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Nederlog

April 7, 2015
Crisis: Edward Snowden * 4 + Robert Reich * 1
  "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















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Sections
Introduction

1. Edward Snowden Talks Government Spying and 'Dick Pics'
     with John Oliver

2. Why John Oliver Can’t Find Americans Who Know Edward
     Snowden’s Name (It’s Not About Snowden)

3.
Artists Place Bust of Edward Snowden Atop War Memorial
     Statue in Brooklyn

4.
John Oliver presses Edward Snowden on whether he read
     all leaked NSA material

5. The Big Chill: How Big Money Is Buying Off Criticism of Big
     Money



Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, April 7, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items and 6 dotted links, but it is a bit abnormal in that
item 1, item 2, item 3 and item 4 are all about Edward Snowden (as portrayed by John Oliver, as sculpted by an anonymous sculptor, as distorted by The Renewed Guardian), while item 5 is about Robert Reich on the reach of Big Money.

I am not sorry it is a bit abnormal, for I do think Edward Snowden is a remarkable man, to whom a lot is owed, at least by everyone who loves personal freedom, real democracy, and privacy.

1.
Edward Snowden Talks Government Spying and 'Dick Pics' with John Oliver 

The first item is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows - and in fact is one of four items I have today on Edward Snowden (and no, I am not at all sorry):

In a sit-down interview with John Oliver, host of HBO's comedy news show Last Week Tonight, that aired on Sunday, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said that people should not curb their online habits just because the U.S. government is conducting mass surveillance across the internet.

Asked jokingly by Oliver about whether or not Americans should worry that the National Security Agency is collecting "dick pics" of internet users, Snowden said that people shouldn't change their behavior simply "because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing" by using a series of advanced surveillance programs to collectprivate personal data in bulk. "If you sacrifice your values because you're afraid," Snowden said, "you don't care about those values very much."

He continued, "The good news is that there's no program named the 'dick pic' program. The bad news... they are still collecting everybody's information, including your dick pics."

First, here is the whole program by John Oliver. This is 33 m and 14 s:

[The above displays in my html-writer, and should display on the internet, but it doesn't. Here is the link to Oliver's video.]

I think you should watch this. The first half is Oliver explaining that surveillance is not a popular topic in the U.S., while the second half is the interview Oliver made with Snowden in Moscow, that also includes some rather stunning evidence about what the American people do and do not know - and one of the things most do not know is who Edward Snowden is.

At this point I have also three remarks, namely about Oliver, about the American people, and about Snowden, preceded by this fourth remark: If you do not watch the above video - which is interesting, funny and revealing - you probably will not understand most of item 1, item 2 and item 4.

Now for my remarks:

I like John Oliver for roughly the same reasons as I like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher: They are all intelligent and progressive and they do their best to make people think a bit more rationally (and they earn quite well, also). This doesn't mean I agree with them always, for I clearly don't, but if your condition for liking people is that they agree with you all the time, there will be very few people you like, and very few people who like you. (And in fact I like Maher and Oliver a bit more than Jon Stewart, but that seems mostly personal and related to the formats: Maher and Oliver are a bit less loud and a bit more serious than Stewart, which I like better, but as I said, this is a matter of taste more than of contents.)

Second, about the American people. There is a fundamental problem, that is also discussed by Glenn Greenwald in the following item: There are over 300 million Americans, and while there is a wide variety in intelligence and knowledge, and while there also are some very intelligent and knowledgeable Americans, there also are many who are either remarkably unintelligent or remarkably ignorant. (Wait with criticizing this till you have read item 2.)

Third, about Edward Snowden: I like and admire him for what he did and dared, and he handles himself well in this interview, but I suppose he was at least a bit amazed when he
was confronted with the evidence that few ordinary Americans even know his name. (And indeed so was I: The least that I had expected is that after more than 1 1/2 years his name was known to most Americans. But no.)

OK - now for the next article, by Glenn Greenwald, that does address the second point:

2.  Why John Oliver Can’t Find Americans Who Know Edward Snowden’s Name (It’s Not About Snowden)

The next item is an article by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:
On his HBO program last night, John Oliver devoted 30 minutes to a discussion of U.S. surveillance programs, advocating a much more substantive debate as the June 1 deadline for renewing the Patriot Act approaches (the full segment can be seen here). As part of that segment, Oliver broadcast an interview he conducted with Edward Snowden in Moscow, and to illustrate the point that an insufficient surveillance debate has been conducted, showed video of numerous people in Times Square saying they had no idea who Snowden is (or giving inaccurate answers about him). Oliver assured Snowden off-camera that they did not cherry-pick those “on the street” interviews but showed a representative sample.
Yes, indeed (though Oliver's assurance to Snowden - about not cherry-picking - is in the interview). And you should watch Oliver's article, and indeed you can do this also from the present article, for that contains a copy as well.

Glenn Greenwald continues as follows:
Oliver’s overall discussion is good (and, naturally, quite funny), but the specific point he wants to make here is misguided. Contrary to what Oliver says, it’s actually not surprising at all that a large number of Americans are unaware of who Snowden is, nor does it say much at all about the surveillance debate. That’s because a large number of Americans, by choice, are remarkably unaware of virtually all political matters. The befuddled reactions of the Times Square interviewees when asked about Snowden illustrate little about the specific surveillance issue but a great deal about the full-scale political disengagement of a substantial chunk of the American population.
Well...yes and no. I agree Oliver did a good job, but I do not agree with Greenwald's statement that
"it’s actually not surprising at all that a large number of Americans are unaware of who Snowden is, nor does it say much at all about the surveillance debate".
The matter of it not being "surprising" gets somewhat clarified by asking who is (not) surprised - but speaking for myself, who has followed this whole matter of Snowden's revelations about the NSA quite closely; who has fast internet since the summer
of 2009; and who has often said (like Bill Maher) that alas too many people are
neither intelligent nor learned, I was rather surprised by the solid ignorance about
Snowden and his revelations that was shown by many Americans.

Also, it seems to me that this gets prettified a bit too much by attributing this quite remarkable
ignorance to "choice": Yes, I agree the lack of quite simple knowledge is
in part due to choice - but I would have added that these choices, in turn, are often
motivated by either a lack of real intelligence or a the presence of a great amount of
ignorance (which is how I define "stupidity", by the way).

But let's first see what ordinary Americans do not know:
An Annenberg Public Policy Center poll from last September found that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government, and only 38 percent know the GOP controls the House. The Center’s 2011 poll “found just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol.”
In contrast, I knew all the answers except the one about Randy Jackson, and I've not even
ever been in the United States. There is more (and I knew all these answers as well, as indeed I guess most of my readers do, for it is in fact quite easy to pick up these things):
A 2010 Findlaw.com poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — were incapable of naming even a single member of the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2010 Pew poll discovered that 41 percent of Americans are unable to name the current vice president of the U.S; in other words, Oliver could just as easily (if not more easily) compile a video of Times Square visitors looking stumped when asked if they knew who Joe Biden, or Antonin Scalia, is.
I suppose so - but all of those I saw interviewed, all of whom were remarkably ignorant, also may vote in the United States, and a sizable proportion does vote.

Here is Glenn Greenwald's explanation:
These are obviously significant facts which receive far too little discussion, analysis and attention. One reason is that they serve as a rather stinging indictment on the political system which media and political insiders love to glorify: a huge chunk of the population, probably the majority, have simply turned away entirely from politics, presumably out of a belief that it makes no difference in their lives. It’s difficult to maintain mythologies about the glories of American democracy if most of the population believes it has so little value that it merits literally none of their time and mental attention.
I agree these are "significant facts which receive far too little discussion, analysis and attention" but I do diagnose it differently, which has - probably - to do with the fact that
all of my direct family have IQs over 130 (as probably did my grandparents - and the reason that I am the only one with an academic degree in my family is simply that there were student loans for me, but not for my parents or grandparents: they all had to work by age 12 to 15).

My diagnosis is that this "choice", this
turning "away entirely from politics", is mostly (not: only) due to the remarkable ignorance of the majority, that again is mostly due to their being not intelligent - and the only ground to make me change this opinion is a proof that most turned to science rather than "American Idols", which has a nearly zero chance.

And no, this does not make me happy at all,
for they all have an electoral choice, that
many also use, and the few intelligent have the same voting power as the many unintelligent: They each and all have one vote per person.

3. Artists Place Bust of Edward Snowden Atop War Memorial Statue in Brooklyn  
The next item is an article by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams, that has some other Snowden news:
This starts as follows (under a photograph of the bust):

Paying tribute to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, activist artists in Brooklyn early Monday surreptitiously installed a bust of his likeness to a war memorial.

According to the publication Animal, which was given exclusive access to document the act, three unnamed New York City-based artists "hauled the 100-pound sculpture into Fort Greene Park and up its hilly terrain just before dawn. They fused it to part of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, a memorial to Revolutionary War soldiers."

In fact, there is a video of it, that was also released by Animal. I like it:


[The above displays in my html-writer, and should display on the internet, but it doesn't. Here is the link to Animal's video.]

There is this about the bust (which seems correct to me):
Describing the 4-foot tall bust, Animal said it was designed specifically to blend into the monument. "Both the color and design of the bust expertly matches the existing sculptures there, from its bronze patina finish to Snowden’s hair — which mimics the texture of the feather on the eagle," Animal reports. "The artists also added letters spelling out Snowden’s name in an official-looking font befitting of a monument."
Unfortunately:
According to reporting on the ground, park officials have already removed the artwork.

In case you want more, here is an item on the same events on Truthdig, by Roisin Davies:

This also has the merit of quoting some more text by the makers of the statue. Here is some of it:

“We feel that Snowden’s actions really continue that story,” the group said. “It [Snowden’s course of action] is built upon a set of ideals to live freely, not be confined or surveilled or monitored by your government. You can’t have freedom of expression to pursue liberty if you feel like you’re doing it under a watchful eye.”

“It gives the whole thing so much more meaning,” the statement said. “It’s not just about Snowden. It’s about the ideals that he was trying to work towards and push others to care about.” The Revolutionary War prisoners were fighting for the same ideals that Snowden is fighting for, the group said.

“This is a guy who some of the traditional mass media has portrayed as a traitor, or a terrorist, and the very same thing would have been said about these POWs in the Revolutionary War times,” the group said. “But with 200 years of perspective, we realized they were fighting for something all of us are very grateful for. We hope it will shift people’s perceptions, or open their eyes, that there could be a different story than what they’ve been told.”

Yes, indeed.

4. John Oliver presses Edward Snowden on whether he read all leaked NSA material

The next item is an article by Alan Yuhas on The Guardian (that until a little over a year ago had Glenn Greenwald write on surveillance and security):
This starts as follows:

Edward Snowden avoided saying whether he had read every NSA document he handed over to journalists in an interview with comedian John Oliver on Sunday, as the HBO host posed uncomfortable questions to the NSA whistleblower in Moscow.

When Oliver asked: “How many of those documents have you actually read?” Snowden responded: “I’ve evaluated all the documents that are in the archive.”

When pressed, he said “Well, I do understand what I turned over,” and acknowledged: “I recognize the concern” about whether he knew enough of the documents’ details or technical abilities of journalists to protect certain details.

I say?! Did The Guardian rent "a reporter" from the GOP?! And yes, I have said that the horrible change in The Guardian's website seemed the beginning of more horrible changes,
so this does not amaze me very much, though I find it sickening that Yuhas concentrates on this aspect.

You can read the whole article using the last dotted link. (And I take it there will be more of this reporting on The Renewed Guardian, though I would be very glad to be refuted.) [1]

5. The Big Chill: How Big Money Is Buying Off Criticism of Big Money

The last item for today is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

Not long ago I was asked to speak to a religious congregation about widening inequality. Shortly before I began, the head of the congregation asked that I not advocate raising taxes on the wealthy.

He said he didn’t want to antagonize certain wealthy congregants on whose generosity the congregation depended.  

I had a similar exchange last year with the president of a small college who had invited me to give a lecture that his board of trustees would be attending. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t criticize Wall Street,” he said, explaining that several of the trustees were investment bankers.

It seems to be happening all over.

I believe it, and indeed I believe more, for I believe most men (and women) are conformists: They tend to - pretend they - agree with what the majorities around them -
say they - think, and they do that for two reasons: First, they are not very intelligent themselves, which makes most of their opinions ordinary anyway, and second, they are afraid to stand out as different if they are in a minority.

Also, I formulated this with two qualifications, because both individual conformism (what individuals think) and social conformism (what the majorities think) tend to be guesses which are mostly based on dishonesty rather than on real knowledge, simply because much of social speaking is in various ways dishonest (which in part also is necessary and may be kindness).

Here is more Robert Reich:

It’s bad enough big money is buying off politicians. It’s also buying off nonprofits that used to be sources of investigation, information, and social change, from criticizing big money. 

Other sources of funding are drying up. Research grants are waning. Funds for social services of churches and community groups are growing scarce. Legislatures are cutting back university funding. Appropriations for public television, the arts, museums, and libraries are being slashed.
Yes, indeed. There is also this (and considerably more that you should read yourselves)
that gives a fair warning:

This isn’t a matter of ideology. Wealthy progressives can exert as much quiet influence over the agendas of nonprofits as wealthy conservatives.

It’s a matter of big money influencing what should and should not be investigated, revealed, and discussed – especially when it comes to the tightening nexus between concentrated wealth and political power, and how that power further enhances great wealth.

This is true, although I tend to believe that owners of "big money" are mostly interested in preserving big money to themselves, and in getting even more.

But Reich is quite right in his conclusions:

Our democracy is directly threatened when the rich buy off politicians.

But no less dangerous is the quieter and more insidious buy-off of institutions democracy depends on to research, investigate, expose, and mobilize action against what is occurring.

Yes, indeed - and in fact, if I judge e.g. by the first two of today's items, my own conclusion is that "democracy" these days is effectively (!) supported by considerably less than half of the American population.

Note that the key word is "
effectively": I do not think most are "against democracy", and indeed think most are for it, but the U.S.A. is a country where the following is the case (and I quote Glenn Greenwald again):
(...) only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government, and only 38 percent know the GOP controls the House. The Center’s 2011 poll “found just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol.

A 2010 Findlaw.com poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — were incapable of naming even a single member of the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2010 Pew poll discovered that 41 percent of Americans are unable to name the current vice president of the U.S (..)
I do think that in such a country the democracy - or what remains of it - is not effectively supported by half or more of the population.

This is a quite sad conclusion.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes

[1] Here is why I consider this degenerated: The only things Yuhas reports on what Snowden is said to have "avoided" (it seems also as if Yuhas said before that Snowden claimed he read all, which he never did); on the "dangers" Snowden is supposed to have caused; and on "the apathy" of "Americans" about his findings.

Not a word about revealing the enormous extent of anonymous spying on anyone (other than: "
Snowden - whose leaks of thousands of documents to Guardian journalists led to controversy around the world": "controversy"?!) and not even a whisper about the risks Snowden took.

And indeed this also stands in remarkable contrast 
- given that Glenn Greenwald worked for several years for The Guardian - with the other items
in this Nederlog about the same program of Oliver.


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