March 6, 2015
Crisis: Media Deceptions, Cameron, Bureaucracy, Petraeus, Snowden
  "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. The “Snowden is Ready to Come Home!” Story: a Case
     Study in Typical Media Deceit

2. If Miliband is so weak, why is Cameron so afraid of
     debating with him?

3. “I found myself turning into an idiot!”: David Graeber
      explains the life-sapping reality of bureaucratic life

Gen. Petraeus: Too Big to Jail
Snowden: Canadians Face 'Intrusive' Spy Bill That Echoes
     US Patriot Act


This is a Nederlog of Friday, March 6, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links. Item 1 is by Glenn Greenwald and documents one (of many) cases of widespread media lying; item 2 is on David Cameron's refusals to conduct an honest debate; item 3 is on bureaucracy, and contains some quotations from me (which I think are quite interesting); item 4 is on David Petraeus, who is too big to jail; and item 5 is about Snowden on the Canadian government's plans to much extend the powers of their secret services.

Also, this got uploaded a bit earlier than usual, to allow me to go cycling in the afternoon.

1. The “Snowden is Ready to Come Home!” Story: a Case Study in Typical Media Deceit

The first item today is an article by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Most sentient people rationally accept that the U.S. media routinely disseminates misleading stories and outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones. But it’s nonetheless valuable to examine particularly egregious case studies to see how that works. In that spirit, let’s take yesterday’s numerous, breathless reports trumpeting the “BREAKING” news that “Edward Snowden now wants to come home!” and is “now negotiating the terms of his return!”

Ever since Snowden revealed himself to the public 20 months ago, he has repeatedly said the same exact thing when asked about his returning to the U.S.: I would love to come home, and would do so if I could get a fair trial, but right now, I can’t.

And it continues thus:

His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.

Snowden has also pointed out that legal protections for whistleblowers are explicitly inapplicable to those, like him, who are employed by private contractors (rendering President Obama’s argument about why Snowden should “come home” entirely false).
Yes, indeed (apart from saying twice "they" in "they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense": These really refer to different "they"s, I'd say: the second "they have" should have been "it has been").

In any case: I'd say the above is known to me since July or August of 2013, and indeed to anyone with a decent mind who followed the story.

The reason for Glenn Greenwald to repeat it (quite rightly, also) is that many journalists still pretend not to know it - or if they do not pretend but really believe what they write, like Blake Hounshell's
BREAKING: Snowden's lawyer says he is ready to return to U.S.
then they really are too stupid to be journalists. For neither Snowden nor Snowden's lawyers said anything remotely like the quoted headline, though many of the big media outlets pretended he did or they had.

And that is the subject of Glenn Greenwald's article, who makes this quite clear in the rest of the article.

I will leave that to your interests, but I want to briefly answer the question I raised: Are many U.S. journalists who work for the main media as stupid as they seem or are they simply lying?

I'd say they are mostly lying, but that the motive may vary: They want to share a story; they don't care for Snowden or his rights; they'd like to see him locked up; they are being conformists; they ape others, and more.

But most are simply lying, which I say because I would not want to offend them by saying they are too stupid to know what is known to anyone intelligent since August 2013 at the latest.

2. If Miliband is so weak, why is Cameron so afraid of debating with him?

The next item is an article by Polly Toynbee on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
Bullies are always cowards, they say – so it’s no surprise David Cameron is turning tail on head-to-head election debates between the only two candidates for prime minister. First he said the Greens must join – it was agreed. Then he said there must be seven parties – agreed too. Then it had to be before the campaign proper begins – agreed again. Ed Miliband yesterday gave the Martini challenge: he’d debate him “any time, any place, anywhere.”
There is considerably more, that I leave to you, except for this, that seems to me (who is no fan of Cameron) a mostly fair summary:
But the broadcasters, constrained by impartiality laws, are unlikely to dare raise a hue and cry against Cameron’s obstructionism. If there is no great public outcry against Cameron’s cowardice, it will show, yet again, how far the political agenda this election is dominated by Murdoch, Rothermere and the Barclay brothers, who control 85% of newspaper readership, moving heaven and earth to keep the Tories in power.
Yes indeed, although I do not quite see how a "great public outcry", if it happened, could make itself heard in a country where "Murdoch, Rothermere and the Barclay brothers" "control 85% of newspaper readership". For however big
the outcry, it is very unlikely to be fairly reported by 85% of the present British press.

3.“I found myself turning into an idiot!”: David Graeber explains the life-sapping reality of bureaucratic life  

The next item is an article by Elias Isquith on Salon:

In fact, I am quite interested in bureaucracies, and also in the sorts of minds that allow themselves to be bureaucrats, simply because (1) bureaucrats are the basis of governments - and remain in their places as politicians come and go, and also (2) bureaucrats are the basis of corporations, even if these mostly are into making things: You meet the bureaucrats very much rather than the workers, as the normal spokespersons for the corporations, while (3) the top management are nearly always also bureaucrats.

Indeed, here are a few things I wrote about bureaucrats and bureaucracies:

Bureaucracy plan
And here are three quotations from the above. First, on bureaucrats:
These men and women are not an innocuous, objective group who do the work of a state or government, but a group of the - usually, normally, on average, in effect, if not immediately then after some years - morally and intellectually unqualified who, through their usual lack of all human excellence, because of their function, find themselves in positions of great effective power and considerable remuneration, which moreover is mostly totally uncontrolled and without sanction.

It also is a group of people that, in the interest of a well-run state or government, should be almost wholly removed, and replaced by persons who do a similar job for some years only, and as a kind of social service, because they already do similar work in society, and who get replaced after some years of social service, by others.

Second, on a government without bureaucrats:

Government by the people: Instead of a bureaucracy and instead of military service, every adult citizen in society should spend two or three years of his or her life as a civil servant, in the type of job and with the sort of payment one receives in ordinary life, organized on the lines of a governmental Manpower office, also manned by such civil servants, that takes care that the tasks now done by state bureaucracy will be done by properly and honestly by ordinary civilians doinbg their civil service.

This is a system of
real democratic government, that avoids all or most of the dangers of bureaucracy (careerism, corruption, loyalty to - aspiring - dictators, parasitism, incompetence, manipulation, lack of control by the population), and effectively does give the power to the people, for it in effect delivers the everyday practical government in the hands of the people, for the few years that they do social service as civil servant. Besides, it makes every adult participate in actual government during some period of his or her life, and it gives every citizen a chance to be a civil servant, and to replace the bureaucratic caste of state servants that currently have most of the everyday power in so-called "democratic" states, and which is a type of man that can and should be wholly done away with. Real power to the people - by civil service.

Third, on the sort of society I want (but will never see):
A society governed by its total adult population through some years of civil service, that replaces nearly all of present state bureaucracies, with its ruling élite and policies selected by and from the highly educated of the society, and such that everyone is given the same chance on the best education, which is made available to all who are capable of it.

A society dedicated to the furthering of science and technology, first and foremost furthered by education, schools and universities, in the interest of all, where everyone has the right to be fed, educated, housed, clothed and provided with work that fits his capacities and inclinations, and where all have the freedoms of speech, discussion, publication, movement, opinion, argumentation, production and selling, all only bound by and regulated by public laws, maintained by independent public courts, with public judgments.

A society where everyone is in principle expected to interact by peaceful cooperation, free discussion, with resort to independent third parties to resolve conflicts, and by mutual agreement, contracts or promises that are expected to stand if freely agreed to.

A society whose citizens are expected to be intelligent, informed, educated, witty, rational, reasonable, cooperative, fair, honest, and where everyone has a fair chance of a bearable life, the development of any personal talents, and is fairly rewarded according to real merit.
Now to the interview - and I only quote David Graeber, who is the interviewee:
I realized that bureaucracy was sort of a theme that kept popping up in all sorts of different things that I was working on … Also there wasn’t a very interesting existing literature on it.
Well... while this depends on what you call "interesting", it also seems to me false. Here are three books by authors whom I found quite interesting:
C. Wright Mills: White Collar (1951)
Vance Packard: The Hidden Persuaders (1957)
Vance Packard: The Status Seekers (1959)
Vance Packard: The Pyramid Climbers (1962)
I have added the years in which these were first published. (All were reprinted in later years.) There are quite a few more, but I recall these from the late 1960ies
and/or early 1970ies, when I read them. [1]

Graeber also says:

The fact that the discourse of the way we talk about bureaucracy, the political issue of bureaucracy, used to be a big left-wing issue back in the ’60s, and now it’s sort of been abandoned to the right — I think the political consequences of that have been disastrous.
Here he is quite right. Graeber also says:
The mainstream left, which is barely left at all at this point in traditional terms … has really embraced a combination of market and bureaucracy, an equal synthesis of the worst aspects of capitalism and the worst aspects of bureaucracy.
Yes - and part of the reason is that many of the "mainstream left" are bureaucrats, who work for the government of for big corporations, and may
do so for 40 years, unlike most politicians.

Graeber - who is an anthropologist - also says this about governments and bureaucracies:

[Government has] kept growing and growing with more and more bureaucrats. The more free-market we get, the more bureaucrats we end up with, too.

So I kind of looked around for a counter-example: Is there an example of a place where they did market reforms and it didn’t increase the total number of bureaucrats … I couldn’t find any. It always goes up. It went up under Reagan.

I didn't know that the number of bureaucrats went up under Reagan, but I am not at all amazed. And indeed I agree on "free-markets", or however they are called (and made the argument repeatedly myself):

Self-regulating markets were basically created with government intervention. It was a political project. Certain assumptions of how these things work just aren’t true. People don’t do wage labor if they have any choice, historically, for example. So in order to get a docile labor force, you have to create police and [a] large apparatus to ensure that the people you kick off the land actually will get the kinds of jobs you want them to … this is the very beginning of creating a market.

Yes, indeed - and this also holds internationally: "Free markets" exist because they are regulated and protected by laws.

Finally, here is Graeber on one of the consequences of being a bureaucrat:

I really think that bureaucracy is a way of crushing the human imagination. It also makes people stupid. And that was the thing that really impressed me about my first major encounter with bureaucracy — I found myself turning into an idiot!

Actually, I may be a bit more radical: I think those who become bureacrats, and especially those who excel at being bureaucrats, are people with very little imagination, with very little morals other than conformism to their own bureaucratic group, and who excel in groupthinking.

They are precisely the people who should not lord over others, but who are allowed to, again because they can do so obsequiously towards their bureaucratic and political leaders.

4.  Gen. Petraeus: Too Big to Jail

The next item is an article by Ray McGovern on Consortiumnews:

This starts with the following introduction:

While lesser Americans face years in jail for leaking secrets – even to inform fellow citizens of government abuses – retired Gen. David Petraeus gets a misdemeanor wrist-slap for exposing covert officers and lying about it, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who was jailed just for trying to ask Petraeus a question.

Yes, precisely. The article itself starts as follows:

The leniency shown former CIA Director (and retired General) David Petraeus by the Justice Department in sparing him prison time for the serious crimes that he has committed puts him in the same preferential, immune-from-incarceration category as those running the financial institutions of Wall Street, where, incidentally, Petraeus now makes millions. By contrast, “lesser” folks – and particularly the brave men and women who disclose government crimes – get to serve time, even decades, in jail.

There is a lot more under the last dotted link, and it is a good article.

5. Snowden: Canadians Face 'Intrusive' Spy Bill That Echoes US Patriot Act

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

This starts as follows:

In a teleconference hosted by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression at Ryerson University on Wednesday, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden warned that the country's intelligence agencies have the "weakest oversight" in the Western world, and that new anti-terror legislation championed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper was "an emulation of the American Patriot Act."

"And when [the agencies are] trying to expand their powers, it's pretty amazing that we have the Canadian government trying to block the testimony of former prime ministers who've had access to classified information, who understand the value of these programs, and who are warning the public broadly and saying this is something we really need to talk about, this is something we really need to debate, this is something we really need to be careful about," Snowden continued.

As Common Dreams previously reported, the new surveillance legislation, known as Bill C-51, "would expand the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)'s powers to 'disrupt terrorism offenses and terrorist activity;' make it easier for law enforcement agencies to carry out preventive detentions, and allow them for longer time, make it easier to federal agencies to share information, and give law enforcement agencies power 'to disrupt terrorism offenses and terrorist activity.'"

This is another good article, that I recommend you read all of.

And here is a Snowden-quotation:

"No matter what we do, no matter what laws we pass, we cannot throw away all of our rights, all of our liberties, all of our traditional freedoms because we are afraid of rare instances of criminal activity," he said. "Governments never had this power in the past where they could pre-emptively investigate every member of society, place them under quite intrusive surveillance."

During the hour-long chat, Snowden also said of electronic information, "Everything can be subverted."

I agree - more or less. For while I agree in principle, it also seems to be a fact that the majority of the U.S. really does not mind to "throw away all of our rights, all of our liberties, all of our traditional freedoms" - at least as long as they earn enough to be well-paid consumers, who can exercise their "freedoms" to choose on the markets from what's on offer there.

It's a great pity, but it seems to be a fact - and if it is not
the majority (I am not sure), it still is far too large a group who consent to be quietly plundered by the secret services, in order to be free to be consumers (which anyway is a completely silly human ideal).


[1] One more thing, because I have read or heard this complaint many times the last 40 years or so: Both Wright Mills and Vance Packard could write (which indeed is part of what makes their books interesting), while (i) not many men are good writers anyway, and (ii) especially not academic sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers - who often criticized Mills and Packard for being readable, and normally suggested their own kind of generally ill-written pretended science was the real thing. No, it was not: it was - with a few exceptions - simply bad science written by second or third rate minds, who also could not write.

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