December 29, 2014
Crisis: U.S Prisons+Afghan War+40 Years Ago+Total Surveillance+NSA's War
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "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


1. The Prison State of America
After 13 Years, US-Led Afghanistan War is Officially Over
     but Nightmare Goes On

Are We Better Off Than We Were 40 Years Ago?
4. The Fight Against the Total Surveillance State in Our
5. Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA's War on Internet Security


This is a Nederlog of Monday, December 29, 2014.

It is a
crisis file, and consists of 5 articles with 5 dotted links (but see item 5: there is a lot more available): Item 1 is an article by Chris Hedges on the - quite sick - prison system of the U.S.; item 2 is on "the end" of the Afghan war, which was announced yesterday, but seems mostly hokum; item 3 is a serious consideration of the question whether the U.S. population was better off 40 years ago; item 4 is an article on totalitarianism - total control - that is now being furthered in the U.S. in schools; and item 5 is an excellent article on the international site of Der Spiegel about encryption and spying, that comes with no less than 45 links to lots of information. (This is a definite must-read, even though 45 items is a lot.)
1. The Prison State of America

The first item today is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Prisons employ and exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to isolation cells. The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for corporations and government industries in the American prison system are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become. And corporations have no intention of permitting prison reforms that would reduce the size of their bonded workforce. In fact, they are seeking to replicate these conditions throughout the society.

States, in the name of austerity, have stopped providing prisoners with essential items including shoes, extra blankets and even toilet paper, while starting to charge them for electricity and room and board. Most prisoners and the families that struggle to support them are chronically short of money. Prisons are company towns. Scrip, rather than money, was once paid to coal miners, and it could be used only at the company store. Prisoners are in a similar condition. When they go broke—and being broke is a frequent occurrence in prison—prisoners must take out prison loans to pay for medications, legal and medical fees and basic commissary items such as soap and deodorant. Debt peonage inside prison is as prevalent as it is outside prison.

This is just the beginning of 3 pages that do not make pleasant reading, though they are well-written, especially not if you realize that (1) about 50% of the prisoners were taken on marijuana-charges (2) many of the court trials were manifestly unfair and (3) the U.S. has by far the most prisoners of any country.

Next, there is a discussion of how to profit as much as one can from prisoners: the prices of most things they can buy, from the very little money they have, are increased, sometimes by a 100%, while the profits are in fact enormous, and are mostly based on the extremely low pay: prisoners may earn "as much as 1.25 dollars" an hour, but many may not earn as much as 1 dollar a day.

Here is one conclusion Hedges draws:

Prisons are a grotesque manifestation of corporate capitalism. Slavery is legal in prisons under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …” And the massive U.S. prison industry functions like the forced labor camps that have existed in all totalitarian states. 

One of the facts this is founded on is this:

The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners.

Here it is to be noted that the U.S. population grew about 20% in the same time. Then there is this is about the payments prisoners receive, which - in a way - explains much of the 700% rise since 1970:

In New Jersey a prisoner made $1.20 for eight hours of work—yes, eight hours of work—in 1980 and today makes $1.30 for a day’s labor. Prisoners earn, on average, $28 a month. Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 17 cents an hour.

There is a lot more in the three pages, that I recommend you read, and it ends as follows:

Prisons are not, finally, about race, although poor people of color suffer the most. They are not even about being poor. They are prototypes for the future. They are emblematic of the disempowerment and exploitation that corporations seek to inflict on all workers. If corporate power continues to disembowel the country, if it is not impeded by mass protests and revolt, life outside prison will soon resemble life in prison.

As is, relative to my knowledge, this seems a bit of an overstatement, indeed not because of the goodness of the corporations, but more simply because there probably will remain a considerable difference in incomes and "freedoms" between those who are imprisoned and those who are not, simply to keep the distinction.

But the American prison system is awful, exploitative, and quite inhuman, at least in any nominally civilized state.

2. After 13 Years, US-Led Afghanistan War is Officially Over but Nightmare Goes On

The next item is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

With little fanfare, the United States and NATO formally ended the longest war in U.S. history with a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, leaving observers to wonder what—if anything—was achieved.

Over 13 years, U.S.-led war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of about 3,500 foreign troops (at least 2,224 of them American soldiers) and an estimated 21,000 Afghan civilians; most experts agree that the country is as violent as ever and that the death toll will continue to rise. Many say the war is over in name only.

I say, for indeed I did not know that the war in Afghanistan had ended. Indeed, if it has - and there is a picture of two saluting generals in the article, who may well have said so - the following is hard to account for:

There will still be roughly 11,000 American troops in Afghanistan next year as part of the Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghanistan’s roughly 350,000 security forces. ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Belcher told Stars and Stripes that there would be a total of roughly 17,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan next year, which the publication notes is "far more than the 12,000-13,000 U.S. and NATO officials have been saying would be part of Resolute Support. Belcher could not say where those additional troops would be coming from nor when or why the decision was made to increase their number."

What as it all good for? The article ends as follows, with a quote from The Guardian:

"[I]n Afghanistan, Britain has just suffered a humiliating defeat, the worst in more than half a century and, arguably, ranking with the worst in modern times," Will Hutton argues at the Guardian.

"But the US, although much more effective than the patronising British, was, at a meta strategic level, wrong," he continues. "The war against terrorism, developed by George W Bush in the hours after 9/11 with little consultation with his own military or cabinet, let alone his allies, is one of the great failures of the rightwing mind. The reflex reaction to an act of mass terror was not to outsmart, out-think and marginalise the new enemy—it was to get even by being even more violent, lawless and vicious, leading Nato into the Afghan quagmire, and the coalition in Iraq. Two trillion dollars later and hundreds of thousand dead and displaced, the world is predictably much less safe for the west than it was—and jihadism is much more entrenched."

Yes, indeed.

3. Are We Better Off Than We Were 40 Years Ago?

The third item is an article by Zoe Sherman on Common Dreams, though it seems to have been published originally on Dollars & Sense:

To start with my own feelings on reading the title, and keeping in mind that 40 years ago it was 1974 or 1975: Definitely a lot worse. Then again, I have been ill nearly all of the time (also without any social help except for minimal dole), which does make my experiences special, so let's see. The article starts as follows:

In 1980, Ronald Reagan, trying to defeat Jimmy Carter’s bid for a second term as president, asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” A conservative turn in American politics was already underway and, campaigning on that question, Reagan rode the wave into the presidency. Forty years into the political epoch he symbolizes, and forty years into this magazine’s history, we might well echo Reagan’s question: Are you better off than you were forty years ago?

It is a deceptively simple question. What would it mean to be better off?

Zoe Sherman quickly decides - correctly, I think - that the better question is about whether American society is better off, rather than "you", but I do have a little problem with arithmetics: 40 years ago is 1974 or 1975, and not 1980. But OK, it also seems true Dollars & Sense did start 40 years ago.

And this is a good article, from which I will only list a number of points:

  • Real per capita GDP was $25,427 in 1974 (in 2009 U.S. dollars) and now it is almost double that at $49,810.
  • (..) the average size of a new single family home increased 57% from 1970 to the early 2000s (..)
  • If the distribution of income had remained roughly the same over the last forty years, then the fact that per capita GDP nearly doubled would mean that everyone’s income had nearly doubled. That’s not what happened. Instead, those at the top of the income distribution have vastly more income than 40 years ago while those at the bottom have less.
  • The entire bottom 80% of households ranked by income now gets only 49% of the national pie, down from 57% in 1974.
  • More of us are working, but the share of national income that goes to ordinary workers is smaller.
  • (..) college tuitions have risen more than three times as fast as inflation since 1974.
  • Housing, too, has become more unaffordable.
  • A child born in the bottom quintile in 1971 had an 8.4% chance of making it to the top quintile; for a child born in 1986, the probability is 9.0%. Our national mythology notwithstanding, mobility is lower in the United States than in other comparably developed economies.
  • Not only is income unequally distributed, it is also, for many, insecure.
  • Today, we are in a high poverty phase: somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% of the population is living in poverty during any given month.
  • From January 2009 to December 2011 [a full 3 years - MM], 31.6% of the population spent at least two consecutive months below the poverty line.
  • The inequities of the labor market have divided us into two categories—the overworked and the underemployed.
  • One consequence is that we have a leisure shortage. Chronic sleep deprivation has become the norm. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, Americans’ average amount of sleep fell by 20% over the course of the 20th century.
  • Over the past 40 years, we have made some important gains in how we make use of the gifts of nature, but our gains are nowhere near enough. Probably the most disastrous shortcoming of all is our collective failure to maintain the atmospheric balance.

Zoe Sherman also says there were some gains over the last 40 years, especially as regards race and gender, which I am willing to admit, but over all, the above list of points strongly support my initial assumption: except for the rich, almost everybody else is worse off now then they were in the 1970ies - and please remember that the above list of points is mostly economical, and that there also is no reason to expect it to grow any better, apart from major changes, that seem quite unlikely, except after another major collapse of the economy.

4. The Fight Against the Total Surveillance State in Our Schools

The fourth item is an article by John W. Whitehead on Rutherford:

This is in fact from December 3 but it gets listed now because Rutherford was not on my list of sites I checked daily. It starts as follows, under a quotation you can
check out:

The battle playing out in San Antonio, Texas, over one student’s refusal to comply with a public school campaign to microchip students has nothing to do with security concerns and even less to do with academic priorities. What is driving this particular program, which requires students to carry “smart” identification cards embedded with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking devices, is money, pure and simple—or to put it more bluntly, this program is yet another example of the nefarious collusion between government bureaucracy and corporate America, a way for government officials to dance to the tune of the corporate state, while unhesitatingly selling students to the highest bidder.

Oblivious to the impact on students’ fundamental rights, school officials with the Northside Independent School District (NISD) in San Antonio, Texas, have embarked upon a crusade to foist ID badges embedded with RFID tags on about 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School. These tags produce a radio signal that is tied to the students’ Social Security numbers, allowing the wearer’s precise movements to be constantly monitored. Although the school district already boasts 290 surveillance cameras, the cards which the students are required to wear will make it possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts at all times. Teachers are even requiring students to wear the IDs when they want to use the bathroom. NISD officials plan to eventually expand the $500,000 program to the district’s 112 schools, with a student population of 100,000.

There is considerably more in the article, that also notes that this is just the beginning of a general tendency, although it exists since the early 2000s, but that probably will grow and grow, simply because it is profitable to those selling these totalitarian tracking techniques, and not many protest, while those who do are severely sanctioned and discriminated.

It ends as follows:

These tendrils of the corporate surveillance-state are slowly coming to control all our daily interactions, and our nation’s public schools are merely the forefront of a movement to completely automate all human interaction and ensure that no one is able to escape the prying eyes of government officials and their corporate partners.

Yes, indeed.

5. Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA's War on Internet Security

The fifth and last item today is an article by the Spiegel Staff - that includes Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras - on the international site of Der Spiegel:

This is from the beginning:
Encryption -- the use of mathematics to protect communications from spying -- is used for electronic transactions of all types, by governments, firms and private users alike. But a look into the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden shows that not all encryption technologies live up to what they promise.

One example is the encryption featured in Skype, a program used by some 300 million users to conduct Internet video chat that is touted as secure. It isn't really. "Sustained Skype collection began in Feb 2011," reads a National Security Agency (NSA) training document from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Less than half a year later, in the fall, the code crackers declared their mission accomplished. Since then, data from Skype has been accessible to the NSA's snoops.
Then again, not all encrypted messages can be cracked by the NSA:
"Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on," Snowden said in June 2013, after fleeing to Hong Kong.
But this is a definite must-read article, firstly because it is a good survey, and secondly because it comes with some 45 links to mostly pdf-files that explain many aspects of encrypting and spying.

As far as my knowledge reaches, this is the best single collection of articles and data on spying and encryption.

So, I strongly recommend you to read this article (and download as many of the data as you can handle).


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