February 18, 2016

Crisis: Russia, Apple & Security, CIA, Clinton vs Sanders, US Economy
Sections                                                                     crisis index    

The Horror Story of Publishing Children’s Books in Russia
2. Apple Leads the Charge on Security, But Who Will

The [Redacted] Truth About the CIA
4. Clinton vs. Sanders: Neck-and-Neck in Nevada,

5. The Federal Reserve and the Global Fracture

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, February 18, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the rather exteme censorship in Russia on childrens' books (that reminds me a lot of the Soviet Union); item 2 is about Apple's - quite justified - refusal to unencrypt (but I am quite pessimistic about personal freedoms as long as these are mostly in the hands of the government or Silicon Valley); item 3 is about the eyewashing that the CIA does on its own materials, and points out this is forbidden in any official record (but probably still happens, I think); item 4 is about the fact that Clinton and Sanders currently are about equally strong in pulling votes (which is bettter than I expected); and item 5 is about an interesting interview with an interesting economist.

Also, I mention that I uploaded yesterday a slightly corrected version of my autobio for the first half of 1978. [1]

1. The Horror Story of Publishing Children’s Books in Russia
This first item is by Marsha Gessen on The Intercept (and this is one article in a series on publishing in Russia):

This is from near the beginning - and one of the reasons I review this article is that my communist parents did buy translated Russian books for children (in the 1950ies), and that I learned from these that (i) they were far more officialese sounding than Western books for children that I got from the public library, and that (ii) they also were printed differently, and less well than most Western books (and didn't smell nice).

Anyway, that was about a time that one would think was long past, but no:

You would think that publishing a book for 6-year-olds wouldn’t entail political risks, even in a country where political risks abound. You would be wrong. Most of the restrictions Russia has placed on speech in the last few years have been framed as intended to protect the innocence and purity of children. A law that went into effect in 2010 is called the law “On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development.” Publishers and editors generally refer to it simply as the “law for the protection of children from information.”

In case you think the last shortened description is a joke, you are very probably right, but then indeed it seems children up to the age of 18 must legally be forbidden to receive realistic information about many things - and while this forbidding is styled as protecting "their health and development", it in fact only means the kinds of health and development that the Russian government desires.

Here is an outline:

If you believed what it said, Russian children were to be protected from reading in general. Children under the age of 6 could read about violence only if it was not described in detail, the author’s sympathies were clearly with the victim, and good triumphed over evil. There, apparently, went Little Red Riding Hood, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm. Between the ages of 6 and 12, children were allowed to learn about illness but not death. Violence continued to be off limits. So, obviously, did sex, and indeed any “naturalistic” description of the human body. Little Red Riding Hood, in other words, would still be too much for older kids, to say nothing of adventure novels and just about any contemporary Western books for this age group.

Namely, because little red riding hood gets eaten by the wolf. I do not know precisely when I first heard the fairy tale about her, but it must have been between 3 and 6, and I think my reaction was quite typical:

I did not like it that she got eaten, but I also did not realize the cruelty nor the pain involved, simply because I knew very little about violence, and also because she did get restored to life, and because I did know what a fairy tale was: A story that was not meant to be about real things.

Here is more about what Russian children should not be realistically informed about, according to Russian laws:

Children between the ages of 12 and 16 were allowed to encounter the mention of violence and drugs as long as they were condemned and not described. Sex could be mentioned but not described, but at least the law did not require it to be condemned.

Actually, it seems a bit difficult to mention violence without describing it, but I suppose it can be done, and the same with sex, maybe as this was done in the thirties in Great Britain ("...and then she yielded to his passion, and they lived long and happily. The End.").

Then again, sex does get important at this age, so merely to mention it without describing it means that in fact rather a lot of secrecy, lies or half-truths are prescribed by law.

It is the same for the ages 16 to 18, and I'd also say that person between 16 and 18 are no longer children:

Children between the ages of 16 and 18 were allowed to learn a little more about violence, sex, and drugs, as long as none of these were described in detail or encouraged. In other words, Russian citizens under the age of 18 were to be protected from the details of sex and drugs and any information at all about serious illness and violent death, including suicide. A 2013 amendment famously forbade any and all information about “nontraditional sexual relations.”

The last legally maintained norm means that those not born heterosexual are
systematically denied any information, including the information that there are
rather a lot of them (about 1 in 20) and that there is nothing wrong with them.

Here is one summary statement on Russian censorship laws:

THE LAW’S MESSAGE is simple: Books are dangerous to kids and publishers need to be put in their place. This message has empowered parents, would-be politicians, and more than anyone else, says an editor at a publishing house (who asked not to be identified), it has empowered bureaucrats. The enforcers of obscure rules, many of them left over from Soviet times, started flexing their muscles.

In fact, this makes me curious about the present Russian censorship laws on books for adults, for clearly "books are dangerous", and especially if they state truths that the government thinks people should not know.

Finally, I can't really judge from one illustration, but the one illustration of
a book for children that is included does look very much like the books printed
in the Soviet Union of the 1950ies.

Would they also still smell as oddly (for they did)?

2. Apple Leads the Charge on Security, But Who Will Follow?

The second item is by Jenna McLauglin on The Intercept:
This is from the end of the article, and is moved first by me because it does clarify things:

A federal magistrate judge in California on Tuesday ordered Apple to help the government break into an iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Judge Sheri Pym asked the company to develop a new version of the iPhone’s iOS operating system that would allow the FBI to break into it, giving agents access to everything on the phone, including the encrypted bits.

Many top tech companies, from Adobe to Yahoo, have made statements not only in defense of strong encryption, but also opposed to the government mandating any sort of technological design that would weaken security.

But few leapt at the chance to stand with Cook.
And this is from the beginning:

After boldly and publicly rejecting a federal court order to hack an iPhone on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook could reasonably have wondered: Who’s with me?

The Twitterverse was full of fans. Civil liberties activists were cheering him on. But in Silicon Valley, the initial response was less effusive.

It seems to me that most of the Silicon Valley rich have decided that stealing everything from "their customers" is the approved American way to make huge profits, and that this stealing also is "legitimate" if only because almost no one upholds the Fourth Amendment [2] anymore, although they all should.

That is a bitter shame, but seems to be true. There is also this:

A handful of tech companies and leaders had joined Cook’s call by late afternoon. Among them were Mozilla, anonymous search engine DuckDuckGo, messaging application WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, anonymous browser Tor Project, a private jet charter company, and password managers 1Password and Dashlane.

“It’s difficult to discuss policy and precedent in the wake of horrific attacks. Yet, it remains true that asking Apple to circumvent their own security protections is a massive overreach,” said Mark Surman, Mozilla’s executive director, in a statement emailed to The Intercept. “It sets a dangerous precedent that threatens consumers’ security going forward.”

Actually, I think the reference to "horrific attacks" is just bullshit:

The point is that a few "horrific attacks" on a few persons are being presented as if these were a reason to give the secret services total access to anyone's computer, which is utter crap: They have no right and are forbidden the things they do in fact, simply because this makes them a lot of money, and no one in the government wants to protect the privacy of ordinary people anymore.

Then again, I also suppose that the reference is in fact diplomatic speech. But
I am - meanwhile - extremely doubtful about "consumer's security" as long as the decisions are in fact those of the government or the Silicon Valley rich:

The government wants to know everything anyone does, says or writes, period; the Silicon Valley rich have gotten rich by stealing the private information of billions of its users and selling this to advertisers simply because that information was not encrypted, while it should have been.

3. The [Redacted] Truth About the CIA

The third item is by John Kiriakou (<- Wikipedia) on Truthdig and originally on OtherWords:

This starts as follows:

It’s no secret that the CIA isn’t always up front with the public about its operations. You may even be kept in the dark if you’re an elected official. But did you know the agency even lies to its own employees?

That’s the subject of a recent Washington Post report on a heretofore unknown practice at the CIA called “eyewashing.”

Before moving to the substance of the article, however, I owe my readers an explanation: The Central Intelligence Agency must approve of everything I write about intelligence, the CIA, foreign policy, diplomacy, the military, and national security — for the rest of my life.

I say. I did not know the last fact, which also seems totally arbitrary. (Also Kiriakou does show the parts that were X-ed out in this article by the CIA.)

As to the eyewashing, there is this:

Eyewashing, simply put, is a way that the CIA deceives its own employees.

According to the Post, CIA veterans described eyewashing as an “important security measure” and a “means of protecting vital secrets by inserting fake communications into routine cable traffic.” But these lies eventually are passed to Congress, too.

And that is where the legal trouble starts:

Imagine what can happen if we accept that our public servants can simply lie.

Why not eyewash a torture program? Why not eyewash a secret prison system? Where does it end?

And more importantly, how can it end at all if nobody except the perpetrators knows it’s happening in the first place?

The CIA may tell you that eyewash cables are important to protecting sources and operations. What I would tell you is that it’s forbidden by federal law.

Indeed, it’s a criminal offense to “conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry“ into an official record. It’s called “making a false statement,” and it’s punishable by five years imprison- ment. There’s no legal exemption for the CIA.

I quite agree, but then I also suppose that the CIA meanwhile has grown into an organization that is beyond ordinary law, for the simple reason that the USA's government is extremely selective about the laws it wishes to uphold (such as ten years of imprisonment if you are black and caught with marijuana) and the laws it does not wish to uphold (such as prosecuting the enormous corruption in the banks and upkeeping the Fourth Amendment [2], that would have prevented the insane amounts of completely illegal spying that both governments and Silicon Valley do).

But it is nice to know that formally the CIA is forbidden to eyewash any official record - although I assume this still happens on a major scale, again because the CIA
has grown into an organization that is beyond ordinary law.

4. Clinton vs. Sanders: Neck-and-Neck in Nevada, Nationwide

The fourth item is by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in a dead heat both nationwide and in Nevada—the next Democratic caucus state and a supposed Clinton stronghold—two polls released Wednesday find.

Nationally, 44 percent of likely Democratic voters support Clinton, and 42 percent support Sanders, with 11 percent undecided, a Quinnipiac University poll found. Respondents said they saw Clinton as having more leadership experience and Sanders as being more trustworthy and honest.

In fact, this is (a bit) better than I thought.

What I thought was that Bernie Sanders still is less popular than Hillary Clinton in all of the USA, simply because he has had far less time on national TV and in the national press than Hillary Clinton, whose name is also much better known.

But it seems I was mistaken, at least according to the poll of the Quinnipiac University: This has both running equal, since the difference of two percent is within the margin of error that is slightly over four percent.

There is more in the article.

5. The Federal Reserve and the Global Fracture

The fifth item is by Michael Hudson (<- Wikipedia) and Annti J. Ronkainen:

This is an interesting interview with an economist that is recommended (and the Wikipedia lemma on him is also interesting).

It starts as follows (and all I quote is text by Michael Hudson):
Michael Hudson: The Federal Reserve supports the status quo. It would not want to create a crisis before the election. Today it is part of the Democratic Party’s re-election campaign, and its job is to serve Hillary Clinton’s campaign contributors on Wall Street. It is trying to spur recovery by resuming its Bubble Economy subsidy for Wall Street, not by supporting the industrial economy. What the economy needs is a debt writedown, not more debt leveraging such as Quantitative Easing has aimed to promote.
I agree, as I do to the following:
The last thing either U.S. party wants is for the election to focus on this policy failure. The Fed, Treasury and Justice Department will be just as pro-Wall Street under Hillary. There would be no prosecutions of bank fraud, there would be another bank-friendly Attorney General, and a willingness to subsidize banks now that the Dodd-Frank bank reform has been diluted from what it originally promised to be.
Yes, indeed - and the reasons this will continue is that all the same did all the same for 25 years or so, and besides, Hillary got a lot of money from the big banks.

There is this on the interest rates (which also are about 0 procent in Europe):

MH: The aim of lowering interest rates was to provide banks with cheap credit. The pretense was that banks might lend to help the economy get going again. But the Fed’s idea was simply to re-inflate the Bubble Economy.
That is, the banks reinvested the very cheap money they got into their own health, and not into the rest of the economy.

In more detail:

MH: In 2008 the Federal Reserve had a choice: It could save the economy, or it could save the banks. It might have used a fraction of what became the vast QE credit – for example $1 trillion – to pay off the bad mortgages and write them down. That would have helped save the economy from debt deflation. Instead, the Fed simply wanted to re-inflate the bubble, to save banks from having to suffer losses on their junk mortgages and other bad loans.
One therefore can speak of a financial war waged by Wall Street against the economy. The Fed is a major weapon in this war. Its constituency is Wall Street. Like the Justice and Treasury Departments, it has been captured and taken hostage.
Yes, and indeed by nominating (through "the revolving door") high officials of these banks to powerful positions in government (which amounts to the complete corruption of government).

Finally, I quote this bit on the information that reaches the public about Wall Street:

If you are going to serve Wall Street – your major campaign contributors – you are going to need a cover story pretending that this will help the economy. Politicians start with “Column A”: their agenda to reimburse their campaign contributors – Wall Street and other special interests. Their public relations team and speechwriters then draw up “Column B”: what public voters want. To get votes, a rhetorical cover story is crafted. I describe this in my forthcoming J is for Junk Economics, to be published in March. It’s a dictionary of Orwellian doublethink, political and economic euphemisms to turn the vocabulary around and mean the opposite of what actually is meant.
In fact, I think that is the general recipe on which most American politicians work: Reimburse one's financers, while telling those lies to the public that one's
public relations folks have determined that the public most likes to hear.

There is a lot more in the original, which is recommended.


[1] My autobiography was first written, bit by bit also, in Nederlog, in Dutch for the most part, since January 2013. These files were then copied to the /maartensz directory and have all been - slightly or not so slightly - edited there. Part I (until the first half of 1978) is meanwhile mostly done; Part II (until 1991) is being rewritten now, and will get uploaded when that is done. You can find the files (of Part I) under this link. Part III (from 1991 onwards) still remains to be written.

[2] Which is as follows (and cannot be removed from the Constitution):
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
-- Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution
What is the case now amounts to this:
The people have no effective rights anymore to be secure in their persons, or in their houses, or in their papers, or in their effects, because these can now all be violated by any anonymous secret agent and by any unknown spy from Silicon Valley, which also need no warrant, no probable cause, no oath and no affirmation, while absolutely anything may be and is being taken without any reason by anyone who works for the government or Silicon Valley.
-- The "Fourth Amendment" in practice.

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