10, 2013
Crisis: NSA, McCain, Hazlitt
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.

  1. Why NSA's war on terror is more than just a 'neat'
       hacking game

  2. John McCain on Merkelgate: Obama 'Should Have

  3. Hazlitt: On religious hypocrisy (in part)
About ME/CFS


It is today a Sunday, and I found only two crisis items. I do not think the crisis is over, and I also doubt there will be fewer crisis items, at least the coming months, though the interest of the papers may shift to something more popular - but yes: it is a Sunday.

The two items I found follow below, and they are followed by the first quarter or so of Hazlitt's "On religious hypocrisy", because I like it and the warning seems to me to be quite correct.

1. Why NSA's war on terror is more than just a 'neat' hacking game

To start with, an article by John Naughton in the Guardian:

This starts as follows:
Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. And then there's Edward Snowden, who was a spy and then became something else. Nobody's neutral about him. The other day I heard a senior military officer describe him unambiguously as "a thief". In Washington he seems to be universally regarded as a traitor. Many people in Europe regard him as, at worst, a principled whistleblower and, at best, a hero in the Daniel Ellsberg mould.
That is not very interesting, but it is the start of an attempt to get the big picture:

We're now getting to the point where we can begin to assess the bigger picture. What do the Snowden revelations tell us about what's wrong with the NSA – and its leading overseas franchise, our own dear GCHQ?

This is an interesting question, and Naughton has little doubt:
The first, and most glaring, realisation is that the so-called democratic "oversight" of these intelligence agencies is so inadequate as to be effectively non-existent.
Naughton is also explicit about not blaming Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and although I disagree, I agree he also is a very minor player. Also Naughton gives a reason for the inadequacy that is hardly material, namely that the computing power is doubling every two years, and storage capacity is quadrupling every year.

This is not material because, while it explains why the spying agencies now can spy on everyone, it doesn't start answering why they do, or are allowed to: In the end this is due to policy, very much rather than technology, indeed even if the policy was, for something like ten years, looking the other way, classifying documents, and relying on secret courts.

In fact, this makes the situation considerably more serious, for there now are hackers and spies that steal everyone's personal data, at least in the U.S., and who do so against the Constitution, but who are covered by their governments and by many parliamentarians, and who also get billions a year for doing so.
The second thing that emerges from the Snowden revelations is how catastrophic the concept of the "war on terror" has been.
Bush's (and Blair's) "war" on terror was not a war in that sense. It was, and remains, a purely rhetorical device, and it has no constitutional standing compared with what happens in real wars.
Well...yes and no, but mostly no, I'd say. The general point is that the "war on terror" was fraudulent and false from the very start, since the security people - NSA, GCHQ and others - wanted to monitor everyone from the start and also from before 9/11 (as has been made clear i.a. by William Binney who said, quite rightly in my opinion, that the NSA was and indeed is "purposefully violating the Constitution").

What happened at 9/11 merely gave them an excuse to do it, but indeed it is true that this was merely a "rhetorical device", and besides a very sleazy and very dishonest one: To found the basis of controlling the public on false assertions this is to battle "terrorism", that almost none of the public has anything to do with.

Unfortunately, although there is more, this is about the limit of Naughton's analysis. But OK: At least it was an attempt to reflect on the bigger picture.

2. John McCain on Merkelgate: Obama 'Should Have Apologized'

Next, an interview with John McCain in Der Spiegel, by Mark Hujer and Holger Stark:
This is rather interesting, also seeing McCain's position as a prominent Republican and as a former presidential candidate. I'll select and comment some:

McCain: I think we could find that out in many other ways, especially amongst friends. You don't have to invade someone's privacy in that fashion in order to obtain that information.

SPIEGEL: Why did the NSA do it then?

McCain: The reason I think they did it is because they could do it. In other words, there were people with enhanced capabilities that have been developed over the last decade or so, and they were sitting around and said we can do this, and so they did it.

Well... yes and no: As I have pointed out in the previous section, the NSA are not merely private hackers, but are a heavily funded governmental agency, and the fact that they can do it, is not a sufficient reason to do it, especially as they are breaking the Constitution, and are doing so in major ways, against hundreds of millions of persons, and are protected by the government to do so.

SPIEGEL: Are the intelligence services out of control?

McCain: There has not been sufficient congressional oversight, and there has been an absolutely disgraceful sharing of information that never should have taken place.
Again mostly a slick answer, though I agree that "[t]here has not been sufficient congressional oversight". But this lack of oversight has been carefully engineered, and that was mostly done by the government rather than by the NSA - and this  would also not have been known without Snowden's revelations.

McCain: (...) Why did Edward Snowden have that information? And what are we doing as far as screening people who have access to this information? It's outrageous, and someone ought to be held accountable.

SPIEGEL: Who must be held accountable?

McCain: The head of the NSA, the president of the United States, the Congressional Intelligence Committees, all of these contractors we pay that were responsible for performing the background checks. There should be a wholesale housecleaning.

This I mostly agree with, although it is obvious that you must trust people, and also obvious that this is bound to fail sometimes. Next, there is also this:

SPIEGEL: Should Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, resign?

McCain: Of course, he should resign, or be fired. We no longer hold anybody accountable in Washington.
Again I agree, though I add that Obama's administration has gone very far in protecting Alexander.

Also, there is this about the tapping of Angela Merkel's phone:

SPIEGEL: Do you think it's conceivable that President Barack Obama didn't know anything about the monitoring of Chancellor Merkel's cell phone?

McCain: It's conceivable that he didn't know it, but the fact remains that he should have known it. Responsibility always stops at the president's desk.

Yes, although it seems "conceivable" only in a slick and not very honest sense: It seems quite inconceivable to me that the NSA can tap Merkel's phone for 11 years while the presidents under whose responsibility this happens did not know of this. That is: for 1 month it is conceivable, though very odd, but not for 11 years. That is definitely policy.

Finally - and there is more that I leave to you - there is this by McCain on Snowden:

McCain: Never. President Vladimir Putin will grant him asylum indefinitely. The Russians know if they send him back that that's a lesson to other people who might defect. I'm sure that Mr. Snowden has told them everything that he possibly knows.

SPIEGEL: He denies that and says that he did not take the NSA documents to Russia.

McCain: If you believe that Mr. Snowden didn't give the Russians information that he has, then you believe that pigs can fly.

I don't believe pigs can fly and don't believe Snowden has given the Russians anything, but the last is a complicated assessment. But it seems McCain might be right that Snowden will be able to stay in Russia indefinitely.

In any case, this was an interesting interview, although it is a pity McCain seems not to have been asked how he feels about the fact that the whole interview would not have taken place without Snowden, whose revelations also informed the world, including McCain, how out of hand the NSA (and the GCHQ and others)  are and have been, the last eleven years, and how many data they stole "because they can" and because they were heavily protected and no one was supposed to know what they were doing, and indeed whose activities were mostly unknown, until outed by whistleblowers, from Binney to Snowden.

3. Hazlitt: On religious hypocrisy (in part)

Since I have little material, I end today with a quote of one of my favorite writers, William Hazlitt, who lived from 1778-1830, and who was the greatest, or at least one of the greatest, English essayists.

Here is the beginning of his "On religious hypocrisy", first published in 1817, in "The Round Table". I am quoting from my edition in Everyman's Library, in which it is bundled with "Characters of Shakespear's Plays":
Religion either makes men wise and virtuous, or it makes them set up false pretences to both. In the latter case, it makes them hypocrites to themselves as well as others. Religion is, in grosser minds, an enemy of self-knowledge. The consciousness of the presence of an all-powerful Being, who is both the witness and judge of every thought, word, and action, where it does not produce its proper effect, forces the religious man to practise every mode of deceit upon himself with respect to his real character and motives;  for it is only by being wilfully blind to his own faults, that he can suppose they will escape the eyes of Omniscience. Consequently, the whole business of a religious man's life, if it does not conform to the strict sense of duty, may be said to gloss over his errors to himself, and to invent a thousand shifts and palliations, in order to hoodwink the Almighty. While he is sensible of his own delinquence, he knows it cannot escape the penetration of his invisible Judge; and the distant penalty annexed to every offence, though not sufficient to make him desist from the commission of it, will not suffer him to rest easily, till he has made some compromise with his own conscience as to his motives for committing it. As far as relates to this world, a cunning knave may take a pride in the imposition he practises upon others; and,  instead of striving to conceal his true character from himself, may chuckle with inward satisfaction at the folly of those who are not wise enough to detect it. 'But 'this is not so above.' This shallow skin-deep hypocrisy will not serve the turn of the religious devotee, who is 'compelled to give in evidence against himself,' and who must first become the dupe of his own imposture, before he can flatter himself with the hope of concealment, as children hide their eyes in their hands, and fancy no one can see them. (p. 128-9)
This is about the first quarter of the essay. My reasons to have it here are my fondness of Hazlitt's prose; to serve as a reminder of the character of especially American religious politicians; and as a warning that, as a rule, religious rule-giving is based on, at least, a double hypocrisy, namely both to others and to themselves. Also, religion has not made most men wise and virtuous. [2]


[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, thay the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servant of laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

[2] In case you wonder: I had a completely non-religious education, while my mother's family seems to have been unbelievers since 1855 or so, when my grandmother's grandmother was tricked out of her inheritance - a farm near Amsterdam - by Catholic priests.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to
facilitate search machine) which is a disease that I have since 1.1. 1979:

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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