Sep 202020
 

No, I’m not done yet. And the extradition hearing isn’t over. Its outcome is crucial not only for Assange, but for us all.

For many people, the Trump period has been a watershed, a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event. For others, the turning point came much earlier, with Wikileaks, which is why the US authorities hate Assange so vehemently. Moreover, many honest US American citizens have clung at length to the hope that the Iraq war and Bush had merely been aberrations, so defence of Julian Asange has therefore not been deafening in the USA, a country where brave men and women are willing to risk their lives in the great “Black Lives Matter” battle, and where many firefighters are loosing their lives in the fight against climate devastation. There is no lack of bravery in the USA, just a lack of information. Julian Assange attempted to provide some of the missing information. He was not thanked.

Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers in 1971 were also a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event from which we have unfortunately not learned enough. I recommend listening to Daniel Ellsberg’s explaining why he is a witness for the defence of Julian Assange. What he says applies specifically to the prosecution’s hypocritical charges that Assange put people’s lives at risk with Cablegate.

European authorities, fearing US backlashes, appear to be discouraging the media from highlighting the ignoble (i.e. illegal ) conditions of Julian Asange’s lengthy captivity and the parody of the legal proceedings against him. In any civilised court, illegally obtained evidence would not be acccepted. Not so, in this case, it seems; see example of illegal surveillance of Julian Assange.

I have just discovered, that there is a small newspaper in my own small country, that has been granted access to the preposterous extradition hearing and is diligently covering it. I expect it has been granted access because it is not widely read.

Saturday’s issue includes an article about a US torture victim who had just witnessed for Assange. If I have understood correctly – after all, I wasn’t there – the US tried and eventually succeeded in blocking the witness’s appearance. In the end, however, his written statement was read to the court. The witness stated that diplomatic notes among Wikileaks’s “Cablegate” were instrumental as evidence in his own legal battle for justice (in Europe, that is, not in the USA).

Since I’m sure you may be as ignorant as I was about the legal battle in question, I would like to direct your attention to the Wikipedia article that covers it. However, since there is a risk that the article will be tampered with in the wake of the Assange hearing, I think I had better just paste a quote from Wikipedia as at 20/09/2020 (without the reference numbers).

Khaled El-Masri … ,[born] 1963, is a German and Lebanese citizen who was mistakenly abducted by the Macedonian police in 2003, and handed over to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While in CIA custody, he was flown to Afghanistan, where he was held at a black site and routinely interrogated, beaten, strip-searched, sodomized, and subjected to other cruel forms of inhumane and degrading treatment and torture. After El-Masri held hunger strikes, and was detained for four months in the “Salt Pit”, the CIA finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake and released him. He is believed to be among an estimated 3,000 detainees whom the CIA abducted from 2001–2005.

In May 2004, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Daniel R. Coats, convinced the German interior minister, Otto Schily, not to press charges or to reveal the program. El-Masri filed suit against the CIA for his arrest, extraordinary rendition and torture. In 2006, his suit El Masri v. Tenet, in which he was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was dismissed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, based on the U.S. government’s claiming the state secrets privilege. The ACLU said the Bush administration attempted to shield its abuses by invoking this privilege. The case was also dismissed by the Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit, and in December 2007, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

On 13 December 2012, El-Masri won an Article 34 case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The court determined he had been tortured while held by CIA agents and ruled that Macedonia was responsible for abusing him while in the country, and knowingly transferring him to the CIA when torture was a possibility. It awarded him compensation. This marked the first time that CIA activities against detainees was legally declared as torture. The European Court condemned nations for collaborating with the United States in these secret programs.

The Julian Assange case (not to mention the El Masri case before him) is critical for all Europeans, not to mention US nationals. It is a demonstration of the bullying our governments submit to from the USA. Our European governments are accessories to US government-sponsored outrageous acts of every conceivable flavour. The extradition case is also an example of how due process is being eroded in the UK.

Sep 182020
 

In country after country, critical press coverage is becoming risky. Very risky. It has always been risky in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, China… If Julian Assange, an Australian national living in Europe, is extradited to the US, freedom of the press will have become a figment of the imagination also in Western Europe and the USA. I use the cliché to indicate that many of us will not even know that we no longer enjoy freedom of the press, if indeed we ever really did.

In my country, the national broadcasting company now basically tells us what our government wants it to, which is mostly just to observe social distancing, to distrust the Russians and hate the Chinese, and to have fun.

Still, as far as I know, progressive or environmentalist media outlets are not being hobbled here. Not yet. But they don’t have the economic clout to send reporters all over the world to pick up and analyse news outside our borders, to challenge mainstream press and to expose financial and political overlords.

There is one news outlet that has the necessary clout and dedication to do just that: Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is no more progressive or environmentalist than your Aunt Julia, but it has a freer rein than most other news outlets and its reporters are extremely competent.

Obviously, a much respected and fearless outlet will have many enemies. I would like to direct your attention to a post on this site written back in June 2017: The Rat is out of the Hole. (A related post, also written in June 2017, discusses the disconcerting relationship between the Trump administration and the Arabian peninsula. ) You will particularly notice the UAE statement (as quoted by the Guardian):

We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech.

Beautiful, that, no? If all autocrats could be as frank, we’d be spared a lot of claptrap.

Now the UAE has finally succeeded in partially hobbling Al Jazeera. From CNN’s rendition of the matter, you will see that US authorities are not very fond of Al Jazeera, which according to a letter from the Justice Department obtained by CNN aims “to influence audience attitudes with its reporting” with, CNN adds, “policies such as calling the Israeli Defense Forces the Israeli army instead of the IDF and not using the words terrorist or terrorism.”)

Meanwhile my own country’s national broadcasting company has not yet mentioned the bridle put on Al Jazeera. Nor does it appear to care much about the outcome of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London.

However, I find in El Pais a letter to that paper’s readers dated 3 March 2020 from no lesser a personage than the famous judge Baltasar Garzón, who humbled Dictator Pinochet and who directed the world’s attention to the shameful post-dictatorial silence (about mass graves, stolen babies etc.) in Spain. The title of the letter: Assange, la prensa en peligro. If you understand Spanish, read it! If you don’t understand Spanish, learn the language.

Sep 062020
 

My dog’s health is declining. I won’t go into detail, but the latest development is that she has started to limp, on alternating paws. One of these days, I shall have to take her to the vet’s for the final solution. She has had 12 good years and will have a painless death. I will be heartbroken.

Not everybody dies painlessly. People in concentration camps, for instance… In Finland there was a terrible civil war in 1918. All I knew about it, until I read Kjell Westö’s novel The Wednesday Club, was that the “Whites” beat the “Reds” and saved the country (for the Germans, except that the Germans lost everything after WWI). Frankly, my ignorance was more due to lack of interest than to anything else. I mean, who cares about Finland? (Until I read the Wednesday Club, that is.)

But before I continue about the Wednesday Club, I would like to draw your attention once again to Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Don’t read about the book, just go get it. I mean, what are pandemics for if not for enlightenment?

In Finland, after the 1918 civil war, there appear to have been concentration camps in which thousands of people died, not from wounds but from maltreatment.

Kjell Westö’s novel is not about the concentration camps as such, but about how the winners of the war told their story. He describes the crippling shame felt, still in 1938, by women who had been raped in concentration camps in 1919. The author seems to be suggesting that since, in 1938, Finnish society had not yet started to understand what crimes had been committed by the winners in 1918, they were already busy excusing Nazi crimes, endorsing fascism and overlooking the ghastly moral consequences of easy fixes. I find the narrative very compelling, because I recognise it. I recognise the pattern.

My personal history links me to South America and to Palestine, where so much injustice has been inflicted and endured that I am almost in favour of endorsing euthanasia for entire populations to spare the victims more misery. After all, to quote Jane Fonda, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Your personal history might link you to Algeria or Egypt; or Iran; or India. At the moment, everything seems to indicate that in Russia, murdering Putin’s political opponents is just a cup of tea. Navalnyj, whatever else he might be, is nothing if not astoundingly brave, a hero and a martyr. In the West, we also have martyrs, Julian Assange, for instance.

But what about the rest of us? How did our governments react to Operation Condor and the vicious and systematic slaughter of anyone vaguely “leftist” in most of Latin America (not least in Central America). How did we react here, for that matter, to the emergence of Nazi Germany in the 1930-s and the pogroms and subsequent extermination of Jews? How did our governments react to the Vietnam war? In retrospect, have Bush Jr. or Tony Blair or José Aznar expressed any shame about the war on Iraq and its aftermath? On the contrary, it would seem that the US and the UK are hell-bent on preventing crimes committed by the state from being exposed, cf. the Julian Assange case, which in reality is about defence of a free press. I quote the N.Y. Times:

From the start, the charges against Mr. Assange have raised profound First Amendment issues because his actions are difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in American law for such activity to result in criminal convictions, so press freedom advocates have denounced the charges against him and have been watching the case closely.

The winner is always the one to tell the story. But even after a winner has had to leave the scene, he or she will rarely express shame. Shame is felt primarily by a perpretrator’s victims, who have often had to do things they, the victims, feel are indefensible.

The Latin American dictators and their henchmen (and their far from innocent wives) have shown no regret, no shame when questioned by the press or by judges. Not a jot of it. On the other hand, those who survived torture and many years’ imprisonment …, well, you can imagine.

On this cheerful note, I can recommend a whole stack of very good novels. Tonight I particularly wish to direct your attention to José Saramago. Any of his novels will probably astound you. I love his elegant irony and humour, as well as his penetrating insight. I believe the man must have been extraordinarily intelligent. His most important work may have been Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira). I would also recommend, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, the somewhat more cheerful follow-up Seeing (Ensaio sobre a Lucidez). If you cannot read them in Portuguese, read them in Spanish, if you can, because most of them were beautifully translated by his Spanish wife.

Aug 242020
 

You know the feeling, I’m sure, of walking as fast as you can without making any headway at all; you will have done it in dreams – nightmares, perhaps.

That is what it must feel like to be a climate activist. The facts and figures are all there, out in the open for all to see, yet all we talk about now is Covid. Even before Covid, all the media was concerned about was growth and the GDP – as if GDP reflected the welfare of a country.

Remember who owns the media? On issues in which owners have a major financial stake, the media cannot be trusted. Such issues include, you will remember, the sale and smoking of tobacco, arms trade, gun control, oil extraction and trade, national health insurance, unethical practices on the part of the pharmaceutical industry… and climate change. If a major industrial or financial player is aversely affected by media coverage, it will retaliate powerfully, as sure as winter used to follow summer.

Anyway, if you really want to concentrate on viruses, we can now worry about more than Covid. In the province of Seville, for instance, they are now grappling with West Nile Virus, with 32 patients hospitalised so far, one or two already dead.

I just read a piece in the Guardian about Extinction Rebellion (XR) a movement I never took very seriously because the media here portrayed it as extremist; the media would do just that of course (remember who owns the media?). Yes, XR did indeed advocate civil disobedience (peaceful civil disobedience, that is), but I understand now that it had every reason to do so, and rather than explain that, I refer to the article in the Guardian.

It seems, still according to the Guardian, that XR has been weakened and splintered by internal discord on tactical matters, but I suspect and hope they’ll get up on their feet again, and I urge you to listen to a “talk” given in 2019 by one of the XR founders.

We’ve assumed that at some point, sooner or later, when the planet has been battered by yet another hurricane or flood or hellish conflagration, such as the ones we saw recently in Australia, our politicians and their voters would finally come out of their denialist torpor, and say “This has got to stop.” But no, now California is burning, and all our politicians and their voters can manage is an exasperated sigh: “California is burning again.” The keyword here is: again.

Yep, we’ve gotten used to it. We have hurricanes, and floods and conflagrations again and again and again. We’re already expecting more pandemics and are, in short, sliding down an increasingly slippery, increasingly steep slope. Dazed and in a dream-like condition, we bravely and stupidly adapt to the acceleration.

We used to have to deal with outright denialism: the dreamer believes that human activities have little or no part in climate change. Now we have to contend with oblique denialism: the dreamer is a techno-optimist and believes that technology will stop the downward slide.

As a rule, I’m not in favour of civil disobedience in Democratic countries. I prefer using the instruments embedded in the “social contract” (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique) that underlie Democratic government. However, it has become eminently clear that our governments are failing us in one issue after another.

Whereas major industrial and financial players may have practically unlimited power, whereas they may own 10% of the all the planet’s wealth, we, the rest of us, are the vast majority. Our lives and futures are at stake. I put to you that our lives and futures are vastly more important and valuable than all the shares and financial assets in the world.

We are the majority stakeholders; we just don’t know that, yet, thanks to the media (remember who owns the media).

Jul 252020
 

When President Kennedy died, I was just a kid, living in, of all places, the United States of America. Yes, of course I remember when our teacher came in and announced what had happened. Of course; although I remember little else from that period of my life. I also remember how proud I was when Bobby Kennedy later shook my small hand among the millions of other anonymous hands when he was campaigning.

I also remember how pained I was ten-fifteen years later when I was told in various ways and by various people that Kennedy was not the hero I thought he was. He had much to answer for about Vietnam and about sins committed against humanity in the name of anti-Communism.

The purpose of this post is not to throw stones at JFK and his brother Bobby. They were men of their space-time and, not least, products of their social class. There is no way you can become president of the USA unless you embrace extremely unsavoury views, and we like to believe that the president’s also having embraced drugs and certain off-bounds women were reactions to unpalatable decisions he was forced to make.

No, my message here is not to bring down or even undress statues. It is to undress us, who prostrate ourselves, adoring our icons uncritically, refusing to even see any inexcusable acts underwritten by the persons or ideologies the icons represent.

You don’t thank the bearer of tidings when he tells you your husband, son or father has ordered a massacre. You don’t feel relieved of a lifelong burden of lies; you cling all the more to those very lies as though your life depended on them. You do so, to begin with, by not feeling, period. You refuse to feel, and after that, you simply deny, even in the face of clear evidence. That is what we all do. I do it, my neighbour does it and you, who are reading this, probably do it too.

Even now, knowing better, JFK is one of my heroes. Even now, knowing better, yours might be the Democratic Party, which has let at least 60% of the US population down. Or your hero might be Putin or Mao or Castro or Chavez or Che, all very fallible men. Most men are, in fact, fallible. I’m absolutely sure that even my favourite guru for the moment, Thomas Piketty, must be fallible.

Even women are fallible, and I’m not referring to Ocasio Cortez. She hit my country’s headlines today, not for defending equal rights to health care and education, but for delivering a “lesson in decency“. I’m sure Ocasio Cortez’s verbal lunge at the Tea Party member was more than well served and well deserved. Frankly, I would probably have used much more offensive language to address the fascistoid m__ f__r, and I’m certainly not going to undress Ocasio Cortez! I only wish to point out that the only reason she was in my country’s news today was because she disliked being referred to as a “bitch”. In other words, what was being applauded by my country was her feminism, not her defence of human rights for women and men. Frankly, I’m embarrassed. Yet, I go on believing in the justice, the goodness and the wisdom of my country. In short, I put to you that we are all a bit blind.

I cannot recomend enough the allegorical novel by José Saramago Blindness ( Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness). It was written in 1995, but is more relevant now than ever.

26 July: I need to add a postscript. The European so-called Istambul Convention prohibits violence against women and domestic violence in no uncertain terms. Poland and Turkey are threatening to withdraw their adherence to it. FIE!

Jul 222020
 

No matter where you turn for information and guidance, these days, at least in my country, journalists and commentators are sure to raise their arms as a sign, not of innocence but of ignorance. “I don’t know,” they say, “I have no idea what will happen,” they say.

Obviously, they would never declare such ignorance unless they had reason to. Indeed, the bases for prognoses have cracked, not to say crumbled, just in the course of the last few months.

Many people, perhaps most, blame President Trump, who has undoubtedly eroded the rules of international law and who should long since have been put behind bars for tax evasion, among other things. But Trump didn’t invent the system, the winner-takes-all scheme of things. And he was of course compounded by Covid.

No government can be blamed for creating this particular natural disaster. However, some governments can be blamed for poor disaster management. and most can be blamed for not foreseeing that we would sooner or later be faced with a pandemic. Most can also already be blamed for not understanding that business as usual cannot and will not carry on in its wake.

In its recent deliberations about rescue measures, the EU undoubtedly had “social cohesion” in mind. Social cohesion is what was witnessed in the UK during WWII, a we’re-all-in-this-together attitude.

What you see in the below photo from Santiago de Chile is not social cohesion. It is a threat.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%932020_Chilean_protests

As you will understand if you look at the wonderful photos here, social cohesion in Chile has de facto come to an end. And that was before the pandemic! Because the so-called “Chilean oasis”, the neo-liberal success story, always was a deliberate travesty, a cynical fabrication.

Imagine, then, how anger and a long-simmering sense of injustice will play out after Covid. And what about Brazil? Yesterday saw 718 new deaths in Brazil. Yes, that was in just one day. You know, don’t you, that those 718 no-longer-existing individuals in Brazil did not belong to the jet set.

Unless the powers-that-be realise now, immediately, that major changes have to be made – and I mean major – that people will demand their fair share of equal opportunities, equal access to health care, education and sustained natural resources, Western civilisation will come to an end.

At any rate, social cohesion ends when you send in the National Guard, when you beat up or even kill protesters, hoodwinking them into believing that the manhandling they are subjected to is merely the wrath of God. Remember Syria? Autocrats of the world: You are not, I repeat, NOT God. Look to Syria: It is now a failed state.

If Western civilisation does come to an end, don’t snigger, Mr Putin. Your turn to be knocked off the pedestal will come.

In the mean time, I urge you to read the UN Secretary General’s appeal to us all, because all of us are part of this game. To quote the Secretary General:

We are sometimes told a rising tide of economic growth lifts all boats.
But in reality, rising inequality sinks all boats.”

Antonio Guterres

Jun 032020
 

It’s not about Trump, you know, or at least I hope you know. In 2015, US police officers killed at least 104 unarmed black people. Out of all the unarmed people killed by the police that year, 36% were black, although black people made up only 13% of the US population. Trump was not yet president in 2015.

No, it’s not about Trump. It’s about ingrained institutional injustice. Take a look at the trial in 1978 of Debbie Sims Africa and her companions from “Move”, a trial so farcical that even a child would have have done better.

Or the 1985 aerial bombing of a neighbourhood in Philadelphia, when 11 people were killed, five of them children.

It’s about the unofficial yet – alas, ingrained – idea that not all people are people. It’s also about the unofficial, deep-seated, subconscious conviction that other people have to follow the rules, not me. Boris Johnson’s pet aide Dominique Cummings did not have to comply with Covid-19 rules. The British population has been up in arms about his driving a few miles to his family’s country estate while the rest of them were enduring lockdown. You’d think that was a fairly innocuous breach of rules, but no, the British were stung at the injustice.

In 99% of the killings committed by police officers in the US from 2013 to 2019, nobody has been prosecuted.

Killings committed by police officers from 2013 to 2019 (source):

  • 2013: 1782
  • 2014: 1714
  • 2115: 1607
  • 2116: 1595
  • 2117: 1767
  • 2018: 1848
  • 2019: 1795

I repeat: 99% of those killings have not been prosecuted and there have been massive and often violent protests again and again when the powers-that-be decided not to charge the killers. Evidently, rule of law does not apply when police officers kill. And rule of law certainly doesn’t protect non-whites. This has been an issue for decades. No wonder the Chinese and Iranians are laughing.

Forget Trump; in the first place, he never pretended to care about civil rights or justice. He doesn’t even know the meaning of the concepts. Ask instead: What has the Democratic Party done to rectify the racial imbalance?

Now you might not like the Black Panther movement or Move. So? At least they were brave enough to stand up for basic human rights, which they maintained should also apply to non-whites. They had the gumption to raise a fist or two in defence of their communities and they were persecuted. On the other hand there are a lot of criminally irresponsible organisations, companies and world leaders out there who will never be subjected to anything near what ordinary non-white citizens in the US need deal with.

You probably do not approve of the devastation of entire neighbourhoods currently being carried out by irate protesters. But can you honestly blame them? What would you have done if you lived cooped up in an overcrowded, underprivileged Covid-infested neighbourhood constantly being ostracised by police officers? This article in the Los Angeles Times merely gives a faint outline of the lifelong stress to which the majority of non-white U.S. Americans are being subjected.

A more complete picture is provided by the Marshall Project. I quote Wikipedia as at 03.06.2020:

The Marshall Project is a nonprofit, online journalism organization focusing on issues related to criminal justice in the United States, founded by former hedge fund manager Neil Barsky and with former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller as its first editor-in-chief. Its website states that it aims to “create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.”

The Marshall Project provides interesting articles about police brutality in the US from various news outlets.

May 262020
 

Usually, when people get killed in this country, the killer is a puny character. In 2019, for instance, 75% of the killers were under the influence of some intoxicant and 56% of the victims were women. In general, killers in this country are absolute losers, sick of mind and pathetic, no matter how frightening they seem from the victim’s perspective. Moreover more than 95% of the cases end up being solved.

But we also have big-time criminals, people whose minds are no doubt warped, but not to the extent that they lose control. They don’t kill, at least not here; they merely “traffic” and use minions to do the dirty work of handling the victims. The minions get caught, of course, but not the big-timers.

On 31 October 2018, the wife of one this country’s richest men vanished from their shared home. The entire country held it’s breath: We are not accustomed to high-profile disappearances around here.

At first, the case appeared to be one of kidnapping. Apparently a note had been left in the home from which the victim disappeared. The letter demanded a hefty ransom to be paid in an obscure crypto currency. Apparently the husband did try to pay, but the currency was quite simply too obscure. The kidnappers were not heard from again until nearly a year later, when they apparently made contact. The drama was of course played out in detail in the media, mainly by the aggrieved husband’s high-profile lawyer.

A few weeks ago, the police held a press conference to inform the public that they had arrested the husband on charges of murder and with the intention of locking him away for four weeks, so that they could carry out an in-depth search of his home, second home and company. They explained that they had long since reached the conclusion that the kidnapping never occurred and that it had merely been a performance staged for their (the police’s) benefit.

Meanwhile, the rest of the audience, the general public – myself included – was gaping at the spectacle. The very idea of that very rich man sitting behind bars was absolutely extraordinary. Naturally, it did not last. After a couple of days, his very high-profile lawyer had got him out of jail and the case seems to have reached a dead end.

To make a long story short, the police are convinced of his guilt. They are certain the woman has been killed by him or at his orders. There is only one small problem: No body. Moreover, there is insufficient evidence to exclude all reasonable doubt.

Point being: If you are rich and powerful enough, you can get away with murder, any number of them, in fact.

May 222020
 

Maybe you don’t care whether or not your movements on the Internet are being watched because you’re “not doing anything wrong”. If so, I won’t pick a quarrel with you. After all, why should you draw your curtains at night? Haven’t they seen a naked man/woman before?

Or maybe you will agree that the idea of being watched while sitting on the toilet is disagreeable, but if that is what it takes to put a few drug dealers behind bars, it’s an idea you can live with, even though you realise that if there’s one thing drug barons can do better than just about anybody else except other big-time criminals, it’s to protect their privacy. After all, they can buy all the expertise they need.

So, no, I won’t argue with you. You will hear more than you can bear about privacy in months to come. Covid has unleashed an army of young talented developers who are now all clicking away at their keyboards to satisfy governments’ and industry’s vast demand for ways and means to monitor our actions and influence our attitudes. If that’s fine with you, I repeat, I won’t argue… except to remind you of one thing:

There are investigative journalists out there, sticking their necks out to dig up the dirt we need to know about so that we don’t go off and elect the likes of Trump and Bolsonaro again and again and again. There are tens of thousands of human rights activists and their lawyers and honest judges who risk being stuffed into jails without trials or killed for defending their co-citizens. These people’s privacy must be protected at all cost! How can we help? By defending our own privacy so that their defended privacy doesn’t stick out like a row of sore thumbs.

I’m so very far from being an expert in this field that I would urge you to leave this page at once to go and read somebody else’s advice. But I haven’t found any comprehensive self-help guidance to direct you to. The Privacy Rights Clearing House, for instance, provides very sound insight at the general level, but the bottom line there, as I understand it, is that we should all stay away from the Internet in any way, shape, or form.

True, you can find valuable practical snippets on sites like this one from Kaspersky, but bear in mind that here Kaspersky is also trying to sell us its own products.

So I will do my best to indicate how we can protect our privacy from various kinds of intrusion. Of course, if you run a business, you should probably invest in professional services not only to protect your data but also to minimise your vulnerability to malware.

Your device’s location gets shared

The good news is that your device’s GPS is not telling anybody where you are.

The bad news is that the apps that have access to your GPS might do just that. And commercial use is made of the information.

So you should disable location access for the apps on your phone, and you should disable location storage in your Google or Apple account. PCMag outlines how to do so.

You should consider whether you absolutely need to use Facebook, and if you really do, you ‘d better hone your privacy settings there. Kaspersky tells you how.

Websites you visit share more information about you

You prevent this if you use a VPN service.

Doing so not only hides your IP address; it encrypts the re-routing of your internet traffic. So whatever information the websites or ISPs have stored will be illegible to them.

There are many free VPN services, and even more websites that compare them. Take a look.

“Free” always comes at a cost:

  • You don’t want “speed throttling”.
  • You want a large data allowance.
  • You want to cover all the devices you use.
  • For normal privacy protection, you don’t need access to many countries.

So as not to excceed my data allowance, I try to remember to turn off VPN when video streaming (legally).

Another advantage of VPN is that it also protects you against hackers when you are away from home. But if you yourself are engaged in serious criminal activity, the web service can hand over your identity to law-enforcement.

Many repressive regimes consider political opposition “terrorism” and some unnamed countries penalise whistle blowing. If you are from or living in such a country you might opt for a VPN service in a country that is not likely to pander to, for instance, the Saudi or Israeli governments.

You do not need to use a VPN to block cookies and adverts. There are other ways of doing that. Some browsers do so and there are plugins or “extensions”, such as Ghostery.

Your browser

If you use VPN, your browser isn’t a big issue. But if you turn off VPN …

I would not use Chrome or Safari, and Opera has been sold to a Chinese group.

On Android devices I currently recommend Brave. For computers, consult e.g. Wired or Digital Trends. If you use Firefox, you should at least learn how to fine-tune the browser’s security and privacy settings.

Messaging

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and its main source of income is based on users’ contact lists. I put to you that Facebook’s track record is less than respectable. Signal is widely recommended. and is pretty impressive in terms of privacy.

Contacts, calendarsand email are our weekest point!

If you, like me, let Google or Apple manage your contacts and calendar, not to mention your email, you really have a problem. We have a problem. Or rather, our contacts have a problem. A lot of other apps on our phones will have access to the contacts, not least Facebook. Yes, Google and Apple enccrypt our email, but not end-to-end.

Oh dear, oh dear.

There is no way I am going to take my contacts and calendar back to a paper notebook. The blessing of having all my devices synchronised cannot be exaggerated. But what if I regularly meet with political refugees from, say, Saudi Arabia or with Russian political activists opposed to Putin… Yes, what then? If the Saudi or Russian authorities are seriously tracking them, my writing in my calendar that I’ll be having lunch with them at so and so time/place and their phone numbers in my contact list may endanger them.

How do I know what Google hands over to state prosecutors who may or may not be hounding people from minority groups and other disadvantaged areas?

What I need is an email service (and local client) that provides end-to-end encryption and that also stores and synchronises a contact list and a calendar.

I googled “privacy alternative to gmail and contacts” (without the quotes). You’d be surprised by the number of hits. Three of the top five, including two from VPN service providers (and they should know) all coincided pretty well in their conclusions. (NordVPN, RestorePrivacy and PureVPN).

As far as I can judge, only one of the email clients they recommend also provides a contact list and calendar: Tutanota. Now, I don’t much like the name, but I do like the look of it. The hitch is, of course, that all email sent from this email service gets encrypted. So you won’t want to use it to ask your dentist for an appointment. But you could use it to communicate with Saudi refugees and with good friends, not to mention if one of them is a married colleague with whom you are having an affair. You would, in other words, leave your dentist’s number on your visible contact list and move your shrink to your private list, using only Signal to communicate with him/her.

So this is as far as I get without using PGP, which many email clients do allow, but which is a little too cumbersome for most of us – and it still leaves us with an unprotected contact list and calender.

The last word has not yet been written, never will be. But for the moment, if you really make an effort, you can still communicate pretty safely online.

May 072020
 

If you read Thomas Piketty’s ground-breaking Capitalism and Ideology, you will see that a great deal remains to be done in the world, and I’m very much afraid that it will have to be done by you and me and our children and grandchildren. It will certainly not be done by any president or prime minister here, there or anywhere else. As Greta Thunberg has pointed out, our grandchildren will not thank us for the state of affairs we leave to them unless we do our D–dest to try to set things right.

The problem with Covid, to my mind, is not so much that it is a killer – locust swarms that destroy everything in their paths are also killers (by proxy), and you don’t hear much about them – it’s who it kills and why. Like other contagious diseases it primarily kills people in congested areas, particularly where sanitary conditions are unsatisfactory, people with scant access to health care and education, and people with short-sighted employers and governments. It will probably not kill people like me, who can work from home at a cottage in the wilds. I only come face to face with another human, separated from me by a glass screen, twice a week at checkout.

So the Covid issue is not really about Covid, it’s about all the underlying stuff, the stuff systematically kept in the shadows. The media makes sure that we mull over the prospects of suffering a terrible Covid death, that we sit still and thank the powers-that-be for whatever handout we get to replace the jobs many of us have lost or will loose. Not to rock the boat, that is the idea. No wonder a recent Guardian article sees fit to remind us that we are actually not all in the same boat.

You will see some of the issues lurking in the shadows behind Covid if you scroll down the entries of the Oxford-based “Our World in Data” . Pass quickly over the Covid stuff, and take a look at issues such as “Nutrition” (“22% of children younger than 5 are stunted”) or Maternal mortality.

Now “Our World in Data” is not a “leftist” site. It probably takes pains not to be, as failing to do so would mean less funding for the research underlying its data. Nevertheless, I was amazed to find that there were no figures about maternal mortality in the United States. “Now why would that be?” I wondered.

Unsurprisingly, this chart shows that the proportion of women who die in pregnancy, giving birth or within 42 days after giving birth has fallen drastically from 1991 to 2015. If you press the button “Add country”, you will see that Tunisia, for example, is doing nicely, but there is no data for the US. For Canada, yes, and for North America, yes. So the figures for the US are hiding behind Canadas? Interesting.

I turn to Wikipedia (as at 07.05.2020)

The US has shown to have the highest rate of pregnancy related deaths o/c maternal mortality amongst all the industrialized countries. The CDC first implemented the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System in 1986 and since then maternal mortality rates have increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. [Highlighting by Pelshval]

And here is a Vox article on the issue:

If you compare the CDC figure to other countries in the World Health Organization’s latest maternal mortality ranking, the US would rank 55th, just behind Russia.

What does Joe Biden propose to do about that? Blame Covid?

I apologise for harping so much on the United States, but it really does get on my nerves that a country that is NOT the great meritocratic, egalitarian and Democratic society it claims to be insists on calling the shots about just about everything, everywhere, all the time. It is high time we all, including in the US, start doing things differently. This is not “the best of all possible worlds” to quote Voltaire’s Pangloss (or Leibnitz, if you like, but I’ve never read Leibniz). For many people in the US, it is not even the best yet. And it will get worse for all of us, before it gets better.

Piketty proposes a whole array of alternatives. He does not tell us what to do. He just tells us that other ways are possible. Actually, the only course that is not open to us is the one we are on now. Before long, this road will simply close down.

Piketty also tells us why we are so blind to the existence of other options, which goes a long way, in my mind, to explain why many people, including myself, have said, “It’s no use… We can’t repair this mess… Hopeless… You can’t beat the financial system, market forces… ” But the Berlin wall did come down, didn’t it? We thought it never ever would, but it did.