# USA

This page collects pages on the situation in the USA. Often this is also about fighting neoliberalism which the rest of the world seems to be adopting from the US. (RSS, Search)

# 2015-11-16 Middle East

I haven’t written much about politics in years. I just read the newspaper and cringe. Sometimes I feel like I should “share” links – but with whom? Nobody on Facebook seems interested because it’s friends and family and coworkers and students from many years ago. Nobody on Google+ seems interested because most of the people I know there are there for the gaming with the exception of a small number of information sources, in other words, information just flows in one direction. Nobody on Twitter seems interested because I’m mostly following journalists and politicians and when I finally realized this, I figured there was no point in sharing anything because they don’t read what I’m sharing. Information just flows in one direction.

Luckily for me – unluckily for you, perhaps – this blog not only serves as a platform to share information, it also serves as my externalized memory. Which is why I’m trying to push myself to post interesting links here instead of on so-called “social” media – gated communities that will one day be replaced by something else, taking all the information down with them.

I really need to find links to sources outside of Google+ since the inevitable sunsetting of G+ will drag down all those links as well.

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Hi Alex,

I am interested in politics and welcome such posts, for one. By the way, I just read an article in The Guardian that you might find interesting, Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse by Scott Atran.

Cheers

– Enzo 2015-11-16 11:33 UTC

An interesting read! I hadn’t heard of Management of Savagery. Definitely something to remember for the next war, when we’re ready to bomb a foreign country. Wikipedia mentions “the value of provoking military responses from superpowers in order to recruit and train guerilla fighters” and I’m thinking this is the strategy all revolutions have been following since the French revolution. Expose the hypocrisy of the ruling elite by provoking them into acts of violence and use this to radicalize and recruit.

Yikes! I just googled for these keywords (expose radicalize recruit revolution) and stumbled upon Selected Literature on (i) Radicalization and Recruitment, (ii) De-Radicalization and Dis-Engagement, and (iii) Counter-Radicalization and Countering Violent Extremism. Using the same keywords and adding a country quickly leads to articles explaining this phenomenon and the dynamic of revolutionary movements. In my case, I just read The making of the Russian Revolution.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-16 12:18 UTC

# 2015-06-29 On the Supreme Court Decision

The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage in the United States has led to think about the situation in Switzerland and about the role of a constitution.

In Switzerland, a popular initiative can add amendments to the constitution, but we have no constitutional court to enforce these. All the constitution does is say that parliament ought to pass laws to make it real. Then parliament can’t agree on a law, these amendments linger for many years, decades even. I’ve heard it said that this construction was made on purpose. Why have a court to make these decisions if you can simply vote in a different parliament. The idea is that you just add more democracy, I guess.

I just think it’s interesting that there are alternative thoughts on this and some do not require undemocratic elections for life of powerful people.

When comparing a high court of justices for life and an inactive parliament, I think the inactive parliament has more democratic potential because in a few years, I can vote for a new parliament. So, for the moment: not much different. As a political institution: it’s better if you can change your vote.

And yes, of course a democracy usually goes hand in hand with the rule of law, a constitution that protects minorities, and many other institutional and cultural norms. You can vote in Russia, in Iran, in the USA, and still you’ll find powerful forces affecting your freedoms: existing legislation preventing the establishment of a viable alternative, financial incentives preventing the growth of viable alternatives, existing institutions preventing the implementation of meaningful change. Voting alone is not enough.

Note that as far as the US goes, I think what makes it impossible for me to be very enthusiastic about decisions of the supreme court I happen to like or the election of presidents I like is that I know full well that the voters that disagree with me are still there, they still make up about half of the population, we won but we didn’t convince. So yes, as far as I am concerned, Love Wins and Thanks Obama Unironically and all that. But the others are still there. The US system of legal and cultural norms, of financial pressures, of all the things that are not about the actual voting, made it impossible to reach out and make those positive steps together. After the fight is before the fight. No matter who wins, the other side is determined to fight harder next time. None of the news that reaches me across the Atlantic gives me hope regarding any sort of healing. Perhaps this is part of our Zeitgeist for the moment. Or perhaps it has always been thus and I’ve just grown older, and more tired.

Also note that same-sex couples still don't get the exact same rights and protections in Switzerland.

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# 2015-04-04 Revenge Porn

I’ve seen a few posts in my Google+ stream happy with the 18 years a revenge porn guy got. They linked to news items like this Revenge Porn" Defendant Sentenced to 18 Years, “Kevin Bollaert was found guilty of posting sexually explicit photos of women online to extort them.”

I’m happy revenge porn guy gets punished. Fuck him! But, as I live in a country where a life sentence means 25 years (17 years if you behave well in prison), 18 years seems incredibly harsh. Well, at least he’s “eligible for parole after 10 years” as reported by the same news article.

I’m unaware of a similar case here in Switzerland. I’ll have to ask my wife. She’s the expert when it comes to crime and punishment in the family.

I looked at a few of the Facebook comments below the article and saw a few comments regarding revenge porn guys inadequate expression of remorse. I’m always suspicious when the punishment depends on the punished showing adequate remorse or some other reaction that depends on their social graces. If they have none, if the convicted are emotionally stunted, do they deserve harsher punishment?

I just looked at Art. 156 of the Swiss Criminal Code.

Extortion

1. Any person who, with a view to securing an unlawful gain for himself or for another, induces another person by using violence or the threat of seriously detrimental consequences to behave in such a way that he or another sustains financial loss is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding five years or to a monetary penalty.
2. If the offender acts for commercial gain, or if he repeatedly commits the offence against the same person, he is liable to a custodial sentence of from one to ten years.
3. If the offender uses violence against another or if he threatens another with an immediate danger to life and limb, a penalty in accordance with Article 140 hereof is imposed.
4. If the offender threatens to endanger the life and limb of a large number of persons or to cause serious damage to property in which there is a substantial public interest, he is liable to a custodial sentence of not less than one year.

I’m not sure what would happen if a person is convicted of multiple cases of extortion. I’m guessing that in Switzerland, Kevin Bollaert would have gotten ten years at most, eligible for parole after ⅔ of that.

What about the ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends, I wonder. Somebody sent those pictures to revenge porn sites. Shouldn’t they all get punished as well? It may not be extortion but I’m sure it’s something. Maybe Art. 177 is appropriate?

Insult

1. Any person who attacks the honour of another verbally, in writing, in pictures, through gestures or through acts of aggression is liable on complaint to a monetary penalty not exceeding 90 daily penalty units.
2. If the insulted party has directly provoked the insult by improper behaviour, the court may dispense with imposing a penalty on the offender.
3. If there is an immediate response to the insult by way of a retaliatory insult or act of aggression, the court may dispense with imposing a penalty on either or both offenders.

A “daily penalty unit” depends on the punished’s personal finances and can go up to $3000, as seen in Art. 34 of the Swiss Criminal Code. Monetary penalty Assessment 1. Unless the law provides otherwise, a monetary penalty amounts to a maximum of 360 daily penalty units. The court decides on the number according to the culpability of the offender. 2. A daily penalty unit amounts to a maximum of 3000 francs. The court decides on the value of the daily penalty unit according to the personal and financial circumstances of the offender at the time of conviction, and in particular according to his income and capital, living expenses, any maintenance or support obligations and the minimum subsistence level. 3. The authorities of the Confederation, the cantons and the communes shall provide the information required to determine the daily penalty unit. 4. The number and value of the daily penalty units must be stated in the judgment. Add Comment # 2014-07-11 Reform Recently, Jürgen Hubert shared a link to a Foreign Policy post and said on Google+ that while the German system wasn’t perfect, at least it worked. Some people commented and said they agreed. I wrote that from what I heared Germans in Switzerland say, many like it here as well. I love the Swiss system. And the weird thing is: the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848 “was influenced by the ideas of the constitution of the United States of America and the French Revolution.” (Emphasis mine.) I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wholly support efforts by Lawrence Lessig: Rootstrikes. I just finished listening to the latest bunch of episodes about the American Revolution and the drafting of the United States Constitution, and the List of amendments to the United States Constitution, at the Revolutions Podcast. Excellent material if you’re into podcasts at all. When I read the FP article, I felt disappointed because of its shallow analysis. What about Exportweltmeister and the price the Germans paid, stagnating wages? What about the discussions of the 5% hurdle after recent elections? What about the historic justifications for the Senate in order to convince smaller entities to join the federation? These can be an important issue in heterogeneous federation like Switzerland (there was a time when each canton had its own currency)—and possibly also of interest for nations after a civil war (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon, Syria) or countries where so many regions strive for more autonomy and the state is always in fear of breaking apart (Spain, Italy). So yes, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany is great. But the US has its United States Bill of Rights, and a Constitutional Court, and that’s great. In contrast, Switzerland allows its citizens to easily amend the constitution, but there is no constitutional court, so sometimes issues linger for years before appropriate laws get passed! So it would seem to me that the US has all the tools it needs. I suspect it has mostly a broken process. Something needs reform, but I’m not sure that the German system is a good place to start looking. Add Comment # 2014-06-04 Net Neutrality The United States of America are trying to nail their feet to the ground when it comes to the Internet. And knowing their power and influence, and their spying and blackmailing, I wouldn’t be surprised if their ideas start spreading elsewhere. That’s the unfortunate reality of life on the Internet: I feel like I need to pay$10/month to the EFF and \$10/month to the FSF in order for them to fight for their rights such that their problems don’t spread to where I live. Globalising the fight for our right!

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here are two recommended and entertaining videos to explain it all.

If you’re American, you can tell them how you feel. Or, according to FCC Establishes New Inbox for Open Internet Comments, you can send them email: openinternet@fcc.gov

Here’s what I sent, even though I am not an American:

Dear FCC,

Net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data that travels over their networks equally, is important to me because without it users have fewer options. ISPs should not be the gate keepers to what we do on the Internet. As it stands, there is also precious little competition between providers. If I don’t like my service provider, what am I going to do? I cannot take my business elsewhere.

A pay-­to-play Internet worries me because new services cannot compete. There is no such thing as a video startup with slow download speeds. We’re automatically favoring existing businesses and making life hard for future entrepreneurs and startups. And we gain nothing in return!

The Internet has the unique ability to make all of us authors. We can read and write, share and consume. By making a fast service more expensive, we’ll be limiting good quality to commercial ventures. We also want non-commercial projects to succeed. We want to download free software, for example. We want to watch our own videos, hosted on our own servers. We don’t want an Internet Apartheid. That is not the “freedom” I want.

Help us make the Internet into the thing almost all of us want, not into the Internet the ISPs want.

Sincerely,

Alex Schroeder

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# 2014-01-15 Crypto-Gram

I recommend you all subscribe to Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram newsletter if you aren’t subscribed to his blog. Today’s Crypto-Gram, for example, has this excellent passage:

Not only is ubiquitous surveillance ineffective, it is extraordinarily costly. I don’t mean just the budgets, which will continue to skyrocket. Or the diplomatic costs, as country after country learns of our surveillance programs against their citizens. I’m also talking about the cost to our society. It breaks so much of what our society has built. It breaks our political systems, as Congress is unable to provide any meaningful oversight and citizens are kept in the dark about what government does. It breaks our legal systems, as laws are ignored or reinterpreted, and people are unable to challenge government actions in court. It breaks our commercial systems, as US computer products and services are no longer trusted worldwide. It breaks our technical systems, as the very protocols of the Internet become untrusted. And it breaks our social systems; the loss of privacy, freedom, and liberty is much more damaging to our society than the occasional act of random violence. – Bruce Schneier, How the NSA Threatens National Security

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# 2013-09-06 Crypto

Concerned by all the Snowden stuff? I am. I’ve had some friends use encrypted mail. Thanks!

I use GPG and you can download my public keys from a public keyserver. I’d be happy to keep our communications encrypted.

I’m also thinking of using the Raspberry Pi I got as a mail server. It would be always on. I think I’d like that. I recently found some instructions on how to do that in a German magazine (behind a paywall). Some alternative articles I’ll be reading later:

I really like what Bruce Schneier has to say. This, for example:

The NSA has turned the fabric of the internet into a vast surveillance platform, but they are not magical. They’re limited by the same economic realities as the rest of us, and our best defense is to make surveillance of us as expensive as possible.

Trust the math. Encryption is your friend. Use it well, and do your best to ensure that nothing can compromise it. That’s how you can remain secure even in the face of the NSA.

– Bruce Schneier, How to remain secure against NSA surveillance

By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards.

This is not the internet the world needs, or the internet its creators envisioned. We need to take it back.

And by we, I mean the engineering community.

– Bruce Schneier, The US government has betrayed the internet. We need to take it back

I remember when Richard Stallman started saying people should pay with cash, not credit and debit cards. I thought it was paranoid but cool. There was no need for me to follow suit.

I’ve been reducing my use of credit and debit cards in recent weeks.

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So now I’m trying to convert the PiMAME SD card I have into a card suitable for the mail server. There is a lot of unnecessary stuff to remove. Right now I feel that debfoster is my friend.

I’ve setup Dovecot. It seems to work. I’ll need to write it up one day. I’m using my alex@gnu.org account to test it all. I’m already getting a lot of spam. Aaargh, that’s what Gmail is best at: spam filtering!

Reading mail within my WLAN works. Now I need to investigate FreeDNS.

Are you having an issues with mail being rejected? I’ve heard that if you run a mail server on a home Internet connection one could have this issue.

re: Swiss hosting (I saw your previous post): I recently opened an account with edis.at and choose a Swiss hosted VPS. So far so good.

Personally, I like the !BeagleBone Black over the RPi, but something else you can do with the little guy is run a tor relay on it.

Josh 2013-09-24 22:16 UTC

I have no problems with mail getting rejected since I use a gnu.org SMTP server to send mail. For testing purposes and in order to get system stuff delivered, I have exim4 sending stuff—but I only ever send mail to my gnu.org account, so that’s hardly a test of my rejection rate.

As for servers: my problem is that the company has Austrian roots and therefore falls under EU and under Austrian jurisdiction, and the server falls under Swiss jurisdiction. Doesn’t that open you up to more privacy invasion? I’m not sure but that’s why I wanted to avoid them. Better to keep it all in the same jurisdiction.

A Tor relay is a noble idea but I remember there being a case in Germany with a guy being arrested because of a Tor server he was running. Sadly, my hesitation—and my wife’s hesitation—are an indication of the chilling effects already in effect.

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-25 07:13 UTC

I think I understand your setup now. I’ve heard some people running SpamAssassian on the Pi, which I think is GPLv2. I assume you are running Raspian?

re servers: Yeah, edis.at is not ideal. I was also looking for a pure swiss server. I had previously used hoststar.ch and it was fine for my tiny website and a mailing list. This time I wanted a VPS (to run a Tor relay) and edis.at came recommended. Did you pick a new hosting provider yet?

re tor: It sounds like he was running an exit node, although it doesn’t say. In the U.S. (at least for now…) it is believed you are ok running a non-exit relay [1]. I am not running an exit relay for these reasons.

Josh 2013-09-25 13:02 UTC

Yeah, I’m running Raspian; and no, I haven’t picked a provider yet. I have talked it over with my wife, however. It’s just a matter of time, I think.

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-25 15:23 UTC

# 2013-08-11 Chilling Effects

Yesterday I wanted to google for a cartoon in order to show it to my wife. I joked that the keywords would probably get me on a watch list. My wife said I was a fool to use those search terms. Did I need to “prove” myself by googing those terms? When I said that if I stopped looking for information using those terms, I was already accepting that the police state is real. She said, thanks for making it harder for me, should I want to visit the United States again.

Needless to say, the argument was a bit longer and a perfect Saturday was ruined with a late night discussion about the current state of the world surveillance society.

Recommended reading: Restoring Trust in Government and the Internet by Bruce Schneier.

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Yeah, I’m taking you off my blogroll.

– Sean 2013-08-12 01:22 UTC

Sounds dramatic but don’t you see the debate as renegotiating the bargain struck by a democratic society? How we’re going to get to there from here is probably going to be messy.

Alok Singh 2013-08-12 02:58 UTC

Absolutely. The debate is about renegotiating our values. The problem with a surveillance society, of course, is that debate concerning the surveillance itself can be problematic. I also wanted to point out that chilling effects happen on a very personal level, long before we can talk about censorship or self-censorship.

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-12 19:35 UTC

The UK government is going to require everyone to “opt-in” to be able to access porn on the internet. Which I think is a good idea in theory, but what worries me is that it seems that if you don’t opt-in it’s not just porn that is going to be blocked but all manner of other stuff too.

https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2013/sleepwalking-into-censorship

P.S. I just found out about your Old School RPG Planet site last week. That’s very useful, Thank-you!

– Akiyama 2013-08-13 10:57 UTC

Janne Jalkanen wrote about the slippery slope from anti-porn activities to more dubious activities in Finland. It was along time ago but it’s still pertinent. At the time it didn’t seem that all your failed attempts to contact various sites would be recorded. The Panopticon at work.

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-13 11:49 UTC

In today’s news - the British Library’s wi-fi filter blocks people from accessing Shakespeare’s Hamlet due to “violent content”.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23680689

– Akiyama 2013-08-14 07:40 UTC

As Kristian Köhntopp likes to say on Google+, “All the hands of all the gods of the hindus cannot facepalm enough…”

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-14 14:33 UTC

# 2013-07-30 Politics

Looking back at how things have gone in the last year I’d say that all my RPG conversation has moved to Google+ and this wiki-blog has turned into a repository of things I don’t want to loose when Google+ is shut down. All my political thoughts are on Twitter: and I’m almost exclusively expressing myself via retweets. I’m also more than happy to talk about it on Twitter.

I post my pictures on Flickr at kensanata for myself and cross-post them to Facebook and a protected Twitter channel for the various family members out there.

# 2013-04-30 The Fall

Recently reports have started resurfacing… (I’ve been following Jürgen Hubert on Google+.)

At one point I left the following comment:

The fall of the US from a spiritual leader of freedom and democracy when I was young – in the seventies and eighties I knew nothing of Vietnam and I grew up with American pop music – to a war mongering nation, to a nation that systematically tortures prisoners, a nation that refuses due process to prisoners, to a nation that imprisons so many of their own population, to a nation that uses cruel and unusual punishment in the form of Three Strikes and its variations – there are no words for this moral catastrophe. No words.﻿

I’m still torn: was my decision do abandon my ranting online and turn into a gamer (HomoLudens) the right thing to do? After all, if we all retreat into our little shells, if we all tend to our little gardens, then nothing ever changes, right?

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Sorry for being blunt, but the question is: will your ranting and agitation help much more than your shutting in your shell? For me it’s a simple question of what is the next thing I can do that will have the best impact (with additional bonus if only I can do that) – and that is usually doing something for the local community (well, “local” includes also online communities with similar interests), whether it’s gaming, organizing a meetup of some kind or open source coding. Sure, there are people who have it much worse, but I can much better improve the lives of the people around me.

No need to apologize. Sometimes a little application of blunt is required.

AlexSchroeder 2013-05-01 00:54 UTC

Yes. (I like to study about communication strategies).

JuanmaMP 2013-05-01 12:45 UTC