March 30, 2016

Crisis: Greenwald, Stingrays, Freedom, Wall Street, Chomsky
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Greenwald: FBI-Apple Fight Tied to U.S. Effort to Access
     the Communications of Everyone Everywhere

2. Police Use of ‘Stingray’ Phone Surveillance Hurts
     Minority Communities Most

The Trump-Clinton Dilemma
4. Bernie’s Right. Wall Street’s Business Model Really Is

5. Noam Chomsky: The Republican Base Is "Out of

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about Greenwald on the FBI vs Apple fight; item 2 is about the American police's abuse of stingrays; item 3 is about Trump, Clinton and the freedom of the press; item 4 is about the fact that Wall Street is a pool of massive and extremely profitable frauds; and item 5 is about a recent interview with Noam Chomsky.

1. Greenwald: FBI-Apple Fight Tied to U.S. Effort to Access the Communications of Everyone Everywhere

The first item is by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now!:

To start with, I saw - realizing this when I reread the article - that I have reviewed the article on March 26. But this contains other selections, and all three quotes I did select today might be said to be "precisifications from Glenn Greenwald".

GLENN GREENWALD: One really interesting aspect of this is, a lot of people ask what really has changed as a result of Edward Snowden’s revelations, and sometimes people express the view that not much has, by which they mean that there’s not a lot of laws that have been passed limiting the NSA’s ability to spy. But one critical change, a really fundamental and significant one, has been that prior to the Snowden revelations, Silicon Valley companies, like Apple and Facebook and Google and Yahoo, were full-scale collaborators with the NSA’s effort to collect everything, essentially, to turn the Internet into an unlimited realm of surveillance. And they were able to do that because nobody knew they were doing it, and so there was no cost. Once we were able to shine a light on the cooperation between Silicon Valley and the NSA as a result of Edward Snowden, there was a huge cost to these companies, which was that people around the world would be unwilling to use their services and would instead move to South Korean or German or Brazilian social media companies that protected their privacy. (...)
They don’t care about privacy at all. It’s because they perceive it as being within their self-interest to demonstrate a commitment to privacy. And that has created a real difficulty for the NSA and for its allied agencies around the world to be able to intrude into people’s private communications.

Yes, indeed - or worse: Either the big Silicon Valley companies "don’t care about privacy at all", simply from the fact that Apple, Facebook, Google and Yahoo have spied all they could when this wasn't widely known, or else they do care, but on the understanding that they do want to know everything about you, for this serves the buyers of the data they secretly gather best.

Next, as to the enormous amounts of governmental spying the Americans do on absolutely everyone absolutely everywhere [1] there is this:

And so, ultimately, the question is: Do you think there should be ever any way for people, human beings, to communicate without the U.S. government being able to access that? That really is the critical question we face. And politicians like Hillary Clinton are trying to exploit the fear of terrorism to get people to say there should never be any communications out of the reach of the U.S. government.

Yes, indeed - and please note this really concerns everyone's privacy absolutely anywhere on earth: The US government steals anything it can get, and no: Either those who do it are divinities, wholly beyond any human understanding or reproach, or else they are sick and degenerate thiefs trying to know everything about anyone. (And yes, you may be sick and degenerate merely because of the work you do, or the pay you receive.)

Also, "terrorism" - as I have said from 2005 onwards - was and is a pretext to allow the U.S.'s state terrorists to gather all anyone said or wrote using a cellphone or an internet computer. And state terrorists are historically very much more dangerous than non-state terrorists: Hitler's, Mussolini's and Stalin's state terrorists have destroyed very many more human lives than non-state terrorists ever did. [2]

Finally, there is this precisification:

You know, I think it’s really critical to understand that politicians—and this is the lesson we ought to have learned from Barack Obama—what they say in political campaigns doesn’t necessarily correspond to what they actually do in—once they obtain power.

Quite so! I have - meanwhile - said many times that in my experiences Obama says what he believes his audience likes to hear, and does what he knows his financial backers like to see done, which often is the opposite.

Then again, it is also true that Barack Obama is not the only politician who plays this game: Nearly all do. He merely is the most prominent and most powerful one.

And this is a recommended article.

2. Police Use of ‘Stingray’ Phone Surveillance Hurts Minority Communities Most

The second item is
by Thor Benson on Truthdig:

This is here mainly because as soon as I was convinced about the enormous amounts of spying the NSA did, I also believed it would be a matter of time until other governmental forces, and specifically the police (but not only these), would also want to use these means to spy on anyone and everyone.

They did, and the article starts as follows:

Police use of cellphone surveillance devices in the past was cloaked in mystery. Now, it is out in the open.

We know that officers can, with little preparation, set up at remote locations and sweep up all of the cellphone data they want in those areas. Phones meant for private communication have become activity trackers for the government. Though this has become widely known, police departments and other government agencies are still fighting hard to keep the secrecy around these devices intact.

The main surveillance tool is the Stingray, which is a “cell site simulator.” The Stingray is a briefcase-sized device that can electronically pretend to be a cell tower so all phones in the immediate area will attempt to access it, which means it can collect the data from those phones. Critics of Stingray surveillance once thought that the device collected only metadata, but we now know it can collect actual content—in effect, recording phone calls.

Police departments and other agencies that use Stingrays, such as the IRS, sign a nondisclosure agreement when they purchase the devices. As a result, no mention of the device generally occurs in court cases involving information from Stingray investigations.

Actually, the last quoted paragraph seems not quite consistent with the first quoted paragraph, and it also seems illegal to me, although I might be mistaken about that last fact.

In any case, it seems to me that (1) it is (or ought to be) illegal to set up non-disclosure agreements for acts that are not legal (and using a stingray to secretly get at one's communications goes against the Fourth Amendment), and (2) it is (or ought to be) illegal not to mention how one has gathered evidence that is used in a court of law.

Next, here is Malkia Cyril, who heads the Center for Media Justice, who says what stingrays are being used for by the police:

Cyril said she believes local police departments are using Stingrays to disrupt black social movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Civil rights organizations and journalists have been able to identify cases in which government agencies conducted surveillance on Black Lives Matter protests. This isn’t hard to believe in the same country that had Cointelpro.

“They [Stingrays] are being used against legal protesters organizing to save their lives, improve the world, and defend the human rights of the most vulnerable members of our society—while bolstering the power of an already brutal police force,” Cyril said.

I think she is correct, and I also think stingrays are used for much more (and are quite illegal).

And the article ends like this:

There is no way to tell how much of an impact that Stingray surveillance by police, the FBI and other agencies has had on minorities and other communities. Until the secrecy around these devices ends, the organizations asking for an investigation fear that the damaging effects of surveillance will multiply. Surveillance affects all Americans, but for people of color—historically targeted by law enforcement—the effect is amplified to a brutal level.

And that seems true to me.

3. The Trump-Clinton Dilemma

The third item is
by John Pilger (<- Wikipedia) on Consortiumnews:
This starts as follows:

A virulent if familiar censorship is about to descend on the U.S. election campaign. As the cartoon brute, Donald Trump, seems likely to win the Republican Party’s nomination, Hillary Clinton is being ordained both as the “women’s candidate” and the champion of American liberalism in its heroic struggle with the Evil One.

This is drivel, of course; Hillary Clinton leaves a trail of blood and suffering around the world and a clear record of exploitation and greed in her own country. To say so, however, is becoming intolerable in the land of free speech.

The article is mostly about the second paragraph, mostly because John Pilger (who is a prominent journalist of 76) is being censored by an "editorial committee" of Truthout, because - as an editor of Truthout said - Pilger had broken "guidelines", that Pilger denied he had any knowledge of.

I say. I am against censorship, and I like John Pilger, so here is his paragraph that Truthout found totally indigestible:

“Trump is a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our skepticism. Trump’s views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than David Cameron. It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama … The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system … As presidential Election Day draws near, Clinton will be hailed as the first female president, regardless of her crimes and lies — just as Barack Obama was lauded as the first black president and liberals swallowed his nonsense about ‘hope.’”

I don't agree with everything. Notably, I think it is a mistake to say that
The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton". But what if
John Pilger thinks so?
Why should he - a prominent 76-year old journalist - not be allowed to write what he thinks?!

Well, because the editor of Truthout thinks she can force him to publish, under his own name, things he does not think, but that she desires him to say, it seems because she is pro-Clinton and he is not.

It sounds pretty sick to me, but this is all I will say about it.

There is also this on Obama:

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama should have alerted even the most dewy-eyed. Obama based his “hope” campaign almost entirely on the fact of an African-American aspiring to lead the land of slavery. He was also “antiwar.”

But Obama was never antiwar. On the contrary, like all American presidents, he was pro-war. He had voted for George W. Bush’s funding of the slaughter in Iraq and he was planning to escalate the invasion of Afghanistan. In the weeks before he took the presidential oath, he secretly approved an Israeli assault on Gaza, the massacre known as Operation Cast Lead. He promised to close the concentration camp at Guantanamo and did not. He pledged to help make the world “free from nuclear weapons” and did the opposite.

Well... yes and no. First no: Obama tricked me too, for about half a year (for then I was over it, because he did not close Guantánamo), but this was in part
because I had been less interested in politics for quite a long while, and because I believed (perhaps naively, I agree) that politicians might mean what they say.
(There are a few, but a few only, and they do not comprise Obama. Or Clinton.)

Second, yes: If one has followed Obama, one should have learned at least one thing: What he says is always intended to please his audience, and that seems to be his only norm. Put otherwise, he is a real bullshitter, though indeed not by far the only one.

Here is John Pilger's diagnosis of the root of the conflict he had with Truthout:

At the root of this episode is an enduring unsayable. This is the need, the compulsion, of many liberals in the United States to embrace a leader from within a system that is demonstrably imperial and violent. Like Obama’s “hope,” Clinton’s gender is no more than a suitable facade.

Perhaps. But because I know a lot of logic, I know that few people are much concerned with consistency. My own guess about the root is simpler: John Pilger did not write what Truthout wanted him to write.

4. Bernie’s Right. Wall Street’s Business Model Really Is Fraud.

The fourth item i
s by Richard Eskow on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Our nation’s largest and most powerful banks have repeatedly engaged in widespread fraud, causing both individual suffering and a recession that millions of Americans are still living through today.

They continued to commit the same frauds after the American people rescued them, and after they promised to stop as part of some major settlement agreements. There’s no reason to believe they’ve stopped today, and every reason to believe they haven’t.

Fraud is an essential part of Wall Street’s DNA. A 2015 survey, commissioned by law firm Labaton Sucharow, found that a deeply immoral culture had taken root among British and American bankers.

The survey showed that bankers’ ethical behavior is bad and getting worse. The percentage of bankers who believed their own colleagues had engaged in illegal or unethical behavior has nearly doubled since 2012. More than one-third of those earning $500,000 or more annually said they had first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.

I think most of this is beyond doubt: Check the crisis index if you doubt. I don't know about the last paragraph, but it sounds plausible. By the way, here is what bankers do do:

The major offenses committed by our largest banks include “price fixing, bid rigging, market manipulation, money laundering, document forgery, lying to investors, sanctions-evading, and tax dodging.”

Wall Street has now paid more than $200 billion in fines and settlements for fraudulent activity.

And here is one of the main reasons why bankers got enormously much richer, indeed through frauds: Because Eric Holder got nominated as the head of the Department of Justice, it seems in part because he had, already in 1999, written something in which he said that he would not prosecute the banks, because these were too big to fail - which is like saying: No, we won't prosecute this mass-murderer, because he murdered too many people.

Here is how it works:

If the purpose of Wall Street’s “business model” is to help bank executives get rich without personal risk or penalty, there is no question that fraud is at its heart. Senior bankers at our too-big-to-fail institutions have made a lot of money from fraudulent activities, but other people always seem to pay when those activities come to light. The American people bail them out, and bank shareholders pay the fines.

And let’s be clear: the evidence for bank fraud is overwhelming. Bank executives would not have paid $204 billion to settle fraud charges if it was not. (In fact, it would have been a violation of their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders to do so.) These fines and settlements were usually great deals for the banks, which is why their stock prices often rose after they were announced.

Of course! Where else can you do frauds worth more than $204 billion dollars; pay back a small part of your profits; and get rewarded by a total clearing of your names and an assurance that you and your firm did not do any crime?!

Here is the ending and the summary:

Play by the rules? For bankers, Rule #1 is “win at any cost.” As long as they can commit fraud without suffering personal consequences, fraud will be the business model for Wall Street.


5. Noam Chomsky: The Republican Base Is "Out of Control" 

The fifth and last item today is by C.J. Polychroniou on Truthout:

This is a fairly long interview from which I will select three bits:
Are we witnessing the end of the old economic establishment in American politics?

Noam Chomsky: There is something new in the 2016 election, but it is not the appearance of candidates who frighten the old establishment. That has been happening regularly. It traces back to the shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal years, the Republicans so far to the right that they are unable to get votes with their actual policies: dedication to the welfare of the very rich and the corporate sector. The Republican leadership has accordingly been compelled to mobilize a popular base on issues that are peripheral to their core concerns: the Second Coming, "open carry" in schools, Obama as a Muslim, lashing out at the weak and victimized, and the rest of the familiar fare.

Perhaps. But then when I ask myself: Why did the Republican leadership allow
the Republicans to move so far to the right, I don't know another answer except that the leadership isn't competent. Then again, that may be the case, although
I don't know.

Then there is this:

Has the power of money suddenly shrunk in an election year dominated by extreme voices?

Don't know the exact figures, but Trump seems to be putting plenty of money into the campaign. However, it is striking how huge money chests have failed. Jeb Bush is the clearest case. There is a very interesting article by Andrew Cockburn
about this in the April issue of Harper's, reviewing studies that show that an enormous amount of the money poured into political campaigns with TV ads etc., serves primarily to enrich the networks and the professional consultants but with little effect on voting.

My own answer would be (but it is true I know a lot less about the USA than does Chomsky) that I don't know. And I am not struck so much by the failing
of "huge money chests" if only because some of these were bound to fail.

I grant the whole show hugely favored the networks, but I really don't know
how big money is or may be able to influence the rest of the campaign.

The article ends as follows:

Traditional Marxists speak of human society as consisting of two parts: base and superstructure. Would you say that the base dictates the superstructure in US society?

Don't have much to say. I don't find the framework particularly useful. Who holds dominant decision-making power in US society is not very obscure at a general level: concentrated economic power, mostly in the corporate system. When we look more closely, it is of course more complex, and the population is by no means powerless when it is organized and dedicated and liberated from illusions.

Chomsky is an anarchist not a marxist, so the question seems to have been directed at the wrong person. But I agree with him that the thesis that - "in the end (so Marx had proved)" - it is a society's economy that determines every- thing else in the society, is pretty incredible.

And Chomsky does not seem very optimistic, for "the population" (in the USA) is not organized, not dedicated, and not liberated from illusions, though small parts are, in varying degrees.

This is another recommended article.

[1] Incidentally, I like to say that (1) all this spying is in fundamental contradiction with Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 12.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. 
Besides, (2) I protest the fact that the American government can and does treat me and everyone else who is not an American citizen as people who are so totally rightless that they can be spied on by the American government's secret spies.

(But I am pretty sure these protests won't register, though they are valid.)

[2] At this point you may insist that the American government is not Hitler's, Mussolini's or Stalin's. (I agree, but also insist that you are naive.)

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