This is the first fairly long crisis item of 2014. It doesn't consist
only of crisis items, for the last two items are on the dangers of
sleeping too little (which happened to me a mere seven (7) years in
Amsterdam, because the municipal police - now happily defunct - rather
saw me die than do their duty, and mayors and aldermen supported them
to the hilt, and never even answered my letters or phonecalls) and a
one on the right of suicide,
in the form of euthanasia,
at least for the old, that I am quite in favor of. And while providing
links to these, I have not quoted from the last two items. In case you
are interested, you can check the links in this paragraph.
Assange rails against surveillance in Thought for
The first item is
an article by Matthew Weaver in the Guardian:
This starts as follows:
The reason Assange used "the unlikely platform of the religious slot" is that the British hardly allow him to
speak to the public otherwise, and he was offered the opportunity.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
has used the unlikely platform of the religious slot on the BBC's Today programme to
condemn attempts by US and UK governments to acquire a "god-like"
knowledge of citizens through mass surveillance.
Assange, who has been
holed up in an embassy in London for more than a year, delivered a
sermon about the importance of freedom of information, and liberating
"hoarded knowledge", in an alternative
Thought for The Day on the Today Programme.
He said disclosures
by the security contractor Edward Snowden about the scale of mass
surveillance by the US and UK security services had exposed how
governments and corporations seek to "know more and more about us"
while "we know less and less about them".
Assange, who has been
granted asylum by Ecuador but faces arrest if he leaves the country's
London embassy, was chosen to appear by Today's guest editor, musician PJ Harvey, who
introduced him as a "person of great courage". She said he had "opened
a door to freedom that ought to be the essence of democracy".
Here is a summary of some of the things he said:
Quite so! There is more in the
article, including some on the antics of the - quite possibly plain
crazy - eager servant of the rich, Labour politician Austin, but these
bits I leave to you.
Assange cited Aristotle
and passages from the Bible to claim backing for the idea that
knowledge is power. "To be alive as a human being is to know, in the
same way as it is to have a heart that beats," he said.
The WikiLeaks founder
added: "To keep a person ignorant is to place them in a cage. The
powerful – if they want to keep their power – will try to know as much
about us as they can, and they will try to make sure that we know as
little about them as is possible."
2. Snowden affair: the case for a pardon
Next, an Editorial
article in the Guardian:
This begins as follows:
In an interview with the Washington Post just before Christmas,
declared his mission accomplished. At first sight it seemed a
grandiose, even hubristic, statement. In fact, it betrayed a kind of
modesty about the intentions of the former NSA analyst. "I didn't want
to change society," he explained. "I wanted to give society a chance to
determine if it should change itself."
Mr Snowden – through
journalists, in the absence of meaningful, reliable democratic
oversight – had given people enough knowledge about the nature of
modern intelligence-gathering to allow an informed debate. Voters
might, in fact, decide they were prepared to put privacy above security
– but at least they could make that choice on the basis of information.
That debate is now actively
- and see the next item, but also see item 6: There is a debate - but it is had by
relatively few, and that seems mostly because most of the press has
sold out, and produces "journalism" rather than real journalism. This
is not the case everywhere, but it is the dominant tendency.
is considerably more in the article that I skip, but I will not skip
hope that calm heads within the present administration are working on a
strategy to allow Mr Snowden to return to the US with dignity, and the
president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a
manner that would be a shining example about the value of
whistleblowers and of free speech itself.
hope so too, but I also think this is very
unlikely. Even so, here is a bit more of the same:
3. New York Times: Edward Snowden ‘Has Done His
Country a Great Service’
Next, an article on Truth Dig,
about an article in the New York Times of January 1:
This starts as follows:
The New York Times is kicking off 2014 by
demanding clemency or a plea deal for Edward Snowden.
“Considering the enormous value of the
information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden
deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may
have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great
service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea
bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home,
face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as
a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater
privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence
That’s from an editorial published Wednesday, January 1st.
say. I suppose this is a considerable advance over their columnist
David Brooks' crazy antics of June, but "a plea bargain or some form of clemency" seems to me not much, given - as I
think - the great good Snowden has done, which he also hardly could
have done in another way.
4. Congress to the Unemployed: Eat Confetti
Next, an article by Amy
Goodman in Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
Is this really how
we want to start the new year, by denying unemployment benefits to more
than a million Americans who have lost their jobs? The bipartisan
budget agreement passed by Congress and signed by President Barack
Obama protects military spending, but promises to throw the most
desperate in our economy into increased financial hardship, thrusting
hundreds of thousands of families beneath the poverty line. The
long-term unemployment rate is at the highest it has been since World
War II, while the percentage of those receiving the benefits is at its
historic low. Meanwhile, Wall Street bankers are popping the corks,
celebrating a banner year for the stock market. As brokers await their
bonuses, many more of the unemployed will head for the breadlines.
so. There is considerably more in the article.
5. 2014: Seize the Moment
Next, an article by Senator
Bernie Sanders on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
Congress has just ended
one of the worst and least productive sessions in the history of our
country. At a time when the problems facing us are monumental, Congress
is dysfunctional and more and more people (especially the young) are,
understandably, giving up on the political process. The people
are hurting. They look to Washington for help. Nothing is
In my view, the main
cause of congressional dysfunction is an extreme right-wing Republican
Party whose main goal is to protect the wealthy and powerful.
There is no tax break for the rich or large corporations that they
don’t like. There is no program which protects working families –
Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, affordable housing,
etc. – that they don’t want to cut.
But the Democrats (with whom
I caucus as an Independent) are most certainly not without fault.
is a considerably more in the article, indeed a sort of program, and it
seems to me all quite good. But it is also true that Sanders is
72, and the only democratic socialist - probably in European terms: a
social democrat - to be elected to Congress in six decades - which
shows American politics is quite sick, not because I am a social
democrat, for indeed I am not, but because in Europe there are very
many of them, which strongly suggests there would be rather a lot of
them in the US as well, if only the news were decent and fair.
leads me to the next item:
6. Happy ‘News Year’: Decline of the ‘News’
an article by Danny Schecher on Consortium News:
is from the beginning:
Yes, indeed. I can add that
much of it arose in the last twelve years, under the combined pressures
of losing many advertizers and the war started by the American élite
under Bush Jr. and Cheney, though I guess much of the news in the US
never was fair and decent.
are two news systems in America. The more prominent one is the official
parody of journalism that represents most of what the mainstream – or
what some call the “lame stream” – media offers. These are the
“products” of an “official” news business, an industry under growing
pressure from within and without to maintain a semblance of credibility
with a global audience that now has many other divergent sources to
This is from the middle:
News has become a
publicity machine for those in power but also a shaper of the
narratives and myths we live by. It is not surprising that two-thirds
of the graduates of journalism schools find jobs not in news but in PR
and lobbying firms. And many of the mainstream journalists function
increasingly like stenographers, offering up only the news that they
and their news executives consider fit to print while the audience
increasingly turns away, or migrates to visual media and social media,
abandoning most “serious” newspapers and magazines all together.
indeed - and not only in the US, but also elsewhere, such as in
Holland, where I have given up on getting almost any decent news from
any paper, since the total collapse of the NRC-Handelsblad as a serious
paper in 2010 (when I had read the NRC for 40 years: I do
know what I am talking about).
from the middle, but a bit further on:
the news that has the most impact is the news satirizing the news. In
many ways the Comedy Channel has become the most respected news
channel, offering a hard-hitting take or a parody of a parody.
indeed - and see my: Should
I've been a
comedian? - which is of June 10,
is considerably more in the article.
7. Merely an "Inconvenience": Judge OKs
Border Search of
an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:
In a decision the
ACLU says has "no silver lining," a federal judge ruled on Tuesday that
the U.S. government has the right to search the private electronic
devices of individuals crossing its international border—even those of
U.S. citizens—calling the possibility of having ones computer or phone
taken and searched by authorities "simply among the many inconveniences
associated with international travel.”
also this from the ACLU:
"We're disappointed in
today's decision, which allows the government to conduct intrusive
searches of Americans' laptops and other electronics at the border
without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of
wrongdoing," said Catherine Crump, the American Civil Liberties Union
attorney who argued the case in July 2011. "Suspicionless searches of
devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the
standard set by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable
searches and seizures. Unfortunately, these searches are part of a
broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects
information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and
without adequate oversight."
deny that any government "has
the right to search the private electronic devices of individuals
crossing its international border",
except on a decent suspicion of a probable criminal cause, and I think
the federal judge who said that this is "simply among the many inconveniences associated with
international travel” either is an utter idiot or was blackmailed.
indeed, as I said last year in Crisis:
No more Fourth Amendment I agree
with former vice-president Gore that these practices, and this
judgment, are (I quote) "obscenely outrageous".
it seems to me considerably more probable than not that this is
what president Obama wants.
8. How Sleep Deprivation Decays the Mind
the first of two items that are not about the crisis, but concern me.
The first is an article Seth Maxon in the Atlantic:
This is a good and long
article on the dangers of sleeping too little. I may return to it, and
here only note the followinng three facts:
First, I have not had any of the experiences Maxon describes. Second, I
have in total slept 7 years far too little in Amsterdam: In the
early eighties, through the terror of a mad neighbor, and in the late
eighties and early nineties, through living very close to 4 terraces of
3 cafés and 1 "coffeeshop" that were open to between 1 and 2 o'clock at
night. Third, in the last period I totally collapsed, and have never
since been the same as before, although I have slept decently since,
because - after nearly 4 years - I got another place to live, where it
was and is quiet and I have slept well (except because of my painful
eyes, lately, but that too seems mostly past).
Finally, the main reason these many years of non-sleeping could happen
is that the municipal police in Amsterdam (now defunct) consisted of
sick sadists, who much rather worked for the drugs maffia than doing
their legal duty to the public: In either case, I was told -
many times also - that they would not do anything until
after I was dead. They were supported by the mayors
and the aldermen.
9. When it's time to go, let me go, with a nice
glass of whisky and a pleasing pill
The second article is by
Margaret Drabble (who is a writer, in her seventies) in the Guardian:
is a good article on the right to die when you want to, instead
of when the doctors, the parliamentarians, or the bishops want you to,
generally after a lot of pain and misery, that they can't further
prolong. I quite agree, but I don't see it happen fast, if at all.
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
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.)