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Nederlog

Aug 18, 2016

Crisis: NSA Hack, American Media, Obvious Socialism (?), Syrian Horrors
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Introduction

1.
Edward Snowden Calls the Hack of NSA Hackers by
     ‘Shadow Brokers’ a Significant Turn in the Spy Wars

2. The Summer of the Shill
3. Socialism is obvious
4.
Ten Times Worse Than Hell: A Syrian Doctor on the
     Humanitarian Catastrophe in Aleppo

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, August 18, 2016.

There are 4 items with 4 dotted links today: Item 1 has more news about the NSA hack that was announced yesterday; item 2 is a review of an article by Matt Taibbi who argues that the American press is mostly dead, in the sense that the mainstream media have been transformed into propaganda outlets rather than (more or less) objective reporters; item 3 is about "the obviousness of socialism", and while I liked the article, I also needed to make quite a few qualifications; and item 4 is about the situation in Syria, which is dire to horrible for many millions of Syrians.
 
1.
Edward Snowden Calls the Hack of NSA Hackers by ‘Shadow Brokers’ a Significant Turn in the Spy Wars  

The first item today is by Nika Knight on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows (and continues yesterday's review of the same events):
The National Security Administration (NSA) was allegedly hacked by a mysterious group calling itself “The Shadow Brokers,” and the “most powerful espionage tools” of the NSA’s elite hacker team, as the Washington Post put it, were leaked to the internet this weekend.
Yes, indeed. In fact, here is a bit from my review of yesterday:
So who got hacked was the Equation Group (<-Wikipedia). Then again, it seems from the Wikipedia link that indeed this is "affiliated with the NSA". Incidentally, if you want an idea of what the NSA was capable of in 2013, check out the Wikipedia lemma NSA ANT Catalog: It is an amazing list.
Indeed this is what happened - and one reason to repeat this is the last link: if you think you can secure your own private computer (with internet), read this and think again. And here is some from The Washington Post, that also goes a bit beyond what I reported yesterday:

A cache of hacking tools with code names such as Epicbanana, Buzzdirection, and Egregiousblunder appeared mysteriously online over the weekend, setting the security world abuzz with speculation over whether the material was legitimate.

The file appeared to be real, according to former NSA personnel who worked in the agency’s hacking division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO).

“Without a doubt, they’re the keys to the kingdom,” said one former TAO employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal operations. “The stuff you’re talking about would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad.”

Said a second former TAO hacker who saw the file: “From what I saw, there was no doubt in my mind that it was legitimate.”

I take it the material was "legitimate" - although this is (incidentally) a bit a strange term to assure that actually stolen material that serves to steal material indeed is what it says it is, but let that be for the moment, even though it was better to have used a term like "real": the material is real, and it does concern important codes that are being used to steal from very many computers.

And incidentally, while I saw that all "TAO hackers" that are mentioned in this article are former "TAO hackers" this doesn't worry me, in part because actual TAO hackers are not at all allowed to talk with journalists.

Here is some more on what the Shadow Brokers made public (in part):

“The exploits are not run-of-the-mill tools to target everyday individuals,” the Post added. “They are expensive software used to take over firewalls, such as Cisco and Fortinet, that are used ‘in the largest and most critical commercial, educational and government agencies around the world,’ said Blake Darche, another former TAO operator and now head of security research at Area 1 Security.”

In a series of tweets, noted NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden posited that Russia was behind the breach.

I puzzled a while whether I would reproduce Snowden's 13 tweets, which are a decent exposition, but also show - as I have said from the beginning when I learned about Twitter - that restricting communications to 140 characters while everyone has email, reduces nearly all communications to sloganeering, and while Snowden does not do that, I think it is so ridiculous to have to write 13 tweets where 1 email would have easily done the same, and a lot better, that I refer you to the above dotted link if you wish to see them.

Here I only repeat that I think Snowden's argument is good (but also speculative, though probably correct).

And here are two extensions to Snowden's Tweets by me:

(1) the Russians are (and have been) quite good mathematically speaking [1]: If the NSA could put together a force of tenthousand fine mathematicians, the KGB (or whatever it calls itself now) certainly was able to do the same, and
(2) this indeed may have been a way by which the Russians try to make clear to the
US government that the Russians can steal the same things that the NSA can steal.

This certainly is quite interesting, also because both the NSA and the KGB are secret services, spying organizations, and are now dedicated (the NSA more recently than the KGB) to knowing as much as possible of the population, in order to be abled to control them somehow.

More will follow, it seems to me.

2. The Summer of the Shill

The second item is by Matt Taibbi on RollingStone:
This has a subtitle that is quite relevant:
Campaign 2016 won't just have lasting implications for American politics. It's obliterated what was left of our news media
I think the subtitle probably is correct, but I like to point out that rather a lot has happened, especially in the last 16 years or so, in order to get there:

(1) from around 2000 many parts of the media, and especially the printed parts, lost a great amount of advertisements, and therewith their main source of income; (2) from soon after 2000 people with lots of money bought many parts of the media, and entralized them in that there now were far fewer owners, and changed them in making them find and produce propaganda and/or amusements ("infotainment") much rather than making them find facts and objectively report on these; so that (3) there currently are now three broad sources of "news" in the USA (and also elsewhere, though there the background may be a bit different): Republican propaganda; Democratic propaganda; and also a smattering of much smaller, much less financially endowed organizations that still try to present facts and analyses based on facts (e.g. Truthdig, Common Dreams, Democracy Now!, Alternet and some more).

I think that is the present situation, which may well grow considerably worse fast, mostly because of the very old truth I formulated yesterday: There is no democracy without a real free press. And the free press is mostly dead in the USA. [2]

That is what - I take it - Taibbi is saying in the present article. To start with, here is some of Taibbi's background:

Years ago, when I was an exchange student in the Soviet Union, a Russian friend explained how he got his news.

"For news about Russia, Radio Liberty," he said. "For news about America, Soviet newspapers." He smiled. "Countries lie about themselves, tell truth about others."

American media consumers are fast approaching the same absurd binary reality. We now have one set of news outlets that gives us the bad news about Democrats, and another set of news outlets bravely dedicated to reporting the whole truth about Republicans.

Like the old adage about quarterbacks – if you think you have two good ones, you probably have none – this basically means we have no credible news media left. Apart from a few brave islands of resistance, virtually all the major news organizations are now fully in the tank for one side or the other.

Yes, indeed - although the backgrounds in both the Soviet Union and the USA in the previous century were quite different: In the USA there was not yet a binary press mostly dedicated to propaganda, while in the Soviet Union the press was the state
in most respects, and the state was dictatorial (to varying extents at varying times).

So here is what we have at present in the USA, in Matt Taibbi's eyes:

These all-Trump, all-the-time story lineups are like Fox in reverse. The commercial media has devolved, finally, into two remarkablynot humorless messaging platforms.

What's crucial to understand is that a great many commercial media outlets now are not so much liberal-leaning as Democratic-Party leaning.

There's a huge difference between advocacy journalism and electoral advocacy. Not just occasionally but all the time now, private news organizations are doing the work that political parties used to have to pay for in the form of ads.

Yes, indeed. Incidentally, some of the weaker alternative sites, such as AlterNet, have had for quite a while a nearly daily series with titles like "5" or "10" of "the latest insanities by" (some rightwing source). This is less now, but indeed I both did not like it at all and also I never saw such things before the present century started. [3]

And in more general terms, the main difference between how it was and how it is, is that it was fact-oriented although ideologically based, and it is propaganda-oriented with the pretension this is not ideology but is "common sense".

Here is what Trump achieved, in Taibbi's eyes:

Trump really sent this problem into overdrive. He is considered so dangerous that many journalists are beginning to be concerned that admitting the truth of negative reports of any kind about the Democrats might make them complicit in the election of the American Hitler.

There's some logic in that, but it's flawed logic. When journalists start acting like politicians, we pretty much always end up botching things even more politically and crippling our businesses to boot.

Perhaps. I agree this is "flawed logic", but if the great majority of the American papers and news shows are spouting mostly propaganda, which I think is the case, I'd rather see that such propaganda as there is accords more with my views than with the opposite. (I know this is no good, but this is then the second-best - or indeed the lesser evil.)

Here is the last bit I'll quote from this article:

The model going forward will likely involve Republican media covering Democratic corruption and Democratic media covering Republican corruption. This setup just doesn't work.

Matt Taibbi proceeds to unfold his argument why this doesn't work, which is more or less correct, but he seems to forget that without a real free press the political and legal situations will probably change.

In any case, what I expect is either more of the same as there is at present, i.e. rightish propaganda and "leftish" propaganda, that are both well-endowed financially but deeply dishonest, with a far smaller not well-endowed bit of real journalism in the alternative press, or else a considerable strengthening of the government's rules and interferences, which will effectively end the alternative press.

And I am not optimistic.

3. Socialism is obvious

The third item is by X on the anticap site:

This starts as follows:

British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn considers socialism—which he defines as “You care for each other, you care for everybody, and everybody cares for everybody else”—to be obvious.

As it turns out, socialism is increasingly obvious for folks on this side of the pond. Like Bernie Sanders. And Mark Workin and Melissa Young, who made the film Shift Change. And Richard Wolff, through Democracy at Work.

Now they’re joined by Shannon Rieger, a recipient of the Janice Nittoli “Forward Thinking” Award from The Century Fund.

I say. I know the word "socialism" has been functioning mostly as a swear word in the USA, indeed since the 1940ies, which led to a great amount of baloney and falsities, but I don't think Jeremy Corbyn's description of it is any good, if only because nobody can "care for everybody" (there are over 3 times as many people on earth as there are seconds in the lives of 70-year olds), and also because it is impossible that "everybody cares for everybody else", for the same reason.

I know I may have been - perhaps unduly - literal-minded, but my parents and most of my grandparents were real socialists, and also courageous men and women, and quite intelligent if not highly educated, and that is not what they would have said socialism is. And they also were right: to reduce socialism to a kind of "everybody loves everybody and we all are very happy" sort of teaching does not do it justice.

Then again, it is also not easy what "socialism" really means. I did spend some thinking and writing on it and published that nearly a year ago, and here it is: On socialism. I think it is interesting, but for the moment I only will quote George Orwell's definition of "socialism" from 1941:

  1. Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.
  2. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.
  3. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.

Indeed, while I do not agree with implementing this system, which I did not especially because "nationalizations" will tend to bring the nationalized industries under control of the state, which thus will amass far larger powers than it did before, and which also rather easily may derail into state-capitalism of the kind that ruled the Soviet Union and its dependents, I do agree that this is a reasonable definition of "socialism" as my parents and grandparents thought of it.

But this does not appear to be what X means, for the above quotation is immediately followed by this graphic:


I agree that this depicts an extremely skewed distribution of incomes and of growth of incomes, with the already rich (who also form a small percentage of the population) growing a lot richer since 1979, while the many non-rich had incomes that hardly grew, but then that is itself not an argument for socialism.

Indeed it might as well be given as an argument to return to the capitalism that ruled from 1945-1979, that was bound by all manners of laws that protected the interests and the rights of the non-rich that since have all been deregulated in over 35 years of concerted work of both the Republicans and the Democrats who both sided with the interests and desires for ever great profits of the rich (who also paid for their elections and their advertisements, indeed).

And while this is probably impossible [4], it does show that a regulated capitalism did quite well for some 35 years, and did spread a considerable part of the riches that were earned quite well, although the system that did this was (also) quite capitalistic, and did not do much to weaken the gap between the rich and the non-rich.

I agree this seems to have been insufficient for the infinite greed of the rich, who started changing it from 1980 onwards, both in the USA and England, and soon in Europe as well.

Indeed, here is Rieger's argument - or rather, part 1 of her argument, for more follows:

Rieger’s argument is that, in the face of growing inequality (such that the top 1 percent wage has increased by 138 percent since 1979, [while] the wages of the entire bottom 90 percent of earners have grown by the comparatively meager margin of just 15 percent—and an even more unequal distribution of wealth), it’s imperative that the United States “develop policies that not only mitigate existing economic inequality and poverty, but that actually reverse these trends for the long term.”

I have pointed out already that none of this is, itself, an argument for socialism. It is an argument for decent and proper laws (but these were there and have all been deregulated by Reagan's, Bush Sr.'s, Clinton's, Bush Jr.'s, and Obama's governments) and it is an argument against deep and large inequalities in incomes and wealth, but none of this is itself properly socialistic.

But here is part 2 of her argument, and that indeed is more socialistic (in my understanding of the term, which is pretty good):

And her proposed solution? Enterprises that are owned and managed by their employees.

By creating a policy environment to support and promote democratic employee-owned businesses, the United States could promote a more equitable employment system and a more just distribution of wealth. Doing so would not only help the country recover from the recent economic devastation of the Great Recession, but also begin to reverse the deep wealth and income disparities that have plagued American workers and families for decades.

Worker-owned cooperatives (which, across the world, employ more than 250 million people, and in 2013, generated $2.95 trillion in turnover) are a particular form of democratic employee-owned business that Rieger considers to have particularly rich potential in the United States.

It so happens that I agree - and think it also quite impracticable in the existing USA:

The rich are far too strong; the rich have deregulated nearly all the laws that hindered their actions; and the rich by and large won most of the fights with the non-rich since 1980, indeed to such an extent that both large political parties of the USA work for the rich.

And while this does not mean it will never happen, I think it does mean that the present schema of "
democratic employee-owned businesses" - which I agree is a good schema, in principle - will only be practicable on a considerable scale after a revolution.

Finally, I do have an argument about the title of the article, "
Socialism is obvious":
No, it's not and it's not for three kinds of general reasons:

(1) historically, there simply were quite a few forms of rather distinct socialisms, also among socialists, which indeed went back to the very beginning (say, the 1840ies - and incidentally the term "socialism" was created only in 1827);
(2) any proponent of socialism the last 100 years who wasn't a Soviet-style communist had the considerable difficulty of distinguishing his own ideals from those that were in fact a dictatorial form of Soviet state-capitalism; and
(3) any
proponent of socialism, and especially in  the USA, needs to realize that the anti-socialist rich have won most of the arguments and deregulated most of the laws that protected the non-rich in the last 35 years, and are still the main force to beat (and are stronger than they were the last 90 years).

So no, I don't think socialism is "obvious".

4. Ten Times Worse Than Hell: A Syrian Doctor on the Humanitarian Catastrophe in Aleppo

The fourth and last item today is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now!:

 This starts with the following introduction:

In the latest escalation of the war in Syria, Russia has begun launching airstrikes from an Iranian air base. The New York Times reports this marks the first time since World War II that a foreign military has operated from a base on Iranian soil. The move comes as fighting has intensified around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Earlier this month, rebels fighting the Syrian government began a new offensive to break an ongoing government-backed siege of the city. The rebels have been led in part by an offshoot of the Nusra Front, which up until last month had been aligned with al-Qaeda. The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the fight for Aleppo as "beyond doubt one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times." The United Nations is warning of a dire humanitarian crisis as millions are left without water or electricity. For more on the humanitarian and medical crisis in Syria, we speak with Dr. Zaher Sahloul, founder of the American Relief Coalition for Syria and senior adviser and former president of the Syrian American Medical Society. He has visited Aleppo five times since the war began.

Incidentally, I usually print the introductions to articles on Democracy Now! that I review because the articles are usually interviews (that are often good), while the introductions are nearly always good (which is fairly rare, in my experience).

Also, Dr. Zaher Sahloul, who seems to be a brave man, does work and live in the USA. To start with, here is a sketch of the present situation in Syria:

AMY GOODMAN: According to the humanitarian group Physicians for Human Rights, there have been more than 370 attacks on 265 medical facilities during the five-year conflict, as well as the deaths of 750 medical personnel. Overall, the death toll in the five-year Syrian conflict has reached close to half a million people. The ongoing war has displaced about half the prewar population, with more than 6 million Syrians displaced inside Syria and nearly 5 million Syrian refugees outside Syria’s borders.

To find about about more the humanitarian and medical crisis in Syria, we’re joined by Dr. Zaher Sahloul, founder of the American Relief Coalition for Syria and senior adviser and former president of the Syrian American Medical Society. He’s visited Aleppo five times since the war began. Last week, he addressed the U.N. Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. He was a classmate of Bashar al-Assad in medical school. Dr. Sahloul is a critical care specialist in Chicago.

I note and repeat that 6 million Syrians are displaced inside Syria, 5 million Syrians are refugees outside Syria, that at least half a million Syrians have been killed the last 5 years; and that there were 370 attacks on 265 medical facilities that led to the deaths of 750 medical personnel.

I do not know this is "ten times worse than hell", but it surely is an extremely serious situation. Here is Dr. Zaher Sahloul:

DR. ZAHER SAHLOUL: I mean, my thoughts and my colleagues’ thoughts from Aleppo, which I keep contacts every minute with them, is the same, that everyone is bombing Syrians, and no one cares about ending the crisis. So it looks like the Russians are having fun bombing Syria from different parts, now added Iran to this, Iran bases. The coalition are bombing parts of Syria. They are bombing ISIS and also civilians. The Assad regime is bombing, you know, cities and historic sites and civilians, with barrel bombings and all kind of weapons. The Iranians are bombing Syrians. So everyone is bombing Syrians.

And this is really the story that is not being told in the media. I mean, when people know about Syria or hear about Syria, they think it’s something related to ISIS or that it’s something that is complicated. But what’s happening, that civilians are suffering every day. Children are being mutilated and killed with barrel bombs and air missile bombs. Hospitals are targeted. Schools are targeted. Fruit markets are targeted. And historic sites, like the Old City of Aleppo, are being destroyed. So this is the tragedy that we are living in. We had half a million people killed in Syria so far, half of the population displaced. And so far, we don’t have a light at the end of the tunnel.

I think this is all true. Here is some about the fates of Syrian children:

AMY GOODMAN: What about the children? You have said that they eat cat food and grass?

DR. ZAHER SAHLOUL: Well, I mean, that happened in Madaya. That happened in Darayya and other places in Syria under siege. Let’s not forget that, according to the United Nations, there are 850,000 people under siege, barbaric siege, by their own government in places like East al-Ghouta, Darayya, Madaya, Moadamiya, Alwa and Homs and other places in Syria. And in Aleppo now, which became under siege, eastern Aleppo, you have 300,000 people, among them 85,000 children, who are under siege.

And this is the end of the article:

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Zaher Sahloul, thank you very much for being with us, founder of the American Relief Coalition for Syria, senior adviser and former president of the Syrian American Medical Society, has visited Aleppo five times since the war began. Last week, he addressed the U.N. Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

There is more in the article, which is recommended.
---------------
Notes
[1] Russian mathematics has been good for quite a long time, indeed from since before 1917, and may have grown rather a lot since "the socialist revolution" of 1917 because quite a few of the most intelligent preferred studying mathematics over studying politics, sociology, economics etc. (I know because I read a considerable amount of mathematics, and indeed generally prefer the Russian style over the American style, although I doubt this has much to do with politics, and has probably most to do with a combination of logic and esthetics.)

[2] First, I think this is true for the USA: the free press is mostly - not wholly - dead. I don't know the consequences, but these will probably not be pleasant whatever they are.

Second, it is similar elsewhere. Since I am Dutch and unfortunately am forced to live in Holland (for I am ill and very poor), I do know most about Holland. Well, I have read the
NRC-Handelsblad daily for forty (40) years, namely from 1970 till 2010, and I have seen it grow from a decent liberal academic paper to a good liberal academic paper (in the 1980ies), since when I have seen it decline, and decline, and decline (and being sold, and resold) to its present awful position of infotainment-shit with little real news and no intelligent real journalists. It's quite amazing - and no: You don't need to comment if you haven't read it as long as I have, or don't have an academic diploma as good as mine. (I know it looks different for much younger people, and for less intelligent people: I am formulating the opinion of a man who has read it for over 40 years, and who is very intelligent, not those of a 20 year old with an IQ of 115 who has no idea of what it was like in the 1980ies.)

[3] My points here are especially that (1) I never saw systematic articles with titles and contents like "The latest 5 insanities by the rightwing" before this century; (2) such titles and such contents are only interesting for fanatics; while (3) I have read through periods when there were articles like this almost every day. I think it is odd and deplorable, and I know it is fairly new.

[4] It is impossible mostly because deregulating laws is very easy, but building - sensible, rational, fair - laws is quite difficult and takes time. Also, this simply will not happen while the rich are by far the strongest, as is the case now.

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