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Nederlog


 October
22, 2014
Crisis: GCHQ, Evil, Euphemisms, Nadella, Twitter, Dark Money, The EU
  "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
Sections
Introduction

1.
 Outgoing GCHQ boss defends agency activities after
     Snowden revelations

2.
The truth about evil
3. ‘Cleansing the stock’ and other ways governments talk
     about

4. Microsoft boss Satya Nadella awarded $84.4m this year
5. Why Twitter’s Lawsuit Could Make or Break Transparency
6. Dark Money Spending in Key Senate Races 'Shattering'
     Records: Report

7. Death By a Thousand Cuts: The Silent Assassination of
     European Democracy


About ME/CFS


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, October 22. It is a
crisis log.

There are 7 items with 7 dotted links. Item 1 is about the outgoing GCHQ boss, who was lying; item 2 is about evil or about a disappointing article; item 3 is about euphemisms, and I also don't agree with it; item 4 is about the 84 million dollars the Microsoft boss gets this year; item 5 is about a lawsuit of Twitter that seeks a bit more openness about what it can say to its users; item 6 is about the flood of dark money that is drowning American democracy; and item 7 is about how European democracy is drowning in the European Union.

In brief: none of this will make you happier, unless you are very rich, but then I am writing about the
crisis. In case you lack time, you can skip item 2: it is my reaction to a long article by an English academic philosopher, that did not teach me anything, except that it contained an interesting quote by someone else.

1. Outgoing GCHQ boss defends agency activities after Snowden revelations

The first item is an article by James Ball on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:
Sir Iain Lobban, the outgoing director of Britain’s eavesdropping agency GCHQ, has used his valedictory address to deliver a full-throated defence of its activities in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a speech referencing cryptographer Alan Turing and wartime codebreaking efforts, Lobban praised GCHQ staff as “ordinary people doing an extraordinary job”, and said his agency’s mission was “the protection of liberty, not the erosion of it”.

Sir Iain Lobban was lying, as indeed is very probably his duty: The GCHQ staff consists of quite extraordinary people, indeed not because of their gifts but because of their powers, who are doing an ordinary sort of secret job, viz. spying on absolutely everyone, in order to give the government the means to further and further erode the liberties, the rights and the incomes of the ordinary people the GCHQ spies on, also paid by the tax money from the ordinary people. (Sir Lobban sees this differently, I doubt not.)

He also lied about what the GCHQ does (and mind that almost none of the billions of items Lobban had stolen from very many Europeans was legally taken: people's affairs are normally private, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and should not be stolen by some secret govermental spies):

“Today, of all the communications out there globally – the emails, the texts, the images – only a small percentage are within reach of our sensors,” he told the invited audience at the Cabinet War Rooms.

“Of that, we only intercept a small percentage; of that, we only store a minuscule percentage for a limited period of time; of that, only a small percentage is ever viewed or listened to.”

Clearly, the NSA and the GCHQ want to know everything anybody does, or indeed might do, and they do get a large percentage, akthough almost nobody knows how much. And what Lobban says is without any evidence, and relies on his non-existent personal honesty (for spy-chiefs are told to lie, and indeed must lie).

Indeed, his dishonesty goes so far as claiming that the GCHQ is there to protect the free press, but doesn't mention that the government's spies insisted on destroying the Guardian's computers, because the Guardian published the truth about spying by the GCHQ.

But OK... I agree this is the sort of fare that is to be expected from this manner of person.

2. The truth about evil 

The next item is an article by John Gray (<-Wikipedia) on The Guardian:

This is presented by The Guardian as "The long read", and it is by an English academic philosopher who is a few years older than I am and is, like me, from a working-class family.

Well... I've read it all, but I am not much enlightened, and one probable reason for this is stated in the introduction:

Our leaders talk a great deal about vanquishing the forces of evil. But their rhetoric reveals a failure to accept that cruelty and conflict are basic human traits

Really now?! Our Western leaders, such as Bush Jr., Obama, Blair and Cameron, who did make war on many people and many nations, quite willingly also, are not aware "that cruelty and conflict are basic human traits"?!

Isn't it much more likely that these people are simply lying and deceiving when they use terms like "evil", than that they became adults who also became political leaders - but who could not "accept that cruelty and conflict are basic human traits"?!

It seems one must be an academic philosopher to make assumptions like that.
But yes - it is true that "evil" has become a regularly used term in politics the last 13 years, and the beginning of the article is right about that:

When Barack Obama vows to destroy Isis’s “brand of evil” and David Cameron declares that Isis is an “evil organisation” that must be obliterated, they are echoing Tony Blair’s judgment of Saddam Hussein: “But the man’s uniquely evil, isn’t he?” Blair made this observation in November 2002, four months before the invasion of Iraq, when he invited six experts to Downing Street to brief him on the likely consequences of the war.

Yes - and the common points are that Obama, Cameron and Blair want to have people killed by their military, but they have to somehow sell that to their electorates, and branding somebody as "evil" is about the shortest way of doing that, while also glossing over nearly all details and all contexts: "They're evil! Kill them! Good riddance of bad rubbish! Support me! I am a hero!"

That is, they are engaging in war-talk, and making war plans, and that is their current sort of "justification" of this to their people: They are battling with evil, and so anyone who is not evil should support them. That is what I think they mean.

And indeed it's baloney, but it is baloney that works, especially when addressed to a people that do not know much about a war that is made half the globe away.

But not according to John Gray:

Against this background, it would be easy to conclude that talk of evil in international conflicts is no more than a cynical technique for shaping public perceptions. That would be a mistake. Blair’s secret – which is the key to much in contemporary politics – is not cynicism. A cynic is someone who knowingly acts against what he or she knows to be true. Too morally stunted to be capable of the mendacity of which he is often accused, Blair thinks and acts on the premise that whatever furthers the triumph of what he believes to be good must be true.
I agree Blair is "morally stunted", but most of the rest I don't agree to, and especially not what Gray means by a cynic:

First, "a cynic" is not "
someone who knowingly acts against what he or she knows to be true": that is the definition of a fool. A cynic is someone who condemns and tends to look down upon the usually accepted ends and practices of life. And in that sense, political leaders tend to be cynics, although they also strongly tend not to make this widely known.

Second, when Gray says that "
Blair thinks and acts on the premise that whatever furthers the triumph of what he believes to be good must be true" he is saying in a longwinded way that Blair is a wishful thinker. This is probably true, but does not explain Blair's liking to use the term "evil" for those he wants to have destroyed.

As regards evil, there is this:

In this old-fashioned understanding, evil is a propensity to destructive and self-destructive behaviour that is humanly universal. The restraints of morality exist to curb this innate human frailty; but morality is a fragile artifice that regularly breaks down. Dealing with evil requires an acceptance that it never goes away.
Again, I would not define evil as "a propensity to destructive and self-destructive behaviour that is humanly universal": What "a propensity" is, is very vague; certainly one may be evil without being self-destructive; and also it is not being "destructive" as such that is evil.

What is evil is much rather: what is morally or ethically very reprehensible, or in briefer term what is very bad, and this comprises especially the physical harming of others, which is why war is evil, for that consists - at least - in the attempt to physically harm the soldiers of the enemy.

And on that understanding, the usage of "evil" by Western political leaders again gets clarified: They want to make war, and therefore need to depict those they want to go to war against as being worthy of being harmed and destroyed.

Then again, this is as far as I will get into Gray's prose, that certainly did not teach me "the truth about evil", nor did it explain clearly what evil is. You can read all of the long read, but it will not teach you much, it seems to me.

Even so, there is one thing I do want to quote, that was written by the American journalist William Shirer, who was an eyewitness to the rise of Hitler:

“Most Germans, so far as I could see, did not seem to mind that their personal freedom had been taken away, that so much of their splendid culture was being destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism, or that their life and work were being regimented to a degree never before experienced even by a people accustomed for generations to a great deal of regimentation … On the whole, people did not seem to feel that they were being cowed and held down by an unscrupulous tyranny. On the contrary, they appeared to support it with genuine enthusiasm.”

I think that is both quite true and quite depressing, and it is depressing because it implies you cannot trust the majority of ordinary people to properly understand what politics or their lives are really about, and especially not if they are propagandized and poor, which is what most Germans were, in the fifteen years between 1918 and 1933.

3. ‘Cleansing the stock’ and other ways governments talk about human beings 

The next item is an article by George Monbiot on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

To blot people out of existence first you must blot them from your mind. Then you can persuade yourself that what you are doing is moral and necessary. Today this isn’t difficult. Those who act without compassion can draw upon a system of thought and language whose purpose is to shield them – and blind us – to the consequences.

There is rather a lot more under the last dotted link. I could quote considerably more, but I only very partially agree with Monbiot: Euphemisms are of all times where there are men, while quite a lot of killing that human beings do gets done quite consciously and willingly.

What Monbiot is right about is that there are extremely many euphemisms - like these and very many more:
Terms such as these are designed to replace mental images of death and mutilation with images of something else. Others, such as “collateral damage” (dead or wounded civilians), “kinetic activity” (shooting and bombing), “compounds” (homes) and “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping and torture by states), are intended to prevent the formation of any mental pictures at all. If you can’t see what is being discussed, you will struggle to grasp the implications. The clearest example is “neutralising”, which neutralises the act of killing it describes.
Then again, these terms, that I agree are used to deceive, are themselves a sign that those who are addressed in these terms are not fighting themselves: If they are, they promptly get more realistic, though not necessarily more honest:
Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no outrage - torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonments without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians, which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side." (The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol 3, p. 419, written in May 1945.)
4. Microsoft boss Satya Nadella awarded $84.4m this year 

The next item is an article by Reuters on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, has become one of the tech industry’s biggest earners, with a pay package worth $84.3m (£52.2m) this year, according to a document filed with securities regulators.

The figure is mostly made up of the estimated value of one-off stock awards given to Nadella, who became the company’s third chief executive in February. He cannot receive most of it until 2019.

Disclosure of Nadella’s pay package comes at an awkward time for the new boss. Eleven days ago he urged women in the technology sector not to directly ask for pay raises but trust in “karma” to get a fair salary.

This is here mostly because I think it is obscene; because this is how the profits of Microsoft are spent (among other things): on rewarding the higher officers in quite obscene financial ways; and also because the same gentleman reminded women that they - half of humanity - should not ask directly for pay raises. They should politely wait, smile kindly, say nothing, look attractive and trust their karma.

O, and Nadella is not the only one to be thus obscenely rewarded by Microsoft: Several others also got 10 million dollars for a year's work. (But I agree Microsoft is not the only one to do this.)


5. Why Twitter’s Lawsuit Could Make or Break Transparency

The next item is an article by Thor Benson on Truthdig!:

This starts as follows:

President Obama has called his administration the “most transparent in history,” but instead of allowing companies to be completely transparent regarding their involvement in government surveillance, Washington has muzzled them, spying on their customers or users and employing gag orders to prevent them from notifying the public. As we are well aware of by now, this kind of activity was not made transparent until people like Edward Snowden made it their business to expose such practices.

Twitter announced Oct. 7 that it had filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for not allowing it to release a transparency report that would reveal a significant level of insight on what kind of information the government has requested. Twitter approached Washington with a reporting protocol it believed would not hurt the government’s efforts to obtain national security information, but the idea was roundly rejected, the company’s blog post asserts. Twitter says, “It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance. ...”

Twitter is clearly right, it seems to me, but Obama's non-transparent security state will probably fight it, for their opinion is this:
“Twitter demanded permission from the DOJ to give more information, to give truthful and accurate information, without tipping off the targets of the investigations, and the DOJ said no,” Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Truthdig. “The DOJ said the guidance we issued in January is final and what we say goes. That’s kind of ridiculous. The DOJ guidance was just made up—no court issued it, Congress didn’t issue it, it didn’t come from in the law—it just came out of the mind of a DOJ lawyer.”
I agree it is ridiculous, but that is how Obama does his thing: in secret, while saying his government is most transparent, and consisting of the - very often secret - mere opinions of lawyers employed by the governent, while saying the government is a democracy.

The article is good and is worth reading, and ends like this:
If Twitter loses this case, that means the government can impose restrictions on what service providers can say without Congress passing a law and without a court issuing a decision,” Cardozo said. He said that Twitter losing this battle could make it possible for the executive branch to uniformly decide how transparent companies are allowed to be—when they can speak—and he believes that that’s “not the way our democracy is supposed to work.” Once a precedent is set in court, the government can use it for future decisions, meaning Twitter’s lawsuit could affect many future edicts from the executive branch. Essentially, if it fails, everyone fails.
I take it Twitter will loose the case, were it only because this is what Obama wants (while saying the opposite), and also there are now sufficiently many American judges who can be blackmailed by the NSA. (Is this cynical? I think not: it is realistic. But I'd like to be mistaken in my estimate.)

6. Dark Money Spending in Key Senate Races 'Shattering' Records: Report

The next item is an article by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Unknown donors and big-monied, outside groups are pouring record amounts of cash into key Senate races set to determine which political party will take control over the upper house come November's election, according to a new report published Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice.

The report, Election Spending 2014: 9 Toss-Up Senate Races (pdf), found that outside spending by undisclosed "dark money" groups is on track to "shatter previous records." According to newly-released data from the Federal Elections Commission, of the nine hotly-contested senate races this year—Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina—all but one is expected to beat the previous record for most outside money spent in a senate race, $52.4 million in Virginia in 2012.

There is considerably more in the article, all of which supports the notion that
now Big Money talks and real democracy is lost: Corporations = people with human rights; and corporations can spend enormous amounts of money so that the few rich will win, because money = free speech.

Both decisions are by the American Supreme Court, that thus defeated democracy and indeed seems to have killed it.

7. Death By a Thousand Cuts: The Silent Assassination of European Democracy

The next item is an article by Don Quijones on Raging Bull-Shit:
This was earlier published in January of 2014, but was republished yesterday. This is well worth reading, but I will just give a fast sum-up of the main points raised:

The main flaws in the European Union, according to Don Quijones, are
  • the single currency
  • the lack of transparency
  • the gaping democratic deficit: EU is very anti-democratic
which indeed is correct, and which led to the following:
The inevitable result is that decisions that viscerally affect the lives of 500 million voters are now taken by anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats rather than politicians responsible to their voters. As Osborne points out, “by a hideous paradox the European Union, set up as a way of avoiding a return to fascism in the post-war epoch, has since mutated into a way of avoiding democracy itself.”
Yes, indeed. And here is the British conservative MEP Daniel Hannan:
Apparatchiks in Brussels deal directly with apparatchiks in Athens and Rome. The people are cut out altogether, their elected representatives sidelined. The lamps are going out all over Europe.
Indeed - and it gets done on purpose, by a very few, most of whom have not been (regularly, democratically) elected.

---------------------------------
Notes
[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that 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 one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)


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 Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
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)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)



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