March 17, 2015
Crisis:  FBI, Israeli elections, Assange, New Economy, Drone Wars
  "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


1. How the FBI Created a Terrorist
2. Polls open in Israel at end of bitter election campaign
After Swedish Prosecutors Back Down, Is WikiLeaks
     Founder Julian Assange Close to Freedom?

The “iEverything” and the Redistributional Imperative
5. ACLU Targets Obama with New Lawsuit Over Drone
     Wars, 'Kill List'


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, March 17, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about how the FBI tricked a schizophrenic into being "a terrorist"; item 2 is about today's Israeli elections; item 3 is about Julian Assange; item 4 is about Robert Reich's pleading for "a redistribution of income and wealth", but not giving any model (I do); and item 5 is about Obama's drone wars and a new ACLU lawsuit against these (with some extra by me on the horrible changes in The Guardian's website).

This also got uploaded a bit earlier than is normal.

1. How the FBI Created a Terrorist

The first item is an article by Trevor Aaronson on The Intercept:
  • How the FBI Created a Terrorist
This is from the beginning of a long story:

“Recording,” says an unseen man behind the camera.

“This video is to all the Muslim youth and to all the Muslims worldwide,” Osmakac says, looking straight into the lens. “This is a call to the truth. It is the call to help and aid in the party of Allah … and pay him back for every sister that has been raped and every brother that has been tortured and raped.”

The recording goes on for about eight minutes. Osmakac says he’ll avenge the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere. He refers to Americans as kuffar, an Arabic term for nonbelievers. “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” he says. “Woman for a woman, child for a child.”

Osmakac was 25 years old on January 7, 2012, when he filmed what the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice would later call a “martyrdom video.” He was also broke and struggling with mental illness.

This is also from the beginning:

But if Osmakac was a terrorist, he was only one in his troubled mind and in the minds of ambitious federal agents. The government could not provide any evidence that he had connections to international terrorists. He didn’t have his own weapons. He didn’t even have enough money to replace the dead battery in his beat-up, green 1994 Honda Accord.

Osmakac was the target of an elaborately orchestrated FBI sting that involved a paid informant, as well as FBI agents and support staff working on the setup for more than three months. The FBI provided all of the weapons seen in Osmakac’s martyrdom video. The bureau also gave Osmakac the car bomb he allegedly planned to detonate, and even money for a taxi so he could get to where the FBI needed him to go. Osmakac was a deeply disturbed young man, according to several of the psychiatrists and psychologists who examined him before trial. He became a “terrorist” only after the FBI provided the means, opportunity and final prodding necessary to make him one.

There is a whole lot more that I leave to your interests - but yes: "Osmakac was a deeply disturbed young man", and to abuse him as he was abused is sick.

And all I am saying here is that an FBI who misleads crazy people - Oskamac is diagnosed as a schizophrenic - to pose as if they are terrorists, with weapons, bombs and money all supplied by the FBI, seems pretty insane and illegal to me.

2. Polls open in Israel at end of bitter election campaign

The next item is an article by Peter Beaumont on The Guardian:

  • Polls open in Israel at end of bitter election campaign

This starts as follows:

Israeli voters headed to the polls on Tuesday at the end of a close fought and bitter election campaign.

With Binyamin Netanyahu trailing in the last opinion polls to his main rival, Yitzhak Herzog of the opposition Zionist Union, today’s election has been presented to Israelis - some 5.8 million of whom are eligible to vote - as a choice over the country’s future direction.

That was underlined on the eve of the polls when Israel’s Netanyahu unequivocally ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state as he vowed to strengthen construction of settlements in occupied east Jerusalem should he be re-elected.

Polling stations opened at 7am with the first exit polls due to be published at 10 pm (8pm GMT) this evening ahead of the publication of official results next week at the beginning of efforts to form a coalition government.

Election analysts are predicting one of the largest turn outs since 1999 with up to 80 percent of eligible Israelis expected to vote.

Incidentally, according to Wikipedia (quoted minus note numbers):

Yitzhak "Bougie" Herzog born 22 September 1960), known in English as Isaac Herzog, is an Israeli politician and lawyer. He is currently a member of the Knesset, chairman of the Labor Party, and Leader of the Opposition.

I listed this to give some background information. There is considerably more about him under the first link, and it includes also this bit:

In June 2014, Herzog criticized PM Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to engage the international community, failing to present a proposal for peace with Palestinians, and failure to work effectively with the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Herzog declared that Netanyahu's "loathing and hostility for Barack Obama” was one of his greatest failures, since it put Israel's security at risk.

Here is another item on the same subject, namely Juan Cole on Truthdig:

  • Could a Netanyahu Loss in Israeli Elections Change Everything? (Video)

This starts as follows:

Israeli polling is suggesting that Binyamin Netanyahu’s party might get only 21 seats or less in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, with his rivals, the Zionist Union, getting 24 or 25.  There is even the possibility of the gap between the two widening and Netanyahu doing even worse.

The party that gets the most seats will have the opportunity to try to put together a government coalition of 61 seats or more– a majority that can survive a vote of no confidence.

Although Netanyahu tries to make the issue far-away Iran, which is bogged down in Iraq now, the Israeli public is on the whole not buying his scare-mongering.  Economic issues like high rents and a growing wealth gap and undue influence of billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson on the Likud Part of Netanyahu all loom larger as issues than does Tehran.

Anyway... there is more under the previous two dotted links. And I do hope Netanyahu will be loosing.

3. After Swedish Prosecutors Back Down, Is WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Close to Freedom? 

The next item is an article by Amy Goodman on truth-out (originally on Democracy Now!):
  • After Swedish Prosecutors Back Down, Is WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Close to Freedom?

This starts as follows:

Today marks the 1,000th day WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has spent in political asylum inside Ecuador's London embassy. For the first time, Swedish prosecutors have opened the door to Assange's departure with a request to question him in London. Assange has never been charged over allegations of sexual assault, but has been holed up in the embassy since 2012, fearing a Swedish arrest warrant could lead to his extradition to the United States. We speak with Assange attorney, Michael Ratner, who says an interview with the prosecutor may result in no charges, and even if Assange were convicted of these allegations, "he has done all the time he would have to do... so the whole case is essentially a bogus way of keeping him in that embassy."

Yes, indeed. And here is Per Samuelson, who is Assange's attorney in Sweden:

PER SAMUELSON: A bottom line is, after the autumn of 2010, the prosecutor did nothing for more than four years. That's clear breach of Swedish law. That has hurt Mr. Assange severely. And it has also hurt both the women, who have not had their case tried for over four years. And it hurts the court, because witnesses forget.

There is a lot more in the article, also with other links, although the question in the title - not surprisingly, at this stage - is not answered.

4. The “iEverything” and the Redistributional Imperative

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
  • The “iEverything” and the Redistributional Imperative
This starts as follows:

It’s now possible to sell a new product to hundreds of millions of people without needing many, if any, workers to produce or distribute it.

At its prime in 1988, Kodak, the iconic American photography company, had 145,000 employees. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

The same year Kodak went under, Instagram, the world’s newest photo company, had 13 employees serving 30 million customers.

The ratio of producers to customers continues to plummet. When Facebook purchased “WhatsApp” (the messaging app) for $19 billion last year, WhatsApp had 55 employees serving 450 million customers.

In fact, this "ratio of producers to customers" is very important, as Reich is going to explain. But first there is this:

New technologies aren’t just labor-replacing. They’re also knowledge-replacing.

The combination of advanced sensors, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, big data, text-mining, and pattern-recognition algorithms, is generating smart robots capable of quickly learning human actions, and even learning from one another.

If you think being a “professional” makes your job safe, think again.

And that (plus more, that you can find under the last dotted link) results in this:

We need a new economic model. 

The economic model that dominated most of the twentieth century was mass production by the many, for mass consumption by the many.

Workers were consumers; consumers were workers.
That virtuous cycle is now falling apart. A future of almost unlimited production by a handful, for consumption by whoever can afford it, is a recipe for economic and social collapse.
It may be that a redistribution of income and wealth from the rich owners of breakthrough technologies to the rest of us becomes the only means of making the future economy work.

I basically agree, though Robert Reich is none too clear about the "redistribution" he has in mind, nor indeed about the "new economic model".

Here are a few of my own reflections.

First, about the "ratio of producers to customers".

What seems to be happening, on a large and rapid scale also, is that the economic schema that was behind the twentieth century's economy is changing from "mass production by the many, for mass consumption by the many" to mass production by the few, for mass consumption by the many - except that this will rapidly fail to work for the many, because the many have no more work that gave them the money to buy the products for "mass consumption": they are ousted by computers and algorithms.

And Reich is quite right in expecting "economic and social collapse" from this schema: Mass consumption requires well-paid masses, not starving masses.

Second, about "a redistribution of income and wealth from the rich owners of breakthrough technologies to the rest of us".

Robert Reich gives no details of any kind, but I think I can, and indeed my inspiration is a combination of my marxist past and the finding that most Americans seem to believe that a distinction of roughly 1 : 7 is the proportion that should hold for the poorest and the richest.

What I propose is the following:

  • With the exception of truly exceptional individuals in the arts, the sciences and sports incomes must be re-regulated so that the richest
    get not more than 20 times of what the poorest get (which used to hold
    in Holland, for some 30 years also, under - regulated - capitalism, but indeed for salaries only, and not for inherited or otherwise acquired wealth, that also should come under the proposed rule).
  • This can be achieved - relatively easily also, that is: apart from the wild objections from the extremely rich 1% - by a renewed steeply progressive tax regime, that taxes away everything earned over around 250.000 or 300.000 dollars a year, and redistributes the surplus to the rest (and indeed mostly to better infra-structure and much better education for all).
  • Otherwise, little needs to change: Fairness for all, poverty for none. One still can be a top-manager and earn a top-income and have top-status - except that the top is capped to something like 250.000 or 300.000 dollars a year maximally, so as to give everyone a fair chance, and not heap nearly all the wealth that all of society produces on very few of the very wealthiest.
  • There are some exceptions, but these must be true exceptions, and not merely clever managers: Really excellent artists, scientists and sportsmen may earn more, but only because they are widely agreed to be truly excellent in science, arts or sports (which never can be more than 1 in a 1000 similarly employed).

I think the above is fair; can be relatively easily implemented; is conceivably unjust only to the very rich, who have been very unjust to the many anyway;
does not require a radical alteration of the modes of production or ownership;
and evidently will serve the large majority by increasing their incomes and decreasing their work loads.

Will it happen? Greed and egoism are very common human properties, and especially move the very rich - they say so, and are proud of their greed and egoism! - who also have enormous amounts of money, which can be used for a lot of propaganda, so it will probably need another major crash.

But as I said: The above schema is doable, relatively easy also, because it in fact only amounts to two radical changes: (1) a re-regulated steeply progressive tax regime, and (2) a renewed sense of fair sharing - for which I quote Dr. Johnson, the 18rh Century Christian conservative genius:

"as no man is good but as he wishes the good of others, no man can be good in the highest degree, who wishes not to others the largest measures of the greatest good".
    -- Boswell, The Life of Dr. Johnson, vol I p. 329

Quite so, and to help men do so, all that is required is that their earnings be capped decently (which also allows that they may try to excel in far more and far other ways than in merely becoming the richest amidst a society of many poor).

5. ACLU Targets Obama with New Lawsuit Over Drone Wars, 'Kill List'

The last item today is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:
  • ACLU Targets Obama with New Lawsuit Over Drone Wars, 'Kill List'
This starts as follows:

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a new lawsuit against the Obama administration over continued secrecy surrounding its controversial use of armed drones to carry out lethal strikes and assassinations across the globe.

The Guardian was the first to report news of the fresh lawsuit earlier on Monday. 

According to journalist Spencer Ackerman, who was given advance notice of the suit, the ACLU is seeking disclosure from the White House of legal documents and internal memos relating to Obama's use of drones, with specific attention to how individuals end up on what has become known as the president's "kill list."

"Over the last few years, the US government has used armed drones to kill thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians. The public should know who the government is killing, and why it’s killing them," Jaffer told the Guardian.

The official complaint filed by the ACLU is here and the original FOIA request referenced in the suit is here.

I am sorry I missed this in The Guardian, but The Guardian's website has been thoroughly destroyed and has been changed into an exta-ordinary silly text site where one is forced to page through page after page after page of mostly emptiness (With Colors!); forced to read everything; and is denied the luxury of seeing more than three or four photographs, and is given half-see-through videos (?!?!) without any ionformation .... I am sorry, but I am not masochistic enough to spend much time on it: this is a screaming shame, just as is the total lack of discussion with which this has been implemented, and indeed I am using it very little.

So while I am really very sorry that the once very good site of The Guardian has been completely destroyed, I am not sorry for avoiding most of it: The present site is extremely ugly, quite useless and ought to be avoided.

Anyway - back to Common Dreams (who still have an excellent website, even though that was also recently tuned up, though not - God be thanked for his mercies! - by Wolfgang Blau), that also has this:

While lawyers for the Obama administration have argued that national security prevents further disclosures and President Obama has said that internal changes have enhanced the safeguards surrounding the selection of targets and the execution of drone strikes, the ACLU argues the level of secrecy around a program of such profound importance is simply unacceptable in a representative democracy.

As Jaffer explained, there is  no "legitimate justification" for the Obama administration to keep secret the number of civilian casualties and the procedures by which individuals, including U.S. citizens, can find themselves on a secret government "kill list."

"The categorical secrecy surrounding the drone program doesn’t serve any legitimate security interest," Jaffer told the Guardian. "It serves only to skew public debate, to obscure the human costs of the program, and to shield decision-makers from accountability."

Quite so!

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