June 15, 2015
Crisis: Edward Snowden * 3, Corruption & Sanders, Reich on TPP
  "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


 Let me be clear – Edward Snowden is a hero
The Sunday Times’ Snowden Story is Journalism at its
     Worst — and Filled with Falsehoods

3. 5 Questions For UK Government After Sunday Times'
     Snowden Take Down

Here’s How Bernie Sanders Could Win
5. Why the Trans Pacific Partnership is Nearly Dead

This is a Nederlog of Monday June 15, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1, item 2 and item 3 are all about Snowden and about an attack on him - without any evidence
whatsoever - in the Sunday Times; item 4 is about an article of a former collaborator of Bill Clinton that seems to me mostly mistaken; and item 5 is about an article by Robert Reich on the TPP and "free trade" that also isn't
very well evidenced (it seems to me).

1. Let me be clear – Edward Snowden is a hero
The first item is an article by Shami Chakrabarti on The Guardian:
This starts as follows, and is a good explanation why there are three articles on Edward Snowden in today's Nederlog:
Who needs the movies when life is full of such spectacular coincidences? On Thursday, David Anderson, the government’s reviewer of terrorism legislation, condemned snooping laws as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable”, and called for a comprehensive new law incorporating judicial warrants – something for which my organisation, Liberty, has campaigned for many years. This thoughtful intervention brought new hope to us and others, for the rebuilding of public trust in surveillance conducted with respect for privacy, democracy and the law. And it was only possible thanks to Edward Snowden. Rumblings from No 10 immediately betrayed they were less than happy with many of Anderson’s recommendations – particularly his call for judicial oversight. And three days later, the empire strikes back! An exclusive story in the Sunday Times saying that MI6 “is believed” to have pulled out spies because Russia and China decoded Snowden’s files. The NSA whistleblower is now a man with “blood on his hands” according to one anonymous “senior Home Office official”.

Low on facts, high on assertions, this flimsy but impeccably timed story gives us a clear idea of where government spin will go in the coming weeks. It uses scare tactics to steer the debate away from Anderson’s considered recommendations – and starts setting the stage for the home secretary’s new investigatory powers bill.
And that is indeed what the article seems to be about. There will be more in the next two articles below, but here is Shami Chakrabarti's own judgment (with which I agree):

So let me be completely clear: Edward Snowden is a hero. Saying so does not make me an apologist for terror – it makes me a firm believer in democracy and the rule of law. Whether you are with or against Liberty in the debate about proportionate surveillance, Anderson must be right to say that the people and our representatives should know about capabilities and practices built and conducted in our name.

For years, UK and US governments broke the law. For years, they hid the sheer scale of their spying practices not just from the British public, but from parliament. Without Snowden – and the legal challenges by Liberty and other campaigners that followed – we wouldn’t have a clue what they were up to.

Yes, indeed: the governors are the criminals, the crooks and the states' terrorists, for they have no right to do what they have done - spying on everyone to get everything.

Also, once again: the governors do not try to get everything on everyone because they are concerned over terrorism; they try to get everything on everyone because they want - especially in England - a far more authoritarian state, that can control everyone, weed out all dissent, and rule absolutely.

"Terrorism" is merely the pretext to make the very few that govern get absolute power over everyone by knowing everything about everyone (and knowledge is power):
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

2. The Sunday Times’ Snowden Story is Journalism at its Worst — and Filled with Falsehoods

The next item is an article by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This is from the beginning (second paragraph):
Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article (behind a paywall: full text here) claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries “have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”
This is indeed what it comes down to:

Murdoch's Sunday Times produced an article without any checkable evidence about Snowden, that was merely asserted to be based on statements by anonymous officials, and with palpable falsehoods about people who were somehow involved, like David Miranda.

As Glenn Greenwald explains, this technique of anonymous smearing with falsehoods is quite common, and has happened many times (and he gives
several cases, including Ellsberg's).

I also think there probably is some relation between the publication of the Anderson report, who was
(...) the government’s reviewer of terrorism legislation, [and who]  condemned snooping laws as “undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable”, and called for a comprehensive new law incorporating judicial warrants (...)
This was explained by Shami Chakrabarti in the previous article. But I agree
this is a guess, albeit a plausible one.

Here is some more by Glenn Greenwald, who shows how grossly illogical the Sunday Times's article is. This starts with a quotation:

One senior Home Office official accused Snowden of having “blood on his hands”, although Downing Street said there was “no evidence of anyone being harmed”.

Aside from the serious retraction-worthy fabrications on which this article depends – more on those in a minute – the entire report is a self-negating joke. It reads like a parody I might quickly whip up in order to illustrate the core sickness of western journalism.

Unless he cooked an extra-juicy steak, how does Snowden “have blood on his hands” if there is “no evidence of anyone being harmed?” As one observer put it last night in describing the government instructions these Sunday Times journalists appear to have obeyed: “There’s no evidence anyone’s been harmed but we’d like the phrase ‘blood on his hands’ somewhere in the piece.”

Yes, indeed. Here is one part of Greenwald's argument:
The whole article does literally nothing other than quote anonymous British officials. It gives voice to banal but inflammatory accusations that are made about every whistleblower from Daniel Ellsberg to Chelsea Manning. It offers zero evidence or confirmation for any of its claims. The “journalists” who wrote it neither questioned any of the official assertions nor even quoted anyone who denies them. It’s pure stenography of the worst kind: some government officials whispered these inflammatory claims in our ears and told us to print them, but not reveal who they are, and we’re obeying. Breaking!
That seems to be the right description.

Glenn Greenwald also quotes Stephen Colbert who - already in 2006 - "
mocked American journalism to the faces of those who practice it:"
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works.The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!
And that is how it works. There is considerably more about Ellsberg and Manning, that I leave to your interests, but I quote this general conclusion:
At this point, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that journalists want it this way. It’s impossible that they don’t know better.
Here is Glenn Greenwald's conclusion:
The Sunday Times today merely recycled the same evidence-free smears that have been used by government officials for years – not only against Snowden, but all whistleblowers – and added a dose of sensationalism and then baked it with demonstrable lies. That’s just how western journalism works, and it’s the opposite of surprising. But what is surprising, and grotesque, is how many people (including other journalists) continue to be so plagued by some combination of stupidity and gullibility, so that no matter how many times this trick is revealed, they keep falling for it. If some anonymous government officials said it, and journalists repeat it while hiding who they are, I guess it must be true.
Yes and no. I agree with most, but I don't think "some combination of stupidity and gullibility" play a large role here, at least with the journalists of the Sunday Times:

They're trying to deceive the public, know they are, and probably don't care because they do not care for truthful reporting, and may not believe in truth at all, and especially not when this would contradict their own ideological falsehoods.

This is a serious problem - journalists who are merely ideological, who ceased to believe (or to care) that there is a real truth, and who function merely as the government's eager propagandists - but I will leave that to another day.

3.  5 Questions For UK Government After Sunday Times' Snowden Take Down

The next item is an article by Ewen MacAskill (<- Wikipedia) on AlterNet. It originated on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

The Sunday Times produced what at first sight looked like a startling news story: Russia and China had gained access to the cache of top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Not only that, but as a result, Britain’s overseas intelligence agency, the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, had been forced “to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries”.

These are serious allegations and, as such, the government has an obligation to respond openly.

The story is based on sources including “senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services”. The BBC said it had also also been briefed anonymously by a senior government official.

MacAskill then asks five questions, all quite justified. Here they are, but without explanatory texts (which you can get by clicking the last dotted link):

1. Is it true that Russia and China have gained access to
     Snowden’s top-secret documents? If so, where is the

2. Why have the White House and the US intelligence
     agencies not raised this?

3. Why have these claims emerged now?
4. Why is the Foreign Office not mentioned as a source?
5. What about the debatable assertions and at least one
     totally inaccurate point in the Sunday Times piece?

My own answers: 1. Without evidence there's no reason to believe this.
2. Because the allegations are not true. 3. Quite possibly because of the
Anderson case
(as Ewen MacAskill also says). 4. I have no idea. 5. As
Glenn Greenwald indicated at the end of his article, the falsehood about
David Miranda has been deleted on the internet, but not formally corrected.

4. Here’s How Bernie Sanders Could Win

The next item is an article by Bill Curry (<- Wikipedia) on AlterNet:

As you can see from the Wikipedia link, Bill Curry was White House counselor to president Clinton.

This is a fairly long article, that doesn't quite live up to its title, though the main argument is clear: (1) the main political problem there is now is corruption, and (2) Bernie Sanders has a chance to win the presidential nomination if he concentrates on that.

This is from the beginning:

We live amidst a global pandemic of corruption. It ravages Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and devours Africa. It was the issue at the heart of every uprising of the Arab Spring. It has spurred riots in India and Brazil, struck fear into the hearts of China’s leaders and contributed mightily to the warping of Russia’s politics as well as its economy. It tops liberal agendas everywhere in the world — everywhere, that is, but here.

America has not had a full-throated debate of political corruption since Watergate. In that scandal’s immediate aftermath Congress enacted sweeping campaign finance reforms (struck down by the Supreme Court in its vile Buckley v. Valeo decision). In the mid ’70s, states passed a flurry of reforms, establishing what were often their first ethics, campaign finance and freedom-of- information commissions. But politicians have chipped away at those reforms ever since.

I agree with that - many politicians and indeed many CEOs are corrupt, and
the U.S. didn't have a real debate about political corruption since Watergate -
but this does not establish corruption is the main political problem.

Indeed, I think it isn't. There are three main reasons: (1) While I agree there
is an enormous amount of corruption, the main problems for the electorate are
less about corruption as about income inequalities (which may have been brought about by corruption, but even so: the electorate is a lot less corrupt than many politicians, and this is what they feel: no real increase in their wages for decades, while the 1% earn obscenely much). (2) The problem with making corruption a major political theme is that it very easily slides into all manner of questions about how corrupt are those politicians who propose/oppose it - and again there are many more problems than corruption itself. (3) It requires a moral excellence in politicians hat is probably hard to find, and even if it exists it seems much better to attack the unpalatable consequences or conditions of corruption, like "Money Out Of Politics", rather than insisting on how corrupt politicians are.

This is not to deny that corruption is important, and Curry has this about it:

This week the Times released a poll on money in politics. Eighty-five percent of respondents said the system needs “fundamental change” or even to be “completely rebuilt.” Eighty-five percent said politicians do their donors’ bidding some or all of the time. Seventy-eight percent want to limit spending by independent groups. Seventy-five percent would require disclosure of donations to any entity engaged in politics. Just 23 percent said all Americans have an equal voice in their democracy. And here’s an interesting fact: On every question, it seems Democrats and Republicans felt pretty much the same.

I agree with this - but then again it would seem to me more practical to campaign for Money Out Of Politics (for example), rather than against corrupt politicians.

There is this small bit that relates to the title:

Neither Clinton has a clue about the depth of public anger over watching big-money interests treat government as their personal toy. If Clinton loses the nomination or the general election, this will be the reason why.

Bernie Sanders does a far better job on the issue, but even he doesn’t quite nail it. Like Clinton, he says his Supreme Court appointees must commit to overturn Citizens United. He said it first, but every Democrat says it now and it feels like a dodge.

Really now? And speaking about corruption, which the Citizens United decision very much helped: Why would the fact - which Bill Curry claims, but I do not know with what justification - that "every Democrat says it now" makes saying this an invalid point?

So no: This is hardly about Bernie Sanders, and I also disagree with its two basic points: While I am much against corruption, and while I agree many politicians these days are corrupt, I don't think corruption should be the main theme, and
I don't think Sanders should concentrate on it.

And it is much better to say what you are for, such as "Money Out Of Politics!" than to say what your are against, such as "Down With Corruption!".

5. Why the Trans Pacific Partnership is Nearly Dead

The last item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

How can it be that the largest pending trade deal in history – a deal backed both by a Democratic president and Republican leaders in Congress – is nearly dead?

The Trans Pacific Partnership may yet squeak through Congress but its near-death experience offers an important lesson.

It’s not that labor unions have regained political power (union membership continues to dwindle and large corporations have more clout in Washington than ever) or that the President is especially weak (no president can pull off a major deal like this if the public isn’t behind him).

The biggest lesson is most Americans no longer support free trade.

I say? It is indeed quite possible that Robert Reich knows more about the TPP than I do, but I would have liked to see his evidence. And now "most Americans no longer support free trade"?

Again, I doubt this, firstly because I think that "free trade" is an out and out ideological idea (there is no free trade without many agreements, which makes the trade a lot less free, though indeed not necessarily more honest or less profitable); and secondly because the evidence that Reich presents does not support the notion that ordinary Americans are against (or for) "free trade", but much rather that they are against major inequalities and in favor of a considerable amount of fair sharing.

And I like that, but being a psychologist I also know these properties are not only human but are shared with many of the apes. [1]


[1] Indeed, this in turn suggests that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and other billionaires may be considerably less popular than it would seem, though there is an apish quality that is also shared by humans that protects them: Fair sharing is fine, but it does mostly hold for similar others, with similar status, which protects the strong ones: "Since he is stronger, I better don't protest". (But I know that I am now rather far from the theme Reich discussed.)

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