We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Leakers and leaks

As recently reported by the McClatchy Newspapers, the Obama administration views whistleblowing and leaks as a species of terrorism. According to McClatchy: “President Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of ‘insider threat’ give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct. … Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”

Glenn Reynolds, talking about the role of leakers and whistleblowers.

This can be a complex issue, for all that I share much of what Reynolds says. Take, say, Switzerland, famous for its bank secrecy laws. What happens if an employee of a bank (this has actually happened in real life) gets all upset about the fact that, due to the laws, he or she cannot divulge the identity of a client even that client might be avoiding or evading taxes? (In the latter case, evasion is not a crime in Switzerland, but tax fraud is. The difference is technical). Now, suppose that person divulges all to Wikileaks, or the local Swiss newspaper, or the New York Times. Is he or she a hero? Well, if you hate Swiss banks and think its 1934 law is an abomination and that everything should be out in the open, maybe. (It might be worth noting that the person is not forced to work in a bank if he or she finds it objectionable.) But clearly, privacy, confidentiality, or call it what you will, is something that a lot of law-abiding people worry about. The same might apply in a case, where, say, a person who works for a pornography video firm starts, after having suddenly developed a “conscience”, to start sending out the names and addresses of the people who have bought videos or downloaded the stuff.

Whistleblowers can and do do a vital job and sometimes their lives are made very uncomfortable about it. There is the recent case of a person who tried to alert the public about the dreadful situation in the Mid-Staffordshire part of the UK National Health Service, for instance.

I guess one broad way to consider the issue is that with governments, unlike private sector companies, the former are paid for by taxes, and the taxpayers are entitled to expect those bodies to be run appropriately. Although watchdogs and politicians in theory are supposed to enable this to happen, in practice, monopolistic organisations with the powers of coercion are vulnerable to abuse. I have already mentioned the NHS. Consider also the less-than-perfect UK police force, which has been mired in various corruption scandals in recent years, or the BBC, the state-privileged UK broadcaster that for years allowed a paedophile by the name of Jimmy Savile to work there (although it is not known if the BBC ever had enough evidence to kick him out). In these sort of cases, a leaker of information can do the public a favour. The risk of leaks is also one of those things that keeps organisations on their toes – well, good. On the other hand, journalists need to use a bit of commonsense so they don’t become the tools of someone else’s agenda. Not all leakers are heroes, or even all that bothered about issues of liberty and justice.

One issue of course is that while it is right for a whistleblower to blab to the press about a systemic problem, it is and can be wrong to leak in cases where a private individual’s privacy and welfare might be put at risk. And for that matter, where a leaker passes on information that might aid an enemy force and endanger lives (this is sometimes argued to be the case with some of the Wikileaks stuff about the Middle East), this also crosses a line.

As far as the Obama, or indeed any other administration, is concerned, fighting against leakers may sometimes be necessary, but by and large, the best way to avoid problems in the first place is to do fewer shameful and stupid things that people want to leak about. And the Obama administration seems to be intent on collecting scandals the same way that some folk collect stamps.

Meanwhile, it appears Mr Snowden cannot find a country that will have him.

On the joys of climate change conferences

James Delingpole has a nice posting about a recent excellent performance by Peter Lilley, the Tory MP who seems, unlike many of them, to have retained a large measure of common sense. This is what Mr Lilley said recently about the constant run of conferences held to discuss environmental issues:

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. One of the early signs of madness is an indulgence in compulsive displacement activity, which could not be a better description of the whole COP process. Tens of thousands of people are displaced across the globe to an environment where they are cut off from reality and the rest of the world, where they can indulge themselves in demonstrating their lack of realism and reality, and where the original objective of obtaining a legally binding agreement between nations to reduce worldwide emissions has itself been displaced by the alternative objective of reaching an agreement to meet again—and to agree to reach an agreement at some distant future time. That is displacement activity on a massive scale, and it involves a massive degree of hypocrisy, given the huge emissions incurred by these eco-warriors as they swan across the globe in jets and hire fleets of limousines, so emitting more CO2 than a small African country.”

It is Earth Day today, by the way.




What the new Fat Controller might now do

Mick Hartley, who has been watching North Korea closely for years, senses that things may be about to explode, sooner rather than later:

Under the departed Dear Leader, there was at least some measure of balance. The Songun military-first principle held sway then as now, of course, and the level of vitriolic rhetoric aimed at South Korea and the US and Japan was constant and unrelenting, but there was some sense of a cunning plan; of a canny political operator at work.

Now, though, with the new Fat Controller Kim Jong-Un, there’s a strong feeling that it’s all getting out of control. As a sign of his weakness and insecurity, and doubtless under all kinds of internal pressures, and in-fighting within the top brass which we don’t know about, he just keeps pressing the same buttons that worked for his father, but he has to press them harder and harder. Up with the militarisation; up with the vicious rhetoric; up with the provocations and the bluster. He doesn’t know what else to do. Now the whole country’s on a war footing, the economy – such as it was – is imploding, and maybe for the first time in the history of the DPRK there’s a sense that the suffering people may not be prepared to tolerate this increased hardship much longer.

The logic of his position, then, may force him into some reckless action. He’s backed himself into a corner. South Korea’s western islands are looking increasingly vulnerable. If he doesn’t do something he’s going to look weak, and all that hardship is going to look like it was all for nothing to the wretched populace. And, as the economy tanks, he has to do something sooner rather than later….

I recommend also reading Hartley’s earlier piece, linked back to there, which does indeed link in its turn to reports about the vulnerability of some South Korean islands, but which is itself a copy-and-paste posting about what China is preparing to do about all this. Preparing to invade North Korea, basically, and racing against time. As always, when states like China build railways (in fact when almost any state has ever built a railway), the thinking is not just economic; it is also military.

China was and remains content to sponsor a North Korea that is vicious and strong. But a North Korea that is vicious and weak, to the point of recklessness, is a serious threat to China’s interests.

It says everything about the state of life for regular people in North Korea that if and when the Chinese do invade, the Chinese may well be greeted as liberators rather than as another bunch of predators.

Game developers jailed

ARMA III is a realistic first person military simulation game set on an accurate, high-definition rendering of the Greek Island of Lemnos which is close to Turkey. Last year the mayor of Lemnos expressed his displeasure at this, citing the Island’s peaceful reputation, while the head of the town council worried about national security.

This year, two of the game’s developers visited the island and ended up in prison for allegedly taking photographs of military installations there. Perhaps they had not heard of what happens to plane spotters in Greece. They are having to wait in jail for their trial for a long time because Greek judges have gone on strike in protest against austerity measures.

I am not sure what all this means but I will be considering other holiday destinations. Hat tip to Reddit.

Squander Two on the difference between international and internal politics

I like this (the second paragraph (of two) of this):

For better or worse, there’s a world of difference between international and internal politics. Heads of state are like in-laws: obliged by their position to meet each other and smile about it no matter how they may feel about it. Their subjects are more like neighbours: they can pick and choose which ones to socialise with, and report the psychotic ones to the police.

That, which I only just noticed, was posted on June 23rd. But some things will keep.

Time was when lots of heads of states were, literally, in-laws.

It is becoming normal for websites to disappear

One minute Kim Dotcom is running a successful file sharing website, renovating his mansion, driving his luxury cars and sailing on a superyacht surrounded by topless girls. The next, his birthday party is being raided by New Zealand police with helicopters and automatic rifles. Living in New Zealand, hosting his website in Hong Kong, and running the site as a file storage service similar in many ways to DropBox or Microsoft’s SkyDrive did not help him.

The New Zealand police simply did the FBI’s bidding. The indictment states that, due to various workings of MegaUpload such as the way users could get paid for hosting popular files and unpopular files would get deleted, it is not just a file storage service like DropBox. This is not unreasonable.

But it is, perhaps, surprising that the assertions of the FBI are enough to remove a well known web site from the Internet. It turns out they can already do that, even the day after the anti-SOPA protests during which everyone complained that the government would be able to take down websites if this scary new bill passed.

Meanwhile in the UK it looks likely that ISPs will be told to block access to PirateBay.

I’m not necessarily arguing that Dotcom and PirateBay are good guys, although their copying of bits of information is arguably peaceful while states’ reactions are violent.

But there is a trend here I don’t like. There was a time when you could host your web site in the right jurisdiction and it would not be touched. Now governments are learning how to apply various laws to remove them. Forcing ISPs to block access makes life less pleasant for ISPs, and it is likely to be somewhat effective. I expect more websites to disappear, and I expect this to become more commonplace. Eventually it will be normal and no longer newsworthy.

Samizdata quote of the day

Ideas matter, and especially to intellectuals like President Obama. He is not a rigid ideologue and is capable of flexible maneuvering. But his interpretation of history, his attitude toward sovereignty, and his confidence in multilateral institutions have shaped his views of American power and of American leadership in ways that distinguish him from previous presidents. On Libya, his deference to the UN Security Council and refusal to serve as coalition leader show that he cares more about restraining America than about accomplishing any particular result in Libya. He views Libya and the whole Arab Spring as relatively small distractions from his broader strategy for breaking with the history of U.S. foreign policy as it developed in the last century. The critics who accuse Obama of being adrift in foreign policy are mistaken. He has clear ideas of where he wants to go. The problem for him is that, if his strategy is set forth plainly, most Americans will not want to follow him.

The Obama Doctrine Defined by Douglas J. Feith and Seth Cropsey

Samizdata quote of the day

Because he’s a Democrat.

– Overheard by Damian Thompson at the unveiling of the Ronald Reagan statue in London this morning. Someone was explaining why David Cameron gave the event a miss.

Is the globe now ready to start thinking seriously about its elite?

I see that my fourth (approximately, I think) cousin John Micklethwait, Editor of the Economist, whom our own Paul Marks disapproves of so severely, is this weekend attending a meeting of the Bilderberg Group.

I learned about this list of potentates thanks to a link to it from Guido Fawkes, and I consider it rather significant that such an august media personage as Guido should be positively drawing our attention to this gathering.

When the internet got seriously into its stride, and particularly blogging, at or around the year 2000, you would have thought that observation and analysis of the global elite would have exploded. After all, detailed analysis of these persons and their thinkings and their doings was the quintessential Story They Don’t Want Us To Know, in other words, a story that was ready-made for the internet.

Yet, actually, very little was said about these persons and their meetings and their secret thinkings aloud, by regular people as opposed to the people who were already fascinated by such things. Oh, I’m sure that the people who had been banging on about the evil Bilderbergers for the previous quarter of a century immediately started publishing vast screeds about these persons on the internet. But, or so it seems to me, very few other people paid such talk very much attention. And so, pretty much, it has continued.

Why? Was it because bloggers who dipped their toes into these hitherto forbidden waters were visited by sinister people in sinister raincoats at sinister times of the night? Did those who mentioned the Bilderberg Group on the internet suffer mysteriously fatal road accidents?

I can’t speak for others, but the thing that kept me away from talking about Bilderberg meetings and similar things was not the fear of Them, but the desire not to be thought completely mad, by people generally. → Continue reading: Is the globe now ready to start thinking seriously about its elite?

Down Mexico way

This item about Mexico, via the ChicagoBoyz group weblog, is shocking. The scale of violence in Mexico – largely centred on the drugs trade – is rising rapidly. It ought, really, to be the top security issue for the United States. It is hard to justify actions in the MidEast with this sort of crap happening just across the border.

The war on drugs is proving an even bigger disaster than libertarians typically state.

Regime smashing in Libya

Others have been complaining about how long it has taken, but I have been surprised at the speed with which the West has responded to events in Libya, and have been unable to shake the feeling, until today actually, that the reports I was reading were send-ups for comic purposes of some kind.

I am an agnostic about Western intervention in foreign parts rather than an outright atheist, but I respect the atheist position and deeply fear the true believer, “nation building” idea. Governments are good at destroying stuff, but tend to be shambolic at any kind of creativity. The more creative they try to be, the more destructive they typically end up being. People do creative, not governments.

This operation seems to be mostly destructive, which is all to the good. I think it reasonable to hope that it accomplishes some good, rather than only fearful that it will all go horribly wrong.

The West’s leaders are telling Gadaffi that maybe he can rule his country, but not the way he has been for the last fortnight or so. Bombing it and shelling it into submission is not allowed. Do that and we’ll do the same to you. Govern your country with riot police. Maybe arrange some elections, and then fix them. Bribe people into supporting you, rather than just killing them like they are armed soldiers. Above all, and now I’m going by what David Cameron said this afternoon, don’t announce ceasefires and promise them to your fellow members of the Head of Government Club, but then not deliver them.

This was one of the big things that Saddam Hussein did wrong, as I understand that earlier story. He didn’t just invade Kuwait. He told other members of the Head of Government Club that he wouldn’t. Lying to your people is okay. They all do that. That’s business as usual. But lying to fellow members of the Head of Government Club is not the done thing. Do it and you get blackballed, by which is meant that your armed underlings, the basis of your power, get slaughtered. Provided, that is, you are not bossing a serious power, and Westerners slaughtering your underlings would start a serious war, as opposed to an “asymmetric” war (i.e. a slaughter of your slaughterers).

LOL!!!: Just watched a British military talking-head-in-a-suit on the BBC, when asked to say what success for this operation would mean, say: “removing Saddam”, and then hurriedly correct himself.

Well, well, well

WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting ‘mythical’ healthcare system.

According to the Guardian (!):

Cuba banned Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a “mythically” favourable picture of Cuba’s healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a “popular backlash”, according to US diplomats in Havana.

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so “disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room”.

Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it “knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.”

Back in 2007 I mentioned a milder version of the same reaction among British people to Moore’s depiction of “empty waiting rooms and happy, care-free health workers” in the NHS.

UPDATE: Hat tips to commenters Jock and Alisa. The Guardian story has now been corrected to say that Sicko was shown in Cuba, confirmed on Michael Moore’s own website. Pity. That was a fun meme while it lasted, but truth must prevail. Moore says that the cable was purely a lie. Not necessarily: indecision as to the “line to take” is not exactly unknown in totalitarian regimes. Both showing the film and forbidding it have their dangers from the point of view of the Cuban rulers.

This round to Michael Moore, but I shall defiantly repeat something I said in 2008:

When the history of Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba comes to be written all that stuff about the excellence of the healthcare system will turn out to be lies but the claim of high literacy rates will be more or less true.

Communist education gets results because force is near to the surface. I acknowledge but do not approve … A further advantage of communist education is that the wishes of the teachers are given almost as short a shrift as those of the pupils.

Force works well in education because the forcers can look at the forcees all the time they are doing the forcing. It works less well in healthcare and very badly indeed in agriculture.