Archive for the ‘Abuse of Power’ Category

How the West empowers Central Asian tyrants

August 8, 2018

The regime of Islam Karimov, who ruled the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016, once had a couple of dissidents boiled alive.  When the grandmother of one of them complained publicly, she was sentenced to six years in prison.

People under his rule could be jailed, tortured or killed for the slightest reason.  Police raped women at will.  His country’s chief export crop, cotton, was picked by forced labor.  Karimov’s family, especially his daughter Gulnara, and his cronies controlled the economy.

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But he was not a primitive tyrant ruling a backward country remote from the centers of civilization.  Rather he and his fellow Central Asian dictators were intimately connected with global finance and politics, and owed their power to those connections..

International banks helped Karimov and his family take their wealth out of the country and hide it.  Russian, American and Chinese governments completed for his favor, and turned a blind eye when his secret services reached out to capture and kill political opponents living abroad.

Corrupt Third World dictators that Western governments support are not mere puppets.  Empowering them means compromising and corrupting institutions that are supposedly based on the rule of law.

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I recently read two books about Central Asia – MURDER IN SAMARKAND: A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror by Craig Murray (2006) and DICTATORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Power and Money in Central Asia by Alexander Cooley and John Heathersaw (2017).   I’ll first comment on Murray’s book, then on the other book.

Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian nations were part of the Soviet Union until it broke up.  Their governments were continuations of the former Communist governments.

Craig Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. His descriptions of life in Uzbekistan reminds me of accounts of the USSR in the 1930s

He was a colorful character—a drinker, a womanizer and a proud Scot who appeared in formal occasions in Highland dress complete with kilt.  But his physical and moral courage were indisputable.

He once found himself with a stalled car on a country road, alone except for his female interpreter, a female staff member and the widow of a murder victim.

A couple of roughnecks approached, and the widow whispered Murray that they were the murderers of her husband.  Murray pushed one of them in the chest, told them he was the British ambassador and to get out of his way.  He did.

He in theory was supposed to advocate for human rights laws that the British government had endorsed, but in reality, his superiors wanted him to go along with U.S. policy, which was to support Karimov as a valued supporter of the U.S. “war on terror” and interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Uzbekistan was part of the Northern Supply Route, by which U.S. forces in Afghanistan are supported by way of Russia and Central Asia, and it allowed a U.S. air based on its territory.

This mean that Murray was expected to overlook at lot, as he told a Guardian reporter at the time:

People come to me very often after being tortured.  Normally this includes homosexual and heterosexual rape of close relatives in front of the victim; rape with objects such as broken bottles; asphyxiation; pulling out of fingernails; smashing of limbs with blunt objects; and use of boiling liquids including complete immersion of the body.  This is not uncommon.  Thousands of people a year suffer from this torture at the hands of the authorities.

Source: The Guardian

He once interviewed an old professor about imprisoned Uzbek dissidents.  A short time later, the body of the professor’s 18-year-old grandson, bearing the marks of torture, was dumped on the professor’s doorstep.  That is the “murder in Samarkand” in the title.

The U.S. ambassador strongly opposed Murray’s meddling.  At the time was Uzbekistan was a destination for American “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists.  The CIA set great store by information obtained by torture and so did the British government.

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The case for Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The case for Julian Assange in a nutshell is that it should not be a crime to expose abuse of power by government.

The I Am WikiLeaks web site, established by the Courage Foundation, gives a more detailed account of Julian Assange’s life and work, and the various charges against him.  Courage has prepared  infographics that give the essence of Assange’s case.

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The rule of law and Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The rule of law is a fundamental principle, at least as basic or maybe more basic than voting rights and freedom of the press.

This is part of our British heritage, going back to Magna Carta—the idea that nobody, not even the King, is above the law, and nobody, not even the humblest cottager, is below the protection of the law.

For us Americans, the rule of law was part of our Constitution even before we had a specific Bill of Rights.

The Constitution from the beginning has guaranteed the right of habeas corpus, which means the right of  arrested persons to be told what law they are accused of breaking, and forbid ex post facto laws, which declared things illegal after they were done, and bills of attainder, which declared certain persons outside the protection of the law.

I was shocked and disillusioned by how easily, after the 9/11 attacks, these fundamental principles were forgotten.

The Bush administration, the Obama administration and now the Trump administration claim the right to order the killing of anyone they deem a threat to the state, based on secret criteria and without accountability to anyone.

George W. Bush had a kill list.  Barack Obama called has a “disposition matrix”.  I don’t know what Trump calls it.  Most of us middle-class white Americans of have come to regard it as normal, possibly because we think only people with dark skins and Arab names will ever be on it.

I read a chilling article by Matt Taibbi about a journalist who figured out he is on the kill list, and is trying to get off it.  He doesn’t know what he is accused of nor how to appeal.

Julian Assange is in a situation in some ways similar to this journalist.  A grand jury has been meeting in Alexandria, Va., since 2010 to consider his case.  James Comey, when he was FBI director, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions have said they intend to apprehend Assange.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, has said he’s not interested in testimony from Assange until Assange is in custody.  Yet no charges against Assange have ever been announced.  If the grand jury has indicted him, those indictments are sealed.

Neither the US nor the UK government has been willing to say whether an extradition request is on file.

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In defense of Julian Assange

July 21, 2018

Suppose a government claimed the right to commit crimes, make those crimes state secrets and prosecute anyone who revealed them to the public.

Could you call such a government democratic?  Could you say its people enjoyed freedom of the press?

Yet that is what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.

Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, which makes it possible for whistle-blowers to reveal secret documents without their identity being traced.  Wikileaks publications revealed, among other things, the secret bibles of Scientology, censored videos of protests in Tibet, secret neo-Nazi passwords, offshore tax scams by Barclay’s bank, the inside story of the crashing of Iceland’s economy and texts of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

What got him into trouble was publication of information of crimes committed by the U.S. government, notably the killing of civilians in Iraq, and secret surveillance of the public by U.S. intelligence agencies.  That is why the U.S. government is determined to capture and imprison him.

The espionage laws are intended to punish those who give military secrets to a hostile foreign power.   In the case of Julian Assange, it is we, the people, who were given the secrets.  We are the supposed enemy.

A U.S. grand jury investigation of Assange has been ongoing since 2010.  It is widely believed that it has made sealed indictments against Assange.

He sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to the United States.  Since March, the Ecuadorian government has cut him off from communicating with the outside world, except for his lawyers and Australian consular officials.

Reportedly the government is planning to expel him from the embassy, leaving him subject to arrest by British police and extradition to the USA.  There his likely fate will be imprisonment, probably for life, or execution.

What can be done to Assange can be done to anyone who reveals information the U.S. government wants kept secret.  Anyone who cares about freedom of the press, or their own freedom, should stand with Julian Assange.

LINKS

I Am WikiLeaks.

Ecuador Will Immediately Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange and Hand Him Over to the UK. What Comes Next? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Be Prepared to Shake the Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested by Caitlin Johnstone.

Inside WikiLeaks: Working With the Publisher That Changed the World by Stefania Maurizi for Consortium News.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The War on Assange Is a War on Press Freedom by Chris Hedges for TruthDig.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The best way to retaliate against Russia

July 16, 2018

Robert Mueller’s latest indictment charges Russian covert agents with conspiring to reveal e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta.

These e-mails reveal embarrassing truthful information about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and manipulation of the Democratic Party to thwart the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

An appropriate way to retaliate is for the U.S. government and the American press to reveal embarrassing true information about Vladimir Putin and his government’s corruption and human rights violations.  It is certainly more focused and less dangerous than economic warfare or escalating a nuclear arms race.

The video above and links below indicate some things Putin doesn’t want discussed.  The video is from 2012.

I don’t think U.S. sanctions and the U.S.-backed military buildup on Russia’s borders will improve anything in Russia.  Rather they will make Russians think they need to rally behind their strong leader.

And if Putin were somehow to be struck by lightning, I don’t think his successor would be any better, either from the standpoint of honest government and human rights or from the standpoint of U.S. interests.

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”   The crimes of other countries’ leaders are not a justification for U.S. militarism and war.  I focus on my own country partly because the United States has more impact on the world, at least for now, than any other country, but mainly because the U.S. government is the one that I as an American citizen am responsible for.

LINKS

Vladimir Putin and Russian Human Rights Violations by David Satter for National Review.

Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways by David Filipov for The Washington Post.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Who Killed Boris Nemtsov? by David Satter for National Review.

Putin and the Panama Papers, an interview with Alexey Navalny for Süddeustsche Zeitung.  An example of leaked information embarrassing to Vladimir Putin.

Central Asian migrants describe injustice, racism in Russia by Arman Kaliyev for Caravanserai

The Unsolved Mystery Behind the Apartment House Bombings That Brought Putin to Power by David Satter for National Review.

Finally We Know About the Moscow Bombings by Amy Knight for the New York Review of Books.

Seymour Hersh: a reporter of the old school

July 11, 2018

Seymour Hersh is the outstanding investigative reporter of his generation.  From the My Lai massacre to the Abu Ghraib torture center , he made a career of exposing things that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies didn’t want the American people to know.

His new memoir makes me feel I wasted my 40 years working on newspapers.  I never really got below the surface of things.  The world was a very different place than I thought it was.

He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his reporting of the My Lai massacre.  All he had to go on was a tip that a soldier at Fort Benning had been court-martialed for massacring Vietnamese civilians.  He systematically scanned microfilm records of the New York Times and found a short item inside the newspaper about a Lt. William Calley being court-martialed for the death of an unspecified number of Vietnamese civilians.

Later he was told the last name of Calley’s lawyer—Latimer.  With that to go on, he was able to locate George Latimer, a returned judge on the Military Court of Appeals now practicing law in Salt Lake City.   Latimer confirmed that he was defending Calley, but refused to help Hersh locate him.  He finally did by driving into Fort Benning and finding Calley for himself.

What Calley told Hersh was far worse than he suspected at the time, and far worse than I remember it.   The massacre was not something that happened in the heat of battle.   It was a systematic killing for more than 700 people, including women (after being raped) and babies.

In a follow-up, Hersh learned there was a soldier named Paul Meadlo in Calley’s unit who’d lost a foot to a land mine.  He told Calley that God had punished him for what he did, and would punish Calley, too.  All Hersh knew was the Meadlo lived somewhere in Indiana.  He called telephone information operators in Indiana until he found his man.

His first book, Chemical and Biological Warfare: America’s Hidden Arsenal, was published in 1968,   He reported that, among other things, there were some 3,300 accidents at Fort Detrick, Maryland, involving biological warfare research, resulting in the infection of more than 500 men and three known deaths, two from anthrax.

Fort Detrick’s experiments resulted in the deaths in experiments each year of 700,000 laboratory animals, ranging from guinea pigs to monkeys.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church supplied 1,400 conscientious objectors to Fort Detrick to do alternative service in the form of being exposed to airborne tularemia and other infectious diseases.  Hersh said that at least some of them had no idea what they had volunteered for or been exposed to.

I mention this because at the time, I was a reporter for the Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, and Fort Detrick was within our circulation area.  I had no idea that any of this was going on, and I probably wouldn’t have believed it if I had been told.

Hersh uncovered the facts by first obtaining a Science magazine article that listed all of the U.S. military’s chemical-biological warfare centers in the United States, then obtaining the in-house newspapers for these centers.  The newspapers listed retirement parties for officers leaving the service, and Hersh sought them out to interview.   Enough of them were bothered by what they had seen to provide the information for Hersh’s articles and book.

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Jordan Peterson on the totalitarian temptation

June 25, 2018

One of Jordan Peterson’s core ideas is the human capacity for evil, and his great examples are the crimes of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Communist China.

What’s notable about all three, he wrote, is not just the atrocities committed by the ruling party, but that the regimes were sustained by the consent of ordinary people.

Under certain circumstances, Peterson believes, almost all of us are potential secret police informers and concentration camp guards.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

His heroes are people such as Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who found a meaning in life to sustain him in a Nazi death camp; Vaclav Havel, who lived in truth despite his frequent imprisonments in Communist Czechoslovakia; and, above all, the great Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who survived Soviet forced-labor camps and found a way to tell the world about them.

Havel condemned those who went along with the regime, such as the greengrocer who put up a sign saying “workers of the world, unite” because doing so is a path of least resistance.  Solzhenitsyn went so far as to blame himself for helping make the Gulag possible by failing to contract the Soviet regime’s lying propaganda.

So the choice is stark.  Either be willing to say “no,” no matter what the cost, or be a potential cog in a killing machine.

What is it today to which we need to say “no”?

It is whether to go along with unprovoked military aggression, assassinations, preventive detention, torture of suspects, warrantless surveillance and all the other practices of police states—all of which have come to be accepted as normal.

Ordinary Americans let themselves be led, step-by-step, to committing atrocities such as the My Lai massacre or the Abu Ghraib tortures.  Until more of us learn to say “no”, we will be just like ordinary Germans in the book Peterson discusses in the video above.

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Can the US bring about ‘regime change’ in Iran?

May 11, 2018

President Trump’s administration appears set to wage economic war against Iran in order to bring about “regime change.”

The pattern would be the economic war the U.S. government has waged against Venezuela, which has crashed that country’s economy and created desperate poverty.

Top members of the Trump administration have long been committed to overthrowing the Iranian government.  But they’re not going to get the American public and Congress to support war with Iran.

What’s left is covert warfare, subsidizing dissidents and rebels in Iran, and economic warfare, using U.S. financial power to punish businesses that do business with Iran.

Because most international trade is done in U.S. dollars, and because most transactions in dollars go through U.S. banks, the U.S. government is in a position to do great damage to businesses and business owners that displease it.

This comes at a price, though.  Each time the U.S. government forces foreign governments and businesses to sacrifice their own interest to do its bidding, it brings the day closer when foreigners unite to set up an alternative international financial system that doesn’t use the U.S. dollar or U.S. banks.   That is the ultimate goal of China, aided by Russia. (more…)

What matters more than Stormy Daniels

May 4, 2018

Jack Perry wrote in the Ghion Journal about why he doesn’t care about the Mueller investigation in general or the Stormy Daniels affair in particular.

This Mueller shindig is not going to do any of the following:

  1. Reverse the executive order from Trump taking food stamps away from the poor and disabled who can’t find a job.
  2. Remove the ability to use military force from Trump before it’s too late.
  3. Reverse the Trump tax cuts that have just forced the U.S. government to take out a massive loan to pay for them.

The Democrats have beaten this “It’s Mueller Time!” meme into the mud and, excuse me, but Mueller and the FBI do not run the United States. 

Where is this much-vaunted rule of law?!  The FBI is not one of the three branches of government!  No, they’re not the judicial branch, people!  That’s what the Supreme Court is!

And the chuckle merchants in the Congress have abdicated their own Congressional responsibility to stop this man and handed it over to the police!

Source: Ghion Journal.

‘Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia’

February 6, 2018

          Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia.  But there was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not sufficiently under control.
          Officially the change of partners had never happened.  Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.  The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
                          ==George Orwell, 1984

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney was criticized and even ridiculed for calling Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”   President Obama said, “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for years.”

But now we’re told that Russia is waging war against the United States and always has been.   It’s a funny kind of war, though—more like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” than “Red Dawn.”

No Russian troops are massing on U.S. borders.   The Russian government makes no threat against the United States.

The claim is that the Russians—either the Russian government or certain individual Russians—are exercising a kind of mind control over Americans.   Russian agents allegedly denied Hillary Clinton her due share of the 2016 President vote and allegedly manipulated President Trump into being less anti-Russian than he should be.

But even if all the Russiagate charges are true, which I doubt, what the Russians have done is no different from what the old Soviet Union did, and what the United States continues to do down to this day.  During the time Vladimir Putin has been in office, it is the United States, not Russia, that has announced policies of “regime change” against countries that never threatened Americans.

It’s interesting that congressional Democrats, who say that President Trump is an insane clown, an ignoramus, a would-be fascist and a puppet of Vladimir Putin, have no interest in restricting presidential powers to wage war or bypass due process of law.   The only limit they’ve imposed is limitation of his authority to lift economic sanctions against Russia.

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The curse of Amazon

February 2, 2018

When I moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1974, one of the attractions was the number of excellent individually-owned bookstores.   Later on the Borders bookstore chain opened a store here, and I was delighted at their huge selection of books.   The smaller new-book stores went out of business, one by one, but I accepted that s the price of progress.

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Borders was pushed aside by Barnes & Noble.   Now Barnes & Noble is losing sales and operating at a loss.  Unless something changes, local bookstores will be replaced by Amazon.

What’s wrong with that? you may ask.  Amazon provides low prices and excellent customer service.  What difference does the lack of a physical store make?

What’s wrong is that Amazon treats its employees like work animals or like machines.   I read an article today about how Amazon has patented wristbands for tracking what employees do with their hands, presumably so they don’t put something in the wrong bin or pause to scratch their noses.

Amazon hasn’t said when, whether or how the new system will be implemented, but employees already are subjected to an inhuman work pace that is determined and monitored by computer.

I don’t want to buy the lowest possible price if it comes at the price of human misery.   I’d hate to see a new Amazon facility in western New York.

Sometimes I give in and buy through Amazon.   This is wrong of me, because I’m helping to make its monopoly power more complete.   But in the total scheme of things, my decisions as a consumer make little difference.  It is the government’s responsibility, not mine, to enforce the anti-trust laws, and make and enforce decent labor standards.

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The meaning of North Korea’s “ghost ships”

January 22, 2018

Last year the wreckage of at least 104 North Korean fishing boats washed up on the shores of northern Japan.  The crews were either missing, or dead from starvation and exposure, or, in a few cases, only half-dead.

What happened was that they got so far from home that they did not have enough fuel to make it back home, and so died at sea.

Never before have so many derelict North Korea fishing boats been found.  No doubt this is but a fraction of the actual number of lost boats.

What this means is that North Koreans are so desperate for food that they will risk going out to sea in dangerous waters with inadequate fuel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview that this represents a triumph of American policy.  North Korea is really feeling the bite of American economic sanctions, he said.

Economic war can be as deadly as a shooting war, although it hardly ever brings about a change in regime.   If there comes a time when there is only one bowl of rice left in North Korea, it will be eaten by Kim Jong Un.  If there are only two bowls left, they will be shared by Kim and his bodyguard.

The U.S. has been waging war by means of economic sanctions long before Tillerson or President Donald Trump took office.  Economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein back in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of thousands of young Iraqi children want of medicine and proper nutrition.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the price was worth it.  To what end?  I can’t see anything good that the Iraq blockade accomplished for us Americans.  It did not remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The appeal of economic sanctions as a substitute for war is that it seems to be a safe way of waging war.  That is true only in the short run.   Generations later people in North Korea, Iraq, Venezuela and other countries will remember how their people suffered under the U.S. economic blockage.

During the First World War, Britain blockaded food imports into Germany.  The food blockade continued even after the German army surrendered, in order to make force the German government to agree to the Allies’ peace terms.  Many Germans grew up with stunted growth because they were born during the blockade.

I don’t say the food blockade was, in and of itself, the main reason for the rise of Hitler, but it surely contributed to the German hatred of the Allies and desire for revenge, which the Nazis exploited

I think in generations to come, there will be millions of people through the world with similar reasons for a desire for revenge against Americans.

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Sexual abuse more common than I like to admit

November 10, 2017

I can’t get my mind around the number of prominent people who have been credibly accused of rape and sexual abuse, including rape and sexual abuse of minors.  They seem to be in all walks of life and reflect the full spectrum political and religious beliefs.   The world is a very different place from what I want to believe it is.

Not everybody accused of sex crimes or sex abuse is guilty.   People have gone to prison or had their lives ruined on false sex charges.

I know many highly moral college professors and business executives make it a rule to never talk to a female student or subordinate behind closed doors or without a witness present.   I know of someone whose life was almost ruined by a false charge of sexual abuse.   I don’t discount the danger of hysteria and over-reaction.

But recent high-profile scandals—Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Leon Wieseltier, Harvey Weinstein—make it impossible to pretend that sexual abuse is rare or exceptional.

I am—or have been—part of the problem.   I turned a blind eye to evidence of Bill Clinton’s abuse of Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and other women.   I wanted him to defeat the Republicans in the 1992 election, and so I just refused to think about what he had done.

Supporters of Donald Trump in last year’s election did the same thing as I did then.  It’s time to stop tolerating and making excuses for sexual abuse.

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Clinton was cheated in 2016, but not by Russians

November 3, 2017

Hillary Clinton was cheated out of her victory in 2016—not by Russians, but by Republicans.

Republican state governments changed the rules to make voting more difficult for categories of people likely to vote Democratic, and they purged thousands of legally-registered voters, mostly Democrats, from the voter registration rolls.

President Barack Obama and Attorney-Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had eight years to do something about this.

Yet they did little of nothing—that is, nothing that I know of, but I want to hedge the possibility that there was some minor effort I didn’t notice.

The Democratic Party had eight years to push back against this.  The Democrats could have started a grass-roots effort to get Democrats registered despite all barriers, and to reinstate voters who were illegally purged.  Yet they did little or nothing.

None of this is an excuse for what the Republicans did, of course, but the Republican motivation is clear.  Why weren’t Democratic leaders motivated to fight back?

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North Korea: totalitarianism in action

September 19, 2017

When I was young, I was haunted by the specter of totalitarianism—the idea of an all-powerful state that not only could regulate its subjects’ every action, but get inside their minds and convince them this was normal.

As a college student, I read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and George Orwell’s 1984 and most of his essays.

I thought the future held three great perils: (1) the collapse of civilization due to overpopulation and resource exhaustion, (2) the destruction of civilization through nuclear war and (3) the triumph of totalitarianism, as manifested in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China.

None of these fears came true, although the first two are still very much with us.   As for totalitarianism, there are many cruel and bloody governments in the world, but they are not, in the strict definition of the word, totalitarian.   Totalitarianism exists in only one place—North Korea—where it has endured for 70 years.

I got an inside view of North Korea by reading WITHOUT YOU THERE IS NO US: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.   She is an American of Korean heritage who taught English for six months in 2011 at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUSH).

The title of the book is taken from an anthem the students sang at different times each day.    The “you” was Kim Jong-il, then the ruler of North Korea, and the “us” is everyone else in North Korea.

Suki Kim said the whole idea of individual thinking was alien to her students.   For example, they found it incredibly difficult to write a five-paragraph essay, because this involved stating an argument and then presenting evidence in support of the argument.   What they were accustomed to writing was unstructured praise of their country, their leaders and the official Juche ideology.

PUSH was founded and financed by evangelical Christians, many of Korean extraction, who agreed to build and staff a university at no cost to the North Korean government, and to refrain from proselytizing.   Presumably their hope was that they could subtly plant the seeds of Christianity and that they would be on the scene when and if North Korea ever granted religious freedom.

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Uzbekistan’s cotton picked by forced labor

September 15, 2017

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and a crossroads of China’s so-called New Silk Roads—railroads and pipelines uniting the heartland of Asia and Europe.

This Human Rights Watch documentary shows how the Uzbek government uses forced labor and child labor in its cotton fields.

Students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private sector employees and sometimes children were ordered into the fields to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, HRW reported; they also were forced to plant cotton and weed fields early in 2016.

The World Bank has invested $500 million in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.   Supposedly it should withdraw the money if Uzbekistan uses child labor or forced labor, but HRW says this is not enforced.

The coming collapse of U.S. power

August 17, 2017

The United States is the world’s dominant superpower.   This is not sustainable.    I believe the collapse is likely to come suddenly, like the fall of the Soviet Union.

American geopolitical dominance is based on:

  1.  A world-wide network of military bases that give it the power to use military force in remote parts of the world.
  2.   Covert action agencies that work to subvert governments that resist U.S. power.
  3.   The dollar as the world’s medium of exchange, which gives the U.S. the power to control the world’s banking system.

The material basis for this dominance was U.S. industrial power, which once was supreme, but no longer is.

U.S. government is dominated by two factions with contradictory policies.   One is what I call the neoconservatives, who think the United States can make itself secure by crushing any nation that resists U.S. dominance.   The other is what I call the neoliberals, who think the United States can make itself prosperous by subordinating policy to the needs of U.S. corporations.

The problem is that executives of the largest U.S. corporations think of the world in global terms, not national terms.   They don’t regard themselves as responsible for maintaining U.S. geopolitical and military power.   Neoliberalism saps national economic strength that neoconservatives count on to support military intervention.

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Wealth, risk, and power

August 9, 2017

This is from a Twitter thread by Theresa Nielsen-Hayden.

1.  The rich don’t need federal health insurance. Their up-and-coming competitors, who aren’t rich yet, do: one major illness can wipe them out.

2.  The rich donor class hates social policies that make the non-rich braver and more enterprising. For example…

3.   Social Security, so a lifetime of hard work doesn’t end in misery.  Student financial aid, so that talent + hard work can = achievement.

4.  Bank regulation, so our careful savings and investments aren’t wrecked by irresponsible games the big-money guys play with each other.

5.  Health and safety regulations, because it shouldn’t be okay to maim or poison people who don’t have clout. And so forth.

6.  Us little guys shouldn’t have the nerve to start new businesses, develop new products, or go as far as our work and talent will take us.

7.  Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.

8.  Blacks should keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below their ability, because things can always get worse, y’hear?

9.  There’s no point in women having ambitions, because one little mishap can wreck everything you’ve worked for.

10.  Keeping the rest of us in a constant state of low-level fear is the one consistent goal of the policies the donor class supports.

11.  Why? Because we have to tolerate some risk in order to successfully compete with them and their less-than-talented offspring.

12.  I’m not talking about rational, calculable risks.  I mean the unforeseeable: illness, accidents, market crashes, natural disasters.

13.  They want us to know in our bones that we have no defense against risk. If *anything* happens, we’ll be stuck paying for it forever.

14.  We’re not allowed to build a more level playing field that we all share.  They want us out of the game entirely, so they can always win.

15.  Meanwhile, they’re always angling to get their own risk reduced.  Always.  Because winning.

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Donald Trump is wrecking government, legally

August 7, 2017

President Donald J. Trump in just six months has done permanent damage to the working of the federal government.   It is not just that his policies are mostly bad.   It is that, due to incompetence and contempt for government, he is destroying the ability of government to function.

The trouble is that his wrecking is fully within his legal and Constitutional powers as President, while  the illegal and unconstitutional actions of which he is accused are either unproven and / or have precedent in the Bush and Obama administrations.

LINKS

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming from Inside the White House by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.   Short version by Rod Dreher.

How the Trump Administration Broke the State Department by Robbie Gramer, Dan De Luce and Colum Lynch for Foreign Policy.  Short version by Daniel Larison.

What’s Worse: Trump’s Campaign Agenda or Empowering Generals and CIA Operatives to Subvert It? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Trump Is Guilty, of Something by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.   But what?

Don’t underestimate Trump’s power to do harm

July 28, 2017

Because Donald Trump seems so undisciplined and ignorant, I continually underestimate his effectiveness.

I didn’t think he would be nominated.   I didn’t think he would be elected.   And sometimes I fool myself into thinking it is better to have Trump in the White House than somebody with the same agenda, but more competent.

This is a mistake.   In order to do good, you need not only good will, but intelligence and hard work, but that in order to do harm, all you need is malice.

Click to enlarge

>>>Donald Trump has left many key positions in government unfilled, but is moving forward at a rapid pace to nominate federal judges and U.S. attorneys.   The judges will be in office possibly decades after Trump is gone.   District judges and appeals court judges are almost as important as Supreme Court justices because most cases don’t reach the highest court.

Many of Trump’s executive orders have been blocked by court rulings.   Putting his own people on the bench lessens the likelihood that this will happen.

The bulk of his nominations have been in states represented by Republicans.   Customs of the Senate allow a Senator to block a judgeship nomination.   Concentrating on Republican states is smart because it means he can get a lot of his people approved before turning to the Democratic states.

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Can Trump pardon himself? Notes on Russiagate

July 25, 2017

Donald Trump is said to have asked his lawyers for their opinion on whether he has the power to pardon himself.

The parts of the Constitution relative to pardons are:

Article 2, Section 2. The President … shall have the power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Article 2, Section 4. The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Article 1, Section 3. … Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust of Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

What I take this to mean is that the Founders never thought about the possibility of a President pardoning himself.  It’s a settled principle of law that no-one should be judge in their own case, but I’m not bold enough to say how the courts would decide this issue.

If President Trump had the authority to pardon himself, could he literally stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot someone and then pardon himself for the crime of homicide?

No.   The pardon power extends only to federal crimes.   In this thought experiment, he could still be prosecuted under New York state law.

The pardon power does not extend to impeachment, but the only penalty under impeachment is removal from office.

For all practical purposes, there is no way to hold a criminal President accountable except through the impeachment process.

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The vested interests in organizational stupidity

July 12, 2017

Supposedly we Americans live in a “knowledge economy,” in which the source of wealth is neither financial capital, physical plants or natural resources, but the knowledge, expertise and intelligence of individual human beings.   We have a whole industry called “information technology.”

But although employers require ever-higher levels of academic credentials, this is not reflected in the work itself.   College graduates wind up doing work that high school graduates once did, and high school graduates do work that school dropouts once did.

In the early 20th century, businesses adopted a practice called Taylorism—resolving factory work into the simplest, most basic, mindless human motions.  Now we have McDonaldization—resolving service work into the following of simple checklists.

Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer, in their 2016 book, THE STUPIDITY PARADOX: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work, attribute this to the tendency of organizations to suppress critical thinking because of their need for obedience to orders and smooth internal functioning.

What they write is true as far as it goes, but organizational stupidity is more than a simple mistake in setting priorities.   Organizational stupidity is maintained by powerful vested interests.

Knowledge Is Power

Knowledge is power.  If I am a supervisor and my subordinate is more knowledgeable and competent than I am, that diminishes my power.   What college graduate, fresh out of business school, wants to be contradicted by some grouchy old skilled craftsman, who has less schooling but may know more than he does?

Harry Braverman, in Labor and Monopoly Power and David Noble, in America by Design and Forces of Production, described the de-skilling of the American work force and the development of technologies devoted to increasing command and control by management rather than increasing productivity as such.

The more knowledgeable and skilled a worker is, the more power the worker has in relation to the employer, both as an individual and as a member of a labor union.   So knowledge and skills aren’t necessarily wanted except where they are indispensable.

A friend of mine who went back to school in mid-life to get an advanced degree in his specialty discovered that employers did not want his new skills.  What they wanted, he said, was “a jack of all trades who would work cheap.”   Employers see more benefit in having replaceable workers than in having  productive workers.

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Tyranny, Trump and Timothy Snyder

June 26, 2017

Timothy Snyder, a historian of the Hitler-Stalin era, has written an eloquent and heartfelt little book—On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Centurywarning that democracy could perish in the United States of today just as it did in Europe in the 1930s.

Just as no couple making love for the last time ever realize it is the last time, he wrote, so no person voting in a free election for the last time realizes it is the last time.

On Tyranny contains 20 timeless principles for defenders of democracy.    The principles are illustrated by ominous stories of how the mass of people failed to resist Nazi and Communist tyranny and inspirational stories of how a few did.

Then come claims that Vladimir Putin is like Hitler and Stalin and that Donald Trump is like all three, and a call to be ready to resist.

Snyder has done well to remind Americans of the fundamental principles of democracy and the need to defend them.

But the need for the reminder didn’t originate with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  As Glenn Greenwald, Conor Friedersdorf and others have warned, these dangers have existed since enactment of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, and before.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has claimed the power to engage in acts of war, order assassinations, spy on citizens, and bypass due process of law and also to imprison anyone who reveals what is going on.  Until this changes, every President is a potential tyrant, not just Donald Trump.

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Monopoly power on the feudal Internet

June 21, 2017

Maciej Ceglowski, a writer and software entrepreneur in San Francisco, spoke at a conference in Berlin last May about monopoly power on the Internet: –

There are five Internet companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.  Together they have a market capitalization just under 3 trillion dollars.

Bruce Schneier has called this arrangement the feudal Internet.  Part of this concentration is due to network effects, but a lot of it is driven by the problem of security.  If you want to work online with any measure of convenience and safety, you must choose a feudal lord who is big enough to protect you.

Maciej Ceglowski

These five companies compete and coexist in complex ways.

Apple and Google have a duopoly in smartphone operating systems.  Android has 82% of the handset market, iOS has 18%.

Google and Facebook are on their way to a duopoly in online advertising.  Over half of the revenue in that lucrative ($70B+) industry goes to them, and the two companies between them are capturing all of the growth (16% a year).

Apple and Microsoft have a duopoly in desktop operating systems.  The balance is something like nine to one in favor of Windows, not counting the three or four people who use Linux on the desktop, all of whom are probably at this conference.

Three companies, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dominate cloud computing. AWS has 57% adoption, Azure has 34%. Google has 15%.

Outside of China and Russia, Facebook and LinkedIn are the only social networks at scale.  LinkedIn has been able to survive by selling itself to Microsoft.

And outside of Russia and China, Google is the world’s search engine.

That is the state of the feudal Internet, leaving aside the court jester, Twitter, who plays an important but ancillary role as a kind of worldwide chat room.  [1]

There is a difference between the giant Silicon Valley companies and Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and the big Wall Street banks.   The Silicon Valley companies have created value.  The Wall Street banks, by and large, have destroyed wealth.

I depend on Google; I found Ceglowski’s talk through Google Search.   I use Apple products; I’m typing this post on my i-Mac.  I don’t use Facebook or Windows, but many of my friends do.  I try to avoid ordering books through Amazon, because I disapprove of the way Jeff Bezos treats Amazon employees and small book publishers, but I use subscribe to Amazon Prime.

I don’t deny the achievements of the founders of these companies, nor begrudge them wealth and honor.  But I do not think that they or their successors have the right to rule over me, and that’s what their monopoly power gives them.

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The heroism of Chelsea Manning

May 19, 2017

Chelsea Manning was recently released from Fort Leavenworth military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for revealing classified information on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a fine tribute to her in The Intercept.

In sum, though Manning was largely scorned and rejected in most mainstream Washington circles, she did everything one wants a whistleblower to do: tried to ensure that the public learns of concealed corruption and criminality, with the intent of fostering debate and empowering the citizenry with knowledge that should never have been concealed from them.

Chelsea Manning

And she did it all, knowing that she was risking prison to do so, but followed the dictates of her conscience rather than her self-interest.

But as courageous as that original whistle-blowing was, Manning’s heroism has only multiplied since then, become more multifaceted and consequential. As a result, she has inspired countless people around the world.

At this point, one could almost say that her 2010 leaking to WikiLeaks has faded into the background when assessing her true impact as a human being.

Her bravery and sense of conviction wasn’t a one-time outburst: It was the sustained basis for her last seven years of imprisonment that she somehow filled with purpose, dignity, and inspiration.

The overarching fact of Manning’s imprisonment was its enduring harshness. In 2010, during the first months of her detention in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, I began hearing reports from her handful of approved visitors about the vindictive and abusive conditions of her confinement: prolonged solitary confinement, being kept in her cell alone for virtually the entire day, gratuitous, ubiquitous surveillance, and worse.

When I called the brig to investigate these claims, I was startled when a brig official confirmed to me, in the most blasé tones, their accuracy.

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