June 16, 2015
Crisis: CIA Torture, Privacy, TPP vs Democracy, Marx and Stalin
  "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


CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on
     human experimentation

Privacy Advocates Resign in Protest Over U.S.
     Facial-Recognition Code of Conduct

3. How the Shenanigans in Congress Over the TPP Trade
     Deal Threatens the Fundamentals of Our Democracy

4. On Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday June 16, 2015.

This is a crisis blog, though not a normal one:

I found just three crisis items I wanted to write about, but I also saw yesterday two interesting films on Youtube, one on Marx and one on Stalin, and I thought it worthwile to list their links and write some about them, because Marx's writings strongly influenced the lives of some 2 billion persons, and because Stalin claimed to be a Marxist who ruled over hundreds of millions of persons in Russia, and also because both were - in some sense - prominent leftists.

Here are today's items: item 1 is about a major contradiction in the rules that
are supposed to direct the CIA; item 2 is about facial recognition by cameras; item 3 is a fine item about how the TPP is in fundamental contradiction with
democracy; and item 4 lists two films - that last together over 2 hours - that I found quite interesting and worthwile, one about Marx and one about Stalin.

1. CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on human experimentation
The first item is an article by Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian:
  • CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on human experimentation
This starts as follows:
The Central Intelligence Agency had explicit guidelines for “human experimentation” – before, during and after its post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees – that raise new questions about the limits on the agency’s in-house and contracted medical research.

Sections of a previously classified CIA document, made public by the Guardian on Monday, empower the agency’s director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research”. The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the US government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.

CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about US torture as a violation of medical ethics.

It seems to me to be quite clear why the CIA document this was quoted from was secret: That the director of the CIA was abled (in secret) to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research” seems grossly illegal in a real democracy, for it gives him far more powers than he should have.

Here is one reaction, that seems correct to me:

After reviewing the document, one watchdog said the timeline suggested the CIA manipulated basic definitions of human experimentation to ensure the torture program proceeded.

“Crime one was torture. The second crime was research without consent in order to say it wasn’t torture,” said Nathaniel Raymond, a former war-crimes investigator with Physicians for Human Rights and now a researcher with Harvard University’s Humanitarian Initiative.

There is also this:

The relevant section of the CIA document, “Law and Policy Governing the Conduct of Intelligence Agencies”, instructs that the agency “shall not sponsor, contract for, or conduct research on human subjects” outside of instructions on responsible and humane medical practices set for the entire US government by its Department of Health and Human Services.

A keystone of those instructions, the document notes, is the “subject’s informed consent”.

That language echoes the public, if obscure, language of Executive Order 12333 – the seminal, Reagan-era document spelling out the powers and limitations of the intelligence agencies, including rules governing surveillance by the National Security Agency. But the discretion given to the CIA director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research” has not previously been public.

The reason that this last statement "has not previously been public" is - it seems to me - simply because it is in clear and obvious contradiction with the earlier part of the quotation, which requires (quite correctly) the “subject’s informed consent”.

There is considerably more in the article, which is recommended.

2. Privacy Advocates Resign in Protest Over U.S. Facial-Recognition Code of Conduct
The next item is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:
  • Privacy Advocates Resign in Protest Over U.S. Facial-Recognition Code of Conduct
This starts as follows:

Technology industry lobbyists have so thoroughly hijacked the Commerce Department process for developing a voluntary code of conduct for the use of facial recognition technology that nine privacy advocates involved withdrew in protest on Monday.

“At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement — and identifying them by name – using facial recognition technology,” the privacy advocates wrote in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.”

I say. I agree with the "privacy advocates", but indeed that is not the way
the ruling politicians want it: They want to know everything about anyone,
because this will give them absolute power (and not because they want to
protect ordinary people from terrorism: that is merely the pretext).

There also is this:

But after a dozen meetings, the most recent of which was last week, all nine privacy advocates who have participated in the entire process concluded that they were totally outgunned.

“This should be a wake-up call to Americans: Industry lobbyists are choking off Washington’s ability to protect consumer privacy,” Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, said in a statement.

“People simply do not expect companies they’ve never heard of to secretly track them using this powerful technology. Despite all of this, industry associations have pushed for a world where companies can use facial recognition on you whenever they want – no matter what you say. This position is well outside the mainstream.”

I quite agree, but our rulers want to know absolutely everything about absolutely

3. How the Shenanigans in Congress Over the TPP Trade Deal Threatens the Fundamentals of Our Democracy

The next item is an article by Bill Moyers (<- Wikipedia) and Bernard Weisberger that I found on AlterNet, but that originated on
  • How the Shenanigans in Congress Over the TPP Trade Deal Threatens the Fundamentals of Our Democracy

This starts as follows:

Pro-democracy forces won a big victory Friday when they stalled the top-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement backed by the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress.

But it’s only Round One. The unholy trio of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who has vowed to keep any of Obama’s nominees from being confirmed), Speaker of the House John Boehner (who has thwarted just about every Democratic legislative proposal of the past several years), and President Obama (a Democrat, in case you are having trouble remembering) are as one in a desperate effort to rescue their Frankenstein-like creation.

Yes, indeed: it is "only Round One" and Obama is in alliance with McConnell and Boehner "in a desperate effort to rescue their Frankenstein-like creation".

And this is a good explanation. First there is this:

So now the president and his sworn enemies are allied in a bizarre mutual embrace of voodoo economics, assuring us that what’s good for multinational giants is good for struggling Americans trying to pay their bills while waiting below for the benefits of “free trade” to trickle down.

As The New York Times reported, corporate America has been nearly unanimous in its support of the trade agreement. No surprise: their lobbyists and lawyers practically wrote it.

This is simply true. Then there is this:

The issue before us is not “free trade,” which, like any policy, has its pluses and minuses. The issue is that a multilateral trade agreement should not be negotiated in secret, but in the open by our State and Commerce departments, with input from all organizations concerned, including those representing workers and environmentalists.

Then there should come a draft document for all to see, to be laid before the people’s representatives in Congress assembled. If and when a majority of them ratifies the agreement, it can go to the president for signature. This is how democracy should work. 

Yet it’s the precise opposite of how this agreement has come to be. We are being asked to believe that the administration can argue with a straight face for a deal conceived in secrecy, drafted largely by corporate mercenaries, kept from public and Congressional view except with burdensome restrictions, then presented to Congress for a vote up or down, neither debate nor amendment allowed. It’s an absolute parody of the process described in the Constitution.

Precisely! And finally there is this:

This whole affair is outrageous. After 226 years of constitutional government, is/ this where we’ve finally arrived?

So what can we do against so monstrous a lie? First, call this deal out for what it is — an abomination. Then let the tsunami of popular outrage roll. Tell Congress and the White House what you think. But hurry! Time’s running out, and Obama, McConnell, Boehner and the lobbyists are working overtime to get the locomotive back on the fast-track.

Yes, indeed. And this is a fine article, that I recommend that you read all of.

4. On Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin

The next item is not an article but consists of links to two films, one on Marx and Marxism, and one on Stalin and his terror. They are here because I saw them yesterday, liked them, and because they are relevant to the crisis, at least indirectly.

Marx is still relevant to the crisis, in large part because he is the most well-known
leftist radical theoretician, and his books still are bought,
mostly by intellectuals, and especially in times of crisis. How well they are read and understood is another question, that is fairly complicated to answer, but I will say something about it below.

It may be doubted today - in 2015 - whether Marxism is still relevant, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the disappearance of the Soviet bloc,  the collapse of most European communist parties, and the radical shifts to the right of the social democrats [1], who were mostly following Clinton and Blair, and effectively - at least so far as the professional politicians were and are concerned - turned into pro-capitalist careerists, but then again China - with over a billion inhabitants - is still ruled by the Communist party, which is still mostly inspired by Marx's teachings, although it is quite difficult to say how relevant Marx's writings or political communism are to modern China.

And I should also say that my own relation to Marx and Marxism is rather complicated and - perhaps - somewhat paradoxical:

My parents were communists for more than forty years, and were rather prominent members of the Dutch CP, which is how I came to read Marx (and Engels and Lenin and Stalin) from age 14, because I was curious, and my father owned these books.

Initially, I found especially Marx quite convincing, but since I had a taste for philosophy and logic I read a great amount of books between 15 and 20, which convinced me by the time I was 20 that I was not a Marxist anymore, mostly because I did not believe the Soviet bloc was socialist; I could not believe Marx's economics nor his dialectics; and I also was a firm anti-totalitarian. Then again, I still was (and am) a leftist [2] though I was from age 20 onwards much more interested in science than in politics.

The problem with my position was mainly that I am a far more theoretical creature than the vast majority:

For the vast majority of Marx's followers were ideologists rather than philosophers (I studied philosophy and psychology and have an excellent B.A. in one and an equally excellent M.A. in the other) whereas I believed - in contrast with Marx's thesis that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it" - that to change the world in a rational fashion, one first has to understand it in a rational way (and to try to change it in a non-rational fashion was silly, since that makes it nearly certain one will fail).

The first item is a film that was made in 1983 that lasts 54 minutes:

  • Karl Marx and Marxism
I liked this (without being very enthusiastic): It was made by somewhat Marxist leftists and it seems to me to be a reasonably fair, mostly sympathetic, portrait of Marx and of Marxism.

The film also is definitely dated, simply because in 1983 the Soviet bloc still existed, and very few expected it to collapse soon;
because there were still rather strong European communist and social democratic parties; and because many who were active in the early 1980ies still had lively memories of the leftist late Sixties, but this is also not a fault of the makers of the film: it merely shows that the situation was 32 years ago rather different from what it has become since 1989.

Next, there is a rather good BBC-documentary from 2003 that lasts 1 h 28 m:

  • Stalin: Inside the Terror

I have seen several films about Stalin, but this one is well researched and well made, and is indeed also with Simon Sebag Montefiore, who published - in 2003 - a good biography of Stalin, and with quite a few others, including survivors of Stalin's family (that also was persecuted and killed in the late 1930ies).

There are at least two questions that I should (very briefly) answer:

   (1) What does Marx have to do with Stalin?
   (2) What does Marx have to do with the Soviet Union?

The first question is important because Marx was a real intellectual and a real philosopher, who wrote quite complicated and quite learned books that are - in fact - not widely read, also not by most of his followers (perhaps with the exception of the Communist Manifesto).

Stalin was a follower of Marx, but he was neither a real intellectual (he loathed intellectuals), nor a real philosopher, and the communist ideology that Stalin created, although it was claimed to be derived from the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, was very much more of a Stalinist ideology than a Marxist science (which is what Marx attempted to do).

The second question is important mostly because the Soviet Union was claimed by its leaders to be a socialism in the tradition founded by Marx and Engels. I think the claim was propaganda, and was false, and I don't believe Marx or Engels would have had much sympathy for the effective dictatorship that was created, in part at least, in their names.


[1] For each of these changes was a major change, that strongly effected tens of millions or hundreds of millions of persons.

[2] I am a leftist, and even a fairly radical leftist, though not at all a dogmatist, but I know a lot more of philosophy, logic and science than most leftists, and I should also add that my leftism is mostly moral (or ethical), is definitely pre-postmodernistic, and is very probably not widely shared for several reasons, one of which is that I am - still - much more inclined to science than to politics.

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