January 18, 2014

Crisis: Totalitarian NSA + Obama * 5 + Personal

   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next  

How NSA Invites Totalitarianism
2. Obama's NSA 'reforms' are little more than a PR attempt
     to  mollify the public

3. Obama Backs NSA, Fails to Demand End to Bulk Data

4. Obama presents NSA reforms with plan to end
     government storage of call data

5. Obama's NSA Reforms More Transparent Than
     Expected—But Expectations Were Really Low

6. Obama's Nonreform Reforms
7. Personal

About ME/CFS


This is another
crisis file, that was written the day after Obama's speech on the NSA. As I explain in the last item, I am not disappointed, because I expected nothing and I received nothing, though I am not pleased either, for in fact the spying goes on, nearly without any change.

The following is a selection of six files that deal with the NSA or Obama. I start with the first, about the NSA, because it is by a Dutchman, whom I do not know at all, and because it mentions a few things about the Dutch that I agree with, and besides it is a competent article on the subject of its title, which may be restated as "How the US collapsed into a totalitarian state". (I also - in a footnote - deal with the nonsense that goes by the name of "Godwin's law".)

The other five crisis files are takes by various persons of Obama's speech.

1. How NSA Invites Totalitarianism

To start with, an article by Arjen Kamphuis on Consortium News:

This starts as follows:

After more than six months of revelations about the global surveillance infrastructure built by the U.S. government and its “allies” (i.e. smaller countries that believe smiling-at-the-
crocodile-in-the-hope-he-eats-you-last is a good long-term strategy), many people and politicians still tout the “I have nothing to hide” attitude toward the most over-armed, hyper-intrusive super-power in human history.

In a recent New Yorker article, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was quoted as saying: “My phone numbers, I assume, are collected like everybody else’s, but so what? It does not bother me. By the Supreme Court decision in 1979, the data is not personal data. There’s a Google Map that allows somebody to burgle my house, it’s so clear and defined, and I can’t do anything about it.”

As Kamphuis explains, this is utter bullshit: First, what would anyone care about what Feinstein feels, and besides, the Supreme Court Decision she uses is from before the internet, and before the PC, and anyway was and is abused.

Next Kamphuis, who is Dutch but now lives in Germany, draws a paraellel with the Dutch, as they were during WW II. I suppress most, but he says

For the vast majority of Dutch people life went on pretty much as before. Resistance to the occupation was almost non-existent and many Dutch were happy to work for the government (the number of civil servants almost doubled during the occupation) or in industries that boomed because of orders from the German army.

It was not until 1942 that the enthusiastic data collection by the Dutch government turned into a human catastrophe. Over 100,000 people – who thought they “had nothing to hide” – had provided accurate data on their Jewish identity and listed their addresses, enabling the most complete persecution of Jewish people in any country during World War II (with the exception of Poland where the Nazis had more time and fewer logistical challenges).

Yes, indeed - and they had provided "accurate data on their Jewish identity and listed their addresses" because they were expressly invited and exhorted to do so by the leaders of the Jewish Council, who did so because the SS asked them to do so, who also recommended them all to carry yellow David's stars "proudly", and who were called Cohen and Asscher, and were the (great-)grandfathers of the present day prominent Dutch Labour party politicians Lodewijk Asscher (vice-president) and Rob Oudkerk (ex alderman of Amsterdam), and perhaps of Job Cohen (ex-mayor of Amsterdam), but he never replied to any of my many letters or mails, after I had been gassed by a house owner who collaborated with the drugsmafia.

Of course, since almost none of the Dutch went into resistance, none of these men active in WW II, who all did survive the war, unlike the more than 100.000 fellow Jews they had betrayed, were ever punished, and they did not even have to face any court, which they owed at least in part to another Nazi-collaborator, called Donner, who was the grandfather of the recent Dutch Minister of Justice and present day politician Donner, who also helped clean all his brethern Nazi-collaborators who formed the Dutch Supreme Court.

But this was and is all typically Dutch, about which Kamphuis (whom I do not know at all) has another bit of information:

The other problem was the pro-authority attitude of most Dutch (even if that authority was a brutal military occupation by a foreign army). The famous Dutch “tolerance” often expressed itself as “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t bother me.” That included shoving fellow citizens into cattle-cars on their way to death-camps.

There was no occupied country where Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous poem – “first they came for the Socialists…” – was more applicable than the Netherlands.

Yes indeed [2]  - and the non-Dutch reader should also realize that the one real moral value nearly all Dutchmen practice and follow is hypocrisy, which e.g. caused almost all Dutch collaborators to claim to have been "a member of the resistance" after the war, whereas in fact almost none were, and the few who really were, such as my parents, were actively discriminated.

Then there is this:

Though comparisons with the Nazi era are always problematic, aspects of that time and U.S. society today are eerily similar. The United States seems under the de facto control of a consortium of banksters and a military-industrial-security complex, all feeding off each other and feeding into a political/media system that controls the national agenda and marginalizes people who dissent.

This structure has made many citizens afraid of their own shadows and lacking the information to ask meaningful questions even if they so desired. There are two political parties, the minimum number to have at least the pretense of a democracy, but – on issues relating to “national security” and the “surveillance state” – the Republicans and Democrats offer little that is significantly different, except at the fringes of the two parties.

Actually, I do not believe that "comparisons with the Nazi era are always problematic", and indeed I see no rational reason for that either - except of course for the enormous hypocrisy that moves most Dutchmen in nearly everything they do and don't do.... but then I am one of the very few who descends from a father and a grandfather who really were in the resistance, and really were arrested in 1941, and really were convicted by collaborating Dutch judges, who were never punished, and were simply allowed to carry on as judges after the war, to concentration camp imprisonment as "political terrorists", which my grandfather did not survive.

But apart from that criticism, the rest is correct, as is the following:

Yet, the unpleasant reality is that the U.S. government has built a turnkey infrastructure for a level of totalitarian control that repressive leaders of past eras could only dream about. The NSA’s metadata lets the government chart a spider’s web of your associations with multiple “hops” to draw in the networks of other people whom you have never met. The scheme takes guilt-by-association to a whole new level.

The U.S. government also reserves to itself the right to kill anyone, anywhere who supposedly represents a “terrorist” threat to the United States – and to do so on the say-so of some unaccountable and essentially anonymous intelligence officials. The blood lust even extends to whistleblowers like former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Yes, indeed. Finally, there is this:
The only missing element for a full-scale tyranny is a political excuse to flip the switch and turn this machine to full-power. Perhaps the excuse could come from another “terrorist attack” or from another financial meltdown as the government seeks to control social unrest. Or a thoroughly unscrupulous President might just rev it up to go after his enemies. But the point is the equipment is now in place and ready to go.
There is some more, but this suffers from a reference to the crazy "Godwin's law", that I deal with in a footnote. [3]

In any case, this is a decent article that explains fairly well how the US has collapsed
into a totalitarian state, that only awaits "a political excuse to flip the switch".

2. Obama's NSA 'reforms' are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public

Next, an article by Glenn Greenwald, in the Guardian:

Let me first say this is the first publication of Greenwald "on his own spot" - as I shall call it - in the Guardian since October last year. I do not think it has anything to do with my observation of January 16 that (and I quote myself
) "
Glenn Greenwald publishes less, and does not publish in the Guardian anymore" but I welcome it, as long as he has no other widely read and easy to find spot.

This starts as follows:

In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America's most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama's much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for "reforming" the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.

The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are "serious questions that have been raised". They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic "reforms" so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.

Yes, indeed. And it is also true this is not just true of Obama, but of the great majority of the US political leaders, though indeed it is rather more sick from the mouth of the president, who got his job originally by promising "change" and that "yes, we can", but who continued the policies of his Republican predeces-
sor in nearly all respects.

There is rather a lot more - all justified - on the tactic that I skip, to turn to the present case:

And now we have the spectacle of President Obama reciting paeans to the values of individual privacy and the pressing need for NSA safeguards. "Individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress," he gushed with an impressively straight face. "One thing I'm certain of, this debate will make us stronger," he pronounced, while still seeking to imprison for decades the whistleblower who enabled that debate. The bottom line, he said, is this: "I believe we need a new approach."

But those pretty rhetorical flourishes were accompanied by a series of plainly cosmetic "reforms". By design, those proposals will do little more than maintain rigidly in place the very bulk surveillance systems that have sparked such controversy and anger.

Yes, quite so. And there is this

Ultimately, the radical essence of the NSA – a system of suspicion-less spying aimed at hundreds of millions of people in the US and around the world – will fully endure even if all of Obama's proposals are adopted. That's because Obama never hid the real purpose of this process. It is, he and his officials repeatedly acknowledged, "to restore public confidence" in the NSA. In other words, the goal isn't to truly reform the agency; it is deceive people into believing it has been so that they no longer fear it or are angry about it.

Again, yes. I do think you ought to read all of this yourself.

3.  Obama Backs NSA, Fails to Demand End to Bulk Data Collection

Next, a brief article by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

This has a fitting epigraph, under a picture, that I do not reproduce:

“What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale, not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens,” Obama said Friday morning.

This means that either Obama is a plain liar - "nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens" - or Glenn Greenwald, and many others, including me, are plain liars. (I merely observe that I do not get paid, at all.)

The first paragraph is this:

President Obama outlined what he called “concrete and substantial reforms” of global and domestic U.S. government surveillance Friday, but did not address such key issues as the NSA’s sabotage and undermining of global encryption standards.

Yes, but also he was lying when he said he was making  “concrete and substantial reforms”: All he did was proposing a handful of quite irrelevant cosmetic "reforms".

This can be illustrated with another blatant lie:

Obama began the speech by saying that metadata—information generated about an individual’s use of technology, such as place and time of call—is not data, which refers to the content of a message or activity. That statement contradicts a comment made Tuesday by former CIA acting director Michael Morell: “There is not in my mind a sharp distinction between metadata and content.”

Morell is right - and besides, if these metadata would not inform, the NSA would not want them. Since they want them, they inform them - as indeed is clear to anyone who knows what they are, which includes the lying US president.

Anyway, the rest of the article is mostly summary or quotation from the Guardian and indeed from the next item:

4. Obama presents NSA reforms with plan to end government storage of call data

Next, an article by Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts in the Guardian:

This starts as follows:

US president Barack Obama forcefully defended the embattled National Security Agency on Friday in a speech that outlined a series of surveillance reforms but stopped well short of demanding an end to the bulk collection of American phone data. 

In his widely anticipated address at the Justice Department on the future course of US surveillance policy, Obama said the government should no longer hold databases of every call record made in the United States, citing the “potential for abuse”.

But Obama did not say what should replace the databases and made it clear the intelligence agencies should still be able to access call records information in some unspecified way, signalling a new round in the battle between privacy advocates and the NSA’s allies.

I do not think his performance was "forceful": it was a cosmetic "reform", that made one thing very clear: Obama wants to spy on all his citizens, and presumably also wants his successors, whoever they may be, to spy on all their citizens, and indeed also on the rest of the world.

As to the plan "to end government storare of call data": That already has been realized in Holland, and only means that the phone and internet companies must do the storing, instead of the secret service. C'est tout.

The next paragraph again calls Obama's performance "forceful":

Mounting a forceful defence of the NSA, Obama said: “They’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls, or read your emails.” He did not mention that judges on the secret surveillance court have found NSA has repeatedly and “systematically” overstepped its bounds. Instead, he counselled strongly against any steps that would undermine US national security. “We cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies,” he said.

Perhaps it is satirical, that "forceful"? In any case, as Ackerman also makes clear, the president lied, and lied grossly and knowingly.

There is a lot more, but I only quote this:

Much of the substance of Obama’s proposals remain undefined.

This is true, and one of my reasons not to call his speech "forceful", but it is also true this leaves room for civil organizations and Congress to try to stop the NSA, now that the president is clearly unwilling.

5. Obama's NSA Reforms More Transparent Than Expected—But Expectations Were Really Low

Next, an article by Dana Liebelson on Mother Jones:

This starts as follows:

On Friday, President Obama released his plan to reform the NSA's sweeping surveillance program. Obama offered much praise for the NSA, and he's not ending the agency's controversial bulk collection program, which scoops up information about Americans' telephone calls. But he is making substantial changes to how the program currently runs, indicating that he may be more willing to risk the ire of the intelligence community for the sake of transparency reforms, than he's been in the past. Many oversight questions, though, are still being left to the intelligence community, and the reforms Obama announced on Friday only address a sliver of the surveillance issues raised by the Snowden leaks. Most notably, the president did not address many of the internet-related revelations produced by the Snowden documents. But he tried to offer some real reform to civil libertarians (though hardly meeting the demands for widespread changes) while providing much support to the intelligence community, which will not likely cheer the reforms the president is implementing.

I see no reason to consider his "changes" "substantial", in part because they are not, in part because he simply continues the NSA, and in part because he choose not to discuss most issues at all.

Anyway - the rest of the piece is an exposition of the "changes" Obama did propose, and (implicitly) supports my notion that these were not "substantial".

6. Obama's Nonreform Reforms 

Finally in today's crisis series, an article by David Auerbach on Slate:

This starts as follows:

On Friday President Barack Obama called for mild reform of the National Security Agency’s phone records collection program. In the words of Rep. Justin Amash, “the government will continue to search those [phone] records without a warrant—but just a little less vigorously.” The phone records program, which is based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, is only one of many that have been revealed over the last six months; it does not include the NSA’s hacking into email accounts en masse, collecting millions of text messages daily, or paying off encryption companies to put back doors into their algorithms. So Obama’s speech only touched on a fraction of the concerns at hand.

Yes, indeed - and I note Auerbach is the only one of those listed today about which it says he "is a software engineer", which surely helps. (I can program quite well in several languages, in fact since 1972, which makes it a lot clearer what the dangers are, but I must suppose this holds of less than 1 in 50 at most, even now.)

In any case, he discusses six relevant questions Obama did not address, that I leave to you, and ends thus:

Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the few congressional voices to express real concern over the NSA programs, was unimpressed by Obama’s speech. “We must all remember that the very act of bulk collection of private data undermines Americans’ constitutional rights,” Wyden said. That was the charge that Obama should have answered on Friday, but our president, who was once a scholar of constitutional law, barely spoke to it. Instead, he begged off with some cosmetic changes and turned a blind eye to the abuses of the very same agency that spied on Martin Luther King. Remember that: History will not be kind.

Actually, I do not know what spying on Martin Luther King has to do with it, and the judgment of history does not interest me (for it does not exist, as long as there are opposing parties, who may publish), but I agree with the rest.

7. Personal

That was president Obama. Since I did not expect anything, and since I also did not receive anything of clear value, I am not at all disappointed, but I am not pleased either.

The main two reasons I am not pleased are that Obama could have stopped it if he had wanted to, which he should have if he knows any law, and that he did not, which means that he is definitely on the wrong side, as indeed he has been most of the time, by my lights.

But then that was all in the charts and foreseen.

As I have said several times since the beginning of December (or earlier), I want to do less on the crisis series, mainly because it is too journalistic for me, and too much work, for I do read all of the articles I mention, and read considerably more, and that takes a lot of time that I also may spend differently.

However, I do not know what I can and will do, also because I am still improving, albeit slowly, though it is a safe guess there will be fewer crisis issues.



[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, thay the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servant of laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

[2] Here is one version of Niemöller's poem, of which there also are other questions, that refer to the communists and the incurable patients:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
[3] "Godwin's law" is this fairly crazy and totally arbitrary piece of text, that dates back to 1990:
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1".
The reason I call this "fairly crazy and totally arbitrary" is that it is true for any discussion, anywhere, about anything whatsoever that "as the discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving anything else whatsoever approaches 1". Which is to say that it says nothing definite at all - but it got itself famous because it referred to "Nazis or Hitler".

And while I have seen many references to
"Nazis or Hitler" that seemed totally senseless to me, and also have been myself called hundreds of times "a fascist" and tens of times "a terorist", and indeed usually also "a dirty fascist" (almost all in the University of Amsterdam, by my opponents, who did not know what they talked about, but were in huge majority, and could not win their discussions with me: hence all the name calling), it seems to me fairly normal and understandable that a tyranny that held all of Europe in slavery and helped murder 50 million persons in the course of six years, is often referred to.

In fact, it seems quite sick if that were not so, or if that were forbidden, though it is just this that seems the normal point of "Godwin's law" - that better could be restated like so: "You shall not discuss negative things which almost everybody agrees are negative! Always speak positively of positive popular things!"

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komarof

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)[2]

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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