Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Step Backwards

Here is a discussion of Wikileaks on with Daniel Elsberg. Elsberg starts at 7:00 on the video. He points out that prior to Obama there had only been 3 prosecutions of an official secrets act, but now under Obama there has been 5 (this is at 12:30 in the video). Funny... Obama ran under a pledge of "transparent" government, but he is acting more secretive than any previous government.

Notice how Elsberg hold Obama to task for his claim to "not look back" on the crimes under the Bush administration... except for official secrets (see video at 13:40). As Elsberg points out, Obama has chosen to prosecute two state secrets cases that Bush declined to prosecute. This puts Obama to the right of Bush! Obama has declared a "war on whistleblowers". Elsberg holds that Obama is suppressing whistleblowers because he is ashamed of his continuation of the torture and war crimes of Bush.

At 29:20 Elsberg makes clear with his statement that "this is a descent into an abyss" that the direction of executive authority and secret police in the US is headed in the wrong direction. Funny, the Americans are big on chest thumping about "liberty" and their Constitutional rights, but reality is flowing in the opposite direction. And the greatest surprise is that even the change of administration to a "liberal" hasn't stopped the descent into an abyss.

I like the bit around 13:20 where Elsberg called Bradley Manning a hero like Nathan Hale. The tragedy is that too many heroes are denigrated in their own day only to be put on a pedestal long afterward when the crisis has passed. It is always to be a "good guy" after the fact when it is clear who won the fight, who had right on their side, and when there is no longer a price to pay. Sadly, the yowling mob fails this test. They usually side with the worst elements at the wrong time. And later, when the smoke clears, this same crowd generally goes over the top with their praise of the very person they would have destroyed. (Note the earlier bit in this tape where Elsberg points out the oddity of the video being passed around by the American government praising him at the very same time they are going after Bradley Manning!)

At 1:32:00 Elsberg goes into why Bradley Manning became a whistleblower. He first notes the case of the Apache helicopter that was leaked as "Collateral Murder" and Elsberg explains why it was indeed murder. He then goes on to talk about Manning's concerns about US soldiers handing over captives to the Iraqis for torture. Both of these are clear violations of the "laws of war" and justify whistleblowing if your superior refuse to act on your complaint about crimes by the military. The words of Elsberb around 1:40:00 that talks about the Stasi wanting "total information" about the citizens and then points out that the FBI has a relationship with Google, Facebook, and Twitter because these corporations hold a great deal of information about people. These corporations facilitate the "transparency" that Stasi would want.

Everybody should go to 1:00:00 and listen to Neville Roy Singham, Chairman of ThoughtWorks, talk about National Security Letters and oppressive US government suppression of individual rights (see NY Times article on this). I like his point that "we are at an inflection point for the freedom of expression". His James Madison quote is well worth serious reflection. Madison was an architect of the US Constitution and the actions of the last few administrations in the US have completely undermined the Constitution.

I really enjoyed the debate between the ex Pay Pal owner and the Harvard law professor. This is the classic debate between a rabid libertarian (the Pay Pal guy) and somebody who sees the role of government and the division of power (or as he put it, spreading responsibility around the community). A libertarian reduces all social relations to "free contracts" and takes no social responsibilities. The lawyer was trying to put the case that in the real world we do have social responsibilities and that the black-and-white view of the libertarian is far too simplistic. But their debate got cut off. Too bad.

On the whole, this was an excellent panel discussion. It is well worth your time to watch it.

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