Putin must be called to account just like Obama | Snowden

In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.

So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

via Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama | theguardian.com

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Felix Salmon on “Flash Boys”

Michael Lewis’ bestseller on HFT triggered a frenzy of interest in this arcane subject.

Of the many reviews and commentaries, the sanest I’ve seen so far is a long piece by Felix Salmon.

Lewis has succeeded in shocking millions of people with the news that the stock market has violated their code—that it isn’t fair. Wall Street insiders, and those of us who knew about HFT already, have been generally underwhelmed by this revelation, because we’ve known that the Wall Street code has always favored a small group of rich and well-connected institutions who can afford to pay enormous sums of money to maintain their edge in the market. The advent of HFT just created new entrants into that charmed circle, while causing many incumbents to lose their gilded meal tickets.

Hersh on US Syrian policy | LRB (6th April 2014)

If Hersh is right, White House policy towards Syria was unforgivable. Clever skulduggery in pursuit of sensible (and potentially attainable) goals can arguably be acceptable; stupidity, compounded by incompetent knavery, is always beyond the pale.

According to Hersh, the administration was quickly informed the sarin gas attack in August 2013 probably wasn’t carried out by the Syrian government. Analysis of samples by Porton Downs (in the UK) showed none of them matched the known profiles of official Syrian stockpiles. These doubts, as we all know, were entirely absent from official communications.

Fair enough, perhaps; in matters of state you can’t always play your cards face up. Well, what if we add another factor? Again according to Hersh, the attacks were carried out by Jihadist groups in Syria (not a new contention; quite a few observers thought that was the case from day one) with critical support from Turkey. And, what’s more, the initial pipeline into Syria through Turkey was a joint CIA/Turkish operation running armaments out of Libya which the US only withdrew from after the Benghazi consulate attack.

Faced with this unpleasant reality, what did the White House do? Continue reading

Is self-delusion the answer?

The west’s myriad counter-productive foreign policies in recent decades are a puzzle. Some, like the current stoush over Ukraine, seem so determinedly stupid that satisfactory explanations are truly elusive.

Frank Furedi thinks he may have worked it out.

In a recent interview, a Russian journalist asked me why Western media outlets have become so careless about fact-checking in relation to Ukraine and Russia more broadly. I wasn’t sure if I could answer the question, so I was forced to say that I would have to reflect on it further.

After analysing the statements about Ukraine made by Western diplomats over the past two weeks, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that the motives behind the current campaign to demonise Russia are based on genuine convictions. Of course, there is a great deal of propaganda, wilful distortion and a significant element of fantasy in this campaign – but the outlook it expresses has been so firmly internalised by many in the West that it now constitutes their reality. And the fact that the West’s new breed of would-be Cold War crusaders have convinced themselves of their own rhetoric is likely to have far more destabilising consequences than if this campaign were simply a cynical example of old-fashioned realpolitik. At least realpolitik has the merit of being rooted in the real world; the current anti-Russian campaign, by contrast, is based on confusion and, even worse, on self-deception.

via The infantile diplomacy behind demonising Russia | Spiked. (h/t MoA)