“The creators of “The Wire” would never say that their work is as good as that of Tolstoy or Dickens, but they can’t quite resist the comparison, either.”
— Margaret Talbot
— The New Yorker
A few weeks ago The Ink took David Simon out for a walk over The Wire. One of the issues we had with him, and the show, was the extent to which he sounded like a man giving a blow job to the cops while singing a mash up of The Internationale and God Bless America.
We decided to revisit one aspect of this – namely his smug dismissal of the concerns raised by the revelations we received courtesy of Edward Snowden.
You can read Simon’s essay on the subject here:
The Ink would like to focus on one aspect and one line in the essay.
“Because they aren’t listening to the calls.”
That’s it. Just that. Simon’s point being that the difference between metadata (your phone number and the numbers it connects to or another number and its connection to your number) and the actual content of calls (i.e., & e.g., “Hi how are you?”) is so vast that fools and hysterics like Glenn Greenwald, and the editors at The Guardian, and Edward Snowden, being fools and hysterics, have missed the point and really should all take a pill or something and calm the fuck down.
Because, David Simon knows…they aren’t listening to the calls…
And as he says to us silly, out of control kids, with our crazy liberal concerns about the big bad government:
“It’s at that point, people, that law enforcement requires a full-throated argument of probable cause. It’s at that point that privacy rights must be seriously measured against the legitimate investigate needs of law enforcement. And it’s at that point that the potential for authoritarian overreach becomes significant.”
Well he’s right, at that point there should be a full-throated argument of probable cause. Alas for Simon, FISA Court decisions are secret as is the “evidence” and so the idea that this has anything to do with the sanctity of the system is a pile of festering bull shit. And Simon either knows that and is hoping everyone else doesn’t in which case he’s a reactionary or a Quisling, or both, or he doesn’t know that in which case he’s just a moron.
And since the “evidence” and the make-up of the court and its decisions are all secret there is no way to judge the “legitimate investigative needs” of anyone.
But don’t fret, Simon has got you covered.
Notice the folksy condescension of “people” – see, m’arsa David is going to instruct us plebs on how the system works; on how law 101 operates, and it turns out there’s nothing to fear because, the cops have to justify their requests for warrants.
He can assure us, like a civics teacher circa 1960, that law enforcement (the very people listening in on either the metadata or the content) must make a case for probable cause. To the secret FISA court which historically, agrees with the cops approximately 98% of the time.
Note that the total number of requests, including those with judicially required modifications are: 35,434
And the number rejected: 12
Covering a period from: 1979 to 2013.
So as they said, with unintended irony when they threw Nixon under the bus: The system works…
Or to put it another way – The FISA Court says no about as often as an alcoholic turns down a drink or a whore says no to a trick. And anyone who thinks David Simon doesn’t know that is whistling passed the graveyard.
And so he would have us believe, no need to worry he says, in spite of the facts to the contrary, because the agencies with a pristine track record of observing probable cause are in charge of presenting “evidence” to the equally stellar secret court, that they have reason to suspect, you or your neighbor, or your friends, and they want to listen, and watch,and follow.
But not to worry, David Simon is on the case and launches into a series of cynical justifications and half-assed contradictions – they’re not listening, but even if they are, there’s no proof that they are, and if they are it’s justified because the secret evidence proves they deserve a warrant. Besides, what really matters is that the cops are protecting us so the hell with complicated things like The Bill of Rights.
As he points out:
“The question is more fundamental: Is government accessing the data for the legitimate public safety needs of the society, or are they accessing it in ways that abuse individual liberties and violate personal privacy — and in a manner that is unsupervised.
And to that, the Guardian and those who are wailing jeremiads about this pretend-discovery of U.S. big data collection are noticeably silent. We don’t know of any actual abuse. No known illegal wiretaps, no indications of FISA-court approved intercepts of innocent Americans that occurred because weak probable cause was acceptable. Mark you, that stuff may be happening. As happens the case with all law enforcement capability, it will certainly happen at some point, if it hasn’t already. Any data asset that can be properly and legally invoked, can also be misused — particularly without careful oversight. But that of course has always been the case with electronic surveillance of any kind.”
Again, he’s not wrong – the question is, are they accessing the data for legitimate security reasons or because they are a bunch of incompetent fascist thugs with a history of using The Bill of Rights for target practice. Of course since the whole process is conducted in secret neither Simon nor anyone outside of the goon squad knows the truth. But that doesn’t concern the great crusader.
Simon assures us the system requires a full-blown argument for probable cause, then pivots and says the system is almost certainly being abused, then pivots again and declares that even if the cops are abusing the system, they have legitimate reasons and we should just shut up and accept it; because it’s all for the greater good.
Even though before that he assured us that: “They’re not listening…” because there’s too much to listen to – accept then, he says they’re abusing the system.
And to think he gets paid for this shit.
And never mind that warrants are issued in secret by a secret court, that barely ever says no, and never mind that the government has the authority to invoke the privilege of state secrets which denies citizens the right to present evidence the government declares secret, and is therefore inadmissible, in courts controlled by the government, thus preventing anyone from proving they’re being spied on.
And Simon assures us, even if abuse is inevitable don’t worry because there’s solid oversight, except when there isn’t.
And since abuse is routine, and has always been routine and they always do break the law you should just get used to it.
But don’t complain, you silly hysterical liberals because, god damn it, it’s worth it and the world’s a dangerous place and the government needs to be on the case so quit your whining you weak-kneed long-haired Bolshevik punks.
Now go consult your attorney, Franz Kafka.
So what are we to make of this?
David Simon is either a genius at flimflam or he’s suffering from some version of political Tourette’s. Or he’s a right wing goon, with a long close relationship with the Baltimore Police Department, and harbors not too-subtle admiration for standard neo-fascist boilerplate justifications for tyranny.
And let’s take a moment here to unpack one particular example of what we can charitably call Simon’s reasoning: “No known illegal wiretaps…”
Well he’s right, on account of the program being top secret, and government officials and federal agents who break the law tending to be skittish about letting people know they’re criminals, it is true, we don’t know about any illegal wiretaps.
Hard to argue with that, precisely because it actually proves the point Simon is arguing against – namely that the government is operating in secret and since Simon is determined to ridicule The Guardian for reporting on all of this one may very well wonder just how the Sage of Baltimore 2.0 thinks we’re going to find out about it?
And next up, David Simon announces, water is wet.
And all of this is from a respected, award winning journalist who has been lauded for his thoughtfulness, who assures us the system works and you can trust them.
The Baltimore police…
The White House.
And besides, when Simon wrote this, Obama was president and you could trust him as well. Even if he did order the illegal, unconstitutional execution of an American citizen. Based on what he claimed was secret evidence – thus eviscerating Simon’s entire argument. And add to that his Attorney General saying, due process doesn’t necessarily mean evidence, secret or otherwise, is reviewed by a judge, and you have fascism 101.
And don’t worry, it’s not like there was a chance that the person who came after him would be a racist, misogynistic, unhinged demagogue neo-fascist half-wit with the emotional stability of a child molsetor helped into power by a former KGB psychopathic thug running an empire.
That’s crazy talk and besides, when you think trust, naturally you think of the Baltimore Police and the F.B.I. or your local law enforcement.
After all, what’s not to trust:
And how does David Simon know all of this?
Because the cops he knows told him so and explained it to him. Or because he stood under a full moon in Patterson Park and sacrificed a crabcake so the god’s would reveal their plans to him.
Which is about as reliable a method as asking the cops.
And, as everyone knows, they don’t lie.
They’re cops. Cops don’t lie. They don’t periodically execute people. They don’t take bribes. They don’t blackmail people. They don’t gamble. They don’t drink. They don’t do drugs. They don’t owe money to bookies or loan sharks or people in gangs or people who run gangs.
They don’t sell information to other spooks. They don’t rat out their own to the Russians or the Chinese and foreign intelligence agencies never plant moles inside our agencies and dig up dirt on our cops and since our cops never do anything illegal, like abuse the process that grants them staggering levels of access to the otherwise private communications of Americans, there’s nothing to worry about.
And, Simon points out, these things are reviewed by judges. Except of course it’s being conducted in secret so exactly how Simon knows judges are reviewing anything is a mystery. And of course, judges can’t be blackmailed. It’s not as if judges use the internet or cell phones, they don’t get messy divorces, or have affairs, drink or do drugs and it’s not like anyone ever heard of a crooked judge or a judge who put politics above the law. Not in America.
And it would never ever in a million years occur to the mafia to force a government agent with access to Stingray or other government listening devices to hand over the data because the mafia has never ever in a million years blackmailed a government agency except for that time in Boston with Whitey Bulger and all those people died and the city was torn apart and…then there’s Robert Hanssen…and Aldrich Ames…Earl Edwin Pitts…John Anthony Walker…Harold James Nicholson…Kim Philby…Guy Burgess…and…all the other federal agents and spies who turned out to be traitors.
See, nothing to worry about.
And then Simon gives us the big daddy paternalistic shuck and jive:
“Yes, I can hear the panicked libertarians and liberals and Obama-haters wailing in rare unison: But what about all the innocent Americans caught up in this voracious, overreaching dragnet? To which the answer is obvious if you think about the scale of this: What dragnet?
Your son’s devotional calls to 1-900-BEATOFF? Your daughter’s call from the STD clinic? Your brother-in-law calling you from his office at Goldman with that whispered insider-tip on that biomed stock? Is that what you’re worried about?”
See what he did there? It’s called an inverted strawman argument where he makes your case, in exaggerated form, then flips it on its head by saying something utterly ridiculous while suggesting you’re in an unnecessary panic and need to change your tampon, and then jumps to a conclusion completely unwarranted (sic) by the bogus premise but sticks the landing while declaring anyone who disagrees with him to in effect be a whiny misinformed little cock-sucking punk with an anti-Obama (and therefore right wing) agenda.
Because, who in their right mind would be worried about insider trading at Goldman Sachs, and who ever heard of a family where a teenage boy went into an emotional tailspin because his parents found out about his sexual habits, and seriously, has anyone ever heard about a young woman being abused, beaten, raped, tortured or in any way threatened by her family because it turns out she was having sex and got an STD?
And we all know the government would never use information about insider trading to blackmail someone.
And the cops would never use a family’s personal sense of embarrassment against them.
And it’s not like anyone has ever heard of a cop who abused their power, so shut up you fucking pussies:
Nicely done David. You sound like the smartest lout at a bar in Baltimore and your imitation of Trump’s misogyny and your wealthy White man’s paternalistic macho disdain warms the hearts of millions.
And let’s be clear – that’s who and what he sounds like – Trump-esque in his somersaults in logic and the slippery movement of facts, that are bent this way and that to suit points that make no sense because they are built on contradictions and bolted to thin air. And this bombast is delivered as if we’re just a bunch of inappropriately ashamed masturbaters, worried that mommy and daddy and the Hoovers are going to find out about our subscription to Spank Me!
And notice how he deploys dragnet as if it doesn’t mean – a wide indiscriminate collection of information or people but, in Simon-speak, in that casual disregard for everyone else’s rights, it means, things he declares unimportant – like insider trading, sex and medical records that are legally confidential and are only to be shared by a doctor and their patient.
After all, who cares about your call to the clinic, and your tests for STDs, or your prescription for antidepressants, or your child’s suicide attempt, or your own, or your drinking, or your addiction to prescription medication. What are you worried about? So what if the cops have that information? It’s not like they would ever use it against you. And having broken down the legal wall that says what you tell your doctor is between you and your doctor, it’s not like the government would go further and troll your bank records, or what you tell your priest, or your rabbi, or your spouse.
Versus say, those of us with more than a sixth grade education who actually are well versed in the hilarious history of America’s intelligence agencies and the glorious track record of the F.B.I
Yes David, we know that not everyone who works there is a sociopathic cynic or a neo-fascist thug; we know there’s a spectrum and we’re not talking about the righteous ones who aren’t psychopaths, fascists and drug addled goons, and we know they don’t look anything like Gillian Anderson or Priyanka Chopra, and they’re not as clever as Fox Mulder and don’t have his vast collection of porn. We know there are thousands of them who follow the rules. They aren’t the problem.
The problem is we also know there are others that don’t follow the rules. And we know that big, complicated contraptions, like massive governments and their bureaucracies always, always, eventually fall apart from being morbidly obese and not once, at any time in history has any society that enacted laws allowing for secret surveillance ever not descended into tyranny because government conducted in secret is by definition, tyrannical. And because history runs on Trojan Horses and all the things no one ever saw coming we say you are absolutely, without a doubt, full of fucking shit.
But let’s go further and look at his use of the standard argument about how the federal vacuum cleaner is just too vast to single out you the individual – you see, says David, you can’t really be afraid of the government listening to your conversations because there are just too many of them – billions of calls and texts and emails – it’s just too much for the overworked understaffed government agents to handle.
So why assume that they don’t know that too? (see note below)
And why assume that they wouldn’t invert that paradigm and say: gee since we can’t listen to everything let’s narrow the focus and listen to some of it based on…
Profiling and our criteria of what we, with our limited narrow understanding and politically motivated ideological views and our histories of corruption, stupidity and bureaucratic incentives and just plain bad luck, decide is worth listening to and then, based on secret information we have decided is evidence, and is presented to a secret court we decide to…
turn your fucking life upside down and inside out.
And if that was enough there’s an even more basic flaw in Simon’s pandering. Which is: Assuming as a given that there’s too much data to listen to, why wouldn’t the government set up a conveyor belt and using the largest data farm in the world, simply move manageable packets of data down the line to be listened to in digestible chunks? And the answer is of course they could and probably do just that which rips a server farm size hole in Simon’s “logic” and reveals him again to be a shill who is brownshirt curious at best, and a collaborator at worst..
But fear not you pansy-assed hysterical liberals, David has the big picture all figured out, unlike you fucking limp dick cowards:
“But those planes really did hit those buildings. And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed and ideologically-motivated enemy. And for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks.”
See what he did there? It’s called wrapping yourself in the bloody shirt and it goes all the way back to the 19th century (or further because thugs have been ginning up atavistic fear since day one) and how people who sound like demagogues, or like David Simon, invoke horrific events that are guaranteed to scare the piss out of people and make them so angry and afraid they’ll hand over their freedoms, or are too frightened to defend the ones they have and then, having ginned everyone up to a frenzy, he declares that it’s only reasonable to trust the government and don’t you fucking forget 9/11.
Which is really a fascinating point especially when you remember that prior to the Patriot Act, the intelligence agencies knew who the hijackers were, knew where they were, knew who they had been speaking with, knew that some of them had tried taking flight classes, paid for them in cash, and asked only to learn how to take off, because they had no fucking interest in landing, but as Edward Snowden pointed out, it wasn’t a lack of technical ability that stopped the government from connecting the dots and taking preemptive action, it was their own fucking bureaucratic sloth and incompetence and political considerations.
And thank god the government is no longer shackled by political considerations, blind ambition or bureaucratic sloth, or misguided and fundamentally racist impulses:
And then, let’s hit rewind as Simon pulls a triple rhetorical sowcow, sticks the landing and scores on his own goal:
“And for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks.”
Ok David let’s imagine.
It’s September 12th.
The president and the entire upper echelon of the national security apparatus and the entire governmental oversight bureaucracy has just been exposed as a gang of fucking incompetent assholes who refused to listen to the warnings coming from agents and analysts and as a result of that and the byzantine corrupt set of interconnected relationships between individuals in the government and a gang of decadent, depraved sado-masochistic freaks with an oil fetish, thousands of people died.
And with the exception of Richard Clark not a single government official ever said, I’m sorry.
Let’s imagine that…
imagine remember that the authorities were warned about the two psychopaths who murdered people in Boston, and despite billions of dollars, and a vast Orwellian panopticon that would make dead Stasi goons rise from their graves with envy, and despite The Patriot Act, they failed to stop two morons, and had to declare a stage of emergency and shut down the city.
And then, let’s imagine that David Simon, experienced journalist, MacArthur Grant winning chronicler of America’s mean streets, doesn’t sound like a collaborator with and apologist for the regime – let’s imagine he doesn’t sound like a man who has managed to elide and compress and distort the facts, and turned himself into a backwards facing upside down knot of contradictions, justifications, and toxic half-truths, omissions, condescension, bull shit, and self-righteous pettifogging arrogance, and let’s imagine he doesn’t sound like a hack writing propaganda in support of tyrannical government overreach.
Ok, now that; we’ve done that…
Silly Guardian. You leftist pansy-assed fucking foreigners.
Silly Glenn Greenwald. You sleazy un-American queer with your alternative agenda.
Silly Edward Snowden. You traitor.
Silly 4th Amendment to the Constitution. With it’s sad adherence to and defence of a formerly cherished civil ideal.
Fuck’m all. David Simon has spoken.
And don’t bother to notice that the title of Simon’s essay (which is a snide and smug suggestion about your hypocrisy instead of his) is a reference to a famous scene in Casablanca where the French Vichy Collaborator, the corrupt, cynical chief law enforcement officer, in charge of investigations and judicial decisions, expresses his faux schock about gambling, while he is doing what he has been ordered to do…
by the sadistic, dim-witted fucking Nazi.
Under the general heading of what collaborators with a regime sound like we offer the following:
The argument put forward by Ed Burns that a realistic portrayal of the Baltimore Police would endanger their ability to capture “criminals” represents so many different layers of corruption and mendacity that it is difficult to know where to start.
First, it not only undermines the nauseating and sanctimonious claims to novel-esque accuracy but it clearly undermines any additional claims because having admitted that they are shills for the police, any sensible person would automatically question every other claim made by the show’s writers and producers. Artists who claim to have integrity do not compromise their vision by having it vetted by the cops or by censoring themselves to assist the cops in conducting what may very well be illegal actions.
Secondly, to what extent was there cooperation in suppressing information?
Third, what if any involvement did police, or other officials have in vetting and script approval? Exactly how Stasi are we talking?
Fourth, to what extent is David Simon ignoring evidence of the BPD violating the law (in particular the 4th Amendment)? When Burns says they didn’t want to interfere exactly what does he mean? Given the use of Stingray, the execution of Freddie Gray and the general corruption of the BPD, Burns and Simon are clearly revealed as suspect and open themselves to accusations of collaboration with the regime.
Lastly, given the above and in conjunction with Simon’s contemptible and ludicrous distortions and contradictions in his attempts to discredit Snowden, could we finally lay to rest the idea that The Wire is great art – unless, someone wants to give it The Potemkin Village Award for Best Propaganda…in which place The Ink says: Let’s throw them a party. The Trophy should be a small statue in the shape of Tail-gunner Joe…and should come with a list…of every person wrongly convicted and left to rot in a jail. And the list…should be bolted to the front door of David Simon’s house.
Postscript: The obvious counter argument that Burns is correct to point out that the show could not be complicit in preventing the cops from catching criminals is exactly the spurious logic of a fascist sympathizer. It essentially calls for the public to surrender their Civil Liberties to the authorities and trust that they can be trusted to do the right thing and that anyone who disagrees is a traitor endangering the safety of the public. It is, in other words nothing more than a variation on – we had to destroy the village in order to save it – except in this case it’s not a village, it’s the Bill of Rights. And in the end this is the truth of Simon’s vision. A White bourgeois reactionary spouting nostrums about the death of unions and the calamitous effects of the War on Drugs but who, in the end, makes common cause with the fascists who hate the Bill of Rights. David Simon should have a sign in his window: In time of war the law falls silent…because I’m too busy shouting down anyone who points out I sound like a right wing goon.
Regarding Simon’s absurd claims about the sanctity of the system (except for when he says corruption is inevitable) there is this:
Regarding the assertion that there are too many calls being recorded for the government to listen to them: In his ground breaking book, the Puzzle Palace, James Bamford gave the public one of the first and most detailed looks inside the NSA. One of the things Bamford pointed out (this is back in the mid 1980s) was that the NSA was destroying somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 tons of information a day without looking at it precisely because they were overwhelmed by the amount of data.
This makes sense and one could easily extrapolate that to today’s hyper-data levels with billions if not trillions of data packets would leave the government overwhelmed.
The first problem with this is that actually listening in to a conversation is not necessary to violate the 4th Amendment and invite government abuse. For a look at this one need only read the voluminous reporting on Stingray.
Secondly, the fact that there is too much data for the government to listen to everything does not in any way mean the government would not select some to be listened to and that some is a relative amount ranging from 1 to tens of thousands.
Third, Simon’s utterly appalling con job flys in the face not only of the basic truths about the federal bureaucracy but also becomes laughable precisely because Simon is an experienced crime reporter who knows the truth. Since it is common knowledge that there is too much data to be absorbed the oversight committees who are in charge of the money that runs the intelligence agencies must assert some criteria for allocating funds.
David Simon is well aware of how the game is played. Federal agencies must use their funds or return them at the end of the fiscal year. In order to justify expenditures both the agencies (whether it’s the FBI or the EPA or HUD) and the committees must produce a flow chart or some quasi-verifiable accounting of money spent.
For the intelligence agencies there is always the ledger they show and the one they don’t but if you assume there are too many calls the FBI, for example, is incentivised to produce something that can be shown and the same holds true for the committees charged (in theory) with keeping them on a tight leash.
Thus, the very fact that “there are too many calls and texts and emails” creates an inverse need to select a vast number that are listened to in order to justify the budget. It is not credible to believe that the FBI could appear before an oversight committee and declare that they cannot keep up with the amount of data being recorded or captured without the committee asking if they need additional resources and what can be done to solve the problem. The most basic aspect of the American federal government is its commitment to spend whatever it takes to bloat the budget and cover the vast archipelago of fat asses that sit on committees. To suggest otherwise would, (to borrow a phrase) require a criminal lack of imagination. And remember it’s David Simon who has said just imagine what would happen if the public found out the government hadn’t done everything possible to prevent another 9/11? Well David, you’re right and the government is full of people who can read and can read what you and others have written including that there are too many zeros and ones for the spooks to listen to. Therefore the government, if for no other reason than to cover its ass will either fudge the numbers and cover it up, thus establishing an incentive for corruption and secrecy and violations of the law, or it will throw money and resources at the “problem” in order to protect itself from charges of incompetence and corruption.
And as a result, David Simon either knows that and is not telling the truth, or he doesn’t know that and he’s a moron.
Ignoring for the moment legitimate needs and requests to listen to conversations, coupled with the FBI’s glorious track record in observing the finer points of the law, the idea that the government isn’t listening in on people’s calls isn’t just absurd, it is a gross distillation of every cliche about Orwellian, Kafkaesque, Police State insanity one could conjure and David Simon should be called out for it like the collaborationist shill that he is.
For a look at The Guardian’s tepid
defense response see the following:
For an examination of the twisted and abusive relationship between Simon and The Guardian see the following:
Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept have published new documents from Edward Snowden. Read our take on it here:
At this point David Simon can not be taken seriously though he can be seriously taken for a fool.
If any further proof was need that the Baltimore Police Department and David Simon have lost all credibility consider the following in which, at best they must defend themselves against the accusation of a murder/execution of a police detective who was due to testify against corrupt police officers, and at worst, must defend themselves against the accusation of a murder/execution of a police detective who was due to testify against corrupt police officers.
At this point no aspect of the utterly fatuous hagiography surrounding David Simon causes surprise but if there is one example of a fawning piece of servile propaganda it must be the following from an article we stumbled on.
We are particularly impressed with this:
” The Wire, his HBO series on Baltimore, was about as complete a realization of Park’s dream of capturing the full richness and complexity of the city as anyone has ever accomplished. One of The Wire’s virtues was that, without denying any of its characters an iota of humanity, it resolutely kept its attention focused on Baltimore as a total system, in which every neighborhood and every institution exist in some relation to every other and people behave according to the incentives and choices they find set before them, more than according to whether they are good guys or bad guys.”
Well, except for the White drug dealers and users and everyone else in Essex, Middle River, Dundalk, Armistead Gardens, Canton, and the Copy Cat (to name just a few drug centers) the article makes a valid point. Sort of like describing New York and failing to mention Central Park and the Yankees.
And of course keep in mind that while his cult goes on talking about The Wire’s “epic sweep” Simon is on record saying the show does not cover the whole city. Not that he’s made much effort to dissuade anyone from capitalizing on the lie that the show does cover the whole city and is some sort of “Russian novel” in its scope.
Read the jizz here:
For yet another example of how you can rest easy knowing the cops can be trusted: