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Nederlog

April 28, 2015
Crisis: Whistleblowers, Encrypting HDs, "Religion", Exit Middle Class, "Fast Track"
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton
















Sections
Introduction

1. Whistleblowers Back “Surveillance State Repeal Act”
2. Encrypting Your Laptop Like You Mean It
3.
Americans Are About as Religious as ‘Godless’
     Europeans, Data Shows

4. More Nails in the Coffin of the American Middle Class
5. "Fast Track" Flouts the Constitution



Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, April 28, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Dan Froomkin that explains why seven prominent whistleblowers support a particular proposed bill; item 2 is about an article by Micah Lee that
is the best introduction to encrypting your hard disk that I have read; item 3 is about 2 articles that confuse - in my European eyes - two senses of "religion";
item 4 is about a decent article that explains that - very probably - the hard
times for the 90% are not over; and item 5 argues that Obama's "fast track" (agreed to by Congress) in fact flouts the American Constitution (which indeed
it does, but Congress decided - in majority - that Congress doesn't matter).

This Nederlog also got uploaded earlier than is normal for me.

1. Whistleblowers Back “Surveillance State Repeal Act” 

The first item today is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

There is no sign of an end to the erosion of Constitutional liberties that began under George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks and continues under Barack Obama, a group of seven national security whistleblowers said Monday.

“The government chose in great secrecy to unchain itself,” said Thomas Drake, who was working at the National Security Agency in 2001 and said he saw lawlessness spread under the name of “exigent conditions” during the Bush presidency.

Yes, indeed - and the process of intentionally eroding Constitutional liberties continued under Obama.

Now, Drake said, he is throwing his weight behind H.R. 1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act.

The bill would completely repeal the 2001 PATRIOT Act (which the NSA cites as the legal basis for its bulk phone metadata collection), repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which ostensibly legitimizes Internet spying) and otherwise protect people’s privacy.

It’s a bipartisan but dark-horse legislative gambit that Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., have thrown into the mix as Congress debates over the next few weeks what to do before three key provisions of the PATRIOT Act expire — including the one used for bulk metadata.

All seven whistleblowers on the panel sponsored by the pro-accountability group ExposeFacts.org – including Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, NSA whistleblowers William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe, and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley – said they backed the bill.

Given that amount of support by brave and intelligent persons, I must agree.
Then again, and even though this is a bipartisan bill, I'm afraid it will not make it in the present Congress.

But no, this is not meant as a criticism of the seven whistleblowers, who indeed also had little choice, since the other proposed bills are far worse. And at least one of the whistleblowers gave voice to one of my own fears:

Wiebe said he is increasingly frightened that the country is not “going to be able to get out of this mess.”

“We’ve become a society wiling to look the other way in the face of wrongdoing,” he said.

Yes, indeed - and also this has been happening for a long time; was brought about mostly by conscious right-wing propaganda; and has resulted in many bad
laws being adopted, and many good laws being deregulated (that is: withdrawn).

And it will be very difficult to undo all or most of the legal damage that has been done, especially because the deregulation + the "Citizens United" decision of the SCOTUS has given all power to the billionairs, who now have the money and the power to use it as much as they please to further their own interests.

2. Encrypting Your Laptop Like You Mean It

The next item is an article by Micah Lee on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Time and again, people are told there is one obvious way to mitigate privacy threats of all sorts, from mass government surveillance to pervasive online tracking to cybercriminals: Encryption. As President Obama put it earlier this year, speaking in between his administration’s attacks on encryption, “There’s no scenario in which we don’t want really strong encryption.” Even after helping expose all the ways the government can get its hands on your data, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden still maintained, “Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”

But how can ordinary people get started using encryption? Encryption comes in many forms and is used at many different stages in the handling of digital information (you’re using it right now, perhaps without even realizing it, because your connection to this website is encrypted). When you’re trying to protect your privacy, it’s totally unclear how, exactly, to start using encryption.

Yes, indeed. And this also holds for me, in spite of the fact that I don't think I am a quite "ordinary" person, in the probably intended sense: I can program now (rather well also, if I have the energy) in six languages, and do understand
computers on a fairly deep level.

The reason I think I am more like an "ordinary" person than I thought I was are my thoroughly disappointing attempts to install PGP in Thunderbird on my Linux:
I thought this ought to be a breeze for me, but it wasn't, mainly because "the help" I got was very bad.

In the end it did install, but then overrode everything in Thunderbird and condemned me to writing every mail, including those I did not want to be encrypted (most, since one needs someone with installed PGP to unencrypt
one's mails), as pure completely unformatted text.

By the way: Since I am part - for some 15 years at least - of some programmers' sites I have learned that most - not: all - people who are decent (or better) programmers are not good writers, in part because they tend to assume what is obvious to them ought to be obvious to others as well. [1]

Anyway - here is more Micah Lee:

Full disk encryption not only provides the type of strong encryption Snowden and Obama reference, but it’s built-in to all major operating systems, it’s the only way to protect your data in case your laptop gets lost or stolen, and it takes minimal effort to get started and use.

If you want to encrypt your hard disk and have it truly help protect your data, you shouldn’t just flip it on; you should know the basics of what disk encryption protects, what it doesn’t protect, and how to avoid common mistakes that could let an attacker easily bypass your encryption.

If you’re in a hurry, go ahead and skip to the bottom, where I explain, step-by-step, how to encrypt your disk for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Then, when you have time, come back and read the important caveats preceding those instructions.

Please note that - as Micah Lee also explains - encrypting your hard disk will make your hard disk difficult to read (if done well) but it does not do anything to what you are doing on line. Then again, encrypting your hard disk (properly) will make at least that - all the data you stored on it - difficult to read.

There is a lot more in the article, including step-by-step quite clear instructions
to encrypt your hard disk.

And this is the clearest set of instructions to encrypt your hard disk that I have read, so this article is highly recommended. 

3.  Americans Are About as Religious as ‘Godless’ Europeans, Data Shows

The next item is an article by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig, who is reviewing an article by Amanda Marcotte on Alternet:
The problems I have with this is are that I do not believe it, and not because I disagree about the data - I am willing to believe that Americans visit churches as little as Europeans do, these days - but because "being religious" is, for the most part, an ideology and a system of social pretense and - socially accepted, socially desired, socially praised - lying that seems, still, much stronger in the U.S. than it is in Europe.

Here are the second and third paragraph of Amanda Marcotte's article, that started with a first paragraph about the Christian posturings of four Republican candidates for the American presidency (none of which happens in Europe, and not because European politicians are more honest, for they aren't):

Looking over these men’s statements and histories, it’s clear that they’re plugged into the myth that defines the religious right. This myth is that America is fundamentally a religious nation and always has been, but it’s been hijacked by a minority of back-stabbing secularist elites---and that the country can be restored to its rightful Christian dominance by electing a Republican.

It’s a narrative that is fundamentally wrong. Yes, the majority of Americans identify technically as Christians, but a deeper look at how our people act, believe, and think shows that we’re not at all a “Christian nation,” but a largely secular nation that suffers a small but vocal minority of theocracy-minded conservatives. And not just that, but that the secular-minded majority is getting even bigger and more secular all the time.

My problems with this are (1) that countries are governed on the basis of myths and ideologies, and that it is true that "being religious", even if it mostly quite false, sells a lot better in politics in the United States than it does in Europe [2] while (2) the data that suggest that the U.S. is "a largely secular nation" (with
at most 1 in 5 describing themselves as "atheists" or "non-
religious"?) is mostly
irrelevant, simply because the
religious ideology is still mostly in place in much of American politics.

So - from my European point of view - the article is really mistaken, because it confuses two meanings of "religious", namely (1) a system of personal belief, about which the author may be right (it is declining, both in the U.S. and in Europe) and (2) a system of ideology, that is propagandized by political leaders, that just cannot be properly judged in terms of (1), and that is far stronger in
the U.S. than it is in Europe.

I strongly wish it were different (I am a lifelong atheist with atheist parents and grandparents) but it isn't. And indeed that is also the reason behind the quite   extensive religious posturings of presidential candidates, which simply does not happen in Europe.

4. More Nails in the Coffin of the American Middle Class

The next item is an article by Alex Henderson on Alternet:
This starts as follows:
If trickle-down economics were anything other than a cruel deception, the United States’ embattled working class would have many reasons to join Wall Street in singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Giant megabanks have been reporting huge profits for 2015’s first quarter, including $5.91 billion at JPMorgan Chase (the largest bank in the country) and $5.8 billion at Wells Fargo. But trickle-down economics doesn’t work, and in working-class America, there isn’t much to celebrate. According to UNICEF, the United States has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world—and the fact that 46 million Americans are receiving food stamps (compared to only 17 million in 2000) demonstrates that Wall Street’s profits certainly aren’t trickling down to Main Street. Even when the news seems good on the surface, one needs to read the fine print. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ official unemployment rate fell to 5.5% in February (the lowest since May 2008), but that figure ignores all of the Americans who have been out of work for so long that the federal government pretends they no longer exist and the fact that many of the jobs being created are low-wage service jobs.
Yes indeed - and note that the number of American persons who receive food stamps almost tripled since 2000. And I agree with Alex Henderson that it
is very probable that
unless the U.S. changes course economically, the worst may be yet to come.
Quite so.

The actual title of the article (too long to be reproduced here) promises "5 things that could make life even worse for most Americans". Here are their titles, without the explanatory text (for which you have to click the last dotted link above):

1. The Trans Pacific Partnership, a.k.a. “NAFTA on
     Steroids”: The “Giant Sucking Sound” Could Get Much
     Louder

2. Elimination of Jobs Because of New Digital Technologies
3. Union-Busting Continues to Accelerate
4. The Privatization of Medicare and Social Security: A
     Recipe for Disaster

5. Savvy Economic Voices Warn: Another Major Banking
     Crash Is a Strong Possibility

These seem to me all correct.

5. "Fast Track" Flouts the Constitution 

The last item today is an article by Thom Hartmann on Truth-out:

This starts as follows:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn't backing down one inch in her fight with President Obama over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

On Saturday, just a few days after the president accused her of spreading "misinformation," about the TPP trade deal I like to call SHAFTA, the Massachusetts senator hit back hard in a letter to the White House.

While the Obama administration has, she pointed out, given 500 or so corporate lobbyists inside access to TPP negotiations, it has left the public completely in the dark.

In fact, as Senator Warren went on to write, "It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while ... Members of Congress may 'walk over ... and read the text of the agreement' - as we have done - [we] are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public."

That's right - members of Congress, the elected representatives of "We the People" can't talk to the public about the biggest trade treaty in US history.

And Senator Warren isn't making this up, as the Obama administration would have you believe, just to score political points.

In fact, last week it was decided that the TPP will get "fast track" treatment. Here is a brief summary of what the TPP is about (in so far as this could be gleaned from the very secret TPP files):

We need Congress to have as much say as possible about what goes into the final version of the TPP because, as it is right now, the TPP is a stalking horse for the corporate elite.

What little we know about it comes from leaks, and those leaks show that it's basically a grab bag of all the terrible things Big Business has always wanted but is too scared to ask for in public.

The TPP would give big pharmaceutical companies virtual monopoly patent power, gut environmental and financial rules and, according to Wikileaks, let corporations sue countries in international courts over regulations that those corporations don't like.

But Congress has decided that it doesn't matter and that the TPP will be "fast tracked": No discussion but 8 minutes per member; no amendments;
no two-thirds majority; and also with minimal or no knowledge of the law Congress very probably will approve with an ordinary majority...

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Notes
[1] Actually, more seems involved, such as the distinction between alphas (literary types) and betas (mathematical types). Also, it isn't true for all, and
indeed especially not for really good programmers - but these again are relatively rare.

[2] I am writing this as an European, to whom it is very obvious that "religion" is used in politics in the U.S. to a much larger extent than it is in Europe.

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