September 19, 2015
Crisis: Unfree, GOP, Euphemisms, Cell Phones, Brazil, Workplace Surveillance

 "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


Margaret Atwood: we are double-plus unfree
2. Fools, Fascists and Cold Warriors: Take Your Pick
3. When Is Assassination Not Assassination? When the
     Government Says So

Government Argues: If Your Mobile Phone Provider
     Knows Where You Are, Why Shouldn’t We?
5. Brazil bans corporations from political donations amid
     corruption scandal

Fitbits for Bosses: The Future of Workplace Surveillance

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, September 19, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Margaret Atwood on freedom; item 2 is about an article by Robert Scheer on the GOP; item 3 is about the power of euphemisms; item 4 is about one's rights not to be checked in everything one does; item 5 is about Brazil's supreme court, that decided - quite correctly, in my opinion - to deny the right of corporations to buy ("invest in", "give financial gifts to") politicians; and item 6 is about the surveillance of their employees (possibly 24 hours a day, in everything) that corporations these days engage in, "because they can".

1. Margaret Atwood: we are double-plus unfree

The first article today is by Margaret Atwood (<- Wikipedia) on The Guardian:
  • Margaret Atwood: we are double-plus unfree

From the beginning (and I had to extract a number of good points from considerably more, that I leave to your interests):
Governments know our desire for safety all too well, and like to play on our fears. How often have we been told that this or that new rule or law or snooping activity on the part of officialdom is to keep us “safe”? We aren’t safe, anyway: many of us die in weather events – tornados, floods, blizzards – but governments, in those cases, limit their roles to finger-pointing, blame-dodging, expressions of sympathy or a dribble of emergency aid. Many more of us die in car accidents or from slipping in the bathtub than are likely to be done in by enemy agents, but those kinds of deaths are not easy to leverage into panic.
Yes. And to treat this in reverse order: First, there are and have been since 9/11 far more people killed by "ordinary causes" like traffick accidents or "gun-related deaths" than by terrorists. Second, if the number of killed by various causes is relevant - and it clearly is - they should be compared, and if this is done, terrorism is, in the West at least, a very minor killer (compared to deaths by
traffick accidents, say).

And third, the promises governments make of keeping us "safe" are all baloney: In Holland for example - where I calculated it in 2005, a bit over 10 years ago - there is 1 soldier per 660 citizens that the soldier - and I counted everyone, including generals, colonels etc. - is supposed to protect.

That is clearly completely impossible (and also if it were 1 in a 100): The "safety" governments love to talk about is not the citizens' safety, but only their own safety: The armies can protect their governments, they cannot protect their citizens, except incidentally, by accident and rarely.

The promise of "safety from terrorism" is therefore baloney, plain and simple.

Then there is this:
Yesterday’s frightful tigerish threat was communists: in the 1950s, one lurked in every shrub, ran the message. Today, it’s terrorists. To protect us from these, all sorts of precautions must, we are told, be taken. Nor is this view without merit: such threats are real, up to a point. Nonetheless we find ourselves asking whether the extreme remedies outweigh the disease.
I selected this in part because my parents and grandparents were communists or anarchists (both of my parents were communists for over 40 years):

There were in the fifties not more than 10.000 members of the Dutch communist party, all told, which meant that at most 1 in a 1000 Dutchmen were members of the Communist Party. I do not know how typical my parents were (they were more intelligent than most, but they also were faithful communists), but they were not dangerous to the government, and my guess is that the same holds for nearly all members, and not because they might not have wanted to be, but simply because they belonged to a very small minority without any effective power.

As to the rest of the paragraph: The precautions that are supposed to be necessary to protect us cannot protect ordinary people. They are also not meant
to be: They are meant to extend the powers of the government, and have done
so very much.

Here is Margaret Atwood's opinion on the real sacrifice of many of the freedoms we did have:
And is that sacrifice an effective defence? Minus our freedom, we may find ourselves no safer; indeed we may be double-plus unfree, having handed the keys to those who promised to be our defenders but who have become, perforce, our jailers.
I agree - and since I have been writing about this for over ten years now I can only conclude that was the point of all the baloney about terrorism: Far fewer freedoms for ordinary citizens; far more power for the few in givernment. And no: the extended powers of the various goverments will not serve the citizens; it only serves the goverments.

Here is Margaret Atwood on the causes why so many consented that their freedoms were taken from them:
With so many so willing to die in its name, why have citizens in many western countries been willing to surrender their hard-won freedoms with barely more than a squeak? Usually it’s fear.
Yes and no: It is not so much fear as stupidity and ignorance, joined to a lack of individual courage. The fear is indeed a good part of the motive, but the motive would not exist as it does now if people were considerably more intelligent and more informed.

Here is Margaret Atwood's version of Lord Acton on power:
If there’s one thing we ought to know by now, it’s that absolutist systems with no accountability and no checks and balances generate monstrous abuses of power. That seems to be an infallible rule.
Yes, indeed. And I also agree to the ever increasing lack of "accountability and no checks and balances".

Finally, there is this:
Our problem is that our western governments, increasingly, are an unpleasant combination of both the Log King and the Stork King. They’re good at asserting their own freedom to spy and control, though bad at allowing their citizens as much freedom as they formerly enjoyed. Good at devising spy laws, bad at protecting us from the consequences of them, including false positives.
I think it is worse than stated: Both badnesses are simply the reverse side of the grab for power by Western governments, for by enormously increasing the governments' freedom to spy, they thereby denied their citizens many freedoms they had, and by devising new spy laws, they thereby affirmed the bad consequences for their ordinary citizens (the vast majority of whom are not terrorists in any sense).

But yes, the citizens in Western democracies these days are doubleplus unfree,
simply because most of the rights they had until 9/11 have been taken from them, basically - so the story goes - because they might be terrorists.

2. Fools, Fascists and Cold Warriors: Take Your Pick

The next article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig:

  • Fools, Fascists and Cold Warriors: Take Your Pick

This starts as follows:

Are they fools or fascists? Probably the former, but there was a disturbing cast to the second GOP debate, a vituperative jingoism reminiscent of the xenophobia that periodically scars Western capitalist societies in moments of disarray.

While the entire world is riveted by the sight of millions of refugees in terrifying exodus attempting to save drowning and starving children, we were treated to the darkly peculiar spectacle of scorn for the children of undocumented immigrants and celebration of the sanctity of the unborn fetus.

Marching to the beat of that mad drummer Donald Trump, the GOP candidates have taken to scapegoating undocumented immigrants, in particular the young, blaming them for all that ails us. Most of the GOP contenders appeared as a shrill echo of the neo-fascist European movements of late, adopting the traditional tactic of blaming the most vulnerable for economic problems the most powerful have caused. 

Forget the collateralized debt obligations and other Wall Street scams that continue to cripple the world economy—as the Federal Reserve Bank noted Thursday in postponing a threatened increase in interest rates—or the massive shipment of jobs abroad by leading companies like GE. Instead, blame the folks who cook your food, raise your kids and pick the grapes from the vineyards for all that has gone wrong.
This is the beginning of Robert Scheer's article. I agree on his diagnosis of the GOP debate between their presidential candidates: It was mostly a "darkly peculiar spectacle of scorn for the children of undocumented immigrants".

I want to consider one question, and want to avoid both "fools" and "fascists": Are these Republican candidates stupid or were they lying? My answer: While I
do not have any respect for the intelligence and knowledge of any of their candidates, they are not stupid. Therefore, they were lying.

Finally, as to fascism: Is the GOP fascistic or are any of the presidential candidates on offer fascists?

Surely, the GOP is a rightwing party now - but I can't answer the question for three reasons, mostly: (i) the real programs of the candidates are quite unclear; (ii) if there are any with fascist ideas, they certainly will not publicly say so; and (iii) most or all candidates will strongly object to the term "fascist", for
themselves, their party, or their programs, probably mostly sincerely as well.

So I'll stick for the moment to: The GOP and its candidates are rightwing.

3. When Is Assassination Not Assassination? When the Government Says So 

The next article is by Nick Turse on The Intercept:
  • When Is Assassination Not Assassination? When the Government Says So

This is about terminology, and specifically the presently quite popular term  "targeted killing" for  "intentional assassination" or "intentional murder":

Today, the preferred line for assassination is “targeted killing,” as in Greg Miller’s recent Washington Post exposé revealing that CIA and special operations forces have launched “a secret campaign to hunt terrorism suspects in Syria as part of a targeted killing program.”

How — or if — killing a human with a remote-controlled flying robot differs from, say, a Green Beret killing a rogue colonel, has been discussed and debated for years now. “If it’s premeditated assassination, why call it a ‘targeted killing?’” wrote Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’ public editor, in 2013, channeling some of the complaints she received from readers.

The question is quite justified, but the answer is plain: "targeted killings" sounds considerably less unpleasant than "intentional assassination". Indeed, Scott Shane agrees:

Scott Shane, a Times national security reporter, had a ready answer: The Obama administration decreed it. He explained that since assassination is banned by executive order, using the term would indicate the administration is deliberately violating the ban. “This administration, like others, just doesn’t think the executive order applies,” he wrote to Sullivan. He crossed off the term “murder” for similar reasons. “This leaves ‘targeted killing,’ which I think is far from a euphemism,” Shane continued. “It denotes exactly what’s happening: American drone operators aim at people on the ground and fire missiles at them. I think it’s a pretty good term for what’s happening, if a bit clinical.”

Well... yes and no: Yes, Obama's government acts as if executive orders against assassinations do not apply to the government, and therefore much rather speaks of the murders they commit as "targeted killings" rather than as "intentional assassinations", indeed because the former term is much more "clinical".

But "targeted killing" is a euphemism, especially given the executive order that extra-judicial assassinations or murders are forbidden, were it only because you can apply "targeted killings" to insects that eat your crop, but you would very probably not use "intentional assassination" for the attempt to save your crop.

Words do matter, and the Obama government knows this as well, and that is why
they much favor euphemisms for their own actions.

4. Government Argues: If Your Mobile Phone Provider Knows Where You Are, Why Shouldn’t We?

The next article is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

  • Government Argues: If Your Mobile Phone Provider Knows Where You Are, Why Shouldn’t We?

This starts as follows:

In one of the stronger defenses of Fourth Amendment rights in the digital age, a federal appellate court panel in August ruled 2 to 1 that law enforcement officials can’t request cell phone location records without a warrant.

The government is now asking the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule the panel’s earlier decision, arguing that by choosing to connect to a mobile network, users lose any reasonable expectation that their location is private.

Quoting the dissenting judge, the government wrote that the panel’s decision “flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s well-established third-party doctrine.”

The third-party doctrine is a legal theory that asserts that users voluntarily give up information like location data by subscribing to public services like communications providers, and thus have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” when it comes to that information.

To start with, "the Supreme Court’s well-established third-party doctrine"
(1) dates back to the 1970ies and (2) applied to "checks and deposit slips"
and "a device that
records the numbers of outgoing phone calls" both of
which are completely different from listening in to each and any phone converation an American may make - which means the government is intentionally lying so as to extend its powers over its citizens. (And yes, I am aware the court case is about locations, but I am also aware that - to the best of my considerable knowledge - the government in fact copies every phone call any American makes, when using a cell phone.)

Second, the government is also intentionally lying when it says "
that by choosing to connect to a mobile network, users lose any reasonable expectation that their location is private".

On the contrary: They have the reasonable expectation that their private mails and phone calls are and remain private, because that is what the laws say.

If this argment were valid, the government could (and should!) have said a hundred or more years ago that the handing of your paper mail to the postoffice amounted to losing "
any reasonable expectation" that your post would not be steamed open and read, simply because that can be done.

5. Brazil bans corporations from political donations amid corruption scandal

The next article is by Bruce Douglas on The Guardian:
  • Brazil bans corporations from political donations amid corruption scandal

This starts as follows:

Amid a massive corruption scandal which has tarnished Brazil’s political class and driven the country’s president to the brink of impeachment, the Brazilian supreme court has banned corporate donations to candidates and parties in future elections.

With eight votes in favour and three against, the court declared late on Thursday that the rules allowing companies to donate to election campaigns were unconstitutional.

I say - and I completely agree with the majority of Brazil's supreme court.
That is also quite important financially, as can be seen from this:

Around 76% of the over R$3bn ($760m) donated during last year’s election campaigns for the presidency, senate and congress came from corporate entities. Both the ruling leftwing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and the main opposition Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) received over R$1bn each.

In US dollars that is considerably less: about $250 million dollars, but that also is a lot of money - and it is a good investment, for they are rewarded with a lot more by the politicians who receive the millions:

Rosa Weber, one of the judges who ruled in favour of the ban, argued that undue economic influence comprised the legitimacy of the country’s elections.

“The influence of economic power has ended up transforming the electoral process into a rigged political game, a despicable pantomime which makes the voter a puppet, simultaneously undermining citizenship, democracy and popular sovereignty.”

According to “The Spoils of Victory”, a US academic study into campaign donations and government contracts in Brazil, corporate donors to the PT in the 2006 elections received between 14 to 39 times the value of their donations in government contracts.

I say - which means that investing in corrupt politicians is one of the most profitable things a corporation may do: You invest 250 million US dollars and
you receive a value of 1 to 3 billion dollar in contracts!

There is also this bit of information on international practices with regard to this
kind of massive and profitable corruption:

According to a study of 180 countries by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (Idea), 39 ban corporate donations, including Mexico, France and Costa Rica; 126 allow them with certain limitations, including the UK, Germany and Argentina.
I am completely against corporate investments in politicians (for that is what
they are), and therefore am quite disappointed to see that in fact only 39 out
of 180 countries - less than 1 in 4 - forbid this.

6. Fitbits for Bosses: The Future of Workplace Surveillance

The final article today is by Roisin Davies on Truthdig:
  • Fitbits for Bosses: The Future of Workplace Surveillance
This starts as follows:

If the thought of hidden cameras in the office and employee activity-monitoring software weren’t dystopian enough, digital Big Brother is now expanding into the world of workplace biosurveillance.

As a recent article in The Guardian explained, the workplace of the near future looks increasingly Orwellian, with the use of devices that monitor employee’s sleep, driving, face-to-face interactions, and even happiness.

I say. For me, that is plain evil: Your employer does not have the right
to survey everything they can about you, and if they do they are acting like
the Stasi or the Gestapo, and transgress their rights by enormous amounts.

Then again, it doesn't amaze me very much, since I know for more than 45 years now that most people are mostly totalitarian. Here is part of my explanation:

One important reason that so many ideologies and faiths take a totalitarian form is probably the social nature of human beings, that makes it natural to maintain the pecking order of a group - who is entitled to what in the group - by correcting, repressing or casting out any member of the group that deviates from the average of the group (unless already a leader). This usually is claimed to happen "in the interest" of the deviating or different individual, and is called scapegoating (at least when goats give in to the same beastly impulse).

Totalitairian ideas and values are very widespread, and usually take the following general form in practice, if not as clearly outspoken:

Our Belief is the Only True Belief and Our Believers are the Only Good People, and everyone who does not believe, or do, or feel, or look like Us is inferior (sinful, bad, damned, bound for hell, fit for a concentration camp, and in any case not a proper well- thinking, decently feeling, morally behaving follower of Our True Belief, and hence certainly not comme il faut).

Next - returning to the article - there is this, that is presented as a fantasy:
Imagine you’ve just arrived at your job with the Anywhere Bank call center. You switch on your computer and adjust the height of your chair. Then, you slide on the headset, positioning the mic in front of your lips. All that’s left to do is to activate your behavior-monitoring device — the gadget hanging from your neck that tracks your tone of voice, your heart rate and your physical movements throughout the day, sending real-time reports to your supervisor.
But this is happening already. There is also this:

Sensitive to Big Brother accusations, the biosurveillance industry is trying to keep testing and tool evaluations under the radar. Proponents of the technology point to its potential to improve health conditions in the workplace and enhance public safety. Wouldn’t it be better, they argue, if nuclear power plant operators, airline pilots and oil rig operatives had their physical state closely monitored on the job?

Wouldn't it be far better if corporative executives were decent democratic honest persons who rejected the possibilities of watching everyone 24 hours a day? But yes, I agree they often are not, and love all the power they can get, also if those
powers are of very doubtful legality.

And there is this:

Young Americans nurtured in a digital world where their behavior is relentlessly collected and monitored by advertisers may shrug at an employer’s demands for a biosurveillance badge. In a world of insecure employment, what choice do they have, anyway?
Well, they could refuse, but I agree that the choice between not getting a job and getting a job were you are constantly surveilled by your superiors is difficult.


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