Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Press freedom in Mexico: record number of murders, no coverage

June 21, 7:00 PM -- Listening to NPR there was a very short item that caught my attention: the month of May saw the highest number of homicides in Mexico of any month in 20 years.

So preparing material for tomorrow's edition of "Hablemos con Teodoro," the 2-hour news and commentary show that I produce and second-fiddle host on radioinformacion.org, I did a Google news search in Spanish.

I found one (count 'em: 1), just one story -- on the web site of El Heraldo from the city of Saltillo in northern México, which is at the center of a metro area of 800,000 people.

The story was from XINHUA, the official press service of the People's Republic of China.

I did the same search in English and found stories in at least a dozen web sites, some from Reuters, others from AP.

The English-language stories made clear that they said it was the bloodiest May in 20 years because earlier figures were not available.

I suspect that simply means that figures from the pre-Internet era are not online, and this may well be the bloodiest May ever or at least going back many decades.

This is what happens when you have six journalists murdered so far this year, and more than 100 in this century, and hundreds of other attacks on the media, in addition to the spying that the New York Times revealed on Monday. And a grand total of three of these crimes have been solved. Three.

By tomorrow morning I'm sure, a few more outlets, perhaps many, will cover the story. But first there will be panicked conversations in the offices of editors and publishers:

"We have to have it -- it's too important to ignore.
"Agreed, but let's not be among the first -- the nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered
"Perhaps Televisa will have it tonight ...

Of course, it will be different in those areas where newspapers and TV stations have announced they simply will not cover crime news, because to do so is suicide.

Friday, June 9, 2017

CNN bans not 'respectful' dissent, just the contempt Trump deserves

First it was Kathy Griffin. Now it's Reza Aslan. Coincidence that it was a woman and now someone of Persian heritage? If you really believe that, I want some of whatever it is you've been smoking. The issue is Trump and "respect" for the office of the presidency. Trump is beneath contempt, and so is "the office of the president" with him in it. But you can't express that and be on CNN. You can't treat Trump as the vulgar, lying, misogynist, racist, and authoritarian piece of shit he is and be on CNN. Tens of millions of people in the United States look at Trump just that way, but don't look for that point of view on CNN, nor on any other TV network, nor in any daily newspaper, nor in any "serious" web site devoted to news or analysis of current affairs. You can't say this guy is a flaming asshole. Even if you use nicer words or a pun. CNN says it's not censorship. They're open to all points of view. You can say you disagree with Trump, even that you think he is totally bonkers. Just don't call him an asshole, or hold up a decapitated plastic replica of his head dripping with blood, even though that represents exactly what he is doing to civilians in Syria and elsewhere, even children. You can disagree, but not disrespect. But after roughly a half century thinking and writing about politics and protests, if there's one thing I've learned is that tone and attitude are usually way more important than your "position" or "program." Because politics at bottom is not about policies but about different social forces and the interaction, jostling and clashes between them. Your stance expresses that much better than a position paper. The group that *respectfully* disagrees with the "our" president's executive order may be against Trump's muslim ban like I am. But if that is their real attitude, of respectful disagreement with "our" president, then they are at most frenemies. Attitude is what you are not allowed to express on CNN, or even appear on CNN if you've expressed it in another venue. The funny thing is that CNN is still fighting hard to become America's Pravda. I don't think they'll ever wake up to the fact that Trump already has Breitbart and the Daily Stormer.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Condemn Kathy Griffin? No way

CNN cut ties with Kathy Griffin because she disrespected The President. But I'm with her. Because you can't disrespect someone who is beneath contempt.

As for the bloody severed head ...
And no bloody jokes about our dear, great, respected and
beloved leader Comrade ... I mean President Donald Trump
Kathy Griffin's was just plastic.
But the real thing is what Trump endorsed with his love-fest in Saudi Arabia. They're about to execute by decapitation a young man tortured into confessing that he took part in an anti-government protest. Protesting is a capital offense. Even if you didn't do it.

We should not be aghast at Kathy Griffin, but at the bestial and barbaric House of Saud.

But even more we should be aghast at the United States, at ourselves. Just last Thursday and Friday, American bombs killed more than 100 civilians including at least 42 children, in the Syrian town of Mayadeen.

And like good Germans, we condemn Kathy Griffin.

And then we wonder where the depravity of the Portland white supremacist murderer comes from.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bullshit mountain: North Korea created the Wannacry virus?

In Arthur Penn's classic 1970 movie Little Big Man, Allardyce Merriweather tries to teach Dustin Hoffman's title character the honorable profession of snake oil salesman:
Listen to me, a two legged creature will believe anything, and the more preposterous the better: whales speak French at the bottom of the sea. The horses of Arabia have silver wings. Pygmies mate with elephants in darkest Africa. I have sold all those propositions. 
Well, I've got one that's even better: North Korea was behind's last Friday's computer virus attack.

Just think about the proposition: why would North Korea do that? To get a few thousand dollars in bitcoin? To piss off everyone in the world even more against them? Why???

But there's an even bigger problem. North Korea has neither the technology nor the culture that would allow it to develop a hacker attack team.

Hacking --first and foremost in its original meaning-- is a playful fascination with technology and how it can be shaped, shifted and re-used for other ends. It starts with neither science nor an art but an attitude. It has contempt for formalities, walls and barriers, it loves breaking rules, or even better, gaming them so they become irrelevant.

That culture developed on a large scale in the United States with the baby boom generation. The first product of the two Steves --Wozniak and Jobs-- who gave us Apple computer was a little box that allowed people to make free long-distance phone calls, at a time when the AT&T government imposed monopoly extorted you for the equivalent of $11 for a three minute call to a town 150 miles away. And yeah, it was illegal, a crime. The little box, I mean, not the monopoly.

But in addition to that sort of attitude, you need other things, an area where the technology is available to play with and where you have mentors to get you started. You had that especially in the Northern California and Boston areas in the 1960s and early 70s, which were also centers of the youth rebellion and counterculture, and where the personal computer and Internet were born.

Now consider North Korea's Internet prowess. 
  • Of the more than 4 billion Internet addresses, North Korea has laid claim to 1,024. 
  • Of the more than one billion web sites in the world, North Korea boasts 28. 
  • The Falkland Islands has a population of 2800. North Korea, 25 million, 9,000 times as many. The Falkland Islands has twice the Internet traffic that North Korea does.
Two things:
  • Thing one: North Korea doesn't have enough infrastructure so you could learn how to hack
  • Thing two: The North Korean government is so paranoid you'd end up in prison if you tried
And hacking --whether white hat or black-- is not something you study in college. It is creative, akin to an art form or smuggling whiskey in the 1920s.

Now, some stories say it was North Korea, but operating from China. But why would the government that runs the Great Firewall of China be interested in letting North Korea fuck up tens of thousands of its own computers? And perhaps set off another demented demand from Trump?

The scientific principle of Occam's razor says the simplest answer is usually the right one.

This attack was built on a virus that someone stole from the National Security Agency. (How could this happen? Because you need hackers to develop the viruses in the first place. And see what I said about hacker culture above.) 

The attack was (allegedly) offered for sale and (supposedly) delivered via the Internet in mid-April.

I don't think your need to write a Cold War spy thriller for this one.

Well ... except for "one more thing," as Steve Jobs used to say. 

The attack was incredibly easy to bring to a screeching halt.

Why would genuine black hat hacker-criminals put that kill switch into their code? That sounds to me like something that someone who had a different objective than collecting ransom money would do.
Suppose, for example, you were a spy agency. And suppose you wanted to plant some really nasty spying hack. Why not create a virus epidemic as cover and to distract people from what you are doing. But won't people suspect it is you? Not if the virus was already "stolen."

Sure, five million or fifty million people might be affected but you only want to make sure the five or fifty you have especially targeted get it. As for the rest, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Sorry about that, British hospital patients.

I'm not saying I'm certain that's what happened but it is a lot more credible than saying it was the work of a mighty army of North Korean hackers.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ridiculous Trump scandal du jour: he gave the Russkies state secrets

Hyperventilating like they just ran a 4-minute mile, the gasbags on CNN, NPR, PBS, and the rest of the alphabet soup are aghast at what the Washington Post just revealed: Last Friday Trump gave the Russians information so secret that it has a "burn before reading" classification (or something like that).

The original version of the Trump-Putin plot 
The Washington Post, which broke the story, says the info revealed to Russia is that the Islamic State is planning to use a laptop bomb on an airplane. Worse, Trump mentioned a city.

Since the United States and the Brits banned the use of laptops on airplanes from certain cities in the Middle East, this was hardly a secret. It was chickenfeed. (For those unfamiliar with the concept, watch the insanely great Cold War spy thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy featuring Alec Guinness as George Smiley).

Anyways, telling the Russian supposedly endangers out relations in getting info out of the country that ratted out the Islamic State. But does anyone seriously think that Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or anyone else in the region that cooperates with and relies on the United States is going to sanction Trump?

Yesterday, Amy Goodman had Watergate-era congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman on Democracy Now accusing Trump of treason. Speaking about the firing of Comey, she said:
What was on his mind when he fired him? The Russian investigation.... And stopping that could mean that we have in place a president of the United States in cahoots with the Russian government at this very moment.
This is just one more variation on the Trump-Putin "collusion" that must be investigated. Collusion to do what? To "meddle." What was the meddling? No one can say.

  • Moscow gold didn't put trump in the White House because he spent much less than Hillary and has plenty of his own money. 
  • There's no accusation of voting machine rigging or ballot stuffing. 
  • The charge that Russia leaked stuff from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign is built on the assumption that the KGB are such idiots they'd rather leak to Assange than the New York Times or Washington Post. Almost certainly at least the DNC stuff came from a lone wolf insider. And at any rate, that was not "meddling" but a public service.
  • RT using its tremendous influence on American public opinion to get Trump elected is absurd, because it has no influence. And anyways, it's free speech.
  • Finally, Russia is engaged in its most sinister tactic, discrediting American "democracy." As if it needed any more discrediting than the last presidential election, crowned by having the guy who lost by three million votes is proclaimed the winner.

The truth is the Democrats have been trying to whip up a McCarthyite hysteria that Trump is a Russian stooge since before his inauguration, but have been unable to come up with a single concrete act of meddling or shred of proof.

And from everything we know about the Donald's personality and history, the idea that he is Putin's stooge is absurd.He may be an idiot, but he's nobody's fool.

On the other hand, the Democrat Nomenklatura has every interest in diverting attention away from their own catastrophic performance since 2010, crowned by their inability to beat the most unpopular presidential candidate since polling was invented.

They use this to cover up their craven obeisance to Wall Street and other big money who finance their campaigns and on behalf of whom they betray the interests of working people.

But what happened to Medicare for All? Fight for Fifteen? Free tuition to Public Colleges? An end to big money meddling in elections? Can't have that, say the Pelosis, Schumers and Clintons of this world. "We have to appeal to 'centrist' voters." And, oh yeah, expose Russian "meddling."

Friday, May 12, 2017

The NY Times channels Joe McCarthy

Innuendo, guilt-by-association smears, loaded questions -- all the time honored elements of a good, old-fashioned American witch-hunt are back ... and in this Friday's lead editorial in the New York Times!

The  guiding spirit
Since the beginning of the year, the liberal media has been partying like its 1954, with a full fledged anti-Russia hysteria worthy of tail-gunner Joe himself.

The editorial is full of damning accusations: Did you know that Trump held the Miss Universe contest in Russia? Yes, he did! And worse ... "Mr. Trump met more than a dozen of the country’s most prominent oligarchs while he was there." What an outrage!

And then there's Michael Flynn. The retired lieutenant general is accused of giving a paid speech for Russian government backed media outlet RT. And worse ...  "On the same trip, he sat next to President Vladimir Putin at an RT gala."

Businessman Carter Page, "a foreign policy adviser" the Times says, although in fact he holds no such government position, "gave a pro-Russia speech in Moscow in July 2016." And worse ... "Page was once employed by Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office, where he worked with Gazprom, a government-owned energy giant."

This is the evidence marshaled by a New York Times editorial before delivering the sockdolager: "the known facts suggest an unusually extensive network of relationships with a major foreign power."

And thus, "Anyone who cares about the credibility of the American electoral process should want a thorough investigation of whether and how Russia interfered in the election and through whom."

Which begs the question: Wall Street is much more important than mere elections, shouldn't we be investigating instead whether and how the Kremlin gamed the Dow Jones?

And what about Russian ties to fluoride?

The Times even tries the old trick of admitting it is all bullshit to discount the objection that it is all bullshit: "Mr. Trump and his associates can cry themselves hoarse that there is neither smoke nor fire here."

But of course, there is lots of smoke here: the smoke the editors of the New York Times are trying to blow up our ass.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

From the archives: Time's "Person of the Century" Einstein coverup

[Seeing a picture of Albert Einstein featured on the Facebook page of my libertarian friend Jorge El Malo reminded me I've been meaning to repost this. I originally wrote it on December 28, 1999, four days before the end of the last century.]

Time magazine's "Person of the Century" issue gives a great example of the mendacity of bourgeois journalism.

TIME 'forgot' he was a socialist
Albert Einstein was selected for the honor as representative of "the explosion of scientific and technical knowledge," although a reading of the issue makes clear he won by default; for the real theme of the issue is set out boldly enough in the lead essay, "who mattered and why," under the subtitle, "the century of democracy."

"If you had to describe the century's geopolitics in one sentence," Time says, "it could be a short one: Freedom won. Free minds and free markets prevailed over fascism and communism."

(It probably did not occur to Time's editors that, from the point of view of the vast majority of the human race, this was the century of the anticolonial revolution, an unfinished revolution because although the colonial powers have been driven out, most of these countries remain victims of imperialism through neo colonial regimes and the world market. But never mind.)

One would have thought, then, that the Person of the Century would have been some outstanding political representative of capital; in fact, when Time chose its man of the half century, they picked Winston Churchill, not Einstein, though by then Einstein had already produced the papers that would revolutionize science and the most famous result of his theories, the equivalence between matter and energy, had already been put to practical use in the atom bomb.

And (in my opinion) Churchill is without doubt the outstanding imperialist leader of the century; that fate made him also the last hurrah of a dying empire and not the leader of a rising power makes his achievements in being and important player in World War I, the master imperialist strategist of the winning side in World War II, as well as the progenitor of the Cold War all the more impressive.

But for the American chauvinists at Time, the fact that he was English served to disqualify him; that, and the fact that Churchill was an undisguised racist, male chauvinist, scab-herder and strike breaker. He was, as I said, an outstanding representative of his class, but the capitalist press is nothing if not hypocritical. Time calls him instead "a romantic refugee from a previous era who ended up on the wrong side of history."

So Time's preferred political candidate was Franklin Roosevelt. However, the case for Roosevelt is hard to make. Time recognizes that it was the War Deal, not the New one, that rescued American capitalism from the depression, and, as a war leader, suffice it to say he was incapable of mobilizing the country for a conflict he knew was inevitable until the Japanese devastated the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Time introduces a third century theme with their rejection of Churchill, which is that this was "the century of civil rights," by which they mean "the ability of courageous individuals to resist authority in order to secure their civil rights." This theme is of course 100% phony. The 20th Century has been marked, among other things, by the struggles of masses of people against various aspects of capitalist oppression and exploitation. But it was not AT ALL, despite Time's assertion, the result of "courageous individuals" like Mahatma Gandhi (their runner up Person of the Century in this category), Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.

India and many other colonies won their freedom thanks, not to Gandhi's tactics, but to masses of people the world over taking advantage of the complete exhaustion of the British, French, Belgians, etc., in the Second World War, as is obvious from the fact that Britain lost virtually every one of her other colonies, too. It was the massive upsurge of people all over the semicolonial world, and most powerfully in China, that put an end to direct colonialism.

Gandhi is rejected, ostensibly because he was quite a weird, eccentric bird, but mostly, I believe, because Time's editors choked at even such an indirect and distorted recognition of the power of popular struggles.

Hence Einstein, as representative of the scientific and technological revolution, wound up with the nod. And if you had to pick a seminal scientific figure of this century, certainly Einstein would top most lists, not only for his own accomplishments, but because his theory of relativity, as even Time noticed, reflected the spirit of an age that was rejecting absolute truths and eternal verities.

But in picking Einstein, the Time editors stumbled across a problem. Einstein was certainly a champion of "free minds" which is precisely why he opposed "free markets." He was an enemy of the capitalist witch-hunt, capitalist racism, the capitalist arms race and of capitalism.

His 1949 Monthly Review essay, Why Socialism, was not only an act of tremendous courage in face of the ferocious anticommunist hysteria of those years. It also reveals someone who has thought deeply about social questions, and who was profoundly influenced by another German Jewish professor who also spent his later years in exile, Karl Marx.

Einstein frontally attacks capitalism not just as an irrational system, but an anti-human one, a system which pits human beings against their own creation, society. He lays bare the essence of capitalist exploitation, which is that the capitalist pays for one thing --human labor power-- but receives another, the product of human labor, and thus the worker is forever enriching the capitalist at his own expense.

In its articles on him, Time is effusive in its praise, calling him "the century's greatest thinker" a "genius among geniuses" and so on and so forth. How to deal, then, with this mental Hercules's thoughts about society? Gingerly, of course.

He is described as a "humanist and internationalist" who advocated "gentle pacifism," a "political idealist" with a "deep moral sense" and "humane and democratic instincts" who, towards the end of his life, "was a soft touch for almost any worthy cause." What Time does not say, of course, is that Einstein was a socialist.