April 9, 2015
Crisis: Dick Pics, Wars, Cyber Crimes, DEA Spying, Fossil Fuels
  "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. The dick pic test: are you happy to show the government

2. The US isn’t winding down its wars – it’s just running them
     at arm’s length

The White House’s New Executive Order On Cyber Crime is
     (Unfortunately) No Joke

Rights Groups Demand Justice as New Details on DEA
     Spying Program Revealed

5. Can the world economy survive without fossil fuels?


This is a Nederlog of Thursday, April 9, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a - to my mind - strange inconsistency: the majority of the public does not seem to care
much that they are surveilled - except if it concerns pictures of their dicks or tits: then they are much against; item 2 is about the wars in the Middle East and isn't
optimistic; item 3 is about "cyber crimes": now you risk being arrested as a terrorist if you are trying to break into a computer
legitimately (because you are testing it); item 4 is about illegal phone tapping that the American DEA has been doing since 1992; and item 5 is a long read on The Guardian about fossil fuels,
which I think is mainly wishful thinking.

1. The dick pic test: are you happy to show the government yours?

The first item is an article by James Ball on The Guardian:
  • The dick pic test: are you happy to show the government yours?

This has the following subtitle, which is relevant:

We rarely care about our privacy and surveillance in general terms, but when it comes to specifics we can get very defensive indeed

If so - and I am not one of these "We" - while I will also suppose most M.A.s or Ph.D.s also are not, but indeed that is a minority - this must be mostly due to either a lack of relevant knowledge or considerable (self-willed) ignorance or else simple and plain stupidity. (For it is utterly inconsistent.)

The article starts as follows:

If you’re doing nothing wrong, and have nothing to hide from your government, then mass surveillance holds no fears for you. This argument might be the oldest straw man in the privacy debate, but it’s also a decent reflection of the state of the argument. In the UK’s first major election since the Snowden revelations, privacy is a nonissue.

This is a shame, because when it comes down to it, many of us who are doing nothing wrong have plenty we would prefer to hide.

Well, yes - but this is in fact a pretty offensive pair of assumptions: That the government are the people who decide whether you do anything wrong (much rather than a judge and a public court), and that in order to decide whether you do anything that is wrong by their standards, anonymous governmental spies may hoover up anything whatsoever that anyone puts on the internet or says into his or her phone.

And clearly everybody has plenty to hide, if only because you do not know what the next government will be like, nor what they will consider "wrong", nor what
their punishments will be if you are "wrong" in their eyes, nor how much has been retained of what got secretly stolen from you, nor how the laws will be changing
in the future, while all your private affairs have been stored - in secret of course - on the GCHQs computers (or the NSA's, which have more space), quite possibly forever.

Then there is this:

We rarely care about our privacy in general terms; when it gets to specifics – can I read your text messages? – we tend to be more defensive. And when we get anywhere near the sexual realm, we get very defensive indeed.

Again, I do not belong to this "We" (and would have much preferred if this had read "Many" instead of "We"), and one reason is that it seems to me to be a sign of considerable lack of intelligence if you do not care about "privacy in general terms" while you do care if someone else reads your text messages or sees your naked pictures. This is also much like insisting you do not care if anybody steals anything from anybody as long as they don't steal any prized possessions from you.

And indeed most Americans are not very intelligent or informed, and do seem to think in this way:

That’s a truth the US comedian John Oliver realises to a much greater extent than many of his journalistic colleagues. In a segment during an interview with Edward Snowden, he vox popped people in Times Square on mass surveillance, only to be received with apathy and confusion. Then he suggested the government was collecting their dick pics – to a unanimously furious response.

Yes, indeed - although that is pretty silly, and not merely because of the following fact: Of the very great amount of video images that the GCHQ hoovered up to control you and everybody else (on the pretext that knowing your naked pictures will help keep the world free from "terrorism")
(...)  it turned out a substantial quantity (up to 11%) of what it was intercepting were pornographic pictures.

The article ends as follows, after pointing out that the English goverment's spies have been in your bedroom and know your dick and tit pictures:

It is currently perfectly possible, and perfectly legal, that a government employee has seen you naked. The question is, are you bothered? Because when we talk about surveillance reform, this is what we’re talking about.

I disagree with the legality - indeed also if James Ball is right about this - for I do not see what any government's secret spies have to do with how I look naked, and I also completely disagree they have any right to be reading my mails or to be listening to my phone conversations (unless there is plausible evidence overseen by a public judge that I might be a terrorist, which there is not).

But OK...this seems to be "the standard of evidence" that the English public - perhaps - can handle: They don't want their dick pics and tit pics to be seen by anonymous governmental spies, while they don't mind being surveilled by anonymous governmental spies who can secretly hoover up anything they put on line.

O Lord!

2. The US isn’t winding down its wars – it’s just running them at arm’s length 

The next item is an article by Seumas Milne on The Guardian:

  • The US isn’t winding down its wars – it’s just running them at arm’s length

This starts as follows:
So relentless has the violence convulsing the Middle East become that an attack on yet another Arab country and its descent into full-scale war barely registers in the rest of the world. That’s how it has been with the onslaught on impoverished Yemen by western-backed Saudi Arabia and a string of other Gulf dictatorships.
Indeed - and I had missed this as well.

Here is some more, and I note Obama's great progressiveness ("
US weapons sales to the Gulf have exceeded those racked up by George Bush, and last week Obama resumed US military aid to Egypt"):

Since the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and its allies are reluctant to risk boots on the ground. But their military interventions are multiplying. Barack Obama has bombed seven mainly Muslim countries since he became US president. There are now four full-scale wars raging in the Arab world (Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen), and every one of them has involved US and wider western military intervention. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest British arms market; US weapons sales to the Gulf have exceeded those racked up by George Bush, and last week Obama resumed US military aid to Egypt.

What has changed is that, in true imperial fashion, the west’s alliances have become more contradictory, playing off one side against the other.
Four full-scale wars, while Obama has bombed seven mainly Muslim countries ...

I agree with the article, but there is little to rejoice over in it (although that is not Seumas Milne's fault).

3. The White House’s New Executive Order On Cyber Crime is (Unfortunately) No Joke 

The next item is an article by Nadya Kayyali and Kurt Opsahl on Common Dreams:
  • The White House’s New Executive Order On Cyber Crime is (Unfortunately) No Joke
This starts as follows:
On the morning of April 1st, the White House issued a new executive order (EO) that asserts that malicious “cyber-enabled activities” are a national threat, declares a national emergency, and establishes sanctions and other consequences for individuals and entities. While computer and information security is certainly very important, this EO could dangerously backfire, and chill the very security research that is necessary to protect people from malicious attacks.
In fact, and as the article explains, this is another executive order that
(...) is dangerously overbroad. That’s because tools that can be used for malicious attacks are also vital for defense. For example, penetration testing is the process of attempting to gain access to computer systems, without credentials like a username. It’s a vital step in finding system vulnerabilities and fixing them before malicious attackers do.
But then if you try to gain access to a computer without credentials like a user name, you may be "a terrorist". It is true there is some apparent relief:
To be sure, President Obama has said that “this executive order [does not] target the legitimate cybersecurity research community or professionals who help companies improve their cybersecurity.” But assurances like this are not enough. Essentially, with these words, Obama asks us to trust the Executive, without substantial oversight, to be able to make decisions about the property and rights of people who may not have much recourse once that decision has been made, and who may well not get prior notice before the hammer comes down.
Precisely. And no, you cannot "trust the Executive", and not because he is currently Obama, but simply because "all governments lie and nothing they say should be believed" (in I.F. Stone's words - and no, he didn't say they always lie). But this is especially true about cyber-security, which is far to secretive as is.

4. Rights Groups Demand Justice as New Details on DEA Spying Program Revealed

The next item is an article by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

As new reporting by USA Today on Wednesday exposed the scope of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's two-decade secret surveillance operation against American citizens, dubbed USTO and first publicly revealed in January, a human rights organization filed suit for what it called unconstitutional overreach of government power.

In its lawsuit against the DEA, filed Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said that the agency's operation, which collected bulk data on billions of Americans' international phone calls without a warrant, jeopardized the nonprofit organization's work.

"At Human Rights Watch we work with people who are sometimes in life or death situations, where speaking out can make them a target," HRW general counsel Dinah PoKempner said in a press release after the organization filed suit. "Whom we communicate with and when is often extraordinarily sensitive—and it's information that we wouldn't turn over to the government lightly."

I take it the last statement has been carefully neutralized, but yes I quite agree. Also, this seems to be a big case for two reasons: First, it started in 1992, under Bush Sr., and second it concerns a very large amount of telephone calls:

USA Today revealed new details about USTO, which started a decade before 9/11 and developed significantly during then-President George H.W. Bush's administration—and eventually came to serve as a prototype for the NSA's more recent surveillance operations:

In 1992, in the last months of Bush's administration, Attorney General William Barr and his chief criminal prosecutor, Robert Mueller, gave the DEA permission to collect a much larger set of phone data to feed into that intelligence operation.

Instead of simply asking phone companies for records about calls made by people suspected of drug crimes, the Justice Department began ordering telephone companies to turn over lists of all phone calls from the USA to countries where the government determined drug traffickers operated, current and former officials said.

The list of countries included in the sweep totaled up to 116 and reached not just Iran, as the DEA has previously admitted, but nations virtually throughout the world—in Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, western Africa, and the Caribbean, as well as Canada.

In fact, if Holland was included, there may be quite a lot of evidence that the mayors of Amsterdam have set up an illegal schema to turn over at least 25 billion euros each year in illegal drugs (which is a fact, that just isn't discussed
at all in Holland since parliamentarian Van Traa "had a mortal accident" in 1997) and also may have extensively profited themselves. [1]

Back to the DEA:

EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo said, "The DEA's program of untargeted and suspicionless surveillance of Americans' international telephone call records—information about the numbers people call, and the time, date, and duration of those calls—affects millions of innocent people, yet the DEA operated the program in secret for years."

"Both the First and Fourth Amendment protect Americans from this kind of overreaching surveillance," Cardozo continued. "This lawsuit aims to vindicate HRW’s rights, and the rights of all Americans, to make calls overseas without being subject to government surveillance."

I agree, and I think it is worthwile to go to court, but I also think this - again - is not likely to succeed, although it is firmly based on two Constitutional Amendments, and my reason is the following, for what is happening now is this:

Every day, the agency assembles a list of the telephone numbers its agents suspect may be tied to drug trafficking. Each day, it sends electronic subpoenas — sometimes listing more than a thousand numbers — to telephone companies seeking logs of international telephone calls linked to those numbers, two official familiar with the program said.

... The White House proposed a similar approach for the NSA's telephone surveillance program, which is set to expire June 1. That approach would halt the NSA's bulk data collection but would give the spy agency the power to force companies to turn over records linked to particular telephone numbers, subject to a court order.

Which is to say that - also given the nearly complete pliancy of the so-called
secret "FISA courts" - very little will change, unless the EFF succeeds. And that is
quite improbable, unfortunately, precisely because the present government has
chosen to use the DEA schema to help the NSA.

5. Can the world economy survive without fossil fuels?

The last item is an article by Larry Elliott on The Guardian:
  • Can the world economy survive without fossil fuels?
In fact, this is a long read on The Guardian that is accompanied by six quite vague orange-and-black photographs (in the New Blauified Guardian style: vague and only two colors).

It starts like this:
The final chapters of The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell’s 2014 novel, describe a future in which progress has gone into reverse. In 2043, the fossil fuel age is over: nuclear power stations ar e melting down, there is no access to the electricity grid and solar panels are so prized that they are looted. Catastrophic climate change has become a reality. Rising sea levels have caused floods on the New York City subway, killing thousands. Internet coverage is patchy, food and consumer goods are scarce, and life‑saving drugs such as insulin are hard to come by.

It is a dystopian vision that looks like a brutal, dangerous version of the past – one not at all like the future that was promised when the cold war ended with victory for the western capitalist model. If it comes to pass, it will be because, despite all the warnings, climate change has not been taken seriously enough.

O Lord! No, it will not: If it comes to pass, it will be because most of the politicians did not take their responsibilities since the 1970ies; because the Western economies are running on the profit principle; because Western consumers have been habituated to consuming too much; and because of quite a few other reasons, all of which interact and can not be reduced to "climate change".

In fact, I take it Larry Elliott knows this, but he is now writing on the lines of Naomi Klein and Alan Rusbridger, who have decided that climate change is an important topic.

Well... I agree it is, and I have agreed with environmental policies since 1971 (when Naomi Klein was 1), but I have seen few changes in 45 years, and no changes at all in the general tendencies, and so I concluded that climate change
very probably cannot be stopped - I am very sorry to say - in the world in which I currently live.

For in order stop it - within 28 years, also, with politicians who have done very little that's really effective in 45 years, and with economies that are built around the profit principle and high consumption - we need some revolutionary changes in quite a few different things and approaches, such as the profit principle and the Western levels of consumption, and I see zero evidence for that.

There is a lot more in the article, but I will quote only one bit more:

The question, therefore, is whether it is possible to marry two seemingly contradictory objectives. Can we imagine a future that is cleaner, greener and sustainable – one that avoids climate armageddon – without abandoning the idea of growth and, thus, forcing living standards into decline? The answer is that it will be hellishly difficult, but it is just about feasible if we make the right choices – and start making them now.

I am very sorry, but a "hellishly difficult" project, that is supposed to be "just about feasible" and wants to continue economic growth, and does not attack either the profit principle or consumerism, seems to me to be far too improbable to succeed or believe in.

And I am very sorry, but this seems to me mostly wishful thinking.


[1] I think they did but have no proof. (But if you organize an illegal trade on that scale, and you are two or three of the (great-)grandsons of two criminals who helped murder 116.000 Dutch Jews in WW II, what difference would it make to you if you get the chance to set up such a schema?)

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