How Google Tracks You—And What You Can Do About It by Jeff Desjardins for Visual Capitalist.
Archive for the ‘Abuse of Power’ Category
During the election campaign, I wrote that Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President of the United States. Nothing since then has changed my mind.
But it is not as if Trump overturned a well-functioning system. The United States was already committed to perpetual war and rule by Wall Street.
My friend Bill Elwell called my attention to an article by Tom Engelhardt, who wrote in part:
Odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.
Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it. This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics and governance.
In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.
After all, it’s clearly a government of, by and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway.
Let’s start with those generals. In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business and Congress (in that descending order). […]
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after the FBI or NSA revealed that he talked to the Russian ambassador about economic sanctions prior to President Trump being sworn in.
He reportedly asked the Russian ambassador to ask his government hold back on retaliating against President Obama’s economic sanctions because the Trump administration would have a new policy.
President Obama’s actions, taken during his lame-duck period, could have put Russia and the USA on a path of tit-for-tat retaliation that would have made it harder from the Trump administration to improve U.S.-Russian relations later on.
De-escalating was a good thing, not a bad thing.
I agree that General Flynn was not a good choice for the post of national security adviser. He was evidently a brave and honorable commander in the field, but he did not function well at headquarters, for which reason he was fired by President Barack Obama as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
He thinks the West is in a war with the whole Islamic world, not just the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Qaeda and their sympathizers. He is a war hawk regarding Iran. He would have been likely to get the United States into pointless wars—just not a pointless war with Russia.
I would consider his departure, in and of itself, a good thing, but for the fact that he will almost certainly be replaced by someone else just as bad or maybe worse.
The problem is that he was forced out for (1) trying to stop the slide toward military confrontation with Russia, and that the forcing out was done (2) by intelligence agencies with policy agendas different from the White House.
Twenty years ago, the U.S. government intervened in Russia’s election to put Boris Yeltsin in power.
He told how the Clinton administration managed his election campaign, and the International Monetary Fund pumped money into Russia to keep the Russian government going.
With the guidance of economists from Harvard University, Yeltsin sold off Russia’s national assets to foreign corporations and Russian individuals who became the oligarchs who dominate Russia today. With U.S. approval, he shut down the Russian parliament and concentrated power in his own hands. Independent journalists were murdered. Oligarchs took over the independent press.
The Russian people were reduced to a state of misery not seen since Stalin’s rule in the 1930s. The death rate soared and the birth rate fell. Eventually even the Russian stock market crashed.
Vladimir Putin was Yeltsin’s right-hand man. The U.S. government accepted him as a reliable successor to Yeltsin. But when Putin refused to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. turned against him.
I wrote in a previous post that Vladimir Putin is a killer. But every abuse of power by Putin was made possible by Yeltsin.
Boris Yeltsin in fact was more of a killer than Putin, but the American government didn’t care because he was willing to subordinate Russia’s national interests to the interests of American and other foreign corporations.
During the election campaign, Donald Trump rightly denounced Hillary Clinton for her ties to Goldman Sachs, the predatory Wall Street banking firm, and especially the three $225,000 speaking fees she took for giving one-hour talks to that company.
Now Trump has put two former Goldman Sachs executives in charge of economic policy—Steve Mnuchin, former Goldman partner, as Secretary of the Treasury, and Gary Cohn, former president of Goldman, as his top economic adviser.
President Trump has put a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the great enemy of concentrated financial power, in his office. But his appointments show that he will be a champion of the moneyed establishment. Those who voted for him in hope he would be a friend to working people are going to be disappointed.
The Goldman Sachs effect: How a bank conquered Washington by Nomi Prins for TomDispatch.
The Vampire Squid Occupies Trump’s White House by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.
The noteworthy things about President Trump’s decree on Muslim immigration were how unnecessarily cruel it was, how incompetently it was drawn and how it caught everyone by surprise.
The other noteworthy thing was how mass protests against his decree pressured him to back down from one of the worst parts of it—the forbidding of Green card holders and other legal foreign residents from returning to the country if they are out of it.
I think these things will be hallmarks of his administration—that is, cruelty, stupidity and unpredictability, but also vulnerability to public opinion and public pressure. Trump does not have the power of a dictator, although he would like to have it.
Even conservatives who strongly believe in keeping out unauthorized immigrants and immigrants from the Muslim world thought Trump handled this wrongly.
But the most dangerous trait that Trump revealed was unpredictability.
Being unpredictable is a strength when you’re fighting against adversaries, whether on the battlefield, the marketplace or an election campaign. It also is a strength of a showman, which Trump most definitely is.
It is, however, a dangerous trait in the head of government of a great nation. The most important defining characteristic of a free country is the rule of law. People who live in a free country need to be able to know what the laws are, and to know that they are safe so long as they obey the law.
What needs explaining is not why Donald Trump and his staff tell lies. Many recent leaders have lied.
What needs explaining is why Trump and his staff tell obvious and easily disprovable lies, such as the claim that record numbers of people came to see his inauguration.
My own thought was that it served two purposes. One was to confuse the issue, because most people don’t have the time or resources to check facts. As long as you stick to what you’re saying and never back down, a certain number of people will believe you.
The other purpose was to distract the attention of the press from more serious issues. The time spent by reporters in covering arguments over crowd sizes is time spent not covering things such as Trump’s infrastructure plan.
But economist Tyler Cowen has a more sinister explanation.
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.
Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.
Source: Tyler Cowen – Bloomberg View
When I first heard the news of the Watergate break-in back in 1972, I thought it absurd to think that the President of the United States would be personally involved in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee.
It didn’t make sense to me that President Nixon would take such a big risk for something so small.
Since then I have learned not to say that someone wouldn’t have done something because it wouldn’t make sense. People do things that don’t make sense all the time.
Sadly, in the case of the secret dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged dealings with Russia, I can’t say that it doesn’t make sense. It does make sense. But there’s no independent evidence that the report is true, and good reason to question it.
I can well imagine Trump borrowing money from Russian financiers, and I can imagine people on Trump’s campaign team exchanging information with Russians. Secret intelligence agents have a way of forming relationships with people they target, and getting people to exchange favors in a way that seems harmless at first until the targets find themselves in too deep to get out.
Also, Trump doesn’t care about norms of human behavior that restrain most people.
The new leader of Democrats in the Senate says Donald Trump is being “really dumb” for picking a fight with intelligence officials, suggesting they have ways to strike back, after the president-elect speculated Tuesday that his “so-called” briefing about Russian cyberattacks had been delayed in order to build a case.
“Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Tuesday evening on MSNBC after host Rachel Maddow informed him that intelligence sources told NBC news that the briefing had not been delayed.
“So, even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this,” he added.
Source: Washington Examiner
Think about what Schumer said. He said the Central Intelligence Agency is more powerful than the elected President of the United States, and the President is a fool to challenge the CIA.
Is this compatible with democracy? with Constitutional government?
This is an example of the power of what’s been called the Deep State—interlocking institutions with power over public policy that are not accountable to the public.
Presumably President Obama was not such a “fool” as to take on the CIA, even if he disagreed with its conclusions. This would explain a lot about his decisions on foreign and military policy.
For years, I’ve been listening to warnings of the threats of new Hitlers.
Back in the 1950s, Joe McCarthy supposedly was equivalent to Hitler. Then George Wallace. Richard Nixon. Dick Cheney. Now Donald Trump is the latest Hitler equivalent.
The problem is that Donald Trump can refute his enemies by simply not behaving like Hitler.
He can run an administration that is more corrupt than the Harding or Grant administrations. He can be the enemy of organized labor, civil rights, civil liberties and women’s rights. He can destroy the social safety net. He can make the government more plutocratic and militaristic than it already is.
But as long as he does not embark on genocide or world conquest, he meets the standard of not being equivalent to Hitler.
I don’t see night-and-day differences between Donald Trump and the mainstream of the Republican Party on most issues. On some few but important issues, such as relations with Russia or pro-corporate trade treaties, I think Trump is better than either the Democratic or Republican established leadership.
If you’re a liberal or progressive activist, there are better uses of your time that reading up on the Weimar Republic or making checklists of the characteristics of fascism.
Telling people that Trump is equivalent to Hitler makes it easy for Trump because (1) it’s unconvincing and (2) it shifts the focus to historical parallels and away from Trump himself.
I have learned throughout my long life never to say that some powerful person or institution could not have done a certain thing because doing would have been idiotic.
But it certainly would have been idiotic for Russian intelligence agents to think they could influence the 2016 election by leaking e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief.
And while that isn’t proof that they weren’t the leakers, it is a reason to reserve judgment.
The Clinton campaign leaks had little or no effect on the election outcome. All they did was to confirm what some of us already thought about how the DNC was tied in with the Clinton primary election campaign, and Clinton was tied in with her rich donor friends. If I had been pro-Clinton, this would not have been new information that would have changed my mind.
Within my circle of friends, I don’t know anybody who cared much about the Clinton campaign leaks. On the other hand, everybody I know who ever handled classified information was upset by the FBI reports on Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.
The CIA statements of about possible Russian involvement in the Clinton campaign leaks have had much greater impact on American public opinion than the leaks themselves ever did.
Where is the National Security Agency in all this? All this is in the NSA area of expertise. The NSA would have better information than the FBI or CIA.
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou made a point about the New York Times and Washington Post reports on a secret CIA report on Russian hacking of Democratic campaign e-mails.
Oh, and by the way – the release of the CIA report, or information from the CIA report, is an act of espionage as defined by the Obama Justice Department: “Providing national security information to any person not entitled to receive it.” I wonder who’s going to be charged with that leak. Yeah, right.
Source: CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou
I’ve often thought that the purpose of most government classification of information is to be able to leak secrets to favored people.
During the election campaign, FBI statements about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information hurt her and helped Donald Trump.
CIA statements about alleged Russian hacking of Clinton campaign e-mails hurt Trump and helped Clinton. As it turns out, the FBI counter-intelligence service is not convinced that it was the Russians who hacked the Clinton campaign.
And, in fact, Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and human rights activist close to Julian Assange, claims to have personal knowledge that the Clinton campaign leaks came from a disgruntled Democratic campaign staffer.
President Obama wants the “intelligence community” to produce a report on whether Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in U.S. elections going back to 2008. And he wants the report done before Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, which seems like an impossible deadline to produce anything more than informed—or uniformed—opinion.
Meanwhile Democrats who are trying to change the Electoral College vote want the electors to be briefed by the CIA on alleged Russian inference.
I have no evidence that the disagreements between the FBI and CIA are any more than an honest difference of opinion. Even if that is so, I don’t like the idea of presidential candidates being vetted by the CIA.
Hat tip to O.
I got an e-mail the other day asking me to sign a petition to members of the Electoral College pledged to Donald Trump to switch their votes to Hillary Clinton.
This is theoretically possible. “Faithless” electors have violated their pledges in previous elections.
But trying to overturn Trump’s election in the Electoral College would set a terrible precedent. It is a bad and dangerous thing even to attempt.
If I were a Trump voter in a red state, I would be furious at the idea of my vote being set aside by somebody I probably hadn’t even heard of.
It would mean that, in the future, voting would not necessarily decide the Presidential election. The vote would be followed by an attempt to persuade, threaten or bribe the Electors into going against the wishes of the voters.
Democracy is possible only when the results of elections are regarded as legitimate, and a peaceful transfer for power is taken for granted.
When elections are not regarded as legitimate, the basis of power is armed force. And in general the Trump supporters are better armed and better trained in the use of weapons than the Clinton supporters.
Julian Assange, in addition to his great service in bringing secret facts to light, is an interesting thinker. The video shows fellow Australian John Pilger, a noted investigative journalist, interviewing Assange on the coming U.S. election and his current status.
Here are some highlights of the interview:
Julian Assange: If you look at the history of the FBI, it has become effectively America’s political police. The FBI demonstrated this by taking down the former head of the CIA [General David Petraeus] over classified information given to his mistress. Almost no-one is untouchable.
The FBI is always trying to demonstrate that no-one can resist it. But Hillary Clinton very conspicuously resisted the FBI’s investigation, so there’s anger within the FBI because it made the FBI look weak.
We’ve published about 33,000 of Clinton’s emails when she was Secretary of State. [snip]
Then there are the Podesta emails we’ve been publishing. [John] Podesta is Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign manager, so there’s a thread that runs through all these emails; there are quite a lot of pay-for-play, as they call it, giving access in exchange for money to states, individuals and corporations.
Julian Assange: There’s an early 2014 email from Hillary Clinton, not so long after she left the State Department, to her campaign manager John Podesta that states ISIL is funded by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Now this is the most significant email in the whole collection, and perhaps because Saudi and Qatari money is spread all over the Clinton Foundation. Even the U.S. government agrees that some Saudi figures have been supporting ISIL, or ISIS. But the dodge has always been that, well it’s just some rogue Princes, using their cut of the oil money to do whatever they like, but actually the government disapproves.
But that email says that no, it is the governments of Saudi and Qatar that have been funding ISIS.
Democrats stand an excellent chance of keeping control of the White House and a reasonable chance of regaining a majority in the Senate, but it’s a foregone conclusion that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives not only for the next two years, but for the next 10 years or more..
That’s because of a successful plan, code-named REDSTATE, that Republican operatives implemented starting in 2010. By targeting money at key state legislative races, they ensured Republican control of state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.
Then they used Big Data to draw legislative and congressional districts in such a way as to guarantee Republican majorities, even when Democrats won a majority of the state’s popular votes.
David Daley described this in his book, Rat-F**ked: How the Democrats Won the Presidency But Lost America. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read an excerpt and interviews, to which I link below.
Gerrymandering goes back to the early days of the Republic, and has been used by Democrats and Republicans. What’s new about REDSTATE is the use of Big Date—detailed demographic information and computer analysis—to make gerrymandering more precise and impregnable than ever was possible before.
In September, 1999, Russia was wracked by a series of explosions that President Vladimir Putin blamed on Chechen terrorists.
It solidified Putin’s power and popularity, and enable him to launch his own “war on terror” against the breakaway province of Chechnya.
But unlike with the 9/11 attacks on the United States two years later, there is strong circumstantial evidence that the explosions were a false flag carried out by Russian intelligence services.
David Satter, a former foreign correspondent in Moscow, summed up the evidence in a recent article in National Review.
The Chechens are a fierce Muslim warrior people whose homeland is in the Caucasus. They were conquered by the Russian Empire in 1859 and declared independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up. The Russian Federation tried and failed to reconquer them in 1994-1996.
At the time of the explosions, Vladimir Putin, formerly head of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB), had just become prime minister of Russia. He used the explosions as a justification for starting a new war, in which Chechnya was defeated and reincorporated into Russia.
There were four apartment bombings in all, in which a total of 300 people were killed. One was in an apartment building in Buinaksk in Dagestan in the Caucasus, two in apartment buildings in Moscow (9/9 and 9/13) and one in Volgodonsk in Rostov province to the south (9/16). All the explosions involved hundreds of pounds of an explosive called RDX.
Suspicious characters with traces of RDX on their persons were arrested in an apartment building in the southern Russian city of Ryazan. They turned out to be FSB agents. The FSB said they were conducting a training exercise.
I’m coming to realize Donald Trump has a good chance of being elected President. He at least promises to make things better. Even though his ideas are mostly bad, a majority of voters may prefer him to the status quo.
If elected, he would face the opposition of Congress, the courts, the federal bureaucracy and the establishment press. But precedents set by Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their predecessors give the President considerable power to wage war, selectively enforce the law and suspend Constitutional rights in the name of fighting terror.
President Trump would have unilateral authority to put the USA on nuclear alert, ban immigration from majority-Muslim countries and order the Justice Department to give priority to certain offenses, and certain targets.
The Iran nuclear agreement was an agreement to suspend United Nations sanctions against Iran, and that is a done deal. But President Trump would have authority to step up American sanctions against Iran, giving Iranian hard-liners an excuse to resume development of nuclear weapons capability.
Trump proposes tax cuts tilted toward the upper brackets, to which a Republican Congress probably would be sympathetic.
He proposes abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, which they might not go along with. But as President, he would have the power to render the EPA and FDA ineffective through policy and appointments.
Ted Rall, who has traveled in Central Asia, had this to say about the death of Uzbekistan’s ruler Islam Karimov.
Given Uzbekistan’s tremendous oil, gas and mineral wealth and its geographically and geopolitically strategic importance, its citizens ought to enjoy a high standard of living. Instead, the average Uzbek subsists on $3 to $8 per day.
Where does all that energy wealth go? Karimov, his family and cronies steal it. Gulnara Karimova, the deceased despot’s flamboyant chanteuse daughter, is accused of breaking in over $1 billion in bribes from telecommunications companies seeking permits to do business. Another daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is linked to shell companies that own gaudy multimillion estates in the U.S. [snip]
Uzbekistan is routinely awarded the world’s “Worst of the Worst” status for its extreme corruption and violations of fundamental human rights. Phones are tapped and militsia goons shake down motorists at innumerable checkpoints. Print and broadcast media are completely state-controlled. There’s a zero tolerance policy toward political opposition. [snip]
At least 10,000 political prisoners are rotting in the nation’s prisons. Torture is standard and endemic; Team Karimov landed a rare spot in the news for boiling dissidents to death. In 2005, President Karimov asked security forces confronting protesters in the southern city of Andijon to wait for his arrival from the capital of Tashkent so he could personally witness and coordinate their massacre. An estimated 700 to 1200 Uzbeks were slaughtered. “People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev,” a U.S. official admitted. [snip]
[This was originally posted July 13, 2016. Links added since then are in italics.]
Candidates for political office can be better understood by their records than by their rhetoric.
Donald Trump has never held public office, but his record as a business owner and promoter tells what to expect from him if he ever does.
His record is one of success through use of political influence, and at the expense of investors and customers who believe his claims.
I’ve compiled links to articles about Trump’s business record. They should be a good warning to voters who think Trump’s business success qualifies him for high political office, or who think that Trump can be trusted to act in their interests.
Probably there are links to more articles than you, as a busy person, have time to click on. I recommend that you skim the headlines to get a general idea, and click on whatever seems interesting to you. I particularly recommend the articles by David Cay Johnson, who has been following Trump for many years. Or, if you have time to read only
one a couple, read the following:
Trumpology: A Master Class, a group interview of Trump biographers Wayne Barrett, Michael D’Antonio, Harry Hurt III, Gwenda Blair and Timothy L. O’Brien by Susan B. Glasser and Michael Kruse for POLITICO magazine.
‘The Making of Donald Trump’: David Cay Johnston on Trump’s Ties to the Mob and & Drug Traffickers, an interview by Amy Goodman for Democracy Now.
Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who died a few days ago, was a ruthless dictator comparable to the Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
A holdover from the Soviet era (appointed by Mikhail Gorbachev, no less), Karimov was known for his repression of the Muslim religion and of dissent of all kinds, and for forced child labor in cotton fields, his country’s chief export industry.
Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, said growing a beard or being seen praying five times a day could be enough to get you thrown in jail or to “disappear” mysteriously.
Yet Karimov was courted by Russia, China and the USA as an ally against radical Islamic terrorism. Uzbekistan was an important transit point for supplies going to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
What should US policy have been? Should our government be like China’s, which scrupulously refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, no matter how odious their governments?
Or should the US have armed Karimov’s opponents, as was done in Libya and Syria, to being about a change in the regime?
Republicans in Congress refused to vote President Obama’s Supreme Court nominations on the grounds that he is a lame duck. But it’s highly likely they’ll join with him to enact the odious Trans Pacific Partnership agreement right after the November elections, when he and they really will be lame ducks.
When Congress voted to allow a “fast track” decision—an up or down vote with little time to discuss the agreement—it was Republican votes that provided the margin of victory.
“Fast track” means there’s no way to stop a lame-duck vote on TPP, even if anti-TPP candidates sweep Congress in the November elections.
All it would take is that President Obama, House Speaker Mitch McConnell and other TPP supporters are brazen enough.
Bernie Sanders opposed the TPP. Donald Trump opposes it. Hillary Clinton promoted it when she was Secretary of State, but she says she now has reservations about it. Her supporters on the Democratic platform committee voted down a plank that would criticize the TPP so as not to embarrass President Obama.
The TPP—and the related Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement and Trade in Services Agreement—are corporate wish lists written into international law.
These limit the power of governments to legislate and regulate to protect workers, consumers and the environment, grant drug and media companies new intellectual property rights, and create panels of arbitrators that can impose penalties on governments for depriving international corporations of “expected profits.”
So it’s fitting, in a way, that these anti-democratic trade agreements are likely to be enacted into law by a President and members of Congress who may not have run for re-election or been voted out of office.