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“Plutocrats Against Democracy”: Don’t Let The Bottom Half, Or Maybe Even The Bottom 90 Percent, Vote

It’s always good when leaders tell the truth, especially if that wasn’t their intention. So we should be grateful to Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, for blurting out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: With open voting, “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies” — policies, presumably, that would make the rich less rich and provide more aid to those with lower incomes.

So Mr. Leung is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.

For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

In fact, the very success of the conservative agenda only intensifies this fear. Many on the right — and I’m not just talking about people listening to Rush Limbaugh; I’m talking about members of the political elite — live, at least part of the time, in an alternative universe in which America has spent the past few decades marching rapidly down the road to serfdom. Never mind the new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created; they’re reading books with titles like “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic,” asserting that the big problem we have is runaway redistribution.

This is a fantasy. Still, is there anything to fears that economic populism will lead to economic disaster? Not really. Lower-income voters are much more supportive than the wealthy toward policies that benefit people like them, and they generally support higher taxes at the top. But if you worry that low-income voters will run wild, that they’ll greedily grab everything and tax job creators into oblivion, history says that you’re wrong. All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s — welfare states that, inevitably, have stronger support among their poorer citizens. But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe.

Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy, it does tend to crimp the incomes and wealth of the 1 percent, at least a bit; the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.

Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.

A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.

But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is Mr. Leung’s: Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.

And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 23, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Plutocrats, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What Glenn Greenwald Gets Wrong”: Every Man His Own Director Of National Security

Earth to Glenn Greenwald: if you write a book slamming The New York Times, it’s naïve to expect favorable treatment in the New York Times Book Review. Been there, done that. Twice as a matter of fact.

On the first go-around, the NYTBR reviewer — a Times alumnus— described mine as a “nasty” book for hinting that name-brand journalists don’t always deal off the top of the deck. No inaccuracies cited, only nastiness.

Next the newspaper located the most appropriate reviewer for Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President in its own Washington bureau — the original source of the great Whitewater hoax our book deconstructed. That worthy accused us of partisan hackery on the authority of one of the few wildly inaccurate Whitewater stories the Times had itself actually corrected.

If you think we got a correction, however, you’d be mistaken.

So when Greenwald complains that his book No Place to Hide, detailing his and Edward Snowden’s exciting adventures in Hong Kong before the Boy Hero flew off to Moscow, got savaged by NYTBR reviewer Michael Kinsley, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. It’s no fun getting trashed in the only book review that really matters.

Kinsley’s biting wit and withering cynicism can be hard to take. But for all that, the review wasn’t entirely negative. It never denied the importance of Greenwald and Snowden’s revelations about government snooping, nor did it question the author’s journalistic integrity. “The Snowden leaks were important—a legitimate scoop,” he wrote, “and we might never have known about the NSA’s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them.”

True, Kinsley’s tone is far from worshipful. “His story is full of journalistic derring-do, mostly set in exotic Hong Kong,” he writes. “It’s a great yarn, which might be more entertaining if Greenwald himself didn’t come across as so unpleasant. Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in No Place to Hide, Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss.”

Alas, anybody who’s experienced Greenwald’s dogged ad hominem argumentative style can identify. I’m rarely mistaken myself, but I do try not to impute evil motives to everybody who disagrees with me.

However, contrary to the army of syntactically-challenged Greenwald fans who turned his essay into an Internet cause célèbre, Kinsley never said the man should be jailed. He wrote that being invited to explain why not on Meet the Press hardly constitutes evidence of government oppression.

Indeed, also contrary to the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, Kinsley nowhere “expressed a belief that many journalists find appalling: that news organizations should simply defer to the government” in deciding what secrets to reveal. He wrote that “the process of decision making—whatever it turns out to be—should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I do think the newspaper’s public editor should be more capable of fair paraphrase—an important journalistic skill.

However, what Kinsley’s provocative essay did very effectively was to question how seriously the author (and Edward Snowden) had thought through the logic of their position that when it comes to government secrets, it’s every man his own director of National Security.

And the answer seems to be, not too seriously at all. But then my view is that the Greenwald-Snowden revelations about NSA “metadata” hoarding made for exciting headlines and a Pulitzer Prize but little or no practical difference to people’s actual lives.

So that when Greenwald writes that “by ordering illegal eavesdropping, the president had committed crimes and should be held accountable,” I’m inclined to ask if he knows the meaning of “eavesdropping.”

It doesn’t mean storing phone and Internet records in a giant database; it means listening in on conversations or searching people’s hard drives, and to date there’s no evidence of that being done without court-ordered search warrants. I’d add that if Americans feel politically intimidated, they’ve got awfully noisy ways of showing it — especially those jerks swaggering around with assault rifles daring the feds to make something of it.

George Packer makes a related point in Prospect: “A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, ‘I prefer to be spied on by NSA.’”

So which of the two million-odd documents Edward Snowden swiped from the National Security Agency should end up in the newspaper, and who gets to decide? On that score, Kinsley’s otherwise crystal clear argument gets foggy. His point is that in a fallen world the government has legitimate secrets to protect: classic example, the date and location of the D-Day landings.

“In a democracy,” he writes “(which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.”

Hence misunderstanding. Had he simply specified “Congress and the courts,” there would have been lot less hyperventilating.

Where’s an editor when you need one?

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 4, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Own Worst Enemy”: The 13 Most Bizarre Things From Edward Snowden’s NBC News Interview

While watching Brian Williams’ interview with Ed Snowden, I actually agreed with Glenn Greenwald about something. Back in 2012, Greenwald referred to Williams as “NBC News’ top hagiographer,” using “his reverent, soothing, self-important baritone” to deliver information in its “purest, most propagandistic and most subservient form.”

It’s worth noting at the outset that Greenwald flew all the way to Moscow specifically for the NBC News interview, and he appeared on camera with Snowden and Williams, answering questions from this so-called “hagiographer.”

Now, I’m not a Brian Williams hater. I think he’s a fine news anchor. But his interview with Ed Snowden was yet another in a long, long line of deferential, uninformed, unchallenging genuflections before a guy whose story and motivations are more than a little specious. But it’s not a stretch to presume that Greenwald, the man who once aimed all of his wordy, caustic vitriol in Williams’ general direction, referring to him as possessing “child-like excitement” over gaining access to a source, probably loved every minute of it. However, don’t break out the champagne just yet, NBC News, Greenwald will immediately shift gears sometime very soon and continue to indict any and all mainstream news outlets, including NBC, as being impotent, pernicious, drooling shills for President Obama and the D.C. elite.

So what about the telecast itself? Here are the 13 most bizarre things from Snowden’s NBC News interview.

1) Snowden claimed he has “no relationship” with the Russian government and that he’s “not supported” by it. That’s odd, given how the Russian government has twice offered him asylum and one of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, is an attorney with the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB (formerly the KGB). Tell me again why anyone should trust this guy?

2) “Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break a law.” So it’s really up to each of us individually to decide whether our own interpretation of “doing the right thing” necessitates breaking the law? A lot of awful things have occurred with that exact justification. Also, what if NSA feels the same way, Ed?

3) Snowden said that no one has been harmed by his disclosures. Yet. Already, though, one of his documents escalated tensions between Australia and Indonesia, and another document endangered lives in Afghanistan to the point where Greenwald refused to publish the name of that country. It’s only a matter of time, sadly.

4) Early on, Snowden said, “I’m not a spy.” Later he famously confessed to being “trained as a spy.” Huh?

5) Snowden said he destroyed his documents before going to Russia. This is really strange. I have no idea whether he really destroyed his NSA files, but he did in fact meet with Russian officials in Hong Kong, when he reportedly celebrated his birthday at the Russian consulate. Did he still have his documents at that point? Earlier, he said his goal was to fly to Latin America, so why did he anticipate being in Russia to the point where he destroyed his documents to prevent Russians from acquiring them? These are all follow-up questions that a journalist who was informed about the details of Snowden’s timeline would’ve asked. Williams was not and therefore did not.

6) NSA can “absolutely” turn on your iPhone, which is “pretty scary.” This section was like whiplash. Snowden started out by sounding reasonable by defining that NSA only acquires data when “targeting” drug dealers or terrorists. And then, BLAM!, this shitola about NSA being able to turn on your phone. If true, why hasn’t this been disclosed from Snowden’s NSA documents?

7) Snowden said that by googling the score of a hockey game, NSA can find out whether you’re cheating on your wife. Someone’s been wearing his tinfoil hat a wee bit too tightly.

8) NSA can observe people drafting a document online and “watch their thoughts form as they type.” Let’s assume for a second this is true. Reading your thoughts (IEEEEE!!!) is a hyperbolic internet-age method of essentially describing a wire-tap. A police detective can get a court order to have a suspect’s phone tapped and listen to that suspect forming thoughts on the phone, too. But to call it a “wire-tap” is too ordinary and familiar, so Ed went with mind-reading.

9) Snowden didn’t deny turning over secrets that would be damaging or harmful. He only said journalists have a deal with him not to do it. Just a reminder: we really have no idea how many reporters or organizations have copies of the documents or the total number of documents (it’s a Greenwald/Snowden secret), but we do know that Snowden documents have been reported by so many publications that the question arises: who doesn’t have Snowden documents?

10) Snowden’s watching HBO’s The Wire. The second season, he said, isn’t so good. He’s right.

11) Snowden said he can’t speak out on Russian issues because he can’t speak the language. Hey Ed, here. Free shipping, too. You’re welcome.

12) “People have unfairly demonized the NSA to a point that is too extreme.” Why is Snowden an apologist for the surveillance state? Drooling! Vast!

13) Snowden said he can “sleep at night” because of his actions. Well, good for him.

Ultimately, Snowden is his own worst enemy and his ongoing ability to say crazy things in a calm, collected voice continues. What’s abundantly clear at this point is that no one will ever land an interview with Snowden who will be as adversarial against the former NSA contractor as Greenwald has been in his own reporting in defense of Snowden. It’ll never happen.

 

By: Bob Cesca, The Huffington Post Blog, May 31, 2014

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security, National Security Agency | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Beyond An Honest Whistleblower”: Edward Snowden’s Relationship With WikiLeaks Should Concern Everyone

Amid calls for the clemency of Edward Snowden, many questions remain about the 30-year-old’s flight from America and asylum in Russia.

One major unresolved issue is the relationship between “the most dangerous leaker in American history” and WikiLeaks, an organization with an admitted antagonism toward the U.S. and a cozy history with the Kremlin.

Given WikiLeaks penchant for facilitating U.S. government leaks, its early involvement in the Snowden saga deserves scrutiny.

After the NSA contractor outed himself in Hong Kong on June 9, he parted ways with the journalists he met there and went underground.

On June 12, the same day he leaked specific details of NSA hacking in China to the South China Morning Post, Snowden contacted WikiLeaks. The organization subsequently paid for his lodgings and sent top advisor Sarah Harrison to help.

Harrison accompanied Snowden as he met with Russian officials (perhaps in the Kremlin consulate), and WikiLeaks bought his ticket to Moscow on June 23.

(Some suspect Russia and/or WikiLeaks contacted Snowden before June 12, but there is no clear evidence of that.)

Snowden and his closest supporters contend that he was on his way to Latin America when the U.S. government stranded him in Moscow, but there are several reasons to doubt that claim.

First, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone that he advised Snowden against going to Latin America because “he would be physically safest in Russia.”

Second, the U.S. revoked Snowden’s passport by June 22, and the unsigned Ecuadorian travel document acquired by Assange was void when Snowden landed in Moscow.

WikiLeaks told BI that the Ecuadorian document was meant to help Snowden leave Hong Kong. The organization has not explained why it would send the American to Russia knowing he was carrying a void passport and a bunk travel document.

On July 12, Snowden’s Moscow lawyer Anatoly Kucherena explained that Snowden “is in a situation with no way out. He has no passport and can travel nowhere; he has no visa.”

Third, even if Snowden had proper travel documentation, it’s unclear if Russia’s post-Soviet security services (FSB) would have allowed an NSA-trained hacker who beat the NSA vetting system and stole a bunch of intel to simply “pass through the business lounge, on the way to Cuba.”

On August 1 Kucherena, who is employed by the FSB, explained why Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum: “Edward couldn’t come and buy himself tickets to Havana or any other countries since he had no passport.”

Beyond its role in Snowden’s getaway and its friendliness with Russia, WikiLeaks is also connected to three of the main people with access to the leaked NSA files. This fact does not necessarily tarnish their reporting, but it is intriguing in light of Wikileaks’ deep involvement with Snowden.

Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, two journalists contacted by Snowden and then given tens of thousands of documents by Snowden in Hong Kong, sit on the board of a foundation that launched in December 2012 to crowd-source funding for WikiLeaks.

Jacob Applebaum, a close friend of Poitras and lead author of at least one Der Spiegel story citing the Snowden leaks, is known as “The American WikiLeaks Hacker” and has co-authored others articles drawing from “internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL.”

Applebaum is not a journalist and does not hide his disdain for the NSA. This week he ended a talk — during which he presented never-before-seen NSA documents — by saying: “[If] you work for the NSA, I’d just like to encourage you to leak more documents.”

Assange told the same audience to “join the CIA. Go in there. Go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out … all those organizations will be infiltrated by this generation.”

That is the same man largely credited with saving Snowden from extradition to the U.S. by sending him to Moscow. The 42-year-old Australian has also hosted a Kremlin-funded TV show. And his political party recently met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who is staunchly backed by the Kremlin.

No wonder Greenwald told Rolling Stone that “Julian stepping forward and being the face of the story wasn’t great for Snowden.”

Snowden also hurt his own cause. Although he initiated an important debate, his statements and actions also pushed him beyond honest whistleblower.

All things considered, Snowden’s affiliation with Assange and WikiLeaks raises a legitimate question: Is the fact that his life is now overseen by a Russian security more than an extraordinary coincidence?

Given that we still don’t know how many classified documents Snowden stole or when he gave up access, that question should concern everyone.

 

By: Michael Kelley, Business Insider, January 4, 2014

January 6, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He May Also Have Been A Spy”: Snowden Lied About China Contacts

Yesterday, the New York Times urged the Obama administration to offer Edward Snowden “a plea bargain or some form of clemency.” The paper called the former NSA contractor “a whistle-blower” for his exposure of “the vast scope” of the NSA’s “reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe.”

Perhaps Snowden is what the Times portrays him to be, a hero of sorts, yet the editors of the paper rushed to judgment. In their editorial they did not even raise the possibility that he passed along vital national security secrets to China. It is likely he did so.

“I have had no contact with the Chinese government,” Snowden wrote in a Q&A on the Guardian website while taking refuge in Hong Kong in June. “I only work with journalists.”

That’s far short of the truth. By the time he wrote those words in the online chat, Snowden, according to one of my sources in Hong Kong, had at least one “high-level contact” with Chinese officials there. Those officials suggested he give an interview to the South China Morning Post, the most prominent English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. This is significant because, as the Post noted, Snowden turned over to the paper documents that contained detailed technical information on the NSA’s methods. Included in these documents were Hong Kong and Chinese IP addresses that the NSA was surveilling. The disclosure of those addresses was not whistle-blowing; that was aiding China.

The Post, my source told me, had sent two reporters to interview Snowden. The paper did not give a byline to one of them, a Chinese national serving as the deputy to Editor Wang Xiangwei, who openly sits on a Communist Party organ in the Mainland. That reporter is suspected to have then supplied Snowden’s documents to Chinese agents. Beijing, it appears, was able to cover its tracks while obtaining information from the so-called whistle-blower.

Specifically, it appears that agents of China’s Ministry of State Security were in contact with Snowden during his stay in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous part of China. “The Chinese already have everything Snowden had,” said an unnamed official to the Washington Free Beacon days after the leaker had left Hong Kong for Moscow. Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Snowden probably went to Mainland China during his stay in Hong Kong, a suspicion shared by some in that city.

Moreover, evidence suggests that Beijing orchestrated Snowden’s flight from Hong Kong. Albert Ho, one of Snowden’s lawyers, believes Chinese authorities contacted him through an intermediary to pass a message that it was time for Snowden to leave the city. “I have reasons to believe that… those who wanted him to leave represented Beijing authorities,” he was quoted as saying.

We can only speculate as to the motives of the Chinese to frustrate Washington’s attempts to apprehend Snowden, but they did their best to make sure that American officials did not get the opportunity to interrogate Snowden. The last thing they wanted was for the U.S. to learn the extent of their penetration of the NSA and the FBI in Hawaii.

Some in the American intelligence community suspect Snowden was really a “drop box,” receiving information from NSA personnel working for China. In other words, he was used as a courier.

In any event, the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reported in late June that the FBI was investigating whether Snowden obtained documents “from a leak inside the secret FISA court.” Similarly, Mike Rogers has suggested Snowden probably had an accomplice in the NSA giving him information.

Beijing may also have encouraged Snowden to leave Hawaii. One of my sources indicates that Chinese intelligence, either directly or through FBI personnel working for China, tipped Snowden off that NSA investigators were closing in on him.

At this point, allegations of Snowden’s shadowy involvement with Chinese intelligence in Hawaii remain unconfirmed, but the evidence suggests he lied about his dealings with Chinese officials during his stay in Hong Kong. That tells us he may have been more than just a “whistle-blower.”

Just because he raised critical issues that go to the core of our democracy does not mean Mr. Snowden is a hero. He may also have been a spy.

 

By: Gordon G. Chang, Author of The Coming Collapse of China; The Daily Beast, January 3, 2014

January 4, 2014 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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