June 25, 2019

Crisis: Guantánamo & Torture, E-Commerce's Manipulations, Sanders & Student-Debts, The CIA

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from June 25, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

I realize that I did not commemorate the fact that I am writing Crisis files for six years now, since I started to do so after June 10, 2013, which taught me about Snowden.

I am registering it now, and may write about it the coming days, but I am also somewhat worse at present than I was for a long time. (This still continues: I have ME/CFS simce 40+ years.)

There will be more about computers and Ubuntu in Nederlog soon, but I am happy to announce that Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, that I installed in 2017, works again as it did before on May 24, and after 24 hours of misery.

And on May 23 I also got a working computer with 18.04 LTS (which is worse than 16.04 LTS because its Firefox also is a menuless horror that I refuse to use, but happily SeaMonkey is not, for it still has it menus and can be installed on 18.04), so I am at present - and after two weeks of struggling - in the possession of two more or less, though not yet quite decently working computers.

So today there is a more or less common Nederlog, where "common" is the style I developed in 2013.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than three years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are four crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from June 25, 2019:
1. Guantánamo Case to Test Whether Torture Can Be Put on the

2. How E-Commerce Sites Manipulate You Into Buying Things
3. Bernie Sanders Offers Plan to Wipe Out Student Debt
4. John Kiriakou: CIA Seeking More Impunity
The items 1 - 4 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Guantánamo Case to Test Whether Torture Can Be Put on the Docket

This article is by Carol Rosenberg on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

During the more than three years he spent in C.I.A. prisons before being sent to Guantánamo Bay, Majid Khan says he was hung from his wrists, naked and hooded, for two straight days, causing wild hallucinations.

Mr. Khan, a confessed Qaeda courier, was held in almost total darkness for a year, fearing he would be drowned in an icy tub and isolated in a cell with bugs that bit him until he bled. In 2004, his second year of C.I.A. detention, the agency “infused” a purée of pasta, sauce, nuts, raisins and hummus up Mr. Khan’s rectum when he went on a hunger strike, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Now Mr. Khan and his legal team are pursuing a strategy in an effort to force the United States government to acknowledge what was done to him in a way it never has for any of the detainees who were subjected to torture — and to give him a measure of compensation for it.

Mr. Khan pleaded guilty at his military tribunal in 2012 to delivering $50,000 of Qaeda money that helped finance the 2003 bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, which killed 11 people, and plotting other, unrealized terrorist attacks.
I say, for I did not know this.

My position on torture - and the above certainly was torture - is as simple as it once appeared to in law: No one should be tortured for any reason (whether punishment, information or other).

I add that I wrote ¨
as it once appeared to¨ because I do know that, in spite of fairly clear recent laws, people have been tortured for thousands of years, while prosecution of those who did torture or did command torture, has always been quite difficult if those who did it or commanded it were part of the forces of some government.

Here is some more:

As part of the sentencing process, his lawyers are arguing that the treatment Mr. Khan endured in C.I.A. custody also needs to be taken into account and are asking the military judge in the case to grant Mr. Khan time off his prison term as a form of credit for what the C.I.A. did to him.

The Army judge in the case has agreed to hear arguments from prosecution and defense lawyers at Guantánamo starting July 9 about his authority to provide reparation for the torture the United States government carried out after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Yes indeed, although this article also makes it fairly clear that the above procedure - which does seem fair to me - has no basis in law.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Scott Roehm, the Washington policy director for the Center for Victims of Torture, an advocacy group, said the decision facing Mr. Khan’s judge would be “a watershed moment” because of the opportunity to hold the United States legally responsible for the interrogation program after Sept. 11.

Mr. Khan’s case tests “whether the military commissions will grapple seriously and fairly with the United States’ legacy of torture,” he said.

The government has signaled that it will fight the request. In a filing last month, prosecutors urged the judge to not call witnesses or hear evidence on what happened to Mr. Khan.

Well... I agree with Roehm´s position, but I am also afraid that it will not carry far in court. And the government´s position does seem clear and amounts - I think - to the position that CIA people can do to prisoners what they want, and will never be named. This is a recommended article.

2. How E-Commerce Sites Manipulate You Into Buying Things

This article is by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

When potential customers visit the online resale store ThredUp, messages on the screen regularly tell them just how much other users of the site are saving.

“Alexandra from Anaheim just saved $222 on her order” says one message next to an image of a bright, multicolored dress. It’s a common technique on shopping websites, intended to capitalize on people’s desire to fit in with others and to create a “fear of missing out.”

But “Alexandra from Anaheim” did not buy the dress. She does not exist. Instead, the website’s code pulled combinations from a preprogrammed list of names, locations and items and presented them as actual recent purchases.

The fake messages are an example of “dark patterns,” devious online techniques that manipulate users into doing things they might not otherwise choose to. They are the digital version of timeworn tactics used to influence consumer behavior, like impulse purchases placed near cash registers, or bait-and-switch ads for used cars.

Sometimes, the methods are clearly deceptive, as with ThredUp, but often they walk a fine line between manipulation and persuasion: Think of the brightly colored button that encourages you to agree to a service, while the link to opt out is hidden in a drop-down menu.

I say, and in the original article there is a fairly interesting picture of ThredUp sickening lies, which seem to be covered by more lies, to the effect that ThredUp can lie to its potential customers because they lie - they falsely assert - so as not to provide real names and addresses.

And while I think this is quite sickening, I am also afraid it will continue as long as the internet is being run as it has been from its beginning, which was essentially as (i) the tool governments can know everything about everyone, and (ii) rich corporations likewise can know everything about anyone, which serves them not to control people (often without any indication) but to make them buy things (again often without any indication).

As an aside: It may be that Valentino-DeVries and I do not agree on what is manipulation, for I think the last paragraph is a clear instance of manipularion.

Anyway. Here is some more:

The prevalence of dark patterns across the web is unknown, but in a study released this week, researchers from Princeton University have started to quantify the phenomenon, focusing first on retail companies. The study is the first to systematically examine a large number of sites. The researchers developed software that automatically scanned more than 10,000 sites and found that more than 1,200 of them used techniques that the authors identified as dark patterns, including ThredUp’s fake notifications.

The report coincides with discussions among lawmakers about regulating technology companies, including through a bill proposed in April by Senators Deb Fischer, Republican of Nebraska, and Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, that is meant to limit the use of dark patterns by making some of the techniques illegal and giving the Federal Trade Commission more authority to police the practice.

I think that was a good idea by ¨researchers from Princeton University¨ and I am not amazed that over 10% of commercial sites are trying to manipulate their customers.
And I agree with proposed bill (but I am also an opponent of the internet-as-is, which - as yet - is a rare position).

Here is more on the professional liars from ThredUp:

On ThredUp, for example, the researchers saw the website create the messages in April using code that arbitrarily selected combinations from a list of 100 names, 59 locations and 82 items. The New York Times replicated the results. On one day this month, the code led to messages in which “Abigail from Albuquerque” appeared to buy more than two dozen items, including dresses in sizes 2, 4, 6 and 8. On other occasions, it yielded messages showing different people “just” buying the same secondhand item days or months apart.

When asked about the notices, a ThredUp spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the company used “real data” and that it included the fake names and locations “to be sensitive to privacy.” When asked whether the messages represented actual recent purchases, the company did not respond

I take it that is correct, and this is a recommended article.

3. Bernie Sanders Offers Plan to Wipe Out Student Debt

This article is by Jake Johnson at Truthdig and originally at Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

As part of a bold legislative package that would make public colleges and universities tuition-free, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday will unveil a plan to wipe out the $1.6 trillion in student loan debt that is saddling an estimated 45 million Americans.

“This is truly a revolutionary proposal,” Sanders told the Washington Post, which reported the details of the Vermont senator’s bill late Sunday. “In a generation hard hit by the Wall Street crash of 2008, it forgives all student debt and ends the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation to a lifetime of debt for the ‘crime’ of getting a college education.”

I say, for I did not know this, and I completely agree with Sanders, even though I also think his proposal has a very small chance of being realized at present, especially because Sanders wants to finance it in an original (and to my mind: sound) way:

Vox‘s Tara Golshan called Sanders’ legislative package the “most ambitious higher education plan in the Democratic 2020 presidential primary so far.”

Unlike means-tested plans introduced by other 2020 contenders, Golshan observed, Sanders’s legislation would cancel student debt for everyone “regardless of their income or assets.”

According to the Post, Sanders would pay for his plan with “a tax on Wall Street his campaign says will raise more than $2 trillion over 10 years.”

“Sanders is proposing to pay for the legislation with a new tax on financial transactions, including a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions and a 0.1 percent tax on bonds,” the Post reported. “Such a levy would curb Wall Street speculation while reducing income inequality, according to a report by the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank.”

Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ staff director, tweeted, “If we could give a multi-trillion bailout to Wall Street, yes we can make college for all a reality.”

Yes, I agree (though Wall Street has succeeded for 11 years not to repay what they gained after the crisis of 2008, "because they are too big to prosecute").

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

According to the Post, the Vermont senator’s new plan will go beyond the tuition-free public college proposal that was a key plank of his 2016 presidential campaign platform.

“Sanders’s bill includes $1.3 billion a year for low-income students at historically black colleges and universities,” the Post reported, “and $48 billion per year for eliminating tuition and fees at public schools and universities.”

The Vermont senator’s debt cancellation proposal comes just weeks after he unveiled a sweeping K-12 education platform that includes a national ban on for-profit charter schools, free universal school meals, and a significant raise for teachers.

As I said: I agree with Sanders, although I think that in the present circumstances his plans will probably not be accepted. And this is a recommended article.

4. John Kiriakou: CIA Seeking More Impunity

This article is by John Kiriakou on Consortium News. It starts as follows:
The CIA has quietly asked the Senate Intelligence Committee to include a provision in its next authorization bill that would vastly expand the definition of a “covert agent” whose identity would be protected from unauthorized disclosure.

The current law, called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981, defines a covert agent as any intelligence officer who is serving abroad or who has served abroad in a covert capacity in the past five years.  The new bill would expand that protection to include all unacknowledged intelligence personnel even if they have never left the United States.

Let me be clear:  This measure is not at all about protecting the identities of CIA officers doing their jobs.  It is about protecting those CIA employees who have committed crimes against humanity. It’s a cover-up.  Take it from me.  I have first-hand experience with this law.
Yes indeed, and I completely agree with Kiriakou. Here is some more:
The Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) has been used only twice since its passage. It was used to convict Sharon Scranage, a CIA secretary who had had an affair with an intelligence officer in Ghana and had given him the names of all CIA employees in the country and the identities of Ghanaians who were working for the CIA.  She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a minimum-security prison.  My prosecution was the second and it came in retaliation for my blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program.  I never made public the name of any covert operative and I ended up with 23 months.

These two minor prosecutions aside, very few revelations of CIA identities have ever led to court cases. 
Yes indeed, and one reason (among many more) that seems to have protected some is their high position, such as the former Deputy of State Armigate, the former CIA Director David Petraeus (who leaked the names of 10 covert CIA agents to his mistress/biographer) and former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

For some more, see the article. Here is a bit more from it:
The implementation of this law is a joke. The CIA doesn’t care when an operative’s identity is revealed — unless they don’t like the politics of the person making the revelation.  If they cared, half of the CIA leadership would be in prison.  What they do care about, though, is protecting those employees who commit crimes at the behest of the White House or the CIA leadership.
Yes, I think that is correct. Here is the ending of this article:
The CIA doesn’t care about a free press, though. The proposed provision in the authorization bill would save the CIA the trouble of having to explain itself to the likes of the media, to members of the congressional oversight committees, or even to the courts.  And it raises far more questions than it answers.  Why is such a provision necessary in the first place?  What exactly is it supposed to protect?  What was the precipitating event?

There are, of course, no legitimate answers to those questions.  No CIA officers have been exposed.  None have been threatened.  None have had their lives put in danger by unauthorized disclosures.  That’s a red herring.  This new provision is a power grab.  It is an attempt to get a pass on crimes even before they’re committed. It’s prior restraint.  It’s un-American and we have to fight it.
Yes, I agree - and note what the CIA now is proposing: Members of the CIA can do whatever they please, and will neither be named, nor have to face any court. This is a strongly recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 3 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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