Bad Week for Bureau(cracy); Silver Linings for the rest of us

I’m posting another post I posted on Substack. (Say that fast 10 times.) Trying to get a sense of whether it’s worth it to use that platform or just keep everything on this site. It’s just some thoughts on current affairs. I don’t know why I’ve been writing on those topics so much recently. I’m interested, but I’m not interested in writing about them. Maybe I’m procrastinating on tackling the things I am interested in. Anyways, cutting and pasting in 3 – 2 – 1 ….

I forgot to pick up more instant coffee at the store yesterday. I think I can get one more cup out of this jar, but it’ll be weak.

I’ve written a few posts about the Horowitz IG report and The Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers. Both should make all of us, especially the media, ask tougher questions. That’s an understatement. Maybe the weak coffee has me a bit subdued.

Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, and The Hill’s Rising are taking the media to task. Rightfully so. Actually, in Greenwald’s latest article at The Intercept, he goes after the whole system.

The Inspector General’s Report on 2016 FBI Spying Reveals a Scandal of Historic Magnitude: Not Only for the FBI but Also the U.S. Media

“Before evaluating the media component of this scandal, the FBI’s gross abuse of its power – its serial deceit – is so grave and manifest that it requires little effort to demonstrate it. In sum, the IG Report documents multiple instances in which the FBI – in order to convince a FISA court to allow it spy on former Trump campaign operative Carter Page during the 2016 election – manipulated documents, concealed crucial exonerating evidence, and touted what it knew were unreliable if not outright false claims.”

I agree. The USG gives the FBI incredible power, resources, and trust. The FBI has to get it right, and when it doesn’t, it needs to own up to its mistakes. The mistakes the FBI made with respect to Page are serious. Some of my friends have dismissed the mistakes, suggesting that they haven’t got much sympathy for Page. That entirely misses the point.

I believe James Comey and Andrew McCabe were honest, principled, hard-working public servants. But they were at the helm, and they made and/or allowed too many mistakes and exercised poor judgment. I can simultaneously be suspicious of Trump’s motives for firing Comey and be relieved that Comey is not the FBI Director.

Greenwald goes on to explain that abuses of power, lies, and mistakes are inherent in “security state agencies”.

But none of this is aberrational: the FBI still has its headquarters in a building named after J. Edgar Hoover – who constantly blackmailed elected officials with dossiers and tried to blackmail Martin Luther King into killing himself – because that’s what these security state agencies are. They are out-of-control, virtually unlimited police state factions that lie, abuse their spying and law enforcement powers, and subvert democracy and civic and political freedoms as a matter of course.

I agree about Hoover. The FBI should scrap that. I disagree with the rest. Sort of…for the most part…it’s complicated. First the disclosures so you can assess my biases. I was in the Army ages and ages ago, and the USG paid my salary for 10 years. I worked with incredible, smart, honest people. I also worked with people I thought were dishonest and lacked good judgment. Some of my colleagues thought I was good at my job; others thought I was an idiot. (If you were in the latter group, I’ve pre-emptively disabled the comments section for you. No need to test it, just trust me.)

Greenwald always makes interesting points, and I’m grateful there are entities like his that challenge the major media corporations. But Greenwald, like so many writers and commentators, is always black and white. He hasn’t got time for nuance. The “security state agencies…are out-of-control, virtually unlimited police state factions that lie, abuse their spying and law enforcement powers, and subvert democracy and civic and political freedoms as a matter of course.”

I don’t know what his personal beliefs and objectives are. I don’t think they’re nefarious, and I don’t think he’s owned by a foreign power (I’m doing my part to avoid giving the Great Red Scare any signal boosts). I also don’t need to make this about him, but instead the trend of the far left and far right to convey extreme distrust of what they see as a faceless, monolithic, corrupt system.

The far left and the far right paint a shadowy world of powerful, unchecked federal workers who will do whatever it takes to advance the interests of the deep state / security state. It’s not the case. This will sound cheesy, but federal workers are your next door neighbors. They signed up to serve, earn a paycheck, and in many cases, try to make the country a little safer. Ok, that really does sound cheesy. But I worry about the costs of forgetting that and instead vilifying federal workers across the board and fomenting complete distrust in the government.

I think I’ve veered off into a Pollyanna-ish segue. I’m not minimizing the recent examples of government behaving badly. I learned valuable lessons when Bush, his cabinet, the military-industrial complex, and the media marched the country gleefully into the Iraq War. People like Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are right in pointing out the abuses and deceptions, especially the dangerous marriage between cable news and retired generals and intel folks. But the far left and the far right seem hell bent on burning it all to the ground by constantly sowing the seeds of universal distrust. I don’t think that’s going to do any of us any good.

I mentioned silver linings in the subtitle. On the last few sips of this watered down but deliciously inexpensive instant coffee, so I’ll make it silver lining not linings. Reports like the Horowitz IG report are an invaluable and underappreciated component of our democracy. Horowitz had the authority and responsibility to investigate the most powerful law enforcement entity in America. I don’t go in for American exceptionalism, but there are probably a lot of people around the world who would be shocked by that.