Friday, November 25, 2016

Another Chance to Get It Right

Anyone who knows the work of novelist Andrew Vachss will recognize his influence on my latest novel, Livia Lone (along with that of his wife, former sex crimes prosecutor Alice Vachss).

I've read most of Vachss's books, but there's one I missed, called Another Chance to Get It Right: A Children's Book for Adults, that was just reissued in a stunning new edition. It's a short read, with gorgeous illustrations, most of them graphic-novel style, and deals with Vachss's signature subject of child protection.

I've been getting a lot of good feedback about Livia Lone, including comparisons to Vachss's work, which is enormously flattering to me. Various people, moved by the story, have asked how they can fight human trafficking and child abuse. Well, unsurprisingly, the best child-protection initiative I’m aware of has been spearheaded by Vachss himself. It’s called The Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection, and anyone who wants to help protect children from the sorts of horrors I depict in Livia Lone can do simply by financing the work of the LDICP. I’ve done so myself and hope anyone reading this post will do so, too. For a few mouse clicks and whatever money you can spare, you can help accomplish a lot of good in the world.

Do it now, while it's on your mind. You can think of it as another chance to get it right.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Why Torture is Now De Facto a Policy Choice, Not a Crime

Absolutely not a surprise that Mike Pence refuses to rule out torture in a Trump administration.

I've been writing about this since 2009. Obama had a duty to prosecute torture; instead, he decided to "look forward as opposed to looking backward," rendering torture a de facto policy choice instead of a crime.

If President X has the power to prohibit torture, it follows that President Y has the power to permit it. Well, now we have President Y. This was not only predictable; it was predicted.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Friday, March 04, 2016

A Few More God's Eye Interviews and Appearances

Been a busy month promoting God's Eye. In case you missed these:

I did this "Five Questions on Publishing" interview with author Chris Jane at Jane Friedman's blog. We cover a lot of ground; here's just a sample:

By the way, another bit of establishment publishing propaganda is the notion that the publisher is losing money until the author earns out. This bit of bullshit is intended to make authors feel guilty and beholden about their advances. But it isn’t true, and here’s a quick logic experiment to prove it:

Imagine a scenario in which the author receives a 99 percent royalty. The author would earn out her advance very quickly, right? But the publisher would make almost no money and remain in the red long after the earn-out.

Conversely, imagine a scenario in which the author receives a 1 percent royalty. The author would probably never earn out the advance, but the publisher would quickly recoup its investment and make bank after that.

And in fact, superstar authors typically receive advances so large they’re designed not to be earned out, but function instead as a de facto higher-than-normal digital royalty rate (the technique is a way of evading the digital royalty “most favored customer” clauses that are common in publishing contracts). And even though these huge advances never earn out, the publisher still makes money.

So while there might be some loose correlation between the author earning out and the publisher making money, the notion that they’re one and the same is false and misleading. Publishers typically start to make money on a book before the author earns out, and even if the author never earns out at all.

Obviously, this is something the Guardians and Curators of Rich Literary Culture and Nurturers of Talent™ would rather we not know.

And an audio interview on God's Eye and more with Speaking of Mysteries:

And another audio interview with Author Link.

And now I better get back to writing the next book. :)

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Appearing On the Shows That Radicalized Me

Last week, while on tour promoting The God's Eye View, it was a thrill and an honor to appear on Democracy Now! and The Young Turks, two great shows that have had a huge influence on my political outlook. We talked about the Apple/FBI standoff; why abolishing the CIA isn't a radical position; why Clinton's rhetoric, votes, and policies qualify her as a Neocon; and why subsequent events so often prove my novels (depressingly) prescient. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

A Martian Tries to Understand Why Our Violence is Good

Yesterday, I gave a talk to the San Francisco chapter of the Former Intelligence Officers Association. In front of about a hundred former CIA, FBI, and NSA operatives, including former head of the CIA and NSA Michael Hayden, I talked about bulk surveillance, whistleblowing, and why intelligence professionals need to take especially great care not to let propaganda pervert their intelligence. I think the crowd was initially skeptical, but warmed as I went along. In the end, quite a few people came up afterward to thank me for my candor. The whole thing was fun and a little surreal, and if I got a few people to look at these issues in a somewhat different light, I’m glad. You can read the basis for my remarks at Freedom of the Press Foundation and Boing Boing.

Unfortunately, the format was such that no real debate with Hayden was possible. Which was frustrating, because, for example, at one point during his Q&A, Hayden opined that Iran is the world’s greatest purveyor of terrorism. If I could have responded, I would have wondered aloud, as I like to do from time to time, how I’d explain an assertion like that to a Martian:

Martian: We on Mars are confused by your General Hayden’s comment. He is speaking of Iran, is that correct? A country with the GDP of Finland?

Me: Uh, yes.

Martian: But didn’t your Martin Luther King say almost sixty years ago that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is America?

Me: He did say that, yes. In 1967, during the Vietnam war.

Martian: And hasn’t America had innumerable additional wars since then?

Me: It has, yes.

Martian: But then America’s wars must not be terrorism.

Me: Right.

Martian: That is fortunate, for our understanding on Mars is that America spends more on its military than the next eight nations on earth combined—five of which are American allies.

Me: Yes, we do have a large military.

Martian: Do you not maintain over 800 military bases—more than any other nation in your planet’s history?

Me: Yes, that’s true.

Martian: Watching from Mars, we have always associated overseas military bases with what you on earth call “empire.”

Me: Americans don’t want an empire.

Martian: Why then do you maintain so many overseas military bases, as empires do?

Me: We just want to keep the peace.

Martian: By making war?

Me: It’s...complicated. But really, America is a peace-loving culture.

Martian: But you have more wars than anyone. On Mars, this does not seem peaceful.

Me: Okay, but it’s not terrorism. Terrorism is when, you know, you terrorize people.

Martian: But did you not, alone among the peoples of your planet, use atomic weapons against your fellow humans, when you bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Me: Only to end the war.

Martian: Did you not kill at least 600,000 civilians in your war in Vietnam?

Me: We did.

Martian: Did you not kill at least 100,000 civilians in your latest war in Iraq, and turn four million people in that war into refugees?

Me: We did.

Martian: And did not your former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declare that a half million Iraqi children starved to death because of American sanctions was “worth it”?

Me: She did say that, though she took it back afterward.

Martian: And is it not the case that—

Me: Okay, look, I get it. America does more wars and violence than anyone else. But it’s not about terrorizing people, okay?

Martian: But are not the people you kill terrorized? And what about the parents of dead children, the children of dead parents, and the burned, blinded, brain-damaged, crippled, maimed, and mutilated by your weapons? Our understanding of humans is that you are terrorized by such things.

Me: I guess so. But it’s not like we’re trying to terrorize.

Martian: But did you not call your own tactics in your second war in Iraq “Shock and Awe”?

Me: Well, yeah. We were trying to, you know, shock and awe them.

Martian: Perhaps the problem is our imperfect renderings of Earth languages. In Martian, we cannot distinguish between terrorizing with bombs, and shocking and awing with them.

Me: Look, I see where you’re trying to go with this, okay? But we’re not like ISIS and other terrorist groups. I mean, you know what ISIS does? ISIS burns people alive. That’s terrorism.

Martian: But in your war in Vietnam, did you not use an incendiary weapon called Napalm, a kind of jelly gasoline that sticks to human bodies and causes horrific burning?

Me: I guess, but that was a long time ago.

Martian: But do you not currently deploy what your refer to as thermobaric weapons?

Me: I don’t know that word.

Martian: It is derived from two Greek words meaning “heat” and “pressure.” In English, it refers to a type of explosive that produces an exceptionally hot and powerful blast. The lucky victims are obliterated. The less lucky suffer terrible agonies before they die.

Me: Well, I’m sure that isn’t our intent.

Martian: But you have named one such weapon the “Hellfire” missile. Does this not mean you are well aware that the missile burns your fellow humans with fire? Was it not in fact designed to do so?

Me: I guess it just comes down to that terrorists want to kill innocent people. But America doesn’t. When we kill innocent people, we call it “collateral damage.” Do you know that phrase?

Martian: We do, but our translators have struggled with it. For a long time, we failed to understand why a people who are ordinarily so plain-spoken would devise such a vague phrase. Then we realized, you Americans find such a phrase preferable to something like, “the burning to death of innocent human beings, the blowing into tiny scraps of meat and bone ordinary people just trying to live their lives, the ripping asunder of the limbs of children, the blinding and mutilation of baby humans—”

Me: Right, I get it. But, yes, it’s not like we want those things to happen. When we do them, they’re tragic accidents. That’s the difference.

Martian: This is interesting. You mean terrorists want to kill innocents, while you Americans are mere willing to kill innocents.

Me: Something like that, I think. Yes.

Martian: Perhaps we Martians are simply dense. It seems that terrorists have goals for which they will kill. Is that not also true for your country?

Me: Yes, but again, the terrorists want to kill innocent people.

Martian: It is difficult for we Martians to understand the difference. Presumably these people you call terrorists simply want to achieve certain geopolitical goals that they believe require killing innocent people. Presumably if they believed they had another way to achieve these goals, they would not feel the need to kill innocent people.

Me: I don’t understand.

Martian: I mean, perhaps terrorists are killing people pragmatically. In other words, for terrorists, killing people is a means, not an end.

Me: So what?

Martian: I am trying how to understand how it is different for you, given that you are the “good guys,” to use your Earth phrase. Do you not also, in all your wars, kill people as a means?

Me: But we don’t want to.

Martian: In such circumstances, it is sometimes difficult for we Martians to distinguish between the concept of “want” and the concept of “willing.” For in the service of the geopolitical goals you seek to achieve through the means of violence, is it not an empirical and historical fact that inevitably you will kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, inflict the most horrific injuries on hundreds of thousands more, and turn millions of people into stateless refugees, with all the terrorizing that such events necessarily entail?

Me: I guess.

Martian: But this is not terrorism.

Me: No. Not when we do it.

Martian: I confess I am more perplexed now than when we started. I do not understand how the nation that commits the most violence and causes the most terror can claim other nations are the most terroristic. We Martians will have to study this question more closely.

Well, maybe they’ll invite General Hayden and me back. But we’d probably need a Martian to translate.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

It's Not a War, Silly; It's Just an Intervention!

Should the west launch yet another war in Libya? You might think not, given how calamitous the last one turned out to be—given, in fact, that the results of the last war in Libya have become the basis for the new one!—but fear not, you can always count on The Economist to assure you of why we need yet another war. You see, what it all really comes down to is that, “In a situation where there are no good options, doing nothing may be the worst.”

This is the kind of thing I’m starting to think of as Peak Economist—when the magazine can’t come up with an argument even marginally new, insightful, or useful about one of the wars it’s constantly calling for, and so defaults to the kind of sober- and serious-sounding but substantively vapid bromides that have become the trademark of its warmongering.

So let’s pause for just a moment—longer, apparently, than the Economist allotted itself before publishing that marvelous bit of self-important onanism—to consider a bit of what’s so embarrassingly stupid about it.

First, why should “doing nothing” be inherently suspect—especially when the only alternatives The Economist seems able to imagine all involve war? Now, in fairness to The Economist, war is only called war with regard to the “Libyan Civil War.” Western bombings and invasions are instead understood to be mere “intervention.” Seriously—“war” is used three times in the article, and only about the Libyan civil war. Intervention is used four times, and only about a western attack. In fact, I just decided on the spot to make “intervention” one of my favorite war-mongering euphemisms ever, reserved only for the noble actions of the beneficent west and denied to our adversaries such as the Iranians, who can only “meddle” in countries adjacent to them after the west has “intervened” there.

(For some of the best war euphemisms ever, including wars that aren’t wars but are instead merely instances of “marching” and “pressing forward” and “continuing,” see former CIA clandestine service chief Jack Devine and former “dean of the Washington Press corps” David Broder in The Definition of Insanity.)

Sorry, I digress…we were talking about why “doing nothing” should be inherently suspect when all The Economist’s alternatives are so demonstrably awful. A question: is The Economist arguing that it would have been worse to have done nothing in Iraq rather than invading and occupying the country, killing well over 100,000 civilians and displacing another four million in the process?

(Think about those numbers for a moment. Even accounting for all our imperialistic privileges and American Exceptionalism and all that, you could argue that’s kind of a lot of human beings to slaughter and turn into stateless refugees, and that it might possibly have been better to “do nothing” instead.)

Or would “doing nothing” have been worse in Libya in 2011, when our war (sorry, “intervention”) destroyed the country and turned it into a breeding ground for ISIS? After all, if we’d “done nothing” last time, we probably wouldn’t need another war this time. Though in fairness to The Economist, which does seem excessively fond of war and frightened of what might happen if we were ever to Do Nothing instead, that last point might not be terribly persuasive.

We have a Hippocratic Oath in medicine. Why would the concept be applicable to medical interventions, but not to military ones?

I know, I know…they never really come out and definitively say “doing nothing” would be the worst option. Instead, it’s “doing nothing may be the worst option.” Sure, it might be! But it might be the best option, too. Or something in the middle. In the vacuum that passes for The Economist’s reasoning, who can really say? But for God’s sake, if you really don’t know, if something “may” be worse, or better, or whatever, what kind of sick mind would want war to be the default option?

Of course, this whole “war or nothing” framework is itself bullshit, driven either by ignorance or propaganda. Now, I don’t think the people who write these articles at The Economist are so dim-witted that they actually can’t imagine a way of conducting foreign policy other than War/Do Nothing. So either they’re so morbidly attracted to war that their desire for more of it is blunting their imagination and occluding their reason, or they know full well that a country as disproportionately powerful and influential as America has countless tools at its disposal—War and Nothing being only two of them—and are deliberately misleading their readers in the hope they’ll be able to gin up another of the wars they seem to crave.

Watch out, by the way, anytime someone tries to limit the discussion to only two crappy alternatives while positioning theirs as the marginally less worse one. I come across this with regard to torture fairly regularly—“Well, if we can’t torture them, what are we supposed to do, offer them tea and crumpets?”— because, right, no one has yet figured out a way to interrogate a criminal suspect or captured enemy that doesn’t involve either waterboarding, on the one hand, or finger sandwiches, on the other. Whether done cynically or clinically, the technique is just a way to pull you into the confines of the box that limits the other person’s thinking, and force a result that logic and reason would otherwise reject.

The final paragraph is like a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with the article itself. It quotes a couple of think tank people to create the appearance of balance and a modicum of thoughtfulness, and these people offer the kind of stunningly fresh insights that only a seasoned think tank denizen could come up with, such as that a western invasion of Libya might be “unwise and risky” (Really? Another western invasion of a Muslim country might entail some risks? Are you sure?), and even that the west might “need to proceed carefully” (Solid advice—thank you!). These “balanced” asides are served up not to persuade anyone that another war in Libya might not be such a great idea, but rather to steer readers to the gloriously sane, serious, sober, centrist option The Economist is hankering to make real—air strikes in support of small commando units.

Those are your only options, people: a full-scale invasion and occupation; the dreaded “do nothing” option; or some nice, sanitary air strikes and a handful of semi-secret troops. Which is it going to be—one of the two really shitty options, or the one that sounds a little less shitty by comparison?

If this all feels as manipulative as a game of Three-card Monte, it’s because it is. Pundits who want wars can’t get them unless they convince the public to go along for the ride. And if that involves subterfuge, well, it’s all for the greater good, right?

If The Economist gets its way and the west does another “intervention” in Libya, and the latest “intervention” produces results as horrifically counterproductive as the last one, and ISIS or an ISIS-successor bogeyman then pops up in Algeria or Egypt or wherever, there’s one thing I’m sure we can count on. The Economist will tell us yet again that “doing nothing” will be—sorry, “may” be—worse than yet another of their cherished “interventions.”

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Out Today: The God's Eye View!

Hi all, it’s launch day for The God’s Eye View!

Based on the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, the book has been well received so far: a boxed starred review in Publisher’s Weekly ("Eisler’s expert knowledge of spy craft and hand-to-hand combat combine with his ultra-deep distrust of government intelligence to propel this suspenseful yarn into the front ranks of paranoid thrillers”); ); a starred review in Booklist (“When Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove was having its run, service people left the theater muttering, 'That wasn’t a satire. That’s what they’re like.' So it is with Eisler’s fine thriller…”); kind words from people like imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown, imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and many others.

Here’s a short interview I did about the book with Kirkus (which also had a great review):

And here’s an interview I did about the book and more with novelist Josie Brown for The Big Thrill, the magazine of International Thriller Writers.

I’m excited to be talking to a number of terrific journalists and activists as part of the tourMike Masnick of Techdirt in San Francisco; Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing and Freedom of the Press Foundation in LA; Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept and Dirty Wars in NYC; Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a few other university people, in Boston. Details below and on my website (with updates as more events get added); hope to see you on the road!


NSA director Theodore Anders has a simple goal: collect every phone call, email, and keystroke tapped on the Internet. He knows unlimited surveillance is the only way to keep America safe.

Evelyn Gallagher doesn’t much care about any of that. She just wants to keep her head down and manage the NSA’s camera network and facial recognition program so she can afford private school for her deaf son, Dash.

But when Evelyn discovers the existence of an NSA program code-named God’s Eye, and connects it with the mysterious deaths of a string of journalists and whistleblowers, her doubts put her and Dash in the crosshairs of a pair of government assassins: Delgado, a sadistic bomb maker and hacker; and Manus, a damaged giant of a man who until now has cared for nothing beyond protecting the director.

Within an elaborate game of political blackmail, terrorist provocations, and White House scheming, a global war is being fought—a war between those desperate to keep the state’s darkest secrets, and those intent on revealing them. A war that Evelyn will need all of her espionage training and savvy to survive. A war in which the director has the ultimate informational advantage: The God’s Eye View.

Kepler’s Books
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025-4349

Wednesday, February 3, 6:30 PM

Conversation with Mike Masnick of Techdirt
Commonwealth Club of San Francisco
555 Post Street

San Francisco, CA 94102-9824

Conversation with Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing and Freedom of the Press Foundation
William Turner Gallery
Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, CA  90404

Wednesday, February 24, 7:00 PM
Conversation with Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept and Dirty Wars
85 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003

Conversation with Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs, Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy, and Michael Sulymeyer, Director of the Cybersecurity Project, Harvard Kennedy School; and Yochai Benkler, Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard Law School
Malkin Penthouse, Littauer Building, Harvard Kennedy School
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA  02138

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Big Thrill, Unexpurgated

In connection with tomorrow’s release of The God’s Eye View, I did an interview with The Big Thrill, the magazine of International Thriller Writers

Novelist Josie Brown asked a ton of great questionsso many that TBT felt some of the conversation had to be cut. Here’s what didn’t make it in: my thoughts about what we the people can do to safeguard our rights in the face of continual governmental overreach, and on why the whole book ecosystem would be healthier if organizations like the “Authors Guild” would stop pretending to be other than lobbying arms for establishment publishing. Enjoy.

Your background gives you keener insights than most on our government’s geopolitical realities and political fallacies. What do you feel is the future of the US government’s surveillance? What role do you feel the public needs to take in order to safeguard its rights?

...So what is the future of a dynamic wherein the people know less and less about the government and the government knows more and more about the people? That depends on us. If we let propagandists stupefy us with stories about how The Terrorists™ are going to kill us all in our beds unless we surrender even more of our civil liberties (and really, given how much liberty we’ve given up since 9/11, if the “less liberty=more safety” equation had anything to it, wouldn’t the big bad Global War on Terror have long since been won?), the future will be increasingly jingoistic and authoritarian, with the Constitution more and more “just window dressing now, the artifacts of an ancient mythology, the vestments of a dead religion,” as one of my characters put it in Inside Out.

What can we do if we want to maintain the government as the servant of the people, with limited powers? Speak up. Support organizations like the ACLU, EFF, and Freedom of the Press Foundation; independent journalism like Democracy Now and Wikileaks; whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning. Don’t be taken in by “lesser of two evils” bullshit designed to get you to always vote for one or the other wing of the war party (or by the notion that we need a “third party”—sure, maybe, but to start with we could use a second). You’re not “throwing your vote away” if you cast it for an independent. You’re throwing it away if you cast it for one of the two relatively interchangeable candidates America’s oligarchy wants you to believe is your only real choice.

Don’t believe what the government tells you. I.F. Stone said, “All governments lie,” and can anyone deny this is true? When we encounter a liar in our personal life, we know to discount everything he says that hasn’t been independently verified. Yet we continue to uncritically accept the same government assurances, mostly having to do with how we have to give up more freedoms and drone, invade, and occupy more countries, no matter how many times the government is caught lying. But shouldn’t we at least be cautious when someone urges a course of action by which he stands to benefit? When a salesman on commission tells you a suit looks great on you, you know to be suspicious. And yet we’re infinitely credulous when the government tells us how we need to be afraid—even though fear increases government power and frequently leads to war, where fortunes are made by the very people agitating for hostilities. In any other context, fear-mongering and war would be instantly and rightly recognized as a racket. But it’s psychologically painful to accept that the interests in control of your country are other than benevolent, so we shy from the obvious truth and cling to comforting lies.

If there were one (or two, or three) things you could change about the publishing industry and the novelist’s role within it, what would it be?

The first thing I’d like to change is the popular perception that organizations like the Authors Guild and Authors United primarily represent authors rather than establishment publishers. I have no problem with organizations advocating for publisher interests, but the dishonest way in which the AG and AU go about their publishing industry advocacy misleads a lot of authors. I could go on at length about this topic and in fact I have—so for anyone who wants to better understand the real agenda and function of these “author” organizations, I’d recommend starting with this article I wrote for Techdirt, Authors Guilded, United, and Representing…Not Authors.

But isn’t it true that the AG speaks out on various topics of concern to authors, like unconscionable contract terms?

Hah, the AG going after publishers is like Hillary Clinton going after Wall Street. I’ve had a lot to say about this, including the comments I wrote in response to this post at The Passive Voice. For anyone who’s curious, just search for my name and you’ll find the comments, the gist of which is, when the AG wants to accomplish something, it names names and litigates; when it wants authors to think it’s trying to accomplish something but in fact isn’t (or, more accurately, when what it’s trying to accomplish is maintenance of the publishing status quo), it talks.

When the AG talks, it’s a head fake. The body language is what to look for in determining the organization’s actual allegiances and priorities.

Another thing I’d like to change is the generally abysmal level of legacy publisher performance in what at least in theory are legacy publisher core competencies. Whether it’s cover design, the bio, or fundamental principles of marketing, legacy publishers are content with a level of mediocrity that would be an embarrassment in any other industry. I’ve seen little ability within legacy publishing companies to distill principles from fact patterns (particularly patterns involving failures) and then apply those principles in new circumstances. Institutional memory and the transmission of institutional knowledge and experience are notably weak in the culture of the Big Five. My guess is that the weakness is a byproduct of insularity and complacency brought on by a lack of competition.

Agreed. Having spent fifteen years in advertising before becoming a novelist, I was abhorred as to what passed for “marketing and promotion.

I'd also like to increase awareness of the danger a publishing monopoly represents to the interests of authors and readers. No, I’m not talking about Amazon; “Amazon is a Monopoly!” is a canard and a bogeyman. I’m talking about the real, longstanding monopoly in publishing (or call is a quasi-monopoly, or a cartel), which is the insular, incestuous New York Big Five. An important clue about the nature of the organization is right there in the name, no? See also the Seven Sisters

Okay, another thing (and then I’ll stop because I could go on about this stuff forever): I’d like to see more choices for authors; new means by which authors can reach a mass market of readers; and greater diversity in titles and lower prices for readers.

Wait, that last set of wishes is already happening, courtesy of self-publishing and Amazon publishing—the first real competition the Big Five has ever seen, and a boon to the health of the whole publishing ecosystem.

Read the full interview at The Big Thrill.