Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

Academic freedom then and now

October 12, 2017

From a young age, I’ve believed in American ideals of freedom and democracy, as I understood them.   But my political thinking crystallized when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1952-1956 and took part in controversies about academic freedom then.

Academic freedom, as I conceives it then and still do, is the freedom of college faculty to engage in scholarship free from outside pressure, and the freedom of students to discuss and debate issues without restriction.

I regard the defense of freedom of expression as a defining principle of liberalism.  Back then most American leftists were liberals.   Sadly this is no longer true.

A plaque on Bascom Hall, on a high hill in the center of the liberal arts part of the campus, contained an excerpt from the Board of Regents declaration of 1894, when they resisted pressure from the state legislature to fire a professor for his outspoken pro-labor opinions.

The regents’ reply was that scholarship required free inquiry and was incompatible with censorship of opinion.

The academic freedom issues on the UW campus in the early 1950s were: (1) Should a known Communist, or a member of a group on the Attorney-General’s list of subversive organizations, be automatically barred from employment on the UW faculty, and (2) Should Communists or groups on the Attorney-General’s list be eligible to participate in students activities?

In the year 1952, when I enrolled as a freshman, Joseph Stalin still ruled the Soviet Union, the Korean Conflict was still waging and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was at the height of his influence.   McCarthy’s power was based on his charges, which later proved baseless, of Communist infiltration of government and other American institutions.   Interestingly, he represented Wisconsin, but never had anything to say about the University of Wisconsin.

Fear of Communists had a real basis.  It was not just the “intolerance of the intolerant” argument—that enemies of democracy were not entitled to democratic freedoms.

Communist parties in those days were subservient to Stalin.   In the 1930s, Communist parties all supported the idea of a Popular Front of radicals, liberals and conservatives against Hitler.   Then, after the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1940, they all opposed the British “imperialist” war.

After the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941, they became anti-fascist again.   British and American Communists provided the Soviet Union with critical information about the U.S. atomic bomb.

Things are different now, but that’s how they were then.

Nevertheless, I and my friends took the extreme liberal position—the extreme libertarian position—that people should be judged on their individual actions, and not on group identity.

That wasn’t just a matter of justice.   If Communists were outlawed, or denied employment, for being Communists, then they wouldn’t identify themselves as Communists.    The only way to root them out would be to create an inquisition to determine people’s secret beliefs.   The obvious target for this inquisition would be those of us who are pro-labor, anti-racist and pro-civil liberties.

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Reasons why freedom of speech is important

October 11, 2017

A good friend of mine mailed me clippings about free speech controversies on college campuses, and asked me whether I think freedom of speech is an absolute right.

Nothing is absolute.   Even fundamental freedoms are subject to reasonable and limited restrictions that are consistent with their purpose.   These includes laws about (1) libel and slander, (2) incitement to riot, (3) threats and intimidation, (4) harassment, (5) public obscenity, (6) public nuisances and probably other things I didn’t think of.

But I can’t think of a situation in which I would forbid somebody to peaceably express their opinion based on the nature of that opinion.

And if you could make me admit to an exception, I would define that exception as narrowly as possible and not use it as a precedent.

What is the point of freedom of speech?

Freedom of speech is an important individual right.   Being able to speak your mind without fear is necessary for human flourishing.   Nobody can be happy if they have to conceal their opinions out of fear.

Freedom of speech is a our social contract.   It provides a way in which people of radically different opinions can live together without violence.    I may think you not only wrong but wicked, and you may think the same of me.   But it is better for both of us, and for those around us, if we agree to settle our differences with facts and ideas, not guns and clubs.

Freedom of speech is necessary for self-government.   Citizens of a free country have a right to hear all sides of public questions.   Your choice is not completely free if someone has the power to limit what facts and opinions you are allowed to hear.

Freedom of speech is most valuable to the least powerful.   The rich and powerful in any framework will be able to make their views known.   Reformers, dissidents and the poor and marginalized are the ones most in need of the right of free speech, and that is true even if they have less of it than the powerful.

And, under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, free speech is more than just a good idea – it’s the law.

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Charlottesville and the face of the Alt-Right

August 18, 2017

Everybody, no matter how reprehensible their opinions, has a right in the United States to express them peacefully, provided that they don’t engage in violence or advocate violence.

The VICE News video above shows Alt-Right protesters in Charlottesville, Va., last week, and it is plain that their purpose was to show their strength and intimidate their enemies.

I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of assembly for all, even those I despise.  I don’t believe in the right to act like a thug, even by those I agree with.

This goes for the club-wielding “Antifa” (anti-fascist) protestors, who believe in fighting fire with fire.  I don’t say they are equivalent to Nazis and KKK members.  I do say that the best way to fight fire is with water.

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Google and the gender gap

August 9, 2017

James Damore, a senior engineer at Google, was fired for writing an internal memo for suggesting that the reasons only 20 percent of Google’s technical workers are women may be due to male-female differences in traits and interests.

That’s very different, of course, from saying that women don’t have the ability to be computer scientists.   Below is a link to his memo, for those interested in what he really had to say—followed by links to responses to the memo.

 LINKS

Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber by James Damore.  The full memo.

So, about this Googler’s manifesto by Yonatan Zunger for Medium.  An all-out attack on Damore.

Google Is Being Evil After All and Damore’s Diversity Suggestion List by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Differences Between Men and Women Are Vastly Exaggerated by Adam Grant for Linked-in.   A reasoned analysis.

Contra Grant on Exaggerated Differences by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex.   An in-depth rebuttal.

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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Julian Assange: enemy of the state

April 26, 2017

Power corrupts, the saying goes, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  If a government has the power to commit crimes in secret, and to punish people for revealing its crimes, what limit is there on its absolute power.

That is why Julian Assange, the founder and leader of Wikileaks, is a hero.  He has sacrificed his freedom and risked his life to make known crimes and abuses by the U.S. and other governments.

Here’s what he said about his aims back in 2006—

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.  This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.

Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are non-linearly hit relative to open, just systems.  Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.

Source: IQ.ORG

Of course this is inherently dangerous.  Making powerful immoral people paranoid about having their crimes revealed will reduce the effectiveness of those powerful immoral people, either by damaging their reputations or making them afraid to communicate with each other or both.   But it’s a given that if you keep it up, these powerful people will use their power against you.

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a recent speech that Assange’s Wikileaks should be suppressed because it is a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”  In other words, Wikileaks gathers information that governments don’t want it to know, and publishes it—just like any other muckraking news organization.

The difference is that Wikileaks, like other publishers, gathers intelligence on behalf of the public and not a foreign government.   If you say the distinction doesn’t matter, then freedom of the press does not include the right to tell the truth; it means nothing except the right to express mere opinion.

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Your life on the Internet is an open book

March 28, 2017

Double click to enlarge

How Google Tracks You—And What You Can Do About It by Jeff Desjardins for Visual Capitalist.

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What Obama could do to curb Trump’s power

December 5, 2016

President Obama said during the campaign that he’s worried about somebody like Donald Trump with access to the nuclear codes and all the other powers of the Presidency.  A writer named Pratap Chatterjee listed nine things Obama could do to reduce Trump’s power to do harm.

  1.   Name innocent drone victims.
  2.   Make public any reviews of military errors.
  3.   Make public the administration’s criteria for its “targeted killings.”
  4.   Disclose mass surveillance programs.
  5.   Make public all surveillance agreements with private companies.
  6.   Make public all secret laws created in recent years.
  7.   Punish anyone who has abused the drone or surveillance programs.
  8.   Punish those responsible for FBI domain management abuses.
  9.   Pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and the other whistleblowers.

That wouldn’t eliminate a President Trump’s power to start wars without authorization from Congress, but it would be a start on reducing Presidential powers to their Constitutional limits.

LINKS

Obama’s Last Chance by Pratap Chatterjee for TomDispatch.

FBI and NSA Poised to Gain New Surveillance Powers Under Trump by Chris Strohm for Bloomberg News.

 

Obama’s legacy to Trump

November 30, 2016

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How to tell when the fascists have come

November 18, 2016

During the past few years, I’ve read a number of definitions of fascism, which have been mostly lists of personality traits or philosophical assumptions or political tendencies.

The problem with these lists is that while they are traits, assumptions and tendencies often found in fascists, they also are commonly found among people who definitely aren’t fascists.

A blogger named Ian Welsh challenged his readers to produce benchmarks that would be definite evidence that fascism has arrived or was about to arrive.

authoritarianism9fd18cThat’s tough!  During the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, we had the executive claiming the authority to (1) arrest enemies of the state without legal process, (2) torture enemies of the state, (3) order the assassination of enemies of the state without legal process, (4) put the entire population under secret surveillance and (5) start wars without approval of the legislative body.

All these things are characteristic of fascist regimes.  All would be powers that a fascist dictator would try to claim.

But I can’t really see the Bush and Obama administrations as fascist in the same way that, say, Chile under Pinochet was fascist.

Racism, misogyny, religious intolerance and extreme nationalism are characteristic of fascist governments, but not all racists, misogynists, religious bigots or nationalists are fascists.

For what it’s worth, here is my list of defining characteristics of fascism:

  • Deification of a leader.
  • A requirement to pay lip service to a ruling ideology.
  • Arrests of opponents of the government on trumped-up charges or no charges at all.
  • Fear of making criticisms of the government.
  • Arbitrary power and lack of due process of law.
  • Lynchings and pogroms.
  • Death squads.
  • Concentration camps.

The problem with making such a list is that the mere absence of death squads and concentration camps can be taken as evidence that the United States or any other country is a free country.

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Advice to a peaceful anti-Trump protester

June 7, 2016

If you’re thinking of protesting Donald Trump at or near one of his rallies, my advice is:

Don’t.

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If you insist on your Constitutional right to peacefully assemble, I’ll absolutely defend your right to do it.  I’ll defend anybody’s right to peacefully protest.

Trump_protest_Chicago_ap_imgBut if you want to exercise your right to protest Donald Trump in the vicinity of a Trump rally, I advise you to think again.  It isn’t always wise to do something just to show you have a right to do it.

You may have every intention in the world of engaging in a peaceful protest.  But you don’t have any control over whether the protest is peaceful.  That decision rests with the most violent member of your group.

The most violent member may be somebody who lacks self-control.  Or it may be somebody who, unlike you, believes in revolutionary violence, like the “black bloc” in the Occupy Wall Street protests or World Trade Organization protests.

Or they may well be infiltrators working for police or intelligence organizations or for the Trump campaign.

During the anti-Vietnam protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s, police infiltration was a real thing.  A friend of mine told me of taking part in a peace march, and noticing that the two hippies in the line ahead of him were wearing the same kind of black shoes that state troopers wore.  When they stopped to pick up rocks, my friend had the presence of mind to run into a coffee shop nearby.

Police immediately descended on the marchers, clubbed some of them and took them away.  When my friend came out of the shop a hour later, nobody was left but police standing around smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, including the two apparent hippies.

Part of the Watergate scandal involved Richard Nixon agents posing as Democrats and trying to manipulate the 1972 nominating process from within.  A typical example is that Donald Segretti, a Nixon operative, send out letters purportedly approved by Edmund Muskie, the leading candidate, accusing Hubert Humphrey and conservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

Roger Stone, a famous Republican dirty-tricks specialists, got his start in politics as a college student playing dirty tricks on behalf of Richard Nixon—for example, making a campaign contribution in the name of a Nixon rival in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance, then mailing the receipt to the Manchester Union-Leader.

All that aside, any violent incident that happens in connection with your protest, whether or not it’s your fault, is going to be blamed on you.  Donald Trump thrives on violent confrontations, regardless of who starts them, because they validate what he tells his followers.

A good rule in politics is: Don’t do what your enemy wants you to do.

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U.S. Constitutional rights, on-line and off-line

May 6, 2016

internetcensorshipsurveillance20120202Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Donald Trump and the limits of protest

March 23, 2016

I admired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was alive.   I admire the thinking of Gene Sharp.  I think civil disobedience is justified when all else fails.

But I do not agree with the non-violent protests that shut down an Arizona highway near a Donald Trump campaign events, nor with other protests intended to prevent Trump from speaking.

Dr. King’s non-violent protests were strategic attacks on structures of power.  His protests succeeded to the extent that people in power concluded it would cost them less, in terms of damage to profits and reputation, to give in to his demands than to fight them.

They also succeeded to the extent that Dr. King was able to convince the larger American public that his cause was just, and his protests were disciplined and organized as to give his followers the moral high ground.

Dr. King had specific lists of demands.  His opponents always knew what they had to do in order to shut off the protests.

trumpblock20Protestors who try to shut down Donald Trump rallies do not hurt either Trump’s reputation nor his profits.  Instead they solidify Trump’s support, while inconveniencing and alienating the general public.

Those protestors are not defending their Constitutional rights.  Instead they are denying Trump his right of free speech and his followers their right to peaceably assemble.

Yes, I know the Constitutional rights of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and other groups have not been respected, and that Donald Trump himself is not a friend of civil liberties.  That does not mean that he and his followers are not entitled to hold meetings or that there is anything to be gained in trying to deny them that right.

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Why nihilism is worse than hypocrisy

March 7, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit

Donald Trump (Reuters)

Donald Trump’s assertions that he would require American military officers to practice torture and other war crimes stirred up a strong backlash, and he backed down.

Others point out that the U.S. government has long been doing things that Trump is only talking about.

That’s true, but I still think indignation is justified.  Advocating crimes against humanity is just as bad, and in some ways worse, than practicing crimes against humanity.

It is better to be a hypocrite than a nihilist.  The hypocrite, even if lying to others or to self, has a road back to human decency.  The frankly sociopathic nihilist has burned his bridges.

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Should Apple decrypt the i-Phone for the FBI?

March 3, 2016

The FBI demands Apple Computer to figure out a way to read encrypted files on an i-Phone owned by an alleged terrorist.  Apple Computer’s management says there is no way to do this without opening up all i-Phone files to the FBI.  The case is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Suppose the FBI wins its case.  Suppose a year later the national police in Russia, China or Iran, arrest an elleged terrrorist and demand that Appple create a similar tool for them?  Do the Russian, Chinese or Iranian security services automatically get access to all i-Phones?

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The police’s troublesome 1 percent

February 4, 2016

Out of 12,000 Chicago police, 124 are responsible for one-third police of misconduct lawsuits, costing the city $34 million.  Just five police officers were subject of a combined 16 lawsuits, costing the city $1.5 million.

That’s not typical. Of 1,100 lawsuits settled since 2009, only 5 percent paid plaintiffs more than $100,000.

moskosinthehoodPeter Moskos, a former Baltimore street policeman who now teaches criminal justice at NYU, quoted these statistics, which are from a pay-wallled Chicago Tribune article, on his blog.

I’ve been struck by how many of the shooters in high-profile police killings of unarmed civilians have long records of misconduct, which nobody cared about.

My friend Bill Hickok would say this an example of instance of the “power law”, which, when applied to human affairs, indicates that the vast majority of the accomplishments and failures of any group of people is due to a small fraction of people within the group.

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What it would take to rein in the Deep State

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LMike Lofgren’s new book, The Deep State, describes the interlocking  U.S. military-industrial complex, financial oligarchy and police state which is not subject to either the rule of law or democratic control.   The particulars of his description are available in the previous two posts and in the linked articles.

Here’s what I think needs to be done in order to rein in the Deep State.

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authoritarianism9fd18cCongress should exercise the power of the purse to prevent the President from committing acts of war on his or her own initiative.  President Obama has stated that he considers himself free to attack foreign countries by means of bombing from the air, killer drones and Special Operations because these things are not war.  It is only war when large numbers of American ground troops are involved.

Refusing to levy taxes is the historic method used by parliaments and national assemblies to force absolute monarchs to cease aggressive wars and submit to the rule of law.  The U.S. precedent is the Case-Church Amendment of 1973 forced a cutoff of funds for military operations in Vietnam after August 15 of that year, and brought the Vietnam Conflict to an end.

Congress should pass a resolution ending funding for military operations and military aid and subsidies in the Middle East after a specific deadline, except for what is specifically authorized by Congress.

And if the executive refused to comply with that resolution?  The Constitutional remedy for this is impeachment.

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Congress should pass a law allowing prosecuted whistle-blowers to be acquitted if they can show that the information they revealed was kept secret in order to cover up lawbreaking, incompetence or failure, to limit business competition, or to suppress information that is not related to national security.

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How the Deep State can resist democracy

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LThe Deep State is author Mike Lofgren’s term for power centers in Washington, Wall Street and, to an extent, Silicon Valley that determine government policy, yet operate in secret, without accountability to the law or democratic control.

He wrote in The Deep State that the USA is condemned to unending war and economic decline unless the power of the Deep State can be overthrown.

But can it be overthrown?

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Let’s look at the means the Deep State has to protect itself.

The power of moneyWall Street banks and military contractors have more money available to influence elections than any of their critics do.  The Supreme Court has ruled the corporate entities have the same rights as individual human beings, and that spending money can be an exercise of the right of free speech, so there is no practical limit on how much money can be spent on a campaign.

The power of subversionThe FBI has a long history of infiltrating civil rights and peace organizations with informers and undermining them from within.  Ditto for the CIA in foreign elections.  If the FBI and CIA felt threatened, is there any doubt they would use whatever tools they had to protect themselves?

DeepState-e1398185022722The power of information.  The NSA has the means of learning the personal habits and behavior of every American.  Who is there who doesn’t have something in their background that looks bad, or can be made to look bad?  The precedent for this is the FBI’s spying on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and its dissemination of information about his sex life.

The power of repression.  The police crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, shows how the government treats peaceful protest movements as national security threats.

Suppressing the vote.  Many techniques exist for suppressing the vote or making votes meaningless.  New laws intentionally make it more difficult for members of targeted groups to vote or easier to disqualify them from voting.  The Dieboldt electronic voting machines allow vote tampering. and there is some evidence this is happening.

Financial power.  When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he intended to propose an ambitious program of public workers.  He never did, because he was told this would cause the “bond markets” to lose confidence in him, and interest rates to rise, choking off the economic recovery and increasing the national debt.  If a future President attempted to curb the power of Wall Street, is there any doubt that the financial markets would “lose confidence” in him or her?

Economic dependence.   The Department of Defense and other parts of the Deep State employ millions of people, almost all of them honest, patriotic people who believe they are serving their country.  Reducing the size of these institutions to what’s needed to defend the country would throw many of them out of work.  Without some alternative, this would not only damage the lives of these individuals, but possibly throw the country into recession.

Learned helplessness.  Many Americans have come to think of economic oligarchy and perpetual war as facts of life, about which nothing can be done.

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You may have a police “threat score”

January 13, 2016

Beware-Landing-Page-Banner-01

Software companies are selling services to police that scan publicly available information, including social media, to determine your “threat score”.

Foreign dictatorships, as Peter Van Buren pointed out on his web log, already monitor their citizens through the Internet and assign them ratings that determine how they are treated.

bigbrotherNow private enterprise is doing the same thing in the United States, and I can only guess what the National Security Agency has been doing all along.

What bothers me is that I don’t see any obvious way to put a stop to this.  You can pass legislation to require that certain categories of information, such as medical information, be kept confidential.  But I don’t see how you can stop private companies or government agencies from correlating publicly available information and drawing conclusions from it.

If I were a police officer responding to a call, I would want all the background information I could get on people I was going to be dealing with.  Ideally, this would benefit all concerned.  In practice, there would likely be many false positives about threats with potential to cause over-reaction.

The most worrisome thing is the idea of assigning each citizen a “threat score” based on the judgement of some unknown person or, worse still, a computer algorithm, which determines how the person will be treated by the criminal justice system.  Intrado, which sells the Beware software, says its formula for calculating the “threat score” is a trade secret.

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How Obama paved the way for Trump

December 4, 2015

Seeing the popularity of Donald Trump’s nationalism and authoritarianism, many liberals and progressives are reading up on the history of fascism in Europe and wondering about the future of democracy in the USA.

What really makes Donald Trump and other authoritarian Republican candidates so dangerous is George W. Bush and Barack Obama have already created a legal and organizational framework for exercising the powers of a dictator.

Consider the powers claimed by President Obama:

  • To wage war on his own say-so by means of bombs, drone attacks, Special Operations, proxy armies or any other means short of massive use of American ground troops.
  • To order the killing on his own say-so of any person he says is a threat to national security.
  • To preside over a secret national surveillance system that potentially reaches every citizen and covers the whole world.
  • To prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal abuses of power.
  • To give immunity from prosecution to torturers, crooked bankers and other high-level criminals.

authoritarianism9fd18cObama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an attack on Libya, a nation whose government was no threat to the United States, and reduced it to bloody chaos, where radical jihadists flourish.  Now Obama is carrying on a proxy war to overthrow the government of Syria, which also was no threat to the United States, and which, if successful, would create more bloody chaos where ISIS terrorists would flourish.

The Department of Homeland Security exists in theory to protect Americans from jihadist terrorists from abroad.  But it was used to coordinate a nationwide crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters, which, whatever you think of them, constituted no threat to the security of the homeland.

To sum up:  The President has the power to commit acts of war, with no accountability.  He has the power to sign death warrants, with no accountability.   He presides over a vast surveillance apparatus which can be used to spy on dissenters and he prosecutes those who reveal abuses of power.

What power would be lacking for a would-be dictator?  Maybe you think President Obama has enough restraint and good judgment to be trusted with such power.  But he is not going to be in office after January, 2017.   Somebody else is.

Recently the U.S. Congress did enact one restriction on abuse of power.  Congress banned torture and limited interrogation to what is now permitted in the U.S. Army field manual.  But, oddly enough, this does not seem to bother Donald Trump, who continues to promise that, if elected, he would authorize torture.

How could Trump promise to do something that is against the law?  Well, torture was against international law all along.  And there is another law, called the War Powers Act, which forbids the President to engage in acts of war without congressional authorization except in an emergency, and then to get authorization within 60 days.   President Obama has disregarded this law, without consequences, so why couldn’t President Trump disregard the anti-torture law?

During the Watergate era, President Richard M. Nixon broke the law and abused the power of his office.  There were countervailing forces in Congress, in the courts, in the press and in his own administration that held him in check and made his accountable.   Where are today’s checks and balances?

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Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/30/2015

October 30, 2015

The Midwife to Chaos and Her Perjury by Andrew Napolitano for The Unz Review.

Republican attacks on President Obama and the Clintons generally amount to straining at gnats while swallowing camels.  The House Benghazi Committee’s questioning of Hillary Clinton fits this pattern.

She was questioned for 10 hours, nearly continuously, for her alleged neglect of security leading to the murder of an American diplomat in Benghazi, Libya.  But nobody asked her about why she instigated a war against a country that did not threaten the United States, throwing innocent people leading normal lives into bloody anarchy.

And incidentally providing a new recruiting ground for terrorists..

The 6 Reasons China and Russia Are Catching Up to the U.S. Military on Washington’s Blog.

China Sea Blues: A Thing Not to Do by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

Just because the United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military doesn’t mean we have the world’s best military.  We Americans are complacent because of our wealth, and because we have not faced a serious threat to our existence in 70 years.

Our leaders think we can afford to waste money on high-tech weapons that don’t work, and military interventions that aren’t vital to American security.  Other nations, which have less margin of safety and would be fighting near their own borders, may be a match for us.

FBI Accused of Torturing U.S. Citizen Abroad Can’t Be Sued by Christian Farias for The Huffington Post.

Nowadays the Constitution stops where national security and foreign policy begin.

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Courageous Malaysian cartoonist risks prison

October 27, 2015

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A courageous Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkifee Sm Anwar Ulhaque, who draws using the name Zumar, faces a possible 43 years in prison for sedition.

His offense was to charge that Malaysia’s judiciary is controlled by the government, and that Malaysia is ruled not by Prime Minister Najib Razak, but his wife Rusmah Mansur.

He is in Britain for an exhibition of his cartoons, but he will return to Malaysia to face charges.  That takes a lot of guts.

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Hat tip for these links to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.

Zunar: Cartoonist arrives in Britain as he faces 43 years in Malaysian prison for ‘sedition’ by Ian Burrell for The Independent.

Malaysian cartoonist faces 43 years in prison by Index on Censorship.

Hate speech laws are the new McCarthyism

October 19, 2015

Hate speech laws are like McCarthyism in the 1950s.

They purport to be against real evils—racism and Stalinism.

But in practice they are directed mostly at persecuting harmless and powerless people for trivial reasons.

hatespeech28389168They violate historical and well-established rights to free speech and due process of law, which apply to everyone, including real Communists and real racists.

They are used to prevent full and free debate of sensitive and important issues.

They divert attention from real abuses of power.  Anti-Communism in the old days provided cover for abuses of power by corporations and American foreign policy.  Hate speech rules today provide cover big for university administrators who jack up tuition, push down wages of adjunct and other teachers and give themselves and their consultants six-figure and seven-figure incomes.

I’m old enough to have a living memory of McCarthyism.   Back in the day, I was anti-McCarthy, anti-Communist, anti-racist and pro-free speech.   I still am.

LINKS

The Anti-Free Speech Movement at UCLA by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

The passing scene – October 9, 2015

October 9, 2015

Welcome to a New Planet: Climate Change, “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens America’s Recent Manufacturing Resurgence by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Harvard’s prestigious debate team loses to New York prison inmates by Laura Gambino for The Guardian.

10 Stories About Donald Trump You Won’t Believe Are True by Luke McKinney for Cracked.com.  Donald Trump is notable not as a business success, but as a promoter with the ability to distract attention from failure.

Can Community Land Trusts Solve Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem? by Michelle Chen for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The Second Amendment’s Fake History by Robert Parry for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.)

The Afghan hospital massacre: Snowden makes a brilliant suggestion by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.  Why does the United States not release the gunner’s video and audio?

Ask Well: Canned vs. Fresh Fish by Karen Weintraub for the New York Times.  Canned fish is probably better.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Shell Game: There Is No Such Thing as California ‘Native’ Oysters, a book excerpt by Summer Brennan in Scientific American.   The true story behind Jack London and the oyster wars.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Notes on our surveillance dystopia

October 9, 2015

The proximate reasons for the culture of total surveillance are clear.

Storage is cheap enough that we can keep everything.

Computers are fast enough to examine this information, both in real time and retrospectively.

Our daily activities are mediated with software that can easily be configured to record and report everything it sees upstream.

But to fix surveillance, we have to address the underlying reasons that it exists.  These are no mystery either.

State surveillance is driven by fear.

And corporate surveillance is driven by money.

Source: Idle Words

The quote above is from a talk given by Maciej Ceglowski to the Fremtidens Internet Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I thank my friend Daniel Brandt for the link.  The whole talk is important and highly recommended.

It is about how advertisers destroyed on-line privacy and then found themselves swindled by robots and how Silicon Valley thinks it can change the world without bothering about San Francisco.

Also, six fixes that Ceglowski thinks could restore on-line privacy.

LINK

What Happens Next Will Amaze You by Maciej Ceglowski.