September 25, 2015
Crisis: Pope*2, Free Gifts, Mandelson, US Special Forces, Tech CEOs

 "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


Pope Decries “Shameful and Culpable Silence” on Arms
      Sales “Drenched in Innocent Blood”

2.  Legislator Says Gift Ban Violates His Freedom of Speech
Mandelson says it’s too early to force Jeremy Corbyn out
4.  Pope Francis: He Told Them!
5.  U.S. Special Ops Forces Deployed in 135 Nations
Tech CEOs Branded Privacy Traitors For Their Quiet Push
     to Pass CISA

This is a Nederlog of Friday, September 25, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about pope Francis, as is item 4, and in either case I am struck by the naivity of many journalists; item 2 is about an extension of Citizen United: Now unlimited gifts and offers and invitations are also supposed to be covered by "freedom of speech" (and I can't see why not, given the insanity of Citizens United); item 3 is about a piece of Mandelsonian advice to the Labour Party; item 5 is about the - enormous - extent of US secret forces, in 135 countries; and item 6 is about a recent letter
of 16 of the top (American) executives in computers and/or internet who proposed to the US government that they are quite willing to steal anyone's private data if only they are guaranteed they will not be legally prosecuted for doing so...

1. Pope Decries “Shameful and Culpable Silence” on Arms Sales “Drenched in Innocent Blood”

The first article today is by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Pope Francis on Thursday gently scolded Congress on a variety of issues, from immigration to foreign policy, but on one unexpected topic — the weapons sales that fuel armed conflicts around the world — he couldn’t have been much more blunt.

He was speaking about his determination “to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world,” when he said this:

Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Those were fighting words, especially given where he spoke them. The U.S. is by far the largest arms supplier in the world, with domestic manufacturers selling more than $23.7 billion in weapons in 2014 to nearly 100 different countries. During the Obama administration, weapons sales have surged to record levels, in large part due to huge shipments to Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Well... I am glad the pope is against the sale of weapons, and that he assured Congress it "is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood", but given that he is talking about 23.7 billion dollars yearly, merely in 2014, it is obvious his "fighting words" will not stop the very profitable sales.

In fact, there is this, a bit further down, which is correct to the best of my knowledge, and is about the arms sales:

Congress, which could have blocked any of this, went along happily — in no small part because of the approximately $150 million a year the defense industry spends on lobbying and direct campaign contributions.
Incidentally, although $150 million dollars a year, spent by the "defense industry" (a euphemism for: war industry) merely on lobbying and direct campaign contributions to members of Congress, it still is less than 6/1000th of the yearly sales in weapons.

As to Obama's government, there is this:

Hartung’s research shows that the volume of major arms deals concluded by Obama in his first five years far exceeds the amount approved during the eight years of the Bush administration.
Then again, I am pretty sure Obama will defend this by saying he sent out fewer "boots on the ground" (and the profits were very good, although he won't say that).

For more on pope Francis, see item 4.

2. Legislator Says Gift Ban Violates His Freedom of Speech

The next article today is by Lee Fang on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

The Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision, ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Now politicians in Kentucky are claiming they have a Constitutional right to receive gifts from lobbyists.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Republican Kentucky state Sen. John Schickel, along with two Libertarian political candidates, are suing to overturn state ethics laws, claiming that the campaign contribution limit of $1,000 and a ban on gifts from lobbyists and their employers are a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The lawsuit notes that lobbyists and the employers of lobbyists are prohibited by Kentucky law from inviting legislators to parties, offering gifts, or paying for food for legislators. “This infringes on the legislator’s, lobbyist’s, and employer of lobbyist’s right to freedom of association, and freedom of speech,” Schickel claims in the suit.

I say - but given that the majority of the Supreme Court holds that money = freedom of speech, I think they (ought to) stand a fair chance.

I also think that is utterly insane, but then the majority of the Supreme Court is in favor of it, or should be, given their earlier insane decision for Citizens United.

And clearly, since they translated "freedom of speech" as "money, especially if owned by billionaires" surely they can extend their interpretation of
"freedom of speech" to "freedom to receive any amount of money or goods for anything or nothing by any political candidate for any purpose whatsoever".

3. Mandelson says it’s too early to force Jeremy Corbyn out

The next article today is by Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Labour critics of Jeremy Corbyn should consider forcing out their leader only when the majority of party members realise the public has formed a negative view of him, according to Peter Mandelson.

The former minister and adviser to Tony Blair offers his view in a private paper that circulated to political associates last week in which he urges them to dig in for the “long haul”.

This is from mega-millionaire Tony Blair's (worth around 50 million pounds) favorite professional liar. (I do not know how much Mandelson's net worth is, but surely he is a millionaire as well, thanks to New Labour.)

Lord Mandelson (he also was made a lord for his services to New Labour) also opined:

He predicts that Corbyn’s supporters will be a force in the party who will not be quickly dissuaded from their support of him. “We need to acknowledge that those who supported him have invested a lot personally in Corbyn, we are not going to convince them overnight they were wrong and before then they will provide an army to draw on as they become absorbed into constituency parties.

“We are in for a long haul during which time the atmosphere in the party will become increasingly acrimonious at branch and constituency levels.”

I'd rather see a leftist Labour that is defeated because it is leftist, than a Blairite New Labour that wins the election based on Mandelsonian lies, deceptions and falsehoods and that continues the Tory policies. And I think that is the real choice Lord Mandelson offers.

He also says something quite typical for him:

The former spin doctor urges his wing of the party to acknowledge its mistakes, saying: “The old labels, totems and divisions have no use anymore; they are damaging and counter-productive.

“‘New Labour’, Blairites, Brownites – all these labels are redundant. They prevent us reaching out in the party and building essential new bridges. If we want people to listen to us, we must no longer look as if we are continuing past fights.

That is, the Blairite and Brownite New Labour man Mandelson, who got his riches and his lordship by servicing Blair and Brown for many years, now pretends that all the changes wrought by Blair and Brown, and all of New Labour, and all of the Third Way lies and deceptions are "damaging and counter-productive".

Wouldn't it be much easier to dismiss Blair, Brown, Mandelson and their ilk from the Labour Party? Clearly, they are not socialists, not leftists, and not honest, and clearly they abused the Labour Party as careerists, quite successfully also.

But OK, maybe I am dreaming here...

4. Pope Francis: He Told Them!

The next article today is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig:
This starts as follows - and yes, this is the second bit on the pope's speech to Congress, but I am rather severely restricting my readers from very much more in the papers and on the media, and also I do not believe much of it.

More precisely, while I am willing to suppose pope Francis is honest, and am also willing to grant he is refreshing as a pope, I am rather skeptical about his effectiveness on politicians, who do make the rules.

But here is the beginning of Robert Scheer's article:

He told them! Any religious leader who is considering sainthood for the “Servant of God” Dorothy Day—the crusading editor of the Catholic Worker and heroine of my garment-worker parents during the Great Depression—gets my vote.

I know that, sadly, he’s not running for president, but the pope’s excellent example provides the essential measure of what’s important for those candidates who are. It’s simple: Follow the Golden Rule.

Incidentally, here is also the beginning of the Wikipedia-article on the Golden Rule (quoted without note numbers):

The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, ethical code or morality that essentially states either of the following:

  • One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (positive or directive form).
  • One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated. (negative or prohibitive form)

In principle, the Golden Rule is a directive to regard others as one does oneself, and to act accordingly. Although often confused with it, the Golden Rule is not the maxim of reciprocity captured in do ut des - "I give so that you will give in return" - but rather a unilateral moral commitment to the well-being of the other without the expectation of anything in return. Of the two forms of the rule, the negative is both older and more common historically.
According to Greg M. Epstein, " 'do unto others' ... is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely." Simon Blackburn also states that the Golden Rule can be "found in some form in almost every ethical tradition".

There is a whole lot more in the Wikipedia lemma, but the main reasons I quoted it are (1) it is part of all religions and nearly every ethical tradition, for several thousands of years also, in spite of which (2) sales of arms, slavery, exploitation, unfair payments, unfair riches, wars for profits, and all other evils, including mass murders and tortures, have been continued all those years.

So I do not expect an appeal to the Golden Rule will prevent more of the latter.

Here is some more:

What is most startling in the approach of this pope is his refusal to demonize “the other,” be they of another religious, political or nationalist outlook. Francis rejects precisely the simplistic war between good and evil that has dominated U.S. foreign policy for much of the past century.
But can this country live without an enemy? Or are we too deeply entwined with a militarized economy and an imperial hubris that have permanently deformed the nation’s attempt at representative democracy?
First, I am not very startled by a (modern) priest who refuses " to demonize “the other"". And second, I think the US is (for the most part) "deeply entwined with a militarized economy and an imperial hubris", and this will continue, though indeed I strongly hope not "permanently".

But while I more or less like the present pope, I expect no miracles from him, and I am a bit disappointed that rather a lot of journalists write as if they do.

5. U.S. Special Ops Forces Deployed in 135 Nations

The next article today is by Nick Turse on Truthdig (originally on TomDispatch):
This starts as follows (and is a fairly long, instructive essay that takes 5 pages on Truthdig):

You can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals.  Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter or sweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, they instructyell, and cajole as skinnier men playact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular brand of camouflage, better boots, and designer gear sets them apart. Their days are scented by stale sweat and gunpowder; their nights are spent in rustic locales or third-world bars.

These men—and they are mostly men —belong to an exclusive military fraternity that traces its heritage back to the birth of the nation. Typically, they’ve spent the better part of a decade as more conventional soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen before making the cut. They’ve probably been deployed overseas four to 10 times.  The officers are generally approaching their mid-thirties; the enlisted men, their late twenties. They’ve had more schooling than most in the military.  They’re likely to be married with a couple of kids.  And day after day, they carry out shadowy missions over much of the planet: sometimes covert raids, more often hush-hush training exercises from Chad to Uganda, Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Albania to Romania, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, Belize to Uruguay. They belong to the Special Operations forces (SOF), America’s most elite troops—Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others—and odds are, if you throw a dart at a world map or stop a spinning globe with your index finger and don’t hit water, they’ve been there sometime in 2015.

There is a lot more in the article, that is well worth reading, though it probably will not make you more optimistic.

Here is some more on the type of men. First, there is this:

In one particular blurring of boundaries, Special Operations liaison officers (SOLOs) are embedded in at least 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations.  Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019.  The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among other outfits, through the use of liaison officers and Special Operations Support Teams (SOSTs).

Not in Germany (by the way)? And next there is this:

These forces carry out operations almost entirely unknown to the American taxpayers who fund them, operations conducted far from the scrutiny of the media or meaningful outside oversight of any kind.  Everyday, in around 80 or more countries that Special Operations Command will not name, they undertake missions the command refuses to talk about.  They exist in a secret world of obtuse acronyms and shadowy efforts, of mystery missions kept secret from the American public, not to mention most of the citizens of the 135 nations where they’ve been deployed this year.
In merely 135 countries, in the deepest secrecy... well: either the profits of the US arms manufacturers or else freedom and democracy are very well served.

6. Tech CEOs Branded Privacy Traitors For Their Quiet Push to Pass CISA

The final article today is by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Internet users are calling out a dozen tech giants for their sudden turnaround on a controversial privacy bill, launching an email campaign this week with the plain message, "You betrayed us."

The chief executive officers of Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, Symantec, and other companies, along with Salesforce web hosting service, quietly sent a letter (pdf) to U.S. Congress earlier this month endorsing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a bill that would allow tech companies to share user information with the government in cases of "cybersecurity threats"—which privacy advocates say only serves to broaden government spying powers and reduce consumer protections.

Online activists say the reason the companies changed their stance on CISA—also known as the Cyber Threat Information Sharing Legislation, as it is referred to in the letter—is because the bill would grant them "total immunity" from prosecution for sharing private user data with the government.

Actually, this is much like the schema I considered two days ago, though with a difference:

The chief executive officers (or their vice presidents or legal counsels) of Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, Symantec, Siemens, Oracle and more (16 companies in all) are glad to offer their complete cooperation with the US government if only they are guaranteed ""total immunity" from prosecution for sharing private user data with the government": We steal it for you, and give it to you, and we are completely happy to do so, if only you guarantee us immunity from legal prosecution, is the message.

The letter, incidentally, is a good example how the freedoms and rights of - literally - billions of ordinary users are stolen from them (certainly of the non-Americans) in the name of preserving their freedoms and rights.

The article ends like this:

"Any company that supports a bill like CISA or sits silently and allows it to pass is a company that can't be trusted," said Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer. "Internet users are fed up, companies that abandon their commitment to user privacy and security should expect the Internet to abandon them."

Well... maybe so, but are all these "internet users" to switch to Linux? I very much doubt they will.


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