December 26, 2014
Crisis: NSA + CIA + TTIP + Hazlitt on Johnson
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "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


1. NSA Spied on Americans for Over a Decade: Report
The CIA Didn't Just Torture, It Experimented on Human

The Global Corporatocracy Is Just A Pen Stroke Away
     From Completion
4. Wllliam Hazlitt on Dr. Johnson


This is a Nederlog of December 26, 2014. It is a crisis log with three crisis items, while the fourth is a tribute by a favorite writer of mine to another favorite writer of mine.

I am a bit better than yesterday, and had a decent sleep, but I am not yet tolerably well. Then again, this is the first such setback this year, while many of the previous 20 years were full of them.

There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about the NSA's spying, now going on for 10 years; item 2 is about the torturing the CIA does, since a long time now, also; item 3 is about the TTIP (and the best article I read about it so far); and item 4 is not a crisis item, but lists a fine tribute to Dr. Johnson by William Hazlitt (these are two favorite authors of mine).

I think the first three articles are all quite good (and the fourth is Hazlitt, and excellent, though I am pretty alone in reading him, who indeed died in 1830, but even so).
1. NSA Spied on Americans for Over a Decade: Report

The first item today is an article by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

The National Security Agency quietly released a heavily redacted report late Wednesday night showing that its mass surveillance program targeting U.S. citizens went on for more than 10 years.

The documents, which are made up of annual and quarterly reports filed since 2001, were published to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

They note numerous instances in which U.S. citizens were erroneously targeted for spying and information waspassed among servers that were "not authorized" to hold it. Many of these cases were shown to be "marked for purging," but it is unclear whether they were actually deleted.

Actually, this is just one tiny bit of "heavily redacted" information on the many illegal doings of the NSA, while it also seems at least a bit questionable - to me, at least - whether many of the U.S. citizens who were targeted were in fact targeted "erroneously".

In fact, there is also this (and note the "much"):

As exposed in NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's document leak in 2013, much of the surveillance program consisted of unauthorized spying on American targets.

And besides, there is this on the private concerns of the - anonymous - governmental supermen and superwomen who may delve into any computer, at least according to the U.S. government (and note the "often"):
In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, Snowden also revealed that agents often used their surveillance powers for use in their personal lives. The reports released Wednesday confirmed that trend, noting one instance in which an analyst "searched her spouse's telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting." The analyst was apparently "advised to cease her activities."

Similarly, as The Verge notes, NSA agents also apparently stalked their potential love interests so often that the practice acquired its own inter-agency nickname: LOVEINT.

Then again, that may be expected: If you assign a small number of people to read anybody's e-mail and delve into anybody's computer, all in deep secret, all quite anonymously, of course they also will use that to further their own personal interests.

Here is a final sum-up by the ACLU:

"The government conducts sweeping surveillance under this authority—surveillance that increasingly puts Americans’ data in the hands of the NSA,” Patrick C. Toomey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. "Despite that fact, this spying is conducted almost entirely in secret and without legislative or judicial oversight."

Yes, indeed - and such things do not happen in any real democracy.

2. The CIA Didn't Just Torture, It Experimented on Human Beings

The next item is an article by Lisa Hajjar, that seems to have appeared originally in The Nation, but that I found on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Human experimentation was a core feature of the CIA's torture program. The experimental nature of the interrogation and detention techniques is clearly evident in the Senate Intelligence Committee's executive summary of its investigative report, despite redactions (insisted upon by the CIA) to obfuscate the locations of these laboratories of cruel science and the identities of perpetrators.

At the helm of this human experimentation project were two psychologists hired by the CIA, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. They designed interrogation and detention protocols that they and others applied to people imprisoned in the agency's secret "black sites."

Yes, indeed - and let me first delve into the past, for the CIA has been doing this for many decades now: Here is a Wikipedia article [1] on a real sadist (according to Wikipedia: "a near mad-man") who also was a psychiatrist who led the American Psychiatric Association and who was the world's leading psychiatrist in the 1950ies:

Messrs Mitchell and Jessen belong to this tradition. Here is some on their "expertise":

In its response to the Senate report, the CIA justified its decision to hire the duo: "We believe their expertise was so unique that we would have been derelict had we not sought them out when it became clear that CIA would be heading into the uncharted territory of the program." Mitchell and Jessen's qualifications did not include interrogation experience, specialized knowledge about Al Qaeda or relevant cultural or linguistic knowledge. What they had was Air Force experience in studying the effects of torture on American prisoners of war, as well as a curiosity about whether theories of "learned helplessness" derived from experiments on dogs might work on human enemies.

To implement those theories, Mitchell and Jessen oversaw or personally engaged in techniques intended to produce "debility, disorientation and dread."

And this links up again with the earlier practices of the CIA:

In 1953, the CIA established the MK-ULTRA program, whose earliest phase involved hypnosis, electroshock and hallucinogenic drugs. The program evolved into experiments in psychological torture that adapted elements of Soviet and Chinese models, including longtime standing, protracted isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation. Those lessons soon became an applied "science" in the Cold War.

During the Vietnam War, the CIA developed the Phoenix program, which combined psychological torture with brutal interrogations, human experimentation and extrajudicial executions. In 1963, the CIA produced a manual titled "Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation" to guide agents in the art of extracting information from "resistant" sources by combining techniques to produce "debility, disorientation and dread." Like the communists, the CIA largely eschewed tactics that violently target the body in favor of those that target the mind by systematically attacking all human senses in order to produce the desired state of compliance.

The article is good and deserves to be read in full, though I do not agree with one of its conclusions: That it would be better to avoid the term 'torture' and instead speak of 'human experimentation'.

My reasons are that what the CIA does is torture; that torture, unlike 'human experimentation' is forbidden by law, indeed both national and international laws; and that 'human experimentation' seems to be yet another vague euphemism for torture. If it is torture, you should call it torture, if only because torture is legally forbidden.

3. The Global Corporatocracy Is Just A Pen Stroke Away From Completion

The next item is an aricle by Don Quijones on Raging Bull-Shit:

This starts as follows:

Quietly, subtly, almost imperceptibly, the rules governing global trade and financial markets are changing. It is not happening by accident, but by wilful design. Despite the enormous impact it will have on all our lives, the public is not being consulted on any aspects of the process. Most people are not even aware it is happening.

The main driver of this change are the bilateral and multilateral trade and investment treaties being negotiated in complete secrecy and behind closed doors between corporate lobbyists, free trade activists and our own elected “representatives” (a term I use in the loosest possible sense, especially given the context). The ultimate goal of these treaties is to reconfigure the legal apparatus and superstructures that govern national, regional and global trade and business – for the primary, if not exclusive, benefit of the world’s largest multinational corporations.

There is also this:

Right now, the representatives of many of these firms are engaged in late-stage negotiations with the U.S. and European political leaders that would make it financially calamitous for a nation-state to take any actions against the interest of corporations. If passed — and at this rate, it almost certainly will be — it will be the biggest bilateral trade deal in the history of mankind.

What’s up for grabs in the innocuously named “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” (TTIP) is nothing short of the control and ownership of virtually every economic sector and public service in both Europe and the U.S. – with the exception, at the insistence of the U.S. government, of the financial services industry. Unbeknownst to almost all Europeans, the European Commission has shown a keen interest in opening up all public services to foreign corporate ownership, from health care to education, pensions to water provision.

And this:

Based on the draft copy recently released by Wikileaks, the treaty seeks to (among many other things):

  • “Lock in” the privatisations of services – even in cases where private service delivery has failed – meaning governments can never return water, energy, health, education or other services to public hands.
  • Restrict a government’s right to regulate stronger standards in the public’s interest. For example, it will affect environmental regulations, licensing of health facilities and laboratories, waste disposal centres, power plants, school and university accreditation and broadcast licenses.
  • Specifically limit the ability of governments to regulate the financial services industry at exactly the time when the global economy is still recovering from a crisis caused by financial deregulation.
The trade treaties are not just about rewriting laws; they are also about enforcing them
And this about what it is ultimately for:

Say, for example, a newly elected government decides — not unreasonably — that the involvement of price-gouging U.S. firms in the nation’s health service is not such a good idea after all. Each and every one of those U.S. firms will now be able to launch expensive legal battles, potentially for billions of pounds, in the name of foregone profits.

The case would not be heard in a court of law, under the scrutiny of a judge and jury, but rather in front of arbitration panels made up of three professional arbitrators — one representing the company, one representing the country and the other chosen by the first two to sit as president of the panel. None of these arbitrators are trained judges; they are private individuals often representing some of the biggest international corporate law firms, mostly from the U.S. and Europe.

The secrecy of the arbitration process is, in Malone’s words, “mind-blowing.” No citizen of any affected country can demand leverage or accountability over the proceedings. The arbitrators meet behind closed doors and do not even need to inform the people of a country that their government has been taken to arbitration.

Finally, this is how it ends:

As I warned in early November 2013, the global corporatocracy is almost fully operational. The intentions of those negotiating the multiple trade treaties are now crystal clear: to place complete power and control over our economies in the hands of the largest global corporations, many of which bear the lion’s share of responsibility for the economic and environmental mess we’re already in.

In the meantime, the clock continues to tick down. At any moment, a few quiet strokes of a pen behind the tightly closed doors of a luxury conference room could usher in a new age of corporate domination. With it will come a new kind of dystopia, bearing an uncanny likeness to the inverted totalitarianism foreseen by Sheldon Wolin.

I think this is the best article I have read - so far - on the TTIP, and I strongly recommend you read all of it. The only difference I have with it is about "inverted totalitarianism": I do not think it is that - which seems mostly to be about how the totalitarianism is sold to the public: it is about financial and legal fascism.

4. Wllliam Hazlitt on Dr. Johnson

The last item is completely different, and is about my strong likes for two English authors, namely Dr. Johnson (<- Wikipedia) and William Hazlitt (<- Wikipedia).

I really like both of them, ever since discovering and reading Dr. Johnson in the early 1970ies and Hazlitt in the early 1980ies [2], and I have meanwhile read most of what they published  (in Hazlitt's case mostly through the combined efforts of Everyman's Library and the

One problem I had is that Hazlitt, who was born some six years before Dr. Johnson died, did not like Johnson's published prose as much as I do (who was born 172 years after Hazlitt).

In part, Hazlitt was right: Dr. Johnson's written style is formal and latinate, but I object less to that than Hazlitt did, and also I have no reasons to find fault with Johnson in order to defend the much less latinate and more common, though still quite intricate and complex style that Hazlitt wrote.

In any case, I leaved yesterday through my copy of Everyman's fine edition of Hazlitt's "Lectures on the English comic writers" (that also contains 16 other essays of Hazlitt), that I bought and read first in April 1983, and found this tribute to Johnson by Hazlitt in Lecture V, "On the periodical essayists" (and I am only quoting two parts, for there is a lot more there):

The most triumphant record of the talents and character of Johnson is to be found in Boswell's life of him. The man was superior to the author. When he threw aside his pen, which he regarded as an incumbrance, he became not only learned and thoughtful, but acute, witty, humorous, natural, honest; hearty and determined, 'the king of good fellows and wale of old men.' There are as many smart repartees, profound remarks, and keen invectives to be found in Boswell's 'inventory of all he said,' as are recorded of any celebrayed man. The life and dramatic play of his conversation form a contrast to his written works. His natural powers and undisguised opinions were called out in convivial intercourse. In public, he practised with the foils on; in private, he unsheathed the sword of controversy, and it was ' the Ebro's temper.' The eagerness of opposition roused him from his natural sluggishness and acquired timidity; he returned blow for blow and whether the trial were of argument or wit, none of his rivals could boast much of the encounter. Burke seems to have been the only person who had a chance with him: and it is the unpardonable sin of Boswell's work, that he has purposely omitted their combats strength and skill.
His good deeds were as many as his good sayings. His domestic habits, his tenderness to servants, and readiness to oblige his friends ; the quantity of strong tea that he drank to keep down sad thoughts;  his many labours reluctantly begun, and irresolutely laid aside ; his honest acknowledgement of his own, and indulgence to the weaknesses of others; his throwing himself back in the post-chaise with Boswell, and saying, 'Now I think I am a good-humoured fellow,' though nobody thought him so, and yet he was, his quitting the society of Garrick and his actresses, and his reason for it; his dining with Wilkes, and his kindness to Goldsmith; his sitting with the young ladies on his knee at the Mitre, to give them good advice, in which situation, if not explained, he might be taken for FalstafF; and last and noblest, his carrying the unfortunate victim of disease and dissipation on his back up through Fleet Street, (an act which realises the parable of the good Samaritan) - all these, and innumerable others, endear him to the reader, and must be remembered to his lasting honour. He had faults, but they lie buried with him. He had his prejudices and his intolerant feelings; but he suffered enough in the conflict of his own mind with them. For if no man can be happy in the free exercise of his reason, no wise man can be happy without it. His were not time-serving, heartless, hypocritical prejudices; but deep, inwoven, not to be rooted out but with life and hope, which he found from old habit necessary to his own peace of mind, and thought so to the peace of mankind. I do not hate, but love him for them.

I published this bit for three reasons: I like the tribute; I like both Hazlitt and Johnson very much; and because of the English, which is better and more complex than current English.

P.S. Dec 27, 2014: Linked note 1 in the text to the note.

[1] Actually, it is on my site because I liked the article and did not want to risk its being changed. The article was last updated on the Wikipedia in 2012.

[2] Maybe I should add that every good writer I know of - quite a few - with the exception of the Dutch writer Multatuli, whom I owe to my grandfather, had to be discovered by myself: I really owe no discovery of any great writer to either school or university - which itself is a very sad comment on the education I got (which was quite a lot less bad than is common now). But yes... if you are sufficiently curious, now there is internet, and one tip here is

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