is a Nederlog of Friday July 17, 2015.
This is a
crisis blog. There are 5 items today with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article that explains that Tor
Browsing also may not be what it seems to be to its users, notably if
these users' computers have been hacked; item 2 is
about an article that shows how passed laws are practised in the US: Not,
if they harm the banks' profits; item 3 is about a very
good article by Seumas Milne on Greece;
item 4 is a decent article about the
present situation in Greece; and item 5 is a fine
article about some of the things that went very wrong
in the US (I think more went very wrong than is listed
in the article, but the article is good).
1. How Hacking Team Created Spyware that Allowed
the FBI To Monitor Tor Browser
The first article
today is by Micah Lee on The Intercept:
This is from near the beginning:
There is considerably more.
The good news is that they first have to hack your computer in order to
install their malware; the bad news is that it is usually very
difficult to be certain that your computer has not been hacked.
Hacking Team, at the
FBI’s request, had just added the ability to monitor ostensibly
anonymous Tor Browser traffic from a target infected with Hacking Team
malware. The Tor Browser monitoring capability did not represent a
breach of the Tor network, which bounces web traffic around the world
to hide its destination. It’s impossible for any security software,
including Tor Browser, to continue to protect someone after
their computer has been hacked. But the incident serves as a
reminder of the government’s strong interest in bypassing the
protections Tor offers — and of how vulnerable computer users can
be even when using proven and secure privacy systems.
Tor is, by all accounts,
such a system. Tor is not just a network of computers, it’s also the
open-source software that runs that network, helping people access the
internet anonymously. When you use Tor Browser, you no longer visit
websites directly but instead through a network of Tor nodes. This
prevents the websites you visit from knowing your real IP address,
information that can be used to pinpoint your location and identity.
With Tor, all a website knows is that you’re some anonymous Tor user.
Even someone monitoring your network traffic — having cracked your
wifi, for example — will have no idea what sites you’re visiting.
Big Money Stalls
Key Dodd-Frank Anti-Corruption Rule for 5 Years and Counting
The next article today is by Jon Schwarz on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
There is considerably more in
the article, but the above is the main point: Dodd-Frank doesn't work.
I can't say I am very amazed. (And see item 5.)
When Barack Obama signed
the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill five years ago, on July 21, 2010,
he looked extremely pleased with himself. It had been a tough
said: “We had to overcome the furious lobbying of an array of
powerful interest groups and a partisan minority determined to block
change.” But now, Obama proclaimed, the bill’s reforms “will
become the law of the land.”
HA HA PSYCH.
The reality of U.S.
politics is that good ideas don’t win and take effect just because
they’ve “become the law.” Yes, to get even that far, they have to have
somehow threaded their way through a campaign system ruled by money
instead of people; passed a House of Representatives overflowing
with members from bizarrely gerrymandered districts; and made it past a
filibuster in the anti-democratic Senate. But that is often just the
start of the truly bloody trench warfare.
One case study is
Dodd-Frank’s Section 1504. Congress, on July 21, 2010, gave the
Securities and Exchange Commission 270 days to issue a rule on how
exactly to implement it. Today, 1,821 days later, there still is
3. The crucifixion of Greece is killing the
The next article
by Seumas Milne on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
You couldn’t have
had a clearer demonstration of what democracy now counts for in Europe than this
week’s immolation of Greece. In January, after five
years of grinding austerity imposed by the troika of creditors had shrunk its economy by
a quarter and pushed millions into poverty, Greeks rebelled and elected an anti-austerity government.
Following months of
fruitless negotiations, the country voted last week to reject the latest cuts, tax rises and
privatisations demanded to deal with the disastrous impact of the
first phase of austerity. The response of the eurozone’s masters was
immediately to ratchet up the pain still further. For the “breach of
trust” of daring to put the terms to its people, Athens was to be
punished. So on Monday – threatened with expulsion from the eurozone
and economic collapse courtesy of the European Central Bank’s cash blockade – the
Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, bent the knee.
In exchange for what is
called a bailout, but is in reality the imposition of new debts to pay
existing creditors, the Greeks must hand over €50bn (£35bn) of public
assets to an “independent” privatisation fund. On top of that, they
have to inject more austerity into a shrinking economy and reverse any
legislation deemed unsuitable by the eurozone’s overlords – in other
words, the opposite of everything Tsipras and his Syriza party were
elected to do.
That’s why European
officials were so keen to let it be known that Tsipras had been “crucified” and “mentally waterboarded”.
This is a very good
article. Seumas Milne also sees clearly what was really at
That this is about
politics more than economics should now be obvious. It’s not just that
the austerity imposed on Greece has delivered a 1930s-style depression,
or that Ukraine was recently bailed out with generous
debt write-offs but without any crucifixions or waterboarding.
Yes, indeed - and
that is what the Greeks will get, thanks to the EU: "a 1930s-style depression".
Here is the last bit
I will quote:
What kind of a union of
partners treats one of its members like a recalcitrant colony, destroys
its economy if it steps out of line, and dismisses its democracy as an
impudent affront? In fact it’s one that has always ducked democratic
accountability, embedded deregulation and privatisation in treaties,
and preferred to fix policy – including the race-to-the-bottom Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership –
with corporate interests in secret.
There is considerably
more in the article, and it is very good: I strongly recommend you read
all of it. It will not make you happier (unless you are a European
official sadist and terrorist who loves crucifying and
4. Advancing Bailout, Greece Approves
'Terms of Surrender' to
but it will probably sharpen your awareness.
The next article
today is by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:
After a lengthy
debate that stretched into the early hours of Thursday morning, the
300-member Greek Parliament voted by a majority of 229-64 to pass what
former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis—one of those to vote "No"—is
calling the "Terms of Greece's Surrender" to European creditors.
Yes, that seems to me to be a fair summary.
There is also this, by
The €86 billion bailout
comes at a high political and social cost, forcing
the imposition of harsh austerity measures and economic reforms tougher
than those rejected
by more than 60 percent of Greek voters in a July 5 referendum. Among
the measures included in the rescue package, which provides for debt
restructuring and allows Greece to remain in
the Eurozone, are: tax hikes, pension cuts, and the privatization of
Prime Minister Alexis
to lawmakers that he had accepted a package he did not believe in and
which would harm Greece, but the alternative was a disorderly
bankruptcy and exit from the euro that would be more catastrophic.
And there is this, which I
didn't know yet:
In his annotated
analysis of the agreement, released yesterday, Varoufakis put it
more starkly: "The Syriza government must be humiliated to the extent
that it is asked to impose harsh austerity upon itself as a first step
towards requesting another toxic bailout loan, of the sort that Syriza
became internationally famous for opposing."
Indeed, Varoufakis added,
the deal appears aimed at "[t]urning Greece into a democracy-free zone
modeled on Brussels, a form of supposedly technocratic government,
which is politically toxic and macro-economically inept.
Eurogroup on Thursday authorized
a €7 billion bridge loan to Greece, according to Irish Prime Minister
Enda Kenny, making it possible for Greece to pay its most urgent debts
in the next few days and paving
the way for bailout negotiations to move forward.
There will be more tomorrow
(and the next weeks, I'm pretty sure).
5. The Augean Stables – How Corruption Has
Amended the Constitution
The final article
today is by Gaius
Publius on Naked Capitalism (and originally on Down With Tyranny):
This is a quite
interesting article, that is built around an article of former senator
Gary Hart, that is also in Hart's recent book "The Republic of
Conscience". I will first quote two pieces by Hart (and the boldings
are by Gaius Publius):
Yes, I mostly agree - although
(1) one should not have too many illusions about governments since
Plato and Aristotle (see, for example, Machiavelli),
and (2) there seems to be more amiss than the presence of
myriads of lobbyists who strongly influence government, for they could
not do this without quite a few legal changes that started under Reagan
(and that seem to have been initialized by a secret memo of 1971 by Lewis Powell).
Four qualities have
distinguished republican government from ancient Athens forward: the
sovereignty of the people; a sense of the common good; government
dedicated to the commonwealth; and resistance to corruption. Measured
against the standards established for republics from ancient times, the
American Republic is massively corrupt.
From Plato and Aristotle
forward, corruption was meant to describe actions and decisions that
put a narrow, special, or personal interest ahead of the interest of
the public or commonwealth. Corruption did not have to stoop to money
under the table, vote buying, or even renting out the Lincoln bedroom.
In the governing of a republic, corruption was self-interest placed
above the interest of all—the public interest.
By that standard, can
anyone seriously doubt that our republic, our government, is corrupt?
There have been Teapot Domes and financial scandals of one kind or
another throughout our nation’s history. There has never been a
time, however, when the government of the United States was so
perversely and systematically dedicated to special interests, earmarks,
side deals, log-rolling, vote-trading, and sweetheart deals of one kind
What brought us to this?
A sinister system combining staggering campaign costs, political
contributions, political action committees, special interest payments
for access, and, most of all, the rise of the lobbying class.
Worst of all, the army of
lobbyists that started relatively small in the mid-twentieth century
has now grown to big battalions of law firms and lobbying firms of the
right, left, and an amalgam of both. And that gargantuan, if not
reptilian, industry now takes on board former members of the House and
the Senate and their personal and committee staffs. And they are all
getting fabulously rich.
Next, there is this (still by Gary Hart, with boldings by Gaius
Yes, and indeed a lot is also
happening behind the scenes, for the lobbyists try to get their people
into all kinds of governmental committees, and also into other
influential NGO groups, if necessary also with a completely false story.
The lobbying business is no
longer about votes up or down on particular measures that may emerge in
Congress or policies made in the White House. It is about setting
agendas, deciding what should and should not be brought up for hearings
and legislation. We have gone way beyond mere vote buying now. The
converging Influence World represents nothing less than an unofficial
but enormously powerful fourth branch of government.
To whom is this branch of
government accountable? Who sets the agenda for its rising army of
influence marketers? How easy will it be to not only go from office to
a lucrative lobbying job but, more important, from lucrative lobbying
job to holding office?
Here is a sum-up by Gaius Publius on what was achieved by the lobbyists
(and the folks they helped manipulate into important jobs in important
▪ We have, by bipartisan
agreement, revoked the Fourth Amendment. Neither party enforces
it, so it’s gone. Do you think you’ll see it enforced in your lifetime?
It’s possible. Is that likely, do you think, without another radical
▪ We have changed the
“rule of law” to add a “circle of immunity” amendment. It started
with Nixon — the circle of “who cannot be prosecuted” included one
person, the president. That was granted him by Gerald Ford’s pardon
with no objection from Congress and confirmed by Obama’s refusal to
indict Bush II for violating laws against torture. (Can you see Obama
being indicted by anyone for extrajudicial murder,
assassination really, of Americans, some mere propagandists and some completely
▪ Regarding that
parenthetical comment about Obama and his drone kills above, we’ve now
amended the trial-by-jury section of the Sixth Amendment to allow executive
assassination, death by executive fiat. It just awaits a Republican
president to confirm it by following suit, but Congress has already
▪ The mega-lobbying
firms, with their combined more-than-$100 billion annual budget, are a
fourth branch of government. Policy is set in these firms and
passed to Congress and the executive branch to “discuss.” Once
discussed and passed, those who passed these policies then return to
the firms to set more policy — and receive what’s often the biggest
payoff of their lifetime.
There is considerably more
in the article, which I think is good (though I also feel considerably
more is going on behind the scenes than merely lobbying).
Also, I disagree that the
Fourth Amendment was revoked: It cannot be, though I agree it
isn't practised, not by the government, not by the NSA, and not by
the Department of Justice, while few Congressmen seem to be interested
in keeping it up.
But yes, that was the story of American democracy: It is effectively
dead, for all major decisions are taken by a very small incrowd,
without any responsibility to "the people", but all with strong
loyalties to the rich, who will also help make them rich if they aren't