March 29, 2016

Crisis: CIA, FBI, Sueing Trump, Uncharted Territory, USA
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CIA Photographed Captives Bruised, Blindfolded and
     Bound Before Sending Them Overseas

2. FBI to Apple: Nevermind
This Is What It's Like to Try to Sue Donald Trump
4. Entering Uncharted Territory in Washington
5. Does The United States Still Exist?

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, March 29, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about CIA captives who get renditioned for torturing them; item 2 is about the battle between Apple and FBI: Off/On hold; item 3 is about sueing Donald Trump; item 4 is about the uncharted territory that the USA is entering (in fact: since 2000, I argue); and item 5 is about the question whether the USA still exists.

1. CIA Photographed Captives Bruised, Blindfolded and Bound Before Sending Them Overseas

The first item is by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

The CIA took what one former U.S. official described as “very gruesome” photographs of naked prisoners before transferring the detainees to foreign partners to be tortured, The Guardian reports.

In fact - it seems - these pictures are taken to show the state of the prisoners before they were "transferred" to be tortured.

Of course, a civilized democratic nation does not render prisoners to "foreign partners" to be tortured, but then this implies that the phrase "civilized democratic nation" has completely changed its meaning, and namely to one where one still proudly attributes this phrase to the USA while it renders  prisoners to be gruesomely tortured by "foreign partners" (and also while insisting this is - of course! - "To Preserve Our Democracy").

This is quoted from a Spencer Ackerman piece in The Guardian:

Unlike video evidence of CIA torture at its undocumented “black site” prisons that were destroyed in 2005 by a senior official, the CIA is said to retain the photographs.

As I said, the reason seems to be that the CIA wants "documentary proof" that the prisoners they sent out to be tortured by "foreign partners", at "black sites" at unknown places, were not too horribly tortured by the CIA until then.

But this is about all that seems to be "probably known" about the torturing practices of the CIA:

It is not publicly known how many people, overwhelmingly but not exclusively men, were caught in the CIA’s web of so-called “extraordinary renditions”, extra-judicial transfers of detainees to foreign countries, many of which practiced even more brutal forms of torture than the US came to adopt. Human rights groups over the years have identified at least 50 people the CIA rendered, going back to Bill Clinton’s presidency.

This means in effect that the CIA has been renditioning people to torture centers outside the USA since the previous century, i.e. since more than 16 years.

Also, it is clearly completely illegal, but it happens as a matter of course, and it can happen that way because very few know much about it (most of it is kept secret) and not many question these practices, and especially not in the main media.

2. FBI to Apple: Nevermind

The second item is
by Common Dreams Staff on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows, and probably is the last in the series "Apple vs FBI" that I seem to have started on February 18, 2016:

Following a high-profile attempt by the FBI and Department of Justice to force Apple to hack its own security encryption features, the federal government threw in the towel on Monday as it announced that it had successfully accessed information on the iPhone belonging to one of the perpetrators of the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California late last year.

I've also reported on that, and add here that the FBI did not say how it did gain access to that cellphone, nor did it say what it found on the phone.

The court case was withdrawn:

In a short court filing on Monday, the Justice Department said the government "no longer requires" Apple’s help in accessing the information. The DOJ requested the court order which instigated the legal battle to be withdrawn.
Incidentally, the court case as formulated by the DOJ was (in my eyes) a very odd document, because it did presume (falsely) that the US government has the legal right to know everything its citizens do on a computer or cellphone, and also (falsely) that the U.S. government could prescribe a corporation or a person to work for it so that the government could get access to a cellphone (and also to any other cellphone of that type).

But I suspect these governmental arguments will continue, for the following reason (as explained by Axel Abdo, staff attorney of the ACLU):

"This case was never about just one phone," Abdo said in a statement. "It was about an unprecedented power-grab by the government that was a threat to everyone’s security and privacy. Unfortunately, this news appears to be just a delay of an inevitable fight over whether the FBI can force Apple to undermine the security of its own products. We would all be more secure if the government ended this reckless effort."

Yes, but the government insists (falsely) that it should have access to anyone's computer and cellphone (without probable cause, without judicial oversight) and since it seems free to proceed in implementing this very totalitarian plan, there indeed will be - almost certainly - more court cases like this.

3. This Is What It's Like to Try to Sue Donald Trump

The third item is
by Hannah Levintovah on Mother Jones:

This starts as follows:

Of the many targets of Republican presidential contenders' attacks on Donald Trump—and there have been plenty to choose from—one of their favorites has been Trump University. The now-shuttered educational enterprise (forced to change its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative after the New York education department found its moniker to be misleading) is accused, in three separate lawsuits, of defrauding thousands of students into taking on massive debt they now can't pay back by falsely marketing itself as a road to Trump-level wealth and business success.

But Trump University isn't the only Trump endeavor that has landed in court. The tycoon has launched—or lent his name to—a slew of business ventures that have yielded frustrated customers and investors who have sought legal recourse. There are hundreds of lawsuits extending over 43 years that name Trump or one of his businesses
And the rest of the article gives a choice from these "hundreds of lawsuits". I leave them to your interests after observing that they show (it seems to me) that Trump is not good businessman, and that he does have an enormous fascination with his own family name. (He surely must be the greatest individual
in our whole universe
, at the very least, or so it seems from his presentation.)

But this is useful journalism: one does want to know what the claims of politicians are worth. (And the main media don't do this anymore, and one reason - I suppose - is that Trump might get angry, and start court cases.)

4. Entering Uncharted Territory in Washington

The fourth item i
s by Tom Engelhardt on TomDispatch:

This starts as follows:

More than seven months before Election Day, you can watch the 2016 campaign for the presidency at any moment of your choosing, and that’s been true since at least late last year. There is essentially never a time when some network or news channel isn’t reporting on, discussing, debating, analyzing, speculating about, or simply drooling over some aspect of the primary campaign, of Hillary, Bernie, Ted, and above all -- a million times above all -- The Donald (from the violence at his rallies to the size of his hands). In case you’re young and think this is more or less the American norm, it isn’t. Or wasn’t.

I am not young and not American, but I do recall the American presidential elections from Kennedy onwards. I think Tom Engelhardt is correct, even though from my European point of view these American elections often were loud and a bit odd:

But take my word for it as a 71-year-old guy who’s been watching our politics for decades: this is not an election of the kind the textbooks once taught us was so crucial to American democracy. If, however, you’re sitting there waiting for me to tell you what it is, take a breath and don’t be too disappointed. I have no idea, though it’s certainly part bread-and-circuses spectacle, part celebrity obsession, and part media money machine.

But mainly - and this is honest, and probably also rational - Tom Engelhardt sees that these are not ordinary elections, but he cannot say what they are. (I can say that they are extra-ordinary elections, but that much is surely obvious to Engelhardt.)

But I can point to something Engelhardt does not mention: Bush Jr. had the 2000 elections stolen for him, by the Supreme Court (and Scalia, specifically), as was also mentioned by Gore Vidal. I do think that is an important fact, but I agree that it is but one, in a considerably longer history that starts in the early 1970s (with Lewis Powell Jr.'s secret memo):

The present yawning inequality gap between the 1% and ordinary Americans first began to widen in the 1970s and -- as Thomas Frank explains so brilliantly in his new book, Listen, Liberal -- was already a powerful and much-discussed reality in the early 1990s, when Bill Clinton ran for president. 

This is true (as I meanwhile found for myself), and indeed:

The military-industrial complex and the all-volunteer military, like the warrior corporation, weren’t born yesterday; neither was our state of perpetual war, nor the national security state that now looms over Washington, nor its surveilling urge, the desire to know far too much about the private lives of Americans.  (A little bow of remembrance to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is in order here.)

There is more on "the national security state" (an apt term) and the Pentagon, both of which are very much alive, unlike real democracy and real law, but for this you have to go to the original.

And there is this, indeed about real democracy and real law or rather the lack thereof:

Of course, Congress no longer plays any real role in decisions about American war making.  It no longer declares war on any group or country we fight.  (Paralysis!)  War is now purely a matter of executive power or, in reality, the collective power of the national security state and the White House.
When was it, by the way, that “the people” agreed that the president could appoint himself assassin-in-chief, muster his legal beagles to write new "law" that covered any future acts of his (including the killing of American citizens), and year after year dispatch what essentially is his own private fleet of killer drones to knock off thousands of people across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa?

Incidentally, all these facts came about through a collapse of real democracy, and all these facts go against the real laws (that still exist in part, on paper).

Here is a basic conclusion of Tom Engelhardt:

Do I understand it? Not for a second.

This is not war as we knew it, nor government as we once understood it, nor are these elections as we once imagined them, nor is this democracy as it used to be conceived of, nor is this journalism of a kind ever taught in a journalism school. This is the definition of uncharted territory.

I can add at least two things:

One quite important reason why "war", "government", "elections" and "democracy" have all changed meaning (or so it seems) is that there are many more lies, that also enabled many more non-legal practices by the government.

And one reason this was possible - systematic governmental lying without much criticism - is the combination of 9/11 and the collapse of the free press, as far as the main media are concerned, and this basically for lack of advertisements.

But I think that I mostly agree with Tom Engelhardt, although I probably date and explain it (in so far as possible) somewhat differently:

Ever since Bush was falsely assigned to be the winner of the 2000 elections by the Supreme Court, the USA has been moving into a new territory, that is not consistent with how "government", "elections" and "democracy" were understood by most intelligent and informed people until 2000, and that has been pushed  forward by propaganda, lies and false and wild assertions about "terrorism" and its supposed implications for governmental powers.

And while the new territory is mostly uncharted, it is well known from history:

Far more powers for the rich and for the government, far less powers for the non-rich and those who don't make part of the government; far less democracy and far less equality; an executive government that decides who is to be killed, tortured, rendered to "partners" for more torture, or detained without trial forever; a military and Pentagon that grows ever stronger and lays claim to an ever larger part of the taxes; media that no longer are guided by the ideal of telling the truth, but but by the ideals of amusement, fruitful and creative lying, and being a faithful government speaker; and a "law" that is no longer directed by ideals of justice, but by making the most profitable deals.

But we will see how this evolves, and will know more by December 2016, when the next American president is supposed to be agreed to.

5. Does The United States Still Exist? 

The fifth and last item today is by Paul Craig Roberts on his site:

This starts as follows:

To answer the question that is the title, we have to know of what the US consists. Is it an ethnic group, a collection of buildings and resources, a land mass with boundaries, or is it the Constitution. Clearly what differentiates the US from other countries is the US Constitution. The Constitution defines us as a people. Without the Constitution we would be a different country. Therefore, to lose the Constitution is to lose the country.

Does the Constitution still exist? Let us examine the document and come to a conclusion.

The Constitution consists of a description of a republic with three independent branches, legislative, executive, and judicial, each with its own powers, and the Bill of Rights incorporated as constitutional amendments. The Bill of Rights describes the civil liberties of citizens that cannot be violated by the government.

I take it all of this is known to most intelligent adults [1], as is the following:

Article I of the Constitution describes legislative powers. Article II describes executive powers, and Article III describes the power of the judiciary. For example, Article I, Section 1 gives all legislative powers to Congress. Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power to declare war.

The Bill of Rights protects citizens from the government by making law a shield of the people rather than a weapon in the hands of the government.

That is, these are the ideals the Constitution was intended to serve. What is left of these ideals?

There are these facts, to start with:

The Constitution’s grant of “all legislative powers” to Congress has been overturned by executive orders and signing statements. The president can use executive orders to legislate, and he can use signing statements to render sections of laws passed by Congress and signed by the president into non-enforced status. Legislative authority has also been lost by delegating to executive branch officials the power to write the regulations that implement the laws that are passed. The right that Section 8 gives to Congress to declare war has been usurped by the executive branch. Thus, major powers given to Congress have been lost to the executive branch.
But this just the beginning: In fact - according to Paul Craig Roberts, but I tend to agree - the fundamental laws of the Bill of Rights are all either "compromised", "routinely violated" or "a dead letter".

This is too long to quote, but I refer you to the original. That sum-up ends like this:

It is paradoxical that every civil liberty in the Bill of Rights has been lost to a police state except for the Second Amendment, the gun rights of citizens. An armed citizenry is inconsistent with a police state, which the US now is.
Actually, that the US is a police state is asserted but not proved in this article.
And I would say it is and it isn't: It is, by reference to the enormous powers
the American police has as regards unpunished killing of - especially - black males, and by reference to its military armaments and styles (including jackboots) and its illegal gatherings of evidence; it isn't, by reference to the American laws, that - so far - have not been changed. (And see item 4).

There is also this on the law in the U.S.A., which also shows by what manner of arguments the law has been broken down:

Today law as a shield of the people has been lost. The loss was gradual over time and culminated in the George W. Bush and Obama regime assaults on habeas corpus and due process.
We cut down the law so that we could better chase after the Mafia. We cut down the law so that we could better chase after drug users. We cut down the law so that we could better chase after child abusers. We cut down the law so that we could better chase after “terrorists.” We cut down the law so that we could better chase after whistleblowers. We cut down the law so that we could better cover up the government’s crimes.
That is, in many cases the - more or less fair, more or less balanced - laws were cut down, because these prevented doing what some politician insisted needed doing, while cutting down the law to enable prosecutions or arrests in these extreme cases, also cut down the legal protections of many more people.

The principle is often the same as the principle that "justified" treating everybody as a possible terrorist:

"Because" anyone might be a terrorist, everybody - including all citizens who are not Americans - deserved to be treated as a possible terrorist, which means that his total computer, all his privacy, and all of his cellphone are to be open to secret inspection by anonymous government employees, who here also abuse the fact that so far very little is effectively encrypted. (This is dealt with above as: "
We cut down the law so that we could better chase after “terrorists.”" - and the law has been cut down because the law used to be that no one is researched without probable cause. Now everyone is constantly researched not because there is any proof he or she is (the great majority is not), but simply because he or she might be.)

The article ends as follows:

An attack on abortion rights, for example, produces a far greater outcry and resistance than the successful attack on habeas corpus and due process. President Obama was able to declare his power to execute citizens by executive branch decision alone without due process and conviction in court, and it produced barely audible protest.

Historically, a government that can, without due process, throw a citizen into a dungeon or summarily execute him is considered to be a tyranny, not a democracy. By any historical definition, the United States today is a tyranny.

Again I say that this article does not prove that the U.S.A. is a tyranny, and again I say it is and it isn't: It is, to the extent that these things happen; it isn't, to the extent that these things do not happen to most U.S. citizens (who are not Muslims, and - perhaps - also not black). [2]

In fact, this suggests Sheldon Wolin may have seen it correctly, when he wrote (in 2002) that the USA is an inverted totalitarianism: It is totalitarian (to a larger extent than not), but it is inverted because it successfully pretends it is not.

[1] These are - according to my oldfashioned use of terms - in a minority.

[2] Also, a small point of logic: If the USA does not exist, then also it is not a tyranny. (But this is an aside.)
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