September 11, 2015
Crisis: FBI, Sanders, Black on DoJ, Drug (ab)use, Bees, George Carlin

 "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

Prev- crisis -Next


FBI Director Claims Tor and the “Dark Web” Won’t Let
     Criminals Hide From His Agents

2. Bernie Sanders Overtakes Hillary Clinton in Iowa Poll
3. Bill Black: Now the Justice Department Admits They Got
     it Wrong

Do Adults Have a Privacy Right to Use Drugs? Brazil’s
     Supreme Court Decides

5. 'Incredible News for Bees': Court Rejects EPA Pesticide

6. “A Carlin Home Companion”

This is a Nederlog of Friday, September 11, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about claims by FBI director Comey that I can't believe (without evidence); item 2 is about a success for Bernie Sanders, that is mostly here because I like him; item 3 is about an important and good article by Bill Black on the American DoJ; item 4 is about another important article by Glenn Greenwald: It seems as if the Brazilian
Supreme Court is going to decriminalize drug (ab)use (which is high time, and not only in Brazil); item 5 is good news about the bees: one of the pesticides that
seems to claim the lives of many bees and bees' colonies is forbidden until more
and better evidence is given; and item 6 is about a book by Kelly Carlin, on her
parents' and her own life.

As an aside: I am glad quite a few people seem to have downloaded yesterday's Nederlog, with a bit about George Orwell's socialism. I will return to this, but not today.

1. FBI Director Claims Tor and the “Dark Web” Won’t Let Criminals Hide From His Agents

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

This starts as follows:

FBI Director James Comey said on Thursday that criminals who think they can evade law enforcement using the “dark web” and the Tor Network, which is designed to conceal the Internet addresses of the computers being used, are “kidding themselves.”

Comey was asked about criminal use of the so-called dark web — parts of the Internet walled off from ready access — at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on cybersecurity on Thursday. His answer referenced Tor, which was originally known as “the onion router.”

Speaking in particular of people who view child pornography, Comey said: “They’ll use the onion router to hide their communications. They think that if they go to the dark web … that they can hide from us. They’re kidding themselves, because of the effort that’s been put in by all of us in the government over the last five years or so, that they are out of our view. ”

Comey’s statement could be read as an assertion that U.S. law enforcement has found a way to routinely thwart Tor’s system for providing anonymity to users. If that’s Comey’s intended implication, and if it’s true, it would would represent an enormous expansion of the U.S. government’s known abilities, as well as a significant blow to privacy advocates.

But online security experts consulted by The Intercept cast doubt on that possibility. And Comey could simply have been referring to the kind of specifically targeted attacks that have been known to be successful in the past.

I say. But I don't believe him, indeed in part because he is part of the US government. Then again, I am not a security expert, but these seem to agree with me:

Chris Soghoian, chief technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Intercept that Comey is not credible. “The FBI director continues to ignore the consensus of the computer security community when we say there is no way to build a secure backdoor for the government,” Soghoian wrote in an email. “If he continues to ignore experts on this issue, why should we believe what he has to say on something as equally technical as the security of the Tor network? He has every incentive to bluff.”

Comey has recently been making headlines for alleging — also without evidence — that he is increasingly unable to track criminal conduct online due to end-to-end encryption. He has been insisting that tech companies come up with a system that’s secure to everyone except law enforcement — something that tech experts say is flatly impossible.

Precisely. Besides, if Comey did speak the truth, there will be many more prosecutions of child pornography viewers.

2. Bernie Sanders Overtakes Hillary Clinton in Iowa Poll

The next article is by Alexander Reed Kelley on Truthdig:

This contains the following quote from The Guardian:

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday found that 41% of likely Democratic primary voters in Iowa said they would vote for Sanders, while 40% said they would vote for the former secretary of state. Though Sanders’ edge is within the margin of error of 3.4 percentage points, Clinton led Sanders by double digits in Iowa in July. Averages of all polling in the state show Clinton with a quickly eroding lead that nevertheless remains in the double-digits.

The poll comes as Clinton continues to be dogged by the controversy over her use of a private email server, which she apologized for in an ABC interview this week after twice declining to do so. The release of the poll also comes amid ongoing deliberations over a potential run by Vice-President Joe Biden, who is said to be seriously considering a run against Clinton in the Democratic primary.

While Clinton remains on top in national polling and is still the party’s frontrunner, the surprising success of Sanders’ insurgent campaign has excited the Democratic primary the party once worried was going to be a coronation. Nonetheless, the shift is a marked one, recalling the 2008 race when Clinton, then the presumptive nominee, faltered and finished a disappointing third behind Barack Obama and John Edwards.

I reviewed this mainly because I like Bernie Sanders: He isn't there yet, and not by a large margin, but he does do quite well, which is encouraging.

3. Bill Black: Now the Justice Department Admits They Got it Wrong

The next article is by Bill Black (<- Wikipedia) on Naked Capitalism:

This starts as follows:

By issuing its new memorandum the Justice Department is tacitly admitting that its experiment in refusing to prosecute the senior bankers that led the fraud epidemics that caused our economic crisis failed. The result was the death of accountability, of justice, and of deterrence. The result was a wave of recidivism in which elite bankers continued to defraud the public after promising to cease their crimes. The new Justice Department policy, correctly, restores the Department’s publicly stated policy in Spring 2009. Attorney General Holder and then U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch ignored that policy emphasizing the need to prosecute elite white-collar criminals and refused to prosecute the senior bankers who led the fraud epidemics.

It is now seven years after Lehman’s senior officers’ frauds destroyed it and triggered the financial crisis. The Bush and Obama administrations have not convicted a single senior bank officer for leading the fraud epidemics that triggered the crisis. The Department’s announced restoration of the rule of law for elite white-collar criminals, even if it becomes real, will come too late to prosecute the senior bankers for leading the fraud epidemics. The Justice Department has, effectively, let the statute of limitations run and allowed the most destructive white-collar criminal bankers in history to become wealthy through fraud with absolute impunity. This will go down as the Justice Department’s greatest strategic failure against elite white-collar crime.

Quite so. It continues as follows and explains one of my main reasons to dislike Obama (the others are: the TTP and TTIP; Guantánamo; and the continuation of Bush's war policies, now also including kill lists):

The Obama administration and the Department have failed to take the most basic steps essential to prosecute elite bankers. They have not restored the “criminal referral coordinators” at the banking regulatory agencies and they have virtually ignored the whistleblowers who gave them cases against the top bankers on a platinum platter. The Department has not even trained its attorneys and the FBI to understand, detect, investigate, and prosecute the “accounting control frauds” that caused the financial crisis. The restoration of the rule of law that the new policy promises will not happen in more than a token number of cases against senior bankers until these basic steps are taken.
And there is this on the losses the criminal policies of the DoJ (for not to prosecute crimes of this size is a crime):
The Department’s public position, for decades, was that the only way to stop serious white-collar crime was by prosecuting the elite officials who led those crimes. For eleven years, however, the Department failed to prosecute the senior bankers who led the fraud epidemic. The Department’s stated “new” position is its historic position that it has refused to implement. Words are cheap. The Department is 4,000 days late and $24.3 trillion short. Economists’ best estimate is that the financial crisis will cause that massive a loss in U.S. GDP — plus roughly 15 million jobs lost or not created.
And there is this on the concerns of the DoJ as contrasted with the concerns of Bil Black:
The Department’s top criminal prosecutor, Lanny Breuer, publicly stated his paramount concern about the fraud epidemics that devastated our nation – he was “losing sleep at night over worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution.” That’s right – he was petrified of even bringing a civil “lawsuit” – much less a criminal prosecution – against “too big to prosecute” banks and banksters. I lose sleep over what fraud epidemics the banksters will lead against our Nation. The banksters have learned to optimize “accounting control fraud” schemes and learned that they can grow immensely wealthy by leading those fraud epidemics with complete impunity.
The article - which I think is very good - ends as follows:
I renew my long-standing offers to the administration to, pro bono, (1) provide the anti-fraud training and regulatory policies, (2) help restore the agency criminal referral process, and (3) embrace the whistleblowers and the scores of superb criminal cases against elite bankers that they have handed the Department on a platinum platter. We can make the “new” Justice Department policy a reality within months if that is truly Obama and Lynch’s goal.
Will it happen? I fear not, because Obama works for the bank managers much rather than for the people, as indeed many on his team do, from Eric Holder (now former head of the DoJ) downwards.

But this is a very good article, by a lawyer and financial expert who has consistently opposed "the corporate looting/plundering of the United States and global economies" (quoted from the Wikipedia article on Bill Black).

You should read all of it.

4. Do Adults Have a Privacy Right to Use Drugs? Brazil’s Supreme Court Decides

The next article is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

The past decade has witnessed a remarkable transformation in the global debate over drug policy. As recently as the mid-2000s, drug legalization or even decriminalization was a fringe idea, something almost no politician would get near. That’s all changed. That the War on Drugs is a fundamental failure is a widely accepted fact among experts and even policymakers. Multiple nations no longer treat personal drug usage as a criminal problem but rather as one of public health. Many of them are actively considering following Portugal’s successful example of decriminalizing all drugs. The global trend is clearly toward abandoning prohibitionist policies.

The rationale most commonly offered for decriminalization is the utilitarian one, i.e. efficacy: that prosecuting and imprisoning drug users produces more harm than good. Also frequently invoked is a claim about justice and morality: that it’s morally wrong to criminally punish someone for what amounts to a health problem (addiction).

By contrast, the Supreme Court of Brazil may be on the verge of adopting a much different and more interesting anti-criminalization justification. The Court is deciding whether the right of privacy, guaranteed by Article 5 of the nation’s constitution (one’s “intimate” and “private life” are “inviolable”), bars the state from punishing adults who decide to consume drugs. In other words, the Court seems prepared to accept the pure civil libertarian argument against criminalizing drugs: namely, independent of outcomes, the state has no legitimate authority to punish adult citizens for the choices they make in their private sphere, provided that those choices do not result in direct harm to others.

I say. Here is some background.

First, I am part of the "fringe" that is for liberalization of drugs since 1969, and the reasons I was then in favor of it were mostly those of the British Wootton Report (<- Wikipedia) of 1968, published in January 1969 (though this was restricted to cannabis).

Second, it seems to me that the Supreme Court of Brazil reasons along the lines
of John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty". This is on line on my site, with my extensive notes. Here is a bit from Chapter IV:

"But neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. He is the person most interested in his own well-being, the interest which any other person, except in cases of strong personal attachment, can have in it, is trifling, compared with that which he himself has; the interest which society has in him individually (except as to his conduct to others) is fractional, and altogether indirect: while, with respect to his own feelings and circumstances, the most ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else."

Note that Mill was neither in favor of alcoholism nor of drug (ab)use: he merely insisted that harming oneself - as long as one doesn't harm others - is one's right, and that the law should be limited to forbidding anyone from harming others.

Of course, this doesn't solve all problems (consider an alcoholic or a junkie with children) but then again these problems may be solved in other ways - moral disapproval, help, health clinics, removing children from parents who cannot properly support them - that do far less harm than locking up people.

Here is an opinion of Brazilian judge Casara, who presides over legal drug cases:

The principal thesis is that nobody can be punished for what they do if their actions do not harm third parties. For example, under Brazilian law, attempted suicide is not a crime. If someone tries to commit suicide and does not die, it is not a crime. Why? Because it is understood as self-harm, it is a problem that only concerns the individual. And this creates a paradox. If a person tries to kill himself, it’s not a crime. If you smoke a joint or use cocaine, or use crack or whatever, you are punished for that. The idea is that drug usage, if there is a harm, is only self-injury, only harms the individual and thus cannot be the object of state punishment. The state must respect the individual liberty of whomever wants to use drugs.

I agree. And I have no illusions about drug problems, especially those caused
by hard drugs, but surely decriminalizing the use of drugs makes it easier to
solve these.

And this is a good article that deserves full reading.

5. 'Incredible News for Bees': Court Rejects EPA Pesticide Approval

The next article is by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows (and is here because without bees most men will die for lack of food):

A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approval of a controversial pesticide, saying the agency violated federal law by giving a green light without obtaining or reviewing reliable studies on the neonicotinoid's impact on honeybees.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal's ruling (pdf) in the case, which was brought by environmental law firm Earthjustice, means that the pesticide in question—a neonicotinoid known as sulfoxaflor—may not be used in the U.S. unless the EPA re-approves it after obtaining the necessary analysis of its effects on pollinators.

Other neonicotinoids, such as clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, have been linked to population declines among honeybees, bumblebees, and other insects, which environmental activists say threatens food security.

"Our country is facing widespread bee colony collapse, and scientists are pointing to pesticides like sulfoxaflar as the cause," Greg Loarie, Earthjustice's lead counsel in the case, said Thursday. "The Court's decision to overturn approval of this bee-killing pesticide is incredible news for bees, beekeepers, and all of us who enjoy the healthy fruits, nuts, and vegetables that rely on bees for pollination."

I say: Good News! (Which is rare in this crisis series.)

6. “A Carlin Home Companion”

The last article is by Scott Timberg on Salon:

This starts as follows (and is mainly here because I like and admire George Carlin):

There’s so much pain – alcoholism, drug addiction, arrests, heart attacks, untimely death — and so much pleasure — humor and family togetherness — in Kelly Carlin’s new memoir that it’s hard to figure out whether she deserves to be envied or pitied. “A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up With George,” built in part from a series of Kelly’s solo shows, tells the story of the pioneering comedian through the eyes of his daughter, born in 1963. While still a child, Kelly saw George go from being a purportedly straight, suit-and-tie wearing comedian who could convincingly substitute-host for Johnny Carson to the bearded countercultural hero of “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

Much of “A Carlin Home Companion” looks at Kelly’s childhood, her parents’ tumultuous marriage, her mother’s raging alcoholism, the often sweet relationship she had with her father, and her own rebounding from her own difficult early years.

Most of the rest of this article is an interview, from which I quote two parts. The first is this:

He was a man who always fought for the underdog, he loved the people he grew up with in his neighborhood and stayed connected with them throughout his life. He was a man who connected with everyone from a young fan to a homeless guy to maybe some famous person he was meeting – there was a humanity about my dad. Did [fame] give him the privilege to do his work in the world…Absolutely, but it didn’t change the core of who he was. He was always very grounded.

I believe that and it pleases me (and no, I neither approve of alcoholism nor of drug abuse, but see item 3 - and Carlin had also a lot to put up with).

There is also this, with which I quite agree:

He was an intellectual, certainly a philosopher. As long as he’d gotten to play with ideas, and represent them out in the culture, I think that would have fed him. But he also had this incredible gift of the gab, and the physicality of his comedy was always there, too.
Yes, he was a real intellectual, unlike most intellectuals I know (of), which are a great lot, and he also was a real philosopher, who succeeded in reaching far more
people than any American academic philosopher

       home - index - summaries - mail