Barry Eisler

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Every 25 Seconds, Cops Arrest Someone for Drug Possession

I urge you to read this article by Alice Speri in the Intercept. 89,000 people jailed--no, not per year, per day.

The war on some drugs is fantastically cruel, counterproductive, self-inflicted insanity. If it were enforced across the board--rather than disproportionately against minorities--two thirds of America's adult population would be in prison.

People who support this madness: would you feel the same way if your kid decided to try a joint and wound up arrested, tried, imprisoned, permanently denied the right to vote even after released and with a permanent felon record afterward? Could you really support prohibition if you knew it would do all that to your own child, rather than assuming that kind of thing only happens to the children of others?

I wish someone would ask this of candidates for high office. But we can at least ask ourselves.
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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Prohibition Propaganda

Yes, the 1950's level of fear-mongering and bullshit is part of what makes this Diane Feinstein op-ed such an embarrassment. But the real propaganda lies in what's missing: zero consideration of the costs of the status quo the senator prefers--AKA, prohibition.

When rational people evaluate policies, they intuitively know to weigh the costs and benefits of the available alternatives. When someone insists on discussing only the (arguable) costs of only one of the alternatives, that person has abandoned rationality--or is a deliberate propagandist.

Californians, ignore the fear-mongering and the bullshit and the unreason. Rebuke the dinosaurs. Vote YES on Proposition 64 on Nov. 8.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Snowden, the Movie

Gripping drama, potent activism—guest blogging about Oliver Stone’s Snowden biopic over at BoingBoing today.

"The movie succeeded splendidly as popular entertainment. But there’s another level worth discussing, too.

"Logically, it shouldn’t particularly matter who Snowden is. His background, his formative experiences, his motivations, his life—none of these is relevant compared to what we’ve learned from him: that the US government developed and deployed an unprecedented and illegal system of mass surveillance, foreign and domestic; that the head of the US intelligence apparatus was lying about this system in sworn testimony before a Senate oversight committee; that the NSA has been subverting the very encryption standards upon which Internet security—banking, shopping, medical, everything—depends. And so much more. In the face of government actions as toxic to democracy as these, who brought the actions to our attention seems of distinctly secondary importance.

"And yet, I know as a novelist that we humans are wired to focus more on who than we are than what. If I can get you to care sufficiently deeply about my characters, for example, I can afflict them with only the most trivial travails and you’ll still be entertained. Conversely, if you don’t care about my characters, I can put in play the fate of all of civilization and you probably won’t even finish the book. There’s something about our species that makes us understand “what” at least partially through the prism of “who.” This is why so many people give the candidate of their preferred party so much latitude to violate their own party’s stated principles. When your party’s the one doing it, it just feels different.

"So it's no surprise that..."

Read the whole thing over at Boing Boing.
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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Deep Web--Great Documentary

The other day, I stumbled across an excellent documentary called Deep Web, about the Ross Ulbricht/Silk Road prosecution. I'd followed the story somewhat at the time, but not closely, and the film illuminated a lot of aspects worth considering--including the societal and individual costs of drug prohibition; the dangers of prosecutorial overreach; and the ways people try to create communities beyond governmental intrusion and inanity. Fascinating and highly recommended.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Op-Ed in Time Magazine Urging Obama to Pardon Snowden

From my op-ed in Time Magazine urging Obama to pardon Snowden:

"In other words, Snowden followed his conscience. Authoritarians might condemn such a choice. Americans should celebrate it. After all, in his seminal essay “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.” And indeed, if people were intended to only and always obey the law, why would we have been given the power—and burden—of conscience? Similarly, if the president were intended always to hew to the law even at the expense of justice, why would the founders have vested the office of the president with the power of pardon?"

Read the whole thing here. And please consider adding your name to this worthy effort.

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Friday, September 02, 2016

We're Winning the War, But Will Never Actually Win

Guest-blogging today over at Boing Boing:

If you were the government and wanted to maintain a state of perpetual war, how would you go about it?

First, you'd need an enemy, of course, but that part would be pretty straightforward. After all, if the US government could convince the citizenry that Iraq was the 9/11 enemy but that Saudi Arabia was our friend when nineteen out of the twenty 9/11 highjackers were Saudi, it's fair to say that just about anything is possible.

But the next part would be harder. On the one hand, you'd have to claim progress in the war so that the citizenry would maintain its support for the war. On the other hand, you couldn't actually defeat the enemy, lest the war end.

That is to say, you'd have to maintain a longterm, delicate balance: we would always be winning in the war, but would never actually win the war.

With that balance in mind, your propaganda would likely be some version of, "Today, our military forces have achieved a significant victory. Of course, the enemy is insidious and resilient, and there is much hard work still ahead."

Which brings us to the latest in All The News That's Fit To Print...

Read the rest over at Boing Boing.
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Friday, May 13, 2016

The Assassination Complex: A Long-Overdue Window into America's Vast Killing Machine

Based on dramatic revelations from a post-Snowden whistleblower and written by Jeremy Scahill and other Intercept writers, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program provides a long-overdue window into America's vast killing machine: who makes the decisions on who will be killed; how those decisions are made; how the strikes are carried out; most of all, in a thoughtful foreword by Edward Snowden and afterword by Glenn Greenwald, the implications for a democratic society of all this due-process-free, non-battlefield killing.

In addition to its substantive appeal, the book is beautifully laid out and includes numerous graphs, photographs, and text inserts that render some of the more complex aspects of the topic (such as the communications infrastructure and other logistics of drone strikes) easy to follow.

The inserts on the Orwellian language of drone strikes were particularly good. Did you know the military laments the difficulty of killing far-away people as "the tyranny of distance"? It takes a special sensibility to refer to obstacles to killing people as a form of "tyranny," but those are your tax dollars at work. Also, when an intended target is killed, that's called a "jackpot," but when an unintended target is killed, that's called an "EKIA," or Enemy Killed in Action. So no matter who is killed, the government always wins. It's both amusing and dispiriting to consider that the people behind this "heads I win, tails you lose" nomenclature also probably roll their eyes at the notion of children getting a "participant" ribbon just for entering a competition, with no need to actually win anything.

I'm a little surprised the book has received only four Amazon customer reviews since coming out ten days ago. I have a feeling the relative paucity might have something to do with Americans not wanting to know about the tyrannical powers our government has arrogated to itself and now exercises in secret, with no accountability or meaningful public debate. The attitude seems to be, "Do whatever you think you must to keep us safe; just don't tell us the disturbing details, lest we have to grapple with the legality, morality, and effectiveness of these far-reaching policies, and accept responsibility for them." There are a lot of things that might be said about such an attitude. "Consistent with the long-term health of a democracy" isn't one of them.
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