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Nederlog


  November
5, 2014
Crisis: Midterm elections*3, British, Poverty, Verilli, GCHQ, Privacy Tools
  "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
















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Sections
Introduction

1.
Republicans win majority in US Senate, giving party
     control of Congress
 
2.
 The British government is leading a gunpowder plot
     against democracy

3. 300,000 more people live in poverty than previously
     thought, study finds

4. Before We Promote Verrilli to Attorney General...
5. The GCHQ boss is wrong. We can have both security and
     privacy

6. Midterms 2014: GOP Gains Control of the Senate
7. The Big Winner in 2014 Elections: Corporate Television
8. Privacy Tools: The Best Encrypted Messaging Programs

About ME/CFS


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, November 5. It is a
crisis log.

There are 8 items with 8 dotted links:
Items 1, 6 and 7 are about yesterday's American midterm elections, which went very bad for the Democrats and very good for the Koch brothers; item 2 is an article by George Monbiot on TTIP that
is good; item 3 shows there are considerably more poor people in the UK than governmental statistics say there are; item 4 is about the lies of a candidate for the American attorney general; item 5 is an article by Julian Huppert about the new GCHQ boss; and item 8 is a good article on programs that can be used for encrypting mail and text.


Here goes:

1. Republicans win majority in US Senate, giving party control of Congress

The first item is an article by six authors (too many to mention) on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

Republicans swept to power in the US Senate after a rout for Democrats in midterm elections that were dominated by criticism of Barack Obama’s presidency and are likely to hobble his last two years in Washington.

A stronger-than-expected Republican performance, including wins in states such as Colorado and Iowa that Obama carried in 2012, allows Republicans to take full control of Congress. The GOP also expanded its majority in the House of Representatives.

By midnight ET Republicans already had 52 Senate seats confirmed. Results were still outstanding in Alaska and Louisiana – the latter of which will hold a run-off election in December after neither candidate reached 50% of the vote. Two more Republican victories would leave the party with as much as an eight-seat advantage over Democrats.

Despite some initial Democratic optimism after they held on to New Hampshire and temporarily appeared to be ahead in North Carolina, the party lost almost all its key target Senate seats.

That's the result of yesterday's American midterm elections, in general terms. There is a lot more in the article, but I will leave that to your interests.

Also, since the elections are important, there are two more items below -
item 6 and item 7 - but clearly I had to choose (and chose some mostly factual reactions).

2. The British government is leading a gunpowder plot against democracy 

The next item is an article by George Monbiot on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

On this day a year ago, I was in despair. A dark cloud was rising over the Atlantic, threatening to blot out some of the freedoms our ancestors lost their lives to secure. The ability of parliaments on both sides of the ocean to legislate on behalf of their people was at risk from an astonishing treaty that would grant corporations special powers to sue governments. I could not see a way of stopping it.

Almost no one had heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US, except those who were quietly negotiating it. And I suspected that almost no one ever would. Even the name seemed perfectly designed to repel public interest. I wrote about it for one reason: to be able to tell my children that I had not done nothing.

To my amazement, the article went viral. As a result of the public reaction and the involvement of remarkable campaigners, the European commission and the British government responded. The Stop TTIP petition now carries more than 750,000 signatures; the
38 Degrees petition has 910,000. Last month there were 450 protest actions across 24 member states. The commission was forced to hold a public consultation about the most controversial aspect, and 150,000 people responded. Never let it be said that people cannot engage with complex issues.

Actually, I did pay attention to George Monbiot's article - see Nov 6, 2013 -
and have given more attention to the TTIP since. Also, George Monbiot was not the only one to be much frightened by and to fight against the TTIP, but it is true he has a weekly column on The Guardian that may have sparked interest in quite a few.

Here are two comments on the quotation. The first paragraph seems still quite true to me, and indeed worse than in 2013, possibly except for the despair of George Monbiot (which I can imagine, but I like Burke's advice: "If in despair, work on" - though I agree that may be hard to practice).

The last statement is at least a bit misleading: I never doubted "that people can(..) engage with complex issues" - the problem is: how many or what percentage of "the people" can. And it would seem to me that the midterm
elections have shown more than half of the American population can not.

But OK - neither comment was very important, and we go back to the TTIP. Here is the main problem:

The central problem is what the negotiators call investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). The treaty would allow corporations to sue governments before an arbitration panel composed of corporate lawyers, at which other people have no representation, and which is not subject to judicial review.

Already, thanks to the insertion of ISDS into much smaller trade treaties, big business is engaged in an orgy of litigation, whose purpose is to strike down any law that might impinge on its anticipated future profits. The tobacco firm Philip Morris is suing governments in Uruguay and Australia for trying to discourage people from smoking. The oil firm Occidental was awarded $2.3bn in compensation from Ecuador, which terminated the company’s drilling concession in the Amazon after finding that Occidental had broken Ecuadorean law. The Swedish company Vattenfall is suing the German government for shutting down nuclear power. An Australian firm is suing El Salvador’s government for $300m for refusing permission for a goldmine over concerns it would poison the drinking water.

The same mechanism, under TTIP, could be used to prevent UK governments from reversing the privatisation of the railways and the NHS, or from defending public health and the natural world against corporate greed. The corporate lawyers who sit on these panels are beholden only to the companies whose cases they adjudicate, who at other times are their employers.

Note that these cases are supposed to be settled by "an arbitration panel composed of corporate lawyers, at which other people have no representation,
and which is not subject to judicial review
" and what the bone of contention is: "anticipated future profits".

Here is some more
:

As one of these people commented: “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

So outrageous is this arrangement that even the Economist, usually the champion of corporate power and trade treaties, has now come out against it. It calls investor-state dispute settlement “a way to let multinational companies get rich at the expense of ordinary people”.

I say - and the Economist is quite right. Plus that the ordinary people's elected parliaments and governments also are avoided and circumvented by "an arbitration panel composed of corporate lawyers, at which other people have no representation, and which is not subject to judicial review": Exit democracy, exit courts, exit state of law, exit rights of - real, non-corporate - private persons (unless they are billionaires).

And here is a final consideration:
[Cameron] and his ministers have failed to answer the howlingly obvious question: what’s wrong with the courts? If corporations want to sue governments, they already have a right to do so, through the courts, like anyone else. It’s not as if, with their vast budgets, they are disadvantaged in this arena. Why should they be allowed to use a separate legal system, to which the rest of us have no access? What happened to the principle of equality before the law?
Yes, quite so. And this is an article that deserves full reading.

3.  300,000 more people live in poverty than previously thought, study finds 

The next item is an article by Larry Elliott on The Guardian:
This starts as follows (and is about Great Britain):

The number of people living in dire poverty in Britain is 300,000 more than previously thought due to poorer households facing a higher cost of living than the well off, according to a study released on Wednesday.

A report produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that soaring prices for food and fuel over the past decade have had a bigger impact on struggling families who spend more of their budgets on staple goods.

By contrast, richer households had been the beneficiaries of the drop in mortgage rates and lower motoring costs.

Here is some more on the study:
(..) in the six years from early 2008 to early 2014, the cost of energy had risen by 67% and the cost of food by 32%. Over the same period the retail prices index – a measure of the cost of a basket of goods and services – had gone up by 22%.

The IFS report said the poorest 20% of households spent 8% of their budgets on energy and 20% on food, while the richest 20% spent 4% on energy and 11% on food.

And:

Peter Levell, a Research Economist at IFS said “In recent years, lower income households have tended to see bigger increases in their cost of living than have better off households. Official poverty measures do not take this into account and hence have arguably understated recent increases in absolute poverty by a small but not insignificant margin.”

It seems pretty odd to me that these changes - which are pretty obvious and easy to check - were not considered in "official poverty measures", but then that shows you can't trust officials at all (which I know to be very true in Holland: I have waited for nearly four years to be either gassed again or murdered, all because Amsterdam's mayor Van Thijn had personally permitted his drugsdealing friends to deal illegal drugs from the bottom floor of the hous where I lived, and refused to answer my letters, that were handed to his personal doorman).

4. Before We Promote Verrilli to Attorney General... 

The next item is an article by Dan Novack on The Intercept (with a truncated title: I do not copy titles that take three lines in small print):

This has the following argument - and as the title says, Verilli is a candidate for attorney general:

Let’s travel back to the year 1 BS (Before Snowden), or 2012 for those still on the Gregorian Calendar — before National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed just how pervasive government spying had become. The American Civil Liberties Union was challenging the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Section 702 of which allows warrantless surveillance of any targets reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. or of any group reasonably believed to not be “substantially” composed of Americans.

The government was eager to have the case dismissed, so Verrilli, addressing the Supreme Court on its behalf, offered up an alternate plaintiff: terrorists. He assured the court that since the law mandates criminal defendants receive notice of surveillance used against them, terrorists should be the ones to challenge the law rather than the ACLU, which could not prove its clients had been affected.

The ACLU’s clients, in this case, were attorneys and human rights, labor, legal, and media organizations, who could not prove — only speculate — that they had been surveilled. Under the technical doctrine of standing, a plaintiff cannot sue based on mere speculation of harm, and Verrilli was insistent that the ACLU’s case was thusly speculative and should be dismissed. Justice Sonia Sotomayor brought up the point that this left many and perhaps all surveillance targets essentially powerless in the courts — “if there was a constitutional violation in the interception… no one could ever stop it until they were charged with a crime,” she pointed out.

To which Verrilli essentially replied that government surveillance targets get notice and thus had ample opportunity to sue:

If an aggrieved person, someone who is a party to a communication, gets notice that the government intends to introduce information in a proceeding against them, they have standing.

He made the same point on page 8 of his written brief:

If the government intends to use or disclose any information obtained or derived from its acquisition of a person’s communication’s under Section 1881a in judicial or administrative proceedings against that person, it must provide advanced notice of its intent to the tribunal and the person, regardless of whether or not that person was targeted for surveillance under Section 1881a.”

The Court obliged and dismissed the case. Yet, in the five years the law has been in effect, no defendant had ever received notice, a fact that Verrilli was either oblivious or indifferent to. When Edward Snowden exposed PRISM just a few months later, the government’s story fell apart. No longer was the ACLU’s case, in the words of Verrilli, “a cascade of speculation.” On the contrary, mass surveillance — without notice to the targets — was shown to be very real.

The argument seems quite valid to me, and note what is involved:
  • The U.S. government illegally spies on hundreds of millions of innocent people.
  • These people should have been notified that they are spied upon, but are not.
  • The spying the government does is totally classified (secret).
  • Verilli argues that those who oppose the spying, notably the ACLU, has no case because they are not spied upon (which is probably also false) and because those who are spied upon should be notified - except that they are not.
  • The case is dismissed by the American courts - in spite of the fact that "in the five years the law has been in effect, no defendant had ever received notice".
So indeed Verilli lied. (But - I take it - this is excellent recommendation to nominate him. We will see.)

5. The GCHQ boss is wrong. We can have both security and privacy

The next item is an article by Julian Huppert on The Guardian:

This contains the following bit:

The first article written by the new director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, for the FT, is deeply worrying. One might expect Hannigan to begin his new post on a conciliatory note – recognising the need for reform and reaching out to the public. But his article does precisely the opposite. In an extremely controversial piece, he instead blames digital companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook for the ills of the world. He has chosen to attack people who are rightly concerned about people’s civil liberties in this digital age.

No one denies that the work GCHQ does is extremely important. Our intelligence services clearly play a fundamental and crucial role in keeping us safe. But Hannigan’s argument contains a number of serious flaws.

I have reviewed Hannigan's arguments yesterday, and was considerably sharper than Julian Huppert, who is a Lib Dem British parliamentarian. You can check out Huppert's arguments by clicking the last dotted link.

I merely want to consider his second paragraph above:

The first statement is false simply because no one knows what the GCHQ is doing except the bosses of the GCHQ and possibly part of the government. I agree that spying is important, but if the gross of the work the GCHQ does is illegal or ought to be illegal, which seems to be the case, to say that "
the work GCHQ does is extremely important" is either false or misleading: No one knows, except the bosses of the GCHQ.

The second statement is false for the same reason: I do not know - and hardly anyone really does know - whether the "
intelligence services clearly play a fundamental and crucial role in keeping us safe".

In fact, my own take is that they are the vanguard of a new authoritarian English state, that is less interested in spying on foreign governments than on getting to know everything there is to be known about any British citizen so as to control them better. This may be false as well, but it is quite well documented by many documents from Edward Snowdon.

The third statement is true, but I like my analysis better than Huppert's (but yes, I know he is a parliamentarian).

6. Midterms 2014: GOP Gains Control of the Senate

The next item is an article by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:
This starts as follows (and I selected this, from many others, because it seems a fair and concise summary):

And so it happened: Thanks to a heady combination of freed-up cash, amped-up campaigning, publicity-stoked fear and Obama fatigue, among other potent ingredients, Republicans took over the Senate on Tuesday evening. 

This means Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hands over his title to Sen. Mitch McConnell, and it also means President Obama can get ready to face a human wall in Congress for the last two years in the White House.

Here’s how the BBC summed it up that night:

The Republican Party has won control of the Senate in the US mid-term elections, increasing its power in the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The party took Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell will lead the chamber.

The party is also set to strengthen its majority in the lower House of Representatives.

As the early results came in late on Tuesday, it became clear the Republicans had made convincing gains in the roughly one-third of the 100 Senate seats up for election.

The party retained seats in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

And that is about it.

7. The Big Winner in 2014 Elections: Corporate Television

The next item is an article by Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:
This is not so much a report on the elections as an analysis, and it starts as follows:

In an election marked by record outside spending, including "dark money" sources, a clear winner has already emerged: the corporate television stations making windfall profits from political advertising.

Cable news stations have nearly doubled their sales in political ads since the last midterm elections in 2010, according to figures from Kanta Media ad tracking firm, which were provided to Reuters. TV stations across the U.S. will bring in approximately $2.4 billion from local, state, and federal elections ads, they report. These numbers are just slightly behind the 2012 presidential election, which saw $2.9 billion spent on TV ads.

Yes, indeed. And note that these were $2.4 billion dollars spend on propaganda, which leads me to two related questions: 1. Why is this admitted in general, and 2. specifically up to quite immediately before the elections?

The reason to pose these questions is that these things are regulated quite differently in many other - nominally - democratic countries: Either there simply is no advertising for political parties (which seems fair to me: advertising strongly favors the rich) or, if there is, it is not admitted immediately before elections.

I am in fact merely asking and pointing out that the rules may be quite different than they are in the United States. Personally, I am completely against all lying, all deceiving and all propagandizing, and I do not want to see or hear any advertisement because these are all lies, deceptions and propaganda, but - except for the BBC - that seems to be so "extreme" a position that I merely mention it.

Here is the ending of the article:

Ahead of the 2014 elections, media companies bought up local stations, anticipating these windfall profits. This resulted in "massive" media consolidation, contributing to the national trend of growing conglomerates and a "narrowing" news perspective, argues Reed Richardson in the Nation.

"To elect our nation’s leaders, wealthy 1-percenters and mega-corporations have been given carte blanche to secretly fund organizations that spend obscene amounts of money advertising on TV stations owned by other mega-corporations and wealthy 1-percenters," writes Richardson. "In short, our political finance system has become little more than an income redistribution model for the ultra-rich and a no-lose proposition for big media corporations."

Yes, indeed. But OK, the main lesson to be learned from these "democratic" elections American style is that one can deceive 50% + 1 of the voters.

8.
Privacy Tools: The Best Encrypted Messaging Programs

The next and final item for today is an article by Julia Angwin on Pro Publica:
This is a useful and interesting article that you should read if you are interested in encrypting your mails, as I think you should be - but I agree that sending encrypted mails still is difficult.

This article may help some, and it starts as follows:
Ever since former National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden revealed mass governmental surveillance, my inbox has been barraged with announcements about new encryption tools to keep people's communications safe from snooping.

But it's not easy to sort out which secret messaging tools offer true security and which ones might be snake oil. So I turned to two experts — Joseph Bonneau at Princeton and Peter Eckersley at the Electronic Frontier Foundation — for advice about what to look for in encryption tools. Working together, we chose seven technical criteria on which to rank encryption tools.

The criteria aim to assess whether the tool is designed to combat threats such as backdoors secretly built into the software, Internet eavesdroppers, or tricksters who steal the secret "keys" that users must safeguard to keep their communications secure.

Check out the results of our review.

That is the way to do it, and the results of our review is quite interesting since it tabulates and scores no less than 39 different programs, that are awarded summary scores of 0 till 7 (the highest is the best).  Also, no more than 6 of the programs get a 7.

This is a good article that you should read all of if you are interested in encryption, also because it does not make strong and irrealistic promises.

---------------------------------
Notes
[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that 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 one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)


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 Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

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)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)



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