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.

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 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.

Apr 292020
 

This is to remind you of the Amnesty International petition in defence of freedom of expression. I quote AI:

Julian Assange’s publication of disclosed documents as part of his work with Wikileaks should not be punishable as this activity mirrors conduct that investigative journalists undertake regularly in their professional capacity. Prosecuting Julian Assange on these charges could have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression, leading journalists to self-censor from fear of prosecution.

People from all countries are urged to sign here.

Oct 192019
 

When Edward Snowden crashed into the media in 2013, the impact created more than a hiccup in the state of affairs. Do you remember what you were doing at the time? I do, and I can still feel the chill of horror that descended on the room where my colleagues and I ate our daily lunch packs. Disbelief quickly subsided as we realised that the evidence behind his story was overwhelming and that the implications were infinite. Mulling over them together, we chewed our sandwiches in near-silence, interrupted only by the occasional question that inevitably could be parsed as: “So now what?”

Given the initial impact, you might have thought that the Snowden revelations would be paradigmatic, that the world would turn slightly on its hinges and readjust its course through the ethers. After all, we don’t want to live in a global dystopia – remember Brave New World – do we?

Thinking back, there have been several moments in my lifetime which might have jolted our world enough to change its course. The Vietnam war, for instance, outraged a whole generation and brought it out onto the streets in protest. But then again, that was only in the West. Elsewhere, they had other problems. In Iran, faith in Democracy had already died, with the CIA-engineered coup against Mosaddegh. In South America, they were just starting to hope a better world was possible, when a series of CIA-engineered coups brought down one would-be democracy after another. What I’m saying is: We should long since have lost our innocence.

Yet, we go on doing what we were doing, out of habit, perhaps, or because: what else can we do? We continue watching the evening news, continue repeating the same fictions to our children. In Brave New World, people are inherently incapable of calling the authorities to account. I take the liberty of quoting Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

So after a bit of agitated humming – “look out, the NSA is watching you” – we all got back to business as usual, enmeshed as we all were – even back in 2013 – in the Google and/or Apple and/or Microsoft and/or Facebook universes. After all, how on earth could we extricate ourselves?

Personally, I have managed to stay clear of Apple, Microsoft and Facebook by using a Linux OS. But in the end, I am literally begging to be monitored by using Android, hence also Google contacts. I mean, the alternative would cost me hours of note-taking on slips of paper.

Ashamed, I bury my head in the sand and think “what the heck, I’ll be dead sooner or later, anyway”.

Edward Snowden’s book Permanent Record landed on my desk a few days ago. Let me tell you, It got my head out of the sand double quick. Even the preface jolts you.

He writes well, very well, in fact, and his line of thought is compelling, so that I follow him attentively even into descriptions of childhood minutiae. His prose is eloquent and clean, unlike that of Whitehouse spokesmen (witness the Whitehouse rendering of the run-in between Trump and Pelosi). And he has taught me a new word: conflation. It’s an important term because it refers to one of the tools used to manipulate “facts”.

This particular story is about spies and surveillance. One of the story’s main questions is: What are they for? Are they for keeping terrorists at bay or are they for consolidating the supremacy of overdogs? If you read Permanent Record, you will see it’s not just about the USA. And if you read the news (from decent outlets), you will see that what most of us consider “rule of law” is applied in only a minority of countries (source: World Justice Project)

I put to you that every one of us, even those of us who live in countries with a high rule-of-law-score, would benefit from reading Edward Snowden’s book.

Jun 162019
 

Let me admit at once that my news source is not normally The Intercept. I prefer a rather more chatty paper, one that is not too angry, one that helps me feel that I am a member of society, not a besieged and defenceless island.

The problem is that most such papers need sponsors and sponsors tend to have money, and those who have money are usually not all that keen on promoting equitable distribution of wealth (with, say, progressive taxes, and free health care and university education), not to put too fine a point on it.

We hear about “the wealthy” in all sorts of contexts, not least in statements about “the top ten percent” versus the remaining 90 percent. We know statistically who they vote for, how much they spend on lobbying activities and what media outlets they own. We also know that many rich people are “very nice”, love their children and spend vast sums on charity. But there is no doubt about it: disparities in almost all our countries are growing. They are growing sharply.

Nevertheless, we continue reading papers owned by members of “the top ten percent” and we hope all the bad things will just sort of disappear, just as we avoid reminders of the fact that we, yes, you and I, will die some day, maybe even someday soon, that climate change will deprive our grandchildren, maybe even our children, of most of the good things in life. It hurts to think about it, so we don’t; we don’t think.

Thus, our pusillanimity helps us make unsound choices, choices that will harm us and our children.

Sometimes the unsound choices we make can be downright dangerous. One such choice was made by the majority of the voting electorate in Brazil, when they raised the fascist-minded Jair Bolsonaro to the presidential throne. Now Brazil is already sometimes referred to as a “fascistoid” state. That spells d-a-n-g-e-r for a lot of innocent people.

Before he was elected, Bolsonaro was not the favourite candidate of the “wealthy”, but he was the only candidate on the right who had sufficient charisma to attract voters. So the press supported him and denigrated the left, as usual.

Now Brazil is a country of extreme inequality – and the overwhelmingly numerous poor would probably have voted for Lula da Silva if Lula hadn’t happened to be in jail. Why was Lula in jail?

Well, that is really the magician’s trick, you see. This is where The Intercept comes in.

The Intercept — the Political Earthquake in Brazil

I’m not here to tell you The Intercept’s story. You should read it yourself.

What I do want to point out, however, is that somebody provided The Intercept with the evidence. I would not like to be that somebody. Whoever it is, is a hero, but if the Brazilian or US authorities ever get their hands on him or her, … I say no more.

And as for my country, your country, the UK, Equador, and Sweden and all the countries that are kowtowing to the US in the Julian Assange case and who refused to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, they are accessories before and after the fact to the crimes Assange and Snowden exposed.

Whatever the identity of the hero who provided The Intercept with the evidence, you and I had better be prepared to demand that not a hair be touched on his or her head, and that no legal or other steps be taken against The Intercept.

Dec 112018
 

President Macron has just addressed the French people for the first time since 1 December. After weeks of violent protests, his address was anxiously awaited, not least after last Saturday when, according to Le Monde, some 136 thousand protesters of all ages and backgrounds took to the streets of France.

What did you expect from the President? What did I or the yellow-vested protesters?

Ah, but the man is no fool! Rather than scold the demonstrators, he made a sweeping apology on behalf of the establishment for having forgotten the suffering of so many of his countrymen, giving moving accounts of the uphill struggle of untold men and women straining to reconcile work, parenthood (or old age and/or illness) and low income. His examples were numerous and vivid enough to sound sincere. He promised there would be change, plenty of change, starting with a 100 EUR hike of minimum wages from 1 January.

President Macron must have read his Piketti! Have you, Mrs Clinton? I am pretty sure Mrs Merkel has, conservative though she may be. As for the right-wing, so-called populist leaders of Eastern European countries slipping into autocracy, they have evidently only grasped what serves them best, the fact that a majority of voters are disaffected, disappointed and feel disadvantaged.

The question is, will the French president be able to deliver on his promises? Can any president deliver on such promises? I very much doubt it. For instance, how on earth can one sole president put an end to global so-called “tax avoidance” and the use of ugly, if not illegal, tax shields. The way things are, no president can satisfy any electorate in the long run.

Companies need investors. Investors want to be remunerated. After all, investing in a company is not as safe as putting your money in the bank. The company therefore needs to pay sufficiently high dividends to be able to dissuade people from putting their savings in the bank. To do so, the company has to cut more corners than the bank, i.e. pay less tax. If that involves hiring experts, offshore entities, fictitious companies, nominee directors and dodgy accounting firms, all of which will take a cut in the avoided tax, so be it. The outcome is less money to the state, and survival of the company.

Since we all want employment for as many of our citizens as possible, we dare not normally rock the boat. There is just one problem: As a result of tax avoidance, the state has insufficient means to care for its constituents. And large swathes of many populations are growing very disillusioned, even angry. Very angry.

Now in Europe, we tend to disagree with people in the US about the value of “state” and human constituents. Whereas in the US, where disadvantaged human beings and their offspring (excepting younger than 12-week-old embryos) tend to be disparaged, Europeans have invested heavily in the so-called “welfare society”. The term basically embodies the concept that all and sundry should have the right to education according to proclivity, healthcare according to need, and sustenance according to circumstance.

In other words, in Europe, states need income. The problem is, however, that a lot of money is being tucked away. Putting taxable money away is expensive, so only those who are very rich can afford to use the available “loopholes” to do so. One such loophole involved defrauding several European states of a total of 55 billion (yes, billion) euros. Here it is explained by Deutsche Welle. This was the largest tax evasion scam  ever to have been uncovered in Europe. One reason why theft of so much of our (the taxpayers’) money has attracted only limited attention is that some very prestigious banks were among the culprits (e.g. Santander and Deutsche Bank).

You and I, the French yellow vests, the long-suffering Spanish unemployed, the ill-advised Bolsonaro voters in Brazil, the innumerable abused women of Latin America and Somalia, the underpaid teachers and health workers of the world, we are all being outmanoeuvred by companies that manage to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, (such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon) and by financial acrobats. It was the financial acrobats who brought down the global house of cards in 2008, trading in futures and shorts and whatnot, and they will do so again, because, basically, nothing has changed, because, basically, those who control the rules of the game DON’T WANT THINGS TO CHANGE, because, basically, they are inevitably the ones to win. This is not just a matter for France or the US. This is a global trend and it applies, I suspect, even to Russia, China and Iran.

In the December issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, Secretary General of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo stresses that human rights are not just a matter of legal rights and freedom of speech. Economic and social rights are equally important. Kumi Naidoo apologises on behalf of the organisation for having so long delayed in understanding that one of the most important reasons why we need the one is to defend the other. I was very glad to see that apology!

What can the French president do? If he raises taxes on big business, he will be out of work tomorrow. He cannot possibly do anything about tax avoidance, because then companies will simply leave the country. There are plenty of other countries. It’s all interlocked, as Kumi Naidoo pointed out in his article celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, today, 10 December.

Although the German authorities managed to uncover much of the cum ex scam, it was only thanks to painstaking efforts laid down by a network of reporters from various news outlets, that the extent of the scam came to light. They also uncovered that it is STILL GOING ON. Read about it. I promise you, this is hot stuff.

My point is that in this case the press actually served the purpose it can and should serve, as a corrective: It exposed what we were not supposed to see.

However, in many countries, most media are owned by the powers that be. Hence they are not free. Hence people will make ill-informed electoral choices and will accept slashes to their legal rights and freedom of speech. Discovering, too late, that they are the ones to go on paying the austerity bill, they will be put in jail for voicing their discontent.

You can just imagine what conflagrations we will see when the climate bill has to be paid. We have just seen a small hint of that scenario in France.

Jun 282017
 

You may have heard – and then again, you may not have – that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have issued an ultimatum against Qatar, the 13 so-called “demands” the country must meet within ten days, “or else”.

If Qatar meets the demands, it will have ceased to be a state: It will merely be a vassal of Saudi Arabia, since what is demanded is in reality that the country surrenders its sovereignty.

It all started with an economic and diplomatic blockade launched in the wake of the US emperor’s visit to Saudi Arabia, and since the Saudis evidently feel confident about US support, goodness knows where it will end. For that very same reason – i.e. US support – nobody even mentions this issue around here. In Europe you don’t talk back to the US! Not in this country, not in any European country, least of all in the UK.

Now I was brought up with the BBC. I feel warmth and gratitude to the BBC. I know the names of many of their foreign correspondents. I download BBC podcasts and listen to them. But let us not delude ourselves: BBC is a British broadcasting company, and Britain is very cosy with the USA. As for the USA, well, need I remind you …? No, I won’t remind you, because that would require not a website but many tomes of modern history. However, take a look at Reporters without borders. If you click the map you will see that the USA ranks no higher than 43 out of 180 states as far as freedom of the press is concerned.

My country is also uncomfortably cosy with the USA, if not quite as cosy as the UK, but certainly cosy enough for its national broadcasting company to refrain from ever quoting Al Jazeera. Yet, I suspect that all good foreign correspondents – be they from my country or from the BBC – consult Al Jazeera more than almost any other outlet, at least about Middle East issues. Why? Because Al Jazeera is good, very good! And they are not bound by the US Patriot Act.

One of the 13 “demands” is that Qatar close down Al Jazeera. Now I don’t know whether you watch Al Jazeera, but what I do know is that whether you do or don’t, the news outlet will have considerable impact on what is revealed to you about world affairs. If it were not for Al Jazeera, the US and the UK could tell their side of the story, and nobody would know the difference.

I wish to quote another Guardian article of today (also quoted, by the way, by Al Jazeera):  Asked whether the closure of al-Jazeera was a reasonable demand, the UAE envoy said:

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.

I ask you, could any quote be clearer?

Dec 212016
 

This post is indented as a sequel to the previous one, which I believe should apply to everyone. I repeat: If we all look after our digital privacy, as we look after our health, say, we shall be protecting the social scientists and journalists who are sticking their neck out to tell us what we need to know.

This post, however, will be for those who are actually at risk, i.e. the social scientists, journalists and non-violent political activists who provoke the political powers that be.

***

To send a file to somebody else, when you want to be sure that only the intended recipient can read it, you could of course simply password protect it, but passwords can easily be cracked. Besides you would have to send the password, and the message in which you send it could be intercepted.

An alternative is to use 7zip  – which is available to  all major operating systems. With 7zip you can encrypt the file. You would do this if you want to transfer a large file, or several files, via your cloud service. You would still have to convey the password though.

The most commonly used way to protect the privacy of email is with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). The program PGP itself is not free, but there is a free alternative, based on the so-called OpenPGP standard.

Now if you use an email client that provides PGP support — and yours may very well do so, although you do not know it — you should study its documentation. If not, you should consider changing your email client. 

Wikipedia has an article comparing email clients. Search on the page for PGP and you will find a table that might be useful to you. If you normally only use Webmail, you might consider starting to use a dedicated email program (“email client”).

PGP’s alternative to the issue of passwords is a set of “keys”: One “private key” which only the sender possesses, and one “public key”, which can be published openly on the net yes, on the net! The sender AND the recipient must know each other’s public keys, and this is where your software comes in.

Your software should  be able to generate both keys and store them. It imports and stores also the public keys of people with whom you want to communicate, and keeps track of what messages are to be sent to or received by whom. Finally it should check incoming keys, and encrypt and decrypt as needed.

The hitch is obviously that the recipient must also be using PGP encryption. But PGP has grown pretty universal, cross-platform and is inherent in many application. However, as with all software, new versions tend to be incomprehensible to older ones. (Compatibility issues can often be solved by altering settings.)

Most of us are not yet used to using PGP for email, though, so though it can easily be handled by our email programs, it may take a while before we all catch on.

At any rate, do not be discouraged, because once you have your keys properly stored and have understood how to use them, encrypting your stuff (with the proper software) is not difficult at all!