July 17, 2015
Crisis: Hacking Team, Dodd-Frank  Void,  Greece * 2, US Augean Stables
  "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. How Hacking Team Created Spyware that Allowed the
     FBI To Monitor Tor Browser

Big Money Stalls Key Dodd-Frank Anti-Corruption Rule for
     5 Years and Counting

3. The crucifixion of Greece is killing the European project
4. Advancing Bailout, Greece Approves 'Terms of
     Surrender' to Austerity

5. The Augean Stables – How Corruption Has Amended the

This is a Nederlog of Friday July 17, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items today with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article that explains that Tor Browsing also may not be what it seems to be to its users, notably if these users' computers have been hacked; item 2 is about an article that shows how passed laws are practised in the US: Not, if they harm the banks' profits; item 3 is about a very good article by Seumas Milne on Greece;
item 4 is a decent article about the present situation in Greece; and item 5 is a fine article about some of the things that went very wrong in the US (I think more went very wrong than is listed in the article, but the article is good).

1. How Hacking Team Created Spyware that Allowed the FBI To Monitor Tor Browser  
The first article today is by Micah Lee on The Intercept:
This is from near the beginning:

Hacking Team, at the FBI’s request, had just added the ability to monitor ostensibly anonymous Tor Browser traffic from a target infected with Hacking Team malware. The Tor Browser monitoring capability did not represent a breach of the Tor network, which bounces web traffic around the world to hide its destination. It’s impossible for any security software, including Tor Browser, to continue to protect someone after their computer has been hacked. But the incident serves as a reminder of the government’s strong interest in bypassing the protections Tor offers — and of how vulnerable computer users can be even when using proven and secure privacy systems.

Tor is, by all accounts, such a system. Tor is not just a network of computers, it’s also the open-source software that runs that network, helping people access the internet anonymously. When you use Tor Browser, you no longer visit websites directly but instead through a network of Tor nodes. This prevents the websites you visit from knowing your real IP address, information that can be used to pinpoint your location and identity. With Tor, all a website knows is that you’re some anonymous Tor user. Even someone monitoring your network traffic — having cracked your wifi, for example — will have no idea what sites you’re visiting.

There is considerably more. The good news is that they first have to hack your computer in order to install their malware; the bad news is that it is usually very difficult to be certain that your computer has not been hacked.

2. Big Money Stalls Key Dodd-Frank Anti-Corruption Rule for 5 Years and Counting

The next article today is by Jon Schwarz on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

When Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill five years ago, on July 21, 2010, he looked extremely pleased with himself. It had been a tough fight, he said: “We had to overcome the furious lobbying of an array of powerful interest groups and a partisan minority determined to block change.” But now, Obama proclaimed, the bill’s reforms “will become the law of the land.”


The reality of U.S. politics is that good ideas don’t win and take effect just because they’ve “become the law.” Yes, to get even that far, they have to have somehow threaded their way through a campaign system ruled by money instead of people; passed a House of Representatives overflowing with members from bizarrely gerrymandered districts; and made it past a filibuster in the anti-democratic Senate. But that is often just the start of the truly bloody trench warfare.

One case study is Dodd-Frank’s Section 1504. Congress, on July 21, 2010, gave the Securities and Exchange Commission 270 days to issue a rule on how exactly to implement it. Today, 1,821 days later, there still is no rule.

There is considerably more in the article, but the above is the main point: Dodd-Frank doesn't work. I can't say I am very amazed. (And see item 5.)

3. The crucifixion of Greece is killing the European project

The next article today is by Seumas Milne on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
You couldn’t have had a clearer demonstration of what democracy now counts for in Europe than this week’s immolation of Greece. In January, after five years of grinding austerity imposed by the troika of creditors had shrunk its economy by a quarter and pushed millions into poverty, Greeks rebelled and elected an anti-austerity government.

Following months of fruitless negotiations, the country voted last week to reject the latest cuts, tax rises and privatisations demanded to deal with the disastrous impact of the first phase of austerity. The response of the eurozone’s masters was immediately to ratchet up the pain still further. For the “breach of trust” of daring to put the terms to its people, Athens was to be punished. So on Monday – threatened with expulsion from the eurozone and economic collapse courtesy of the European Central Bank’s cash blockade – the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, bent the knee.

In exchange for what is called a bailout, but is in reality the imposition of new debts to pay existing creditors, the Greeks must hand over €50bn (£35bn) of public assets to an “independent” privatisation fund. On top of that, they have to inject more austerity into a shrinking economy and reverse any legislation deemed unsuitable by the eurozone’s overlords – in other words, the opposite of everything Tsipras and his Syriza party were elected to do.

That’s why European officials were so keen to let it be known that Tsipras had been “crucified” and “mentally waterboarded”.

This is a very good article. Seumas Milne also sees clearly what was really at stake:

That this is about politics more than economics should now be obvious. It’s not just that the austerity imposed on Greece has delivered a 1930s-style depression, or that Ukraine was recently bailed out with generous debt write-offs but without any crucifixions or waterboarding.

Yes, indeed - and that is what the Greeks will get, thanks to the EU: "a 1930s-style depression".

Here is the last bit I will quote:

What kind of a union of partners treats one of its members like a recalcitrant colony, destroys its economy if it steps out of line, and dismisses its democracy as an impudent affront? In fact it’s one that has always ducked democratic accountability, embedded deregulation and privatisation in treaties, and preferred to fix policy – including the race-to-the-bottom Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership – with corporate interests in secret.

There is considerably more in the article, and it is very good: I strongly recommend you read all of it. It will not make you happier (unless you are a European official sadist and terrorist who loves crucifying and waterboarding),
but it will probably sharpen your awareness.

4. Advancing Bailout, Greece Approves 'Terms of Surrender' to Austerity

The next article today is by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:
After a lengthy and tense debate that stretched into the early hours of Thursday morning, the 300-member Greek Parliament voted by a majority of 229-64 to pass what former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis—one of those to vote "No"—is calling the "Terms of Greece's Surrender" to European creditors.

The €86 billion bailout comes at a high political and social cost, forcing the imposition of harsh austerity measures and economic reforms tougher than those rejected by more than 60 percent of Greek voters in a July 5 referendum. Among the measures included in the rescue package, which provides for debt restructuring and allows Greece to remain in the Eurozone, are: tax hikes, pension cuts, and the privatization of public property.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras acknowledged to lawmakers that he had accepted a package he did not believe in and which would harm Greece, but the alternative was a disorderly bankruptcy and exit from the euro that would be more catastrophic.

Yes, that seems to me to be a fair summary. There is also this, by Varoufakis:

In his annotated analysis of the agreement, released yesterday, Varoufakis put it more starkly: "The Syriza government must be humiliated to the extent that it is asked to impose harsh austerity upon itself as a first step towards requesting another toxic bailout loan, of the sort that Syriza became internationally famous for opposing."

Indeed, Varoufakis added, the deal appears aimed at "[t]urning Greece into a democracy-free zone modeled on Brussels, a form of supposedly technocratic government, which is politically toxic and macro-economically inept.

And there is this, which I didn't know yet:
Meanwhile, the Eurogroup on Thursday authorized a €7 billion bridge loan to Greece, according to Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, making it possible for Greece to pay its most urgent debts in the next few days and paving the way for bailout negotiations to move forward.

There will be more tomorrow (and the next weeks, I'm pretty sure).

5. The Augean Stables – How Corruption Has Amended the Constitution

The final article today is by Gaius Publius on Naked Capitalism (and originally on Down With Tyranny):

This is a quite interesting article, that is built around an article of former senator Gary Hart, that is also in Hart's recent book "The Republic of Conscience". I will first quote two pieces by Hart (and the boldings are by Gaius Publius):

Four qualities have distinguished republican government from ancient Athens forward: the sovereignty of the people; a sense of the common good; government dedicated to the commonwealth; and resistance to corruption. Measured against the standards established for republics from ancient times, the American Republic is massively corrupt.

From Plato and Aristotle forward, corruption was meant to describe actions and decisions that put a narrow, special, or personal interest ahead of the interest of the public or commonwealth. Corruption did not have to stoop to money under the table, vote buying, or even renting out the Lincoln bedroom. In the governing of a republic, corruption was self-interest placed above the interest of all—the public interest.

By that standard, can anyone seriously doubt that our republic, our government, is corrupt? There have been Teapot Domes and financial scandals of one kind or another throughout our nation’s history. There has never been a time, however, when the government of the United States was so perversely and systematically dedicated to special interests, earmarks, side deals, log-rolling, vote-trading, and sweetheart deals of one kind or another.

What brought us to this? A sinister system combining staggering campaign costs, political contributions, political action committees, special interest payments for access, and, most of all, the rise of the lobbying class.

Worst of all, the army of lobbyists that started relatively small in the mid-twentieth century has now grown to big battalions of law firms and lobbying firms of the right, left, and an amalgam of both. And that gargantuan, if not reptilian, industry now takes on board former members of the House and the Senate and their personal and committee staffs. And they are all getting fabulously rich.

Yes, I mostly agree - although (1) one should not have too many illusions about governments since Plato and Aristotle (see, for example, Machiavelli), and (2) there seems to be more amiss than the presence of myriads of lobbyists who strongly influence government, for they could not do this without quite a few legal changes that started under Reagan (and that seem to have been initialized by a secret memo of 1971 by Lewis Powell).

Next, there is this (still by Gary Hart, with boldings by Gaius Publius):

The lobbying business is no longer about votes up or down on particular measures that may emerge in Congress or policies made in the White House. It is about setting agendas, deciding what should and should not be brought up for hearings and legislation. We have gone way beyond mere vote buying now. The converging Influence World represents nothing less than an unofficial but enormously powerful fourth branch of government.

To whom is this branch of government accountable? Who sets the agenda for its rising army of influence marketers? How easy will it be to not only go from office to a lucrative lobbying job but, more important, from lucrative lobbying job to holding office?

Yes, and indeed a lot is also happening behind the scenes, for the lobbyists try to get their people into all kinds of governmental committees, and also into other influential NGO groups, if necessary also with a completely false story.

Here is a sum-up by Gaius Publius on what was achieved by the lobbyists (and the folks they helped manipulate into important jobs in important committees):

▪ We have, by bipartisan agreement, revoked the Fourth Amendment. Neither party enforces it, so it’s gone. Do you think you’ll see it enforced in your lifetime? It’s possible. Is that likely, do you think, without another radical change?

▪ We have changed the “rule of law” to add a “circle of immunity” amendment. It started with Nixon — the circle of “who cannot be prosecuted” included one person, the president. That was granted him by Gerald Ford’s pardon with no objection from Congress and confirmed by Obama’s refusal to indict Bush II for violating laws against torture. (Can you see Obama being indicted by anyone for extrajudicial murder, assassination really, of Americans, some mere propagandists and some completely innocent?)

▪ Regarding that parenthetical comment about Obama and his drone kills above, we’ve now amended the trial-by-jury section of the Sixth Amendment to allow executive assassination, death by executive fiat. It just awaits a Republican president to confirm it by following suit, but Congress has already approved.

▪ The mega-lobbying firms, with their combined more-than-$100 billion annual budget, are a fourth branch of government. Policy is set in these firms and passed to Congress and the executive branch to “discuss.” Once discussed and passed, those who passed these policies then return to the firms to set more policy — and receive what’s often the biggest payoff of their lifetime.

There is considerably more in the article, which I think is good (though I also feel considerably more is going on behind the scenes than merely lobbying).

Also, I disagree that the Fourth Amendment was revoked: It cannot be, though I agree it isn't practised, not by the government, not by the NSA, and not by the Department of Justice, while few Congressmen seem to be interested in keeping it up.

But yes, that was the story of American democracy: It is effectively dead, for all major decisions are taken by a very small incrowd, without any responsibility to "the people", but all with strong loyalties to the rich, who will also help make them rich if they aren't already.


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