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Nederlog

May 6, 2015
Crisis: Spying, Sanders, France, Obscene "Earnings", TPP & Fascism
  "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. The Computers are Listening
2.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Brad Sherman Team Up to
     Break Up America’s Biggest Banks

3.
So Much for Liberté: France May Beef Up Domestic Spying
     Program

4. The Obscene Amounts of Money the 10 Highest-Paid
     Hedge Fund Managers Just Made

5. TPP: The “Fascism” Issue


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, May 6, 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 that one's cell phone conversations (at least) may be read, translated and searched while one has them (and stored
- in secret - forever, for any future government's use); item 2 is about an attempt by Sanders and Sherman to break up the big banks (it will very probably fail, but that is no reason not to propose it); item 3 is about how France may be
fascist real soon and quite successfully, now that the French decided domestic spying is allowed (what with Le Pen waiting to be nominated); item 4 is about the
truly obscene amounts of money the richest Americans lay claim to (and get);
and item 5 is about the TPP and "fascism".

This file was uploaded a little later than is normal for me.

1. The Computers are Listening

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

This starts as follows (and has a subtitle that was too long: How the NSA Converts Spoken Words Into Searchable Text):

Most people realize that emails and other digital communications they once considered private can now become part of their permanent record.

But even as they increasingly use apps that understand what they say, most people don’t realize that the words they speak are not so private anymore, either.

Top-secret documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency can now automatically recognize the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored.

The documents show NSA analysts celebrating the development of what they called “Google for Voice” nearly a decade ago.

Though perfect transcription of natural conversation apparently remains the Intelligence Community’s “holy grail,” the Snowden documents describe extensive use of keyword searching as well as computer programs designed to analyze and “extract” the content of voice conversations, and even use sophisticated algorithms to flag conversations of interest.

Actually, I do not think that there are any apps "that understand what [people] say", apart from some sounds that serve as signs to do commands. But that also is not understanding. What does happen is that speech sounds are turned to texts, and these texts are searched for key words. And while this is clever, it does not involve any real understanding. [1]

But this does mean that most of one's telephone conversations may be translated
to English texts and stored in one's - secret - NSA dossier, to be used maybe 25
years later, to serve God knows what ends of the then existing government (or indeed any other government that has good relations with the then ruling American government).

So the following is quite correct:

Spying on international telephone calls has always been a staple of NSA surveillance, but the requirement that an actual person do the listening meant it was effectively limited to a tiny percentage of the total traffic. By leveraging advances in automated speech recognition, the NSA has entered the era of bulk listening.

And this has happened with no apparent public oversight, hearings or legislative action. Congress hasn’t shown signs of even knowing that it’s going on.

And here is some information of the capacities of the NSA seven years ago:

A 2008 document from the Snowden archive shows that  transcribing news broadcasts was already working well seven years ago, using a program called Enhanced Video Text and Audio Processing:

(U//FOUO) EViTAP is a fully-automated news monitoring tool. The key feature of this Intelink-SBU-hosted tool is that it analyzes news in six languages, including Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish, English, and Farsi/Persian. “How does it work?” you may ask. It integrates Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) which provides transcripts of the spoken audio. Next, machine translation of the ASR transcript translates the native language transcript to English. Voila! Technology is amazing.

There is a lot more in the article. For the moment, here is the summary:

Anything you say in any cell phone anywhere may be listened into, may get translated to English, and may get stored - in secret - forever, and may be used against you by any future American government, or any government with good relations with the then existing American government.

And (I quote):
Congress hasn’t shown signs of even knowing that it’s going on.

2. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Brad Sherman Team Up to Break Up America’s Biggest Banks

The next item is an article by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

Building off the momentum from his 2016 campaign launch Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking aim at America’s banking behemoths with an aggressively named new bill he drew up with Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., called the “Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act.”

I've said already that I like Bernie Sanders, and also like his candidacy, and that simply because he is - so far, at least - the only candidate with a sensible program. This may not make him win, but that is no reason not to be a candidate.

Here is some more on the new proposed bill:

The bill’s title draws upon the same rationale that banks like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America capitalized upon—both while playing roulette with the global economy and then while putting the squeeze on two successive American administrations to bail them out—to illustrate precisely why those same institutions shouldn’t be able to survive in the same destructive form that allowed them to wreak havoc on an unprecedented scale.

“No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure could send the world economy into crisis,” Sanders said of the driving idea behind his and Sherman’s joint project. “If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.”

I agree. And I also agree that the present Congress will not pass it, but that is certainly no reason not to propose it.

Here is the ending of the article:
Meanwhile, he’ll also be working this measure into the national conversation and campaign discourse about the 2008 financial catastrophe that, far from being contained by governmentserious interventions ostensibly designed to manage the fallout, has further widened the nation’s economic gap into a chasm.
Yes, indeed - and this is also one of the many sensible things a Sanders campaign may do: Open up the conversation, and make clear to the Americans that the next crisis may well be America's last, and not because it will weather it and have
no more crises, but because it may not weather it and sink forever.


3. So Much for Liberté: France May Beef Up Domestic Spying Program

The next item is another article by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

The shootings at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris last January drew comparisons to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., and now the French government appears to be responding in a similar manner to its American counterpart by doubling down on surveillance.

Here are the liberties Hollande could not resist, and that may transfer to the next French president, who may be Le Pen:

The measure would give French intelligence services the right to gather potentially unlimited electronic data from Internet communications, and to tap cellphones and capture text messages. It would force Internet providers to comply with government requests to sift through subscribers’ communications.

[...]The provisions, as currently outlined, would allow them to tap cellphones, read emails and force Internet providers to comply with government requests to sift through virtually all of their subscribers’ communications.

Among the types of surveillance that the intelligence services would be able to carry out is the bulk collection and analysis of metadata similar to that done by the United States’ National Security Agency.

The intelligence services could also request a right to put tiny microphones in a room or on objects such as cars or in computers or place antennas to capture telephone conversations or mechanisms that capture text messages. Both French citizens andSince foreigners could be tapped.

As to any "judicial oversight": According to the New York Times, this will be "limited". Perhaps because it is the New York Times, they didn't say anything
about secrecy, but I suppose this will be very similar to Germany - the secret
service is essentially uncontrolled, and indeed quite secret, and until a real
revolution has taken place almost everyone will be mostly ignorant and kept ignorant.

Also, since I am an anti-fascist (who was scolded a mere twelve years as a
"fascist" in the sick and degenerate University of Amsterdam, whose Board
of Directors even removed me, while I was seriously ill and just before taking my - brilliant, to be - M.A. in philosophy, as a "fascist" and a "terrorist" from the right of getting that M.A. because I had dared, as an invited speaker, to question - this is what I said: only questions, without knowing merely questioning would get me removed - the wisdom of the University of Amsterdam) I will be so free as to say that the French moved a whole lot closer towards fascism, and indeed may be there with the next elections. (Further see item 5.)

4. The Obscene Amounts of Money the 10 Highest-Paid Hedge Fund Managers Just Made  

The next item is an article by Michael Arria on Alternet:
This is just a brief item, but it shows you the direction the United States is moving towards under its great presidents Bush Jr and Obama. It starts as follows:
Alpha Magazine has released its "Rich List," the annual rundown of the Unites States' highest-earning hedge fund managers and there's an interesting development. The top earners underwent a 45% drop in earnings during 2014, which prompted the magazine to invoke, "harsh memories of the global financial crisis [that] pervaded Wall Street."

Incidentally, the last link - to Alpha Magazine - is worth reading, if only for the style. Here is the list of this year's biggest earners (over 2014):

Yes, rough. Here's the Top 10:

Name                            Firm                                    Earned

Ken Griffin,               Citadel:                        $1.3 billion

James Simons,           Renaissance:                $1.2 billion

Ray Dalio,                 Bridgewater:                 $1.1 billion

Bill Ackman,               Pershing Square:           $950 million

Izzy Englander:           Millenium:                    $900 million

Michael Platt,              Bluecrest:                    $800 million

Larry Robbins,             Glenview:                    $570 million

David Shaw,                DE Shaw:                    $530 million

O. Andreas Halvorsen,    Viking Global:              $450 million

Charles Coleman,          Tiger Global:                $425 million

Even the most miserable earner of this lot cleared in 1 year around 2000 times as much as I earned in my whole life. Do you really think they earned this?

5. TPP: The “Fascism” Issue

The final item today is an article by Joe Firestone, with an introduction by Yves Smith:

The introduction is as follows, and I will give some text with links under it:

Yves here. As much as creeping fascism is a real issue in the US and arguably even more so in Europe, making it a central theme of a post runs the risk of encouraging readers to make Godwin’s Law violations. So please be mindful as to whether your use of historical comparisons is merited or sensationalistic. And perhaps even more important, be mindful of the thrust of Firestone’s observations: that fascism describes a very specific type of social and political arrangements. It’s tempting to cry “fascist threat” to overcome complacency. Over time, that strategy loses its potency, particularly if the warning is sounded on too little evidence or simply incorrectly.

I say, and I am sorry, for I think this is mostly nonsense. First, here is Godwin's "Law" (better described as a Rule) as stated on the Wikipedia (minus note numbers):

Godwin's Law (or Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an Internet adage asserting that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1"

That was just bullshit, as far as I am concerned: He might as well have said "a comparison involving Christians or Jesus Christ" or "communism or Karl Marx" or anything else that is both emotional, known superficially by many, and that is also usually not well known, for that applies to Nazism, Christianity and Communism.

Next, Firestone's thesis "that fascism describes a very specific type of social and political arrangements". I say. I really must have missed that, with a grandfather murdered by the Nazis and a father for almost 4 years in German concentration
camps, as a political prisoner, and as a philosopher and psychologist. Besides, Firestone's thesis is one of many, and not much worth. (See below.)

Finally, Yves Smith's warning that saying so-and-so is or sounds like fascism results - she says - in this: "Over time, that strategy loses its potency, particularly if the warning is sounded on too little evidence or simply incorrectly"

She certainly did not study in the University of Amsterdam!! I was called "a fascist" (regularly also "a dirty" idem) for a mere 12 years, mostly by my supposedly "socialistic", in fact often communist opponents, who never identified anything more "fascist" in me than that I believed in truth, science and intelligence and was not afraid to say so, while indeed they did not believe in truth, nor in science, nor in intelligence: that much is true.

It is also true that I did not tell them that my parents were communists since the WW II or before, and that I had the best anti-fascistic background I know of, but then it is also true that I had a lot of contempt for them, and liked my parents, and did not want them disturbed by these quasi-communistic "leftist" moral and intellectual degenerates (which is what they were, as their subsequent histories
also tend to show: hardly anyone published anything, but all got rich and conservative by their eventual tenth-rate degrees).

In brief: "Fascist!", "Dirty fascist" etc. are mere terms of abuse; are quite popular; are often used; are rarely used based on any good understanding of what they mean; and generally serve as an attempt to denigrate one's opponents.

I can't take this very seriously (especially since I got this poured out over me for 12 years), but I certainly also can't take Godwin's Rule seriously, for this also prohibits - in effect, not as stated - anyone who did a serious study of fascism
from mentioning the Nazis or Hitler, which is just completely ridiculous.

Next, I used it seriously at the end of 2012, simply because the system that was and is being built in the U.S. and England, in particular, did seem more like that than any other social system I know of - and I studied them seriously. Also, it was not something I wanted to: I was forced by the facts.

I explained this on February 6, 2015, which is interesting because I also talk about rising anti-semitism and discuss someone else who said that America may stand on the doorstep of descending into fascism.

This someone was Thom Hartmann, and he started his piece, entitled How American Oligarchs Are Pushing America to the Brink of Fascism as follows:

As the American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is: "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.".

This seems to me - who very probably did read a lot more about fascism than you did, simply because of my personal background - a reasonable core definition of "fascism".

And I observe that on its four basic traits: (1) the billionaires now funding their way to power in the U.S. are all "rightists", while (2) the state in the U.S. (the government, at least in Washington) has "merg"ed with the "business leadership" (through revolving doors and lobbyists), while (3) the United States is "belligerent", and it also is (4) "nationalis"tic, indeed "exceptionally" so.

OK - now to Joe Firestone's article. This starts as follows:
If the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement will, if implemented, and as I’ve argued elsewhere, result in the death of national and state sovereignty, constitutional separation of powers, and democracy, then what system and what principles will replace these things? Eric Zuesse answers that it will be Fascism. And implicitly, that we are going through an evolution from representative democracy to fascism and that trade deals like the TPP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) mediate the transfer “. . . of democratic national sovereignty to international fascist bodies that represent global corporate management. . . . ”
I note that I more or less agree with this analysis (and the ISDSs that Zeusse is talking about are mergers of "legal institutions" with "corporate management", whose secret decisons override all national decisions, indeed on the mere ground that they upset the expected profits of corporations), though it so happens that I do not like Zeusse (who I know by way of Washington's Blog).

What does Firestone have against this? A lot of pure speculations about how he thinks the ISDSs  (?!) will work plus a list of "characteristics of fascism" that he insists (falsely) define it. I will not give the full quote (you can get it from the last dotted link), but merely the characteristics (and not quite all). Also, the arrows and comments after them are mine, and not in the text:

nationalism                       --> the U.S.
totalitarianism                   
--> the U.S. (as inverted totalitarianism)
continuing propagandizing by the mass media      --> the U.S.
planned collaborative state-controlled economy    --> ?
respect for the capitalist profit motive              
--> the U.S.
opposition to egalitarianism   --> the U.S.
direct, often violent action     --> the U.S. (police and military brutalities)only
militarization of the police     --> the U.S.
external militarism              --> the U.S. (on an enormous scale)
emphasis on youth              --> ?
traditional male/female roles --> ?

And then he says, rather brazenly in my opinion:
Even though all would not agree with this specification of fascism in all its particulars, I claim that students of fascism and totalitarianism would agree that the specification of it as a social science cluster concept requires the heavy majority of these characteristics, and that excludes an ISDS regime from the world-wide fascism category.
No. Firstly, "all students" indeed would not agree. Secondly, there is a problem, namely whether one insists on only studying - definitely past - history, or also wants to generalize from that, possibly to the future. One solution (not considered by Firestone) is to use "neo-fascism" for recent or for anticipated social systems.

Third, the point is not at all "
an ISDS regime":

It is what to call the social system that is arising in the United States, that is furthered by the ISDS, and by the TPP, and by the TTIP, and by the nearly complete secrecy in which these treaties are introduced, and by the NSA's spying, and by the strongly increasing inequalities in income, and by the police's militarization and violence, and by the enormous amount of jailed criminals in the U.S., and by the widespread denials of science and of fairness, and by the insistence of business leaders that greed is good and selfishness moral, and by 35 years of deregulation, and by the billions business leaders make each year, for themselves, and by the legal decisions that corporations = persons and money = free speech, and by the many wars the U.S. is fighting, and by its own exceptionalism, and by considerably more.

I do not say "fascism" is the best term. Perhaps "neo-fascism" is better. And perhaps another new term is better, though this then will not automatically carry a strong dislike with it (which is fair, for fascism, at least).

But in any case: What I see emerging in the U.S. and in England, especially, does look a lot like fascism, and I have given serious study to these systems, and to recent politics and history, and I don't like to see my language "politically
corrected" by vague leftists I hardly know anything about - except that they cannot possibly have my anti-fascist background.

Finally, here is a reference to yet another serious student who - to my knowledge, and note the "serious" - was the first to say that the U.S. is descending into a kind of fascism, namely Sheldon Wolin (<- Wikipedia). I reviewed this on June 19, 2014:
Also, here is more on Wolin's "inverted totalitarianism":
There is considerably more in the index for 2014: Search with "Wolin", if you are interested (which I say because the real titles are much abbreviated, and this will
work).

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Note
.
[1] Here is my position on artificial intelligence, about which I know a lot, since I studied psychology and philosophy, and also learned to program quite well in at least six programming languages:

I don't believe in it, and my position is rather the same as it was 25 years ago, when I asked AI enthusiasts whether they could make anything like a spider, including its size and its amazing capacities for web weaving and fly catching.

They couldn't then and they couldn't now, though I am willing to grant they are coming closer. As to human intelligence: No way. I don't say so because I
believe it is impossible (though human intelligence is little understood, and is analog not digital, and probably also probabilistic rather than binary) but surely it will take a lot of time. (And no, the computer that beat Gary Kasparov did not think like Kasparov does.)

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