April 30, 2016

Crisis: Kunduz, Wealth Gap, Clinton & Sanders, FBI More Hacking Powers
Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. The Joke of U.S. Justice and “Accountability” When
     They Bomb a Hospital

2. Why is the racial wealth gap widening? And what should
     be done to reverse it?

3. Clinton Camp says She's Been Forced to the Left Enough

Supreme Court Quietly Approves Rule to Give FBI
     'Sprawling' Hacking Powers

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, April 30, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about the US Army's record of bombing hospitals, and here specifically about the hospital that was in Kunduz; item 2 is about an article by Robert Reich, that is well- intentioned but that I don't expect to succeed; item 3 is about Clinton and Sanders, and I briefly outline why I do not expect much of a Sanders-led movement after the elections (if he doesn't get the presidential candidacy) - and I wish it were different; and item 4 is about yet another extension of the secret powers of the FBI: soon they may hack any computer they want to, anywhere, especially if it uses TOR, for the secret police of the USA demands access to anything anyone does anywhere with any computer or cellphone, and the US Congress gives in to these demands.

There is less in today's Nederlog than there was yesterday, but yesterday was a fairly special day.

1. The Joke of U.S. Justice and “Accountability” When They Bomb a Hospital

The first item is
y Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:
Ever since the U.S. last October bombed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the U.S. vehemently denied guilt while acting exactly like a guilty party would. First, it changed its story repeatedly. Then, it blocked every effort – including repeated demands from MSF – to have an independent investigation determine what really happened. As May Jeong documented in a richly reported story for The Intercept yesterday, the Afghan government – rather than denying that the hospital was targeted – instead repeatedly claimed that doing so was justified; moreover, they were sympathetic to calls for an independent investigation, which the U.S. blocked. What is beyond dispute, as Jeong wrote, is that the “211 shells that were fired . . . were felt by the 42 men, women, and children who were killed.” MSF insisted the bombing was "deliberate," and ample evidence supports that charge.
I agree, also with the thesis that "the bombing was "deliberate,"" indeed in part because I have written about this topic before. There are 5 items in the index of 2015 about the bombing of the MSF hospital, and I wrote this in the first of these, on October 21, 2015:

To start with, here is my guess about the question "American forces came to spend more than an hour shelling one of the few places of shelter left in the battered city": Because they wanted to.

For this seems far more likely than any alternative, which all must include "the Americans did not know what they were doing", which seems nearly impossible, given that the hospital was there for years and its position had been very many times clarified to the American army.
There is some evidence in that article, and there are four more articles on "Kunduz" (that's the search term) with more evidence. Meanwhile, half a year further, there is this from the U.S. Army:
Despite all this, the U.S. military is about to release a report that, so predictably, exonerates itself from all guilt; it was, of course, all just a terribly tragic mistake. Worse, reports The Los Angeles Times‘ W.J. Hennigan, “no one will face criminal charges.” Instead, this is the “justice” being meted out to those responsible:

One officer was suspended from command and ordered out of Afghanistan. The others were given lesser punishments: Six were sent to counseling, seven were issued letters of reprimand, and two were ordered to retraining courses.

First, that it was all "a mistake" is extremely unlikely, because the U.S. Army was extremely well informed, for years also, about the precise place where the hospital was, and the hospital itself was clearly marked to be seen from the air as a hospital, also at night.

Second, supposing it was a mistake: The mistake killed 42 people and wounded many more, and the above "punishments" are, plainly, ridiculous.

Here is Glenn Greenwald's conclusion:

But none of that matters. The only law to which the U.S. government is subject is its own interests. U.S. officials scoffed at global demands for a real investigation into what took place here, and then doled out “punishments” of counseling, training classes, and letters of reprimand for those responsible for this carnage. That’s almost a worse insult, a more extreme expression of self-exoneration and indifference, than no sanctions at all. But that’s par for the course in a country that has granted full-scale legal immunity for those who perpetrated the most egregious crimes: from the systemic fraud that caused the 2008 financial crisis to the worldwide regime of torture the U.S. government officially implemented.

I entirely agree, indeed including the suggestion that there is a connection between not punishing the Wall Street criminals, the "worldwide regime
of torture", and the deliberate bombing of MSF hospitals: It is called "neoliberalism", and it was treated yesterday.

Why is the racial wealth gap widening? And what should be done to reverse it?

The second item is
by Robert Reich on his site (and maybe I should add that the original title is all in capitals, which I undid because I think it is ugly):
This starts as follows:

Wealth inequality is even more of a problem than income inequality. That’s because you have to have enough savings from income to begin to accumulate wealth – buying a house or investing in stocks and bonds, or saving up to send a child to college.

But many Americans have almost no savings, so they have barely any wealth. Two-thirds live paycheck to paycheck.

Once you have wealth, it generates its own income as the value of that wealth increases over time, generating dividends and interest, and then even more when those assets are sold.

This is why wealth inequality is compounding faster than income inequality. The richest top 1% own 40% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 80% own just 7%.

Yes, although - as far as I know, but my evidence is good - it seems to me that the vast increases in inequality are especially (though indeed not: only) due to the enormous sinking of the taxes demanded from the rich.

Here is Reich's answer to what should be done about this situation:

So what can we do to help all Americans accumulate wealth?

First, reform the tax system so capital gains – increases in the value of assets – are taxed at the same rate as ordinary income.

Second, limit how much mortgage interest the wealthy can deduct from their incomes.

Then use the tax savings from these changes to help lower-income people gain a foothold in building their own wealth.

Perhaps. But since I do not see this happen in the present circumstances anyway, I'd like to formulate a more radical proposal, that indeed also would not make it in the present circumstances:

What the Americans need now are Eisenhower's tax schemes, together with a plan to redistribute the money obtained from them to increase the incomes and chances of the many poor, instead of increasing the incomes of the few very rich, as is the case now.

(But yes: I grant either plan will not make it in the present "neoliberal" political circumstances. As to Eisenhower's tax schemes: They worked, it was capitalism, and both the many poor and the few rich profited, and the rich by remaining rich and not having to fear a revolution: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society", as Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. put it - and those who do not want to pay taxes do not want civilized society.)

3. Clinton Camp says She's Been Forced to the Left Enough Already

The third item is
y Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:
Fresh after Bernie Sanders' call for a "a fifty-state strategy... to plant the flag of progressive politics" nationwide, new reporting on Friday suggests that Hillary Clinton's campaign won't be budged any further to the left.
I say! The lady whose personal riches (together with her honest husband's) are over $150 million, mostly for services rendered to the banks, announces - from her position far to the right of Eisenhower - that she "won't be budged any further to the left": 'Let them eat cake, if they have no more bread! I have cared enough for the poor!' [1]

Actually, I am neither amazed nor can I bring myself to believe anything Clinton
says in public, for she says anything that she believes increases her chances to win (though I grant her that she is less dishonest than Trump).

This is Bernie Sanders' position, as given by Andrea Germanos (but that probably is adequate):

As Sanders sees it, the Democratic Party as a whole is in crisis, saying Thursday that it "has not been clear about which side they are on on the major issues facing this country."

Speaking to thousands at a rally in Eugene, Ore., Sanders said, "The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side working people or big money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the children, and the sick and the poor, or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies?"

Sanders added, "Now our job is not just to revitalize the Democratic Party—not only to open the doors to young people and working people—our jobs is to revitalize American democracy."

Ehrenfreund concludes in his piece that even without securing the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders' successful pushes on key issues mean "he might be on the winning side in the contest over the party's future."

I don't agree. Here are my reasons:

First paragraph: I think both the Republicans and the Democrats are in crisis, and the crises are both similar, for it is between the professional politicians who lead the party and get elected on the one hand, and the electorate who elect them on the other hand, and many in both electorates for both parties have found that those they elect(ed) betray(ed) them, lied to them, and deceived them.

So I think Sanders considerably understates the issue. As regards the Democratic party, it is that most of the professional politicians who lead it (Obama and his team, Clinton and her team) simply serve the banks and their
managers, and indeed have been bought to do so, while they get elected on the mostly false pretense that they will help the poor who elected them: They will not, were it only because the poor have no money to pay them. (But again,
Clinton is less bad than Trump or Cruz.)

Second paragraph: There is no such "we" as Sanders addresses: the professional politicians who lead it are mostly for the rich (with a few exceptions, like Sanders himself); the people who elected them are mostly working people, and
indeed by this time many may vote Democrats because they know they are quite dishonest, but are less dishonest than the Republicans. (Which also seems correct, by and large.)

Third paragraph: American democracy is mostly dead. [2] It may be revitalized, but that would need an enormous operation on both parties, that will probably be impossible without a huge crisis, simply because both parties are run by professional politicians, who don't care for "the people", whatever they say, and who will try everything to keep being elected and paid. There is another difficulty here, that I take up next:

Fourth paragraph: I like Sanders a lot (without agreeing with him on every thing) and I respect him because he has a long history of being an honest and real leftist ever since 1970. But that is also the difficulty: He is one of the very few professional politicians who has remained honest and who has remained a real leftist (rather than selling out to the rich, to get rich themselves, as the Clintons did) - but he is also 74, and I have not seen any real replacement for him.

I wish it were otherwise, and I am willing to grant you that it would have been if Sanders had been 54, but he isn't, and I am also rather certain he will not be active in politics at 94, indeed not because he might not want to, but simply because reaching 94 in good health is still pretty rare.

4. Supreme Court Quietly Approves Rule to Give FBI 'Sprawling' Hacking Powers

The fourth item is by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday quietly approved a rule change that would allow a federal magistrate judge to issue a search and seizure warrant for any target using anonymity software like Tor to browse the internet.

Absent action by U.S. Congress, the rule change (pdf) will go into effect in December. The FBI would then be able to search computers remotely—even if the bureau doesn't know where that computer is located—if a user has anonymity software installed on it.

The rule changes, which the FBI said were necessary to combat cybercrime, come amid escalating tensions between the intelligence community and technology and privacy advocates, and just a day after the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a bill that would require the government to obtain a probable cause warrant from a judge before seizing data stored with tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Dropbox.
To restate this slightly: The American government thinks it has the right to try to break into any computer of anyone, so that it can steal all, and verify its user(s) are (roughly) as the American government desires them to be.

Also, this has nothing to do with private terrorism: it is state terrorism that has seen, at long last, the opportunity to investigate everyone in everything, and to disappear anyone who doesn't sufficiently suit the ideal American citizen as seen by the government (also with secret judgements by secret courts that order anyone who receives them not to say one word).
At least, that is what I think. Here is what Kevin Bankston of the Open Technology Institute thinks:
"Whatever euphemism the FBI uses to describe it—whether they call it a 'remote access search' or a 'network investigative technique'—what we're talking about is government hacking, and this obscure rule change would authorize a lot more of it," said Kevin Bankston, director of the policy advocacy group Open Technology Institute (OTI), which previously testified against the changes. "Congress should stop this power-grab in its tracks and instead demand answers from the FBI, which so far has been ducking Congress' questions on this issue and fighting in court to keep its hacking tactics secret."
Precisely. Will this help? Probably not, for Congress protects the secrecies and the powers of the FBI, even though it could know that a secret police force belongs in dictatorships and tyrannies rather than in (formal) democracies.

And here is one of the few senators who cares:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the more outspoken privacy advocates in Congress, slammed the proposal as a "sprawling expansion of government surveillance" and called on Congress to reject it.

"These amendments will have significant consequences for Americans' privacy and the scope of the government's powers to conduct remote surveillance and searches of electronic devices," Wyden said in a statement. "Under the proposed rules, the government would now be able to obtain a single warrant to access and search thousands or millions of computers at once; and the vast majority of the effected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of a cybercrime."

I agree, but I do not see his vision prevail in Congress.
[1] In case you don't know: "Let them eat cake" (<- Wikiepdia) was  - very probably falsely - attributed to queen Marie Antoinette of France, in the 18th Century.

I am very sorry this is a fact, but I think it is. There are many reasons to think so, but one important one is that most of the free press has collapsed and has been bought up by a few rich men, and most of the editors and journalists who work in the press have given up the ambition to try to find out the truth about the government and its institutions, and have decided it is much safer and much better paid to serve as the government's copyboys and copygirls. (It is true there still is some free press, but most of it is marginal, ill paid, and not visited by the majorities. Also, if Trump is the next president, these may have to disappear.)

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