December 18, 2015
Crisis: Illegal Spying, $629 Billion Corporate Tax Cuts, "Uncle Bob", Dark Money
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This is a Nederlog of Friday, December 18, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article on The Intercept that shows how extremely easy it is nowadays for the police and others to spy on your cellphone; item 2 is about an article that shows Congress offers a mere $629 billions in tax cuts to the biggest corporations; item 3 is about a video by Robert Reich; and item 4 is about how Mitch McConnell made it impossible to police dark money in the USA.

This crisis blog is not large, but yesterday I produced over 100 Kb in Nederlog and today I need to do some other things.

Also I have one bit of news on my computer: It did yesterday upload version 96 of Ubuntu 12.04, which is good, and which increases my confidence in the system. (For more, see December 6, 2015).

1. A Secret Catalogue of Government Gear for Spying on Your Cellphone    

The first item is by Jeremy Scahill and Margot Williams on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:
THE INTERCEPT HAS OBTAINED a secret, internal U.S. government catalogue of dozens of cellphone surveillance devices used by the military and by intelligence agencies. The document, thick with previously undisclosed information, also offers rare insight into the spying capabilities of federal law enforcement and local police inside the United States.

The catalogue includes details on the Stingray, a well-known brand of surveillance gear, as well as Boeing “dirt boxes” and dozens of more obscure devices that can be mounted on vehicles, drones, and piloted aircraft. Some are designed to be used at static locations, while others can be discreetly carried by an individual. They have names like Cyberhawk, Yellowstone, Blackfin, Maximus, Cyclone, and Spartacus. Within the catalogue, the NSA is listed as the vendor of one device, while another was developed for use by the CIA, and another was developed for a special forces requirement. Nearly a third of the entries focus on equipment that seems to have never been described in public before.
I never had a cellphone, and this kind of news makes me quite glad. Indeed, until
nearly all the illegal spies have been evicted from the internet (which will take major legal changes, that are quite unlikely now) I will never have one, and therefore will very probably never own a cellphone.

Then again, that is just me. By far the most people in the West have cellphones. I do not know to what extent the above catalogue of spying devices gets sold in Europe, although I suppose Europe is not far behind the USA. And for me all this is illegal spying, also if done by the police.

Here are a few details on these illegal spying devices (all of which are grossly and patently in conflict with the Fourth Amentment in the USA):

A few of the devices can house a “target list” of as many as 10,000 unique phone identifiers. Most can be used to geolocate people, but the documents indicate that some have more advanced capabilities, like eavesdropping on calls and spying on SMS messages. Two systems, apparently designed for use on captured phones, are touted as having the ability to extract media files, address books, and notes, and one can retrieve deleted text messages.

Above all, the catalogue represents a trove of details on surveillance devices developed for military and intelligence purposes but increasingly used by law enforcement agencies to spy on people and convict them of crimes.
And here is some more on (i) the lies the police use to acquire these illegal spying devices ("it is to catch terrorists"), followed by (ii) what they are actually used for: "none were related to terrorism":
Police often cite the war on terror in acquiring such systems. Michigan State Police claimed their Stingrays would “allow the State to track the physical location of a suspected terrorist,” although the ACLU later found that in 128 uses of the devices last year, none were related to terrorism. In Tacoma, Washington, police claimed Stingrays could prevent attacks using improvised explosive devices — the roadside bombs that plagued soldiers in Iraq. “I am not aware of any case in which a police agency has used a cell-site simulator to find a terrorist,” said Lynch. Instead, “law enforcement agencies have been using cell-site simulators to solve even the most minor domestic crimes.”
There is a lot more in the article, which is recommended (especially if you owe a cellphone and live in the USA).

2. U.S. Congress to Corporations: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 

The second item is by Deirdre Fulton on Truthdig (originally on Common Dreams):

This starts as follows:

Along with a $1.1 trillion spending bill that will keep government funded through September, the U.S. Congress is on the verge of passing a Republican-backed, $629 billion package of tax cuts that one group calls “a lobbyist-wrapped Christmas present for our nation’s biggest corporations.”

The package of bills unveiled Wednesday is facing criticism for its lifting of the long-standing oil export ban, as well as its inclusion of a controversial cybersecurity measure that watchdogs say will quietly expand mass surveillance. The budget bill also repeals a law requiring Country Of Origin Labels (COOL) on meats—a move Food & Water Watch decries as “a holiday gift to the meatpacking industry from Congress.”

To be sure, the package also includes tax incentives for wind and solar energy and permanent extensions for the enhanced child tax credit and earned income tax credit, which will help working families.

I say. In case you wanted evidence that Congress is mainly there to help the rich get richer (apart from a few bits)....

It might be the case you are not convinced. Here is more (and McIntire is the director of Citizens for Tax Justice):

Specifically citing the “active financing exception” for multinational financial corporations and the “much-abused research credit,” McIntyre said: “It is outrageous that lawmakers have fought all year over how to pay for essential public investments like our highway program, yet they have no problem putting hundreds of billions in mostly wasteful corporate tax breaks onto our nation’s credit card.”

The active financing exemption, which dates to 1990, is a Wall Street priority that would permanently allow financial companies to defer taxes paid on interest and dividends earned overseas. As David Dayen wrote Thursday at the New Republic, “This creates incentives for accounting tricks to make it look like interest, dividends, or other income comes from overseas. It effectively legalizes foreign tax havens.”

There is considerably more in the article, that is recommended.

3. How To Deal With Your Uncle Bob

The third item is by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:
In preparation for the holidays, here’s a survival guide for dealing with your right-wing relatives.
This is in fact for Christmas, and is a short video in which Robert Reich plays both Uncle Bob, who raises the GOP's points, and himself, who answers them. Here is the video:

To be sure, I don't think the argument that convinces your "Uncle Bob" will be as simple as the video shows, but at least Uncle Bob's arguments and Robert Reich's replies are both given, and the video is well made.

4. Mitch McConnell Just Made It Virtually Impossible to Police Dark Money in 2016 

The fourth item is by Russ Choma on Mother Jones:

This starts as follows:

Conservative Solutions Project has run more than 4,882 ads in support of Marco Rubio this election—and not a dime of its funding has been made public. As a politically active nonprofit, the outfit is theoretically regulated by the Internal Revenue Service, but thanks to clever legislative maneuvering by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and congressional Republicans, there's no danger that the IRS will apply any special scrutiny to the people or corporations generously financing this key component of Rubio's run for president. (His actual campaign unveiled its first ad just a few weeks ago).

Buried deep in the massive end-of-the-year spending bill released late Tuesday night were provisions that not only prohibit the IRS from cracking down on groups like Conservative Solutions Project, but that block the Securities and Exchange Commission from prying into the political spending of public companies.

There is more in the article.


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