The IRS, the NSA, and Freedom of Speech in the Crossfire
I was incredulous when my web host told me in mid-autumn of last year that he had denied access to all traffic from outside the United States “for security reasons”. This hardly seemed a very competent handling of a challenge which, after all, should have been routine to one in his profession. With the utmost trepidation, then, I began transplanting The Center for Literate Values to a more mainstream host. What I shall write next in nowise absolves my previous host of laziness… but the assaults on my relocated pages, as I could observe from my new control panel, were instant and numerous. I at first misread the 404 Error alarm as the number of would-be hackers who had taken a run at my password and failed. No, they didn’t number in the many hundreds; but they did reach about two hundred after a week or so. Just think of the thousands of small sites on the Net, and this one an innocuous locus featuring translations of Solon and of medieval Celtic romances… two hundred punks with nothing better to do than attempt the utter destruction of a lot of very hard work, before a tenth of it had even been uploaded. I find that fact staggering, and darned near incomprehensible.
Then again, I was almost as staggered last spring when a blustering harridan employed by the IRS came after us as if we were fronting for Al Qaeda. In a good year, we raise $500 (and most of that would go to my sleepy web host). We had never before needed to submit the long trail of documents filled with zeroes that this careerist wolfhound demanded. We have no employees: everyone’s a volunteer. We have lately developed resources expressly for home-educators, and our quarterly journal has a regular feature in defense of Christianity as a worship of the supreme moral being (a distinction we make in boldface from religion as mega-business). If ever an organization modeled the characteristics of a 501(c)3, our was it.
And then Lois Lerner became a household name (in households receiving unfiltered news, anyway). I have no doubt that the very “virtues” upon which I congratulate our operation—dedication to the Western tradition, service of home-schoolers, devotion to a belief in objective and absolute goodness—drew the flak. We had been “coned”, as bomber pilots in World War II used to say of being caught in the searchlights.
Now, in late January of the present year, high-tech bad boy Edward Snowden has assured a German reporter (in his first public interview) of NSA’s greed for any and all information, whether or not it has a plausible connection to national security. And hot off the presses: Dinesh D’Souza is being prosecuted for making an unflattering film about Der Führer… excuse me, I mean for channeling political donations through “straw men”. Coming on the heels of the DoJ’s pillorying of Standard and Poor’s, this begins to indicate a pattern… and, of course, who could forget the ATF’s daring bust of the international rare wood-smuggling ring run by Gibson Guitars? No word yet about the movie’s date of release.
Do I suggest that the massive amount of hacking drawn to new websites is a somewhat directed energy, and that certain sites are targeted in reprisal for “political dissent”? No, not exactly. Not yet. But I am dismayed that the possibility looms so close. Nothing more separates us from this Day of the Jackal, it seems to me, than what explains why Mount Shasta has not yet buried Seattle: events are still building beneath the surface to a critical mass.
I was on the verge of writing that the Left has a long and successful history of stifling free speech—but the truth is that nobody I know can gauge the magnitude of the success. It has been too successful. Ronald Richlak’s recent book Disinformation, a transcription of high-ranking Soviet propagandist (an eventual defector) Ion Mihai Pacepa’s long professional life in the lie-making business, leaves one feeling that truth in this fallen world will never occupy more than the tip of the iceberg. Pacepa is quite right, as well, that the Soviet-era disinformation-machine continues to hum and purr. This very morning (2/2), I sat reading on a German “news” website a story about the Greek “neo-Nazi” Golden Dawn Party demonstrating in Athens to shouts of rechtsextreme und rassistische (“extreme-right and racist”) content. All of this information appears within the first few dozen words; subsequent “reporting” does not offer a sample of the shouts. (“Greece for Greeks,” perhaps?) One does read further that Golden Dawn was implicated in the murder of a pop-singer: this is part of the German press’s boilerplate summation whenever it grazes Greek nationalism, like the “extreme-right” epithet for which no “extreme-left” equivalent exists in German, apparently.
Golden Dawn, by the way, denied any sympathy for fascism on its website before this outlet was shut down in response to death threats… but no such information is worth knowing. In any case, the party may well be neo-Nazi, no matter what it claims (though not nearly to the extent that the sainted Pete Seeger was paleo-Stalinist). My question is just this: in a free society, why is one not allowed to reach that conclusion on one’s own? Why may one not have actual content in reportage rather than sealed files with incriminating labels stamped on them? If I informed your colleagues that you would no longer appear in the office because your attitude was defeatist and inhumane, wouldn’t your colleagues want further details? Wouldn’t I be an autocratic bully if I refused to provide any?
I myself came of age in Watergate times—and I have yet to figure out what Nixon did that was so very wrong compared to the daily routine of our present chief executive (whose title no longer describes his routine). The villainy of Tricky Dick has now blundered its way into legend, as has the moral heroism of FDR. The book that would have undermined the latter’s apotheosis, Herbert Hoover’s Freedom Betrayed, was mysteriously denied publication until a couple of years ago, by which time the myth had long coalesced in sacred marble.
How many scholarly and profound books critical of Leftism never get published at all? One assumes that publishers, dedicated as they are to the relative purity of the profit motive, would not pass on a potential bestseller just to advance the revolution. Academic publishers, though, publish for academics—who read only what reinforces their ideological fanaticism, and who themselves, after all—or their elite laureates—are regularly called upon by adoring, fawning editors to evaluate the merits of submissions. Excellent works die in the backstreet bins of these houses all the time.
Just take a look at how many insubstantial rants are ground out at what financial loss by more mercenary publishers. A browse through an Edward R. Hamilton catalogue that reached my mailbox last week (Hamilton being a major discount-marketer of titles that don’t sell) had far more liberal than conservative tomes to peddle, the former also being reduced to much lower prices. Apparently you can’t give the things away. Further perusal may suggest why. The Leftist texts were often openly partisan even in their titling, and the blurb that accompanied them was not infrequently self-contradictory. Consider these ad hominem assaults: You Betcha! The Witless Wisdom of Sarah Palin (chuckles include “death panels, helicopter moose hunting”… what witless wonder still believes that death panels are a joke—and am I alone in being too witless to understand what might be dumb about hunting moose by chopper in the Klondike?); The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh’s Assault on Reason (indicts the Great Satan’s “apparent love of racist, sexist, and homophobic stereotypes”… does this author suppose that his triad of adjectives, bristling with indignation, exposes muddled thinking just because it stirs up mobs?); The Lies of Sarah Palin (reveals Palin’s “troubling penchant for duplicity in grim detail, from her dysfunctional childhood in Wasilla to her betrayal of running mate John McCain”… if Palin had a tough childhood, how does that qualify as a lie?). Naturally, the Right does not hold its fire. Books featuring this persuasion, however, do not leak loathing from the front cover: specific political figures are conjoined to specific issues. Laura Ingraham’s Obama Diaries most closely approaches a character analysis, yet the blurb merely promises an autopsy of “the Obama façade”—hardly fighting words on the playground.
Two points of primary importance, therefore, emerge: 1) that ironclad ideologues have enjoyed privileged access to—if not monopolistic ownership of—the communications media for decades; and 2) that these elite few, far from being touched by any sense of justice or fair play, typically boil over with impulsive fury resistant to mature exchanges. They do so, at least, when challenged: the smaller the ground of possible rebuttal, the greater their wrath, like a brat child’s raging who sees that he has no case but refuses to surrender a stolen toy.
The Right has believed for about a decade now that the escape of question-askers and truth-tellers into the blogosphere has constituted a defiance of mainstream propaganda with which the monopolists of televised “reality” failed to reckon, and which could swing the tide of battle as a new generation deserts old media. As much as scribes of the old school like me find the Internet cryptic and frustrating, it has nevertheless offered us our last best hope of finding a voice outside the mindless disinformational drone of network news making white noise in hotel lobbies, Hollywood celebrities tweeting like starlings, and academics haranguing anyone who will listen. At least the Net features writing—and we have found that our opponents can’t write. Their clichés put readers to sleep, “racist” and “stupid” don’t sling spittle in print, and invented jargon for phony abstractions doesn’t travel well outside the Ivory Tower’s mutual admiration societies. We have them where we want them.
Except that they also have us where we least want to be—and we don’t even know it. At our backs are private-sector Judases who are ever ready to ally themselves with power for material profit. The high-tech innovators who liberated us from the elitist triage of publishing houses, television networks, and the film industry gave everyone a voice because passing out voices was profitable at the time. Now that the rank and file are now massed in a kind of log jam on Yahoo, Google, Sprint, Verizon, and the rest, they—we—are perfectly formatted for manipulation. The NSA doesn’t seem to have encountered much resistance in eliciting cooperation from such conduits of information. With the carrot of sweetheart contracts in one hand and the stick of punitive lawsuits in the other, big-government entities today are indeed in a position that any tyrant would envy. No doubt, the stick is unnecessary much of the time. If lust for power has always driven the Left, lust for profit too often undermines the more responsible motives of the Right. Furthermore, there is likely a preexisting inclination among intelligences of the Jobs/Gates variety (which excel at envisioning vast, well-drilled anthills) to think of ordinary human beings as microscopic cogs in the Machine of State. Capitalist apologists enjoy vaunting the early exit of such characters from our uninspiring education system… but, without defending that system, I really think that Gates needs to be sentenced to reading the complete works of Shakespeare aloud three times—in solitary and from hard copy.
In other words, as we zealously stack sandbags about our outposts on the Internet, we champions of the individual haven’t yet grown suspicious enough that all the sand is strangely synthetic and hails from the factories of only two or three major producers. We’re building our own slaughterhouse: we are even identifying ourselves—as vocally as we can—for spectacled sociopaths in sealed rooms who compile lists of malcontents. I used to find solace in the abundant evidence that spectacled sociopaths enjoy a high probability of practical incompetence. The Affordable Care Act is a kind of serial debacle, and the inspector general of social security estimates that his operation pays over forty million dollars a year to deceased recipients. The least disguised private-sector enablers of Big Brother are scarcely more efficient: the chattering heads at MSNBC have perhaps terminally discredited themselves now with “hate speech” (as they style it when it flows from other mouths). Apart from outright sycophancy, zealous collaborators in publicly underwritten services like PBS, AMTRAK, and the postal service have also grown legendary for their insolvency.
So what’s to fear? Only, as I say, friendly fire: and it is indeed a frightful adversary. The IRS would perhaps require years to sift through all charitable organizations in order to compile a full “hit list”. Any search engine, however, could quickly red-flag a website employing keywords like “Christian”, “home-school”, and “traditional”. When Yahoo is already so busy, at its own expense, promoting leftist figures like Hillary and sniping at the likes of Ted Cruz in those sidebars of news you glimpse every time you check your email, why would the incompetent public sector need to put a single one of its clumsy boots into the operation? When adolescents free of moral principle are already hacking websites for the sheer joy of wreaking havoc, how hard would it be to channel a few tax-raised pennies to India and outsource the business of sabotage for less than minimum wage? An acquaintance once suggested to me, without facetious intent, that the Department of Justice had walked guns to Mexican cartels in Fast and Furious in order to equip a guerilla force for knocking out local resistance during a government takeover. He was talking about our government—taking over our streets in Houston and Phoenix.
This is how effective revolutionaries do things: they create a Keystone Cop diversion while farming out the heavy lifting. The American Communist Party was always a joke: the AFLCIO has decided many a major election. I don’t like to think about where this train of thought might lead, and the conspiracy-scoffers are very good at making one feel silly while generously offering one a good night’s sleep. But who, exactly, are all these people trying to hack my site?