April 11, 2016

Crisis: Sin, Panama Papers *2, Too Many Humans, Horrible Encryption Bill
Sections                                                                     crisis index

The Wages of Sin
2. The Panama Papers: Oozing Slime
How Did the Largest Document Leak In History Even

4. Humans an Invasive Species Heading for a 'Crash,'
     Study Says

Tech and Privacy Experts Erupt Over Leaked Encryption

This is a Nederlog of Monday, April 11, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Chris Hedges that is not optimistic; item 2 is about a quite interesting article on the Panama Papers; item 3 is also about the Panama Papers; item 4 is about the human species, of which there are too many individuals (for the combined natural and technological resources); and item 5 is about the crazy proposed law that would destroy all effective encryption, so as to please the U.S. government and its NSA.

1. The Wages of Sin

The first item is b
y Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
When Plato wrote “The Republic,” his lament for a lost Athenian democracy, he did not believe democracy could be recovered. The classical world, unlike our own, did not see time as linear. Time was cyclical. It inevitably brought decay and eventually death. This true for both individuals and societies. And in his “Republic,” Plato proposed that those who attempted in the future to create the ideal state carry out a series of draconian measures, including banning drama and music, which diverted the citizen from performing civic duties and instilled corruption, and removing children from their parents to provide a proper indoctrination. Plato wanted to slow the process of dissolution. He wanted to stymie change. But that decay and death would come was certain, even in Plato’s ideal state.
In fact - given a start like this - I wonder how many today have read Plato's Republic. It so happens that I did, over 45 years ago, but then I wanted to be a philosopher (and indeed I studied it - but then I was denied the right to take an M.A. in it briefly before taking it, because I was not as slavish, not as stupid and not as conformistic as the rest of the students: See my "Questions").

But in the 45 years that passed since 1970-71 I do not recall meeting anyone other than a few students or teachers of philosophy about whom the same could be said, which means that in my generation, and also in the following one, Plato is effectively both quite dead and quite unread (except - I grant, to an extent - in academic philosophy papers that are read by very, very few).

This is somewhat noteworthy, because this was not so, or at least: considerably less so, in the circa hundred years before, say from 1865 till 1965.

During these years the pre-university education was much more demanding and difficult than since 1965 (in Holland, but also elsewhere); there was much more Greek and Latin taught between ages 12 and 18; and Plato, while never being widely read or widely popular, was read by quite a few, and these were not all or only philosophy majors. [1]

Then again, Plato's decline over the last 50 years is mostly the decline of the teachings of Greek and Latin and the rapid growth of massive stupification of the universities. [2] I think these are major losses, but I regret the loss of Plato much less than the loss of the Greek and Latin authors, for I don't like Plato much, while I do like quite a few of the lesser known authors

But this was mostly an aside that is due to my really having studied philosophy,
and the rest of what I will say about this first paragraph is merely that Chris Hedges is right, in that Plato was an authoritarian conservative of pronounced totalitarian tendencies, which are some of my reasons not to like him, although I do grant he was extremely smart and a very fine writer.

And here is Chris Hedges on the present state of the USA, reflecting in fact on the radical declines in very many jobs, schools and cities, that are mostly due to the deregulations that allowed the very rich owners of American industries to transport their industries for the most part to much cheaper countries like India, Pakistan and China, which increased their profits, while condemning most of their former workers to utter destitution:

Jobs are gone. Schools are closed. Neighborhoods and cities are in ruin. Despair and poverty dominate lives. Civil liberties are abolished. War is endless. The society self-medicates. Democracy is a fiction. “Austerity” decisions by government such as the latest slashing of the federal food stamp program, a move that could remove a million people from the rolls, bring more jolts.
And yes, while I know the quoted paragraph is "not balanced" I also think it is more than adequate enough. Besides, Chris Hedges has an extended illustration of the process that took place in the United States in general since 1980, by concentrating on the city of Elizabeth, that was effectively destroyed in 1982:
Elizabeth was devastated by the 1982 closure of its Singer plant, which had been built in 1873 and at one time had 10,000 workers.
The year Singer closed its flagship factory in Elizabeth there were 2,696 plant shutdowns across the United States, resulting in 1,287,000 job losses. Singer workers in Elizabeth under the age of 55 lost all retirement benefits, even if they had worked for the company for decades. Small businesses in the city that depended on the plant went bankrupt. In postindustrial cities across America it is now clear, after the passage of years, that the good jobs and stability once provided by factories such as the Singer plant have been lost forever.
There is considerably more on Elizabeth in the article, but the point is general:

This happened all over in the USA of the 1980ies and 1990ies - and it spelled the end of the USA as it had been, not only the last 25 or 50 years, but the last one hundred years, for these were all founded on the industries that mostly left the USA forever, as soon as deregulation made this possible.

I merely quote the last part of Chris Hedges' article:

Human nature has not changed. We will react as those before us reacted when they faced collapse. We will be increasingly consumed by illusion. We will seek to stop time, to prevent change, to embrace magical thinking in a desperate effort to return to an idealized past. Many will suffer. 

This time, collapse will be planetwide. There will be no new lands to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate, no new natural resources to plunder and exploit. Climate change will teach us a brutal lessen about hubris.

The wages of sin, as Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans, is death—first moral and intellectual death and then physical death. The first, we already are experiencing. It would be reassuring to believe we could as a species avoid the second. But if human history is any guide, we are in for it. And the worse it gets, the more we seek to thwart change through magical thinking, the more our eventual extinction as a species is assured.

All of this is quite possible (and see item 4 below), in part because humans increased in numbers from between 2 and 3 billion when I was born to over 7 billion at present - and 7 billion human individuals is too much for the existing technologies, and for what remains of nature.

Then again, while I agree 7 billion is too much, I also think mankind may survive the coming crisis (in considerably lessened numbers, to be sure) if it manages to avoid an atomic war.

And I do not think that is a pessimistic reading of the available evidence.

2. The Panama Papers: Oozing Slime

The second item is
by Robert Hunziker on Counterpunch:

This starts as follows:
The Panama Papers, a one-year investigation by over 100 reporters worldwide (The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism) of offshore money hiding/laundering/taxation avoidance, is a cause célèbre of underhandedness seldom, if ever, revealed to the world’s public.
“It’s the biggest leak in history, dwarfing the data released by the Wikileaks organization in 2010. For context, if the amount of data released by Wikileaks was equivalent to the population of San Francisco, the amount of data released in the Panama Papers is the equivalent to that of India,” (BBC News, April 5th).
I say, for I didn't know that. Then again, increased quantity does not necessarily imply increased quality, even though I grant it is both somewhat nice and rather revealing to have so much evidence about the utterly sick corruptions of the rich and the very rich: Yes, Scott Fitzgerald, "The rich are different": They are simply more egoistic and more greedy bastards than ordinary poor (non-rich) people.

In case you doubt that last statement, there is this:
The Panama Papers, containing info on thousands of shell companies set up to avoid taxes and hide assets for over four decades from 1977 to 2015, are all about millionaires and billionaires and the politically connected “sticking it to” average citizens of the world by hiding money from fellow countrymen’s taxation policies and/or theft of state funds and laundering money. It is outrageously heinous and deserving of criminal incrimination and/or tarring and feathering whilst run out of town on a rail. It also begs the question of how many more rich pillagers are out there.
The answer to the last question is: Many more, for Mossack Fonseca is only one among many servers of the rich and very rich, although it is a big player.

And as to how much the few rich and very rich stole from the rest, there is this:

Already, major worldwide figureheads, like the PM of Iceland, have fallen. “As much as $21 trillion in global wealth is hidden behind largely-untraceable shell companies such as those exposed in the Panama Papers, according to watchdog group Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition,” (NBC News, April 6, 2016.). Twenty-one trillion is considerably larger than the entire U.S. economy. And, if it were taxed, which it is not, it would relieve many nation-states of big deficit spending for social welfare programs.
I do not know on what the claim of $21 trillion is based, but in any case: The rich and very rich do steal very great amounts - and these vast sums are stolen so as not to have to pay any tax on them.

Here is one set of lessons from the Panama Papers:
Indeed, the Panama Papers is a clarion call for revolt against a neoliberal world economic order that favors (1) privatization of public assets, (2) deregulation of governmental influence, (3) free trade in secret, and (4) austerity measures for public welfare. This nonsense started in earnest in the 1980s with President Reagan and PM Thatcher, called Supply-side economics, which preached tax cuts for the wealthy that purportedly incentivizes job creation, thus trickling wealth down to the masses. Problem is, after more than 30 years, all of the wealth gushed upwards whilst wages trickled down. The exact reverse of how it was sold to the American public. Politicians, mostly Republicans, continue making the same lame claims today. Cut taxes to create jobs is their mantra. Well, what they really mean to say is “cut taxes to cut wages” because that’s how it works in real life.
Precisely! There is also this in the article:

Neoliberalism is the legal equivalent of the Panama Papers.

It robs the public legally by changing regulations, trade policy, and taxation to enrich the wealthy class at the expense of the middle/lower. For example, America’s “15% carried-interest” taxation rate available to people like Mitt Romney but not available to his gardener. This is joylessly known as “reverse Robin Hood economics,” or taking from the poor to enrich the rich (..).

Quite so. And there is rather a lot more in this fine and strongly recommended paper.

I only quote one more bit:
Frankly, the Average Joe has been getting shafted, hosed, bamboozled for decades. Now, the results are exposed in full living color. Billions if not trillions of stolen money and hidden assets removed from the public domain to enrich a few already rich people. This is as low as lowliness gets; it’s below scum.
Indeed - and it are (anyway) trillions of dollars that have been stolen, which incidentally - as the article explains - does not include the vast amounts of
also stolen money that are in gold, yachts, racehores etc. etc. etc.

3. How Did the Largest Document Leak In History Even Happen

The third item is
by Marcy Wheeler on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

“Hello. This is John Doe. Interested in data?” That line — apparently written in English and using an American cultural reference — is much of what we know about the source, possibly a hacker, behind the Panama Papers, a massive trove of documents on which four hundred journalists have been collaborating for up to a year, detailing how a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca has helped some of the world’s most powerful people set up shell companies capable of concealing vast amounts of wealth. The source reached out to Bastian Obermayer, a reporter for Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, over a year ago, explaining, “I want to make these crimes public.”

And that seems to be all quite correct. The problem Marcy Wheeler treats in her article is that this is about all that is known about "John Doe".

Speaking for myself, I don't see much of a problem, since (1) it is obvious why he (or she) wants to remain unknown, while (2) the data he (or she) provided are good enough to shake up many rich liars and frauds (like Gunnlaugsson and Cameron).

There is more about Wheeler's problem in the article which I leave to your interests, and there is also this on Mossack Fonseca's take:

Mossack Fonseca would like readers to believe this came from an email hack. The company informed its customers (in a message posted to WikiLeaks suggesting not all of them had been compromised) that its email server had been compromised. “We rule out an inside job. This is not a leak. This is a hack,” one of the founders of the firm, Ramon Fonseca, told Reuters. “We have a theory and we are following it.” The firm also reported a crime to authorities.

However, there are good reasons to doubt that this was just an email server hack. While Mossack Fonseca’s emails appear not to have been encrypted, there is far more to the leak than emails. It includes scanned passports and some database excerpts, suggesting that, however the files were obtained, it went beyond what got sent via email.
Then again, one can scan things and attach them to e-mais. And in any case, I am less interested in finding out about their source than in knowing that the information they contain is adequate, and this so far has been the case.

4. Humans an Invasive Species Heading for a 'Crash,' Study Says

The fourth item i
by Nika Knight on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Human population growth has followed the trajectory of a typical invasive species, says a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and that suggests there may be a looming global population "crash."

"The question is: Have we overshot Earth’s carrying capacity today?" said Elizabeth Hadly, a professor in environmental biology at Stanford University and senior author of the paper, in a press statement.

"Because humans respond as any other invasive species," Hadly continued, "the implication is that we are headed for a crash before we stabilize our global population size."

Well... the underlying point I first came aware of around 1970/2, when the first
Club of Rome's report - called "The Limits to Growth" - was published (in 1972), and when I first read books by Paul Ehrlich (published in 1968), which is that there simply are born too many human beings.

The very brief form of it is that when I was born there were between 2 and 3 billion living persons, and a little over 60 years later there are over 7 billion (nearly 3 times as many) - and most of these work hard and earn very little, while some say (Bill Clinton, for one example, I do not know with what reliability) that "there are 1 billion people alive who live in hunger".

For more, see "The Limits to Growth" (<-Wikipedia), that is - updated until 2004 - not optimistc. (And while I know there is justified criticism of "The Limits to Growth", I think they were and are considerably more correct than mistaken.)

5. Tech and Privacy Experts Erupt Over Leaked Encryption Bill

The fifth and last item today i
by Max J. Rosenthal on Mother Jones:

This has the following near the beginning (and this can be taken as my continuation of items I published on April 9 and also on April 10):

The Burr-Feinstein bill would require companies to respond to court orders for data by providing decrypted information or giving the government "such technical assistance as is necessary to obtain such information or data in an intelligible format." The bill covers virtually every company involved with providing secure internet services, from device manufacturers and the makers of encrypted chat apps to "any person who provides a product or method to facilitate a communication or the processing or storage of data."

As I wrote on April 9: This is an extremely authoritarian, very anti- democratic and quite totalitarian drafted bill that gives all power and all authority to the very few who work, in secret, in the state's secret services.

In fact, I'd say this is a (draft of a proposed) law on the pattern of "everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state" (originated by Benito Mussolini).

Here are some cryptography experts on the proposed bill (in draft):

Cryptography experts and privacy advocates immediately and overwhelmingly condemned the bill. "I could spend all night listing the various ways that Feinstein-Burr is flawed & dangerous. But let's just say, 'in every way possible,'" wrote Matt Blaze, a prominent cryptographer and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in a tweet late on Thursday night. Julian Sanchez, a privacy and technology expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, responded similarly:

I suppose that the "do magic" part is due to the fact that the drafters of the bill in fact know very little of programming or computing, though I have to grant that they share that distinction with most Senators and most members of the House.

Therefore it is also completely unclear to me what the chances are this horrific bill will be adopted as law.

[1] In fact, the best example of Plato's relative popularity that I know is Richard Crossman's (<- Wikipedia) "Plato Today", which was published in 1937, and which was a quite interesting "comment" of Plato on the fascism, communism and nazism of the 1930ies. Crossman himself was an interesting man, who also edited The God That Failed (republished in 2001), and who wrote diaries about his time in government which were heavily attacked but published, and that form an acknowledged source for the Britis comedy series Yes Minister. Incidentally, Crossman studied Classics in Cambridge and gained a double first.

[2] I have objected much against that as a student; I was removed - quite ill also - briefly before taking my (what would have been an excellent) M.A. in philosophy from the right of taking that examination from the University of Amsterdam, that the last 28 years refused to answer any mail or letters of mine; I then took an excellent M.A. in psychology (while being quite ill); and I have an IQ over 150, so no:

Even if all 17 million Dutchmen tell me I am "a dirty fascist" (as many members of the student organization ASVA told me I was, between 1977 and 1989 - because I had said to them I was not a marxist - not knowing about my anti-fascism, not knowing about the over 40 years of membership in the communist party of my parents, not knowing my father was knighted because of his anti-fasiscm, and not knowing he was a survivor of nearly 4 years of German concentration camps) I maintain I was quite justified in my diagnosis of the sick and fraudulent stalinist University of Amsterdam, between 1971 and 1995 (when it, like all Dutch universities, was formally in the hand of the students, which was unique in the whole world).

[3] I do like Leucippos, Democritos, the Greek atomists (best known to me from a German GDR edition of the 1970ies, "Die Griechische Atomisten"), Aristotle, Epicurus and (in Latin) Lucretius. And I should add here that most of the classics of ancient Greece and Rome have been repeatedly translated, and that I read what I did read of them in English, German or French rather than in Greek or Latin.

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