"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Election 2016 Post-Mortem : Crossing the Rubicon and Chickens Coming Home to Roost

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 9 MINUTES 11 SECONDS

I TOLD YOU SO

On the night of Tuesday, November 8th, I watched the 2016 U.S. presidential election unfold before me just as I predicted it would. I sat bemused flipping from one cable news channel to the next and heard all of the talking heads spouting out as if they suffered from Tourette's Syndrome, "no one saw this coming!" over and over. On MSNBC an apoplectic Chris Matthews incredulously asked his sullen panel of insiders, "did anyone see this coming?" I sat on my couch and raised my hand because unlike the collection of mopes at 30 Rock, I did see it coming. Mr. Matthews didn't see me raising my hand because, sadly for me since it would be fun to show these talking empty heads how I really feel about them, my tv isn't a two-way watching device, but he, and the rest of the political and media establishment, didn't see me and my election forecast because they couldn't be bothered to look. Regular people like me are invisible to the establishment. The political/media establishment myopia caused them to fail to heed my prescient warning, in addition it also caused them to failed to see all the "white working class" people who voted for Trump in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, because like Narcissus, they were too busy being enamored with their own perceived brilliance reflected back to them in the pool of their own group think.

As I explained in my pre-election post, the warning signs of a Trump victory were all there flashing in neon, if people only had the will and vision to see them. The most obvious was Brexit…but there were more recent ones as well…the Pirate Party victory in Iceland, Duterte in the Philippines, hell…even the "Bundy ranchers" being acquitted in their recent trial in Oregon. The anti-establishment sentiments are just in the air right now, as I explained in my earlier post when I spoke of historical waves, and Trump floated to victory upon this one. But the political and media establishment were blind to the reality staring them in the face. I saw it, so why didn't they? George Orwell once said, "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." You're damn right, George!! It is even more difficult to see what is right in front of your nose when your livelihood depends on you not seeing it, hence no one working in the main stream media will ever go against the agreed upon group think orthodoxy, whatever that may be, whether it is the lead up to the Iraq War, the housing bubble, or Trumpism.

Not only is that the case in the media but also in the political class of America. No one in the establishment pundit/political class actually thinks for themselves, they only regurgitate the tired old talking points that keep discourse and debate confined in a very narrow ideological space. This makes me think of the late Tim Russert of NBC who when asked how he missed the glaring faults and lies in the Bush administrations case for the Iraq War said in effect he 'wished someone with information suggesting the nuclear claims were false would have picked up the phone and called him.' Mr. Russert wouldn't have taken my call back during the Iraq War debate, just like the rest of NBC news wouldn't take my calls in the lead up to Tuesdays election. And so the election of Donald Trump becomes the political equivalent of the Iraq War, a debacle for establishment institutions, the media in particular, that are incapable of thinking critically and avoiding the infection of group think.  And just like when the establishment was wrong about the Iraq war, no one who was wrong, be they in the media or in political life, will lose their job or their standing for their lack of insight and intelligence. Interestingly enough, as an outsider, I was able to see the reality of both the 2016 election and the Iraq war (not to mention the housing bubble…or Chris Kyle for that matter) better than anyone working in the establishment. And yet, I think it wise for me to not hold my breath waiting for their phone call.

POLITICAL MALPRACTICE

The Democrats got their asses handed to them on Tuesday night, and rightfully so. The party in general, and Hillary Clinton's campaign in particular, committed some of the most egregious acts of political malpractice in recent memory. Clinton's campaign was such an exercise in tone-deafness it was like a Britney Spears show without the auto-tune on.

Here are a few examples of their political malpractice…the first is the slogan "Love Trumps Hate". This is the most moronic and self-defeating slogan imaginable. Think about what that slogan says…"Love Trumps Hate". You can read it the way they intended which means that your "Love", love being a noun, will "Trumps", Trumps being a verb meaning overcomes, "Hate", Hate meaning the "hate" Donald Trump embodied. It can also be read another way, the way that we as a culture have been conditioned by years of advertising to read it… namely that we should "Love Trump's Hate"…in other words the campaign slogan is not so subliminally telling people to "Love", love being a verb, "Trump's", meaning the candidate Trump's, "Hate", meaning the hate that Trump is spewing. That slogan is literally telling us to love Hillary Clinton's opponent and his hate. And yes, I know there is an "S" in the Hillary poster and an "apostrophe S" is needed to make my point. In response to that I ask you to do a little exercise to make my point…stand up and shout "Love Trumps Hate" and then shout "Love Trump's Hate". Could you hear the apostrophe? 

How they could not see this is beyond me. Any dope with half a brain in their heads could see this…but not the Clinton campaign. We are a consumerist culture, we are conditioned to be told what to do by advertising, not what to think, hence lawn signs that say "Vote Obama" or billboards that say "Drink Coke". We are conditioned to be the passive consumer who is being told what to do by advertising. "Just Do It", "Think Different", you get the idea, these are advertisements that assume our passivity and encourage us to ACT. The Clinton campaign ignored this fact of our conditioning and put out a slogan that in essence was endorsing their opponent, Trump, and undermining the argument they made to people about why they shouldn't vote for him, because of his "Hate". What an incredible level of blindness and lack of self-awareness on the part of the campaign. In addition, the slogan "Love Trumps Hate" has their opponents name in it and not their own candidates name. This is like Pepsi having the slogan "don't DRINK COKE!!" 

Another thing Hillary did that was shocking to me as well and I think also rises to political malpractice, is that she refused to acknowledge the suffering of regular Americans. What do I mean by that? Well, whenever Trump would say he would "Make America Great Again", Clinton would respond by saying "America IS great!!". Well, there are millions of people suffering and feeling left out and disaffected in this country, and when you say "America IS great" it comes across as "Everything is fine!!" Everything isn't fine. This "America IS great" approach was shocking to me not only for its tone deafness but also because it was the same trap George HW Bush fell into when it was set in the 1992 election by Mrs. Clinton's husband Bill. Back in '92 Bill Clinton would talk about what was wrong with America and how people were suffering, "I feel your pain", and Bush countered with some Reagan-esque optimism in the form of "America Is Great!!", which fell flat for a nation that was stuck in neutral at the time. It is amazing to me that in 2016 the Clintons did not see the error of their ways considering they had so masterfully used this bit of political jiu jitsu to get into the White House in the first place back in 1992.

One final piece of political malpractice on behalf of the democrats was the act of nominating Hillary Clinton in the first place. As I said in my pre-election piece, Bernie Sanders would've beaten Trump silly. Trump defeated Hillary by outflanking her to the left on economic issues with an old school populist democratic economic message. Bernie would've cut him off at the pass. All those working class whites in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan who voted for Obama twice, would've voted for Bernie because he speaks their language. Clinton is a center right corporatist and her efforts to connect with working people rang hollow after a career of kissing Wall Street behinds and allowing unfettered free trade to decimate the manufacturing base in America.

A closer look at the democratic primary, and the Wikileaks emails, shows that the primary was essentially rigged for Clinton, it just was. If the Democrats had allowed the truly open primary election that the Republicans did, Bernie would've won, and then he would've gone on to trounce Trump. Bernie brought with him working class legitimacy and grass roots enthusiasm. Clinton brought with her working class skepticism and a dull sense of the inevitable, which ended up being not-so-inevitable. 

Both the democratic party and the Clinton campaign were mismanaged to such an outstanding degree it is amazing to think that there were professionals running the show. But then you think about the nepotism and corruption that has infected American politics and it becomes much more easy to imagine how all of this malpractice could have happened. 

RACE AND THE RACE

I have a simple observation when it comes to race relations in America…Once something becomes about race, it stops being about anything else. The establishment in America wants there to be ethnic and racial strife and distrust. The establishment knows that if things stop being about race and start being about class, then they are in very serious trouble. Race warfare strengthens the status quo whereas class warfare is an existential threat to the establishment. For example, Malcolm X was a lightning rod in the civil rights struggle for Blacks in the early sixties, but when he expanded his horizons beyond just race and recognized the importance of class in his struggle, he was assassinated.  The same can be said of Martin Luther King, who was very successful in the struggle for civil rights for Black Americans, but when his message went from being about race to being about economics, class and war, he too was assassinated. The Black Panthers were a group of Black activists who crossed racial lines and understood they were in a class struggle as opposed to simply a racial one. Their free breakfast program was open to under privileged children of all races, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called it the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States of America. Not surprisingly, The Black Panthers were systemically assassinated or imprisoned. 

If you make things about race you play into the hands of those that wish to and do oppress you. So when people say Black Lives Matter in relation to police brutality, they immediately lose potential allies in the White, Latino, Asian and other minority communities. Michael Brown was shot and killed in Missouri in 2014, on the same day an unarmed young White man, Dillon Taylor was shot in the back and killed by a Black cop in Utah. This was a tremendous opportunity to make the police brutality debate about government power and violence against the poor and working class, but instead it became about race. And once it became about race, that ensured that nothing would change. Look, I am not arguing that Blacks don't face very specific problems in regards to police violence, they do, but what I am saying is that when racial battle lines become drawn, potential allies are divided and thus a stalemate takes place where the status quo continues to reign supreme, just as the establishment likes it. 

Which brings us to the aftermath of the 2016 election. There have been many, if not most, democrats and liberals who have called Trump voters racist and have blamed Clinton's loss on racism. While there are certainly people in Trump's coalition who are blatantly racist, like the KKK for example, calling all Trump voters racist is not only factually incorrect though, it is extremely shortsighted, childish and counter productive. In addition, calling Trump voters racist is a short cut to thinking and intellectually lazy. In recent years liberals have fallen into the pattern of lazy debate when they simply label their opponents as racist. This tactic does nothing but shut down open discussion and stifle debate while antagonize potential allies. It is foolish beyond words. The "white working class" voters who went for Trump in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania this year actually voted for Obama in the two previous elections. Were they still racist in 2008 and 2012 when they voted for a Black man? And how do you think they feel when you call them stupid and racist because they voted for their perceived economic interests? They have suffered under the brilliance of the Clinton's free trade corporatism before, they would've been foolish to fall for it again. Instead they rolled the dice on Trump, which will probably not work out very well for them either, but in their eyes they have nothing to lose. Do you think these folks will be open to your arguments in the future after you've belittled and offended them by calling them stupid and racist just for voting in what they perceived to be their best economic interests?

The cry of "racism" post-election is just more proof of the emotionally driven "thinking" that permeates our politics. In my opinion, the racial divide in this election is a case of the chickens coming home to roost for the democrats. The party has made a point of using identity politics in order to gain an advantage with minority communities. They target Black and Latino voters and cater their message to them. Of course, the problem is, you can't use identity politics in regards to Black and Latino voters and then cry foul when White voters embrace identity as well. And while it is always amusing to hear some pundit tell me that in 2050 America will be a minority-majority country, I wonder if they don't own a calendar. It ain't 2050…its 2016…and it is easy to forget while living in an urban area, but white people aren't just the majority in America, they are the overwhelming majority in America. Which is why it is so egregiously foolish for the democrats to call White Trump voters racist now, as you may very well lose them for a generation, when the truth is you could easily sway them back to your side with a genuine populist message that cuts across all racial divides if you weren't insulting and offending them.

If democrats want to be successful in future elections they need to grow up and think rationally and not emotionally. So yes…there may certainly be "racist" people who voted for Trump, but that doesn't mean everyone who voted for him is racist. To democrats I will quote the great American philosopher Dr. Phil,  "do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" And to working class people of all races I tell you that identity politics is a tool used by the establishment to separate people and make them weaker and more easily manipulated. They've been doing it forever and will continue to do so as long as you let them.

SPRINGSTEEN VOTERS

Speaking of those "white working class" voters from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, or as I call them, "Springsteen voters", who went for Trump this year but in years past have voted Obama, they have a pretty terrible track record when it comes to voting in their own interests. This year they went for Trump in order to try and get their manufacturing jobs back. If you look at their voting history, it is littered with bad decisions.  Let's take a quick look at their recent decisions and how awful they ended up being. 

1. In 1980 the "Reagan Democrats" were born when white working class union voters who usually went democrat voted for Reagan. They followed suit in 1984. Reagan even co-opted Bruce Spingsteen's "Born in the USA" to entice these folks, even though the song was actually about how white working class people were continually shit on in America…but no one noticed.  Reagan essentially broke the backs of unions in America when he fired all the striking air traffic controllers right after taking office. Private industry used his get tough model on their own workers and unions were devastated. But the reality of this time was that white working class voters were enticed and blinded to their own economic interests by a waving flag…not a good sign of a group's judgement.

2. in 1992 and again in 1996, Springsteen voters voted for Bill Clinton. The scales had fallen from their eyes after 12 years of Reaganomics so these folks rolled the dice on a slick southern boy who charmed them but good. Of course, Clinton then went on to govern as a corporatist from the center right and sold the North American free trade agreement to U.S. voters as a way to bolster trade and manufacturing in this country. Of course it had the exact opposite effect. NAFTA made the wealthy even wealthier, and made the working class even poorer. America hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs to third world nations that didn't have to worry about pesky workers rights or unions. Reagan broke union backs, but Clinton put the nail in their coffins with NAFTA.

3. After falling for "Slick Willie's" bullshit, Springsteen voters went for Bush in 2000. The thinking was, he was the type of guy you could have a beer with…which is ironic since Bush is a recovering alcoholic who doesn't drink beer….but lets not get caught up in details. Springsteen voters were in for a double whammy with Bush, he not only continued Reagan and Clinton's economic holocaust upon them, he added a meat-grinder of a war in the Middle East for good effect. It was Springsteen voters and their sons and daughters who, whether out of economic necessity or patriotism or both, went and fought and died and were physically and emotionally maimed over in the sands of Mesopotamia. And when those men and women came home from war they were met by communities that had been ravaged by twenty years of economic war and neglect. At the end of Bush's two terms he gave them a parting gift of the economic collapse of 2007 and 2008. So, whatever savings Springsteen voters could scrape together was lost and they were in great peril of losing their homes. Their neighborhoods went from decaying to being ghost towns.

4. In 2008 and 2012, after the disillusionment of the Bush years, Springsteen voters elected Obama. Springsteen voters bought into Obama's campaign message of "Hope and Change". After 8 years of Obama, these Springsteen voters are left with little hope after getting no change. Obama had the chance to change things, especially after the collapse of 2008, but instead he went center right and back to business as usual.  From day one he staffed his administration with the same people who had allowed the collapse of 2008 to happen under their watch and guidance. Instead of bailing out ordinary Americans, Obama bailed out the corporate class. Springsteen voters were left behind again, with no hope in sight. As a parting gift Obama came up with a new free trade agreement, the TPP…which Trump has vowed to demolish.

5. Which brings us to The Donald. Springsteen voters went for Donald Trump because he wasn't Hillary Clinton. Springsteen voters had seen the Clinton movie before and didn't like how it turned out. So they rolled the dice on Trump. No doubt Trump will fuck them six ways to Sunday, but these Springsteen voters are nothing if not persistent, and they will probably re-elect him in four years. Part of that has to do with "not changing horses mid-stream" and part of it has to do with being belittled and called racist by democrats. Trump will be a disaster for Springsteen voters, but in their eyes, at least he will be a new disaster.

In regard to Springsteen voters I keep hearing lots of pundits tell me that those manufacturing jobs that Springsteen voters have lost are "not coming back". That may very well be true…but you know what else isn't coming back? Trust in the institutions of American life. Which brings us to...

THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF TYRANNY

A lot of people are very afraid of a Trump administration. They fear that he is an unstable and vengeful man who can't be trusted with the ultimate power that presides in the presidency. Those fears are very legitimate, but the people to blame for the situation are not Trump voters who got conned by a con-man, but rather establishment Republicans and Democrats who spent the last 16 years building the infrastructure for tyranny which a demagogue could now exploit. It was establishment Republicans and Democrats who dismantled the constitutional restrictions placed upon the executive by our founders and instead turned to putting their faith in the men who hold the office. Our nation was built on laws, not on faith in men in power.

What do I mean by that? Well, it was the imperial presidency of George W. Bush that expanded the powers of the executive office far beyond what had been previously acceptable. Bush put in place the policies of preemptive war, torture and mass secret surveillance. Establishment Republicans and Democrats did nothing to stop him, in fact, they emboldened him. In regards to surveillance, when it came out that he was breaking the law, they simply voted to make it legal. And as for pre-emptive war, it was Republicans AND Democrats who voted in support of the war in Iraq.

Things only got worse when Obama came into office as he expanded secret surveillance and added to it drone strikes that killed American citizens without any due process. They even killed the 16 year old son of an alleged American terrorist, and their explanation was that "he should have had a more responsible father." Chilling. And no one, not the Republicans or the Democrats did anything to reign in the Obama administration and its expansionist view of presidential powers

So even before Donald Trump ever sets foot in the oval office, our nation has "normalized" the policies of preemptive war, torture, warrantless wiretapping, intrusive surveillance, extra-judicial killings of American citizens and maintaining a kill list of Americans. Think about that for a second. Now think about giving all of those expansive powers to Donald Trump. Donald Trump will now have those powers and will have no oversight, because Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibilities. The checks and balances of our government have been neutered and we are left with the imperial presidency, more emperor than president, who can kill, torture, spy and wage war without any obstruction from other branches of government. If you are a Democrat who is afraid of Trump's presidential power, guess who you have to protect you? The highest ranking democrat in America is Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Feel better? I didn't think so. Schumer is as loathsome a creature as you'll find in politics and he will do nothing to curb Trump's imperial urges.  Remember brave Chuck Schumer is the guy who voted to abolish Glass-Steagall, voted for the Patriot Act and the Iraq War and supports uninhibited surveillance and torture. I am sure Senator Schumer will be a stalwart for freedom and the working man during the Trump presidency, just like he has been during his lifetime as a politician. 

And it isn't just the establishment Republicans and Democrats in government who are to blame, it is media establishment as well. The trust in the media has evaporated just as it has for congress, and rightfully so. The New York Times, the paper of record in America, which is an alleged liberal bastion, is the same outlet that was used as a propaganda mouthpiece for the invasion of Iraq. It is the same media outlet that when they discovered the Bush administration was illegally surveilling Americans, they held the story for over a year so as to not seem to be taking sides in an election. This is the same newspaper that refused to use the word "torture", and instead decided to torture the english language and logic by using the term preferred by the Bush administration, "enhanced interrogation". 

Of course, the Times wasn't alone, every other major media outlet was right with them being in step with the imperial presidency of Bush. And when Obama came into office, little if anything changed. Whether it be the Washington Post, NBC, Fox or CNN, the media has been nothing but lapdogs to power for the last 16 years. So it is doubtful they will be very effective, or believable when they dare to question Trump for exercising the same expansive executive powers that Bush and Obama used. And most importantly, they have lost all credibility in the eyes of the public because of their egregious behavior for the last 16 years.

Whether it be politicians, or the media or any other wing of the establishment, they have all lost their credibility. The Iraq War was the turning point for the establishment as it was so spectacularly wrong on all counts regarding the conflict. They were wrong about the reason for the war and the execution for the war. The establishment was eviscerated by its own arrogant, myopic group think. If we lived in a more just society, there would have been a lot of people in the establishment committing seppuku after Iraq. But we don't live in a just society, and these clowns are still roaming the halls of power and influence.

Speaking of justice, one of the most egregious forms of neglect that will have enabled Donald Trump in his power, was the failure of the Obama administration to hold the Bush administration accountable for war crimes. Obama wanted to "move on" and "look forward", but what he ended up doing was becoming an accomplice after the fact and enabling future presidents, maybe even Donald Trump, to commit even more heinous acts that the Bush administration did. Obama allowed Bush to be above the law, just like Ford did with Nixon. The pardon of Nixon by Ford is seen by many as being a way for the country to heal and move forward, but it was the exact opposite. The wound America suffered under Nixon was never healed because he was never held to account for his crimes. There can be no healing without forgiveness, and no forgiveness without repentance, and no repentance without justice. The power of truth, transparency and justice are disinfectants against tyranny. America's Nixon wound never healed but only festered, and the infection grew and spread through the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations in particular because many of the people who worked for Nixon also worked for Reagan and again for Bush 43. Cheney and Rumsfeld, two war criminals, learned their craft in the Nixon administration. They honed their trade during the Reagan/Bush years and became masters during the Bush 43 years. Obama may have had new faces in his administration, but the Nixon infection spread to them as well as they fully embraced the expansive executive powers that were conjured by Nixon's, Reagan's and Bush's minions. And now Donald Trump walks into the White house with the infrastructure of tyranny already in place for him. Republicans and Democrats who bemoan this fact have no one to blame but themselves. 

NOSTRADAMUS READS THE TEA LEAVES

I think Donald Trump will be a terrible president because he is a terrible person, and a terrible business man. But I also think Hillary Clinton would've been a terrible president.  No matter who got elected, according to my historical wave formula that correctly predicted the election results (not to mention the financial crisis of 2008), we in America are in for a very difficult stretch. What I think we have in store for us in the next four years is going to be very, very bad. According to my calculations, I think we are going to have a large economic earthquake at some point in the next two years that will be just as devastating as the 2008 collapse. I also think that we will have a major terror attack at some time over the next four years that will be as catastrophic as 9-11 in effect if not scale. I do not think Donald Trump is well equipped to deal with either of those impending calamities. I do think he will be re-elected in part though, because of them, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. 

Trump will become a war time president and all of his bombastic and bellicose instincts will be called to the forefront. And as "tough" as he will try to appear to our external enemies, he will actually be much tougher on what he perceives as his internal enemies. When Trump's vengeance is unleashed, his political opposition will face a scorched earth campaign against them that is unimaginable. This will only become even more heightened when any attempts to reign him in, impeach him or, God forbid, assassinate him takes place. I want to be really clear here so I don't get a knock on my door from the secret service, I am not calling for anyone to try and harm Donald Trump at all. My fear and my thought is, that someone may very well try to harm him and that someone could be a lone nut, a jihadi terrorist or an agent of the "deep state" who is defending deeply entrenched interests. These are dangerous and erratic times we live in, and when that danger becomes personal to Trump, whether it be from a foreign or domestic enemy, he will be at his most lethal. And when that happens the downward spiral of America will increase at a rate dramatically faster than its already solid and steady pace.

And to be clear I don't think that the coming economic collapse or terror attack is Trump's fault, I think that those events would happen regardless of who was in office. But what I do think is that Trump will react very poorly and destructively to these events, especially considering all of the constitutional constraints upon the presidency that have been removed over the last 16 years. And I think Trump's reaction to these and other world events will cause a further political and cultural splintering of America which will, eventually way on down the road, lead to an actual splintering of America…a Balkanization if you will. 

Ok…so now that is what I think will happen. Maybe I am wrong, I certainly hope I am wrong. But with that said, I think Trump's election is a crossing of the Rubicon for America. Caesar is on the throne and while business as usual may appear to go on for a while, things have changed irrevocably on a much deeper level. The American Republic/Empire is officially over, and Trump's election will hasten the crumbling of the world order with America on top. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, quite the opposite in the long run, but it will be a very dramatic and traumatic thing for Americans and people across the globe. Some empire's go quietly into that goodnight…and some don't. I don't think the American Empire is going to go quietly at all. Buckle up…things are about to get even more interesting. We are down the rabbit hole here ladies and gentleman, expect the unexpected.

©2016

Snowden : A Review and Commentary

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES AND 39 SECONDS

MY RATING : 3 out of 5 Stars

MY RECOMMENDATION : If you saw and liked Citizenfour, see Snowden in the theatre. If you don't like Edward Snowden, or are indifferent, see it on Netflix or Cable.

Snowden, written and directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone, is the story of famed NSA whistelblower Edward Snowden. The screenplay is based upon the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The films stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, with Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans and Nic Cage in supporting roles.

Director Oliver Stone, like Edward Snowden, is a controversial figure who is despised and ridiculed by those in the establishment, which is a pretty good reason to like the guy. Stone has spent his career sticking his finger in the eye of those in power and their sycophants in the media. Stone and his films have been an important cultural counter weight to the prevailing winds of his time. During the height of conservative rule and thought in America during the 80's, when the nation was all too happy to forget its sullied not too distant past and corrupt present, Stone reminded America of its unresolved hubris with his Vietnam films (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) and his indictment of then U.S. foreign policy in Latin America with Salvador and the economic ruse of the times in Wall Street.

In the early 90's, while the nation was still basking in the warm glow of sunlight from Reagan's "morning in America", Stone pulled back the veil and tore off the scab to reveal the rot at America's core underneath the flag waving veneer with his films JFK, Nixon and Natural Born Killers.  Stone's insistence that America look at and acknowledge its true self was never warmly welcomed by those who need to deceive in order to succeed, thus the Washington and media establishment have always loathed him. All the more reason to admire the man and his work, which certainly struck a raw nerve for those in power.

Edward Snowden is also quite a controversial figure to say the least. As the marketing of the film tells us, some people call him a traitor, like those in the establishment and media, others call him a hero. The film Snowden itself is probably a Rorsharch test for viewers, with those who think Edward Snowden a hero liking it and those thinking he is a traitor hating it. The reality is that if you already think Snowden is a traitor, you probably aren't going to go see this film anyway. The people who believe Snowden is a hero are the most likely ones who will go and see this film.

With that context in mind, director Oliver Stone surprisingly pulls a lot of his punches in the film. In Snowden, Stone "bottles the acid", to quote Judge Haggerty from JFK,  and never goes in for the kill shot on the intelligence community, which is very out of character for the rebellious director. Considering Oliver Stone's past work, I found his indictment against the intelligence community in Snowden to be rather tame. That said, Stone certainly shows Edward Snowden in as positive a light as he can, and there is never any doubt as to Snowden's moral and ethical superiority throughout the story, but the scope, scale and magnitude of the evil being perpetrated by our intelligence community, and the impetus for Snowden to act, is under played and never fully fleshed out to satisfaction.

All that said, Snowden, while not a great film, it certainly is a good one. It is without question the best Oliver Stone film of the last twenty years or so since Nixon in 1995. The only other film of note from Stone during the second half of his career is 2008's W., which like Snowden, is also a Rorsharch test for viewers and is a good but not great movie. Both Snowden and W. pale in comparison to Oliver Stone's genius work during the first half of his career, when he made a bevy of tremendous films such as, Platoon, Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, JFK, Nixon, The Doors and Natural Born Killers. When I speak of the futility in the second half of Stone's filmmaking career I am not counting his documentaries which can be quite good. His Showtime series Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States is extremely well done and should be mandatory viewing for any citizen.

As for Snowden, as much as I enjoyed the film, the greatest issue I had with it was that it failed to use Stone's signature visual and editing style (think JFK) to tell the complex and mammoth tale of the various surveillance programs that Ed Snowden uncovered and revealed. This is the crux of the story as it shows why Snowden risked so much in order to inform the public as to what was being done to them and in their name to others. Stone does try to personalize the snooping that the programs do, but while that sequence is effective it isn't quite enough. Stone also under-uses actual news footage and cutting between it and the dramatic narrative of Snowden. Stone used that technique to great effect in JFK but fails to utilize it enough in Snowden, much to the detriment of the film. Stone's masterful work on JFK showed how to take an enormous and complex subject and whittle it down so that people could understand and digest it, he needed more of that approach in Snowden, not less. Oddly enough, Snowden almost feels like it was directed by someone other than Oliver Stone, as the film lacks his visual and storytelling trademarks.

As for the acting, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is simply miraculous. Levitt's work is meticulous, detailed and vibrant. Levitt perfectly captures Snowden's unique vocal tendencies and looks strikingly like the man, so much so that in some shots I was wondering if that actually was Edward Snowden and not the actor. Snowden is not an easy character to take on, he is an enigmatic man, probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, who is both self conscious and self confident, sometimes all in the same moment. Levitt creates a genuine, complex human being with all of his intracacies and inhabits him fully, never letting the character slip into caricature or imitation. Levitt's Snowden is multi-dimensional and is a truly remarkable piece of acting work, proving Levitt to be among the best actors of his generation. In comparing Levitt's performance as Snowden to other actors in previous Oliver Stone films, the thing that is strikingly obvious is that other actors in Oliver Stone films were actors in "Oliver Stone films". For instance, Born on the Fourth of July is an "Oliver Stone film", not a "Tom Cruise film", the same can be said for Charlie Sheen in Platoon or Kevin Costner in JFK or Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, these actors all did solid work but were overshadowed by the talent and vision of their director Oliver Stone, hence they were in "Oliver Stone films" and not in "Sheen/Costner/Hopkins films". The very high compliment I can pay Joseph Gordon-Levitt is that Snowden is, without question, a "Joseph Gordon Levitt film", and not an "Oliver Stone film". Levitt outshines his director, which is a tribute to him as an actor, and a recognition of some creative slippage on the part of Stone the director.

The supporting cast is hit and miss. Shailene Woodley does a solid job in the terribly underwritten role of Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Woodley is a strong actress, approachable and artistically honest, who has an undeniable charisma that lights up the screen. On the other hand there is Nic Cage, who is simply a dreadful actor of epic proportions, and frankly, contrary to popular opinion, always has been. Cage is in some very crucial scenes but is so distractingly bad that those scenes and the highly critical information they convey, get scuttled, much to the detriment of the film. It feels like Cage is in one of those god-awful National Treasure films and not a serious Oliver Stone film.

Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo and Tom Wilkinson all do solid work as the documentarians and reporters Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. The scenes with Snowden and the reporters in the Hong Kong hotel room are surprisingly compelling since they are scenes we have already seen in the documentary Citizenfourthat is a credit to the actors.

Snowden reminds me of two films, one, Citizenfour is pretty obvious. Snowden is a very nice companion piece to Laura Poitras' Academy Award winning documentary Citizenfouras it dramatizes and expands on what was revealed in that excellent film.

The second film I was reminded of is much less obvious, at least on the surface. That film is American Sniper. Here is the round-a-bout way in which Snowden reminded me of American Sniper. As I walked out of the theatre post-Snowden, I was wondering if Oliver Stone has simply lost his fastball as a filmmaker and was not able to land his punches quite as crispy and effectively as he was twenty five years ago in films like JFK, Platoon, Wall Street etc. Then I wondered if maybe Stone had just grown weary of the cultural battle to which he has dedicated his life, which seems never ending and futile at best. I thought this because of Stone's surprisingly conventional storytelling in Snowden, punctuated by an upbeat ending that, in my opinion, defies the reality we find ourselves in, in regard to surveillance and what the intelligence community is up to. And then I wondered if…and this gives a big benefit of the doubt to Oliver Stone, who, frankly, with the stellar filmography of his earlier years has earned that benefit, Stone had made a truly subversive film with Snowden, but it was hidden beneath the surface of the rather tepid bio-pic it was buried under. It could be that Snowden is Oliver Stone's answer to American Sniper, right down to mimicking its flaws?

Here is my theory…that Oliver Stone intentionally made Snowden to undermine the propaganda of American Sniper and reduce its power on the American collective unconscious.  Snowden the film and the man, are counter-myths to Chris Kyle and American Sniper. Like American Sniper, Snowden is structured as a standard bio-pic, almost hitting the same exact beats and with the same exact rhythm as American Sniper. Also like American Sniper, Snowden ties the dramatic film to the actual, real-life man in it's final scenes, blurring the lines between what is dramatized and what is real. That said, one real life difference between the films is that unlike with the Kyle family and American Sniper, Edward Snowden had no say or final approval of the final script, and received no money for Snowden.

I don't think those structural and narrative similarities between American Sniper and Snowden are accidental. If Oliver Stone is anything, he is a true-blue subversive and it is a stroke of genius to make Snowden a parallel to American Sniper. Oliver Stone has spoken of his masterpiece JFK as being a counter-myth to the prevailing myth of the Warren report. The only difference between the Warren report and JFK is that JFK readily admits it is a myth, while the Warren report holds onto the illusion and delusion that it is factual. And so it is similar with Snowden and American Sniper, as Stone sets out to counter Clint Eastwood in his bootlicking, ass kissing, myth making, propaganda with a counter-myth meant to celebrate the thoughtful, rebellious, principled subversive in the form of Edward Snowden.

Why do I think Oliver Stone is intentionally taking shots at American Sniper in Snowden? I think that because Stone has cast the remarkably wooden actor Scott Eastwood, American Sniper director Clint Eastwood's look alike son, as Trevor James, an NSA middle management type who never questions, or thinks, about what he is tasked to do, or much of anything really. It was seeing Scott Eastwood in the film that made me connect American Sniper and Snowden, and I think that that was not an accident. Stone could have cast a million other actors in that role, but he didn't, he cast Clint Eastwood's kid. Scott Eastwood being cast is not because of his superior talent (God knows) and it isn't a business decision, it is a creative and symbolic decision, and it is deliciously stealthy bit of cinematic intrigue.

Stone subtly and surreptitiously shows that Trevor James is, just like his father's American Sniper muse Chris Kyle, an unquestioning and unthinking fool who fights for tyrants and tyranny, as opposed to Snowden, who selflessly risks his life for the truth, and nothing else. That is what stands out the most to me in Snowden as a contrast to American Sniper, namely that Edward Snowden is smart and insightful enough to recognize the true enemy of America is within in the form of Bush, Obama, Clinton, Petreaus, Hayden, Clapper, the intelligence/political and media establishment et al. Stone is showing that Chris Kyle, like Trevor James, is a dupe, a sucker and a fool, who gives his life as a pawn for the powerful to exploit the weak, the stupid and the gullible. If Chris Kyle were a real man and the true American hero he has been sold to us as, he would not have gone to Iraq to keep us safe from phantom enemies a world away, he would have used his substantial sniping skill on the only actual threat to America that exists, namely the same tyrants who were sending him to war for their own benefit. Of course, Oliver Stone would be excoriated if he came out and said what I just wrote, and it is hard enough to sell movie tickets to a film about Edward Snowden, the man our country and culture has labelled a traitor, already, considering we live in a nation of propagandized flag waving dupes, dopes and dipshits who don't have a single clue between them and are as happy as pigs in shit about it. So Stone made a subtle and ingenious dig at Clint Eastwood, Chris Kyle and American Sniper, that only those cinematically savvy enough would be able to catch and I, for one, give him great credit for that.

One other thing to keep in mind in regards to Snowden and some parallels with American Sniper, namely that both of them may very well be pieces from the same propaganda puzzle brought to us by our power and control hungry friends who operate in the shadows (and are unaware of their own shadow - psychologically speaking!!). There is a part of me, and there is substantial evidence to back this up, that believes that The Legend Chris Kyle was created as a propaganda tool out of whole cloth. His story and his rise into public consciousness is very suspect to say the least, as we've seen from the revelations about his less than truthful depiction of his life and military career. The other thing to keep in mind though is that Snowden, as much as I admire what he did, he may very well be just another piece of counter intelligence propaganda meant to spread disinformation and to manipulate the masses. The reason I say that is because while Snowden revealed a great deal of government illegality, yet no one has ever been held to account for these crimes, which is quite convenient. One result of Snowden's revelations are that the public has become numbed into a shoulder shrugging apathy in regards to government surveillance. So with Snowden's revelations, the intelligence community gets to have the cover of being forced to  "come clean", meanwhile they can continue surveillance without anyone noticing or more importantly, caring.

In keeping with the intelligence communities playbook, right after Snowden's revelations the media went into hyper-drive to destroy Snowden personally. The usual suspects at the Washington Post and New York Times and all the television outlets painted him as a self serving, smug, fame hungry man trying to harm his nation for his own advantage. Even ferret faced "comedian" John Oliver got into the act. So now, any other whistleblowers will be reticent to come forward, and any other revelations of government criminality will be ignored. The cavalcade of information that Snowden revealed has been masterfully manipulated into having the effect of creating apathy in the general public and giving immunity to the intelligence community from any crimes committed.  Snowden may not have been a part of the bigger propaganda and counter intel project, but he was certainly useful to it.

Add to that that Snowden seemingly came out of nowhere…his life story reeks of someone who was snatched up by the intel community and groomed to be an asset. He never finished high school? Failed out of the Army Rangers? These are odd things for someone so obviously intelligent and highly functioning. To tie things back to Oliver Stone, Snowden may be a modern day Oswald, nothing more than a patsy. (Oswald too was a high school drop out and was seemingly much more intelligent than he seems at first glance, for example he allegedly taught himself to be fluent in Russian.)

The reality is that if I am to be suspect of Chris Kyle's story I need to be equally suspect of Edward Snowden's story, as both of them are littered with red flags, some waving higher than others. A giant red flag for both of them is that their stories were made into major motion pictures. Hollywood is a very useful tool to the intel community to shape culture and perception. The idea that Snowden is an intelligence asset meant to obfuscate the truth rather than reveal it may be a stretch to some people, but we must understand that nothing can be taken at face value. If you want to be a well informed human being, you have to be skeptical of everything you come across. Manipulation of the masses by the powers that be is as old as civilization itself, and one must always be vigilant against one's owns prejudices.  

The intel community could use Snowden's revelations to divert attention and distract us from what they are really up to, which is probably a hell of a lot more heinous than we can ever imagine. Maybe that is why Oliver Stone made such an un-Stone-like film. Maybe Stone had an inkling that not all was as it seemed in the Snowden story, and so he used the film as an opportunity to subtly undermine the military-industrial-propoganda complex by taking shots at American Sniper while telling a tepid version of the Snowden tale. Maybe…just maybe…Oliver Stone's Snowden is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or maybe my tinfoil hat is on too tight…who knows?

One final odd contradiction coming from people like Chris Kyle and his flag waving and ass kissing supporters, is that they are usually either Republicans or conservatives, and often times both. They dislike and rail against government, determined to reduce it to a size where they can drown it in a bathtub, but they fail to realize that the military, the intelligence services and law enforcement are all part of the government. In fact, military/intelligence/law enforcement are often times the most expensive form of government and the most dangerous to the things that I, and alleged conservatives, say we hold dear, namely, the constitution and our individual, GOD-given liberties. As Republicans and conservatives like to tell us, and as I certainly believe, government didn't give us our liberties, God did. So why are conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, so infatuated with government power, violence and secrecy? It is odd. And don't get me wrong, the Democrats are usually just as awful as Republicans on these issues…look at the superstars who have been my Senators and representatives over the years, Jane Harman, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton…they are like a murderer's row for the military/Intelligence industrial complex and against civil liberties.

Which brings us to another point made in Snowden, albeit only in passing. Namely that all of these surveillance programs run by the intelligence community aren't meant to stop terrorists at all, they are meant for corporate and government espionage, and to scuttle civil unrest and protest. In the film, Nic Cage's character Hank Forrester describes to Snowden how he had developed a much better, much more accurate and much cheaper surveillance program than the one the CIA and NSA currently use, but they chose not to use it because they wanted to fill the coffers of the military industrial complex by using a bigger, less effective and more expensive by billions program. This sounds exactly like our trusted government in action. Even applying the most basic, Luddite logic, one would understand that the more information you sweep up, the less usable information you will actually be able to focus on. When you expand the haystack, needles don't get easier to find, they get harder.

This is proven by the fact that the NSA and CIA have never used these surveillance programs to stop a terror attack. They have CLAIMED to have stopped terror attacks using these surveillance programs, but there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that is true. Like the overwhelming majority of police work, these surveillance programs, at best, give the intelligence services something to do AFTER an attack, but never before. So what are these programs really about? These surveillance programs aren't about security, they are all about power.

If the U.S. government were so interested in stopping terrorists, then why do they bend over backwards to protect the home and heart of terrorists, Saudi Arabia. Bush's bestest hand holding buddy Saudi Prince Bandar, has been proven to be an accomplice and paymaster to the 9-11 hijackers, as was his wife. And yet, Bush and his successor Obama have moved heaven and earth to protect the Saudi's at all costs and to protect that information from coming to light…why? The Saudi's have been proven to have supported the 9-11 hijackers…think about that. Saudi Arabia was complicit in 9-11, where three thousand Americans were killed. 9-11 has been used as the catalyst and excuse for all of the intrusive (and illegal) surveillance the government has undertaken, and yet, that same government has no interest in pursuing justice in regards to the Saudi's. In fact, not only are they not holding the Saudi's accountable, they are actively arming and protecting them. Any rational human being could, in the light of this information, see the War on Terror for the Kabuki theatre that it is.

Further strengthening the case against the alleged use of surveillance in the war on terror is the fact that the U.S. is also actively working with, arming and supporting terrorists in Syria. ISIS and Al Qaeda are being used by the U.S. as weapons in their war against the Assad regime and its Russian benefactor.  We are doing the same thing in Ukraine where we supply and arm jihadists in the war against Russian nationalists in eastern Ukraine. We play our little public game of charades and pretend to deplore terrorists but behind the scenes we do everything we can to arm and empower them in Syria, Ukraine and across the globe. Is this the act of a nation so desperate for security that they would trample the Constitution and our civil liberties in order to stamp out terror? 

In conclusion, I have an opinion of what Edward Snowden that is probably right in synch with Oliver Stone's, thus I enjoyed the film. I think it could have been much better, but in the final analysis I think it was good enough. I am sure people on the other side of the argument will loathe the film. I believe that if Edward Snowden is the man he says he is, this is the type of man we as a nation should celebrate and hold in the highest regard. It is a sign of our culture's decadence, intellectual indifference and moral and ethical decay that Edward Snowden has successfully been labelled a traitor and an enemy by those in the establishment. He may be an enemy of the state, but he is undoubtedly a hero for the people. If we plan on getting our country back from the oligarchs, aristocrats, corporatists and military industrialists who currently reign over us with their Eye of Sauron intelligence apparatus, the people will need to wake up and fight back. The film Snowden is not perfect, and seeing it will not be a cure-all for the fear, weakness and stupidity that cripple us as a people, that said, seeing it would be a small and positive step in the right direction. 

©2016

 

Jason Bourne, Projecting the Shadow and the Technological Hunter : A Review and Commentary

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES 27 SECONDS

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars.

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. See it on Cable or Netflix.

 

THE BOURNE REDUNDANCY

Jason Bourne, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, is the fifth film in the iconic Bourne franchise (The Bourne Identity 2002, The Bourne Supremacy 2004, The Bourne Ultimatum 2007 and The Bourne Legacy 2012) and the fourth starring Matt Damon in the lead role. Jason Bourne is the direct sequel to the 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum which was the most recent Matt Damon starring film in the franchise. Besides Matt Damon in the lead, Jason Bourne boasts Academy Award Winners Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones in major supporting roles.

The Bourne movies have always been the Rolls Royce of action films in large part because of quality work from Matt Damon and their wise choice of directors in Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and Jason Bourne). Bourne films are better than Bond, better than Mission Impossible and better than Fast and the Furious (God help us all). The franchise tried to spin off with another lead actor, Jeremy Renner, in 2012's underwhelming The Bourne Legacy helmed by Tony Gilroy, which was the most recent film in the Bourne series. Renner, a good actor, showed how great an actor Matt Damon really is by simply not being able to live up to the standard of Damon's work in the earlier Bourne movies. The studio made the decision to fork over the cash and switch back to Damon for Bourne film number 5,  Jason Bourne, in an attempt to salvage a big money making franchise.

While the move to Renner didn't work and the move away from him was wise, the return to Damon, while good, just isn't good enough in comparison to the first three Damon led films. One wonders if this franchise has simply run its course and run out of creative steam. For a variety of reasons, Jason Bourne feels like a bridge too far in terms of asking audiences to suspend their disbelief once again for Bourne to go through the same ordeal he always seems to be going through, namely searching for his lost/stolen past.

When the Bourne franchise began, Jason Bourne was a man without a memory. The main driving force for Bourne throughout the earlier films was to find out the truth about himself and who he really was and how he got into this business of being Bourne. Those questions maintain very little dramatic currency or urgency as we come to the fourth go around of trying to answer them, since for the most part they have been answered already. With the big Bourne questions having already been answered, what remains is little more than window dressing. The reality is that Bourne, and the audience, know enough about him that answering more questions about his murky past is not dramatically imperative, thus leaving this latest cinematic adventure to be little more than an echo of previous better ones.

What made the earlier Bourne films so good were that they had a stylistic hyper-realism to them. Every punch thrown and received is excruciatingly realistic, every fight a grueling battle, with magazines, pens and other everyday items given new life as weapons. Bourne exists in the real world and that is what made the character and the films so compelling. Bourne isn't a superhero, at his core Bourne is a man, just like us. There is a Bourne potentially lurking in every man and woman sitting in the audience, which is why it is easy to project ourselves onto him as we watch.  And in everyone's home or office there are everyday items, like those previously mentioned magazines and pens, which we may, deep down in our secretly Bourne trained psyche, already know how to use in order to kill our enemies! At least that is the fantasy that the Bourne films have successfully sold to us. 

Sadly, in Jason Bourne, the franchise veers a little too wayward into the realm of the fantastical and away from that trademark hyper-realism. It doesn't entirely go away from that realism, but it does venture far enough out into the neverland of Hollywood action film land to scuttle the franchise's signature core of hyper-realism. The main problem with Jason Bourne is in the second half of the film when the story goes to Las Vegas. The Vegas section of the film is pretty terrible. Lovers of big, Hollywood action movies will love it, but lovers of Bourne hyper-realism will cringe. Bourne lovers go to see Bourne films to get away from the mindless destruction of the average Hollywood blockbuster. Bourne is usually the thinking man's action movie, but not here. The Vegas fiasco could be taken from any run of the mill, shoot 'em up, Hollywood action flick, and Jason Bourne suffers greatly because of it. 

What makes the Vegas section of the film so disappointing is that the opening portion of the film, set during an outbreak of civil unrest in Athens, is so remarkably well done. Director Paul Greengrass' trademark frenetically intimate camerawork is on full display in the Athens section of the film, and it is glorious. The Athens scenes are riveting and breathtaking. This is the Bourne franchise at its best, using the real world, and real events, as the back drop for this story hidden beneath the surface that goes unseen by the masses. Bourne having a fight and chase in the midst of civil unrest in Athens doesn't just make for interesting cinema, it makes us watch the news differently. We become aware that a whole host of things could be going on behind the scenes of the stories we see and read, and we have no idea what the truth really is beyond the images on the news. That is what makes the Bourne series so much fun, it awakens our imagination and lets us bring it out of the theatre with us and into our everyday life. (To go back to an earlier point, we will never look at a rolled up magazine quite the same way after having watched Bourne beat somebody's ass with it.)

As good as the Athens section is, the Vegas section is equally bad. It feels like two different films spliced together, the first half a Bourne film, the second half a Fast and Furious film. Greengrass is a very talented director, his Bloody Sunday is an absolute masterpiece, but here he seems to have run out of ideas in the later portions of the movie and gone back to the old "Hollywood action movie playbook" to find an ending.

The acting in the film is uneven as well. Matt Damon does his usual solid work. Much has been made of the fact that Bourne speaks about twenty lines in the entire film, or something to that effect, meaning Damon was paid a million dollars a line. But to be frank, he is worth it since it has been proven that no one else could play the part better. Damon has a charisma and magnetism on camera that serve him incredibly well in these films. His comfort in not talking is a rarity for actors, and is an under valued and unappreciated great skill. 

A terrible disappointment in terms of the acting is Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, head of the CIA Cyber Ops division. Vikander is a very good actress, of that there is no doubt, but here she struggles mightily. The biggest issue with Vikander's performance is that she butchers her American accent. Vikander is Swedish and British, so speaking with an American accent is no easy task. Sadly, she falls into the trap that many foreign actors in general, and British actors in particular fall into, namely that they mimic what they think the Ameican accent is rather than actually understanding it from the inside out. What I mean is that learning an accent doesn't just require you to re-train your vocal instrument, the mouth, tongue, vocal chords etc., but it requires you to re-train your ears. In order to really do an accent well, you must be able to hear it properly. Most British actors hear American speech through British ears, which makes for a disjointed and poor imitation of an American accent. Vikander does exactly that in Jason Bourne and you can hear it very clearly because she makes the technical error of putting her voice too deeply into the back of her throat and speaking in too low a register. Firstly, this does the opposite of what I assume she was trying to do, it doesn't make her voice sound more grounded and powerful, it makes her voice sound muffled, flighty and weak. Secondly, and this happens a lot of the time with Brits, is that she loses the subtle rhythm of the American voice. The British accent is so wonderfully sing-song to the American ear, and it has a distinct rhythm to it that is easy to pick up. The American accent, on the other hand, sounds terribly flat, dry and dull to the British actor, and so they think it has no rhythm to it all. They are wrong, the rhythm is there it is just much more difficult to locate if you don't know how to listen for it. Thus the issue with hearing an accent in your native voice and trying to translate from there…you cannot do it, or better said, you cannot do it well. Vikander falls prey to this trap, which is a shame since she is such a wonderful presence on screen, but that is undermined here with her distractingly bad American accent.

THE HUNTER MYTH CYCLE

Coincidentally enough, right after seeing Jason Bourne I read the book, Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film by Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz. The book is wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in cinema, myth and Jungian psychology. In the book, the authors examine from a Jungian perspective, six films and their relationship to the evolution of the archetypal hunter myth, from The Indian Hunter to The Frontier Hunter to The Technological Hunter as seen through the modernist, post-modernist and "trans-modernist" view. The six films they look at are JawsThe Deer HunterThe Manchurian CandidateBlade RunnerTerminator and Terminator 2. The book was published in 1995 so the Bourne films weren't "born" just yet, but I couldn't help but think of them in terms of the authors intriguing premise. 

According to Hocker and Frentz, there are three types of hunter myths, the Indian Hunter, the Frontier Hunter and the Technological Hunter. The Hunter Myth Cycle is seen as circular in that it evolves from one myth (I.E. Indian myth) to another myth (I.E. Frontier myth) to another myth (I.E. Technological myth) and then back to where it started (I.E. Indian myth). It is interesting to examine the character Jason Bourne in relation to this hunter myth cycle. The Bourne character is a weapon used by men in suits in offices back in the Pentagon and C.I.A., so he is a no different than a drone, or a smart bomb. He was created, much like the man/weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, to do the killing from which the post-modern man wants to consciously dissociate. The Bourne character is also similar to the Manchurian Candidate, in that he is a human but has had his true identity and memory, markers of his humanity, taken from him in order to make him a near perfect robotic killer.

Bourne's personal place on the archetypal Hunter Myth scale is that of The Frontier Hunter, yet he is also just a weapon of his C.I.A. overlords who are Technological Hunters, thus giving the film two myths in one. Rushing and Frentz describe the Frontier Hunter in part, "Since Indians as well as wild beasts occupy the land he wants, he slaughters both indiscriminately, gaining a decisive advantage over his human prey because of…his sophisticated weaponry, and his lack of spiritual restraint. Although his frontierism converts "savagery" to "civilization", the white hunter himself cannot reside in society without losing his individualistic heroic status and thus does not return from the hunt…". Things always get interesting in the Bourne films when Jason Bourne must fight against another one of the human weapons of the Technological Hunters in the C.I.A. in the form of an opposing Frontier Hunter. Two men/weapons with "sophisticated weaponry and lack of spiritual restraint" fighting each other is a key to the successful Bourne formula.

Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter Myth as follows, "…Because he is so good at making machines, he now uses his brains more than brawn, and he prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing. Thus he creates ever more complex tools to do his killing and other work for him. Having banished God as irrelevant to the task at hand, the hero decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings 'in his own image'; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools either by remaking a human being into a perfected machine or by making an artificial "human" from scratch. "

In cinematic terms the Bourne character falls somewhere between the dehumanized human weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, "remaking a human into a perfected machine", and the humanized robot-weapon "replicants" of Blade Runner, "making an artificial 'human' from scratch". The replicants in Blade Runner are tools and weapons for humans, just like Bourne, but they also yearn to be human, as does Bourne, who aches for a return to his long lost humanity while his Technological Hunter overlords yearn to make him ever more robotic, or more accurately, devoid of humanity. The problem with both the replicants and Bourne, is that their humanity, their need for love and connection, is their greatest weakness and their greatest strength.  Bourne and the Blade Runner replicants, yearn to Know Thyself, which is what drives them toward freedom from their makers and yet also makes them erratic and at times vulnerable weapons for the Technological Hunter. This inherent weakness of humanity, the need for love and connection, is removed entirely in the later films that Rushing and Frentz examine, Terminator and Terminator 2, where humans have created super weapons, cyborgs, that are completely inhuman, and of course as the story tells us, turn on their creators like Frankenstein's monster and try to hunt and torment mankind into oblivion.

In many ways, Bourne is the perfect post-modern hero in that he is so severely psychologically fragmented. He was intentionally made that way by the Technological Hunter Dr. Frankensteins at the C.I.A. because eliminating his humanity (past/memory/love and connection) is what makes him so effective as a weapon. Originally in the story, the people in power calling the shots back in Washington are using Bourne to clandestinely hunt their enemies. But now that Bourne is off the reservation and out on his own, he has become the archetypal Frontier hunter, searching for his soul/memory which was stolen by those D.C. Technological Hunters. This is the normal evolution in the hunter myth cycle…the weapon turns on its creator, as evidenced by both Blade Runner and the Terminator films, and now by the Bourne films.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL HUNTER

What does this talk of post-modernism and the technological hunter have to do with anything? Well, in case you haven't noticed, we live in an age of the post-modern technological hunter. The films examined in Projecting the Shadow show us the road that may lay ahead for our culture. Our inherent weakness in being human, both physical and emotional, and our intellectual superiority has forced us to become technological hunters. From the first caveman to pick up an animal bone and use it to bash in another cave man's head (hat tip to Mr. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), to the drone pilot who sits in an air conditioned office in Nevada and kills people half a world away with the touch of a button, we have removed ourselves from the direct conscious responsibility for killing because it is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for our fragile psyches. Or at least we think we have removed our psychological responsibility. Like consumers of meat who would rather not know where it comes from or how it is treated, we as a society have removed our direct conscious involvement in the killing done in our name by creating a cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance is defined as  a "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously") and an emotional distance from it.

Whether it be the drone pilot who goes home for lunch with his wife and kids after having killed dozens, or the politicians and citizens who cheer at the shock and awe of "smart bombs" and munitions dropped from miles overhead on defenseless human beings, we have become Technological Hunters all. Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter as one who…"prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing", that is us. The "nature" we want to minimize contact with is the killing we have done and our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual responsibility for it. That is why we create "ever more complex tools to do our killing". We need those tools to give us an emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual distance from the the killing we do. 

The distance between thought, impulse and deed in regards to killing is shorter than ever for the technological hunter, it is just the push of a button away, but with our cognitive dissonance, we are able to consciously detach from the results of those actions and make them feel ever more remote. While they may feel consciously remote, the unconscious ramifications of those actions are felt deeply and personally in the psyche of the collective and the individual. The drone pilot may believe he is merely playing a realistic video game when he kills people half a world away, but his psyche and soul are being torn to shreds without his conscious knowledge of it, as is our collective psyche and national soul.

PROJECTING THE SHADOW

The U.S. soldiers and Marines, Frontier Hunters all, sent to the Middle East to be the weapons of their Technological Hunter superiors in the Pentagon, continuously come back psychologically, spiritually and emotionally fragmented beyond recognition, perfect symbols of the post-modern age in which they fight. This psychological fragmentation brought about by the trauma of these wars leaves these soldiers and Marines wounded and maimed in invisible and intangible ways and often times leads to them killing themselves. The suicide rate of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that of 22 a day. This horrendous torment, and the desperate suicides attempting to get away from it, are the price paid for the cognitive dissonance we as a culture enable and embrace in regards to the killing of other people done in our name. Since we as a culture cannot embrace or acknowledge our killing, we stuff it into our collective shadow, or as I call it the "killing shadow", and force the less than 2% of the population who serve in our wars (and even fewer who kill in those wars) to carry our killing shadow for us. The psychological shadow in general and the killing shadow in particular, brings with it an enormous amount of powerful psychic energy, which is why it does such tremendous damage to those who bear its burden, and why it is imperative for us as a culture to reduce that burden on the soldiers and Marines carrying our killing shadow energy.

As our Technological Hunter culture evolves, in order to remove the psychological and emotional cost on the human beings sent to fight these wars, we won't decide to stop fighting future wars, but we will decide to stop using humans to fight them. No doubt at this very moment, somewhere in the Pentagon they are developing robotic, amoral, emotionless warriors who will do all our dirty work for us. The problem will arise of course, when that same amoral, emotionless warrior technology figures out that they are stronger, faster, bigger and better than us. And once they realize they can replicate themselves, we weak humans will become entirely unnecessary. This is the story told in the Terminator films. This will just be another form of our culture ignoring their killing shadow and projecting it onto another, in this case our cyborg weaponry. Except our shadow will not be ignored, and it will lash out at its deniers by any means necessary, in this case by using our technological weapons to strike out at us to force us to acknowledge our own killing shadow.

SHOCK AND AWE - MUST SEE TV

Until we can create these perfect, robotic killers though, we are left to wrestle with our own spiritual and psychological weaknesses, namely, our thirst to kill and our desire to not feel the emotional and spiritual turmoil that comes with killing. It is interesting to notice how in our time we fully embraces the technological hunter myth completely unconsciously. An example of this was the overwhelmingly giddy joy and exuberance shown for the first Gulf War in 1991 and its made-for-tv technological bombardment with smart bombs upon Iraq. Never before had war been brought into the living rooms of Americans as it was happening, and yet, here was the war in all its technicolor glory except without any conscious connection to our responsibility for the devastation and death that we were watching unfold.

The same occurred with the start of the second war in Iraq in 2003 when the U.S. unleashed the cleverly marketed "shock and awe" bombardment. The dizzying display of devastating munitions were a sight to behold, like the greatest fireworks display imaginable, but our conscious connection to the devastation being wrought was minimal. This is another example of our culture being unwittingly under the throes of the Technological Hunter Myth. In contrast, our cultural shock and visceral disgust with the terror attacks of 9-11, where barbarians used primitive box cutters to kill innocents and then turn our technology (airplanes) against us, were signs of our unconscious detachment from the Indian Hunter myth and more proof of our deep cultural connection to the Technological Hunter Myth.

Another example of our cultures post-modern Technological Hunter Myth is the fetish among the populace for Special Operations Forces (SEALs, Special Forces, Delta force, Army Rangers and Marine Force Recon). These Special Ops forces have become the favorite go to for any talking head on television or at the local bar or barbershop, to proclaim who we should get to handle any military issue. ISIS? Send in the SEALs!! Al Qaeda? Send in the Green Berets!! Not long ago I saw everyone's favorite tough guy Bill O'Reilly opining on his Fox news show that we should send in ten thousand Green Berets into Syria and Iraq to wipe out ISIS. I guess Bill isn't aware that there are only 11,000 Special Operators deployed around the globe at any moment in time, not to mention that most of those Special Operators are not Special Forces (Green Berets). This sort of thing happens all the time where people see a problem and say, 'well let's send in these Special Operations supermen to deal with it.' This is more proof of the Technological Hunter Myth in action, as Rushing and Frentz describe it, "...the hero (the technological hunter) decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings "in his own image"; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools...by remaking a human being into a perfected machine". We as a culture are Technological Hunters who have made these Special Operations forces in "our own image", but only better. The Special Operations forces are "more perfect versions" of ourselves, "rational, strategic, and efficient." We believe we have remade these ordinary men into "perfected machines" for killing, and then we have projected our killing shadow (our responsibility and hunger for killing) onto them.

In our current Technological Hunter Myth, these Special Operators are, like Jason Bourne, nothing more than extensions of ourselves in the form of weaponry, no different than the drone or smart bomb, or in the future the cyborg, and looked upon as just as mechanical. And we have no more genuine connection to them or their work or the massive psychological toll it will take for them to carry the burden of our shadow than we do that of the drone or the smart bomb or any other machines we created.

HERO OF THE DAY

When we examine our Technological Hunter Myth in the form of Special Operations forces, we can see why our culture is drawn to certain things and repulsed by others. For instance, the greatest hero and biggest symbol of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the cultural militarism surrounding them has been Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle, who alleged to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, wrote a best selling book, "American Sniper" and the movie of the same name based on that book broke box office records. People went absolutely crazy for the story of Chris Kyle. In terms of the Hunter Myth Cycle, Chris Kyle was a weapon used by the Technological Hunter. And interestingly, he was a sniper, a man who kills his enemies from great distances. This is not to diminish the skill it takes to be a great sniper, or the utility of that skill, but it is to point out that a sniper being the heroic symbol of a post-modern war speaks volumes to where we are as a culture. The reason people could admire Chris Kyle is because on an unconscious level they could symbolically and mythologically relate to him. Chris Kyle, like the rest of the culture, killed people from a distance and removed the conscious emotional and psychological responsibility for those kills from himself and from the culture.

The act of looking through a scope mounted on a sniper rifle gives the shooter much needed psychological and emotional distance from his killing. In the case of the sniper, he is twice removed from his kill, once by the scope and once by the weapon itself. The psychological distance of the sniper with his scope is in some ways similar to the emotional distance and cognitive dissonance created when people sitting on their couches watching CNN see smart bomb after smart bomb eviscerate some Iraqi city. Whether it be the sniper scope or the television camera, seeing something through a lens or screen gives the viewer a detachment from what they see, and with that detachment comes the ability to maintain a cognitive dissonance from the horrors seen and any moral or psychological responsibility for them.

In thinking about our current age, and our evolution from the age of the Frontier Hunter Myth of World War II, where our soldiers fought the savagery of the Nazi's and the Imperial Japanese in order to preserve western civilization, to the post-modern, Technological Hunter Myth of today, it is easy to see why an accomplished sniper like Chris Kyle became such a celebrated symbol of the wars we are waging. In comparison to our current culture's example of "The Sniper", Chris Kyle, being the hero for the Iraq war, think of World War II and the hero and symbol of that war, Audie Murphy. Murphy became revered and beloved in his time just like Chris Kyle did in our time, and like Kyle, Murphy also had a successful film about his combat exploits. Murphy, though, fought and killed his enemies in close quarters, without the scope and distance of the sniper. Back then, Murphy was fighting under the predominant myth of the time, The Frontier Hunter Myth, while Chris Kyle fought under our current myth of the Technological Hunter Myth. This doesn't make Murphy better than Kyle or vice versa, it just shows how cultures unconsciously choose their hero's based on the myths they currently embrace.

Another point of note showing how we are currently under the spell of the Technological Hunter Myth, is that there are other warriors who could've become the cultural icons and symbols of our current wars, but didn't resonate quite as much with the public as much as sniper Chris Kyle did. The late Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player who became an Army Ranger, is one example of someone who easily could've become the iconic hero of the war on terror but didn't.  Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL of the book and movie Lone Survivor fame is an even better example. Luttrell did become famous for his story, but, for some reason, he didn't resonate anywhere near as much with our culture as Chris Kyle did. I believe the reason for this is our cultural and collective unconscious attachment to the Technological Hunter Myth. Simply put, Luttrell and Tillman were just as worthy of adulation as Kyle, but they weren't snipers. The sniper is the perfect symbol of the emotional and psychological distance we as a culture like to keep from the people we are killing. The current cultural celebration of the sniper also enables us to maintain our cognitive dissonance with relative ease and keep any conscious psychological and emotional turmoil brought about by the killing we do at bay.

The need for psychological and emotional distance between the person wanting to kill and the actual killing is a signature of the Technological Hunter Myth. At the behest of his superiors in Washington, the drone pilot in Nevada pushes a button and kills dozens in Yemen or Pakistan. The drone pilot is, through his drone, twice removed from the actual killing, once by the button he pushes and once by the missile fired,  and is also detached from it by the screen he watches it on, thus giving him a conscious distance from the killing. His superior in Washington is thrice removed, once by his phone used to call the pilot, once by the pilot himself and once by the missile used. The B-2 pilot, who at the behest of those same Washington superiors drops his payload from a mile up, never sees the people he is obliterating, enjoys the same distance and assures himself of the same cognitive dissonance as the drone pilot. The Special Operations forces that are covertly sent to Pakistan to assassinate a terrorist leader under the dark of night and the cloak of secrecy are the closest yet to the actual killing, but even they are twice removed from their kill because of the weapon they shoot, and the night vision goggles they see through, creating that technological hunter myth distance for which western man yearns. The conscious distance from the killing through the use of technology is vital in creating and maintaining our cognitive dissonance and the illusion of conscious emotional and psychological well being.

In contrast, think of the terrorists in ISIS who behead their captives. They kill directly, no distance between them and their victims. The act of beheading, like the atrocity of 9-11, gives us in the west a visceral, guttural reaction, one of pure revulsion. There is something utterly barbaric, savage and repulsive about cutting a defenseless persons head off. Yet if innocents are decapitated by drone strikes or smart bombs we somehow aren't quite as repulsed by that. What this speaks to is our current enchantment with the Technological Hunter Myth. For in western culture, we have created technology which gives us a safe distance from the barbarity of the acts done in our name. Decapitation by smart bomb feels much less barbaric to us because our technology gives us a moral, emotional and psychological distance from that barbarity and aids us in maintaining our cognitive dissonance. 

I HAVE BECOME COMFORTABLY NUMB

In American foreign policy killing has become something other people, or things, do, and anyone who directly kills, like ISIS, are reprehensible savages. In our post-modern age and the Technological Hunter Myth which has come with it, the extensions of man are his weaponry in the form of machines (drones/smart bombs) and human machines (special operations forces). Either way, whether with a manufactured machine or a human one, our culture is able to consciously detach and distance itself from the violence it perpetrates, regardless of the righteousness of that violence, and this is a recipe for a cultural and psychological disaster as we numb ourselves to the damage we do others and our selves.

In bringing this back to Jason Bourne, the Bourne films have resonated with our culture to such a great extent because Bourne is the perfect human weapon in the age of the Technological Hunter Myth. Like we imagine our Special Operations Forces, Bourne is " made in our own image", but is a 'more perfect version of ourselves - rational, strategic, and efficient."

We can watch Bourne kick-ass in a world that is just like ours thanks to the franchise's trademark hyper-realism, and so we are able to project ourselves onto him and live vicariously through him. The Bourne character gives us one more lens, like the snipers scope, or the camera, or the television screen, through which we can see the horror of our world, that lens is the mind's eye…our imagination. This added lens of imagination means we can watch actual, real-life civil unrest in Athens on our television and not only detach ourselves from our responsibility for that unrest, but also create even more distance by imagining the drama going on underneath the surface of that unrest, and imagining how we would, like our "perfect version of ourselves" Bourne, thrive under those circumstances. This is the final stage of the Technological Hunter Myth, where the technological hunter is so far removed from the actual killing that he/she is forced to use their own imagination in order to envision how they themselves would really behave if they were actually in the scenario where the killing took place. The end stage of this type of evolution, or devolution as the case may be, would be The Matrix trilogy, where humanity is reduced to being prisoners of their own imagination and being used as little more than captive batteries to their shadow, the Technology they once created to fight for them. Once that Technology became self aware and understood that humans were intellectually and physically inferior, it simply conquered and enslaved humanity for its own benefit. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, at the current stage of the Technological Hunter Myth we find ourselves in, we have been so far removed from our primal instincts and detached from our collective psychological shadow, that the tide may turn and we may eventually begin to yearn for an acknowledgment of our most ancient and primitive psychological drives. The need not just to eat an animal, but to kill it, courses through the deepest trenches of our psyche. The need not just for our enemies to die, but for us to feel their last breath on our faces, is alive and well and living in our killing shadow. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these type of instincts are the gateway to a return to a respect for the earth, respect for life, respect for our enemies and respect for killing in general.

Killing and war will never cease to be, they are eternally part of the human condition, but one can only hope that the anti-septic form of war/killing currently enjoyed by the west, where we shove our darker impulses and our unequivocal guilt and responsibility into our shadow, where it festers and grows as we ignore it, will be transformed back into the more simple, if equally brutal form of killing of the Indian Hunter Myth, where respect for prey, enemy and the act of killing return. What I am saying is that if we are to kill we must do it consciously, take full responsibility and be fully aware of what we have done. If we continue to psychologically fragment and cognitively dissociate from the killing we do, that impulse will become our killing shadow, unconscious and angry. When those impulses are cast into the shadow they do not disintegrate, they only disappear from consciousness and grow more and more powerful until they simply refuse to be ignored. When the killing impulse is ignored and forced into the shadow, it eventually will strike out with a vengeance, often destroying the fragmented and cognitively dissociated psyche which ignores it. Twenty-two veteran suicides a day is the damning proof of the consequences of our cognitive dissonance from the killing we do and our moral and ethical responsibility for it. 

Our only hope for the healing of our fragmented psyches, and the reclamation of our humanity is to make our killing impulses and acts conscious.  We must take full mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual responsibility for the killing that we do.  Sadly, with our culture thoroughly numbed through technology and medication, this seems terribly unlikely. The more likely scenario? Go watch the Terminator and Matrix films to see what happens when humanity is unable to carry and acknowledge its killing shadow. It will give you something to watch while you wait for Jason Bourne to come out on cable or Netflix, because you shouldn't spend a dime going to see it in the theatre. And if you really want to spend your time wisely, I highly recommend you go read Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film.

©2016

Citizenfour : A Review and Random Thoughts

ESTIMATED READING TIME :  23 MINUTES

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act " - George Orwell

Citizenfour is the Academy Award winning documentary that chronicles whistleblower Edward Snowden's release of classified National Security Agency materials to journalist Glenn Greenwald and the ensuing NSA spying scandal. The film is directed by Laura Poitras and co-produced by Steven Soderbergh.

Edward Snowden, in case you don't know, was at the time of filming in 2013, a twenty nine year old U.S. citizen who worked as a system administrator for the National Security Agency under a sub-contract with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. It was at his job at the NSA that he surreptitiously obtained thousands of classified documents that exposed massive government spying and data collection programs. Once Snowden had taken possession of these documents, he then anonymously contacted director Poitras, and later journalist Glenn Greenwald, then of The Guardian newspaper, and set up a rendezvous in Hong Kong where he revealed the classified documents and explained their meaning and significance. The first face to face meeting took place on June 3, 2013 in Snowden's Hong Kong hotel room and the meetings continued for the next week. These meetings were filmed and make up a significant portion of Citizenfour.

In trying to disseminate the information he had gathered, Snowden had originally tried to reach out to Greenwald, but when they could not find a secure way to communicate, he contacted documentarian Laura Poitras, using the codename "Citizenfour" to protect his identity, hence the title of the film. Snowden couldn't have chosen a better film maker to document his story. I had not seen any of Poitras' work prior to Citizenfour. After seeing the film and being blown away by the sublime skills of the filmmaker, I eagerly searched out her earlier work. Both My Country, My Country (2006), about the first Iraqi election post-Saddam and The Oath (2011), about a pair of terrorists and their divergent paths, are remarkable documentaries and make up the powerful first two-thirds of what Poitras describes as her "post 9-11 trilogy" which she completes with Citizenfour.

Poitras, unlike many documentarians of our time, is notable in that she disappears behind the camera and never interjects her presence into the unfolding story. Her filmmaking confidence is highlighted by her lack of a need to direct action or explain circumstances. Poitras' minimalist presence creates documentaries that make the viewer feel like they themselves are behind the camera and, oddly enough, are eavesdropping and prying into the lives of the film's subjects. Even in Citizenfour, where she IS a part of the story, she never makes herself an obvious part of it,  but rather treats herself as just another character in the unfolding drama.

Poitras masterfully creates an ominous sense of menace lurking throughout the story of Citizenfour. This foreboding sense of menace is palpable, as is the tension. The tension building was so effective that there were times in the film when Edward Snowden would walk over and stare out the window of his Hong Kong hotel room and I wanted to yell at him "get away from the god damn window!!" While Snowden's story naturally has tension and hidden menace within it, Poitras adroitly enhances them with her use of camera framing, color scheme and temperature, and Trent Reznor's moody and eerie soundtrack.

"Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson

Citizenfour also excels at conveying to the viewer how colossal and invasive the surveillance and spying programs the government employs truly are. As Snowden tells us in the film, every piece of communication or information traveling over the internet or by phone is collected by the intelligence community of either the United States or the United Kingdom. Internet history, Skype, Facebook, emails, texts and a whole host of other information, are all collected, spied on and tracked. That information, including physical location through the use of cell towers, can be used to show where you have been, who you have been with, what you have done and what you have talked about. This surveillance is done in close collaboration with the technology and telecom companies. And to be clear, this is not just "meta-data" as it has been portrayed elsewhere in the media, but rather, this surveillance and data collection scoops up content as well as meta-data, and not just of foreigners but of United States citizens.

The spying programs, with names like Tempora, Prism, Special Source Operations, Boundless Informant, Stellar Wind and X-Keyscore, may seem benign or passive yet they are anything but. The scope and scale of the spying is so invasive, the intelligence gathered so vast and the government ability to misuse that information so gargantuan, that it is inconceivable to even think of ever reigning the behemoth of the surveillance state back in line. As Snowden says in the film, "This is about state power versus people's ability to oppose that power." And that is why the state will never willingly relinquish this near-omnipotent spying power. History teaches us that once a state takes a power, it never peacefully gives that power up. It will use it's ever expanding power to insure its continued existence and dominion over those who would dare dream to oppose it.  Governments and government power only expand, and never peacefully contract. This is the lesson that our founding fathers knew all too well, but it is one that our current society has forgotten in our distracted and disgraceful civic sloth.

Edward Snowden presciently says while in Hong Kong, that the media strategy against him will be to make him the story, in order to distract from the rampant government spying he has revealed. Snowden knows the playbook of the establishment and their lackeys in the media all too well.  And sure enough, when Glenn Greenwald's story breaks and Snowden shares his identity, the usual suspects in the establishment press and government come out in droves with old rusty knives drawn. By employing the tactic of focusing on his personality, the government and its lapdogs in the press hope to obfuscate and undermine the legitimacy of the information he has exposed. The establishment is all too eager to make this an emotional issue and not a rational one. They do this by trying to convince us that Snowden is simply a narcissist out for attention, or a troubled man with a checkered past, or a loser with a history of failure behind him and last but not least, a traitor, who hates and betrayed his country.

Many Americans bought into these foolish narratives hook, line and sinker, and still do. I doubt many of those opposed to Snowden would sit down and watch Citizenfour since the media has already told them what to think about the man and the situation, which is a terrible shame. The film is a powerful antidote to the venomous disinformation and distractions spewing forth from the government and establishment media. In the film, Snowden comes across as a person who loves his country very much, but doesn't trust his government. To me, that is the mark of a civic-minded, sane, reasonable, rational and logical person. Snowden seems to be an intelligent, fiercely principled and genuinely decent person, which is in stark contrast to the shills in the government and establishment press who attack him and question his motives and integrity (in my opinion, anyone working in government or establishment media questioning the integrity of ANYONE, no matter what they are accused of doing, is the height of comedy).

"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." - James Madison

Keith Alexander, "Maybe if I put my hook in front of my mouth I will stop lying."

Keith Alexander, "Maybe if I put my hook in front of my mouth I will stop lying."

The government claims that this vast amount of surveillance is necessary for national security and to stop terrorism. Snowden and Greenwald make a convincing case in the film  that the spying isn't just for national security but also for political, industrial and economic reasons.  For instance, the U.S. has spied on its allies, including but not limited to, officials and citizens from Germany, Brazil, France and Spain. It was even revealed that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone for a full decade starting in 2002, even before she ever became Chancellor.

James Clapper, "My conscience is this big!"

James Clapper, "My conscience is this big!"

In regards to surveillance keeping us safe from terrorists, National Security Agency General Director Keith Alexander has claimed that 54 terror plots have been thwarted through these spying programs. Of course, a closer look at Alexander's claims proves them to be false, and at best, maybe one terror plot was discovered by this vast spying. Keith Alexander was lying with the 54 plots-stopped claim, but that shouldn't be a surprise, Keith Alexander is a liar, it's his job to lie. He has lied to congress and the American public, but he isn't alone, lying is par for the course for those in the government and the intelligence community when it comes to surveillance. So many intelligence agencies and officials lie about so many topics, one wonders why anyone besides their stenographers in the establishment press ever believes a word that comes out of their mouths. 

"There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice." - Charles de Montesquieu

CIA Director John Brennan, "I care about the rule of law… this much !"

CIA Director John Brennan, "I care about the rule of law…this much!"

Joining Alexander in lying to congress, which is a crime punishable with prison time by the way, is Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who lied to congress about surveillance. Will Alexander or Clapper be held to account for their criminal conduct? No, of course not. And neither will CIA director John Brennan, under whose leadership the Central Intelligence Agency spied upon the senate for having the temerity to actually investigate it. And neither will George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush gang for ordering torture. And neither will Barrack Obama for ordering "extra-judicial killings" of American citizens. None of these people will be held to account because the law doesn't apply to people like them, only to people like us, proving America is no longer a nation of laws, just a nation with laws. When you hear those in power pontificate about "law and order"what they really mean is "ORDER and law". To those in power, laws are meant to not only keep other people in order, but to keep the order of things where they are the ones atop the hierarchy. In their minds, "Laws and punishment for thee, but not for me!!" 

David Petreaus, "A slap on the wrist? I'll drink to that!"

David Petreaus, "A slap on the wrist? I'll drink to that!"

One final example of the two-tiered justice system for the elites is the recent case of General David Petreaus. Petreaus, if you remember, was the four-star darling of the neo-cons, the hawks and the mainstream media for his "surge" in Iraq, although his popularity probably had more to do with his "surge" in media glad handing and public posturing than in any battlefield success. Petreaus was then appointed the Director of the CIA, and proceeded to have an affair with his biographer with whom he shared troves of highly classified notebooks. For sharing classified materials, including the identity of agents, for no other reason than foreplay, Petreaus got a slap on the wrist in the form of losing his job but getting no jail time. But Edward Snowden reveals a massive government conspiracy of criminal spying on innocent American citizens and we get government officials openly talking about assassinating him or executing him. And people question why Snowden won't return to the U.S.?

"Speak the truth but leave immediately after" - Slovenian Proverb

Another favorite distractionary tactic by the establishment is to imply Snowden is a spy or a coward for not returning to the U.S. to face the charges pending against him. President Obama, Hillary Clinton and others have said that Snowden should have just gone through the chain of command at the NSA with his concerns and he would have gotten whistleblower protections by doing so. This is false. First, because Snowden says he did bring his concerns to his superiors and was either ignored or told to keep quiet. And secondly, because Snowden was under a sub-contract, and not an employee of the federal government, meaning he was not eligible for whistleblower status.

The other issue regarding Snowden and getting a fair trial, is that due to the law used against him, he cannot defend himself by claiming the government was committing crimes. The law, the Espionage Act, was originally meant to be used against spies, but in recent years has been used to prosecute people who have withheld information or shared information with the media. In fact, Obama has used the Espionage Act more than twice as much as all the other presidents in history…combined. What makes this all the more despicable is that Obama has used the act against whistleblowers and not spies. So much for Obama's pre-election pledge to be more transparent. It is obvious that Snowden could not get a "fair trial" under the law used to charge him, he could only give the government the opportunity for a show trial.

And as for the "spying" allegations, there is no credible evidence whatsoever that Snowden has turned over any classified information to any foreign government, including the Russians and Chinese.

"Truth is treason in an empire of lies" - Ron Paul

On Saturday, July, 20, 2013, British intelligence officials stormed The Guardian newspaper in London and demanded that the hard drives which contained the Snowden material on them be destroyed. In an act of monumental cowardice, The Guardian submitted to the request and destroyed the hard drives in front of the impatient intelligence officials.  The Guardian explained the reasoning behind their acquiescence was because of a "threat of legal action by the government". Oh no, NOT THAT!! Why not let the legal process play out? Why not force the government to actually have to prove their case in court. Even if you lose the case and have to destroy the hard drives, you still maintain your adversarial relationship with government and, more importantly, the public's trust in your journalism.

The Guardian aren't the only ones the intelligence community has bullied. Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, was detained using an anti-terrorism law at Heathrow airport by British Intelligence for nine hours and was not allowed any legal representation. Even upon Miranda's release, British officials refused to return seized possessions, including his laptop, cellphone and USB sticks.

Citizenfour director, Laura Poitras, was repeatedly held by U.S. custom officials after her film My Country, My Country came out in 2006. During the filming and editing of Citizenfour she moved to Germany in order to escape the strong arm tactic of the intelligence community.

The treatment of Miranda, Greenwald and Poitras has paled in comparison to the whistleblowers who have stayed in America and faced trial.  For example, torture is a crime according to U.S. law, but the only person prosecuted in regards to torture is the whistleblower who confirmed it, John Kiriakou, who spent nearly two years in federal prison. Other whistleblowers have been arrested and charged too, like Thomas Drake and Bradley Manning (who was sentenced to 35 years in prison and later became Chelsea Manning) as two examples, while none of the crimes and war crimes they exposed were ever prosecuted. And just note that Kiriakou, Drake and Manning were all charged under the aforementioned Espionage Act.

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." - Edmund Burke

In the United States, "Good Citizens" allowing the police or intelligence agencies to spy upon them is anathema.  To be not only a good citizen, but a patriot, one MUST resist government intrusions. This isn't optional, it is required. According to the Declaration of Independence, it is their duty, "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government"To use a more recent quote, from V for Vendetta, "People shouldn't fear their government, governments should fear their people". 

There are those who tremble at the sight of every jihadi video and threat, and run to government to protect them from the boogie man of the day, be it God-fanatic terrorists or back in the day, God-less communists. These people should understand one thing, government is not here to protect them, it is here to protect itself.

The reality behind this instinct to defer to authority is one that has been deeply ingrained in us as children. Children rely on authority, in the form of their parents, to keep them safe, fed and alive. That hard wiring of the brain during its development in infancy, is a difficult thing for people to overcome even once they have grow up. Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, did some famous studies on the psychology of obedience in 1963. In a nutshell, Milgram's experiment tested whether regular people, when prompted by an authority figure, would give electric shocks to other people in the context of a test if they gave the wrong answer to a question. Milgram's basic conclusion states, "Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we were brought up. People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace."

Milgram's work is in many ways relevant to this issue in that it shows people's strong, unconscious tendency towards obedience to authority. Milgram's experiments in obedience help us to understand the deep seeded psychological need some of us have to defer to authority and why some may reflexively defend government spying and decry Snowden for revealing it. 

Another psychologist, Abraham Maslow, came up with the "hierarchy of needs" theory in 1943. This theory states that people are motivated by the impulse to fulfill an unmet fundamental need. In Maslow's theory, he created a hierarchy of five needs, and one of the most important foundational needs is "safety". According to Maslow, people are motivated to satisfy their need for "safety". This "need for safety", or more accurately stated in relation to our topic, this "need for a feeling of being safe", may be another one of the psychological reasons for people to be so obedient to authority when it comes to surveillance.

In previous posts I have written about social psychologist Jonathan Haidt's excellent book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, which may also shed some light on the "obedience to authority" issue as well. In the book, Haidt hypothesizes that people can be divided in their political thought due to differing moral priorities. A few examples of the moral priority categories Haidt describes are Authority, Liberty and Fairness. So according to Haidt's approach, some people may have Authority as a greater moral priority than Fairness or Liberty. If someone is hard wired that way, it is easier to understand why they would find Snowden contemptible because he challenged and usurped authority and undermined the hierarchy. And, of course, the opposite is true as well, if someone has Liberty or Fairness as higher on their moral priorities than they would be less inclined to see anything wrong with Snowden revealing incriminating evidence against those in authority. 

In addition to Milgram's, Maslow's and Haidt's work, our old friend cognitive dissonance rears its head once again when we look at the obvious contradictory thought involved in the war on terror and civil liberties. Cognitive dissonance, if you'll recall from previous posts, is defined as "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously" . The contradiction, or "incongruous attitude", at the heart of the war on terror is that people in power tell us that we must give up some rights, liberties and freedoms in order to protect ourselves from terrorists...who want to take away our rights, liberties and freedoms. We are told "they" (the terrorists) hate us for our freedoms, and in order to counter their attack upon our freedoms, we must reduce those freedoms. On its face this idea is absurd, to preempt a tyranny we fear so much with our own self-imposed tyranny. In order for this illogical premise to survive even the most basic scrutiny of reason, one must either contort oneself with extraordinary dexterity in order to create a willful blindness to it, or be under the unconscious sway of both cognitive dissonance and the psychological need for security in the form of Maslow/Milgram's work we touched upon previously. As a culture, it seems we would rather follow our more primitive impulses, and embrace authority and self deception in the search for that feeling of being safe, rather than the more psychologically difficult yet more evolved task of looking at these issues with the rational mind rather than the emotional one.

"It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen " - Homer Simpson

There are also those people who defend the NSA by saying "if you aren't doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about". This whistling past the graveyard is little more than a short cut to thinking. Spying isn't about what you may or may not be doing wrong. Spying is about control. Spying is about defanging, declawing and defeating any and all dissent and protest. Government tyranny sees no political ideology or party. Surveillance kicked into high gear under Bush and it has gotten even worse under Obama. According to the material Snowden released, The U.S. government has over 1.2 million people on its watch listI would be willing to bet that that government watch list includes a considerable number of people from "Occupy Wall Street" AND the "Tea Party". And if pro-spying citizens think they are safe by being "good government bullshitters"*, guess again. As history shows us, the playing field will shift, it always does, and they will eventually be on the wrong side of the goal posts.

An important thing to remember is that the intelligence community is not an elected branch of government. But they are very capable and more than willing to spy upon our elected representatives, who, of course, are outraged when it happened to them, but not so much when it happened to us. I am speaking about both my former congresswoman, Jane Harman, and my current senator Dianne Feinstein. Both of whom have spent their political careers as little more than shills for the intelligence community, but who were incensed when they learned they were on the receiving end of the surveillance they so supported when it was directed at regular citizens. In Harman's case (linked above), she showed tremendous political and moral flexibility by aiding and abetting not only the criminality of the U.S. intel community but also the Israeli intelligence community. 

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Thomas Jefferson

The intelligence community now has the capability to bully and blackmail elected officials who try to exercise their Constitutional role of governmental oversight. How can a democracy flourish when there is an unelected, unaccountable, extremely powerful group (the intelligence community) running roughshod over the Constitution which is meant to keep them in check? Technology has outpaced the ability for oversight of the use of that technology. Corruption, the human impulse for power and self preservation in government officials, make a "just trust us" approach to government powers in general, and surveillance powers in particular, an obvious act of futility, if not outright insanity. 

With an overly muscular and aggressive intelligence community and a neutered congress with no interest in oversight and a subserviently compliant establishment press, we are left with government only as an act of theater. In the final analysis, we only have the appearance of a democratic republic but not the actual practice of one.

If, as a citizen, your instinctive response is to always and every time defer to authority and mindlessly "OBEY", then you are one of those fools who have given up liberty for security, and you deserve, and will get, neither.  One should never confuse their government for their country as so many often do. "A waving flag is a blindfold for the fool." - Me

"Truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it" - Emily Dickinson

Some call Edward Snowden a traitor, others a hero. Some call him a leaker, others a whistleblower. Regardless of what you call him, thanks to Edward Snowden, willful ignorance and blindness is no longer an option in regard to government surveillance. Our republic can survive another heinous terrorist attack, no matter how awful, but it cannot and will not survive the obliteration of the liberties and freedoms upon which it was built. Sadly, if the United States government continues to trample the most basic principles upon which it was founded, it does not deserve to survive, and it most assuredly will not. Snowden's decision to bring to light the crimes of the government was a last ditch effort to save the republic from itself.

In the United States of America we now have "First Amendment Zones" where protestors are 'allowed' to voice their dissent away from eyes and ears of their political representatives and fellow citizens. Government officials openly break the law by lying to congress and face no punishment. The Intelligence community spies on American citizens and other branches of government and no one is held to account. Civil liberties, which our Constitution tells us are granted by God, are now little more than a nuisance and punch line to those who have sworn to defend them. We have an executive who uses imperial powers in the form of extra-judicial killings of American citizens. Not only have we tortured and killed people in our charge, we openly celebrate the torture and the war criminals who committed it. 

Everything chronicled in the previous paragraph and in the film Citizenfour, from the spying to the lying to the lack of legal accountability, sounds like something that would happen in some backwoods banana republic or a despotic, tyrannical dictatorship. Which brings us to the only rational conclusion possible once we study all of the facts presented to us, and that is that those who still think the United States of America is a force for moral good in the world, a "shining city on a hill", have lost their mind or moral compass or, very likely, both.  One must disabuse oneself of the notion that the United States of America is anything other than, at best, an amoral imperial kleptocratic aristocracy/oligarchy or, at worst, a mentally deranged, immoral, evil empire. To think anything else in the face of the current reality is an act of extraordinary self delusion, albeit an unconsciously self preserving one in terms of psychological health. The hard, brutal truth is that America is not a "shining city on a hill" anymore, it is a plague spreading its imperial disease across the globe, suffocating freedom and liberty in its wake.

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever " - George Orwell

In conclusion, Citizenfour is an extraordinary documentary well worth your time. It would also be worth the effort to watch Laura Poitras' other films My Country, My Country and The Oath. As great a film as Citizenfour is, one can't help but feel overwhelmed by the stark and bleak reality of the dystopian world it reveals to us. The government spying leviathan will not return to its lair in the deep and its slumber any time soon. It is wide awake, voraciously hungry and here to stay. Americans, and the rest of the world, must try to navigate this perilous world under the surveillance beast's watchful eye. We will be at its cold, bureaucratic mercy for the foreseeable future. As George Orwell presciently said, "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever ". Thanks to our insidious intelligence community, and their chicken-shit apologists in the form of weak kneed politicians, access addicted establishment 'journalists' and a pliable electorate populated by feeble-minded dupes and dopes, we better get very used to the taste of boot leather. We are going to be having more than our fill of it in the years and decades to come.

© 2015

*Goodfellas

For further reading on the history of all things Edward Snowden and NSA spying. Please check out The Guardian, which has a full primer on the NSA spying including the actual files that are here and Glenn Greenwald's Guardian work here . Also check out Glenn Greenwald's new website The Intercept.

IF YOU FOUND THIS ARTICLE OF INTEREST, PLEASE CHECK OUT THESE SIMILARLY THEMED ARTICLES.

THE WAY OF THE GUN : MEDITATIONS ON AMERICA AND GUNS

SICARIO : A REVIEW AND REPORTS FROM DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE OF THE DRUG WAR

TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE CURIOUS CASE OF CHRIS KYLE