Wordy Wednesday

Remembering the Artist

Thought this interview with Robert DeNiro and Jon Stewart was beautiful.  DeNiro has just made a documentary featuring the paintings of his father.  Remembering the Artist might be a good one to see.  Unusual to see an interview with DeNiro, he can be so terse.  He seemed to open up a little more to Stewart here, however.


I watched Citizenfour last night--Laura Poitras' documentary about her & Glenn Greenwald & Ewan MacAskill's meeting with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in May of 2013.

Although it wasn't clearly stated in the movie, I learned from this article in Vanity Fair that Snowden only invited Greenwald and Poitras' to the Hong Kong meeting; MacAskill came along for the ride as a chaperone at the insistence of The Guardian, Greenwald's employer.  It's hard to tell what MacAskill's take on the whole meeting really is, he seems like he might almost be disinterested or playing the role of the the skeptic in the corner.  For example, in their initial meeting he asks Snowden what his name is.  It seems like that detail might have been ironed in conversations between Laura and Glen on the plane ride over.

Greenwald and Poitras, however, are clearly on the same page as Snowden in that they all think that government surveillance is invasive and excessive.

This whole scenario and movie felt really surreal.  It's just kinda surreal how HUGE the story became literally within a few days.  I think that Greenwald posted an article to The Guardian's blog just a few days after meeting with Snowden, and then, and bam, it was worldwide-breaking news.  Even I can recall hearing about it at the time, and that's saying a lot about it's breadth.

Something also kind of claustrophobic about it all.  All of them holed up in that tiny hotel room, and hm, I guess that Citizenfour addresses a lot of our curiosity about the specifics of what really went down there in Hong Kong with Snowden.  We hear him thanking the room service for a meal, discussing his angst over his girlfriend as the government invades their Hawaii home.

And something about the movie seemed to emphasize messengers more than the message; we see several pundits congratulating Greenwald on his breaking news ("yay, Greenwald, this is a real career-booster") and close-ups of Snowden completing his toilet (beer stubble or no, he asks Laura).

Although Laura also films Snowden saying that he doesn't want his NSA revelations to be about him; he considers this a public issue that people need to know about.  He expresses some idealism about 'the internet of the past (as in, 1999 or something?) when (he says) a tween from one side of the world could discuss issues with an expert in any field on another side of the world and be on a level playing field.

Hmmmm.......Poitras clearly had an agenda and a message outside of glorifying/profiling these two men.  She sees the revelations from Snowden as complementary to many other conversations taking place, which she films--a speech from Occupy Movement regarding the repercussions of linking a metro card to a debit card, a courtroom scene where AT&T customers are suing the government for stealing their conversations, and William Binney speaking about the FBI approaching him in his home with guns drawn.  (All of these people speaking about surveillance are men; Laura seems like a bit of a lone duck in that she's a woman covering these issues).

She also shows the construction of an NSA building in Utah.

At the same time terrifying--in respect to the how comprehensive this data collection has become (debit cards, e-mails, phone conversations) & the sophistication of NSA technology (apparently even a smartphone that's been turned off has microphone capabilities)--Citizenfour also sends a hopeful message.  At the end, Snowden's cooking pasta in his Russian house, reunited with his girlfriend, and the message is clear--look, he's ok.  We can take on this NSA-military-industrial-complex beast and survive.

Laura Poitras makes the point in this interview with Jon Stewart that the technology has changed as a result of Snowden's revelations, which is additionally hopeful.

Many people came to Snowden's aid; she has a scene of several human-rights lawyers working pro-bono for Snowden (and a great quote from Snowden's lawyer who says that his case is 95% politics and 5% law).  It made me wonder why things turned out so well for him, considering the enormous risk of leaking this classified information.  He went public in this interview with Greenwald just a few days after the story broke, and is very clear about what he was doing and why; he's an American Citizen, and thinks that the public needs to know what is going on and to decide what they think about it.  Maybe that was the right move.  And something about the enormous public nature of Snowden's revelation, I think, would have made it difficult for the NSA to eliminate him without looking inhumane.

Consider Chelsea Manning, who's serving 35 years in prison.  What did Snowden do differently to lead to such a different outcome?

Snowden also makes this point to Greenwald in his 'coming-out' interview;

the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather then a stipulation of law. And because of that a new leader will be elected, they'll find the switch, say that 'Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.' And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny."

This statement totally corroborates the point that Jim Garrison makes in this article regarding two of Obama's executive Orders; essentially that the government can declare Martial Law and completely take over without any national emergency at hand.

Looking at the media through the lens of this Snowden affair really makes appreciate how malleable the media really are.  On the one hand they seem to focus so heavily on superficial distractions, or to support the agendas of giant corporations; yet Snowden's message clearly wasn't touted by GM, and yet it sped through the media like a fireball.

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