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Nederlog

Oct 19, 2016

Crisis: Secret "Laws", $5 Trillion War, Julian Assange Censored, Face Recognition
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Introduction

1.
Despite Post-Snowden Outcry, Report Details 'New
     Era of Secret Law'

2. The $5 Trillion Wars
3. Ecuador Cuts Internet Access for Julian Assange to
     Preserve Neutrality in U.S. Election

4. Study: Face Recognition Systems Threaten the
     Privacy of Millions

Introduction: 

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, October 19, 2016.

A. This is a crisis log with 4 items and 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about a quite frightening article that points out that there are now, and since 15 years, very large areas of secret "laws" in the USA; item 2 is about the war in Afghani- stan, that meanwhile cost, in 15 years, $5 trillion dollars (all provided by the American taxpayers); item 3 is about the censorship the Ecuadorian govern- ment committed against Julien Assange; and item 4 is about the "wild west" that is current facial recognition: Police departments everywhere in the USA get all the faces they want, regardless of whether the owners did anything illegal, and regardless of any permission.


-- Constant part, for the moment --

B. In case you visit my Dutch site: I do not know, but it may be you need to click/reload twice or more to see any changes I have made. This certainly held for me, but it is possible this was caused by the fact that I am also writing it from my computer.

In any case, I am now (again) updating the opening of my site with the last day it was updated. (And I am very sorry if you have to click/reload several times to see the last update: It is not what I wish, nor how it was. [1]

C. In case you visit my Danish site: It now works again (!), but I do not know how long it will keep working. The Dutch site still is a mess (it wasn't on Oct 15, but has not worked properly since).

I am very sorry, and none of it is due to me. I am simply doing the same things as I did for 20 or for 12 years, that also went well for 20 or for 12 years.

I will keep this introduction until I get three successive days (!!!) in which both providers work correctly. I have not seen that for many months now.

---

1. Despite Post-Snowden Outcry, Report Details 'New Era of Secret Law'

The first item today is by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. government began creating what has now become an "unprecedented buildup" of secret laws, and even the recent public backlash against them has not stopped widespread use of covert rules that impact Americans' everyday lives without their knowledge, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Department of Justice has kept classified at least 74 legal memos, opinions, and letters issued by the department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from 2002 to 2009 on national security issues—from torture to mass surveillance—according to the report, The New Era of Secret Law (pdf), written by Elizabeth Gotein, co-director of the center's Liberty and National Security Program.

And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which rules on intelligence collecting activities, is also hiding 25 to 30 opinions issued between 2003 and 2013 "that were deemed significant by the Attorney General." In fact, most of the significant case law written before National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations remains undisclosed.

I say! Well... this will probably not be a good review, but this is because the matter is complicated; many U.S. laws are secret (!!!); and the report that is the basis of this, The New Era of Secret Law (pdf), which I strongly recommend, is a 100 pages of A4.

In fact, the main text of The New Era of Secret Law (pdf) starts as follows:

It is an extremely painful thing to be ruled by laws that one does not know.
— Franz Kafka, Parables and Paradoxes
Secret law has been condemned for as long as it has existed — that is, throughout history. It has generally been associated with repressive regimes; in modern democratic societies, people intuitively understand that “[t]he idea of secret laws is repugnant” and that their existence is “an abomination.”
In past decades, this intuition led to the enactment of several statutes in the U.S. designed to ensure public disclosure of laws.

In recent years, however, secret law has again reared its head in forms that are more difficult to recognize and confront — in large part because the context is often national security policy, where operational secrecy has long been the norm. To address this more complex phenomenon of secret law, basic intuitions will not suffice. A deeper understanding is needed of what constitutes secret law, its history, its legal and practical implications, and the differences between secret law and secret implementation of the law.

I completely agree with Kafka's quote and I am a strong opponent of "secret laws". "Secret laws" are not laws: Real laws are public, while "secret laws" are the secret rules by which authorities punish people who oppose them, possibly also in the deepest secret, and with extreme cruelty.

And therefore I say that the more "secret laws" a country has (i) the more inequalities between the powerful and the powerless it has; (ii) the more abuse of the defenseless it has; and (iii) the more totalitarian, authori- tarian or (neo)fascistic it has become, although it may be very difficult to estimate, precisely because many of the "laws" are secret.

For me, therefore, this is strong evidence the USA has been rapidly moving towards neofascism, which I define as follows (and see October 17, 2016 for more on fascism and neofascism [2]):

Neofascism is a. A social system that is marked by a government with a centralized powerful authority, where the opposition is propagandized and suppressed or censored, that propounds an ethics which has profit as its main norm, and that has a politics that is rightwing, nationalistic, pro-capitalist, anti-liberal, anti-equality, and anti-leftist, and that has a corporative organization of the economy in which multi-national corporations are stronger than a national government or stateb. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a social system.

And of course "secret laws" are one of the ways in which a government becomes "a centralized powerful authority", indeed while also falsifying its own degree of (secret) authority.

Here is something on the implied degree of neofascism in the USA - and the "42 percent" the quotation speaks of relates to the period 2004-2014:

Fully 42 percent of binding agreements between the U.S. and other countries are also unpublished, the report finds.

The Washington Post spoke with Yale University international law professor Oona Hathaway, who said that number was "pretty stunning."

I'd say this is about the least that an "expert on international law" can say, when she is told that she doesn't know over 40% of the "laws" she specializes in, simply because a few figures with authority have decided that more than 300 million Americans do NOT deserve the right of knowing the laws by which they are governed. (See Kafka.)

And there is a lot of "secret law" (and "secret regulations", and "secret decisions"):

For example, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires agencies to invite public comment for proposed rules, while FOIA requires them to publish final rules in the Federal Registry. But intelligence agencies "routinely" exploit a narrow exception to those requirements to avoid having to publish new rules, Gotein says. And most presidential directives regarding national security policy are kept hidden as well.

All this means "[s]ecret law persists even in areas where we thought the secrecy had ended," she writes.

I finish this review with a quotation from Elizabeth Gotein (the writer of The New Era of Secret Law (pdf)):

We pay a high price for this system. Secret law denies us the ability to shape the rules that govern official conduct through the democratic process. It prevents us from holding the government accountable for violations, rendering such violations more likely. It weakens checks and balances, as both legislative and judicial oversight operate less effectively under the constraints imposed by secrecy.

Secret law is also bad law: When rules are developed by small groups of officials without the input of outside experts or stakeholders, their quality suffers. Indeed, an inherent conflict of interest exists when the executive branch enacts laws out of the public eye to govern its own actions. This can result in policies that are ineffective, ill advised, or even contrary to statutes or the Constitution.

Or to put it in my own terms: "Secret laws" are the laws of authoritarian, totalitarian, fascistic or Stalinist regimes. "Secret laws" are the complete opposite of real democratic laws, for they allow the same authorities that issue these "secret laws" all the freedoms and all the rights to screw the population they are the political authorities of and to keep it a total secret that the population or parts thereof has been screwed.

"Secret laws" are the essence of fascism and neofascism. And this is a recommended artice, though I think that The New Era of Secret Law (pdf) is the best recommendation, although it is a bit technical and takes 100 pages (but it is decently written, for a lawyer's text).

2. The $5 Trillion Wars

The second item is by Linda Bilms on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

This October marks 15 years since American troops entered Afghanistan. It was a precursor to the occupation of Iraq and is the longest military conflict in US history. Yet the trillions of dollars and thousands of lives expended in these wars have rated barely a mention in the presidential campaign.

The most recent estimates suggest that war costs will run to nearly $5 trillion — a staggering sum that exceeds even the $3 trillion that Joseph Stiglitz and I predicted back in 2008.

I say. Then again, while $5 trillion is a very large amount, the real trouble is not so much about the $5 trillion dollars this cost so far, but about who is going to pay those $5 trillion dollars: Not those who are presently alive, it seems:

Yet the cost seems invisible to politicians and the public alike. The reason is that almost all of the spending has been financed through borrowing — selling US Treasury Bonds around the world — leaving our children to pick up the tab. Consequently, the wars have had little impact on our pocketbooks.

In earlier wars, the government routinely raised taxes, slashed nonmilitary spending, and sold war bonds. Taxes were raised to pay for the Spanish-American War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War I and World War II. Top rates of federal income taxes climbed to 70 percent during Vietnam and to over 90 percent during the Korean War. These policies were all part of an explicit strategy of engaging the American public in the war efforts. In sharp contrast, the George W. Bush administration cut taxes after the invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001 and again, in 2003, when we invaded Iraq. Most Americans pay lower taxes now than they did 15 years ago.

Put otherwise: All earlier wars that were conducted by the USA were paid for at the time they happened, and were paid for by rising taxes, cutting non-miitary spending, and by war bonds.

But not the war in Afghanistan: This must be paid (with interests also) by the children of the present adults (as raising taxes would cut incomes of the very rich, which - with the present mostly corrupt politicians - must be considered a real political impossibility).

Then there is this as regards financing the war:
Congress has also managed to avoid painful budgetary choices. Since 2001, Congress has employed a series of so-called “temporary special appropriations” to authorize hundreds of billions of dollars for war spending, bypassing the regular spending process. Despite President Obama’s pledge to end such “gimmicks,” they have continued throughout his presidency. Thus the money appropriated for the post-9/11 wars did not have to be traded off against other spending priorities. The war appropriation also gets far less scrutiny than the regular defense budget. Consequently, the war budget has become a magnet for pet nonwar spending projects that senators and congressmen want to slip in under the radar. As a consequence, the reported war cost per troop deployed has ballooned from $1 million per year at the peak of the fighting in 2008 to $4.9 million today.
War is special; war has special rules (many of them secret); and because war is special it now also attracted enormous amounts of nonwar spending projects - which made it nearly 5 times as expensive, in a mere 8 years, to send out one US soldier.

And not only do the present American adults not have to pay for the war: they also do not need to fear fighting it:
This is the first war that has been conducted by professional U.S. soldiers:
Besides ducking the immediate financial burden, most of us are also shielded from the risks and hardships of military service. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were the first major US conflicts fought entirely by an “all-volunteer” military force. Less than 1 percent of the adult US population was deployed to the combat zones — the smallest percentage at any time since the short peacetime period between the two World Wars. Instead, our small volunteer army is supplemented by a large shadow force of private contractors. In Afghanistan, contractors outnumber US troops by 3 to 1, performing critical roles in virtually every area of military activity. More than two-thirds of them are recruited from other countries, including the Philippines and Nepal.
I say. So the war the USA is conducting in Afghanistan (i) is not conducted by non-professionals, and (ii) most of those who are fighting it are not Americans either, while (iii) it also is not being paid by present U.S. adults. (But their children will have to pay everything, with interest also.)

3. Ecuador Cuts Internet Access for Julian Assange to Preserve Neutrality in U.S. Election
The third item is by Robert Mackey on The Intercept: This starts as follows:

The government of Ecuador confirmed on Tuesday that it had decided “to temporarily restrict access” to the internet inside its embassy in London, effectively cutting off Julian Assange, the editor of Wikileaks, who has lived there since he was granted political asylum in 2012.

Assange first reported on Monday that his internet connection had been “severed by a state party,” and the organization was forced to resort to a back-up plan to continue its work.

I say. Since I do not like euphemisms, I'd say that the government of Ecuador now has decided it will censor Julian Assange. Indeed, here is the specific reason for the censorship:
In an official statement, Ecuador’s foreign ministry suggested that the restriction was related to the release of documents by Wikileaks that could impact the presidential election in the United States.
That is: It seems Ecuador's government likes it if Hillary Clinton is elected president, and dislikes it if Donald Trump were elected; Ecuador's government believes Assange's publications on Wikileak decreases Clinton's chances; therefore Ecuador's government decided to stop Julian Assange's use of internet.

This seems to have been the reasoning. And there is this:

As The Intercept reported in August, since Wikileaks began publishing emails hacked from the accounts of Democratic party officials, the site’s editor has been accused of attempting to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency.

While a founding principle of Wikileaks was that its editors would not know the identity of those who supplied them with documents, the U.S. Intelligence Community said earlier this month that it “is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails” later provided to the site, in order “to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

Intelligence officials have not disclosed evidence to support their attribution of responsibility to Russia (...)
First of all: Why should Assange be prevented from "attempting to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency"?!

If he does - for which I have not seen one iota of proof - I disagree with him, but he does no more than 4/5th or more of the mainstream media have been doing the last seven months.

Second, the very pleasantly called "
U.S. Intelligence Community" [3] is a branch of the U.S. government, and all goverments and all bureaucrats lie until there is independent evidence that they speak the truth - and this is the more so since "[i]ntelligence officials have not disclosed evidence to support their attribution of responsibility to Russia".

And third, and regardless from the accusations of WikiLeaks by anonymous bureaucrats from U.S. intelligence: This is just censorship, and it is censor- ship of WikiLeaks, which is one of the few sources of real information.

4. Study: Face Recognition Systems Threaten the Privacy of Millions

The fourth and final item today is by Ava Kofman on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

A broad coalition of over 50 civil liberties groups delivered a letter to the Justice Department’s civil rights division Tuesday calling for an investigation into the expanding use of face recognition technology by police. “Safeguards to ensure this technology is being used fairly and responsibly appear to be virtually nonexistent,” the letter stated. The routine unsupervised use of face recognition systems, according to the dozens of signatories, threatens the privacy and civil liberties of millions — especially those of immigrants and people of color.

These civil rights groups were provided with advance copies of a watershed 150-page report detailing — in many cases for the first time — how local police departments across the country have been using facial recognition technology. Titled “The Perpetual Lineup,” the report, published Tuesday morning by the Georgetown Center on Privacy & Technology, reveals that police deploy face recognition technology in ways that are more widespread, advanced, and unregulated than anyone has previously reported.

I must say that I am not amazed at all. And in fact almost everything I have heard about terrorism was less about terrorism (which did not kill many, with the exception of 9/11) and more about "the need" for state-terrorism from the secret services, police and military of Western governments. (See October 29, 2005, if you read Dutch.)

And I see this as more evidence that I was right in 2005, also because that is now 11 years ago - which saw eleven years of enormous growth in Western state-terrorism [4]:

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls by and large don’t exist today,” said Clare Garvie, one of the report’s co-authors. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

Yes and no, of course: Yes, it's a wild west according to Clare Garvie and myself, but no, it is paradise for the police departments: They are getting all the facial pictures they want, of anyone, without any questions being asked.

Here is some more on the wild west/paradise:
There is no national database of departments using these programs, how they work, what policies govern them, who can access them, and how the passive information is being collected and queried. The Georgetown report, compiling tens of thousands of records produced in response to Freedom of Information requests sent to fifty of the largest police departments across the country, provides the most comprehensive snapshot to date of how and on whom face recognition systems are used — and what policies constrain their use, if any. But even this picture continues to be partial, given the continued lack of transparency of several large law enforcement agencies with some of the most advanced systems.
It seems as if it is total anarchy for the police, which means - in my estimate, at least - that it gets more and more dangerous for ordinary people.
---------------
Notes
[1] Alas, this is precisely as I said it does, and it goes on for months now. I do not know who does it, and I refuse to call the liars of "xs4all" (really: the KPN), simply because these have been lying to me from 2002-2009, and I do not trust anything they say I cannot control myself: They have treated me for seven years as a liar because "you complain about things other people do not complain about" (which is the perfect excuse never to do anything whatsoever for anyone).

[2] I will soon publish "On fascism and neofascism - 1".

I know I have been promising that for quite a while now, and indeed I have written most of it, but I needed to find something I wished to include in it, and have meanwhile found it.

So yes, it will be published soon, and it also will probably have several issues.

[3] I am sorry but I think "Community" for a secret organization consisting of at least 17 departments, one even more secret than the other, and all dedicated to state-terrorism , is a propaganda term. (In case you disagree: Ask yourself why Eisenhower spoke of the "Military-Industrial Complex", much rather than of the
"Military-Industrial Community".)

[4] Maybe it is (once more) time to explain (1) the difference between state-terrorism and terrorism and (2) why state-terrorism has grown enormously since 9/11.

As to state-terrorism and terrorism:

Both go by the same definition, namely "
Attempt to get one's way in politics or religion by violence and murder, directed especially at civilians".

The difference between the two is that state-terrorism is done by people paid for by states, whereas terrorism that is not done by people paid for by states is simply terrorism.

I dislike both, but looking at the evidence - say: of the Nazis and of the Soviet "Socialists" - is more than sufficient to convince me that state-terrorism is by far the most dangerous, indeed because it is paid by very powerful states.

As to the enormous growth of Western state-terrorism:

I am talking about the growth in information (which tends to be prior to actual terrorizing): It seems that in the 15 years that have passed since 9/11 everybody who has a computer that is connected to the internet and everybody who has a cellphone has a - secret - dossier in the NSA databasis.

You might reply - e.g. as a Westerner - that you harmed no one, and that you don't care what the secret services know about you.

My reply is that I don't doubt the first (in all probability), but this ought to imply you are not in a secret dossier maintained by a secret service, largely for secret ends.

If you are - and according to the (partial, incomplete, to a large extent secret) information I have everybody with a cellphone or internet computer has been made into a dossier by the NSA - I can only say that I wish you the best, but that I
fear very bad things may happen to you if you somehow oppose any future (American) government, of whatever color.

For that is what secret dossiers made by secret services have been used for, and now there are secret dossiers by secret services on anyone with internet connection (and "secret laws" as well).
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