August 26, 2018

Crisis: Trump & Justice, Bannon & Morris, James Risen, Facial Recognition, Bernie Sanders´ Tax


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from August 26, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, August 26, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from August 26, 2018:
1. Trump’s War on the Justice System Threatens to Erode Trust in the Law
2. The Devil in Steve Bannon
3. James Risen: Reality Winner’s Sentence Is One of the Worst
     Miscarriages of Justice in Recent History

4. Just How Dangerous Is Amazon's Facial Recognition Program?
5. Sanders Tax Would Make Corporations Fund 100% of Public Assistance
     Their Low-Paid Workers Receive
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Trump’s War on the Justice System Threatens to Erode Trust in the Law

This article is by Michael Shear and Katie Benner on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
It is a once-unimaginable scenario: Sometime soon in an American courtroom, a criminal defense lawyer may argue that the prosecution of an MS-13 gang member is a politically motivated “witch hunt” built around a witness who has “flipped” and taken what the lawyer calls a plea deal of dubious legality.

He will be quoting the president of the United States.

That is potentially the gravest danger of President Trump’s sustained verbal assault on the country’s justice system, legal experts say. In his attempt at self-defense amid the swirl of legal cases and investigations involving himself, his aides and his associates, Mr. Trump is directly undermining the people and processes that are the foundation of the nation’s administration of justice.

The result is a president at war with the law.

I agree more or less and have two remarks. First, I am probably less impressed with the opinions of ¨legal experts¨ than the writers of this article, and second I think Trump indeed is ¨at war with the law¨ and also was ¨at war with the law¨ long before he was president.

Here is some more:

The president’s public judgments about the country’s top law enforcement agencies revolve largely around how their actions affect him personally — a vision that would recast the traditionally independent justice system as a guardian of the president and an attack dog against his adversaries.

Yes indeed. Here is more:

The most remarkable moment came when Mr. Trump attacked the very notion that prosecutors should try to “flip” witnesses by reaching plea agreements. In an interview on “Fox & Friends,” the president questioned that tool, which has long been considered lawful and essential for prosecutions.

“I have had many friends involved in this stuff,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal.”

Former prosecutors and defense lawyers said the president’s embrace of that notion — spread broadly by his bully pulpit and given a measure of validity by the office he holds — is likely to undermine trust in the justice system and weaken the government’s ability to win in court.

“How long will it take before a federal criminal defendant claims in court in front of a jury that the president of the United States rejects the legitimacy of cooperating witnesses and so too should jurors?” said Christopher Hunter, a former F.B.I. agent and prosecutor. “If only one juror agrees, a dangerous criminal could walk free.”

I agree more or less but - again - I am less impressed with ¨legal experts¨ (?!) than the NYT appears to be.

Here is the ending of this article.

And while the president has so far stopped short of firing Mr. Sessions or halting the inquiries that seem to be drawing nearer to him, his threats to “get involved” have only grown.

“No matter when this all ends, Trump will have caused long-lasting damage to the ability of the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to execute on its mission,” Mr. Hunter said. “He is sacrificing our public safety and national security on the altar of his own ego.”

Yes. And this is a recommended article.

2. The Devil in Steve Bannon

This article is by Frank Bruni on The New York Times. It has a subtitle:
The celebrated filmmaker Errol Morris has a new documentary — and candid remarks — about Donald Trump’s dyspeptic strategist.
I selected this and quoted the subtitle mostly because of Errol Morris, because I like him and wrote about him before in Nederlog. The article starts as follows:

Ejected from the White House, Steve Bannon won’t fade away. Not just yet.

He’s in France, finding uncommon cause with Marine Le Pen. He’s in Italy, cheering for an amateurish, fraudulent strain of populism there. He’s in Hungary, whispering sweet nothings to Viktor Orban.

And he’s in a Quonset hut in Boston, holding forth to the Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris.

Morris’s new movie, “American Dharma,” is essentially one long, transfixing interview with Bannon, a key force in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and an intellectual godfather of Trumpism.
I think this is interesting (and even may try to see it if it ever plays in Amsterdam), and do so mostly because I believe Steve Bannon is both an intelligent man and massively wrong and mistaken.

Here is some from the interview Bruni had with Morris:

I also had the feeling, watching him in the movie, and I’ve had this feeling watching him elsewhere, that he’s a creature of extraordinary vanity, and you were giving him a microphone. Is that fair?

I think that is more than fair.

Is Steve Bannon an earnest ideologue or is he a cynical and grandiose opportunist?

It’s the big question. And everybody, including myself, wants a pie graph. They want to be able to say what percentage is ideologue, what percentage is snake-oil salesman. And I’m not sure I can answer the question. We all know that being an effective salesman is coming to believe in what you’re selling. You know, I like to think that the human capacity for credulity is unlimited, unfettered. But the human capacity for self-deception — the ultimate self-credulity — is also unfettered, unlimited. I look at him and I think to myself: You can’t really believe this stuff. And yet, for all intents and purposes, he does.

Yes indeed: I suppose this is all quite correct, and also quite important, for I think Morris is right that ¨the human capacity for credulity is unlimited, unfettered¨ and also right that ¨the human capacity for self-deception (..) is also unfettered, unlimited¨.

Then again, I probably would have added that intelligence, knowledge, and honesty do make a difference (in a relatively small minority).

Here is more:

Which stuff do you find it hardest to believe he believes?

I find it hardest to believe that he thinks that Donald Trump is an honest man. I find it hard to believe that he thinks that Donald Trump is enabling populist programs. How is this tax cut or the attempt to roll back capital gains taxes — how does that benefit the people? Is allowing all kinds of industrial pollution populism? I could go on and on.

Yes indeed - and clearly, if Bannon is at least a bit smart, then he does not believe that ¨Donald Trump is an honest man¨, because he can read Trump´s extra-ordinarily many lies documented  e.g. in The New York Times.

Also, Morris thinks Bannon is both smart and well read:

He’s well read. He is obviously smart. But when you examine the philosophy, it’s just — calling it incoherent or inchoate is too kind. It’s just a mess: a mess of stuff from here, from there, a little bit of the Crusades, a little bit of Thucydides
there, some crazy, Catholic, right-wing theology. Add a dash of movies.

I am willing to believe this because it is Morris who says so, who also had many hours of interviews with Bannon. And Morris is right that the overall vision of Bannon seems to be ¨just a mess¨. I will not try to explain this, for one thing because I do not know Bannon at all.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this interview:

You really think it’s ending the world as we know it?

Time will tell. But the world seems in pretty ragged shape at the moment.

The question is: How resilient is our democracy? Was de Tocqueville right that we would just disappear into silos of self-congratulation and self-interest, or can we hope for something better?

I agree with Morris, and add that ¨the old world¨ disappeared in 2001 when surveillance of effectively everybody on effectively everything by both the secret services and big internet corporations, such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple started.

This gives the very few who head the government and these corporations vastly more powers (of knowledge about everyone and anyone) than even the KGB and the Gestapo had. And this is a strongly recommended article.

3. James Risen: Reality Winner’s Sentence Is One of the Worst Miscarriages of Justice in Recent History

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
NSA whistleblower Reality Winner was handed the longest sentence ever imposed in federal court for leaking government information to the media Thursday. She is the first person to be sentenced under the Espionage Act since President Trump took office. Winner was arrested by FBI agents at her home in Augusta, Georgia, on June 3, 2017, two days before The Intercept published an exposé revealing Russian military intelligence conducted a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software company just days before the U.S. presidential election. The exposé was based on a classified NSA report from May 5, 2017, that shows that the agency is convinced the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. For more, we speak with Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof Press, and James Risen, The Intercept’s senior national security correspondent and former New York Times reporter.
I reproduce the introductions to the interviews of Democracy Now! because I like them and also because my readers can see what there is in the interviews and what I skipped. In the present case, I skip most and limit myself to two quotations.

Here is the first:

Jim, you, too, were in the courtroom yesterday. Can you respond to the sentence that Reality Winner received?

JAMES RISEN: I think it was outrageous. I think what has been done by the Trump administration to Reality is just terrible, and it’s one of the worst miscarriages of justice I’ve seen in a long time. What Reality Winner did was a public service. The disclosure of the document in this, that The Intercept
published, was—it provided a really important wake-up call to the American people that the Russian—that Russian intelligence was hacking into the election systems of states. And the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a report earlier this year, wrote that the Homeland Security Department had failed to adequately warn state election officials about the Russian hacking threat, and said, in their—in the Senate report, it said it was only because of press disclosures that state officials began to be alerted to the Russian threat, cyberthreat, which shows that even Congress recognizes that what Reality Winner did was a public service.

I more or less agree with Risen, although he and I disagree about the extent of the interference by ¨Russian intelligence¨. In fact, while I agree that the Russians did some hacking, indeed as the Americans did, the greatest leak I have heard about is Cambridge Analytica (that since changed its name), which is English/American, and got the personal profiles of some 80 million American people.

But this is an aside. Here is more Risen:

JAMES RISEN: Well, first of all, Donald Trump is a psycho and shouldn’t be president. He’s crazy. And so he tweets in the middle of the night about stuff he knows nothing about, every day. So you have to discount this because of that.

But he is correct that there is a double standard. It’s just not a double standard with Hillary Clinton. The double standard is that low-level people in the intelligence community are the ones who are prosecuted, and not high-level people. If you look at the—the real double standard here is between the way the Justice Department dealt with someone like David Petraeus, who was the CIA
director, who leaked lots of information to his former mistress and then was never sent to jail and was given probation, and the way that they’ve—this draconian sentence against Reality Winner, which is an absurd double standard. That’s the real double standard.

I completely agree with this. And this is a recommended article in which there is considerably more.

4. Just How Dangerous Is Amazon's Facial Recognition Program?

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

In May, the Congressional Black Caucus penned a letter to Amazon expressing its concern about the potential unintended consequences of the company’s new facial recognition software, ReKognition. “It is quite clear that communities of color are more aggressively policed than white communities,” the letter read. “This status quo results in an oversampling of data which, once used as an input to an analytical framework leveraging artificial intelligence, could negatively impact outcomes in those oversampled communities.”

Just how much danger does the online behemoth’s new technology pose? To answer this question, Truthdig’s Robert Scheer sat down with American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jacob Snow to discuss the close partnership between private enterprise and the surveillance state
I think this an interesting and long interview, indeed like many of Scheer´s articles, and I am glad Truthdig provided the text because this takes 1/4 or less of the time (for me) than to listen to the audio, and because it allows me to quote and review some bits.

Here is the first bit (by Scheer):

“We’re in an environment where immigrants are being targeted and harmed, and where people of color are being targeted and are being persecuted,” says Snow in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.” “And the idea that facial recognition could become widespread as a tool of law enforcement is going to have disproportionate impacts on people of color, on political protesters and also on immigrants. And once that infrastructure is built, once face surveillance is widespread in society, the damage to those communities can’t be undone.”

What was once the military-industrial complex has rapidly transformed into a military-industrial information complex, with data flowing seamlessly between intelligence agencies and even local police departments. Yet despite our society’s slow descent into Orwellian dystopia, Snow remains cautiously optimistic.

This is a fair summary, and I agree with Scheer´s extension of ¨the military-industrial complex¨ to the ¨military-industrial information complex¨, while I am also certainly less optimistic than Jacob Snow is, basically because I think (i) all privacy of ordinary persons has completely disappeared, and (ii) this gives far too much power to the very few who head governments (and command secret services) and the very few who head big internet corporations.

Here is more by Snow:

Jacob Snow: (..) Our work with respect to Amazon and facial recognition began when we saw that Amazon was marketing its facial recognition technology, which is called Rekognition, with a k, to law enforcement. And they were doing that in a way that indicated that they were encouraging law enforcement to use facial recognition as a tool of mass surveillance. So, they were telling law enforcement to use it to identify persons of interest in a crowd, or to identify individuals who would move around the city, to track faces across cameras, to use facial recognition in real time on the public. And that application of facial recognition was really concerning to us.
And so, we loaded a set of publicly available, 25,000 arrest photos, and we put that into recognition, and then we searched in that set for members of Congress, all current members of Congress. And the results that we found were pretty striking, and really concerning. Twenty-eight current members of Congress matched with an arrest photo.

I take this for granted and add that this means that twenty-eight of the current members of Congress were identified with different persons than they really are.

Here is more:

RS: So, if I could push you a little bit, this is the tip of a larger iceberg threatening our civil liberties, at least from my point of view. Because the assumption is that private corporations should be free to do what they do, if it’s convenient to their customers that they know everything about us, what we eat, what we read, our conversations–that’s in the private sector, and the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, was designed to protect us from government overreach.
So let me ask you, what are the constitutional implications of ostensibly private companies that have huge government contracts? We see that even with the NSA with Booz Allen and so forth. Could you sort of reflect on that?

JS: (..) But getting back to the question of how the government and private industry are collaborating in this way that’s concerning, you know, we’re seeing a lot of, a groundswell of opposition from the public and from members of Congress, looking at the interaction between platforms like Amazon and Microsoft and Google and the government.

I agree completely with Scheer (and I also insist that neither the secret services nor Facebook. Google etc. should be legally allowed to steal this information from computer users). And I agree less with Snow, basically because I do not think that ¨opposition from the public and from members of Congress¨ will be very effective (and I have over 2000 files in Nederlog since 2013 which support me). Then again, I hope I am mistaken, but fear I am not.

Here is more:

JS: (..) And actually, as you point out again, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion in that case. And he wrote something that I think is really relevant to the discussion around facial recognition. He wrote, “A person does not surrender all Fourth Amendment protection by venturing into the public sphere. To the contrary, what one seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.” And you can’t leave the house without your face. And you move into the public sphere, and facial recognition really threatens to eliminate the ability for people to move around in public and go about their daily lives, whether they are attending a religious service, going to a medical clinic, associating with friends, going to a political protest–all of those things are subject to surveillance if the government can use facial recognition without restriction.

I agree - and this is also (again) why I think all surveillance should be a great lot less than it is now, and should be bound by effective laws. Then again, I also think that the laws that have been introduced (also those in Europe) are bad, and do not at all provide what I desire.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this long and interesting interview:

RS: (..) And in fact, there’s a big battle, will Google go into China and cooperate with that government now, and that means tailoring, I suppose, searches, and maybe handing over information. I mean, this is a–these companies are multinational, they operate throughout the world, so in a way, this battle you’re having here with Amazon over facial recognition, this is a battle that you’re really fighting for the entire world. Because if this, you know, you can do it here in the land of the free, in the U.S., then what’s to stop any dictator anywhere in the world saying, hey, I now have the ability, I can monitor where you’ve been, who you’ve been with, every crowd, every meeting, every restaurant–I got you nailed, you better shut up. And then you get into this dark world that 1984 and Brave New World described of, basically, self-censorship, and being deluded into thinking you’re free when you’re not free at all.

Precisely - and besides, I am quite sure that George Orwell would be most horrified by the present means of surveillance, and indeed so am I, for the simple reason that this puts far
too much power in far too few hands
. And this is a strongly recommended article.

5. Sanders Tax Would Make Corporations Fund 100% of Public Assistance Their Low-Paid Workers Receive

This article is by Jake Johnson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
Amazon CEO and world's richest man Jeff Bezos makes more money in ten seconds than his company's median employee makes in an entire year, and thousands of Amazon workers are paid such low wages that they are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and other forms of government assistance to survive.

Declaring that this ever-growing gulf between the obscene wealth of top executives and the poverty wages of workers—which is hardly unique to Amazon—is morally unacceptable, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced on Friday that he will introduce legislation next month that would impose "a 100 percent tax on large employers equal to the amount of federal benefits received by their low-wage workers" in an effort to pressure corporate giants into paying a living wage.

Under the new legislation, "if an Amazon worker receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300," the Vermont senator's office noted in a press release. The tax would apply to all companies with 500 or more employees.

"While Mr. Bezos is worth $155 billion and while his wealth has increased $260 million every single day this year, he continues to pay many Amazon employees wages that are so low that they are forced to depend on taxpayer-funded programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing just to get by," Sanders said in a statement on Friday.

"While Mr. Bezos is the most egregious example, the Walton family of Walmart and many other billionaire-owned large and profitable companies also enrich themselves off taxpayer assistance while paying their workers poverty-level wages," Sanders added. "That is why I am introducing legislation in September to demand that Mr. Bezos and other billionaires get off welfare and start paying their workers a living wage."

This is in fact a somewhat longer quotation than I usually provide, but it is here because it is both quite adequate and I agree with it, although I also think it is most unlikely that Sanders´ proposed new tax will become law.

Here is how Bezos steals - indirectly - from the taxes to increase his $155 billions of personal wealth:

According to public data obtained by the non-profit New Food Economy (NFE) and The Intercept, as many as one in three Amazon workers in Arizona—one of the few states that responded to NFE's public records requests—rely on food stamps to survive.

The situation is similar at massive companies like Walmart and McDonald's, where many employees aren't paid enough to survive without government assistance. All the while, the Walton family and McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook continue to get exponentially richer.

I completely agree. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

"It is beyond absurd that you would make more money in ten seconds than the median employee of Amazon makes in an entire year," Sanders concluded. "I don't believe that ordinary Americans should be subsidizing the wealthiest person in the world because you pay your employees inadequate wages."

Yes - but then again this is why I am a socialist: (1) because under capitalism-as-is there are far too large differences in personal wealth and in personal power, and (2) because I do not think these huge differences can be significantly reduced in a capitalist system. For more, I point to my Crisis: On Socialism. And this a recommended article.

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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