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Sweden: Let Sleeping Ducks Lie?
Anyone curious? No sign of life in the duckpond? It's been a long slumber.
CAMBRIDGE (Rixstep) — Punting is fun, especially come summer when Cambridge is full of exchange students. The Japanese are particularly amusing, say the locals. Dressed in their gabardine slacks and skirts, their pressed white shirts and blouses, they cram into overflowing punts to venture out on the Granta.
They invariably crash into one another. No great damage, just a few bumps, but the scenes are as if taken from a slapstick silent movie.
It's the frozen looks on their faces that are the most amusing, say the locals. Their eyes bulging wide, their arms stretched out, their fingers tensed, their mouths wide open in silent fright, as the punts get closer and closer with no one able to stop the catastrophe...
That's not the worst of it, they'll tell you. No, they come to town with chaperones. Who will first instruct them in how they are to react when their punts actually crash - what expressions they're to wear on their faces, even what they are to feel.
True or not, one's thoughts inevitably wander to Sweden, where far more serious matters are treated in much the same way today. The Swedish big brothers and sisters, usually younger than their average readers, offer tidbits of amateurish wisdom from their Bonnier pulpits. Swedish bloggers, to the extent they write about anything more profound than the official @Sweden Twitter account, will strive to 'fall in line' with the big brothers and sisters - strive to, as Marcello put it, adhere to the consensus.
The Swedish duckpond is a zoological phenomenon that's hard to summarise. Nothing gets out (the language barrier) and precious little gets in (the language barrier again). Swedish newspapers often publish two versions of the same articles, one for global consumption online, and another in print for the ducks. Swedes don't want splashes in their pond.
The case of Julian Assange has dragged on for over four years now. The world's arguably most famous man, a hero to so many, is not talked about in the duckpond. There's some kind of legal case dragging on, and no one knows how it will turn out.
Julian Assange understood this from the beginning. Thus his determination to settle the case as soon as possible. He turned up for one interrogation, the only one pending at the time. Things could have turned out alright.
Then the infamous Claes Borgström got involved. He told the two girls that he could find a prosecutor that outranked the respected Eva Finné and have her open the case again. Borgström chose his one-time colleague, Marianne Ny.
Ny is otherwise most noted for bending rule of law, for advising it's best to imprison suspects early on to let them 'sweat it out', and for keeping at least one poor sod behind bars for 18 months until she changed her mind and had him released from prison, no charges, precious little investigated, case totally dropped.
Ny is also known for telling TIME in December 2010 that it's illegal to interrogate suspects in the UK, illegal by both Swedish and British law. (It's not illegal, not in either country, and never has been. Members of the EU in addition have Mutual Legal Assistance so stalemates don't happen, a procedure used repeatedly by Swedish authorities.)
Ny is also known for having the clout to get the Swedish media to scrub their sites of mention of the TIME interview. (DN.se did the dirtiest trick of all in that regard.)
Ny is also known for claiming she can't interrogate Assange in the UK because she needs a DNA swab - the kind Assange submitted already back in 2010. (This is a new excuse that's popped up of late when all the other excuses wore too thin.)
Put simply - and there's no way getting around it: Ny is known for saying a lot of things that simply aren't true. But the ducks? They don't know, and they don't want to know. WikiLeaks may be a great thing, but Julian Assange? He's a... Påtår kanske?
Or consider the infamous Hanne Kjöller, a columnist for DN.se who was very outspoken about the Assange case until someone asked her if she'd actually read anything about it.
Think no further than the infamous 'talk about it' campaign designed to damage the reputation of Julian Assange. Planned in detail by media insiders, it was based on two 'truths', neither of which was actually true.
- Initially to be called 'Thank You Anna', it was dedicated to Anna Ardin because they said she stood up to Julian Assange. Except she never did. She never said 'no' to Assange, and in fact was the instigator to their brief affair, carried him about like a trophy for a week, only later to decide he'd molested her way back when their affair began. She also gave the police a condom later shown to be faked evidence.
- The ringleader of 'talk about it' - another 'big sister' at DN.se - expressed her own regret that she herself had not been able to say 'no', and then cited an affair of her own as an example. But in that affair, as she told it, she had in fact said 'no', and the man with her had respected it.
Things like that just roll off a duck's back.
Sweden used to be an amazing country. A mouse that roared. A country that spoke truth to power. But that started changing in the 1970s when a nobleman started working his way up the political hierarchy (of course supporting the most conservative of the conservative, as status quo is just dandy for landed gentry). The nobleman flirted with the US and the CIA early on, managing to get himself vetted and approved by the latter for a red carpet trip around the former. And he made overtures at the US embassy to connect to Bush's Brain, and by 1976 had started feeding Swedish secrets to the CIA.
All this is on record, yet the ducks don't react. They're fast asleep.
Just this past week, Sweden's new prime minister Stefan Löfven, of the social democratic party that once made Sweden into a great country, declared point blank that the Russian annexation of Crimea was a violation of international law. He also wants to (but won't be able to - the statement is purely political) pass a bill that makes Swedish custom of prostitution abroad illegal. No matter that other countries defend the legality of prostitution. Something akin to the PR stunt of Claes Borgström (yes him again) who tried to get the Swedish football team to boycott the 2006 World Cup simply because prostitution is legal in Germany. Best were Borgström's scary predictions - supported by his buddy and later law partner who as minister for justice made it possible for Sweden to 'temporarily surrender' Assange to the US regardless of other legal considerations - of how trafficking would rise for the World Cup. Of course nothing like that happened.
Once again, the ducks in the pond didn't react, didn't comment, didn't think.
Thinking in the pond is only permitted if you think the same way as everyone else. 'Politically correct' has never been so thoroughly soaked into the pores of a nation as it has been in Sweden. And yet before the current era, before the advent of the nobleman, the odds that something like this would ever happen in Sweden, in the country of 'I Am Curious'...
Here's another frightful example:
Swedes have no idea what's going on in Ukraine. NONE. A few Swedish mercenaries know; they've gone off to murder as many people as they can. But how could the ducks know? The official position, regurgitated ad nauseam in the media, is consistent. All as woefully uninformed as can be, but consistent.
Perhaps what's worst of all: there is no acknowledgement of the dangerous developments in Ukraine. No word of the Nazis controlling the capital in a way reminiscent of what happened 80 years ago on the continent in Bavaria and Berlin, no photos of Ukrainian Nazi marches through the night, no reports or photos of the bestial genocidal acts going on there since the spring, and no outrage.
The ducks can't feel outrage: they're not told what's going on. They're inside the walls of the duckpond, and the barriers to entry are insurmountable. So for all practical purposes, the ducks are asleep.
Someday - one day hopefully - a new Lena Nyman will wake and think an original thought. That day is still a long way off.
Sweden's only major daily newspaper is DN.se. It's owned and run by the Bonnier empire. The Bonniers control book publishing, magazine publishing, and a big chunk of Swedish television. Amongst other things. DN.se is the bane of Lars Schaff, who reads it because it's there, but constantly finds it necessary to rebuke and debunk - it's that bad.
DN.se is the paper who first reviewed Donald Boström's report from the UN soldiers in the Middle East. It was UN soldiers who told him they'd seen evidence of a rogue gang dealing in body parts; they took him to several locations to see things and to talk to people. Boström was likely chosen because he was from Sweden; the soldiers from the UN reckoned at least Sweden could be counted on to look objectively at the evidence.
Which is what Boström asked of DN.se: look at the evidence. Send out more groups to investigate.
There was such a rogue gang; the NYPD uncovered members; the Turkish box office cinematic phenomenon on the subject, starring an overly plasticine Gary Busey, broke all records. But DN.se would not publish. Boström's submission eventually turned into a major diplomatic crisis, further exacerbated by the fact that the Bonniers had one of their own installed as ambassador in Tel Aviv.
DN.se is officially a 'liberal' rag. But their interpretation of 'liberal' is very liberal. Traditionally they're behind the Liberal Party, today headed by a military man.
DN.se won't normally lean any further to the right, and they definitely won't lean any further to the left either. Worse still: the Bonniers dropped a lot of cash in the television empire TV4 Group.
Actually too much cash. As Swedish law states that independent television companies must have at least three separate owners, and no single owner can have a controlling share.
Not that this stopped the Bonniers. What with the new 'moderate' (read: war hawk) government set to come to power in 2006, with a prospective prime minister who'd been cultivated by conservative organisations in the US for thirty years, Bonniers offered this new government a sweet offer.
What the Bonniers had to offer? Unabashed propaganda come election time. (It didn't work this time in 2014; Swedish voters must have been royally pissed.)
What the 'moderates' needed to do? Abolish the law requiring impartiality in the media. Allow propaganda to be openly mixed with news. (They got their law.)
What else the 'moderates' needed to do? Never prosecute the Bonniers for their illegal control of the TV4 Group. (No one whispered anything about it for eight long years; before 2006, with the social democratic government, the Bonniers were being hounded day and night for assorted dirty tricks.)
But the sun still hasn't peeked through in the duckpond, even after the elections. There have been too many years of Ragnarök, entire generations have been brought up in the land of Carl von Bildt. Bildt pushed the entire country to the political right with his submarine scares of the 1980s; the verdict's out whether the ducks will ever recover.
Sweden was once the numero uno thorn in the side of power; today there's no who dares speak the truth. But what's worse: no one dares even think it.
DN.se the Whistleblower Conduit?
DN.se have now entered the whistle-blowing business. They now have their own portal. But in a word: do not submit anything to them. Just don't do it. Take your stuff out of the country. The golden rule to trust no one applies in spades for Sweden.
Sweden has a secretive organisation closely paralleling the NSA. The Swedes have a number of 'buddy agreements' with their yankee friends and continually exchange sigint data with them - so much so they're considered the 'sixth eye' of the infamous 'Five Eyes' organisation controlled by the US.
Every signal crossing a Swedish border is captured. And that's only officially. Unofficially they're probably capturing everything anyway.
But there's worse. Here's a facsimile of the portal. Heaven help anyone who uses it.
√ The portal doesn't use a Tor hidden service. Never mind the turbocharged variant used by WikiLeaks, this site has nothing at all. And for those ducks who simply don't get it: giving DN.se your name and identification is moot. They already see your IP, and with that IP they can zero in on exactly who you are. Name, address, telephone number, credit card info, you name it. Click 'Send' and you're owned.
√ Their wild promise 'we guarantee anonymity' means nothing. Nothing. No one can guarantee anonymity. Julian Assange never did. Repeatedly making such a promise only indicates the Bonnier DN.se people don't know much and care even less.
√ Note as well that you're limited to 17 MB of data. You can't even upload a typical YouTube clip - three minutes of video. You certainly can't upload a 45-minute Collateral Murder video or the original 75,000 files in the Afghan War Diaries or the even more extensive Iraq War Logs or the bombshell known as Cablegate.
Leather Skirts and Surveillance
But could the ducks be slowly waking? The world at large must remain sceptical. Here's a piece today by one of the pond's big sisters - Lena Sundström. Lena goes on about surveillance and even pays homage to the heroism of Edward Snowden (of course refraining from mentioning the key role Julian Assange and Sarah Harrison played in that saga).
[Some readers may remember Lena Sundström - she's the one who on Bonnier TV4 advised the ducks to not think about the Assange case. Ed.]
In this DN.se piece, Lena Sundström takes the part of a typically somnambulating duck in the pond. Gee whiz what's going on anyway? All these ads I see online are targeted at me! And so forth.
It's not that I don't grasp that there's someone out there monitoring us. When ads pop up for books like 'Saudi Weaponry' and 'The Laser Man' and 'Big Brother is Watching', I presume I've been added to a demographic - lots of book ads for someone who reads lots of books.
Big deal, I tell myself. It's first when one day I google the words 'leather skirt' (because my sister asked me) that I start scratching my head. I'm suddenly under attack by leather skirt ads. They pop up everywhere. It's a bit like looking out one's window in the morning. So far everything looks normal - the trees, the billboard ads, the cars, the buses. And I just trod off to work. It happens for the first time when I open my door of a morning to see a leather skirt jungle - it feels like Truman Show.
Suddenly I notice things I hadn't noticed before. After I googled for Kim Jong Il, I'm surrounded by ads for books on North Korea. I ring a few experts and they tell me what I've somehow always known: that Google not only supply information with a tiny ID number so we leave traces of ourselves everywhere we go. Gmail scans our letters so they can send out personalised ads. And they store this information for 18 months.
And suddenly it's as if this entire surveillance apparatus, often seeming monstrous and indecipherable and abstract, is standing there in front of me like a wee electronic spy dressed in a leather skirt. The technical possibilities are staggering.
Today we know that it's hard to differentiate between commercial and government surveillance. The NSA work with companies like Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo.
[Skype is Microsoft, Lena. And YouTube is Google. See here. Ed.]
Surveillance that's not just about metadata but about content. Photos, video, our voices, the contents of our messages, files we stored in a cloud. (A unit in the NSA store info from more than 3 billion conversations for 30 days.)
The only thing that should surprise me is that I feel surprised. For a journalist, the surveillance society is something I'm always aware of. Encrypted hard drives and mail and telephones that go into the microwave during confidential meetings. We're acting like GDR dissidents, as if it was the most self-evident thing in the world.
But she ends on a particularly unusual high note: she's behind Edward Snowden.
It's Edward Snowden who pays the price for what we know today. He not only deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. He deserves asylum in countries that support democracy. And he deserves an answer to the question he's left to answer.
Do we care?
Never leave it to DN.se to pass up a golden opportunity: note the subtle dig at Russia. Russia, continually maligned by the big brothers and sisters, is the only country in Europe with the balls to stand up to the US and protect Snowden; the others that Lena fancies so much - they forced down the presidential jet of Evo Morales in strict violation of international agreements.
Know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cell phone tower you pass, friend you keep, article you write, site you visit, subject line you type, and packet you route is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.
- Edward Snowden
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