Archive for the ‘Abuse of Power’ Category

Senate prepares big giveaway to big business

March 23, 2020

The trillion-dollar coronavirus bailout package drawn up by Senate Republicans is a giveaway to big business that does little to avert the coming economic depression.

The main features are:

  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin gets to dole out $500 billion to corporations without revealing who got what for six months.
  • Businesses are not required to keep workers on their payrolls.
  • There are no meaningful oversight provisions to prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

Democrats won a minor concession—to extend unemployment benefits for four months instead of just three.  This is trivial.  So are the relief checks being mailed out—$3,000 checks for a family of four.

Now it’s true that essential businesses can’t be allowed to fail because of a crisis not of their own making.  I criticize Walmart’s business practices, but a lot of people depend on Walmart for the necessities of life.

 It’s not possible to shut down economic activity on a large scale and not risk another economic crash.

On the other hand, Walmart shouldn’t be allowed to use government handouts to crush and buy up individually-owned businesses that compete with us.

I admit I don’t have a complete idea of what to do.  One possibility is for the federal government to fund unemployment insurance and apply it to the self-employed and gig workers as well as workers already in the system.  Another would be to provide Medicare benefits to coronavirus patients—better still, Medicare for all.

If you’re an American, I recommend you follow the Naked Capitalism blog’s headline service to keep in touch with breaking developments.

Later.  The giveaway bill was stopped—for now.  Of course Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is accusing the Democrats of indifference to Americans’ economic plight.

LINKS

Stop the Coronavirus Corporate Coup by Matt Stoller for BIG.

Bailout Shenanigans: Making 2008 Look Good? by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Protect People, Not Financial Ledgers by Ian Welsh.

How Democrats Can Fix Their COVID Response by Brian Beutler for Crooked Media.

At Least Five U.S. Senators, Briefed on Coronavirus, Sold Stocks Before Market Crash by Democracy Now!

Legal injustice: Goliath stomps David

February 24, 2020

How the Environmental Lawyer Who Won a Massive Judgment Against Chevron Lost Everything by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept.

He Sued Chevon and Won – Now He’s Under House Arrest by Christine MacDonald for In These Times.

Remind me: What is an impeachable offense?

February 2, 2020

“Lambert Strether,” a writer and editor for the Naked Capitalism web log, had this to say about impeachment.

Working on the assumption that acts, once not impeached, are no longer not in scope for future impeachment, Pelosi, in 2006, did not impeach Bush for taking the country to war in Iraq, for his warrantless surveillance program (multiple felonies; destruction of the Fourth Amendment), or for torture (prohibited by international treaties, hence the law of the land).

The Republicans did not impeach Obama for whacking a US cititzen with a drone strike and no due process.

After 2016, the Democrats focused, laser-like, even before the inaugural, on impeaching Trump over an ever-shifting, never-proven Russia-adjacent “collusion” narrative driven by anonymous leaks from the intelligence community, which we were constantly assured would bring about Trump’s impeachment, or even his imprisonment.

When that Democrat effort ignominiously collapsed with Hero Of The Resistance™ Mueller’s damp squib of Congressional testimony, the new Ukraine narrative miraculously appeared, articles of impeachment were instantly prepared, followed by several weeks of delay in delivering them to the Senate, followed by complaints that the Republicans would not call the witnesses that the Democrats themselves should have called.

(Comic interlude: The uncalled Bolton boosting his pre-sales at Amazon.)

Utterly predictably, given both their credibility and Republican venality, the Democrats than lost the impeachment vote in the Senate, thereby cementing Trump’s “abuse of power” into precedent.

(To be fair, the Democrats may make a few 2020 Senate races more difficult for the Republicans than before.)

So, let’s review: From 2006, due primarily to sins of omission or commission by Democrats, Presidents are not accountable for: (1) fake intelligence leading to war, (2) felonies, (3) war crimes, (4) assassinating US citizens (this is down to the Republicans) and (5) abuse of power.

Oh, and (6) epic levels of personal corruption, since Democrats did not impeach Trump over the emoluments clause, setting another precedent.

Source: naked capitalism

My sentiments exactly.

How U.S. foreign policy is like 1930s Germany’s

January 10, 2020

I am careful about using the words “fascist,” “Nazi” and “Hitler,” and I do not think that what’s left of American freedom and democracy is equivalent to Nazi Germany’s totalitarianism.

But there are good reasons why other nations view the USA as the same kind of threat to international order as the Axis powers posed in the 1930s.  We Americans need to try to see ourselves as others see us.

I recommend you click on the links below.

LINKS 

On Rogues and Rogue States: Old, New and Improved by Fred Reed.

Reclaiming Your Inner Fascist by C.J. Hopkins for Consent Factory.

The normalization of assassination

January 10, 2020

Most of President Trump’s critics, at home and abroad, saw nothing morally wrong with  the killing of Iranian General Qasim Soleimani.  They criticized the murder on pragmatic and procedural grounds.

They said that while Soleimani was a bad person who deserved to die, killing him at this particular time until these particular circumstances without proper consultation would have dire consequences.

I don’t claim to know what happens next, but right now it looks as if the consequences might not be all that dire.  If so, the critics seem like a bunch of nervous nellies—provided you see nothing wrong with assassination in and of itself.

President Trump

Iranians fired missiles with pinpoint accuracy at two U.S. military bases, causing damage but not casualties.  Their action was a demonstration of American vulnerability and Iranian restraint.

It’s worth remembering that the United States simulated an invasion of Iran in the Millennial Challenge 2002 war games, and lost badly.  An all-out shooting war is not in the interest of either side.

Iranian and Hezbollah leaders said they will take revenge in the form of stepped-up attacks on U.S. troops.  They said they will spare American civilians.

I think Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper regard increased American military casualties as an acceptable loss.  If they cared about the lives of American troops, they would have wound down the futile Afghanistan campaign years ago.

One danger is that Trump, Pompeo and Esper will regard Iranian restraint as weakness.  Pompeo has said he hopes increased economic pressure will make the current Iranian government fall.

That’s entirely possible, but the replacement Iranian government would be more fiercely anti-American and less restrained than the current one.

For now, both sides have stepped back from the brink.  What many feared did not happen.  Trump’s procedural sins do not seem all that bad.

But a precedent has been set – that the assassination of foreign leaders is one more foreign policy option that has to be considered.  Killing leaders of foreign governments may be expedient or inexpedient, but we think about it on a case by case basis.

Here are some of that bad consequences that can flow from the new ethical normal.

  1. Our government, having decided that it is all right to commit criminal acts against foreigners, would decide it is all right to commit criminal acts against citizens.
  2. Democratic foreign governments would decide the United States is a rogue state and unite to stop it.  This would more likely come in the form of economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions rather than a military alliance..
  3. Authoritarian foreign governments would take the United States as a role model.  Assassinations would become commonplace, and some of them would be of American leaders..

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The killing of General Soleimani was a crime

January 6, 2020

The killing of General Qasem Soleimani was more than a blunder.  It was a crime.

He was invited to Baghdad by the Iraqi government, a U.S. ally, with the knowledge of the U.S. government, to use his good offices to help negotiate peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He came without protection because he thought he was on a mission of peace.  His killing was an act of treachery as well as murder.

Qasem Soleimani

We Americans find it hard to accept the criminal nature of this act because we have been incrementally brought to believe that assassination, along with waging undeclared wars, is normal behavior.

Most of President Trump’s critics say that although Soleimani was an evildoer who deserved to die, his killing was inadvisable under the circumstances, or that Trump should have consulted with Congress before he acted.

What was his crime?  Soleimani’s Quds force organized and led resistance in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen against foreign invaders – Israelis, Americans, Saudis and Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda terrorists.

He acted on behalf of Iranian interests and against U.S. (perceived) interests and was therefore an enemy.  But there was a time when honorable soldiers could respect a brave and capable enemy.

Northern generals in the U.S. Civil War respected Robert E. Lee.  Allied generals in World War Two respected Erwin Rommel.   They wouldn’t have encouraged Lee or Rommel to come to neutral ground and then killed them from ambush.

President Trump has led the United States to the brink of war with Iran.  But even if war is avoided, it is still an established principle that a President can order invasions and killings on his own personal judgment, and so more murders of foreign leaders are nearly inevitable.

What has happened, will continue to happen, unless we the people put a stop to it.  We have not seen the worst.

LINKS

Iraqi PM reveals Soleimani was on a peace mission when assassinated, exploding Trump’s lie of “imminent attacks,” by Max Blumenthal for The Gray Zone.

Soleimani’s assassination and the muddled moralism behind it by Robert Wright for Nonzero.

How to Avoid Swallowing War Propaganda by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The global future of the surveillance states

December 6, 2019

Knowledge is power.  If I know everything there is to know about you, and you know nothing about me, I have power over you.

That power takes two forms.  One is the power of blackmail.  You would be highly unusual if you not only had never done anything bad, but had never done anything that could be made to look bad.

The other is the power of manipulation.  If I know everything about you, I have an idea of what psychological buttons to push to get you to do what I want.

Edward Snowden, in PERMANENT RECORD, told of how U.S. intelligence agencies are collecting information about the whole American population based on their electronic records and Internet activities.

We know that intelligence agencies use blackmail.  And we know from Shoshana Zuboff’s THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM that corporations such as Google, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica use data about individuals to help advertisers and win election campaigns.

But surveillance is not just American.  if U.S. intelligence agencies are gathering data about foreigners, foreign intelligence agencies must surely be gathering information about Americans.  And if they don’t yet have the technical capability to equal the American effort, it is only a matter of time until they do.

The government of China, for example, has financial and technological power equal to the USA, and the Chinese have an attitude that anything Americans or other Westerners can do, they can out-do.

They already carry surveillance of their own citizens to terrifying lengths, and there is no reason to think they would limit surveillance to their own citizens.

Snowden’s solution is strong encryption of electronic communication.  Individuals may or may not be able to bring their governments under control, he wrote, but they can take action to protect themselves.

There are problems with this.  One is persuading companies such as Google and Facebook to go along with it or persuading individuals to go without the convenience of using Google and Facebook.  After all, the Google and Facebook business model is based on collecting data from their users.

Another is whether they can be any encryption that is truly unbreakable.  Snowdon in his book gives examples of the Tor system of encryption and explains why it is not mathematically and technologically feasible to break it.

I don’t know enough about cryptography to contradict him.  But I do know the history of code-making and code-breaking has been a back-and-forth struggle.

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Edward Snowden tells his story

December 5, 2019

In 2013, at age 29, Edward Snowden became the world’s most famous whistleblower.

He told the world that U.S. Intelligence agencies were gathering information on everyone on earth who’d ever made a phone call, text message or e-mail, used Google, Amazon, Facebook or a credit card or had electronic medical, educational or financial information on record.

His new book, PERMANENT RECORD, tells how he got the information out, and why he risked death and prison and suffered exile to do it.

I don’t think anybody, no matter how much they may question his actions, can doubt the sincerity of his motives.

He grew up in a family with a heritage of military and government service.  Both his parents had security clearances.

HIs basic values (like mine) were belief in American freedom and democracy as he was taught about them in school.  Also, like many others in the 1990s, he believed in computers and the Internet as a force for human liberation.

From a young age, he had a knack for analyzing systems for weaknesses.  He analyzed the grading criteria for his high school courses, and figured out that he could get a passing grade without doing any homework.

As a teenager, he found a hole in the security system of Los Alamos National Laboratories and pestered authorities until they acknowledged it and fixed it.

His first impulse after the 9/11 attacks was to enlist in the Army and try to qualify for the Special Forces.  But he was injured in a training accident and discharged.  He then joined the Central Intelligence Agency instead.

Organizations based on hierarchy and adherence to a chain of command do not usually welcome recruits who are given to pointing out flaws in the system.  But the CIA dealt with Snowden by giving him special permissions so they could use his talents.

As a CIA officer and later as a contractor for the National Security Agency, Snowden gained unusual access to the whole range of CIA and NSA activities.  He became aware that they were spying not just on foreign governments and suspicious characters, but virtually everyone in the USA and abroad.

Knowledge is power.  If someone knows everything about me, they have power over me.  Most people (myself included) have done things they’re ashamed of, and wouldn’t want known.  Almost everyone has done or said something that can be made to look bad.

In the days of J. Edgar Hoover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation would wiretap prominent figures and read their mail, then blackmail them.  There is no guarantee that the heads of the CIA and NSA would not use their knowledge to blackmail.  There is no guarantee they are not already doing so.

Government agencies that are doing this operate in secrecy.  They have power over us, but we the people can’t set limits on them because we don’t even know what is happening.

Snowden could not discuss his qualms with anyone, not even his lover, Lindsay Mills (now his wife).  To breathe a word to anyone would have been considered a violation of the Espionage Act, which carries a maximum penalty of death.

Having reached a decision in silence, he had to make a plan silence and execute it alone.  He had to figure out exactly what the CIA and NSA were doing, how to prove it and how to disseminate that proof in a way that would have an impact.  Any error in his plan or its execution would have been fatal.

The strain must have been almost unbearable.  The temptation to confide in someone must have been almost irresistable (which was the downfall of his fellow whistleblower, Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning).

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Edward Snowden on the surveillance state

December 3, 2019

The following is from Edward Snowden’s new book, Permanent Record

Algorithms analyze…[our data] for patterns of established behavior in order to extrapolate behaviors to come, a type of digital prophecy that’s only slightly more accurate than analog methods like palm reading.

Once you go digging into the actual technical mechanisms by which predictability is calculated, you come to understand the its science is, in fact, anti-scientific, and fatally misnamed: predictability is actually manipulation.

A website that tells you that because you liked this book, you might also like books by James Clapper or Michael Hayden isn’t offering an educated guess as much as a mechanism of subtle coercion.

We can’t allow ourselves to be used in this way, to be used against the future.  We can’t permit our data to be used to sell us the very things that must not be sold, such as journalism.  If we do, the journalism we get will be merely the journalism we want, or the journalism the powerful want us to have, not the honest collective conversation that’s necessary.

We can’t let the godlike surveillance we’re under to be used to “calculate” our citizenship scores, or to “predict” our criminal activity; to tell us what kind of education we can have, or what kind of education we can have, or what kind of job we can have, or whether we can have an education or job at all; to discriminate against us based on our financial, legal and medical histories, not to mention our ethnicity or race, which are constructs that data often assumes or imposes.

And as for our most intimate data, our genetic information: if we allow it to be used to identify us, it will be used to victimize us, even to modify us—to remake the very essence of our humanity in the image of the technology that seeks its control.

Of course, all of the above has already happened.

Edward Snowden on the Joe Rogan podcast

October 30, 2019

Edward Snowden was interviewed on the Joe Rogan podcast a week ago, but I only got around to viewing it the whole way through last night.

It’s an unusually long interview – 2 hours, 49 minutes – but I found it interesting throughout.  However, you can get an idea of Snowden’s core message if you start at 1 hour 30 minutes and watch for 15 or 30 minutes.

Snowden is a great hero of our time, along with Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.  They’ve all been charged with violating the Espionage Act for revealing wrongdoing by the U.S.government.

Assange is in prison in Britain facing extradition to the USA.  Manning served a prison term, and is in prison again for refusing to testify against Assange.  Snowden is in exile in Russia, but he said he’ll return to the USA if he can get a fair trial.

By “fair trial,” he means the right to tell a jury the reason why he did what he did,  Someone on trial for murder would have this right, but an accused whistleblower does not.

Snowden worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency and learned that they monitor and store virtually every electronic communication by every citizen.

Everyone has done something in their lives that is shameful or can be made to look shameful.  If the FBI, CIA and NSA can know everything about you and me, and their activities are invisible to us, that comes close to having absolute power.

One interesting sidelight is that Snowden, who has a deep understanding both of the technology and of the political, legal and moral issues at stake, is a college dropout.  Educational credentials are not a measure of the intellect, let alone character.

Joe Rogan also lacks credentials.  He is a stand-up comedian with a love of the martial arts.  But his podcasts are more illuminating than most network news shows because of his open-mindedness, intellectual curiosity and willingness to let his guests have their say.  A lot of them are with guests or about topics I don’t care about, but so what?

The deeper problem concerning Julian Assange

October 25, 2019

Julian Assange, who faces extradition from the UK to the USA on charges based on his publication of American government secrets, is being denied the right to a fair hearing.  He is being abused and tormented.

But the deeper problem is that even if his legal rights were respected, he might well be convicted under existing U.S. law.

And this would establish the precedent that the U.S. government can commit crimes, classify those crimes as secret and imprison anyone who makes these crimes known.

This would break the uneasy truce between the government and the U.S. press, in which whistleblowers reveal secrets at their peril, but the press is allowed to publish them with impunity.

Such a distinction does not make logical or legal sense.  In the law of libel, for example, the writer and the publisher are both liable for damages.  But in practice, it has allowed some abuses of power to come to light that otherwise would have been hidden.

The U.S. government has already claimed the legal right to wage undeclared wars, to commit assassinations, to engage in warrantless arrests and warrantless surveillance and to torture people to get information—all in the name of national security.

The most important remaining restriction on abuse of these powers is the force of public opinion.  But the public can’t have an opinion on what it isn’t allowed to know.

Among the Presidential candidates, the prosecution of Assange is opposed by Democrats Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard,, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Marianne Williamson and Republican Joe Walsh.

Sanders said that, if elected President, he would not prosecute whistleblowers.  I believe Sanders, but I remember President Obama also promised that, and Obama prosecuted more whistleblowers than any previous President.

Even if Sanders or one of the other candidates is elected, and even if they follow through on their promises, this would be just a matter of policy that could be reversed  by the next administration.

What’s needed is a law that allows people charged with revealing classified information to rebut the charge by showing they acted in the public interest by revealing crimes, wrongdoing or mismanagement and that the national interest was not harmed.

The same purpose could be achieved by judicial decision—that the use of the Espionage Act to protect the guilty or the incompetent is unconstitutional.

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U.S. treats Assange as Soviets treated dissidents

October 23, 2019

Americans and Britons have historically prided ourselves on the rule of law—the no-one is above being subject to the law and no-one is below being protected by the law.

Col. Rudolph Abel, the Soviet master spy who was apprehended in 1957, was defended in his trial by a top lawyer, James Donovan.  The accused Nazi war criminals tried at Nuremberg were given the opportunity to defend themselves and some actually got off.  All of them were treated humanely while awaiting trial.

The dissident publisher Julian Assange, who is accused of publishing secret information about U.S. war crimes, is being treated worse than any accused Nazi.  He has been kept in solitary confinement, denied needed medical care and restricted in the ability to conduct his own defense.

He appeared in Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday in a proceeding to schedule the hearing on whether he should be extradited from Britain to the United States on charges of spying.

Spectators saw that his physical and mental health is broken.  Of course it will be highly convenient to the U.S. national security establishment if he is unable to speak in his own defense and better still if he dies in prison.

He was barely able to understand what was going on.  He was like some Soviet dissident of the 1970s and 1980s who’d been subjected to psychiatric, or rather anti-psychiatric, drugs.

Here is what his friend Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, saw:

I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both.  [snip]

[H]aving attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that … … Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness. [snip]

Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable.

Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later.

The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.  [snip]

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Whistleblowers, leakers and spies

October 7, 2019

A spy is someone who provides information of military, diplomatic or political significance to a hostile foreign power.

A whistleblower is someone who reveals secret information about crimes and bungling to the general public.

A leaker is someone who reveals selected secret information to the general public in order to further some goal of the organization he or she works for.

In general, governments pursue whistleblowers with much greater ferocity than they go spies, while leakers are rewarded.

President Trump’s confidential conversation with Ukraine President Zelensky was revealed by a leaker, not a whistleblower.  Unlike with a whistleblower such as Chelsea Manning, there is no attempt by the CIA to track down and punish the leaker.  That shows it was an authorized leak.

Just as one of the benefits of red tape is to give power and prestige to those who can cut it, one of the benefits of classified information is to give power and prestige to those empowered to reveal it.

What would be the motive of the CIA is trying to promote impeachment of President Trump?  No doubt one is that CIA officials, like many members of the American public, regard Trump as a dangerous and unpredictable loose cannon.

But there also is the possibility that Trump just might wind down the wars in the Middle East and end the new cold war with Russia.  From the CIA’s perspective, that would be a great threat.  Much better, from their standpoint, to have Mike Pence in the White House.

If a future President Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or some libertarian Republican tried to make peace, that also would be regarded as a great threat, and no doubt would be met with a CIA attempt to undermine them.

LINKS

The Ukrainegate Whistleblower Isn’t a Real Whistleblower by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.  As usual, Taibbi hits the nail on the head.  Highly recommended.

A Weak Whistleblower, a Ridiculous Impeachment by Peter Van Buren for The American Conservative.  Van Buren, a former career State Department employee, lost his job and was threatened with prosecution for writing a book about the bungling of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Onward, Christian Soldier: Imagining a Pence Presidency by Barbara Boland for The American Conservative.

Trump, Biden and Ukraine

September 25, 2019

I wrote a week ago that impeachment of President Donald Trump is a mirage, and now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for an impeachment investigation of the President.  Such are the perils of commenting on breaking news.

The circumstantial  information already available to the public indicates that President Trump has abused the powers of his office.

President Trump

He acknowledged holding back $250 million in military aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine.

He acknowledged talking to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine about reopening an investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, $50,000 a month to serve on its board of directors.  The younger Biden resigned from the board earlier this year.

The House Judiciary Committee wants the transcript of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, but even if nothing was said that connects the aid package to the investigation, the implication is clear.

The House has a duty to investigate.  I don’t think it is a good idea to call it an impeachment investigation just yet because calling it that means the investigation will be considered a failure if it does not result in impeachment recommendations.

Impeachment by the House may or may not be justified.  Conviction by the Senate would be next to impossible because it would require unanimity among the 47 Democratic Senators plus support by at least 20 Republicans.

Joe and Hunter Biden

What Republicans will point out is that Vice President Joe Biden threatened to hold up $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine unless the government fired Viktor Shotkin, the prosecutor that was investigating Burisma.

Biden claims that Shotkin was corrupt, and his threat had nothing to do with his son.

I know of no evidence that either Joe Biden or his ne’er-do-well son, Hunter, broke the law.  But it’s obvious that Hunter would not have gotten his position if his father had not been Vice President.

It was a conflict of interest for Biden to be President Obama’s point man for Ukraine after his son took the job.

Biden may suffer more political damage than Trump.  The Trump Organization’s worldwide operations involve more extensive potential conflicts of interest.  But Biden has a reputation to lose and Trump doesn’t.

The greatest reputational damage of all in the whole affair is to the reputation of the United States of America as a whole.  It shows that American political leaders do not respect the sovereignty of allies.  It shows they use American power to advance their personal family and political interests.

So far as political strategy goes, I think that so long as public attention is focused on personalities, Trump benefits, and that Democrats can win only if they focus on policy and governance.  Trump may win if the 2020 election hinges on impeachment, and impeachment fails.

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Protest and dissent in Putin’s Russia

August 27, 2019

In Russia, the Fight Is Alive by Ilya Matveev for Jacobin.

The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy

August 16, 2019

The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy, or what will be left of it, will be when other nations rebel against the power of the U.S. dollar.   That will be when the United States is most in danger of a would-be Hitler or Mussolini.

The power of the U.S. dollar is what gives Washington the means to be a great economic power despite huge trade deficits and a hollowing out of American manufacturing.  It provides the means to maintain the world’s most expensive military.

It gives Washington the means to wage economic warfare against nations such as Iran, Venezuela and Russia, and to force poor nations to sacrifice the well-being of their people to foreign creditors.

But the power of the U.S. dollar is a legacy of a past when the U.S. was the world’s leading industrial nation, leading creditor nation and leading exporting nation.   Now the dominance of the dollar rests on the fact no nation’s leaders are both brave enough, and lead a nation that is strong enough, to defy the dollar system.

Benjamin Carter Hett wrote in The Death of Democracy that many European nations turned to fascist and right-wing dictatorships as a result of military defeat, which discredited the established governments, and strong Communist and revolutionary movements, which caused the middle classes to look for protectors.

German democracy survived for a time, but was pushed over the brink by onset of the Great Depression, which the established government was unable to cope with.

The conditions will exist in the United States following the crash of the U.S. dollar.  The U.S. government will no longer be able to raise money by borrowing in foreign markets.  Lack of borrowing power will mean it no longer will be able to pay for a world-wide network of military bases.

At the same time, the military will have to pay more for imported electronics components, imported oil and other supplies, including uniforms.  The fall in value of the U.S. dollar will make U.S. manufacturing costs cheaper in relation other currencies, but it won’t be able to fix the lack of manufacturing capacity.  And it will make investment in new manufacturing capacity more expensive.

The sudden collapse of U.S. military power without a military defeat would open the way to a “stab in the back” myth, comparable to the one about Germany’s defeat in World War One.

The buying power of U.S. workers will fall and the prices of merchandise, so much of which is directly or indirectly dependent on foreign supply chains, will fall.  There will be a crash in the U.S. financial markets and real estate markets.  Many workers will strike.  Many citizens will turn to the streets in protest—probably very few that are explicitly Communist, but who knows?

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How to undo legislative gerrymandering?

July 9, 2019

Click to enlarge.

It’s not an accident that Democrats won a majority of votes for state assemblies in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, but Republicans won a majority of the legislative seats.

It’s because legislative districts were intentionally drawn by Republican state legislatures to give Republicans an advantage.  You can comply with the Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” ruling and create legislative districts with equal population, and still draw the lines so as to give one party an advantage.

Click to enlarge

Both parties have done this through American history.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose party, the Democratic-Republicans (forerunner of today’s Democrats), drew up a strangely-shaped state senate district in 1812 to dilute the voters of the rival Federalists.

But Republicans during the last round of redistricting after the 2010 census used big data and computer analysis to lock in their control of legislatures in key states.  Democrats would have to do much more than win a majority of the votes to take back control.

They complained to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court turned them down, in a 5-4 decision.  Chief Justice John Roberts said the court can’t take up the burden of drawing legislative district boundaries for the states.

But Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that there is an accepted procedure for doing just this.  It consists of having a computer process draw up many different maps of legislative districts of equal population that are geographically compact and respectful of existing boundaries, and then allowing the state legislature to choose one of them.

If the state and federal courts do not do something about gerrymandering, who will?  State legislatures elected in gerrymandered district are unlikely to change the system that put them in power.  Congress? State legislatures draw congressional district boundaries, too.

But the fact is that the Supreme Court is not going to change its decision until and unless a new justice is appointed and maybe not even then.

What remains for Democrats is to try to get a large enough vote to offset a rigged system.  Or propose amendments to state constitutions to set up a fair process for drawing legislative districts.

LINK

Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Hat tip to him for the chart.

Why would you believe John Brennan or the CIA?

May 31, 2019

The intelligence community – after two solid decades of PR disasters, from 9/11 to Iraq to Abu Ghriab to Gitmo – has rebounded in the public’s eye since 2016, cleverly re-packaging itself as serving on the front lines of the anti-Trump resistance.

It’s even managed to turn the invention of the term “deep state” to its advantage, having media pals use it to make any accusation of investigatory overreach, leaking, and/or meddling in domestic politics sound like Trumpian conspiracy theory.

But these people are not saviors of democracy. They’re the same scoundrels we rightfully learned to despise in the Bush and Obama years for lying about everything from torture to rendition to drone assassination to warrantless surveillance.

LINK

The intelligence community needs a house-cleaning by Matt Taibbi for Untitledgate.

Will Julian Assange die before he is tried?

May 30, 2019

Julian Assange’s lawyer said that Assange is too sick to carry on a normal conversation, that his health has deteriorated since his arrest, and that he has been transferred to the health ward of Belmarsh prison.

His health had reportedly been failing even before his arrest, as a result of being cooped up in a windowless room for seven years and not being able to get medical care he needed.

There is now no good reason why he shouldn’t receive all the care he needs, and it is possible that he is receiving such care. I hope my suspicions are groundless, and maybe they are.

But the events of the past 15 or 20 years have left me unable to say, “Such and such is impossible because the British (or U.S.) government would never do such a thing.”

It would be much more convenient from the U.S. and British governments if he were to die before being put on trial.  And treating Assange as some sort of super-villain terrorist who requires extra isolation from human contact is one way to accomplish that.

LINKS

Statement of Kristin Hrafnsson, Wikileaks editor-in-chief.

Assange Is Reportedly Gravely Ill And Hardly Anybody’s Talking About It by Caitlin Johnstone.

The UN Torture Report on Assange Is an Indictment of Our Entire Society by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 5/31/2019]

New jeopardy for Assange and press freedom

May 24, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated Julian Assange on new charges—violation of the Espionage Act of 1917—which carry a maximum penalty of 175 years in prison.

What he is accused of is publishing confidential information disclosing American war crimes in Iraq in 2010.

The previous indictment accused him only of aiding and abetting unauthorized access to computer files, which would have meant a maximum penalty of five years.

Violations of some sections of the Espionage Act carry a maximum penalty of death, but these involve giving military secrets to an enemy in time of war, which Assange is not accused of.

He would most likely wind up in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and conceivably could spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

If he can be sent to prison for that, it means that the U.S. government has the power to commit crimes, up to and including murder, classify the evidence of those crimes as secret and send anybody who discloses those crimes to prison.

If he is sent to prison for that, it means that such freedom of the press as exists in the United States exists at the whim of whoever is in charge of the government.

So far as I know, the only prominent politician who has come to the defense of Julian Assange is Tulsi Gabbard.

In other news, Chelsea Manning is back in prison for refusing to testify against Assange.

And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has rejected a resolution demanding that the President ask permission from Congress before attacking Iran.

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The new age of surveillance capitalism

May 13, 2019

There are two categories of Americans who are under constant surveillance.  One consists of paroled convicts and criminal defendants on bail who are under court order to wear electronic ankle bracelets.  The other consists of everybody.

That is what I took away from reading THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff, which came out earlier this year.

It’s about the prevalence of the new business of collecting information about people, usually without their knowledge, and using that information to shape their behavior.

If you have a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, it’s making floor plans of your house.  If you have an OnStar GPS system in your car, it’s taking notes on your driving habits.  If you have a Next thermostat, it’s recording your energy use patterns.  If your children play with Genesis toys, they’re recording your children’s behavior.

Technical experts in Canada, France and the Netherlands found that the Google Street View trucks were not only taking photographs, but using Wi-Fi to collect telephone numbers, credit information, passwords, e-mails, records of on-line dating, pornography, browsing behavior, medical information and video and audio files.

All this information has economic value.  In fact, according to Zuboff, it often has more value to the provider than the fee for the service itself.  What she calls “market capitalism,” where a business makes money by selling a product or a service, is being replaced by what she calls “surveillance capitalism,” where a business makes money by collecting, processing and using data to shape human behavior.

It’s been said that people who use social media and other Internet services, especially free ones, are the product, not the customer.  Zuboff said that, in fact, the users are not even the product; they are the raw material.   The product is the model of their behavior  derived from the data they provide.

Click to enlarge.

The frontier of surveillance capitalism is gathering up seemingly meaningless information—what is called “data exhaust” or “digital breadcrumbs”—and using machine intelligence to correlate this information with human emotion and behavior.

Machine intelligences are not sentient, they have no understanding of the human mind.  They don’t need to. All they need to be able to do is look for correlations, and test them.  They are using the behavioristic psychology developed by B.F. Skinner.  He taught that it isn’t necessary to understand how individual people think and feel.  All that is necessary is to know what stimulus evokes what response.

How often you click on a “like” button on Facebook, how hard you step on the gas when accelerating your car, your willingness to answer questions about your politics and religion—all these things can be used to create a model of your behavior, which then can be tested.

Who would want such a model?  Advertisers,  Insurance companies.  Employers.  Lenders.  Credit rating companies.  Landlords.  And, of course, politicians.

Jaron Lanier wrote about some of these issues in Ten Reasons for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,  His explanations were more brief, more readable and more clear than Zuboff’s 525-page tome (plus 124 pages of end notes).

But Lanier thought that the problem is limited to two companies, Google and Facebook, and could be easily fixed by changing their business models from advertising to fee-for-service.  If you read Zuboff’s book, you will understand that Google, Facebook and their imitators can no more give up collecting, processing and selling personal information than Starbucks can give up brewing strong coffee.  It is is not an aberration.  It is the core of their business model.

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The revelations of Wikileaks

May 10, 2019

Consortium News is publishing a series called “The Revelations of Wikileaks,” a reminder of the the vital Wikileaks disclosures.  They’re valuable reading both for their content and as a reminder of the world’s debt to Julian Assange.

This post consists of links to these articles.  I will add links to additional articles as they are published.

No. 1.  The Video That Put Assange in US Crosshairs.

No. 2.  The Leak That ‘Exposed the True Afghan War’,

No. 3.  The Most Extensive Classified Leak in History.

No. 4.  The Haunting Case of a Belgian Child Killer and How WikiLeaks Helped Crack It.  [Added 7/12/2019]

No. 5.  Busting the Myth that WikiLeaks Never Published Damaging Material on Russia.  [Added 9/25/2019]

No. 6.  US Diplomatic Cables Spark ‘Arab Spring,’ Expose Spying at UN & Elsewhere.  [Added 1/16/2020]

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The Assange prosecutors’ clever strategy

April 12, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice cleverly Julian Assange is conspiracy to commit computer hacking—not violation of the Espionage Act.

This means that he would not face the possibility of execution or life imprisonment, as would have been possible under the Espionage Act.  The maximum penalty he faces is five years in prison.  Also, he would get a trial in a civil court and not before a secret military tribunal.

But it also makes his extradition more certain.  UK prosecutors promised President Moreno of Ecuador that Assange wouldn’t be extradited to a country with the death penalty.  The United States has the death penalty, but extraditing him to be tried for computer hacking rather than espionage could be seen as a way to keep this promise.

It also means Assange’s lawyers wouldn’t be able to raise the issue of abuse of the Espionage Act as a vehicle for censorship..

I say all this conditionally because there is a strong possibility that additional charges will be added later.

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Did Assange go stir-crazy in embassy?

April 12, 2019

The conventional wisdom is that Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno booted Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London embassy because of pressure from Washington.

President Moreno agreed to Washington’s demands that he deny asylum to Assange and dropping claims against Chevron for environmental damage to Ecuador’s rain forest.

He then received $10.2 billion in rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, both headquartered in Washington and dominated by the United States.

CNN and Vox reported claims of strange behavior by Assange—behavior characteristic of a prisoner in solitary confinement who has had a mental breakdown.  If true, Assange is in need of psychiatric help.

Now people who defy the powers-that-be are always targets of character assassination.  All this could well be a smear.  It should be noted that neither CNN nor Vox quotes embassy staff or anyone else who personally observed Assange’s behavior, nor shows any effort to get Assange’s side of the story.

But Assange’s friends say he has suffered a deterioration in physical and mental health and has been denied access to care.  I hope he gets whatever care he needs.

The CNN report said that the Ecuadorian government’s main complaint against Assange was that he interfered in Ecuador’s internal affairs and tried to destabilize the country.

Vox also wrote that Moreno’s main complaint against Assange is that he refused to cease political activity, even when embarrassing to his host country.  He wrote that Moreno blames him for a leak of documents to an anonymous web site showing that he and his family may have profited from offshore bank accounts in Panama.

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President Trump invokes power of a dictator

February 18, 2019

President Donald Trump, having failed to persuade Congress to appropriate a full $5.7 billion for his border wall, has said he’ll declare a national emergency and take the money from Department of Defense funds.

The thing is, he doesn’t even pretend there is any emergency involved.

I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn’t need to do this.  But I’d rather do it much faster.  And I don’t have to do it for the election.  I ’ve already done a lot of wall for the election. 2020.  And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election—because they want to try to win an election, which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do.

If a President can simply declare a national emergency and override the will of Congress, what power does he lack to make himself a dictator?

President Trump did not give himself these emergency powers, and he is not the first one to use them or abuse them, but none before him have been so blatant about the lack of justification for using these powers.

Our Constitution sets up a form of government with three branches of government with separate powers—the legislative, executive and judiciary—with the idea that each would check and balance the power of the others.

The problem with this is that separation of powers means separation of responsibility.  The path of least resistance for Congress is to abdicate responsibility to the President.

It’s true that Congress is not entirely to blame in this case.  The original law that President Trump invoked allowed Congress to veto an emergency declaration by a majority vote of the Senate and the House of Representations.  The Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional; it said the two-thirds votes are required not only to overturn vetoes of legislation, but to overturn any Presidential action.

Even so, it is Congress that over the years has given Presidents the powers of dictators, and it is the responsibility of Congress to take these powers back.  No member of Congress who declares themselves a part of the “resistance” to President Trump can be taken seriously if they continue to allow him the powers of a dictator.

LINKS

Republic’s End: Trump’s Border Wall by Ian Welsh.

A Fishy Emergency Threatens the Republic by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Trump’s dictator move is the real emergency—and we handed him the keys by Will Bunch for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What Is and Isn’t a Big Deal in Trump’s Executive Actions Related to the Border by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.