What is Europe?

Thomas Brussig, a novelist from the former East Berlin, says he first got to know Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union when he visited during a book tour. During his stay, he recalls being constantly asked which Russian writers influenced him. Brussig didn’t give the obvious answers — Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. He instead named a third-rate Soviet writer, Arkady Gaidar. “I did it to exact a bit of revenge and to remind them what imperialists they had been,” he says.

Brussig says he has no special attachment to the Russians. He says the only Russian figure he actually views positively is Gorbachev. It was “his vision of a Common European Home that cleared the way for the demolition of the Soviet Union.” It was a dream of a Europe without dividing lines. “We shouldn’t act as though the border to Asia starts where Lithuania ends,” says Brussig. “Europe reaches all the way into the Ural Mountains.”

There is more here. Do read the whole thing (it’s about the relationship between Germans and Russians).

For the record, I can buy Brussig’s argument but why stop at the Ural Mountains and the Mediterranean?

War criminal Watch: Condoleezza Rice now on dropbox’s board of directors.

Yesterday the company that specializes in remote file sharing announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now on their board of directors.  This is troubling news for a number of reasons.  The first, more pedantic reason, is simply that she played no small role in the deaths of several hundred thousand people throughout the middle east as well as the unnecessary deaths of thousands of US soldiers.  More practically though she was a member of the presidency that pushed the PATRIOT Act and is now working intimately with a company that has access to millions of personal files.

For those of you who do not know the dropbox software essentially allows you to put files in a folder on your PC where they are synced to the “cloud”.  You, or anyone else, are then free to download those files from anywhere in the world as long as you know the link to said file.   It is a handy way to transfer files that may be too large for an E-Mail attachment or that you simply do not trust google having access to.  From this point forward I would question the security of any file transferred with dropbox.

Oh and by the way. Snowden documents from last year state “that it is planning to add Dropbox as a PRISM provider.”  

PRISM, of course, being an NSA program “which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats,”   

How many more “coincidences” that just happen to violate rights, privacy, security and safety are we going to sweep under the rug?

Australia may ban [more] boycotts…

Australia has been in the news quite often in the last year for its new Prime Minister’s controversial legislation that protest groups say put vast areas of Australian nature in threat of destruction.  Environmental issues are one of the more complex issues facing libertarians today.  The vast entanglement of property rights can make explaining those issues to non-libertarians quickly and clearly quite difficult.  Luckily for me the Australian government is currently attempting to assault a far more basic set of rights.  The right to organize, the right to persuade, and the right to spend your money and time how you wish.  We are, as the title implies discussing the right to organize a boycott of a product or products.

The Australian secretary of agriculture Richard Colbeck wants to “remove an exemption for environmental groups from the consumer law ban on so-called “secondary boycotts”.  These secondary boycotts are also illegal in the UK and the United States.  For clarification a secondary action is industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in another, separate enterprise”.  

Libertarians often find themselves on the wrong side of both environmental and union actions but it is important to remember that liberty also means the freedom to refuse to purchase a product for any reason you can imagine; whether it is because the company that makes the product is partaking in actions you disagree with or because their logo is yellow.

Even though libertarians disagree with the end goals of the hard-line environmentalist movements (namely government control of industry) we cannot forget to support situations like this on principle and also to remember that environmental issues are essentially property rights issues and thus core to libertarian ethics.

The Knowledge P…

The Knowledge Problem

Comprehensive planning, the classic doctrine of planning advocates, seeks to achieve economic coordination without relying on the contention of separate decisionmakers with one another; it thereby deprives itself of access to one of the most important sources of knowledge exhibited by these kinds of orders. Just as in biological competition, there is the “information bearer” function of DNA, so in the society of Tradition, this function is further served by such developments as language and culturally acquired techniques and habits. In the society of Market, profit and loss signals are added to this array. In the society of Planning, there is no new information bearer and those of the Market are discarded. It is this lack that gives the knowledge problem argument its force.

From National Economic Planning: What is Left? by Don Lavoie

School Choice for Lunch

School is not just for learning any more. Schools now provide breakfast and lunch for students. In the past, students and their parents had the option to either eat lunch at the school cafeteria or else bring their home-made lunch to school. But now, some schools are banning home-made meals. For example, Chicago’s Little Village Academy ruled that children had to eat only a school-provided lunch.

As reported by AOL News on 11 April 2011, Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the Better School Food program, stated that the lunches offered by the schools’ food providers are not necessarily more nutritious than those made at home.

“It’s rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that’s good,” she told AOL News. “It makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap.”

A Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter spoke to students and parents who opposed the ban. They told the reporter that some children don’t like the cafeteria food, and much of it gets thrown away.

According to Medical Daily (16 Nov. 2013), a preschool in Richmond, Virginia also banned homemade lunches. The school blamed the Federal Programs Preschool rules on lunches from home, which state that students may bring lunches from home only if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a note from a physician.

Such bans have been reported at other schools. The “Healthy Home Economist” reported that a preschooler at the West Hoke Elementary School in North Carolina had to eat a cafeteria lunch containing pink slime chicken nuggets when the school decided that the turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice her mother packed was not nutritious enough.

About 32 million American children eat breakfast and lunch at school under the National School Lunch Program. Of these, 21 million students participate in free or reduced-price meals. Children in poor families that cannot afford to feed their children adequately may well need to be helped, but that does not provide any reason to ban nutritious homemade meals.

Food tyranny is not confined to the USA. Canada has a national Food Guide, and if a student’s homemade lunch does not follow it, the parent is fined. For example, the Manitoba Government’s Early Learning and Child Care lunch regulations require a child’s lunch to be “balanced.” A mother who packed a lunch was slapped with a $10 fine. Her meal was unbalanced because she did not include crackers.

Nutrition is a controversial subject. Some people think cow milk is healthy, while others disagree. Some think that moderate amounts of sugar do not harm, while others think that any artificial sugar is bad. Some believe that meat provides good nutrition, while others believe it is healthier to be vegetarians or vegans. The experts disagree among themselves. Also, of course, children have individual tastes and dietary needs. Government policy forces most of the children to consume the same meal or a narrow range of choices. Much of the food then gets thrown out.

Any decision about school lunches in government-run schools is inevitably political. The federal government is now in charge of what children eat, and policy is influenced by the special interests which finance political campaigns and lobby for legislation.

Thus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes poultry production, and then provides schools with free chicken. Many schools do not cook the chicken themselves; they send the chicken to food processors that turn the meat into chicken nuggets and sell them back to the schools. Rather than cook pizza themselves, many schools buy pizzas from food sellers. Schools get potatoes from the government and send them to food makers that sell them back to the school as French Fries.

The cafeteria management companies save money by not having to hire cooks, and they often receive rebates from the food processors. The schools pay the full price for the processed food, which includes rebates that are not disclosed. Since homemade food competes with cafeteria food, it is in the financial interest of the big food producers and cafeteria management firms to stop competition from home production.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has declared that such sending of food out to be processed results in food high in saturated fat and salt. A 2008 study, “Impact of Federal Commodity Programs on School Meal Nutrition,” by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded that what starts as healthy food gets processed into products whose nutritional value is the same as junk food. The study found that California school districts used more than 82 percent of their food commodity funds to buy meat and cheese, spending only 13 percent on fruits and vegetables.

One problem with homemade lunches is that some parents give their children junk food. In that case, the school lunch would be better. But some parents provide a superior lunch, so a ban prevents both better and worse lunches. A sensible approach is to hire a nutritionist who would inform and council parents about better food choices. Few parents seek to deliberately harm their child with unhealthy food. For better nutrition, persuasion is a better policy than force.

Around the Web

  1. An excellent piece by Matt Steinglass in the Economist on John Kerry’s failure in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
  2. I know Dr Shikida linked to this earlier, but I think it’s worth highlighting again. A university professor at a law school in Brazil was recently assaulted by students for his political views, and Dr Shikida points out that today’s professor-assaulters are tomorrow’s journalist-killers. Disturbing, and in Portuguese.
  3. In response to Dr van de Haar’s explosive and much-welcomed introductory post on the myth of the Commercial Peace, here is a good introductory pdf by MIT’s PR Goldstone on the strengths and weaknesses of the theory.
  4. E Wayne Merry: Why is Moscow now pursuing an economic Eurasian Union? In brief, the Russian derzhava is turning inward on itself, in part for domestic reasons but more broadly because of its inability to compete (on different indices) with the European West, the Chinese East, or the Islamic South.
  5. John Allen Gay: Kirchick: “The Putin regime can tell Ukrainians, ‘you wanna protect Orthodox Christianity, you stay with Moscow.’ And he’s using this all throughout the former Soviet space. So this is a geostrategic issue for him.” Would Western pressure for gay rights in Russia improve their lot, or just turn domestic gays into traitors? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one…
  6. How many people does it take to colonize another star system?

Regulation doesn’t have to mean licensure!

In my effort to become more misinformed I’ve started listening to the news. On PBS Newshour I learned that the National Taxpayer Advocate is pushing to restrict who can professionally prepare tax returns. It turns out the Institute for Justice is (so far) successfully beating back these efforts.

So why is anyone concerned? Surely because it’s poor people going to (potentially unqualified) preparers. Why not just go to H.R. Block? They’re cheap and trustworthy, but poor people probably make their decision of where to go the same way they decide how to bank. They want someone local and personal. That’s not going to change. Back to Newshour:

If you have someone who’s– who’s not ethical or doesn’t know what they’re doing, they’d have even more incentive to not sign a tax return and kind of just operate in the shadows.

I think that’s the correct prediction. Create licensure, and poor people will be less protected. Frankly, I doubt that even certification will make a difference; I think Joe Blow’s decision of who to get to prepare his return won’t be likely to change. What I think would help is a simplified tax code, and especially as it treats poor people.

From the Comments: What’s the difference between state-sponsored terrorism and geopolitics?

In a recent thread on the conflict in Crimea, a proposal to use the CIA – the overseas spying agency of the US government – against a small Russian population in the exclave of Kaliningrad was put forth by Professor Amburgey. My response followed as thus:

Suppose that VEVAK – Iran’s intelligence agency – created an industrial accident in regards to Toronto’s water supply. You and I would rightly consider this state-sponsored terrorism, regardless of whether or not Tehran took any sort of official blame.

Now suppose that the CIA created an industrial accident in regards to Kaliningrad’s water supply. I would consider this state-sponsored terrorism. You would consider this ________ (please fill in the blank).

Dr Amburgey responded with a “savvy geopolitcs.” The only thing I noticed here is the double standard in place. Why do we label violence undertaken by certain factions or organizations “terrorism” and the same type of violence undertaken by other factions or organizations as “geopolitics” (or “patriotism” or “war”)?

There is no difference. Categorizing the actions that both you and your enemy undertake as two different things is a good way to ensure that everything remains exactly the same. How utterly conservative!

Quer menos jornalistas assassinados?

Hoje um blogueiro (jornalista) publicou uma estatística aterradora para os brasileiros: o número de jornalistas assassinados no Brasil, em 2014, é comparável ao número de mortes no Iraque.

Infelizmente, ele não explora a notícia em detalhes. Bem, para ajudar no debate, ofereço algumas observações sobre a liberdade de imprensa, a liberdade econômica e outras coisinhas. Aqui.

War Exposure and Suicide, a Scientific Study

Intro Note: Since I posted this short essay, MSNBC and National Public Radio have been atwitter with discussions of Post Combat Stress Disorder because of the new Fort Hood shooting. One commentator on MSBC I took to be some sort of  mental health expect declared with a straight face that  PCSD is hard to “pin down.” Yes, that what happens: When you call everything “door,” it’s difficult to find the door. PCSD is a bunch of vague things grouped together under one heading for transparently political purposes.

The new shooter at Fort Hood was in Iraq for four months, as a truck driver; no combat. After twelve years in the military, he was still at the low rank of Specialist Fourth Class. There a mystery there. It’s almost impossible not to make Sergent after such a long time. Isn’t it possible for a  someone employed by the military to  have private, non-military sources of depression or anger? According to the liberal media, the answer to this obvious question seems to be “No.”

Pacifists, the overt kind, as well as the semi-covert type,* have been taking a new tack: The obvious, real horrors of warfare are not enough anymore so, they are pointing to sequels of warfare less visible than mutilated limbs. The new sequels of war have the advantage of being largely hidden and of being capable of discovery long after the war has ended. The most useful new sequel is post-combat stress disorder (PCSD). It serves its purpose best when it causes suicide, like this:

war → death then or,

war → death now or later.

The generals and admirals have learned to be sensitive, for their own good and that of their service. (Same sensitive Pentagon that told us that 30% of the victims of sexual assault in the armed forces are males.) Correspondingly, the Pentagon commissioned a study on the causes of suicide in the military. The findings were published in a medical journal, JAMA a short time ago. They were summarized in the Wall Street Journal on 3/4/14. Here are the main findings, according to me:

The suicide rates in the military increased greatly between 2004 and 2008. That was more or less the height of the Iraq war while the war in Afghanistan was also going on. Not surprisingly the Army rate of suicide was 17.2 per 100,000 in 2010 while it was 22 for the Marines.

This makes sense, of course. The Marines are more likely, on the average, to find themselves in combat situations, exposed to violence, than are soldiers. Hence he greater incidence of PCSD and then, the higher the suicide rate. Marines are more involved in raw warfare than soldiers, therefore, they tend to kill themselves more often.
Wait a minute, wait a damn minute! I am toying with your mind; I am being deceitful! It’s the Marines suicide rate that is the lower rate, at 17.2 against the Army’s rate of 22; the latter is a full 25 % higher. Three possibilities:

  1. On the average, Marines are less exposed to the violence of war than are soldiers;
  2. The relationship between exposure to the violence of war and suicide is not straightforward;
  3. Exposure to the violence of war somehow preserves from suicide.

I don’t know which of these explanations is correct. What I am sure of however is that if the real findings had been the fakes ones I described above, there would have been no end of commentaries in pacifist circles about war participation and suicide. I am certain there would have been several NPR specials highlighting and commenting incompetently on the causal effect of war on suicide.

Myself, I believe that one should completely forbid oneself the desire to make tiny numbers speak. That’s irrespective of statistical significance. Here is why: Take the real figures. It’s possible that a single heart-breaker, one, on a single base drove two young Marines to love despair. Had they not met her, both would have been alive at the time of the study. Furthermore, it’s possible that a single Marine officer was in a bad mood for one week and that he then gave bad evaluations to three Marines who were desperate for a career in the Corps thereby precipitating their suicide. Had those two people not met those particular five Marines, the Marines score for suicide would have been as high as the Army’s. Or, a bad batch of dope hit three Marine bases the same year. Etc.

In point of fact, the Marines rate was 23 one year earlier, a little higher than the Army rate the same year.

Small number don’t mean much or they mean nothing, except when they are duplicated over time, in which case they are not small numbers. Here is a fictitious but not absurd example to drive this point home:

In the whole US, in 2013 as compared to 2012, the rate of church-going black grandmothers in full charge of their grandchildren who committed suicide jumped by a full 50%. (The raw number went from 2 to 3 nationwide – In fact, the kind of women who correspond to that description hardly ever commit suicide.)

Here is another (real) finding of the same study: During the period of observation, the number of suicides among soldiers deployed in combat zones nearly doubled. The number of suicide of soldiers who had never been so deployed tripled.

In the usual liberal logic, this last finding would dictate that one good way to save soldiers from suicide is to move them to combat zones. I don’t believe this, of course; see above.

Finally, here is the conclusion of the whole study as posted on the on-line article of JAMA. I copied and pasted it from the website to make sure I did not make another mistake:

“Conclusions and Relevance  Predictors of Army suicides were largely similar to those reported elsewhere for civilians, although some predictors distinct to Army service emerged that deserve more in-depth analysis. The existence of a time trend in suicide risk among never-deployed soldiers argues indirectly against the view that exposure to combat-related trauma is the exclusive cause of the increase in Army suicides.” (“exclusive”)

The last phrase of the conclusion is an astonishing understatement: “The more carrots I eat, the thinner I become. Therefore, carrots are not the exclusive cause of my overweight”!

Still missing, perhaps because I was not able to read the whole text of the study: a comparison of suicides over several years between combat-exposed military personnel and a truly comparable civilian cohort. (Basic demographics such as age and sex would not be good enough for me. ) Perhaps, it’s in the body of the study. Somebody, please spring some money to get it out! My own money is on that everyone would be surprised.

* I don’t like pacifism because I think it gave us World War II among other horrors. Ask me.

Let’s leave the fairy tales behind

Freedom-loving people are almost always nice and genial. I count them among my best friends, and in fact, I think of myself as one. Some of them have sharp intellects, publish great stuff, are brilliant discussants and all of them are prepared to take on the left-leaning, social liberal (for American readers: liberal) majority anytime. They never tire of pointing at the mistaken views of others. Yet at the same time, most libertarians (for sake of brevity I shall not go into the possible subdivisions and other definitional options when using this term) fail to recognize their own weird ideas about international relations. To quote Murray Rothbard: ‘thinking about international affairs is a weak point of libertarians’.

While I am not particularly impressed by Rothbard’s own ideas on international relations, he did make a valid point here. When searching for a particular quaint idea among libertarians, what comes up first is the idea that trade fosters peace. There are variations and the related idea that democracies allegedly do not fight each other will be left aside [which is hardly more convincing though, when closely scrutinizing the methodology and data used in this type of research], the basic idea is that international trade relations promote a peaceful world. There are several main mechanisms behind this. First, at the level of the individual, increasing numbers of international contacts lead to more international friendship and understanding, and consequently a diminishing wish to fight the trading partners . Second, businessmen and other citizens benefitting from trade (e.g. everybody) will act as domestic pressure groups, if need be forcing their leaders to refrain from international military action. Third, economic ties between countries mean these countries become interdependent. War between them would destroy this economic entanglement, therefore it is not the interest of leaders of states to initiate or maintain such destructive conflicts. The overall conclusion is: the more trade, the more peaceful the world becomes.

This is a fairy tale. Even though most libertarians do not go as far as to claim that trade has the capacity to eradicate all international conflict, it is nonsensical to claim that it fosters peace in any consistent way. A few objections. At the individual level, trade does not change human nature. While the rationality needed to preserve peace (acknowledging that war making is sometimes perfectly rational from an individual stance) may dominate the emotions once in a while, it cannot do so perpetually. Let alone in all people, everywhere at the globe. At the collective level, history shows that ‘citizen coalitions for peace’ hardly ever make a difference. Public opinion is often war prone, as for example free trade star Richard Cobden, who strongly argued trade would make public opinion more peaceful, painfully found out during the previous Crimea crisis in the 1850’s. At the political level economic interests are just one factor among many others (geopolitical, religious, domestic, personal, et cetera) when considering international military action. So perhaps sometimes a vital economic interest is too important to risk a war, yet at other times it does not count for much. Take the current Crimea crisis, where President Putin clearly prioritized the strategic objective of ensured naval capacity and access in the Black Sea above possible detrimental effects of economic sanctions.

There are also a number of other counter-arguments against the ‘trade-leads-to peace-hypothesis’. As for example David Hume and Adam Smith acknowledged and emphasized, trade also has the side-effect of promoting conflict. After all free trade make people and countries wealthier. Often this leads to increased defense expenditure, which may then lead to international belligerence, because previously poor states can for example make (renewed) territorial claims. Currently, China is a good example of this. Also, there is the completely neglected question of the nature and volume of trade. Does any amount of trade have peaceful effects, or is there some minimum? Also, does it matter what is traded? Does trade in oil and gas have more or less peaceful effects, compared to say textiles or fruit? Just to claim that ‘trade’ has peace enhancing effects is again unconvincing.  

It is perhaps relatively harmless to foster fairy tale ideas in the study, at universities or to write them down in books and blogs. Yet in my mind these kind of ideas seriously hamper the appeal of libertarianism to other people. In a globalized world, people expect the ideas that guide their political behavior to have serious ideas about world politics. As is the case in for example economics or philosophy, libertarian ideas need to offer serious alternatives to make a difference and have the capacity to convince others. The idea that trade fosters peace is not a serious contribution to international relations discourse. It is high time the liberty loving people leave their fairy tale ideas on international affairs behind.

Is the Political Left Today’s Conservative Faction?

I tend to think so. I come across more and more anecdotal evidence to support my thesis with each passing day. For example, in my current research on Dutch colonial responses to Javanese political strategies, I came across the following passage by Dutch historian Eduard JM Schmutzer in his 1977 monograph Dutch Colonial Policy and the Search for Identity in Indonesia 1920-1931:

The abuses in government exploitation under the so-called “Cultuurstelsel” (Cultivation System) and the subsequent criticism by humanitarians [...] made the liberals aware that new methods for the exploitation of the East Indies and for the development of its inhabitants were to be found. In contrast to the conservatives who maintained that the central role of government in economic life was necessary to protect the natives against the overpowering influence of private capital, the liberals argued that the doctrine of free enterprise and its beneficial laws of unrestrained capital and labor market, promised in Indonesia an increase in the sagging production and an improvement in the welfare of the natives. Both conditions [free capital and labor markets - bc], the liberals maintained, would be to the advantage of the population at home and abroad.

However, the channeling of capital into the structure of government monopolies by private investors did not result in the expected increase per capita productivity [Ya don't say? - bc]. (1)

The emphasis is mine. Can anybody name any factions in today’s world that advocate restraining private capital in the name of (condescendingly) protecting those who are too stupid to know what to do with their own money?

Anybody at all?

Needless to say, the liberals lost those important colonial policy battles of the late nineteenth century (probably because they were outnumbered by both the theocrats and socialists who believed private capital was bad for the natives and that therefore authoritarian paternalism was in order).

I can’t help but wonder: Does the anti-globalization Left realize just how conservative its position is?

Around the Web

  1. Ukraine and BRICS from historian Daniel Larison at The American Conservative
  2. The Sympathy Problem: Is Germany a Country of Russia Apologists? By Ralf Neukirch at Spiegel Online
  3. You Don’t Know the Best Way to Deal with Russia from economist Bryan Caplan over at EconLog
  4. The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice by political scientist Jason Sorens (PhD, Yale) over at the PileusBlog

3,278 Americans Are Serving Life Sentences for Nonviolent Crimes, Report Says

Around 79 percent of the nonviolent life sentences without parole are drug-related, according to the ACLU, and around 20 percent are for property crimes. The remaining 1 percent are for traffic and other infractions in Alabama and Florida”

This seems like as good an opportunity as any to talk about libertarian law.  First of all, to the libertarian, there is no such thing as non-violent or “victimless” crime.  There can be no “crime against the state” or “crime against society” since there would be no state and “society” is an abstract concept that cannot be a victim.  Crime can only occur when there is a clear perpetrator and a clear victim.

This is the logic used to deduce that there can be no punishment for consuming or selling drugs for example.

Second, libertarian punishment is confined to the concept of “proportionality”.  Proportionality is described by Murray Rothbard as:

“…the criminal, or invader, loses his own right to the extent that he has deprived another man of his. If a man deprives another man of some of his self-ownership or its extension in physical property, to that extent does he lose his own rights.  From this principle immediately derives the proportionality theory of punishment-best summed up in the old adage: “let the punishment fit the crime.””

Walter Block famously expanded on this concept with his “Two Teeth for a Tooth” rule saying:

“In encapsulated form, it calls for two teeth for a tooth, plus costs of capture and a
premium for scaring. How does this work?

Suppose I steal a TV set from you. Surely, the first thing that should occur when I am captured is that I be forced to return to you my ill-gotten gains.

So, based on the first of two “teeth,” I must return this appliance to you.

But this is hardly enough. Merely returning the TV to you its rightful owner is certainly no punishment to me the criminal.

All I have been forced to do is not give up my
own TV to you, but to return yours to you.

Thus enters the second tooth: what I did (tried to do) to you should instead be done to me. I took your TV set;
therefore, as punishment, you should be able to get mine (or some monetary equivalent). This is the second tooth.2″

The claim is often made that a libertarian society would be less just for the poor and disadvantaged but take this list of crimes that caused human beings to be sent to prison for the rest of their lives and compare it to the logical corresponding punishment called for by the proportionality rule and tell me which is more just.

“Among the most obscure offenses – mostly from Louisiana and Mississippi – documented in the report as the impetus for life sentences:

  • Possessing stolen wrenches
  • Siphoning gasoline from a truck
  • Shoplifting a computer from WalMart
  • Shoplifting three belts from a department store
  • Shoplifting digital cameras from WalMart
  • Shoplifting two jerseys from an athletics store
  • Breaking into a parked car and stealing a bag containing a woman’s lunch
  • Stealing a 16-year-old car’s radio
  • Drunkenly threatening a police officer while handcuffed in a patrol car”

A very illuminating comment over on Reddit.com

User “Three_Letter_Agency” put the current NSA issue in very clear focus today with the following:

We know the NSA and their UK buddy GHCQ can:

  • Collect the domestic meta-data of both parties in a phone-call. Source[1]
  • Set up fake internet cafes to steal data. Source[2]
  • Has intercepted the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders, including allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Source[3]
  • Can tap into the underwater fiber-optic cables that carry a majority of the world’s internet traffic. Source[4]
  • Tracks communications within media institutions such as Al Jazeera. Source[5]
  • Has ‘bugged’ the United Nations headquarters. Source[6]
  • Has set up a financial database to track international banking and credit card transactions. Source[7]
  • Collects and stores over 200 million domestic and foreign text messages each day. Source[8]
  • Collects and has real-time access to browsing history, email, and social media activity. To gain access, an analyst simply needs to fill out an on-screen form with a broad justification for the search that is not reviewed by any court or NSA personnel. Source[9]

“I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”. – Edward Snowden

  • Creates maps of the social networks of United States citizens. Source[10]
  • Has access to smartphone app data. Source[11]
  • Uses spies in embassies to collect data, often by setting up ‘listening stations’ on the roofs of buildings.Source[12]
  • Uses fake LinkedIn profiles and other doctored web pages to secretly install surveillance software in unwitting companies and individuals. Source[13]
  • Tracks reservations at upscale hotels. Source[14]
  • Has intercepted the talking-points of world leaders before meetings with Barack Obama. Source[15]
  • Can crack encryption codes on cellphones. Source[16]
  • Has implanted software on over 100,000 computers worldwide allowing them to hack data without internet connection, using radio waves. Source[17]
  • Has access to computers through fake wireless connections. Source[18]
  • Monitors communications in online games such as World of Warcraft. Source[19]
  • Intercepts shipping deliveries and install back-door devices allowing access. Source[20]
  • Has direct access to the data centers of Google, Yahoo and other major companies. Source[21]
  • Covertly and overtly infiltrate United States and foreign IT industries to weaken or gain access to encryption, often by collaborating with software companies and internet service providers themselves. They are also, according to an internal document, “responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry.” Source[22]
  • The use of “honey traps”, luring targets into compromising positions using sex. Source[23]
  • The sharing of raw intelligence data with Israel. Only official U.S. communications are affected, and there are no legal limits on the use of the data from Israel. Source[24]
  • Spies on porn habits of activists to discredit them. Source[25]

Possibly the most shocking revelation was made on February 24, 2014. Internal documents show that the security state is attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with “extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.” The documents revealed a top-secret unit known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Unit, or JTRIG. Two of the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in an effort to discredit a target, and to use social sciences such as psychology to manipulate online discourse and activism in order to generate a desirable outcome. The unit posts false information on the internet and falsely attributes it to someone else, pretend to be a ‘victim’ of a target they want to discredit, and posts negative information on various forums. In some instances, to discredit a target, JTRIG sends out ‘false flag’ emails to family and friends.

A revealing slide from the JTRIG presentation.[26]  

Read the whole JTRIG presentation by Greenwald, just do it. Here[27]

Now, consider the words of former NSA employee turned whistleblower Russ Tice:

“Okay. They went after–and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial.

But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials.

They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups.

So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff. And you know, when I said to [former MSNBC show host Keith] Olbermann, I said, my particular thing is high tech and you know, what’s going on is the other thing, which is the dragnet. The dragnet is what Mark Klein is talking about, the terrestrial dragnet. Well my specialty is outer space. I deal with satellites, and everything that goes in and out of space. I did my spying via space. So that’s how I found out about this… And remember we talked about that before, that I was worried that the intelligence community now has sway over what is going on.

Now here’s the big one. I haven’t given you any names. This was is summer of 2004. One of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with, with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator from Illinois. You wouldn’t happen to know where that guy lives right now, would you? It’s a big white house in Washington, DC. That’s who they went after. And that’s the president of the United States now.” Russ Tice, NSA Whistleblower


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