Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Crisis: Comey's Dismissal, Exit Open Internet, Forbidden Questions, Assange Prosecution

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. “Our Democracy Is in Danger”: Key Reactions to Donald
     Trump’s Firing of FBI Director James Comey

2. Trump's FCC Chair Declares New War on Net Neutrality After
     10-Year Battle for Free & Open Internet

Forbidden Questions: 24 Key Issues Ignored by the
     Washington Elite and the Media

The Constitutional Rubicon of an Assange Prosecution


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday
, May 10, 2017.

This is a crisis log with four items and four links: Item 1 is about an article about James Comey's firing as Director of the FBI; item 2 is about Ajit Pai's attempt to make the rich, the corporations and the ISPs the bosses of the internet (shared with the secret services); item 3 is about 24 fine questions about the USA (that are all very much underdiscussed); and item 4 is about what the prosecution of Julian Assange implies: That the government and the secret services are to determine what is and is not published on the internet.

And this is the usual about the updating problem that I am now plagued with for no less than 1 1/2 years, now only at one of my two sites:
May 10: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today. The Dutch site is off again and still sticks on May 4. They did it well from 1996 till 2015, updating within minutes at most.

I think they totally stopped doing this to limit the readings of my site. I think (but I don't know anything whatsoever about "xs4all") they now update once a week, which means that they are - for me - over 10,000 times worse than they were between 1996 and 2015.

These horrors happen now for the 16th month in succession. And they happen on purpose, because it is extremely simple to do this properly, and it was done properly from 1996 till late in 2015. (If you want these horrors, then sign in with "xs4all.nl"; if not, avoid them like the plague.)

And what changed is that you have to refresh (and refresh and refresh and refresh) to get the latest, which is again NOT as it was before, from 1996 till 2015, and which for me this only serves to make it extremely difficult for naive users to get the latest from my site - that for them may seem to have stuck somewhere in 2016 or 2015.

And I have to add that about where my site on xs4all.nl stuck for others I have NO idea AT ALL: It may be December 31, 2015. (Xs4all wants  immediate payment if you are a week behind. Xs4all.nl has been destroying my site now for over a year. I completely distrust them, but I also do not know whether they are doing it or some secret service is.)
1. “Our Democracy Is in Danger”: Key Reactions to Donald Trump’s Firing of FBI Director James Comey

The first article today is by Jon Schwartz and Alex Emmons on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

President Trump fired James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on Tuesday afternoon.

According to a letter from Trump that was reportedly hand-delivered to Comey’s office by Trump’s longtime top security aide, the president acted because Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein recommended that Comey be dismissed. Comey was in Los Angeles and reportedly learned of the news from the television.

In a letter to Trump, Sessions stated that “a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI” and that he concurred with the reasoning of an attached memo by Rosenstein regarding Comey.

The Rosenstein memo stated that he “cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary [Hillary] Clinton’s emails.”

“The Director was wrong,” Rosenstein wrote, “to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. … Compounding the error, the Director ignored a longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation.”

That is, Trump is claiming that he fired Comey because the FBI director acted unfairly toward Clinton.

Yes indeed. Here are two qualifications by me:

First, I don't care for Comey. It seems that he now has many Democratic defenders, and that even Edward Snowden deplores he had to leave. Well... Snowden may be right that his probable successor may be worse, but I don't like Comey, and part of my reasons are well explained by item 4, that was written before it was known he was dismissed.

And second, I do not believe Trump's claim. Here are the Democrats:

The reaction from Democrats toward Trump’s decision has been uniformly negative, with many now demanding that the Justice Department appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the ongoing counterintelligence investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign.

In fact, indeed a far the legislative branch more plausible reason for Trump to fire Comey was Comey's overseeing the "investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign", but this I do not know.

Here is the last bit I'll quote from this article:

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., also recalled the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 when top officials at the Justice Department resigned rather than carry out President Nixon’s demand that they fire a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. Cohen stated that “our democracy is in danger” and asked Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to appoint a bipartisan commission to investigate “the Trump-Russia relationship.”

I think this is party politics, and for me democracy is mostly dead in the USA, at least on the level of the government, and that applies to both the executive branch (mostly in Trump's/Republicans' hands) and the legislative branch (mostly corrupt and effectively controlled by the banks).

And there is more in the article, which is recommended.

2. Trump's FCC Chair Declares New War on Net Neutrality After 10-Year Battle for Free & Open Internet

The second article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now!:

This starts with the following introduction:

FCC head Ajit Pai has outlined a sweeping plan to dismantle net neutrality rules, which seek to keep the internet open and prevent corporate service providers from blocking access to websites, slowing down content or providing paid fast lanes for internet service. For more, we speak with Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press.

Yes, indeed. And Ajit Pai's plans may very well announce the complete ending of the internet as conceived by many, at least in the USA, and therefore probably also elsewhere, mostly because breaking down the internet is strongly in the interests of the rich and the corporations: If one may say something against either of these (which also seems doubtful these days: See item 4) then only on slow sites, that also may be blocked for all manner of reasons.

Here is Craig Aaron:

CRAIG AARON: Well, net neutrality is just a way of saying no discrimination. Net neutrality is what ensures that when you go online, you can go wherever you want, do whatever you want, download whatever you want. And it’s not up to your cable company or the phone company to decide which websites and services are going to work and which won’t.

We fought a fight—I’ve talked about it many times on this show—over 10 years to push the FCC to pass strong net neutrality rules and have clear legal authority to enforce them. And the Trump FCC has really declared war on those rules. The chairman has said he wants to take a weed whacker to them. He’s trying to undo the rules passed at the end of the Obama administration, undo the rules supported by millions and millions of Americans, just to give Comcast, Verizon and AT&T more ability to create special fast lanes for their own content, to favor the content and sites and services that they own or who they’re in business with, and cut off competitors, undermine the competition, make it harder for independent voices to be heard, really damage the amazing tools that so many political organizers have used to build social movements using the free and open internet. All of this is at risk if we lose net neutrality.

Yes, I agree - and it seems quite true to me that Ajit Pai's real end is that "your cable company or the phone company" are "to decide which websites and services are going to work and which won’t".

And that will change internet computers and cellphones into the perfect instruments of the rich: They will have full control on what is being said; the secret services will know everything about anyone; and the rich and the corporations can do precisely as they please, and control absolutely everyone, for the simple reason that privacy has been completely destroyed, and everyone is the effective menial of the secret services of the state.

In fact, this is the future as I conceived it in 2005 (!!) was being planned, and as I saw, to my great fright, and thanks to Edward Snowden, had already had been mostly realized by 2010.

Here is the end as seen by Craig Aaron:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what would—what would the internet look like if these forces prevail and net neutrality is abolished?

CRAIG AARON: Well, I think the simplest way to think about it is that the internet, the free and open internet and all that it offers, starts to look a lot like cable TV, where a company picks and chooses the channels for you, decides what’s going to get the best service, decides what’s available in a package. And everything that makes the internet so great, the fact that anyone with a great idea can go online, start their own business, find their own voice, make their own art, that’s really in jeopardy if you lose this fundamental protection of net neutrality. And suddenly these companies will have free rein to interfere however they want, often in ways that would almost be impossible for the average user to see or recognize.

And to this one must add what Aaron does not mention: The fact that most secret services (from anywhere, indeed) will probably know more about anyone - including their income, their values, their ideas, their tastes, and everything they did on the net - than anyone does himself or herself.

I also much fear this is the probable future of anyone anywhere, which makes me very glad that I was born in 1950, and could spend most of my years in real freedom, and without being constantly watched in everything I do by the secret services.

And since my Dutch site now only gets refreshed once a week, instead of immediately, as happened from 1996 till 2015, I think that is not true anymore for me:

Effectively - I fear - I am fully known to many secret services. Therefore I am glad that I am meanwhile 67: I need not fear that I will have to spend 40 or 50 years as the slave of the terrorists who will form the governments if these renewals take effect.

But this only serves my peace of mind about myself: I fear that those younger than I am, and especially the really intelligent ones, will find it very much more difficult than I did to become and remain a real individual - which is, in fact, what civilization was about, until it got pirated by the rich and the corporations by means of internet and computers.

And I very strongly hope this will not happen, but so far have not found much confirmation for the kinds of - individual, rational, reasonable, scientific - values I have been a proponent of, for nearly 50 years now.

This is a recommended article.

3. Forbidden Questions: 24 Key Issues Ignored by the Washington Elite and the Media

The third article is by Andrew J. Bacevich on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch:

This starts as follows (and does get a bit of a special treatment, as I will explain):

Donald Trump’s election has elicited impassioned affirmations of a renewed commitment to unvarnished truth-telling from the prestige media.  The common theme:  you know you can’t trust him, but trust us to keep dogging him on your behalf.  The New York Times has even unveiled a portentous new promotional slogan: “The truth is now more important than ever.” For its part, the Washington Post grimly warns that “democracy dies in darkness,” and is offering itself as a source of illumination now that the rotund figure of the 45th president has produced the political equivalent of a total eclipse of the sun. Meanwhile, National Public Radio fundraising campaigns are sounding an increasingly panicky note: give, listener, lest you be personally responsible for the demise of the Republic that we are bravely fighting to save from extinction.

If only it were so.  How wonderful it would be if President Trump’s ascendancy had coincided with a revival of hard-hitting, deep-dive, no-holds-barred American journalism.  Alas, that’s hardly the case.
Yes indeed. I wholly agree, and would put the matter myself as follows: The mainstream media in the USA, that include those mentioned above (New York
Times, Washington Post and National Public Radio), cannot be trusted to report
the news fairly and truthfully
, and indeed have slowly but certainly fallen towards
their current level of deception since Reagan, though more rapidly since Bush Jr.

That is at least what I think, and I have been reading 35 daily publications, mainstream and non-mainstream, daily and for nearly four years now, and these are - for me, I agree, who does know a lot and has learned a lot in my life - simply the sad facts: About politics and what is related to that, at least, you can rely
on the fact that what you are offered in the mainstream media is propaganda rather than fact.

Here is more on this theme of failing journalism in the USA:

Apart from a commendable determination to discomfit Trump and members of his inner circle (select military figures excepted, at least for now), journalism remains pretty much what it was prior to November 8th of last year: personalities built up only to be torn down; fads and novelties discovered, celebrated, then mocked; “extraordinary” stories of ordinary people granted 15 seconds of fame only to once again be consigned to oblivion—all served with a side dish of that day’s quota of suffering, devastation, and carnage.  These remain journalism’s stock-in-trade.  As practiced in the United States, with certain honorable (and hence unprofitable) exceptions, journalism remains superficial, voyeuristic, and governed by the attention span of a two year old.
I quite agree, indeed also without the least pleasure: There is a real democracy only if the mainstream really informs the public. Therefore, real democracy has mostly died in the USA, indeed also helped by the gross corruption of many members of Congress and the Senate (that start with Hillary Clinton's acceptance of millions from rich bankers).

Here is more:
As a result, all those editors, reporters, columnists, and talking heads who characterize their labors as “now more important than ever” ill-serve the public they profess to inform and enlighten.  Rather than clearing the air, they befog it further.  If anything, the media’s current obsession with Donald Trump—his every utterance or tweet treated as “breaking news!”—just provides one additional excuse for highlighting trivia, while slighting issues that deserve far more attention than they currently receive.
Yes indeed. Here is one bit more:
To illustrate the point, let me cite some examples of national security issues that presently receive short shrift or are ignored altogether by those parts of the Fourth Estate said to help set the nation’s political agenda.
Again I quite agree, but I simply cannot make a fair extraction of the following 24 points, that all come with explanatory text, so I merely copy the titles and refer anyone interested to the original (above, under the last dotted link):

1. Accomplishing the “mission”

2. American military supremacy

3. America’s empire of bases

4. Supporting the troops:

5. Prerogatives of the commander-in-chief

6. Assassin-in-chief

7. The war formerly known as the “Global War on Terrorism”

8. The campaign formerly known as Operation Enduring Freedom

9. The Gulf

10. Hyping terrorism

11. Deaths that matter and deaths that don’t:

12. Israeli nukes

13. Peace in the Holy Land

14. Merchandizing death

15. Our friends the Saudis 

16. Our friends the Saudis (II)

17. Our friends the Pakistanis:

18. Free-loading Europeans

19. The mother of all “special relationships”:

20. The old nuclear disarmament razzmatazz

21. Double standards (I)

22. Double standards (II):

23. Double standards (III)

24. Moral obligations:

And this is from the ending:
Let me suggest that any one of these two dozen issues—none seriously covered, discussed, or debated in the American media or in the political mainstream—bears more directly on the wellbeing of the United States and our prospects for avoiding global conflict than anything Donald Trump may have said or done during his first 100 days as president.  Collectively, they define the core of the national security challenges that presently confront this country, even as they languish on the periphery of American politics.
Again I quite agree. And this is a strongly recommended article.

4. The Constitutional Rubicon of an Assange Prosecution

The fourth and last article today is by Elizabeth Goitein on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

If you were tuning in and out of FBI Director James Comey’s hearing before the House Intelligence Committee last Wednesday, you probably got an earful about Comey’s public statements on Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server, and you may have heard his staunch defense of Section 702 of FISA. But you might have missed the moment in which Comey and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) threatened to topple one of the longstanding pillars of journalistic freedom.

In fact, as item 1 also detailed, James Comey was yesterday dismissed by Trump. So this makes the rest of the text slightly irrelevant. But I do treat this mostly because of the legal argument, that is quite independent of the person of the Director of the FBI.

Here is the main bit of that legal argument:

No one has ever been prosecuted for publishing classified information obtained through a leak. Although some parts of the Espionage Act would appear, on their face, to allow prosecution in such cases, Comey acknowledged that “the Department of Justice’s view has been [that] newsgathering and legitimate news reporting is not covered, is not going to be investigated or prosecuted as a criminal act.” The Department to date has drawn a clear line between government officials who leak classified information, and media outlets that publish it. “Our focus is and should be on the leakers, not those [who] are obtaining it as part of legitimate newsgathering.”

In fact - to my mind, at least - this agrees more or less with what the First Amendment (<- Wikipedia) says, which - to remind you - is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It is well to keep this in mind when reading the following from the article:

So why, in Comey’s mind, is it permissible to bring charges against Assange?  He explained his reasoning as follows: Publishing classified information “crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead becomes just about intelligence porn, frankly. Just pushing out information about sources and methods without regard to interest, without regard to the First Amendment values that normally underlie press reporting.” That, to Comey, describes WikiLeaks’ behavior: “[I]n my view, a huge portion of WikiLeak’s activities has nothing to do with legitimate newsgathering, informing the public, commenting on important controversies, but is simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America.”

This seems utter baloney to me: What is "legitimate newsgathering, informing the public, commenting on important controversies" is not at all Comey's job to determine, and in fact, on the basis of the First Amendment, a governmental employee like Comey should in no way be "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press".

Indeed, he may just as well demand of the public that they speak only of what the FBI has allowed them to speak of - which is the mark of a totalitarian country.

Here is more:

How will the government decide which outlets have an acceptable motivation? Comey didn’t go into detail, but he pointed to one indicator: “American journalists . . . will almost always call us before they publish classified information and say, is there anything about this that’s going to put lives in danger, that’s going to jeopardize government people, military people or—or innocent civilians anywhere in the world. And then they work with us to try and accomplish their important First Amendment goals while safeguarding those interests.”

In other words, media outlets that work in partnership with the U.S. government and are willing to self-censor based on official claims of national security are journalists. Those who conceive their role differently are not.

I completely agree. This article ends as follows:

Allowing the FBI to determine who is allowed to publish leaked information based on the bureau’s assessment of their patriotism would cross a constitutional Rubicon. If that giant step were to become a precedent, it could very well spell the end of independent, objective national security reporting.

It would make the USA a totalitarian country, in which the press (and the public) has to beg for permission from the police to publish what they want.

And while I do not know what monstrosity Trump has in mind to follow up Comey, I think I know enough of Comey's preferences not to want him as Director of the FBI, although his successor probably will be no better and may be worse.

This is a recommended article.

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