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Nederlog

August 21, 2015
Crisis: Anonymous (?), US Court, Greek Elections, MI5 and Communists, Sanders

 "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.
The Puritanical Glee Over the Ashley Madison Hack
2. Appellate Court Judges Cite '1984' to Expand Corporate
     First Amendment Rights

3. Greek bailout: Alexis Tsipras steps down to trigger new
     elections
 
4.
MI5 believed anyone with Communist links were
     legitimate cold war targets

5. VIDEO: Bernie Sanders Tells Reporters Why He Won’t
     Attack Clinton



This is a Nederlog of Friday, August 21, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about something that the Ashley Madison hack revealed about many persons; item 2
is about a quite incorrect judgement of an American appellate court; item 3 is about Greece: There will be elections in 30 days; item 4 is about how MI5 operated in the past; and item 5 is a nice answer of Bernie Sanders, that I quote because it is sensible.

1. The Puritanical Glee Over the Ashley Madison Hack 

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

High school students have long read The Scarlet Letter, the 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne set in a Puritanical Massachusetts town in the mid-17th Century. It chronicles the life of a woman who is found to have committed adultery (on her long-presumed- lost-at-sea husband); as punishment, she is forced to stand before her village with the letter “A” attached to her dress. The intent is to forever publicly shame her for her moral transgression. As The Atlantic noted in 1886, “the punishment of the scarlet letter is a historical fact.”

The moral premise of that ritual, its animating righteousness, is by no means an obsolete relic of the Puritanical era. It is as vibrant as ever. Busybodies sitting in judgment of and righteously condemning the private, sexual acts of other adults remains one of the most self-satisfying and entertaining – and thus most popular – public spectacles. It simultaneously uplifts the moral judges (I am superior to that which I condemn), distracts them from their own behaviors (I am focused on those other people’s sins, and thus not my own), and titillates (to condemn this, I simply must immerse myself in the tawdry details of their sexual acts). To see just how current is the mentality driving the Scarlet Letter, observe the reaction to the Ashley Madison hack.

Yes, indeed - but let me first sketch in a few background points.

First Ashley Madison. This is a site that caters to people who are married but want to have an affair.  As a matter of fact, there are many such people, with many different reasons - good, bad and indifferent, again according to various standards - who want an affair, and there probably always were, but before the internet most of them had to use private advertisements in daily papers or weeklies.

Also, as Glenn Greenwald points out (a bit later in the article), and as I quite agree:
(...) adultery, as Adam Johnson put it, “is a moral misdemeanor,” something the law does not even punish. To destroy someone’s reputation and life over it is so wildly out of proportion to the actual transgression.
This is both important and true: If desiring an affair while one is married is wrong (which itself is a questionable assertion in many cases) it is a moral wrong (and that only according to some) and it is not a legal crime.

Second, the hacking of Ashley Madison. In fact, I haven't paid much attention to it but it seems an internal affair. What happened is that the private data - names, addresses (both physical and e-mail), credit card purchases and sexual
desires and proclivities - have been put on line by the hackers. And this is not a small affair, so to speak: it concerns the private details of 33 million men and women, from all over the world, including some well-known ones. [1]

And as Glenn Greenwald also makes clear, there were some papers, including The Washington Post, who helped their readers to sites that help searching the data for email addresses and names, which the papers themselves advertize as moral help.

I am not interested in Ashley Madison or its hacked data, and will not consider the hacking or the data.

Third, I have read "The Scarlett Letter", which I found rather impressive though gloomy, and indeed these shaming rituals were historical fact. (It should be remembered though that the story is set in the first half of the 17th Century.)

Having skipped some details about the hack, here is the first part of Glenn Greenwald's judgement on what the hack caused:

It’s hard to overstate the devastation to some people’s lives from having their names published as part of this hack: not only to their relationships with their spouses and children but to their careers, reputations, and – depending on where they live – possibly their liberty or even life. What appears on the internet is permanent and inescapable. All of the people whose names appear in this data base will now be permanently branded with a digital “A.” Whether they actually did what they are accused of will be irrelevant: digital lynch mobs offer no due process or appeals. And it seems certain that many of the people whose lives are harmed, or ruined, by this hack will have been guilty of nothing.
Yes indeed - for (i) their names etc. may have been used falsely, and (ii) even if the data are all correct, they committed no crime, and (iii) they may have very good reasons - invalidity, illness, different needs, an agreed open marriage etc. - for their behavior, while (iv) they are all called "cheating dirtbags"  by the hackers, who also say such folks (all 33 million, I must assume, since that many data were exposed) "deserve no (..) discretion" (also not if they live in a morally backward country were their lives are at risk).

And this is the general moral lesson, which indeed is the main reason this article is reproduced here:
But whatever else is true, adultery is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse. Except in the most unusual cases – such as a politician hypocritically launching morality crusades against others – it’s most definitely not any of your business. None of us should want (ironically) anonymous hackers serving as vigilante morality police by exposing the private sexual acts of other adults. Nor should any of us cheer when the private lives of ordinary people are indiscriminately invaded, no matter how much voyeuristic arousal or feelings of morality superiority it provides.
Quite so, and especially as regard the implications of the last statement but one:

It seems as if many persons have hardly any individual morality, especially if they can utter their opinions as completely anonymous total unknowns who can sanction everything and everyone, regardless of knowledge, education, learning, age, honesty or morality, and can do so in the most flaming terms, that often are indulged in simply because those who use them are anonymous, stupid, ignorant and hypocritical, and may very well be sadists, who merely desire to score, upset, and disturb any rational debate.

Indeed, I have personally withdrawn from contributing almost anywhere, simply because I do not like to "communicate" with total unknowns about whom I cannot
learn anything other than their most violent prejudices.

2. Appellate Court Judges Cite '1984' to Expand Corporate First Amendment Rights

The next article is by Jon Schwarz on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a decision on Tuesday supporting a deeply-cherished belief of many huge corporations: that the First Amendment shields them from government requirements to provide information about their products.

The case involved a provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act ordering corporations to disclose their use of “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC is rich in minerals used in cell phones, laptops and many other gadgets, and demand for them has helped fuel what’s been called “Africa’s World War.”

In finding for the National Association of Manufacturers, the D.C. Circuit judges declared that to be unconstitutional compelled speech.

There have been some similar previous cases. In 2011, tobacco companies sued the Food & Drug Administration on First Amendment grounds and stopped it from requiring them to put graphic photographs of the effects of smoking on cigarette packages.

Yes indeed, and this is pretty obscene and is also directly related to the Citizens United (<- Wikipedia) decision that made corporations persons (and gave them - these shady agreements between gangs of greedy egoists who mostly "incorpo- rate" to prevent most of their own private losses! - the rights of individual persons, which seems to me, and many others, quite insane). 

Part of my reason to think this is obscene is the text of the First Amendment (<- Wikipedia), which is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For their argument roughly runs like this: "Because corporations are people, corporations - not just: the persons making it up - have freedom of speech;
freedom of speech includes freedom of silence; and therefore corporations
are and ought to be freed from giving information about their products."

This is utter crap from start to finish, but it is crap that was accepted by the majority of the three judges serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Not only that:

But best of all are his quotations from both 1984 and Darkness at Noon — perhaps the two most famous anti-totalitarian novels ever written. The citations don’t make much sense wedged into the decision, but the implication is clear: forcing Apple to tell you whether there’s tantalum from Congo in your iPad is the kind of thing Joseph Stalin would do.

Yes, and it also shows - in my opinion - two things of far wider importance:

(1) the neo-conservatives these days use any argument, however false, however tilted, however crazy, to try to support their interests, and these arguments very
often are falsifications of the arguments of the left, as in this case; and

(2) part of the reason they can do so is that there are no widely agreed rational standards anymore, in part because much of natural language has been replaced by propaganda-terms, bullshit and plain falsehoods [2], and indeed many "intellectuals" these days - I mean people with a B.A. or better - have lost all belief in any real facts (as can be seen e.g. as regards global warming).

The danger is especially in the second proposition, for non-belief in any real facts and non-belief in any rational standards are widespread these days, also under nominal "intellectuals", while in real fact both are simply false: there are very many real facts and there are quite good rational standards (as technology
proves), but there also are many bad universities where few rational standards
are taught, and there are many persons who pretend that the only reasons they
need acknowledge as valid are their own emotional prejudices.

Finally, I have been protesting against this in writing since 1977, and have been - completely illegally, but no Dutch lawyer would help me - removed from the right of taking my M.A. in philosophy, simply because I publicly protested in 1988 against the utter trash maintained by nearly everyone who either taught or studied in the University of Amsterdam: That "everybody knows that truth does not exist".

But indeed, for the many, that these days includes most "intellectuals", truth is an opinion like any other opinion, regardless of - real - science, regardless of experiments, regardless of logic, regardless of methodology, and if their personal prejudice is against it, so are they.

And in Holland, at least, this is as much true of "the right" as of "the left": I have seen extremely few individuals in Holland, since 1977 (!!), who were willing to campaign for truth and scientific methodology, and indeed I know of no one except myself who - really! - did. [3]


3.  Greek bailout: Alexis Tsipras steps down to trigger new elections

The next article is by Jon Henley on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Seven months after he was elected on a promise to overturn austerity, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has announced that he is stepping down to pave the way for snap elections next month. As the debt-crippled country received the first tranche of a punishing new €86bn (£61bn) bailout, Tsipras said on Thursday he felt “a moral obligation to place this deal in front of the people, to allow them to judge … both what I have achieved, and my mistakes”.

The 41-year-old Greek leader is still popular with voters for having at least tried to stand up to the country’s creditors, and his leftwing Syriza party is likely to be returned to power in the imminent general election, which government officials told Greek media was most likely to take place on 20 September.

I say. That is in 30 days time. I suppose this was carefully calculated, but indeed that is merely my supposition. I am also merely noting the news, which came earlier than I thought, and will not discuss it, except for quoting this bit, that seems a fairly neutral description:
At the end of a bruising seven months of negotiations with Greece’s international lenders that nearly resulted in the country defaulting on its mammoth debts and crashing out of the euro, Tsipras was eventually forced to sign up to a rescue package that many in his party view as an unforgivable U-turn.

Tsipras has insisted that accepting creditor demands for further tough reforms was the only way to ensure his country remains in the eurozone – which is what opinion polls show the overwhelming majority of the Greek population want.
This seems fair in saying Tsipras was "forced", and in saying that the majority of the Greeks thought it safer (or less damaging) to stay in the euro zone. It is also
true that a minority, and indeed quite a few in Tsipras' Syriza-party, are against
the deal and for leaving the euro zone.

4. MI5 believed anyone with Communist links were legitimate cold war targets 

The next item is by Richard Norton-Taylor and Ian Cobain on The Guardian:

This has a subtitle, which I will quote, because it is relevant:
Monitored individuals and organisations, including Anti-Apartheid Movement and CND, revealed in newly released files were never threats to UK security
But they were monitored, sometimes for a very long time. And this starts as follows:

MI5 believed that anyone thought to have links to the Communist party, however tenuous, were legitimate targets during the cold war, according to newly released files at the National Archives.

It also believed those groups or individuals thought to be potential targets of the Communist party should be closely watched.

(...)

MI5 justified its targeting of individuals and organisations, including the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the National Council for Civil Liberties, and CND, on the grounds either that some individual members were members of the Communist party, or that the party was suspected of trying to infiltrate them.

The files suggest that MI5, helped by the Metropolitan police special branch and customs officers – described as conducting “discreet” baggage searches – had an abundance of resources, given the number devoted to transcribing phone conversations by hand, opening letters and writing up reports of their targets’ movements.

Let me start this by saying that both of my parents were members of the Dutch communist party for something like 45 years; that my father got quite high in the party; that my grandparents were communists or anarchists (3 of 4, at least); that I have not been a communist since I was 20; and that it seems to have been
very similar in Holland as it was in Great Britain: merely being a communist, or indeed a mere sympathizer with communist ideas, made one very suspicuous in the eyes of the secret services.

Also, before going on: Firstly, both of my parents and my father's father also were members of the real resistance in Holland (that mostly was made up of communists or a few christians) in which my father and his father were arrested in July of 1941, and convicted, by collaborating Dutch judges, as "political terrorists", to the concentration camp, where my grandfather was murdered.
(This happened to few other Dutchmen, for in fact most collaborated, willingly or unwillingly.)

And secondly, while my parents were - also in my opinion, since 1970 - clearly mistaken in their political beliefs and allegiances (like almost everybody else, indeed), they certainly meant no harm and did no harm that I can see (and in fact my father was one of the two communists - in all! - that was knighted).

The same holds for nearly everyone I have known who was a member of the Dutch communist party: They certainly meant no harm, and I did not see them
do any harm either. [4]

Then there is this:

The targets in the files released on Friday were never threats to Britain’s national security, which MI5 was ordered to protect in 1989 at the very end of the cold war.

There are no clear guidelines on the release of MI5, MI6, or GCHQ files in the National Archives. Batches of files are released, apparently in an arbitrary manner with arbitrary cut-off dates. The files are carefully pored over, partly to conceal the names of informants, but also for other unexplained reasons.

Indeed - and MI5, MI6 and the GCHQ are very special - in what is claimed to be "a democracy" - in that almost none of their files reaches the public, ever, and also in that almost none of their files are supposed to reach the public.

And while I agree there have to be secret services of some kind in a modern state, I completely disagree with the amount of almost total freedom of effective
control they work under (for to control them effectively, more must be known to
some MPs, at least, than is the case now).

Here is
The Guardian View on this case:

First, treat the security state’s demands for new powers with caution, since these powers could end up being directed on the wrong targets. Second, be particularly suspicious of the line of argument that maintains that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. Lessing had nothing material to hide, and yet – unless she was freakishly indifferent to privacy – would have had fair reason to fear MI5’s prying eye.

Finally, be aware of how a context of conflict can polarise opinion and create alliances which will look discreditable for all sides.
Yes indeed - but not merely "since these powers could end up being directed on the wrong targets":

There should be no "security state" in any real democracy; they should not have the powers to withhold almost anything from public or indeed - merely - parliamentary knowledge; and they should not have the right to plunder just anyone's privacy as they please, which they do now.

Finally as to "
those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear":

Everybody
who is not totally braindead has something to hide (even though it may not be forbidden at all: see item 1), and as long as no one knows what the present or any future governments approve and disapprove of, nobody knows what they should and should not try to hide.

And the whole locution that
"those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear" is deeply totalitarian, because it simply presumes that whoever is in government or in the secret services is good, reliable and trustworthy - which is an opinion that about half of the population tends to reject at any time, quite regardless of the government's politics.

5. VIDEO: Bernie Sanders Tells Reporters Why He Won’t Attack Clinton

This last item is by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

I think this is important, and it also shows a reason why I like Bernie Sanders. This is from a reply he gave to a reporter this month, who tried to draw him out on Hillary Clinton:

“What I said is that corporate media talks about all kinds of issues except the most important issues. OK? And time after time I’m being asked to criticize Hillary Clinton. That’s the sport that you guys like. The reason this campaign is doing is doing well? Because we’re talking about the issues that impact the American people. I’ve known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I like her. I respect her. I disagree with her on a number of issues. No great secret.

“I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, OK? I wanna raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour … I am opposed to the Keystone pipeline, OK. I voted against the war in Iraq. I voted against the USA Patriot Act. These are differences of opinions that we will discuss. But the issue that I want to be talking about is the collapse of the American middle class. You guys gonna write about that? Is that an important issue? The need to create millions of decent-paying jobs. The obscenity of the kind of level of income and wealth inequality that we have today. The reason our campaign is doing well is because people are responding to those issues. So I am not gonna get into the game of sitting around and attacking Hillary Clinton. We disagree. We’re gonna have—if I have anything to say about it—a respectful and intelligent debate.”

The two reasons I like this answer, while I neither know Hillary Clinton and certainly like her a lot less than Bernie Sanders says he does, are that Sanders quite correctly names the major differences that divide him and Clinton, and that he refuses to play the reporter's game of getting candidates to spout - true or false - filth about the persons they are politically opposed to.

--------------------------------------

Notes
[1] Those who are (somewhat) well-known tend to deny it, and indeed may be right: if you are well-known, your physical address may be well-known as well, and anybody can pick any name and address. (But no, in any case I am not into naming and shaming of people who want an extra-marital affair, indeed in part because they seem to have been there, in large droves also, since there was a legal marriage.)

[2] One plainly false argument is that corporations are persons. A corporation is an association between persons that tends to be entered into to limit the personal legal responsibilities of the persons making up the association. An association is not a physical person: it has no morals, no ideas, no personality, no self, and indeed no existence other than by mere agreement between persons, and indeed such agreements mainly exists to limit the responsibility of the actual persons that enter into the associations, and indeed will be ripped apart as soon as the personal interests of the persons who made it are endangered.

[3] Note this is in fact quite odd, for Holland was supposed to be - in the 70ies and 80ies at least - full of very many "extremely leftist" professors, lecturers, students, and "public intellectuals", yet hardly anyone protested against the stupefication of the universities, against the denial that truth existed, against the relativization of all morals to mere personal interests, or indeed against the enormous salaries mere managers of banks and corporations suddenly demanded and very often received.

Or rather... it would be odd for anyone who presumes that most Dutchmen are intelligent and knowledgeable and honest.

[4] Here I am mainly talking about the people I knew until I was 20, many of whom were either communists or sympathizers or leftists, and I also exclude a few of the leaders of the Dutch CP, who may have done some harm.

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