Day, Donald Trump and his senior campaign team were huddled at Trump Tower.
    KATY TUR, NBC News
They went into election night believing that they were going to lose.
As the polls close across the country.
AT 5 o'clock they received the first exit polls.
We're counting down to the first poll closings right now.
    DAVID BOSSIE, Trump campaign adviser
 When we got those early returns, the exit polls, and I actually got it about 5:01, we all had a little bit of a gut punch.
If Trump wants to win, he's got to hold onto Florida and North Carolina.
In state after state he was so far behind that I knew that he was going to lose, because the exit polls don't get it wrong.
    TONY FABRIZIO, Trump campaign pollster
We were getting crushed in like Michigan, Pennsylvania. I mean just- and so, from like 6 o'clock on, you know, we're all like, "Oh my god."
And look at all these wins we're projecting for Hillary Clinton right now. Take a look at the electoral map now Hillary Clinton is taking the lead.
It seemed to confirm what the media and political establishment had been saying for months.
Hillary Clinton has a lead in North Carolina.
Donald Trump never had a chance.
And the Clinton campaign is increasingly confident about.
    FRANK LUNTZ, Republican pollster
Every senior Republican that I talked to, with only one exception, thought that Trump was going to lose.
But as the votes were counted in Florida, a surprise.
Yes that’s Republican pollster, Frank Luntz saying: “In state after state he was so far behind that I knew that he was going to lose, because the exit polls don't get it wrong.”

Myths of "Divided Half" of Nation Supporting Trump And That "The Russians Did It"
Along with Times reporting on popularity of dystopian classics, an image of the D.C. Womens March, over one million strong
Nevertheless, Donald Trump was proclaimed the victor in the election.  What, the Tea Party suddenly grew in size and took over the nation?  How so?  Even with the Kochs footing the bills, the Tea Party's biggest ever muster was maybe 70,000.  In contrast, we recently saw millions pouring out across the country, and in Washington D.C. (not to mention the rest of the world), in profound and urgent dissatisfaction with Trump.  The Women's March. The D.C. March alone was almost certainly over one million marchers.
Six of the demonstration cities, clockwise from upper left: Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, New York City, Austin

Six more of the demonstration cities, clockwise from upper left:Montpelier, San Jose, Asheville ,St. Paul, Indianapolis, San Diago
We have been offered new mythologies to explain the incongruous election result: i.e. that the country has grown exceedingly divided with a huge rise of White nationalism (even as Obama’s, our black president’s, outgoing approval ratings is 58%, the highest favorability rating of any president in 24 years, while Trump’s incoming ratings are the lowest, reported as low as 32%.), or that the Russians “hacked” the election.  Either of these perhaps both absurd excuses for how Trump got pronounced winner of this election is a distraction from the main issue.*
(* Ironically, one of the Times articles quoted above about how `literarily' Orwellian our current plight is, while citing the issue of "fake news," cites as settled truth the Russian interference in our presidential election, which largely unsubstantiated reports may itself involve an unhealthy dose of fake news- emphasis supplied: Not surprisingly, "1984" has found a nervous readership in today's "post-truth" era. It's an era in which misinformation and fake news have proliferated on the web; Russia is flooding the West with propaganda to affect elections and sow doubts about the democratic process.)
Trump Telegraphs More Voter Disenfranchisement To Accompany Increasing Voter Dissatisfaction

It’s increasingly obvious that Donald Trump’s vociferous claims that the popular vote was stolen from him are motivated with the goal of obscuring the reverse: The electoral vote was stolen.

In this regard, even the NY Times, in its tepid grey way, is now giving some notice to an essential thing it and the rest of the media have been regularly neglecting to keep front and center reporting about the election: That voter purges were one of the ways the electoral vote was stolen, and, with Trump’s cranky complaints about too many voters voting against him, the likely plan is to engage in a lot more of these disenfranchising voter purges.  Here from a Times editorial (emphasis supplied):
 Mr. Trump is telegraphing his administration's intent to provide cover for longstanding efforts by Republicans to suppress minority voters by purging voting rolls, imposing onerous identification requirements and curtailing early voting.

 "This is another attempt to undermine our democracy,” said Representative Barbara Lee of California. . .

    * * * *

Voter suppression initiatives have grown increasingly common since the Supreme Court invalidated a central provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, making it easier for local authorities to tweak election rules in a manner that disenfranchises particular groups of people.

Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department aggressively fought these efforts. Lawsuits filed by civil rights advocates and the Justice Department led a federal appeals court in 2013 to strike down a North Carolina voter ID law that justices concluded had been designed to target African-American voters with "surgical precision." Litigation in a similar Texas case is now on hold, pending guidance from the new attorney general.
See:  Editorial- The Voter Fraud Fantasy, by The Editorial Board, January 27, 2017

Despite the nod in this editorial, the Times, the paper of record, has done virtually no reporting about either Mr. Palast’s work (unless you roll back decades) or about Crosscheck coordinating Republicans to eliminate voters from the 30 controlled states.

Jim Crow Hatching Eggs
Two similarly themed cartoons by Brooklyn's Mark Hurwitt, both equally eloquent
It’s not just similar names of people who sound like they are likely minorities that these data bases used for purging are keeping track of; Palast in his film points out how the data bases also list whether voters are black or white.

The purging and other forms of voter suppression have been widely recognized as an extension of the old Jim Crow barriers to voting while black.  That’s reason enough why Palast calls Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State from Kansas who is one of those most principally responsible for the deployment of Crosscheck, “Mr. KKK.”  Kansas, (the third “K”) is the home state of the Koch Industries (the nation’s second largest private company with “Kansas and the Kochs being linked nearly inextricably”).
From Palast's: “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”- Tracking Koch money through to Kobach.
In his film, Mr. Palast follows a money trail from the Koch brothers (Koch, Donor's Trust, Numbers USA, Farmers Branch Texas, Kris Kobach) to trace $100,000 through to Kobach.  He also traces the flow of Koch money through to the Heritage Foundation promoting Crosscheck and the pretextual bases for it.
In his film, Palast reviews a Heritage Foundation brochure, "Does Your Vote Count," toting the work of Crosscheck
Kobach has defended his ties with “The Social Contract Press (TSCP), a group classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a white nationalist publishing house.”

It is a short step, a micro-millimeter from “we don’t want you to vote because you are black, Asian, or Muslim,” to “we don’t want you to vote because you think that people who are black, Asian, or Muslim should have their votes counted.”  And none of this is far away from “anyone who disagrees with us should have no say in running the government.”

Gerrymandering To Neutralize Your Vote based On What You Read

Before we move on, there is another way in which the votes of undesirable voters can be naturalized: Gerrymandering.  Because of gerrymandering, the composition of the House of Representatives does not mirror the electorate. In 2012, the Democrats got 1.4 million more votes (counted votes) than the Republicans for the House of Representatives and yet could not take control of the chamber. This puts the Democrats at a horrible disadvantage, something that is rarely mentioned and not clearly explained by papers like the New York Times.

Once again, everything the manipulators know about you from your ethnicity to the increasingly available micro variables indicative about how you think, like the magazine subscriptions you order for your reading, can be used in calculating whether they want to neutralize the effect of your vote. David Daley,  the publisher of the Connecticut Mirror, is the author of a new book on gerrymandering, titled “Rat-f**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy,” has explained what current technology means in the regard (emphasis supplied):
Gerrymandering, over the years, has certainly been a bipartisan game. Both sides have done it for a long, long time. However, the difference here really is the technology. What you have right now is a program called Maptitude. It is a - an extremely powerful program. It comes preloaded with all of the census data, with all of the demographics and ethnicity and economic data you could possibly imagine. Then you can add on to that all of the public record data sets, voting records. You can add on to it a cloud's worth of consumer preferences, of magazine subscriptions, of ZIP Code data. This wasn't the case in 2000, it wasn't the case in 1990. It certainly wasn't the case in 1810. A partisan mapmaker right now has so much information in front of them that they can draw lines that are essentially unbeatable for a decade.
See: On The Media- How the Election Is Actually Rigged, Oct 21, 2016.

If they know enough about you and your neighbors to peg you as undesirable voters, then about the only way you won’t suffer the neutralizing effects of gerrymander is if you live in a community that is just too homogeneously interlinked for them to draw the lines they way they would like.

This gets us back to those people reading books about dystopian fascism.  Haven’t those book readers now self-identified themselves, at least to Amazon, as part of a national subset who would, in certain eyes, constitute undesirable voters?   People, who for instance might be likely to “think that people who are black, Asian, or Muslim should have their votes counted.” . .

. . . And, if you have gotten at least this far reading this article, you probably do “think that people who are black, Asian, or Muslim should have their votes counted.”   Thus your reading of this article probably also identifies you to certain people as someone undesirable to vote- (Sorry. Too bad you looked!)

How Fascist Governments Look Askance At The Readers of Books

The reading of books has always had a touchy relationship with totalitarian regimes.  In this day and age the ability simply to monitor what books are being read is probably an initial first stage satisfactory in and of itself especially when coupled with the ability to regulate voting.  But in countries like Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Pinocette’s Chilean dictatorship (supported by the Unites States), books that had content that was perceived to be threatening were banned and burned.  Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451" dystopia conceptualized a government that banned all books as being too intrinsically likely to the stimulation of individualist thought.

All communications, not just books, are important to authoritarian governments because the government wants to control the messages.  In “Fahrenheit 451" the populace, not reading books, pays constant attention to large viewing screens taking up entire walls displaying government promoted broadcast media.  Most of our media broadcast on the public airwaves, skimpy on real news (like the minimal reporting about Crosscheck by the Times) come to us via a few corporate conglomerates with plenty of government interrelationships.  The corporate mainstream media was certainly complicit every step of the way into getting to the final declaration that Trump had somehow won the presidency.
The latest update about doing away with net neutrality and other FCC rules to protect the public?
Trump and comrades moved first day to rewrite and eliminate information from government websites, including the eradication of available information about global warning and climate change.  The information flowing through to us is likely to become much more constrained if the predicted move to dispense with net neutrality under the Trump administration succeeds.  In that case, the flow of information from the corporate conglomerates is apt to be prioritized above all else.

And here is another thing to think about when it comes to our modern day computer existence where our parallel virtual selves exist electronically in the new social media agora where bouncing electrons supplant physical contact: It's not just your vote that can be squelched, it's you voice that can be squelched too.  With surveillance and social media interaction the government has the tools to tamp down and see to it that the message does not get through from those who are influencers and who might cause others to vote a way they would not like.

Surveillance And Libraries

Indicative of how important what people may be reading in books is, in 2006, it was revealed that there had been a longstanding fight secretly going on since the initiation of the PATRIOT Act with the government wanting to surveil libraries and librarians resisting.  The fight was secret because the librarians were subject to a gag order not to reveal what the government was seeking to do.  Librarians were the first to ever win a fight against the PATRIOT Act, protecting the libraries as zones of privacy.

Perhaps, you’d like to repair to your local public library if you want to read novels and other books about fascist dystopias, especially if you think that Amazon, with nothing to stop it, would be too likely to pass your information on to the government?  The problem is that the fight about surveillance of reading in the libraries has continued.  Further, the introduction of digital books (Amazon is the unquestionable leader in that field) and computer interfaces for accessing books, which may be increasingly kept off site, results in a more recent sort of de facto end run around the victory for privacy it was announced that librarians had won in 2006.  Point of disclosure: I am co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries and have testified on this exact subject before the New York City Council (video also available).

Beyond surveillance, digital books and their content also have a creepy impermanence: The content of digital books (like material on the web) can be altered even as your read them and, as famously happened with Amazon's deletion of George Orwell's "1984" from the tablets of people Amazon had sold them to.

The Role Surveillance Plays In Authoritarian Societies

On Thursday, February 2nd Amy Goodman on Democracy Now asked journalist and author Andrea Pitzer to “describe the role mass surveillance plays in authoritarian societies.”  (Pitzer, who writes about “lost and forgotten history,” is the author of the soon to be out “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps,” i.e. those of the Holocaust, in the Philippines, Southern Africa, the Soviet Gulag, detention camps in China and North Korea, Guantanamo.)

Responded Pitzer:
Well, over time, we've seen that it's very hard to have an authoritarian or a totalitarian society, a state that runs, without a secret police. And you can't-what you need the secret police for is to gather information secretly. The surveillance techniques and abilities that we have today are really unparalleled in history. And while we can't yet be sure what the Trump administration's motives are, what they have at their disposal is far greater than what was had in Soviet Russia, in Nazi Germany. I'm thinking in particular of Himmler complaining that he had trouble keeping track of all the people he needed to, because he needed so many agents. But when you have the kind of technology that we do, you don't need as many people, if you have the right tools to use. And so, the ability to gather that kind of information and then potentially use it, domestically or on foreigners who happen to be here, I think is something that's worth paying attention to and to be concerned about.
The Unholy Amalgam of Surveillance, Profiling and Voter Suppression (And White Supremacy)

Now, with the ascendancy of the Trump administration to power, we see new thresholds apparently about to be crossed in terms of combining surveillance, profiling and voter suppression.  There has been widespread worry already about Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon, variously described by the new-fangeled euphemism of "alt-right," "white supremacist" and "Nazi," to the National Security Council while demoting and limiting the participation of the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At the same time the Washington Examiner reported that Trump was likely to appoint the vote-suppressing Kris Kobach with his white supremacist associations to a high position, possibly as secretary, the actual head of, Homeland Security, which engages in a substantial amount of surveillance.  He didn't get the position of secretary but is still up for a high position that could be at Homeland Security.  Kobach was previously at Homeland Security.  He was one of the people in place under Attorney General John Ashcroft ready to spring into action after 9/11 when his job, according to Esquire reporting about his voter suppression effort, was "weeding out foreign travelers in the wake of 9/11-and Kobach's program was so deeply involved in racial profiling that it was shut down."  And to be clear about pedigree, in the spring of 2001, prior to 9/11 Ashcroft was focusing programmatically on the suppression of theoretical double voting and felon "fraud."
Trump meeting with Kris Kobach, prospective appointee to Homeland Security.  Insert on left is close up of Kobach's photographed document with profiling, voter suppression plan.
In November Kobach met with Trump and the Daily Kos ran an article Be afraid, very afraid: Kobach plan as Secry of Homeland Security, by VaallBlue, November 21, 2016 warning that, "Kobach made no effort to hide what he proposed to Trump if he becomes the new head of the DHS.

Mr. Kobach met with president-elect Sunday, November 20th. Standing smilingly beside Trump Kobach held under his arm documents clearly visible and thus photographed that referred to plans about tracking and persecuting Muslims, building a wall and, apparently voter suppression with "a plan to issue regulations about voter rolls along with amending the National Voter Registration Act."  And "Kobach's plan refers to some use of the Patriot Act with some action taken to 'forestall future lawsuits.'"

A converging overlap of surveillance, profiling and voter suppression is deadly to democracy, particularly when those with an agenda are motivated toward the obvious extreme abuse it portends. It means that you can lose your vote when that can simply by reading about fascist dystopias. . .  It's not just that neutralization of your vote that can be effected by boxing you into a gerrymandered district based on what you read, as now is already obviously done.  Although you may be reading this here for the first time, current technology is such that your choice of reading material can target you for having your specific vote purged.  There is nothing to prevent Amazon from passing that information along (he/she read "1984" and "It Can't Happen Here") to a campaign.

And the powers of the government when it comes to such surveillance are even greater.  You can't even go to a library (where increasingly the administrators may want you to read your books more expensively, electronically on Amazon) without serious concerns that the government won't surveil you there too as you try to read these books in privacy.

In 2007 Kris Kobach bragged in an e-mail message sent to state Republicans in Kansas about the party's accomplishments that year, including that “To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years.”  In response to criticism, Christian Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, asserted defensively that “caging voters” was “just a term of art,” explaining that `what the party has done is try to identify voters and their views on certain issues,’ “We cage that person's information,” he said.  Then when the election comes around, the GOP will . . .  

The wise axiom "just because a thing can be done, doesn't mean that it should be done" is a longstanding one.  Unfortunately, I am afraid it is an axiom not taken to heart by many of those engaged in the rough and tumble of politics for whom I think the operative concept is that `anything that can be done will be done.'

In Brooklyn, Green Party Holds Voting Justice Even With Palast and Stein

On left, Jabari Brisport Green party candidate for City Council 35th district, Jill Stein middle and Greg Palast on right.  From coverage by Cat April Watters at Hot Indie News.
I had a chance to meet Mr. Palast just recently.  The Green Party in Brooklyn set up a Voting Justice panel discussion of the uncounted votes that featured Mr. Palast and Green Party presidential candidate and vote-count-litigant-challenger Jill Stein (available via a now posted live Facebook stream -47,000 views the last time I looked).  It was the evening of Groundhog Day. Perhaps the Green Party set the discussion up on Groundhog Day for symbolic effect?: With the goal that we don't get into a loop of repeating events where this kind of injustice happens over and over again, self perpetuating and locked in?
From the video stream. Jill Stein at the event.
Mentioning the example of Mr. Kobach I asked the panel (about 1:27 in the video) about the threat of combining voter suppression, profiling and surveillance, all aligned in one package.

It was Jill Stein who replied (at 1:52:43):
Let's see, voting and surveillance: Yes absolutely the surveillance is really awful, problematic. There's all kinds of links between them. In the same way we have to democratize our vote, I think we have to put massive limits on surveillance. And it's not rocket science about how we do that. We really need to stand up and protect our right to privacy and the need for due process and for warrants. . . . We see Trump doing this so blatantly now, trying to just scare us all into thinking, you know we have to lock the Muslims out, and they try to justify it by talking about how scary it is.

Well, the bottom line is that we do not achieve security by building walls: We achieve security by establishing justice. If you want peace at home you need justice abroad. We need to push back this mythology that the only way to be secure is through surveillance. We don't achieve security through surveillance.

It was Benjamin Franklin, I think, who said: "Those who would sacrifice freedom for the sake of security will wind up losing them both."

And that's what's happening!: So we have to say no to both of those intrusions.
Where The Heck Are The Democrats On Protecting Us?

You may ask: `Where are the Democrats? Why isn't Hillary Clinton sounding the alarm? Why did Hillary Clinton jump in to challenge the vote counts only after Jill Stein and the Green Part were already doing so and readily raising millions in a matter of days to do so?'

Most of those attending the Jill Stein, Greg Palast event seemed to concur in a ready answer that agrees with my own: The Democrats are more than a little bit pregnant with vote purging that occurred on their home ground.  In Brooklyn, the borough of New York City where the Groundhog Day Voting Justice panel was held, more than 200,000 Brooklyn democratic voters were, under suspicious circumstances, purged from the voting roles almost certainly helping Hillary declare a triumph over Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders. And with the Democratic National Committee actively working against Bernie sanders we saw in multiple states the same "red shift" in exit polls with Hillary Clinton (like Trump in the general election) incongruously getting a greater proportion of the votes than people said they cast for her.

Oh, and as for that "Russian hacking"?  Jill Stein said that night: "I 'haven't seen convincing evidence of of the Russian hacking. . . .  I was not looking for Russian hacking, but any hacking, or tampering and not limited to bad guys overseas."   I think that most of those in the room that night agreed that "Russian hacking," while an emotionally satisfying gambit to let Americans off the hook for Trump's so-called election, is just a distraction from the accountability than needs to be demanded of the people who really, in all likelihood, are responsible for stealing the election.


  1. Thank you for this reflection in NNY on the subject of reading classics. As someone who skews conservative/libertarian, I read "Brave New World," "1984," "Fahrenheit 451" and "Animal Farm" in the last several years to be reminded again (after having read the books in the 1960s) of the liberty and freedom that an overweening and ideologically driven bureaucracy takes from individuals. It was the Obama adminstration that I view as threatening our rights under the Constitution. Which is to say great books are there for context to readers of many different angles on "truth."

  2. "Handmaid's Tale" is probably suddenly popular again because there's a new series coming out o Hulu based on the novel ...

    The others are of course popular due to the perception of many that Trump is somehow more of a Fascist than Reagan, Bush the Elder, Bill Clinton, Bush the Lesser, and Obomber, which I find doubtful; Fascism is already here and has been for several decades.