January 9, 2016

Crisis: Encryption, "Free Speech", Catastrophe, Anthropocene, Germany, Obama
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White House Raises Encryption Threat in Silicon Valley

Where Were the Post-Hebdo Free Speech Crusaders as
     France Spent the Last Year Crushing Free Speech?
Paul Krugman: Are We Heading to a Global Economic

Look What We've Done: Human-Made Epoch of
     Nightmares Is Here

5. Chaos and Violence: How New Year's Eve in Cologne Has
     Changed Germany

6. Obama Never Had a Plan to End What Guantánamo

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, January 9, 2016.

This is a crisis blog with 6 items and 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about a White House attempt to charm top tech executives to be as political as the American government is, to allow the government access to everyone's computers; item 2 is about a Glenn Greenwald article that asks where the defenders of free speech are if they don't like some specific free speech; item 3 is about how Krugman dithers about whether or not we are approaching a global economic catastrophe; item 4 is about a projected new epoch: the anthropocene; item 5 is about Germany, where the scene shifted (it seems) against the refugees; and item 6 is about the real Obama, who - very probably - never had a plan to end Guantámamo.

I also said yesterday that I would say today whether I re-uploaded the log directories (from 2004-2015, inclusive) on my site: I now have, for both sites.

1. White House Raises Encryption Threat in Silicon Valley Summit

The first article is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Top Obama administration officials are holding a summit meeting on counterterrorism on Friday in Silicon Valley with top tech executives, including Apple CEO Tim Cook. The White House delegation includes Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “The goal here is to find additional ways to work together to make it even harder for terrorists or criminals to find refuge in cyberspace,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at a news briefing.

The highly controversial topic of encryption is very much on the agenda, according to excerpts from a White House briefing distributed to participants of the summit, obtained by The Intercept.
Most of the rest of the article consists of selections from the above mentioned excerpts. I recommend you to read them.

Here is my own short summary of what I've read:

In fact, the White House's excerpts are clever bit of propaganda ("terrorists" in every of the first four sentences, for example) that try to entice Tim Cooke and others to become as politicized as the American government is, and to give up encrypting, although they do not (yet, in what I've read) say that.

I liked the fact that Apple is encrypting for its users, indeed in such a way that it cannot itself decrypt, as indeed is the correct way. If Tim Cooke is interested in the long term development of Apple, he will both resist the attempts of the government to break into the encrypted private stuff of his customers, and will also resist the whole attempt to politicize him and Apple.

But I do not know he really is.

2. Where Were the Post-Hebdo Free Speech Crusaders as France Spent the Last Year Crushing Free Speech?

The second item is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
It’s been almost one year since millions of people — led by the world’s most repressive tyrants — marched in Paris ostensibly in favor of free speech. Since then, the French government — which led the way trumpeting the vital importance of free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings — has repeatedly prosecuted people for the political views they expressed, and otherwise exploited terrorism fears to crush civil liberties generally. It has done so with barely a peep of protest from most of those throughout the West who waved free speech flags in support of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.
Yes, indeed. Also, Glenn Greenwald knows the reason why most Westerners are for free speech for the ends they are themselves for, but don't care much for free speech that articulates ends they are against, or do not care about:
That’s because, as I argued at the time, many of these newfound free speech crusaders exploiting the Hebdo killings were not authentic, consistent believers in free speech. Instead, they invoke that principle only in the easiest and most self-serving instances: namely, defense of the ideas they support. But when people are punished for expressing ideas they hate, they are silent or supportive of that suppression: the very opposite of genuine free speech advocacy.
Yes, indeed - but I know since 45 years (at least) that most ordinary Dutchmen and most ordinary Europeans are not genuine liberals, and also may not be genuine democrats: Again, the position of the majority on freedom and democracy is much rather like 'freedom and democracy for the ends I personally subscribe to'.

In Holland that also was the case during the Nazi occupation between 1940 and 1945:

the war, everybody had been a leader of the resistance; in the war few had the courage to resist, most collaborated, 6 times more Dutchmen went into the SS than into the resistance (!!), and the Dutch rich Nazi-collaborators Cohen and Asscher were proud to help exterminate over 100.000 Dutch poor Jews, in a deal with the high SS'er Rauter (<-Wikipedia), who asked them to hand over the poor Jews, so that the rich would be spared - and they mostly were. And after the war both Cohen and Asscher did not even have to face a judge. [1]

I am relaying this because my parents and grandparents belonged to the very few who went into the Dutch resistance, and because I am Dutch, but in fact I do not think the Dutch, as a nation, is much different from other Western European nations:

Most adults are for freedom and democracy if this serves the ends they already subscribe to, but are often not willing to extend these rights to people they disagree with. And most do not have the courage to face the police or the state in disagreements about civil rights, especially not if these are the civil rights of people who have different ends and values than they have.

Here is one of Glenn Greenwald's conclusions:
Where were, and where are, all the self-proclaimed free speech advocates about all of that? It was only when anti-Islam cartoons were at issue, and a few Muslims engaged in violence, did they suddenly become animated and passionate about free speech. That’s because legitimizing anti-Islam rhetoric and demonizing Muslims was their actual cause; free speech was just the pretext.

In all the many years I’ve worked in defense of free speech, I’ve never seen the principle so blatantly exploited for other ends by people who plainly don’t believe in it as was true of the Hebdo killings. It was as transparent as it was dishonest. Their actual agenda was illustrated by how they invented a brand new free speech standard specially for that occasion: in order to defend free speech, one must not merely defend the right to express an idea, they decreed, but must embrace the idea itself.

Yes and no, which I say because Glenn Greenwald seems to confuse the actions of the French government, its bureaucrats, and its propagandists with the actions of ordinary French people.

That is, I think it is the government that wants to legitimize anti-Islam rhetoric and demonize Muslims and also - and especially! - get enormously larger  authoritarian powers than they would have in a genuine democracy, while it are the ordinary people who are - often but not always - taken in, and they are
taken in because many - though not all - indeed are for freedom and for democracy only or mostly if these serve their own ends.

There is considerably more in the original, which is recommended reading.

3. Paul Krugman: Are We Heading to a Global Economic Catastrophe?

The third item is by Janet Allon on AlterNet:

These are parts of quoted texts by Krugman, who indeed is worrying (somewhat) that there may be a global economic catastrophe coming:

The good news is that the numbers, as I read them, don’t seem big enough. The bad news is that I could be wrong, because global contagion often seems to end up being worse than hard numbers say it should. And the worse news is that if China does deliver a bad shock to the rest of the world, we are remarkably unready to deal with the consequences.

Put otherwise, Paul Krugman believes that the numbers he saw were - in his opinion - not big enough to warrant the inference that there will (soon) be a global economic catastrophe, but he is worried because the numbers may be misleading (and also tend to be not up to date, by the way, nor as accurate as they should be).

Here is a bit more by Krugman:

The basic problem is that China’s economic model, which involves very high saving and very low consumption, was only sustainable as long as the country could grow extremely fast, justifying high investment. This in turn was possible when China had vast reserves of underemployed rural labor. But that’s no longer true, and China now faces the tricky task of transitioning to much lower growth without stumbling into recession.
So the Chinese situation looks fairly grim — and new numbers have reinforced fears of a hard landing, leading not just to a plunge in Chinese stocks but to sharp declines in stock prices worldwide.

It seems likely to me China is in for "a hard landing", and indeed will be so in 2016, which will have wide economic repercussions in the West, though I agree
I am not an economist.

More to follow, no doubt.

4. Look What We've Done: Human-Made Epoch of Nightmares Is Here

The fourth item is by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

There's no question about it. A new epoch—the Anthropocene—has begun. 

So says an international group of geoscientists, in a paper published Friday in the journal Science. They point to waste disposal, fossil fuel combustion, increased fertilizer use, the testing and dropping of nuclear weapons, deforestation, and more as evidence that human activity has pushed the Earth into the new age that takes its name from the Greek anthropos, or human being.

Some argue the new era began in the 1950s, the decade that marks the beginning of the so-called "Great Acceleration," when human population and its consumption patterns suddenly speeded up, and nuclear weapons tests dispersed radioactive elements across the globe.

There are 22 authors from all over the world, and indeed it seems most date the beginning of the Anthropocene epoch from the 1950ies. In fact, it seems mostly to come down to the following (a bit primitive) statistic, that I used in 1980, when there were 4 billion people (now - a mere 35 years later - over 7 billion), while in 1950 there were less than 3 billion: [2]


The red line is the growth in population of the last 100,000 years. The very rapid increase indeed started happening in the 20th Century, and still continues.

First a question: Do I believe we have arrived at a new - anthropocene - epoch?

Basically, yes - and my reasons are mostly in the above (primitive) graphic that charts the enormous recent increase in humans, plus some basic knowledge about non-linear processes.

Then again, I mind a lot less about whether or not we are in the anthropocene epoch, than I care about consequences of the extremely rapidly increasing human population such as these (lifted from the article):

  • Über-industrialization. "More than half the earth's surface has been transformed into settlements and cities, agricultural land, mines, waste dumps, baseball diamonds, and beyond," writes journalist Eric Roston at Bloomberg. What's more, he adds, "Mineral mining moves three times more sediment every year than all the world's rivers."
  • Plastics everywhere. "Even most mud samples taken from remote ocean beds now contain plastic fragments," academics Mark Williams and Jan A. Zalasiewicz write for The Conversation. "Buried in sediment, these materials may be preserved over geological timescales, forming new rocks and rapidly-evolving 'technofossils' for our descendants to marvel at."
  • Biologic changes. "We've pushed extinction rates of flora and fauna far above the long-term average," the Guardian reports. "The Earth is now on course for a sixth mass extinction which would see 75% of species extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue."
  • Nuclear fallout. "Our war efforts have left their mark on geology," notes New Scientist. "When the first nuclear weapon was detonated on 16 July 1945 in New Mexico, it deposited radionuclides—atoms with excess nuclear energy—across a wide area. Since 1952, more explosive thermonuclear weapons have been tested, leaving a global signature of isotopes such as carbon-14 and plutonium-239."
  • Greenhouse gas levels. As Common Dreams has reported extensively, and the geoscientists point out, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are higher than they've ever been. "Depending on the trajectory of future anthropogenic forcing, these trends may reach or exceed the envelope of Quaternary interglacial conditions," the study authors write—in other words, conditions could become more extreme than in previous ice ages.
In any case, this is a recommended article.

5. Chaos and Violence: How New Year's Eve in Cologne Has Changed Germany

The fifth item is by Spiegel Staff (no less than 21 journalists) on the international edition of Der Spiegel:

This starts as follows, with a summary (in bold in the original):
New Year's Eve in Cologne rapidly descended into a chaotic free-for-all involving sexual assault and theft, most of it apparently committed by foreigners. It has launched a bitter debate over immigration and refugees in Germany -- one that could change the country
Yes, indeed - or at least: I heard and read very similar things from other news sources. Here is the first paragraph of the article:
A lot happened on New Year's Eve in Cologne, much of it contradictory, much of it real, much of it imagined. Some was happenstance, some was exaggerated and much of it was horrifying. In its entirety, the events of Cologne on New Year's Eve and in the days that followed adhered to a script that many had feared would come true even before it actually did. The fears of both immigration supporters and virulent xenophobes came true. The fears of Pegida people and refugee helpers; the fears of unknown women and of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Even Donald Trump, the brash Republican presidential candidate in the US, felt it necessary to comment. Germany, he trumpeted, "is going through massive attacks to its people by the migrants allowed to enter the country."
I don't think that is very clear, so here is a little more from the beginning:
On New Year's Eve in Cologne, it was -- according to numerous witness reports -- drunk young men from North Africa who formed gangs to go after defenseless individuals. They humiliated and robbed -- and they sexually assaulted women.

Their behavior, and the subsequent discussion of their behavior in the halls of political power in Berlin, in the media and on the Internet, could easily trigger a radical shift in Germany's refugee and immigration policies.
Indeed. There is considerably more in the original, and the events in Cologne that are described in the article (not always very well, I think) probably will move Germany to the right.

6. Obama Never Had a Plan to End What Guantánamo Represents

This sixth and last item is by Charles Davis on Truth-Out:

This starts as follows:

Barack Obama, the new US president, was keeping his promise: 48 hours into his presidency and there he was, signing an executive order that called for closing down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year.

Yes, indeed: Here was the new Democratic "Change!", "Change!", "Change!" president ("Yes, we can!", "Yes, we can!") starting to do the job he was elected for.

And indeed I was taken in as well (see: January 21, 2009, in English), though indeed not longer than half a year, indeed in considerable part because I was and am very strongly against the concentration camp Guantánamo and indeed any concentration camp anywhere, because my grandfather was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp, and my father survived more than 3 years and 9 months of four Nazi concentration camps, and I know better than most how horrible and how cruel concentration camps are.

And there was this:

How refreshing it was, after two terms of waterboarding and the oratory torture of George W. Bush, to hear not just pretty words about American ideals that never were actually put into practice in a nation founded by human enslavement, but for those words to accompany in-real-life action. How disappointing, then, that the gratingly correct cynic was once more proven right: that even the seemingly tangible gestures - ending the empire, no, but improving its public relations in a way that gave real, actual hope to a few hundred imprisoned men who lacked it - proved to be little more than yet another photo op.

It has been seven years now since Obama signed the order closing a military prison that is still very much open 14 years after it took in its first inmates on January 11, 2002.
Precisely. And this, together with other measures Obama did take - notably, not prosecuting the criminal bankmanagers, and strongly being in favour of the fascist plans TTP, TTIP, TiSA and CETA, all of which, when adopted, will give almost full control to the rich owners or CEOs of the multi-national corporations and will destroy effective national government, effective parliamentary govern- ment, and effective judicial government, all of which will be replaced by effective government for and by the mostly American super rich - made me into an opponent of Obama, who basically was and is a fraud, whose every public speech says things for propaganda purposes he will not do because they oppose the interests of the rich or the interests of the NSA or the interests of the mega-rich bank managers.

There is considerably more in the original, that is recommended reading.


[1] All of which is strictly true, though considerable parts are now not known in Holland (anymore, now that most who lived through WW II as adults are dead). Also, the reason I wrote "help exterminate" is that I know that David Cohen was transported - as a free man - around the Dutch concentration camps, where he even might have seen my father and grandfather, as they weighed 37,5 kilos. (I do not know Cohen did, but he may have, for they did weigh as much by 1942, when he did visit the concentration camp both were locked up in.)

It is true that Cohen did not know about the planned extermination of the Jews till the end of the war, but it is also true he kept insisting till the end of the war that the Jews were transported only to do some work, which was an evident lie given that he knew what was going on in Dutch concentration camps.

Finally, here is part of the reason why neither Cohen nor Asscher ever faced a Dutch judge: Nearly all Dutch judges also were Nazi collaborators in WW II, and both my father and grandfather were convicted by collaborating Dutch judges as "political terrorists" to the concentration camp. Again, no Dutch judge was prosecuted after the war, and all went on judging.

This is Dutch morals in practice, which differed a great lot from the theory. O, and as to "everybody was a leader of the resistance" (immediately after the war): I quoted in fact the Dutch prime minister De Jong, who commanded a submarine for the Americans during WW II, and who heard this briefly after the war, when he returned to Holland.

[2] Added January 12, 2016: Here is a visually much better statistic that makes the same point:

Note that if I reach 75, in 2025, the world's population has more than quadrupled during the years I've lived.

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