February 7, 2015
Crisis: Surveillance*2, Torture, Income inequality, Reality TV
  "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

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1. In Historic Ruling, UK Surveillance Secrecy Declared

2. In Latest Vindication of Snowden, Court Rules UK Mass
     Surveillance Illegal

Over Decade Later, Survivors of Torture at Abu Ghraib
     Demanding 'Measure of Justice

What Thomas Piketty and Larry Summers Don’t Tell You
     About Income Inequality

How Reality TV Is Teaching Us to Accept the American
     Police State

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, February 7, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 and item 2
are about a - somewhat - surprising English (secret) courts' decision on spying;
item 3 is about some survivors of torture in Abu Ghraib who are trying to get some measure of justice from American courts; item 4 is about income inequalities; and item 5 is a fine piece on the dangers of TV.

1. In Historic Ruling, UK Surveillance Secrecy Declared Unlawful

The first item today is an article by Ryan Gallagher on The Intercept:
  • In Historic Ruling, UK Surveillance Secrecy Declared Unlawful
This starts as follows:

The United Kingdom’s top surveillance agency has acted unlawfully by keeping details about the scope of its Internet spying operations secret, a British court ruled in an unprecedented judgment issued on Friday.

Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, was found to have breached human rights laws by concealing information about how it accesses surveillance data collected by its American counterpart, the National Security Agency.

The ruling was handed down by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a special court that handles complaints related to covert surveillance operations conducted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. In its 15-year history, the tribunal has never before upheld a complaint against any intelligence agencies.

I say. Especially the first sentence - "the scope" - and the last sentence - "never before" - are interesting. Personally - and see my Mass surveillance is fundamental threat to human rights, says European report from January 27 - I find especially "the scope" interesting:

It seems these "defenders" of what they call "Human Rights" have no objection whatsoever if every bit of data that the spy agencies can find - e.g. of your website, your emails, your financial transactions, your cellphones, and your sexual preferences, among other things - and not only yours, but of everyone anywhere, may be downloaded by the spies who control us, if only they can get it, somehow.

In fact, it seems as if according to this court they may spy as much as they please, provided
only that they say it, e.g. like the Amsterdam dole does: If I phone them, the last 20 years or so, I get this - fundamentally fascistic - warning: "This conversation may be taped for learning purposes". (This is - sofar as I know (!) - the only Dutch institution that routinely tapes its clients, but it does so for a long time now: At least 20 years in my experience.)

Then again, there is also this:
The court ruling against GCHQ found that by keeping the rules underpinning the surveillance secret, the agency had “contravened” the privacy and free expression provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The secret policies were released for the first time in December, meaning that until then GCHQ had been operating unlawfully, likely for several years.
I am very sorry, but I disbelieve the European Convention on Human Rights.
I may later explain why, but for the present this explanation is enough:
Mass surveillance is fundamental threat to human rights, says European report.

Here is what these judges said - and I bolded a "not" and an "only":
The judges cited a previous ruling that stated laws must be publicly available and clear enough so that individuals have “adequate protection against arbitrary interference.” But they did not deem the surveillance itself to be an illegal invasion of privacy; it was only the secrecy shrouding it that they ruled a violation of human rights. Friday’s decision was therefore more of a victory for transparency than it was for online privacy.
It may also be seen as even less, namely as a foreboding of what Europe is going to get: Universal surveillance of all by the GCHQ and the NSA, all covered by a nicely designed graphical internet icon - rather like Facebook's icon, for example - that says, when right clicked:
"Control yourself! You are being watched like everyone by Our Secret Superheroes of the GCHQ and the NSA! You have nothing
to fear as long as you conform!"

For that warning seems to take care of all of this courts' objections.

2. In Latest Vindication of Snowden, Court Rules UK Mass Surveillance Illegal

The next item is an article by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:
  • In Latest Vindication of Snowden, Court Rules UK Mass Surveillance Illegal
Yes, it is about the same thing as the previous item. This one starts as follows:

In the latest vindication of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, a U.K. ruled on Friday that the British government violated human rights law by failing to safeguard some aspects of its intelligence-sharing operations until December 2014.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal found that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) accessed information obtained by the National Security Agency (NSA) without sufficient oversight, violating Articles 8 and 10 of the European convention on human rights. According to Reuters, "The tribunal's concern, addressed in the new ruling, was that until details of how GCHQ and the NSA shared data were made public in the course of the court proceedings, the legal safeguards provided by British law were being side-stepped."

As I said or suggested in the previous item: Both Articles 8 and 10 are utterly useless: They allow governmental spying, without any restriction also, for at least 8 different reasons, and the "rights" they speak of are all carefully circumscribed by all the exceptions any dictatorial government would want (and is completely unlike the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Indeed, as the New York Times said:
Although privacy campaigners claimed the decision as a victory, many experts said the British and American intelligence agencies would continue to share information obtained with electronic surveillance, even if they had to slightly alter their techniques to comply with human rights law.
And no: the "European Convention on 'Human Rights'" will not help anything: Anything any government loves to do is admitted by its long lists of exceptions to the human rights, and it would seem to me we have a "European Convention on 'Human Rights'" in order not to have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(that was very good, unlike the European bullshit "human rights").

There is also this:

IPT's decision marks the first time that the highly-secretive court has ever ruled against any of the U.K.'s intelligence services in its entire 15-year existence.

During IPT hearings in 2014, Matthew Ryder, a lawyer for civil rights group Liberty, charged that intelligence agencies were building vast databases from unlawfully obtained emails and other communications.

However, the IPT ruled in December last year that British and American intelligence agencies had brought their oversight policies in line with European law, and could continue sharing information legally.

Speaking for myself, I don't accept rulings by "highly-secretive" courts. Period. There may be some very rare occasions in which a court has to be secret, but then I also do not accept its rulings, since I lack the evidence, though in these cases I will not protest. I do now: Secret courts are courts that do not fit in a democratic state, but they are perfect for police states and dictatorships.

3. Over Decade Later, Survivors of Torture at Abu Ghraib Demanding 'Measure of Justice

The next item is an article by Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:
  • Over Decade Later, Survivors of Torture at Abu Ghraib Demanding 'Measure of Justice
This starts as follows:

More than a decade later, Iraqi survivors of torture at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison are still fighting for "a measure of justice" in U.S. civil courts.

The four plaintiffs, all of whom were held captive at the prison then released without charges, argued in a federal district court in Virginia on Friday that private mercenary company CACI Premier Technology, Inc. (CACI)—which was operating in the prison—should have to stand trial for its confirmed role in their torture. The hearing was the latest development in a suit, backed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which was first filed in 2008.

The contractor has argued vigorously that it should not face any liability, despite the fact that military investigators found (pdf) that, in 2004, CACI directly colluded with U.S. soldiers in torture. So far, CACI's efforts to dodge culpability have been successful.

In 2013, a federal judge dismissed the former Abu Ghraib prisoners' lawsuit against CACI on the grounds that, because Abu Ghraib is overseas, it is beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. That ruling, however, was later overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, thereby allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

Now, CACI argues that the question of whether it can be held accountable is a "political question." The New York Times describes this legal argument as "a murky concept, nearly as old as the Supreme Court itself, holds that courts are not authorized or equipped to resolve certain matters — like some military decisions or aspects of foreign relations — and must leave them to the other branches of government."

Lawyers say that what the company is really after is impunity for torture.

Yes, of course they seek "impunity for torture". As to that torture, there is this:
The plaintiffs—Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid, Sa’ad Hamza Hantoosh Al-Zuba’e, and Salah Hasan Nusaif Jasim Al-Ejaili—were subjected to "electric shocks, sexual violence, forced nudity, broken bones, and deprivation of oxygen, food, and water," according to a statement from their lawyers. They still suffer physical and psychological wounds as a result.
And yes: It does seem torture to me. (I hope the plaintiffs succeed, but I don't expect it.)

4. What Thomas Piketty and Larry Summers Don’t Tell You About Income Inequality

The next item is an article by Lynn Parramore that I found on Nakedcapitalism, but that originally appeared on Inet:
  • What Thomas Piketty and Larry Summers Don’t Tell You About Income Inequality
This article is somewhat technical, though it is basically an interview, and I select two bits from it:
First, salaries at the very top shot up after 1980, as Thomas Piketty emphasizes. This was mostly among CEOs (along with other top executives) who get paid in eight figures with salaries and stock options. It’s hard to explain skyrocketing  executive pay on purely economic grounds. There is no reason to believe that top managers circa 2015 are more or less essential than, say, in 1975 when comparable pay was ten times lower. The best explanation I can come up with is that a social contract or unwritten law against exorbitant executive income has disappeared in the U.S. We’ll only get it back by social consensus and/or seriously progressive taxation.
Put otherwise: It was and is plain theft based on utter bullshit. But I agree this degenerate abuse will be very difficult to stop.

LP: In your view, is there anybody in the U.S. offering meaningful approaches to income inequality?

Not in the general political debate.

LP: So what’s to stop us from becoming a Downton Abbey society?

We’ve got to have a real social consensus that the way things are going is dangerous and unacceptable, and an understanding that it will take seriously progressive taxation to make a dent in the problem. But I am not optimistic about the prospects. Through various channels ten percent of national income has been transferred to an über class. Without the political will, that sort of change is difficult to undo.

I agree - and the rich thieves also hold most of the power; hold most of the mass media; pay most of the politicians; and have arranged it to be this way since 1979-1980.

5. How Reality TV Is Teaching Us to Accept the American Police State

The next and last item for today is an article by John Whitehead (who founded the Rutherford Institute):

  • How Reality TV Is Teaching Us to Accept the American Police State

This has the great merit - for me - of starting with a quotation of Etienne de la Boétie's - Montaigne's friend - "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude" (<- link to an English translation on my site):

“Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books.”—Etienne de La Boétie, “The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude: How Do Tyrants Secure Cooperation?” (1548)

Quite so - and it still is the same, except that in these fine postmodern days the masses are misled, tricked, lulled and stupefied by TV.

As to that instrument of non-civilization of billions (who hardly read any book, because they watch TV):

Studies suggest that the more reality TV people watch—and I would posit that it’s all reality TV—the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between what is real and what is carefully crafted farce. Unfortunately, Americans have a voracious appetite for TV entertainment. On average, Americans spend five hours a day watching television. By the time we reach age 65, we’re watching more than 50 hours of television a week, and that number increases as we get older. And reality TV programming consistently captures the largest percentage of TV watchers every season by an almost 2-1 ratio.

It so happens that I do not have a TV since 1970, mostly because much of it is very stupid (and I happen to have a very high IQ) while I detest being lied to by the morally degenerate propagandists' lying advertisements. But I am one of the very few (and do not know of any other person who doesn't have a TV for 45 years now).

Here is more John Whitehead:

As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’re being subjected to a masterful sociological experiment in how to dumb down and desensitize a population.

This doesn’t bode well for a citizenry able to sift through masterfully-produced propaganda in order to think critically about the issues of the day. Then again, it can be hard to distinguish between the two. As cognitive scientist Steven Pinker points out, the hallmark of well-told fiction is that the audience can’t tell the difference.

Yes - and besides: It seems pretty hopeless to desire to teach much to the
half of the population whose IQ is not higher than 100. And while I am very
sorry, this is the main problem for any democracy: At least half of the
population is very easily manipulated, deceived and misled, by a few clever
moral degenerates who run "public relations" offices, and will not see they are being
manipulated, deceived and misled.

This is on "Reality TV":

Reality TV is fiction sold as nonfiction, to an audience that likes to believe both are possible simultaneously in life,” continues Weller. “It’s entertainment, in the same way Cirque du Soleil enchants and The Hunger Games enthralls. But what are we to make of unreal realness? And what does it make of its viewers? Do they…mimic the medium? Do they become shallow, volatile, mean?”

The answer is yes, they do mimic the medium.

Studies suggest that those who watch reality shows tend to view what they see as the “norm.” Thus, those who watch shows characterized by lying, aggression and meanness not only come to see such behavior as acceptable but find it entertaining.

Since I have seen less "Reality TV" than almost anyone I just copied this (but I suppose it is mostly correct).

There is also this:

Viewed through the lens of “reality” TV programming, the NSA and other government surveillance has become a done deal.
Yes, indeed: It seems as if more than half (!) agree that anonymous spies know more than they know themselves about their lives, their choices, their interests,
their incomes, their sexual interests, their friends, their colleagues, their work and their secrets, all - it is claimed by the spies - "to protect them from terrorists" - which again they lap up as The Truth because they are stupid, ignorant, and are fundamentally educated by watching TV, and have hardly ever read a real book.

And there is this:

Ultimately, that’s what this is all about: the reality shows, the drama, the entertainment spectacles, the surveillance are all intended to keep us in line, using all the weapons available to the powers-that-be. It’s the modern-day equivalent of bread and circuses.

As for the sleepwalking masses convinced that all of the bad things happening in the police state—the police shootings, the police beatings, the raids, the roadside strip searches—are happening to other people, eventually, the things happening to other people will start happening to us and our loved ones.

I fear that is the most likely outcome.

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