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Nederlog

 April 10, 2016

Crisis: Sick Bill, Sick FBI, Panama Papers, Bernie & Banks, On the USA
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. 
Bill That Would Ban End-to-End Encryption Savaged by
     Critics

2. FBI’s “Shared Responsibility Committees” to Identify
     “Radicalized” Muslims Raise Alarms

3.
Truthdigger of the Week: The Panama Papers
     Whistleblower

4. Bernie and the Big Banks
5.
Opinion: America's Election Shame
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, April 10, 2016.


This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is on a truly insane new draft bill that makes cooperation with decryption and with providing backdoors in security that the NSA can pass mandatory; item 2 is about a hardly less insane new program of the FBI that sounds to me like the Nazi-programs that were used during the Nazi-occupation of Holland, to make sure all terrorists (like my father and grandfather) "disappear" and make everyone think the same; item 3 is about the Panama Papers' whistleblower; item 4 is about Hillary Clinton's assertion that Bernie Sanders doesn't know what he is talking about when he is talking about the banks: she lied; and item 5 is about a rather common European point of view about Trump and the GOP.

1. Bill That Would Ban End-to-End Encryption Savaged by Critics

The first item is b
y Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

A LONG-ANTICIPATED DRAFT of anti-encryption legislation written by the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee circulated late Thursday night and left many critics apoplectic.

The bill, from Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, would force technology companies to either decrypt the contents of their customers’ communications for law enforcement, or hack into their own products to do so — effectively rendering illegal the end-to-end encryption currently offered by some of the heaviest hitters in the business, like Apple, Facebook, Google, and now WhatsApp.

Feinstein threw down the gauntlet in December, vowing to push for a bill that would mandate breakable encryption even if no one else would, including the White House. Privacy advocates who expected the worst weren’t disappointed.

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told The Intercept in an emailed statement the draft was concerning. “This legislation says a company can design what they want their back door to look like, but it would definitely require them to build a back door. For the first time in America, companies who want to provide their customers with stronger security would not have that choice – they would be required to decide how to weaken their products to make you less safe.”

I'd say Feinstein (82 years old, B.A. History) and Burr (60 years old, B.A. Communications) very probably do not know any programming language (and
in the - quite improbable - case that they might have some idea, it's my guess they can't read or write more than 5 lines of code).

I admit I am guessing, but real knowledge of real programming languages still is fairly rare, and neither Feinstein nor Burr has any intellectual background (or indeed the age) that makes it plausible they know much about programming.

Then again, relevant knowledge is totally unneeded when it is merely about making the USA a totalitarian state where the NSA knows everything about anyone (who is not very rich and does not work for the NSA) and will disappear anyone (also possibly without any trial or any knowledge of almost everyone else) who is not conformist enough.

It is that end that Feinstein and Burr are serving, in my judgement, although I do not know whether they agree.

Here is some more on the drafted bill:

Apple fought the FBI, arguing that in order to override the phone’s security features, the company would have to design a type of software “cancer” that would risk the security of all Apple users.

The FBI in that case cited the All Writs Act as giving it the authority to force Apple to provide “reasonable assistance” to carry out its warrant and unlock the phone. The new draft bill would take the law a step further. “Feinstein-Burr decryption doesn’t require only reasonable assistance: It’s ‘assistance as is necessary’ to decrypt,” tweeted Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University specializing in computer crime.

Providers of all communications “products,” including pretty much any smartphone provider, would also be responsible for third-party applications that provide encryption services on their behalf.

“Not only does this bill undermine our security, it is also a massive internet censorship bill, demanding that online platforms like Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store police their platforms to stop the distribution of secure apps,” wrote Kevin Bankston, director of the Open Technology Institute, in a message to The Intercept.
So for me this is an utterly incompetent, very totalitarian, and morally extremely degenerate (draft) bill that seeks to destroy all privacy of absolutely anyone (who is not very rich or employed by the NSA), including my own (for the NSA is allowed to work everywhere).

And I do not know whether the Senate or the House holds sufficiently many somewhat sane members to kill this bill.

We shalll see.

2. FBI’s “Shared Responsibility Committees” to Identify “Radicalized” Muslims Raise Alarms

The second item is
by Murtaza Hussain and Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

The FBI’s plan to enlist community leaders in “Shared Responsibility Committees” all across the country with the goal of identifying “radicalized” individuals is raising alarm among civil rights activists.

The Shared Responsibility Committees, known as SRCs, “are expanding the informant program under the guise of an intervention program, which it is not,” said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

The FBI’s ideas is to have social service workers, teachers, mental health professionals, religious figures, and others interdict young people they believe are on a path towards radicalization. The program was first revealed last November, and while details remain scant, it is widely believed to have been developed along the lines of similar “anti-radicalization” programs in the United Kingdom.

I say, for I did not know this.

Also, now that I do know: This looks suspiciously much like the watching program that the Nazis introduced in Holland during their occupation, from 1940-1945. This also had the same end: To prevent radicalization and actions against the authorities, and to locate radicals - named "terrorists" or "political terrorists" - so that the authorities might arrest them.

This was "a neighborhood program", in the sense that people were supposed to be organized according to the blocks in which they lived in (in the cities) and had to admit into their own houses "
social service workers, teachers, mental health professionals, religious figures, and others", usually all members of the Dutch Nazi-party NSB, often also uniformed, who were nominated to be "the elder(s) of the block", and who tried to control what one read, believed, and desired, and who had considerable powers to do so.

It was also motivated similarly, it seems, indeed "to share responsibility", namely to take care that as many Dutchmen as possible did read, believe and desire only the proper, civil, neighborly, highly moral and deeply ethical values that the authorities wanted.

Of course "the authorities" were Nazis, but these did have (in their own minds) all
the proper, civil, neighborly, highly moral and deeply ethical values that anyone ought to want. And Nazis were quite popular in Holland, as witnessed by the fact that 6 times more Dutchmen volunteered for the SS than went into the - real - resistance. [1]

And there were also plenty of Dutchmen whose civic pride helped them support their authorities, and to combat "political terrorists", such as my father and grandfather (both in the resistance), who also were arrested in the early summer of 1941, and convicted to concentration camp imprisonment, indeed specifically as "political terrorists".

As to the strong support for the authorities: Even in 1944 (!) there were more than 100,000 members in the Nazi-party the NSB, which is also, possibly coincidentally, around the number of Dutch Jews that were murdered during WW II, for the Dutch managed to collaborate with the Nazis to the surprising extent that more than 1% of their total population (all Jews) was murdered.
[1]

In any case: That is the sort of background I am reminded of, when I read that
the FBI wants "
to enlist community leaders in "“Shared Responsibility Committees” all across the country with the goal of identifying “radicalized” individuals".

Of course, I grant that this may not be just anyone's association, and indeed those who objected against the plan did not have my background, knowledge or arguments.

Here are some of the objectors' arguments:
Why did those committees do such a poor job? “All the studies that I have reviewed, including those funded by the government, state quite clearly that there are no predictors or indicators of who is going to become a terrorist,” Patel said. “So on what basis are people going to be hauled before these committees?” she asked. “The idea that ‘alienation’ is an indicator of someone who is going to become a terrorist is so general as to be laughable. There are plenty of alienated people in the world and very, very few terrorists.”
In fact, I agree that very few become or want to become terrorists, and I also agree there are "no predictors or indicators of who is going to become a terrorist". It will simply not work as claimed.

But then I also do not think that the
“Shared Responsibility Committees” are there to find terrorists (which they will not do at all, or only by rare accident), but they are there to make all Americans think and want the same or similar things, and to organize these forces to make them think and want the same civically (as it were) - though in fact commanded by the police, and working for the police.
3. Truthdigger of the Week: The Panama Papers Whistleblower

The third item is
by Natasha Hakimi on Truthdig:

This starts as follows (and is in the context of a weekly assignment of a truthdigger by Truthdig):

The whistleblower who gave journalists 11.5 million documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca in order to publicize how the world’s wealthy hide their riches has done an immeasurable service to our global society.

The documents, now known as the Panama Papers, contain details about shell companies, money laundering and other crimes (click here for explanations of these terms) committed via loopholes that provide “an unprecedented look at how the world’s rich and powerful, from political leaders to celebrities to criminals, use tax havens to hide their wealth.”

Yes, indeed: I agree, although I also wish to point out that Mossack Fonseca is only one of quite a few law firms who do similar things for the rich and the very rich. That is: Mossack Fonseca is big, but there are quite a few more.

There is this:

While some may assert that many of us already knew that the rich often find ways to avoid paying taxes, the Panama Papers have given journalists and the public a look at the mechanisms that allow this form of corruption to prevail across the globe. And perhaps more importantly, the papers, to put it simply, have named names. Among them are the president of Argentina, friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, relatives of Syria’s Bashar Assad, China’s Xi Jinping, Azerbaijan’s royal family—the list goes on and on.

Yes, indeed - and as to the "some" who "may assert that many of us already knew that the rich often find ways to avoid paying taxes": These sound to me
as if they are all David Brooks (see e.g. June 10, 2013), and they simply lie or mislead: The point is not what you say you "knew"; the point is that now you can prove a considerable part of what some claimed they "knew", indeed precisely analogous to what Edward Snowden did.

And there is this:
(..) the Panama Papers serve as proof that the unrest we are witnessing is rooted in the uber-rich’s disregard for the rest. Despite their attempts to sugarcoat them, their underhanded dealings reveal their understanding that their excess wealth, no matter how it was gained, is something to be hidden away because it contributes to the destitution of others. As Clark Gascoigne, director of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition, has noted, tax avoidance is “the single biggest driver of global inequality in the world today.” The Tax Justice Network backs this up with its estimates that between $21 trillion and $32 trillion is stored in offshore tax havens.

Yes, indeed - and watch the gigantic amounts "stored in offshore tax havens" because the richest of the rich even refuse to pay taxes to the countries that allowed them to be or become the richest of the rich.

And I can't forebear to say (once again) that adopting my own plan of capping all incomes and all ownerships to a maximum of 20 times the amount the poor live on would solve almost all problems; would not cost the 99% one cent; and would significantly increase their incomes. (In case you are interested, see the end of “On Socialism").

4. Bernie and the Big Banks

The fourth item i
by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

The recent kerfluffle about Bernie Sanders purportedly not knowing how to bust up the big banks says far more about the threat Sanders poses to the Democratic establishment and its Wall Street wing than it does about the candidate himself.

Of course Sanders knows how to bust up the big banks. He’s already introduced legislation to do just that. And even without new legislation a president has the power under the Dodd-Frank reform act to initiate such a breakup.

But Sanders threatens the Democratic establishment and Wall Street, not least because he’s intent on doing exactly what he says he’ll do: breaking up the biggest banks.

In fact (as Robert Reich does not say) a considerable part of the "recent kerfluffle" was by Hillary Clinton, who said (see April 7, 2016) that (and I quote her):

“even on his signature issue of breaking up the banks, he’s [Bernie Sanders - MM] unable to answer basic questions about how he’d go about doing it.”

Hillary Clinton was simply and grossly lying - as the rest will show.

First, here is some more about how extremely big the biggest banks have grown:

The biggest are far larger today than they were in 2008 when they were deemed “too big to fail.” Then, the five largest held around 30 percent of all U.S. banking assets. Today they have 44 percent.

According to a recent analysis by Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the assets of just four giant banks – JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo – amount to 97 percent of our [the] nation’s entire gross domestic product in 2012.

Which means they’re now way too big to fail. The danger to the economy isn’t just their indebtedness. It’s their dominance over the entire financial and economic system.

This means that in a mere seven years the biggest banks grew almost 50% in assets, while the four biggest banks have assets that amount to nearly 100% of the USA's gross domestic product.

Second, here is something on the Dodd-Frank legislation that was supposed to tame (parts of) the big banks:

As of now, only 155 of the 398 regulations required by Dodd-Frank have been finalized. And those final versions are shot through with loopholes big enough for Wall Street’s top brass to drive their Ferrari’s through.

The biggest banks still haven’t even come up with acceptable “living wills,” required under Dodd-Frank to show how they’d maintain important functions while going through bankruptcy.

Meanwhile they continue to gamble with depositor’s money. Many of their operations are global, making it even harder for U.S. regulators to rein them in – as evidenced by JPMorgan Chase’s $6.2 billion loss in its “London Whale” operation in 2012. Citigroup alone has over 2,000 foreign subsidies.

This means that "the Dodd-Frank law", which was signed by May of 2010, has been finalized for ... less than 40% in six years. And what was finalized has - according to Robert Reich - "loopholes big enough for Wall Street’s top brass to drive their Ferrari’s through".

Finally, to return to Bernie Sanders' supposed incompetence (according to Hillary Clinton) to deal with banks, there is in the Wikipedia item "Wall Street reform" this bit:

In 2016, 170 Economists, Financial Experts, and Academics Back Bernie Sanders’ Wall Street Reform Plan. In the letter supporting Bernie Sander’s Financial Reform Plan:

"In our view, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan for comprehensive financial reform is critical for avoiding another “too-big-to-fail” financial crisis. The Senator is correct that the biggest banks must be broken up and that a new 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, separating investment from commercial banking, must be enacted. Wall Street’s largest banks are now far bigger than they were before the crisis, and they still have every incentive to take excessive risks. No major Wall Street executive has been indicted for the fraudulent behavior that led up to the 2008 crash, and fines imposed on the banks have been only a fraction of the banks’ potential gains. In addition, the banks and their lobbyists have succeeded in watering down the Dodd-Frank reform legislation, and the financial institutions that pose the greatest risk to our economy have still not devised sufficient “living wills” for winding down their operations in the event of another crisis. Secretary Hillary Clinton’s more modest proposals do not go far enough. They call for a bit more oversight and a few new charges on shadow banking activity, but they leave intact the titanic financial conglomerates that practice most shadow banking. As a result, her plan does not adequately reduce the serious risks our financial system poses to the American economy and to individual Americans. Given the size and political power of Wall Street, her proposals would only invite more dilution and finagle. The only way to contain Wall Street’s excesses is with reforms sufficiently bold and public they can’t be watered down. That’s why we support Senator Sanders’ plans for busting up the biggest banks and resurrecting a modernized version of Glass Steagall.”

I rest my and Robert Reich's case that Bernie Sanders does know what he is talking about. And Hillary Clinton clearly lied (and see the end of the last quoted bit).

5. Opinion: America's Election Shame

The fifth item i
by Markus Feldenkirchen:
This starts as follows (and is from April 6, last, when I missed it):
America wasn't the world's first democracy, but for a long time, it was its proudest. No other country spoke as passionately or confidently about its system of government. If things continue as they have in this primary election, those days will be numbered.

And this is here mostly because it is the opinion of a European on Trump and the GOP, that also seems fairly widely shared in Europe, and that I think is more or less reasonable.

Here is a part on Trump:

Trump had previously exclaimed during a TV debate, unprovoked, that he had a large penis ("I guarantee.") He claimed a TV journalist's critical questions were a consequence of menstruation problems. He also mockingly acted out another journalist's physical disability live on television.

The political culture that is emerging here is a mixture of primary school, mafia, and porn industry. It alternates between cries of "He started it!," brawls, misogyny, and penis size comparison. It's almost as if guests at a formal dinner, where basic table manners were a given, suddenly began to belch and break wind without restraint. America is currently experiencing not only political but also moral bankruptcy. Dirty tricks are not new in US election campaigns, but the new lows to which the candidates are currently stooping are unprecedented.

This is probably not a fair summary of the primaries, and it also is not quite fair about Trump, for the other Republican candidates are (or were) about as bad, if perhaps slightly less crude, but it does seem a fair summary of what quite a few Europeans think about Trump and about the primaries (which most Europeans see far less of than most Americans).

Here is the last bit that I quote from the article:

Over the course of decades, the Republicans have likewise built up a culture of contempt for public goods and services. They argue for educational policies that exclude the non-privileged, instead pushing them towards stultification and barbarization. They allow billionaires like the Koch brothers to direct the party's policy and appoint it's key candidates. A few years ago, Republicans furthermore embraced the radical and destructive Tea Party movement, thus marking the party's departure from any semblance of moderation.

It is too late to turn back the clock.

That is, according to Markus Feldenkirchen the GOP needs to be (and will be) beaten in the presidential elections, and needs then to be reconstituted and refounded as "a civilized, sincere party with close ties to its constituents".

I do not know whether that will happen, but this is what many Europeans think.

--------------------------
Note
[1] These are facts that are hardly ever mentioned in heroic Holland.
 (But they are true.)

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