Belmont Club

What Lies Behind

The protagonist in many of Eric Ambler’s books is often a person who accidentally wanders outside the confines of ordinary life and discovers a world of horrors under the surface of the normal. The real world, Ambler never tires of reminding his readers, is one of hidden violence, power plays and intrigue inhabited by cynical and powerful men. At some point in the book these villains inevitably taunt the naive hero for clinging to sentimental beliefs like law, liberty or God. ‘Those things’, the cynic tells the protagonist while watching him beaten by his henchmen before a table at which he eats his gourmet breakfast, ‘do not exist’. All that exists is power. To make this reality palatable to the public it is sugar-coated with illusion.

The refreshing thing about Rahm Emmanuel, the Boss of Chicago, is that he makes no secret of the fact that he wants to control you. Not by law or right, but because he can. You either bow to him or take what’s coming. Recently the Rahmfather told a food franchise whose owner’s political views on gay marriage did not coincide with those of his backers that he was unwelcome in Chicago.

“Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values,” Emanuel said Wednesday.

“What the CEO has said as it relates to gay marriage and gay couples is not what I believe, but more importantly, it’s not what the people of Chicago believe. We just passed legislation as it relates to civil union and my goal and my hope … is that we now move on recognizing gay marriage. I do not believe that the CEO’s comments … reflects who we are as a city.

By contrast less honest politicians waited for appearances’ sake until the corpses of the Aurora Colorado massacre were cold before making it what they always wanted to make of it: an opportunity to talk about gun control. And then they went at it with a vengeance.  Mayor Bloomberg exhorted police to go on strike unless gun controls were enacted.

he argued that police officers in particular should throw their support behind gun control. “I don’t understand why the police officers across this country don’t stand up collectively and say, ‘We’re going to go on strike. We’re not going to protect you. Unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what’s required to keep us safe,’” he said.

Every incident is regarded as an opportunity to take umbrage and under those pretexts to grab more power. It’s gotten so bad that some people don’t even wait for an offense to transpire before expressing outrage.  James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal notes with wry amusement and not a little alarm the anticipatory indignation at President Obama’s possible electoral defeat.

Harold Meyerson, a self-described democratic socialist and columnist for the Washington Post, is against measures to prevent voter fraud. That’s not surprising–the lefty press has been filled with commentary on the subject lately–but Meyerson, after repeating the standard claim that fraud prevention is the same as vote “suppression,” …

Meyerson comes very close to advocating insurrection if the election doesn’t go Barack Obama’s way–a line that, as we noted yesterday, New York’s left-liberal Mayor Michael Bloomberg crossed in calling for a police strike in the absence of new gun-control laws.

Grab, grab, grab. But it’s not just the local boys. Raise our glances somewhat and it shows that beyond the smaller tinpot dictators there are the bigger tinpot dictators. In the Syrian crisis the hidden hands are now in full view. The New York Times notes that al-Qaeda’s baleful presence has been detected in that conflict. That would be the hands of the Saudis and their friends. “We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of God,” said a speaker in the video using the classical Arabic favored by Al Qaeda.

Not to be outdone, the Iranians are sending phishing emails to Syrian rebels with a payload of keylogging malware the better to discover who their client Assad should bomb. That kind of act doesn’t fool the Yemenis though, who have just uncovered an Iranian spy ring in their country. But come one, come all. The Turks have just announced they may make cross-border incursions into Syria to take out the Kurdish rebels who have long bedeviled it.

One might be forgiven for thinking that Eric Ambler’s villains have got it right. It’s not really about the “responsibility to protect” or overthrowing a tyrant, or standing up for some international principle. The real players — KSA, Iran, Turkey and the West, know it is all about oil, power and money. Who would have ever thought it was about religion or Allah, or brotherhood and love? Only us chumps.

Maybe the public is wrong to believe that the world is led by affable, law abiding leaders who want world peace, safe streets and fairness. Perhaps it’s really run by gangsters who make war on their enemies and are out for your money and are therefore eager to disarm you so you can’t resist.  That is if you wanted to resist. Pundits like Meyerson would probably be outraged if you did. Resistance might alarm the children.

Still the proper priorities must be observed. Those sworn to protect the public from foreign enemies are obsessed with such vital questions as whether automated USN warships with reduced crews can legally be scraped for rust at Singapore or whether American workers have to be flown in to do the task, because the law requires it. Just imagine how it would sound if rust scraping were outsourced to the Singaporeans! Fly a work crew in, if necessary.

When the littoral combat ship Freedom needs scheduled maintenance overseas, the workers who step onboard had better be Americans. U.S. law bars foreign shipyard workers from doing such tasks as preventative and corrective maintenance, deep cleaning and corrosion control — crucial work for a ship manned by only 50 or so sailors, meaning it will rely more on shore-based support than other U.S. Navy ships …

The U.S. plans to base four ships in Singapore — Freedom will sail there next year — and another eight in Bahrain, starting as soon as 2014. Yet if foreigners aren’t allowed to do the work, the LCS force will need to be supported by U.S.-based “fly-away teams,” a situation that could be unaffordable.

Our guardians are constantly on the job. Remember how it was news when President Obama spent a full day working at the White House? That only shows how that the public doesn’t understand how our betters work. Slate explained as far back as 2010 that the President doesn’t actually work in his office.

After the White House released photos of the newly renovated Oval Office late last month, the Explainer noticed something a little bizarre: There was no computer on President Obama’s desk, or any paperwork, either. Does Obama actually work in the Oval Office?

Not most of the time. The president conducts briefings and holds staff meetings in the Oval Office, but it’s used primarily as a ceremonial space. Obama does much of his day-to-day work—such as editing speeches and reviewing papers—in the President’s Study, located off the Oval Office, and in the Treaty Room, on the second floor of the White House.

The Oval Office is a prop. It’s a set. Now it’s official. AOL has an article describing the Presidential tablet. Tablet as in Ipad or its equivalent. In the old days “When the Presidential Daily Briefing occurs, a top intelligence official traditionally hands the president a folder with a sheaf of paper inside.”

But that will change. The president and his top officials want and will get a single mobile device allowing them to access highly classified and unclassified data wherever they are. The early fruits of the intelligence community’s early efforts to do that are visible in the photo above. It shows President Obama in the Oval Office on January 31 using a technically neutered tablet as part of the Presidential Daily Briefing.

Instead of reading through the brief, now the president can scroll through the briefing and tap on a link in a story that takes him to background material, maps, photos, video or audio.

In that way the President can always be working, whether at a fundraiser, or sitting in a car in transit, or cooling down after a basketball game.  It will all be in the Tablet connected presumably by a secure wireless link to the nation’s most sensitive databases.

Naturally there are defenses in place to prevent the fate of Japan’s data loss from happening to President Obama. “The Japanese government has uncovered an advanced Trojan attack which may have lain undiscovered on its networks leaking confidential data for over two years.” That’s because tens of thousands of people in our wonderful world are working full time on reading other people’s mail. “The 2012 Black Hat conference is kicking off in Las Vegas … is probably the largest collection of hardcore computer security experts on the planet, and features the latest updates on hacking opportunities and serious vulnerabilities. Nearly 10,000 people are expected to attend and share or use the knowledge gleaned to protect – or crack – systems.”

So the President will probably have the latest antivirus software. Speaking of which, Wired has a long article on the exploits of Eugene Kaspersky, one of the richest men in Russia, a confidante of Vladimir Putn and the alleged point-man of many of the Kremlin’s cyberwarfare efforts.

Between 2009 and 2010, according to Forbes, retail sales of Kaspersky antivirus software increased 177 percent, reaching almost 4.5 million a year—nearly as much as its rivals Symantec and McAfee combined. Worldwide, 50 million people are now members of the Kaspersky Security Network, sending data to the company’s Moscow headquarters every time they download an application to their desktop. Microsoft, Cisco, and Juniper Networks all embed Kaspersky code in their products—effectively giving the company 300 million users. When it comes to keeping computers free from infection, Kaspersky Lab is on its way to becoming an industry leader.

But this still doesn’t fully capture Kaspersky’s influence. Back in 2010, a researcher now working for Kaspersky discovered Stuxnet, the US-Israeli worm that wrecked nearly a thousand Iranian centrifuges and became the world’s first openly acknowledged cyberweapon. In May of this year, Kaspersky’s elite antihackers exposed a second weaponized computer program, which they dubbed Flame. It was subsequently revealed to be another US-Israeli operation aimed at Iran. In other words, Kaspersky Lab isn’t just an antivirus company; it’s also a leader in uncovering cyber-espionage.

That’s a door that goes both ways and one wonders what happens if you pit the best in the Federal Government against the best in the Kremlin. Of course the boys on the Potomac win. Besides, Kaspersky issued a denial of Wired’s allegations and described himself as just a plain Indiana Jones.

“Remember ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ with Indiana Jones?” Kaspersky asks. “He was a archeologist — the best on the planet. And that’s why the U.S. military came to him for help; they knew nothing about history or mythology. Well it’s the same for what we do for governments worldwide today – we provide EXPERTISE. Nothing more.”

Surely we are safe. Or are we? Eric Ambler’s villains would say that behind the laughing face of talk shows, staged interviews and puff pieces; in the secret corridors of diplomatic world, once past the velvet and chandeliers; and even in back of your very own computer screen with its bright icons and happy music there is a deadly, greedy and grasping world.

In his book, Epitaph for a Spy, Ambler remarks that the beautiful night-time gardens surrounding the protagonists hotel were under closer inspection alive with vicious insects devouring one another. It’s always there, just that we can’t see it. Maybe he’s right. Jeremy Peters of the New York Times, describing the lives of working mainstream journalists, explains  that what journalists write is what the President’s handlers let them write.

The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative.

They are sent by e-mail from the Obama headquarters in Chicago to reporters who have interviewed campaign officials under one major condition: the press office has veto power over what statements can be quoted and attributed by name.

Most reporters, desperate to pick the brains of the president’s top strategists, grudgingly agree. After the interviews, they review their notes, check their tape recorders and send in the juiciest sound bites for review.

The verdict from the campaign — an operation that prides itself on staying consistently on script — is often no, Barack Obama does not approve this message …

Those who did speak on the record said the restrictions seem only to be growing. “It’s not something I’m particularly proud of because there’s a part of me that says, ‘Don’t do it, don’t agree to their terms,’ ” said Major Garrett, a correspondent for The National Journal. “There are times when this feels like I’m dealing with some of my editors. It’s like, ‘You just changed this because you could!’ ”

It was difficult to find a news outlet that had not agreed to quote approval, albeit reluctantly. Organizations like Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and The New York Times have all consented to interviews under such terms …

Under President Obama, the insistence on blanket anonymity has grown to new levels.

The White House’s latest innovation is a variation of the background briefing called the “deep-background briefing,” which it holds for groups of reporters, sometimes several dozen at a time. Reporters may paraphrase what senior administration officials say, but they are forbidden to put anything in quotation marks or identify the speakers.

The White House held such a briefing after the Supreme Court’s health care ruling last month with officials including Mr. Plouffe, Mr. Carney and Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director. But when reporters asked to quote part of the conversation, even anonymously, they were told no. Even the spokesmen were off limits.

But at least the President isn’t mean, like Rahm.  However, it’s worth restating the point on which this post began: perhaps Rahm Emmanuel is a cut above most politicians, not because isn’t a fascist but because he’s an honest fascist.  Hail to hopium. Hail to the Boss.


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