January 6, 2014

Crisis: Exit US democracy, NSA*3, the left, drugs trials

   "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.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next  

The Last Gasp of American Democracy
2. The NSA files
3. The primary NSA issue isn't privacy, it's authority
4. President Obama claims the NSA has never abused its
     authority. That's false

The left is too silent on the clunking fist of state power
6. It's a scandal drug trial results are still being withheld

About ME/CFS


This is again another crisis file, on the sixth day of the new year. It also is the - so far - longest file of this year.

1.  The Last Gasp of American Democracy

To start with, an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig [2]:
This starts as follows, and is a very good article:
This is our last gasp as a democracy. The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us—one of the final ones, I suspect—is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives.
I am afraid Chris Hedges is quite right, though I should add that, very probably, for the majority - if they have a job - it will not feel like that, for the majority seems to have mostly accepted the bullshit the thousands of advertisements they see every day teach them: That they are proud and independent consumers, who are free to buy all the best products, and who are free to watch television, and free to dream that they too may become millionaires, like their betters.

That is - and see note
[2] - the great majority just lacks the intelligence or the education to see through the lies and deceptions they meet everywhere, and instead either proudly believe the lies and deceptions they are fed or else acquiesce - possibly halfheartedly - in the belief that protesting will harm them (which will soon become quite realistic, if the NSA has its way).

Hedges's second paragraph reads thus:
The public debates about the government’s measures to prevent terrorism, the character assassination of Edward Snowden and his supporters, the assurances by the powerful that no one is abusing the massive collection and storage of our electronic communications miss the point. Any state that has the capacity to monitor all its citizenry, any state that has the ability to snuff out factual public debate through control of information, any state that has the tools to instantly shut down all dissent is totalitarian. Our corporate state may not use this power today. But it will use it if it feels threatened by a population made restive by its corruption, ineptitude and mounting repression. The moment a popular movement arises—and one will arise—that truly confronts our corporate masters, our venal system of total surveillance will be thrust into overdrive.
Yes, indeed - and note that there is an enormous amount of political history that supports Hedges, which I add, because his ideas will not be very popular (in fact, as often, because the truth often is painful, and therefore rejected).

Here is part of the third paragraph:
If we do not immediately dismantle the security and surveillance apparatus, there will be no investigative journalism or judicial oversight to address abuse of power. There will be no organized dissent. There will be no independent thought. Criticisms, however tepid, will be treated as acts of subversion.
Yes again. Further down, there is this:
The object of efficient totalitarian states, as George Orwell understood, is to create a climate in which people do not think of rebelling, a climate in which government killing and torture are used against only a handful of unmanageable renegades. The totalitarian state achieves this control, Arendt wrote, by systematically crushing human spontaneity, and by extension human freedom. It ceaselessly peddles fear to keep a population traumatized and immobilized. It turns the courts, along with legislative bodies, into mechanisms to legalize the crimes of state.
Indeed - and the present US is surprisingly far down that road. So far, I have only quoted page one of two pages. The other page is on something that is fairly recent on Truthdig: Everything is printed by itself, in one small column, without any intersections (that is, without empty lines). I do not understand why this happens, because it is considerably harder to read.

But page 2 is, apart from its editing, also a good page, of which I will only quote the end:
The structures of the corporate state must be torn down. Its security apparatus must be destroyed. And those who defend corporate totalitarianism, including the leaders of the two major political parties, fatuous academics, pundits and a bankrupt press, must be driven from the temples of power. Mass street protests and prolonged civil disobedience are our only hope. A failure to rise up—which is what the corporate state is counting upon—will see us enslaved. 
I am afraid this is how it is, though I can assure the silent majority that most of them probably will survive, at least initially: It's "only" the more intelligent and the strongly moral that will disappear forever, probably without trial, without judge and without a jury.

But you may not believe me, or think I am too pessimistic. Here is some antidote:

2.  The NSA files

Next, a reference to what must be the best collection of NSA files, by the Guardian:

This is a really good collection of many files and many references, that can keep you reading for a long time. A part of it was quoted in the last half year in my  Nederlog, but it turns out that a far larger part was not.

In any case, this is a major reference, about which I have no complaint (except that my Firefox refuses to show all of the opening page: it sticks in 4.1 and doesn't show more, though I can copy all of the text (that extends to 5.4) to my html editor).

Apart from that (which may just be my Firefox): A great reference!

3.  The primary NSA issue isn't privacy, it's authority

Next, an article by Jeff Jarvis in the Guardian:
This starts as follows:

I celebrate Judge Richard J Leon's opinion that the government's mass collection of communications metadata is "almost Orwellian", and I decry Judge William H Pauley III's decision that the NSA's collection is both effective and legally perfectly peachy.

But I worry that the judges, as well as many commentators and Edward Snowden himself, may be debating on the wrong plane. I see some danger in arguing the case as a matter of privacy because I fear that could have serious impact on our concept of knowledge, of what is allowed to be known and thus of freedom of speech. Instead, I think this is an argument about authority – not so much what government (or anyone else) is allowed to know but what government, holding unique powers, is allowed to do with what it knows.

To this I'd like to say that both privacy and authority are involved, and indeed quite a few more things, and also that the one thing that I have learned from the several court cases that I conducted myself [3], and won, is that "the law" falsifies everything it touches, and does so by trying to reduce every judgment to jurisprudence, that is, to conform to earlier decisions by judges in similar cases.

Note that there is a good reason for this, namely to have similar cases have similar legal outcomes - but "similar in law" may not at all be the same as "similar in fact", and anyway the matter is different in a court of law from what  it is in real life, while also the law itself may be unreasonable, in which case the matter gets even more contorted.

In fact, here is an example, from the same article:
Yet we continue to hold the NSA debate around whether communications metadata is public or private. In the past, such data was presumed to be public because once it was known by a third party, it could no longer be claimed as private. The information on an envelope – metadata to the contents inside: sender and recipient – must be known by a third parties along the way, mail carriers and sorters, to get to its destination. So it is not private. This same theory was applied to the telephone as the phone company has to know who's placing and who's receiving a call to complete it. Thus the government says it can seek such public information without affecting privacy.
This seems to suggest (it certainly doesn't deny) that the meanings of "metadata", "public" and "private" all are settled, and indeed have been settled by courts. But the whole construction of:
In the past, such data was presumed to be public because once it was known by a third party, it could no longer be claimed as private.
is totally artificial and question-begging:

The "presumption" that the addresses of those I mail to (in an ordinary mail) must be "public" is extremely odd - it is like saying that my discourses with my doctor or lawyer about my own health or my own court case "must" be "public" because these persons are other than me. That presumption is as crazy as the "presumption" about addresses.

A similar confusion occurs later on:
Think of privacy this way: when I tell you something about myself, that fact is then public to that extent. What happens to it is now out of my hands; it is in yours.
But why should I think of privacy in such a stupid and unrealistic way?! It all depends on who you are, and what relationship I have with you: Are you my wife, my child, a good friend of years standing, my own doctor, a friend I didn't see for 20 years, someone I met in a bar, or a journalist out for copy? Did we make arrangements on sharing of information? Are "you", whoever you are, completely free to do with what I told you, quite as you please? I think there are quite a few relevant differences.

I'd say that in each of these cases, what we tell these "yous" is different, as is the presumption that it is "public" "because" I told it to some specific person.

In any case, there is a lot more in the article, but most of it is not very clear, and it certainly does not establish its title.

4. President Obama claims the NSA has never abused its authority. That's false 

Next, an article by Trevor Timm, in the Guardian:
This starts as follows:

Time and again since the world learned the extent of what the NSA was doing, government officials have defended the controversial mass surveillance programs by falling back on one talking point: the NSA programs may be all-powerful, but they have never been abused.

President Obama continually evokes the phase when defending the NSA in public. In his end-of-year press conference, he reiterated, "There continues not to be evidence that the [metadata surveillance] program had been abused". Former NSA chief Michael Hayden says this almost weekly, and former CIA deputy director and NSA review panel member Mike Morrell said it again just before Christmas. This mantra is likely to be repeated often in 2014 as Obama is set to address the nation on government surveillance, and Congress and the president debate whether any reforms are necessary.

There's only one problem: it's not true.

Trevor Timm is the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and he has little trouble to show that what he says is true, that is, that Obama lied, and lied knowing that he lied.

And he does so by appealing to what is now known about the FISA-courts:
In another recently-released Fisa court opinion (pdf) about the NSA collection of American internet metadata, the court accused the NSA of engaging in "systemic overcollection" for years, and that "'virtually every [metadata] record' generated by this program included some data that had not been authorized for collection". The judge listed the government's "frequent failures to comply with the [surveillance program's] terms", excoriated them for their "apparent widespread disregard of [Fisa court imposed] restrictions", and accused the NSA of committing "longstanding and pervasive violations of the prior orders in this matter".

Does that sound like an agency that has never abused its powers?
Answer: It does not. But this will not prevent president Obama of further lying, for indeed his main principle is "Trust me!" - which one cannot do, not as a matter of principle ("All governments lie and nothing they say should be believed." I.F. Stone) and not in his quite dishonest specific case either.

Here is a bit from the end of the article:

With all that said, it's unclear why we're quibbling over whether or not the government truly abused the data it has. The programs themselves are an abuse. A primary reason the founding fathers declared independence from the British was in protest of "general warrants" – the idea that the police could seize everything in a given neighborhood, only to go through it afterwards and find the criminal.

The Fourth Amendment requires particularized, individual court orders, and as long as the NSA is collecting such a vast database on every innocent person in the United States, and then searching it at their own discretion, they are abusing our constitution.

Yes, indeed - although to me it is fairly clear "why we're quibbling over whether or not the government truly abused the data it has": Because the government spokespersons like it that way.

5.  The left is too silent on the clunking fist of state power 

Next, an article by John Harris in the Guardian - and note this is about Great Britain:

I think the title is quite correct, but also invites a suspicion: That the author sincerely believes (more than not) that the present day political left in Great Britain - post Tony Blair, post Gordon Brown - are in any way radically different from the Tories, or Clegg's Liberals.

In my opinion, and with a few exceptions, they are not - and I agree that is a major problem, and not only in Great Britain. (The real left is mostly dead, and has been killed by Clinton, Blair, Brown and their followers in other countries.)

Here is a bit from the beginning:
Large parts of the welfare state increasingly look not like a safety net, but a mess of traps, intended to enforce complete obedience under pain of destitution. Doctors, nurses and teachers work to central diktat as never before. And from the role of private firms in our penal and borders system to the ties that bind the internet's corporate providers to government (something at the heart of the storm over data collection, and now the government's seemingly pernicious "porn filter"), it is increasingly hard to tell where government ends and the private realm begins: what blurs the two is effectively a shadow state, which gets bigger and bigger.
Yes, indeed. There also is this, a bit later on:
If you doubt this, consider what the essential functions of the modern state look like to any politicised person under 30. The state comes to the rescue of banks while snatching away benefits. It strides into sovereign countries, and commits serial human rights abuses. It subjects doctors, nurses and teachers to ludicrous targets. It watches us constantly via CCTV, and hacks our email and phone data. It farms out some of its dirtiest business to private firms. This is not a vision of modern government invented by the current lot: in Britain, it decisively came to life thanks to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Whether knowingly or not, they demonstrated an essential modern truth: that contrary to the vanities of the "free market", neoliberal capitalism needs the big centralised state to clear its way and enforce its insanities.
Again: Yes, indeed. (And Tony Blair currently is worth 20 million pounds, it seems: There was a rosy "new dawn" for him. But for very, very few of his electorate.)

Anyway, there is a considerable amount more in the article, of which I only quote the last line:
The future politics of the left will either be pluralist, localist and libertarian, or it will shrivel.
Then I suppose it will shrivel, because so much of the left has been against pluralism and libertarianism, even if - as the Dutch social democrats - they have been formally in favor of it.

In any case, I have hardly seen a credible leftist since 9/11 at the latest: Almost everyone who acted "the leftist politician" did so for personal power, money and status.

6. It's a scandal drug trial results are still being withheld

Finally, an article by (of all people) Ben Goldacre, in the Guardian:
Before saying a little more about Ben Goldacre, I will quote the subtitle or epigraph of his article, that is fair and true enough - and the boldings are mine:
Doctors like me can't give an informed view on the benefits of any treatment, let alone Tamiflu, because drugs firms aren't publishing all the evidence
That subtitle (or epigraph) is indeed where it's at with modern medicine:

It ceased being a real science, and has become a pseudoscience, for quite a few reasons of which two important ones are that these days the drugs firms own the data, and publish preferably only what supports their products, and because the drug firms ghostwrite many articles that are published under the name of well-known doctors, so as to have better support for their products. In both cases, the main motive is money, and indeed very much money: Drugs firms make billions of dollars a year, and are willing to share with cooperative doctors.

Here is the second paragraph (again with my bolding added)
Nobody can give you a fully informed view on the benefits of any treatment, let alone Tamiflu, because the results of clinical trials are being routinely and legally withheld from doctors, researchers and patients. As the committee pointed out, government agencies around the world disagree on whether Tamiflu reduces your chances of pneumonia and death, but we can have no idea who is right, because we can't see the evidence. Astonishingly, in withholding this information for five years, Tamiflu's makers, Roche, have broken no law – and it is only an accident of history that this drug has become the poster child for change.
Now about Ben Goldacre: I know of him as a psychiatrist and a pupil of Simon Wessely, and as the initiator of the Bad Science net. He styles himself - correctly - as Dr Ben Goldacre, and is 24 years younger than I am. My main problems with him are three: I don't think psychiatry is a real science; I don't like Wessely; and what I've seen from Bad Science did not impress me. (What I saw of it was mainly scoldings by the anonymous brain dead, under the guise of "science".)

Then again, he is right about the corruption of medicine. Here is another quote I agree with:
A 2010 review article by the NHS's own research body summarises the results of a dozen more studies on the same subject: this found that, overall, the chances of a completed trial being published are roughly 50%. This undermines our ability to make informed decisions on everything from surgical techniques to drugs and devices. Unsurprisingly, trials with positive results are twice as likely to be published as those with negative results, so the evidence we do see is potentially biased. Large studies from the past two years, chasing up results from huge registries of completed trials, report similar results. Information isn't just passively left unpublished: it is actively withheld when requested by researchers.
And I also agree with this quote:
The overwhelming majority of treatments prescribed by doctors right now – the everyday drugs for blood pressure, cholesterol, ulcers and more that are taken by millions – all came on the market over the past two decades, not the past seven days. That is the era of evidence that patients need.
Here it should be observed that the situation Goldacre sketched existed "the past two decades" - or indeed the past more than three decades (for it started in 1980, with the DSM-III, even though Goldacre - a psychiatrist - probably will deny that).

And I have to say that I do not much trust Goldacre: He does not mention his own specialism psychiatry, though there are many cases of very remunerative falsifications, deceptions etc. there, and he also ends his article as follows:
Medicine relies on evidence: future generations will look back on us tolerating withheld results in the same way we look back on medieval blood-letting.
What he does not mention is that modern medicine pretends and very often claims to be "evidence based" - which is a lie, given this article.

Also, while it is hard to foresee or predict what "future generations" will think, I certainly hope they will not be so stupid and immoral to look upon more than two decades of selling out patients for profits to the pharmaceutical companies, with a practice that wasn't very harmful, and that was done in a pre-scientific time.

The current corruption of medicine is far more serious, and also far more enriching for the doctors who do it, than any of the medieval practices, for these days there are very good reasons to publish all the data, which is not done because not doing so makes the pharmaceutical companies and some corrupt doctors very rich.


P.S. Jan 7, 2014: Corrected a few typos and added a few boldings and a link.

[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] Actually I like the title "Truthdig" or "Truth Dig" (and I don't know which is the correct spelling). The reason I like it is one of the facts that taught me a whole lot about the morality of average human beings, also if these average human beings are professors and doctors very well employed at a university:

From 1978-1995, and indeed probably also from 1970-1995, but my evidence starts in 1978, all of the staff of the University of Amsterdam consented to the teachings handed down to them by speakers for the Board of Directors that were literally these: "everybody knows that truth does not exist" (so 2+2=22 and water never freezes are as good as 2+2=4 and water freezes), and that "everybody know that everybody is equivalent to everybody else" (so the Jews murdered by Eichmann are the equivalent of Eichmann and their murderers).

These were taught by many, explicitly, in the terms I gave them, and were used to open the academic year of 1978, in a public lecture by professor M.A. Brandt.

I have heard no professor or doctor protest these totalitarian idiocies - while the worst that could be done was that one would be removed from university, as indeed I was, in 1988, after I publicly addressed the faculty of philosophy, as an invited speaker, who asked only questions. At the same time, I was cried out for "a fascist" and "a terrorist" by at least 16 of the professors and doctors whom I had addressed - quite a few who knew I am the son and grandson of communists who had been convicted as "political terrorists" to the concentration camp by the Nazis (or rather: by Dutch collaborating judges), which my grandfather did not survive.

What I learned about the human average, also if these are professors and doctors who teach in a free country, is that the great majority consists of eager, conscious and proud collaborators of whatever power that rules their incomes, which were in this case mostly the ideas of the communist party in the University of Amsterdam between 1978 and 1991, a communist party that my father and mother were members of nearly all their lives, and that I had been a member of from 1968-1970 (and then gave it up, totally also).

This also explains why I could easily see through the totalitarian nonsense that nearly everybody consented to, quite often honestly.

So this is one of the most important things I learned:
the great majority consists of eager, conscious and proud collaborators of whatever power that rules their incomes - for I do not believe the Dutch are all that different from the non-Dutch; I also do not believe that professors and doctors are all that different from non-professors and non-doctors; and besides similar things happened in other countries, though in Holland things were far more extreme because from 1971-1995 all the universities were - formally - in the hands of the students, which was not so in any other country, because in 1971 the minister of education decided that the power in the Dutch universities was to be in the hands of a sort of parliament called "the University Council", and the members of this parliament were to be chosen, on the principle of 1 man, 1 vote, by the students, the staff and the personnel of the university.

I am saying this because my experiences with the University of Amsterdam have taught me a lot, which also could not have been learned if I had another background
or had been less of an individualist or less of a believer in truth and honesty.

This is also why I am one of the very
few who writes as I do: Nearly every other Dutch intellectual lacks my background, lacks my individuality - and has effectively sold out to the institutions that provide their excellent incomes and safe "civil servant" status for them.

[3] Essentially because I could not find any lawyer with a halfway good intelligence, and also because none of the idiots I met wanted to do as I told them. It certainly was not what I desired, for I was (and am) ill, but I did win.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komarof

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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