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Nederlog

May 10, 2016

Crisis: The USA, Facebook, Panama Papers, Secret Services, 20 Times Per Day
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. Compared to Rest of World Americans Are Delusional,
     Prudish, Selfish Religious Nuts: Study

2. 'Blacklisting' of Right-Wing Stories More Proof that
     Facebook 'Rules the News'

3. Panama Papers Goes Live with Searchable Database of
     Tax Evaders

4. For Upcoming Conventions, Secret Service Aims to
     Handcuff First Amendment

5. The average American is tracked and surveilled 20
     times a day
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, May 10, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is an interesting article on how "the USA" is seen by people not living in it (this is interesting, but I do have a note on the distinction statistical vs ordinary facts); item 2 is about Facebook's not only stealing all the data of everyone who is on it, but also tries to influence their ideas and values; item 3 is about the Panama Papers, that now can be searched (in part) on line; item 4 is about the ever expanding aims and ends of the secret services: Now the NSA wants to vet any and all journalists (that want to take part in the Republican or Democratic conventions); and item 5 is a fine article (combined with another fine article from 2014) on the strong neofascistic tendencies in the USA.

And this is a day in which all articles are recommended.

1. Compared to Rest of World Americans Are Delusional, Prudish, Selfish Religious Nuts: Study

The first item is b
y Kali Holloway on AlterNet:
This starts as follows (and is the beginning of a far longer article with statistics):
Cultural differences exist across borders, and because monoliths are mostly fantasies, often within them, too. That said, America, in particular, is culturally perplexing, and even confounding, to a lot of the rest of the world. I am not, as Americans are wont to do, laboring under the delusion that people in other places spend all that much time thinking about us. We are all, as a species, just trying to get through this thing called life. The conservative American notion that people with far better healthcare, civil rights laws and gun control “hate our freedom” is a wishful imperialist delusion. Worse, it’s not fooling anybody at this point.
To start with: In case you thought I would reply to the title of the article that "No, no: on the contrary, the Americans are truthful, free, unselfish, non- religious, quite sane, rational and reasonable persons" you are quite mistaken.

Then again, there are many Americans (more than 300 million); they come in many kinds, from highly educated, well-informed, smart, and well-paid, to poorly educated, badly informed, stupid and ill-paid, with quite a few other complications (religion, for one) thrown in to make it less easy to survey and adequately summarize in a few brief and clear statements.

Yet I must admit that for me - an intelligent, totally non-religious Dutch intellectual "of progressive and liberal ideas" - it seems Bill Maher had a fairly sound point when he said that there are some 50 million intelligent and somewhat decently educated persons living in the United States, who are surrounded by 250 million rednecks.
I agree that too is a simplification, but it does conform to quite a few statistical facts - so to speak, for "statistical facts" are not quite like real
facts. [1]

Here is the second paragraph:
That said, if all the world’s a stage, America is a prime player: a rich, loud, attention-seeking celebrity not fully deserving of its starring role, often putting in a critically reviled performance and tending toward histrionics that threaten to ruin the show for everybody else. (Also, embarrassingly, possibly the last to know that its career as top biller is in rapid decline.) To the outside onlooker, American culture—I’m consolidating an infinitely layered thing to save time and space—is contradictory and bizarre, hypocritical and self-congratulatory. Its national character is a textbook study in narcissistic tendencies coupled with crushing insecurity issues.
This is written with a broad brush - "consolidating an infinitely layered thing to save time and space" - but this does seem rather correct as a statistical fact:
American culture (..) is contradictory and bizarre, hypocritical and self-congratulatory. Its national character is a textbook study in narcissistic tendencies coupled with crushing insecurity issues.
Then again, when one stands back from colliding, counting, and sampling statistical facts, and concentrates on various kinds of individuals one finds
fine, intelligent and informed persons, and bad, stupid and uninformed persons, and also many inbetween.

Here is the third paragraph:

How to reconcile a country that fetishizes violence and is squeamish about sex; conflates Christianity and consumerism; says it loves liberty yet made human rights violations a founding principle? In conversations with non-Americans, should the topic of the U.S. come up, there are often expressions of incredulity and bewilderment about things that seem weird when you aren’t from here. Talk and think about those things enough, and they also start to seem objectively weird if you are from here, too.
As a non-American leftish intellectual I mostly agree, though I draw your attention again to the differences between statistical facts (based on considering many individuals along a number of dimensions, and sampling and averaging, say) and ordinary facts (that you meet in ordinary experience and that do not depend on selections, countings and averagings, say).

There is a lot more in the article, and it is recommended (and yes, these were just the first three paragraphs: more statistics in the rest).

2. 'Blacklisting' of Right-Wing Stories More Proof that Facebook 'Rules the News'

The second item is b
y Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Revelations that Facebook may have regularly "blacklisted" conservative stories from the platform's "trending" news section was met with outrage on Monday from journalists across the political spectrum who found the company's alleged abuse of power "disturbing" and potentially dangerous.

After speaking with several former "news curators," Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez reported Monday that the social media platform routinely censored stories "about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users."

The contracted employees also said they were "instructed to artificially 'inject' selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all," and were specifically asked to exclude "news about Facebook itself in the trending module."

I say - but no: I am not at all amazed. Fuckbook was made for spying on naive or lazy folks, and the one surprise I have (which I admit is also not large) is that they currently tricked more than a billion people into taking part in that ritual that totally delivers their all to Fuckbook's owners - who "rewards" them
by sending them advertisements (?!) (which to me in itself is a major sign of great sickness, stupidity, ignorance and consumerism - but OK: I hate all propaganda and all advertisements).

The rest also does not amaze me at all: If you are a member of Fuckbook, you will be fucked over, whether you like it or not. (And I'm sorry - but you consented of your own free will.)

There are also these reactions:

Right-wing media was predictably incensed after the news broke. But for journalists who fall elsewhere on the political spectrum, the revelations were an alarm bell warning against the social media network's growing power—and desire—to influence.

"Aside from fueling right-wing persecution, this is a key reminder of dangers of Silicon Valley controlling content," Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote on Twitter.

Similarly, Guardian national security reporter Spencer Ackermann said, "You don't have to be a conservative to find this chilling & gross, as Facebook increasingly rules the news business."

Quite so: Of course it doesn't matter which side fucks up your information, nor does it mattter what their secret intentions really may be. But indeed, if you
are a customer of Fuckbook, you will be fucked and abused. That is what it is for: To abuse - to spy on and to deceive - people who are stupid or lazy enough to enlist. Period.

There is more in the article, which is recommended.

3. Panama Papers Goes Live with Searchable Database of Tax Evaders

The third item is
by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:
The Panama Papers database went live on Monday, making more than 200,000 offshore account details available to search online at offshoreleaks.icij.org.

More than 11 million documents were leaked by a whistleblower last month to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The data, taken from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, linked shell companies, foundations, and trusts to 72 former and current global heads of state.
This is quite interesting news, as is the link in the first paragraph. Incidentally, since there are currently 206 nations, it is somewhat interesting that at least a third of their political leaders seem thoroughly corrupt.

Here is some more:

The release comes as more than 300 economic experts sent a letter to world leaders urging them to abolish the veil of secrecy that surrounds offshore banking and close loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid paying taxes.

Well... I agree in principle with the letter, but I also wonder how many of these "economic experts" did acknowledge that offshore banking and tax loopholes have been created on purpose, and by quite a few deregulations (under Bill Clinton, especially).

Or to put the same point otherwise: While I welcome news about the - very many, very dirty - financial and tax corruptions, I think it also seems rather unlikely that most of these freshly created legal loopholes for the very rich to get even richer will be rapidly shut by the presently elected professional politicians (many of whom are grossly corrupt, whether this can be traced in the Panama Papers or not). [2]

And here is the last bit I'll quote:

It also follows the publication of a manifesto last week written by the whistleblower, who still goes by the anonymous name John Doe, which slammed "America's broken campaign finance system" and denounced capitalism as "financial slavery."

"In this system—our system—the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese," Doe wrote. "When it takes a whistleblower to sound the alarm, it is cause for even greater concern. It signals that democracy's checks and balances have all failed, that the breakdown is systemic, and that severe instability could be just around the corner."

"Income inequality is the defining issue of our time," Doe wrote.

I mostly agree with John Doe, although he does not seem to make my own distinction between capitalism-with-a-human-face, which mostly ruled in the West between 1945 and 1980, and has since been massively deregulated by Reagan and Clinton (that is: the laws that protected the many non-rich from the few rich were all withdrawn, on purpose), and capitalism-with- an-inhuman-face that arose under Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama, all of whom served the very rich (who also paid them, in some cases more than 100 million dollars) while pretending to support the non-rich.

And I think that the distinction is correct, and indeed can see it very well illustrated in my own life, in which I have less and less rights, more and more duties to eager state servants, and less and less income. (Which makes me - now - glad not to have any children because I fell ill at 28 and remained ill ever since.)

In any case, you now can try to find which professional politician is corrupt, in so far as this is in the Panama Papers, and in so far as the Panama Papers are on line.

This is A Good Thing and indeed the more professional politicians are shown to be real false frauds and corrupt profiteers, the better I think it is, for I have always distrusted professional politicians as the worst liars that were available in a country, and have indeed always refused to vote for any of this guild of crooks: It really makes no sense to elect professional liars who are
only in it for the money, the power and the status of themselves. And most are.

This is a recommended article.

4. For Upcoming Conventions, Secret Service Aims to Handcuff First Amendment

The fourth item is by Peter Van Buren on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Thomas Jefferson said that an informed citizenry is critical to a democracy, and with that as a cornerstone the Founders wrote freedom of the press into the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The most basic of ideas at play is that the government should in no way be allowed to control what information the press can report to the people, and cannot place restrictions on journalists. One of the principal characteristics of any fascist state is the control of information, and thus the press is always seen as a check on government power that needs to be stomped on. Ask any surviving journalist in North Korea, or Saudi Arabia.

And so it is with terror we learn the United States Secret Service, in the name of security, is for the first time in our Republic’s history running background checks on thousands of journalists who plan to report from this summer’s Republican and Democratic Party nominating conventions.

I quite agree, although I should add that I myself expected these and many other similar things since 2005: The "War On Terror" was in fact for the most part a thoroughly fraudulent deception that was meant to enable the secret services' full knowledge of what anyone did anywhere with a computer or said into a cellphone. (See item 5 in case you disbelieve this.)

For me this also marked the birth of neofascism, which hides itself behind a  "neoliberalism" that wants to break down all moral and all legal restraints that
existed to curb the very rich, and that wants to enable the very rich to get as
large a slice of the money, the goods, and the power they can get
- and without legal restrictions (that have been systematically and very much on purpose deregulated) they can get nearly everything there is to get in terms of money, goods and power, and will try to do as much as they always did.

That is the future I have seen unfolding since 2005 (in Dutch), that I also sketched in 2012 and (with some textual improvements) in 2014, and so far I have seen very little movement against it, although I grant that Bernie Sanders' movement and the recent European movements against the TTIP are signs that there is some resistance against the very rich, now extremely powerful, forces of imminent neofascism (that will hide itself behind "democracy" and "free trade"). [3]

There is also this on the United States' government's plan to become explicitly neofascistic in vetting journalists - in secret, with secret criterions, by the secret services - on their support for the government:

Journalists who don’t pass the security screening process, for which of course there are no publicly-stated criteria and which has no system of appeal, will be denied credentials to cover the GOP convention in Cleveland, and the Democrats’ in Philadelphia. As the Daily Beast writes, this is the government deciding who can and can’t be a journalist, and through that process, heavily influencing what will be reported. Happytime government stenographers from CNN? Step right in, sir. Investigative, real journalists from The Intercept? Um, maybe not.
This also is the plan for a simple police state: A government should not have any right to block journalists, and one which does is a neofascistic government.
Period.

There is also this sick neofascistic bit in it:

Obtaining security clearances also involves the “voluntary” turning over of personal information to the government, to often include associations, employment history, professional affiliations, fingerprints, financials and the like. If a journalist wishes not to hand over that information to the Secret Service, does that automatically bar him/her from playing his mandated role of informing the public? Apparently it does.
Yes, of course - and this is also the trend in Holland, where the taxes now seem
to demand your connection to their version of internet; where everybody has to be ready with identity-papers to unveil oneself to some anonymous police yahoo; and where there is talk that all real money will soon disappear (for the poor, I suppose).

Neofascism has arrived, after 40 years of mostly secret governmental preparations, that now envelops everyone with an internet computer or a cell phone as the effective electronic slave of the secret services and the data- miners.

Congratulations on owing a computer and a cellphone! [4]

And this is a recommended article.

5. The average American is tracked and surveilled 20 times a day

The fifth and last item today is by Washington's Blog on his site:
This starts as follows:

Constitutional and civil rights lawyer John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institutes notes:

On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears.

We’ve previously documented that the government is spying on everything we dowithout any real benefit or justification (and see this).

(Things are getting worse, and the government will greatly expand its spying in the near future.)

I think this is all quite justified, and it may make sense to click on some of the links, like notes (which clarifies that the Rutherford Institute, together with Amnesty, the ACLU, Wikipedia and some other institutions started a trial to try to reintroduce the First (Free Speech, Free Press) and Fourth Amendment (Free Communications Without Secret Tapping By Any Government's Secret Services), and also articles like justification and greatly expand.

Here is the other bit I'll quote from the present article:

Why should you care?

Because you – and every other American – has already broken the law numerous times today.

And the mass surveillance programs are really about blackmailing people … including nude photos and sexual activities.

Moreover, government is “laundering” information gained through mass surveillance through other agencies, with an agreement that the agencies will “recreate” the evidence in a “parallel construction” … so they don’t have to admit that the evidence came from unconstitutional spying.

This data laundering is getting worse and worse.

The highest-level NSA whistleblower of all time says that this is the opposite of following the Constitution, and is a “totalitarian process” which shows that we’re in a “police state”. (A second former top NSA official agrees.)

Again, this has quite a few links worth seeing. Incidentally, the two former
NSA members who say that the USA now is a police state are William Binney (<- Wikipedia) and Thomas Drake (<- Wikipedia) and especially
agrees is a
fine interview with Drake.

This is its beginning (it is from 2014, but still completely relevant):

WASHINGTON’S BLOG: Senator Frank Church – who chaired the famous “Church Committee” on the unlawful FBI Cointel program, and who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said in 1975:

“Th[e National Security Agency’s] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.

Is the NSA turning its capability around on the American people, as Senator Church warned?

THOMAS DRAKE: I believe they are. Those words are words that have been ringing from inside Pandora’s box … the one that I opened and looked into right after 9/11.

There is a lot more in the interview, which is also recommended.

And here is some more from it:

It’s not rule of law. This secret law, secret rule, executive authoritarianism has saddled up again. [Indeed, the government now uses secret evidence, secret evidence, secret witnesses, and even secret laws.]

In many respects, the most virulent form [of tyranny] is when it’s least obvious.

There’s already a digital fence all around us. Extraordinary reach by the government, often in direct partnership with certain corporations, usually very large corporations.

And there is this:

WASHINGTON’S BLOG: High-level NSA whistleblower Bill Binney says that we already have a police state, because government agencies are using information gathered through mass NSA surveillance – laundering it in order to hide its origin – and using “parallel construction” to create the evidence to use against people. [Former Top NSA Official: “We Are Now In A Police State”] What do you think?

THOMAS DRAKE: Yes. Remember, this is behind the scenes. Secret evidence collected for national intelligence purposes gets “repurposed”.
And this:

THOMAS DRAKE: The Stasi ultimately violated [their people’s rights] – over many decades, they were the prime example of violating the privacy of people – to protect the sovereignty of the state. The sovereignty of the state reigns supreme.

Well, if the sovereignty of the state reigns supreme, what does that make us? That means we’re no longer citizens with rights … we’re simply turned into subjects of the state. And subject to the state.

“Collect it all, know it all” [the NSA’s model] is actually the Stasi model. It’s not just know everything; we have to be able to keep everything that we want to know, even if we don’t know it yet.

It’s a collect it all first mentality … and then we’ll get to know it all. I call it “feeding the beast”.

And this:

THOMAS DRAKE: We have a significant element of our government in league with corporations and other unelected officials who’ve decided that the Constitution is essentially null and void and national security reigns supreme. National security is the new state religion.

And they love the power. They love the secrecy. And they want to protect it. They’ve got a lot at stake.

Frederick Douglass was right – and I’m paragraphing him – “Power does not yield willingly”. That kind of power, in particular, does not yield willingly.

Lord Acton was right that power does tend to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So what if you combine that with absolute secrecy? Or enough secrecy … or an expanding secrecy?

Then you have the present USA, in which a moronic fool like Donald Trump may be president in slightly over half a year's time...

This is a recommended article.
--------------------------
Notes
[1] This is a point worth making: The facts we believe in as a result of statistics, are quite different from the facts we believe in because we saw or heard them, even if both are quite true. The reason is that statistical facts
are based on sampling, counting, averaging (and often many more statistical computations), and simply cannot be seen as ordinary facts can be seen (by someone qualified to judge).

[2] And this is so - I think - because the tax loopholes and tax evasion schemes have been created for a purpose (to make the very rich even richer), and they mostly arose out of deregulations: While the Panama Papers is a blow to the professional politicians who arranged these loopholes and evasions, it will be much harder to stop them continuing this game as long as it is (now) "legal" and extremely profitable to the very rich who pay the professional politicians (in addition to their salaries, of course).

[3] O yes! I grant I expected more protests since 2005, but then again I may have been (once again!) overestimating the average intelligence and the
average real knowledge that ordinary people have, and I certainly was underestimating the enormous forces for evil (I am sorry, but that is what it is - and even the present pope agrees!), and the utter lies and deceptions they use, that have taken over most of the powers these days.

But by and large things happened - democracy radically diminished, secret service incredibly increased, "terrorism" as the constant lie to make the yokels fear, economic inequalities and power inequalities extremely raised, and a constant state of "war" since 2001, which is mostly baloney, but serves the making of an authoritarian and totalitarian state - as I feared in my more pessimistic moments in 2005 and 2012.

[4] I think that is the case, and since I always thought for myself, I am a bit amazed that so few see this, but not very much (if only because so very few know a lot and because so very few have my family background).

And yes, by now I don't like a computer much (anymore, seeing into what it has developed: The means to give all the secret services in the world all their data in order to repress and abuse people in secret even better) and I don't want a cellphone on any condition:

I think it is a deeply inhuman great shame that the secret services now tap everything, and are laying all the foundations for a deeply authoritarian, totalitarian, neofascistic police state, for that is what is happening, and has been happening quite successfully since 1980, and has much increased since 2001.

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