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Nederlog

 March 18, 2016

Crisis: NSA's Spying, "Democracy", Sanders, Pentagon Unaudited, American Fascism
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1.
Five Big Unanswered Questions About NSA’s Worldwide
     Spying

2. A Little-Known Way Our Political System Is Rigged to
     Favor the Establishment

3.
Sanders Forges Ahead: 'No One Said a Political
     Revolution Would Be Easy'

4. Uncontrollable—Pentagon and Corporate Contractors
     Too Big to Audit

5. The Frictionless Machine of Modern Fascism

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday, March 18, 2016.


This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the question what the public knows about the NSA's worldwide spying: Little, and with little idea of what there is to know, in spite of Snowden; item 2 is about a very dirty trick that guarantees (almost certainly) that those who get elected in the Democratic or Republican parties remain "elected" forever: No one else - not even their own party members - may get the voters lists; item 3 is about Bernie Sanders' chances to win the presidential candidacy: still present, I think; item 4 is about the (apparent) fact that the Pentagon, that now claims more than half of the American taxes, simply has not been decently audited since 1993 (!); and item 5 is about how the Americans may soon have their own - Exceptional! - breed of fascism, especially if Trump becomes president.
 
1. Five Big Unanswered Questions About NSA’s Worldwide Spying

The first item is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Nearly three years after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden gave journalists his trove of documents on the intelligence community’s broad and powerful surveillance regime, the public is still missing some crucial, basic facts about how the operations work.

Surveillance researchers and privacy advocates published a report on Wednesday outlining what we do know, thanks to the period of discovery post-Snowden — and the overwhelming amount of things we don’t.

Yes indeed - although to say (judged by the report) that "the public is still missing some crucial, basic facts" seems a considerable understatement: The public just does not know most of the relevant facts, for the simple reason that these are declared secrets.

For one example, there is this fact - which I did not know, which seems to hold for most persons, including those who are quite well informed:

The central guidelines the NSA is supposed to follow while spying abroad are described in Executive Order 12333, issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which the authors describe as “a black box.”

Again the link - Executive Order 12333  - is quite interesting and important, for it shows that indeed most of the spying that has been done on everyone anywhere has been "justified" by reference to a - very shady and unclear - set of laws that date back to 1981, long before there was internet or personal computing of any size. (In 1981 the best one could get - a friend of mine got one, and this is why I know - was an Apple II that could run Applebasic, the results of which had to be stored on a tapedeck if they were not to disappear forever: That was pretty impressive then, but not at all internet or personal computing as we know it today and since ca. 1995.)

In actual legal fact, this seems to be like dealing with big multi-national corporations on the basis of laws that date from the Middle Ages - but these
are the rules, indeed in considerable part because of a quotation that opens the report:

“There are very few things we cannot accomplish within the 
  existing rules, using the authorities we have and those
  authorities we can receive.”

— NSA training slide, slide no. 83.

So in fact the NSA can do almost anything it wants because (1) the fundamental legal rules that are supposed to guide it date back to 1981 and are completely inadequate, and because (2) apart from that the NSA is mostly "overseen" by a secret FISA court, that as a rule permits the NSA (in secret) to do almost anything it wants.

Jenna McLaughlin states five questions that are also stated in the report which follow, without the texts that explain them, to which I will attend after stating the questions:

  1. How far does the law go?
  2. Who’s watching the spies?
  3. How much foreign spying ends up in domestic courts?
  4. How many words don’t mean what we think they mean?
  5. Where does it end?
The answers come mostly down to this, in spite of Edward Snowden's data:

"We" - that is: both the general public and most members of the Senate and the House - do not know because (1) all these questions and their answers depend on closely guarded secrecies, and because (2) due to the secrecies "we" also do not even know how much it is that "we" do not know.

I think "we" ought to know; I think "we" who are not US citizens must be protected from spying by any foreign secret service; and I think that as long as "we" do not know, and do not know how much we do not know, and as long
as the spying on everyone anywhere continues (as it has now since 2001, with God knows how many petabytes of secret information) the NSA is - intentionally, on purpose - setting up the most powerful secret service there has ever been in the world, that is designed, on purpose, since 2001, to know everything about anyone, and that is also, in my opinion at least, without any democratic, legal and valid basis (other than Reagan's baloney from 1981 and the secret pronouncements of the secret FISA courts).

What to say? This is "democracy" the NSA-style: Based on obsolete, intentionally vague "laws" that permit the secret services to do virtually anything and that forbid both the public and most of its chosen representatives to know almost anything about what the secret services do in fact.

2
. A Little-Known Way Our Political System Is Rigged to Favor the Establishment

The second item is
by Eric Zuesse on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:
Did you know that if a given political party already has an incumbent in a particular political post, it’s standard practice in the United States for a political party to prohibit its voter-list to be purchased by anyone who’s not an incumbent office-holder in that party — including by someone who wishes to challenge or contest within that party the incumbent, in a primary election?

Only incumbents have access to that crucial list — crucial for any candidate in a primary election (unless there is no incumbent who is of that party).
Actually, I did know, but indeed quite briefly, since a little over a week, from another article on internet.

But Zuesse is quite right that this is a most anti-democratic law that is expressly designed to destroy anyone's chances who does not already occupy the post to come to occupy it: The crucial information to do so - the voter-list of his own party - are expressly denied to anyone but those who occupy the post already.

Here is how it works in practice:

Last week, I called the Florida Democratic Party to request access to the voter file database and software known as VAN that is routinely used by Democratic candidates across the country.

I was told that our campaign would be denied access to this database because I am running against an incumbent Democrat, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I was also told that any Democratic candidate running against an incumbent Democrat would be denied access.

That is: If you want to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz as a Democrat, then you, and any other Democrat who is not Debbie Wasserman Schultz, will not get the voter lists that would enable you to address your fellow Democratic voters: Ms Schultz is to rule forever, until she voluntarily leaves for an even better paying or even more powerful job - or so it seems.

Here it is spelled out - and it is a game practised by both the Democrats and the Republicans:

In other words: Politicians campaign hypocritically saying they favor ’term-limits’ but universally support the real  reason (which isn’t the lack of term-limits; it’s the lack of fairness, such as this) why even the most vile incumbents get re-‘elected’ time and again: this thuggish custom of the Democratic and Republican political Parties, which blocks challengers from having access to the most crucial tool for becoming a Party’s nominee: the list of that Party’s registerd voters. Only the existing incumbent can buy that list.
That is:
What this means is that, if an incumbent serves well the donors who financed his/her campaign, then that person will almost certainly not be effectively challenged in a primary by someone else from that party, because that prospective challenger won’t even have access to the list of registered voted in that party.
In brief: Exit democracy - those with the power have arraigned it so that they will retain that power forever (until they voluntarily leave).

3. Sanders Forges Ahead: 'No One Said a Political Revolution Would Be Easy'

The third item is b
y Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Following a series of presidential primary losses to Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders reminded supporters: "No one said a political revolution would be easy."

"What you will not hear from the political and media establishment," the campaign said in an email Wednesday, "is that, based on the primary and caucus schedule for the rest of the race, this is the high water mark for the Clinton campaign...Starting today, the map now shifts dramatically in our favor."

"The fact remains that Hillary Clinton’s lead will never be as large as it is right now," the email said. "From here on out we keep chipping away until we take the lead."

As regular readers of Nederlog know, I normally avoid commenting on the outcomes of states' elections for the presidential candidates of either party.

This is here mostly because I consider Bernie Sanders by far the best candidate, because what he said above seems quite right, because I think he is scandalously under-represented in the main media, and because I again have read a couple of "Bernie supporters" who falsely insist he is out and should stop: No, if only because what was said above seems correct and because he is the only candidate with a sensible program.

But I won't make it long, and merely quote the ending of the article:

"With more than half the delegates yet to be chosen and a calendar that favors us in the weeks and months to come, we remain confident that our campaign is on a path to win the nomination," he said.

Yes. And while it is true Sanders may not win, it is also true he still may win.

4. Uncontrollable—Pentagon and Corporate Contractors Too Big to Audit

The fourth item is by Ralph Nader on his blog:

This starts as follows:

The Reuters report put this colossal dereliction simply: “A law in effect since 1992 requires annual audits of all federal agencies—and the Pentagon alone has never complied.”

All $585 billion and more, e.g., for the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, of your money—not just unaudited, but, in the sober judgement of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the Congress, this vast military budget is year after year UNAUDITABLE. That means that the Congressional auditors cannot obtain the basic accounting data to do their job on your behalf.

Auditing the Department of Defense receives left/right support, from Senator Bernie Sanders (Dem. VT) to Senator Ted Cruz (Rep. TX).

I say. And I said that because I did not know this, and because it is quite amazing, for it means that the part of the American government that takes over half of the American tax money is completely unaudited - it seems - from 1993 onwards. That is, for 23 years.

Here is a sketch of how this seems to be done normally, since 1993 (or so it seems at least):

H.R. 942, the “Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014,” is supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives. In the statement announcing this legislation, the sponsors declared “The Treasury Department’s Financial Report of the US Government for fiscal year 2012 shows the DOD yet again has nothing to audit—its books are a mess. In the last dozen years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when DOD would pass an audit. Meanwhile, Congress doubled Pentagon spending.”

That is: "We agree it there is nothing to audit because all books are a mess - but we double the budget." I suppose this is because the House trusts the Pentagon - but then there are facts like these:

Yet it has seemed that the military—this huge expanse of bureaucracy, which owns 25 million acres (over seven times the size of Connecticut) and owns over 500,000 buildings in the U.S. and around the world—is beyond anybody’s control, including that of the Secretaries of Defense, their own internal auditors, the President, tons of GAO audits publically available, and the Congress. How can this be?
(...)
Have you heard of the $43 million natural gas station in Afghanistan that was supposed to cost $500,000? Do you know about the $150 million villas that were built for corporate contractors in Afghanistan so they could spend another $600 million advising Afghans about starting private businesses in that war-torn country?

As the second paragraph suggests, the answer to the question in the first paragraph - "How can this be?" - can only be: By gigantic intentional corruption - for otherwise the quoted facts are completely inexplainable.

And here is Ralph Nader's very correct reference to the concept of the man who may be said to have predicted these grave dangers: The military-industrial complex (<- Wikipedia: very well worth reading) against the extreme dangers of which Eisenhower (<- Wikipedia) warned at the end of his presidency:

President Eisenhower’s farewell warning about the “military-industrial complex” becomes ever more of an understatement as it devours over half of the entire federal government’s operating budget.

Yes, indeed - and it is fair to say that if more than half of the money raised by taxes goes to war, and the Pentagon is not even audited, it seems not since 1993, that the military-industrial complex (or indeed, as the Wikipedia also has it: the military-industrial-congressional complex) simply has won (so far) the battle with democratic laws and - even - honest auditing.

Here is Ralph Nader's conclusion:

In the final analysis, the principal culprits, because they have so much to lose in profits and bonuses, are the giant defense companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and others that lobby Congress, Congressional District by Congressional District, for more, more, more military contracts, grants and subsidies. They routinely hire ex-Pentagon specialists and top brass who know how to negotiate the ways and means inside of the government.

President Eisenhower sure knew what he was talking about. Remember, he warned not just about taxpayer waste, but a Moloch eating away at our liberties and our critical domestic necessities.

Yes, indeed. And this is a recommended article.

5. The Frictionless Machine of Modern Fascism

The fifth and last item today i
s by William Rivers Pitt on Truth-out:

This is from near the beginning:

Physics and engineering have been around since long before the Egyptians built the pyramids, but all the rules and logic and constants of those crafts never had to account for a dangerous authoritarian entertainer who tells his supporters to beat people up while on national television and still gets a bump in the polls. Donald Trump is Benito Mussolini with a bad combover. He is the frictionless machine. He may wind up on a gibbet someday, but if he carries the contests on Tuesday, he's going to be the Republican nominee for president.

Meanwhile, Tuesday has passed and Trump won most contests. Does it mean that he will get to be the Republican nominee? Possibly. Does it mean that he will win the presidency? Hm.

Here is some more on Trump:

All he has to do is call together a confab of cameras and say, "This is so great everything is so great and it's gonna be great when we launch the Muslims over the wall into Mexico because Hillary and everything's so great I'm great let's make America great again arrest that guy punch that guy because great." It is word salad of the purest ray serene, carefully tailored to mesmerize the masses. In short, Donald Trump is a Batman villain; he knows exactly what he's doing ... and that's what is frightening.

I do not quite agree, although I think Pitt is quite right in saying that Trump normally - before audiences, at least - speaks in terms of obscure word salads, that are much like Pitts renders them.

But I do not think Trump "
knows exactly what he's doing" (and I am a psychologist, although I agree that doesn't say much):

I think he presents himself mostly as he is; I also think that someone who presents himself thus is very probably not very intelligent and is certainly not very informed - but I agree with Pitt that he is "frightening", though not because he is "a Batman", but because his manner of idiocy finds a wide response in the American electorate. [1]

Here is the ending of Pitts' article:
This is the most dangerous election in living memory. Shouters, liars and revisers of flat-footed history are storming toward a confrontation that will be a calamity no matter who prevails, and the media are reveling in it. At stake is the threat of fascism in the 21st century. It will not end well.
I think Pitts may well be correct, although I guess my reasons are not his (although I do not know):

My reasons are - among others - that the Republicans have been intrigueing since the early 1970ies to get the present results (that they may not like, but which were engineered by them); that they have had extremely little
counterplay by the Democrats, so that they mostly succeeded; that the Democrats have been changed by Bill Clinton to the "New Democrats", who positioned themselves to the right of the Republican Eisenhower; that few of the members of the Senate or the House seem decent and competent; and that very much that American governments do has been declared secret, including the massive spying on what anybody (anywhere in the world) thinks, feels, desires and does, which is a massive extremely dangerous shame.

--------------------------
Note
[1] That is: I - once again - blame the electorate more than those they elect, however evidently rotten, bad and anti-democratic, because the electorate decides, and because large parts of the electorate that do elect,  know little of politics, of science, of reality, or of art, but nevertheless pretend they are in majority quite capable of making rational and reasonable decisions.

For more on this topic, see my On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals
.
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