28, 2014
Crisis: Merkel, US "justice", Piketty * 2, Hedges, Personal
   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next

1. Merkel urged to press Obama on NSA scandal ahead of
     Washington talks

2. US Govt Can Search Private Emails Stored Overseas:

3. Inequality hurts everyone apart from the super-rich –
     and here's why

4. Welcome to the Piketty revolution: “Capital in the 21st
     Century” is a game-changer (even if you never read it)

5. (2014) Directors Cut: Chris Hedges: "The many failures of
     US society and how change can occur"

6. Personal

About ME/CFS


This is the Nederlog of April 28. It is a crisis issue.

There are six items, of which the first five are about the crisis. Indeed, two are also about Piketty, but both are quite good, and you will probably learn some from reading them, as you probably will from watching Hedges.

The sixth item merely notes that I did not succeed in quite finishing the Multatuli- materials I want to copy, but I am busy with it.

1. Merkel urged to press Obama on NSA scandal ahead of Washington talks

The first item is an article by Philip Oltermann on The Guardian:
This starts as follows - and yes, Merkel and Obama are to meet coming Friday:

Angela Merkel should ask Barack Obama to destroy her NSA file when she meets the American president in Washington this week, a leading German opposition politician has told the Guardian.

The Greens warn that failure to address the intelligence monitor scandal would risk undermining the credibility of the western alliance during the Ukraine crisis.

"Close co-operation between western allies requires joint values – also in relation to the activities of our intelligence services," said Omid Nouripour, the Green party's foreign policy spokesperson.

"Trying to sit out the NSA scandal won't work: we can't afford to let the remaining open questions strain relations during on the current crisis," he said, suggesting that a symbolic act, such as the destruction of Merkel's NSA file, could help to mend US-German relations.

This is - to be sure - the opinion of a German opposition politician. It is not said in the article what is Merkel's position, though it is said that:
So far, the US government has refused to allow Merkel access to her NSA file or answer formal questions about its surveillance activities, a recent query to the German Bundestag has shown. According to a report in German magazine Der Spiegel, the NSA kept more than 300 reports on Merkel in a special heads of state databank.
And it is also said:
But rather than pushing for a stronger European protection law or a review of the "Safe Harbor" data transfer agreement, Merkel tried to turn the crisis into an opportunity by getting the US to sign a "no spy" agreement and allowing Germany to enter the "five eyes" intelligence partnership between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
This was - it seems - rejected by officials of the USA government.

Meanwhile, in Germany itself, that it is, outside its politicians, some things appear to have changed:
Causes such as net neutrality or open access, for years championed only by "hacktivists", have gone mainstream and fill the pages even of more conservative newspapers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "In the past, we were laughed at – but now it turns out that some of the most paranoid theories were justified", said Martin Haase, a former officer at the Chaos Computer Club network.
And also:
Above all, the Snowden revelations have caused great damage to America's image in Germany, with NSA surveillance frequently employed as the chief argument by Germans expressing sympathy or understanding for Russia's position.
I do not know why "damage to America's image" would give rise to "understanding for Russia's position", except if the argument is: At least the Russians do not steal our private and personal data in great bulk, while the Americans do. That still does not entail sympathy for Russia, it seems to me, but the premiss seems correct.

There is considerably more in the article.

2.  US Govt Can Search Private Emails Stored Overseas: Judge 

The next item is an article by Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:

In fact, it illustrates how considerable parts of the US legal system have grown corrupt. For consider:

In the first decision of its kind, a federal judge ruled this week that the U.S. government has the authority to force cyber-companies to hand over customers' emails and other digital data, even when that data is stored overseas.

Issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis in New York, the decision pertained to a case in which Microsoft was given a warrant to search the email account of one of its clients whose email data is stored in a server located in Dublin, Ireland.

Microsoft challenged the warrant on the grounds that the U.S. government does not have jurisdiction to search client data held outside of the U.S.

Francis ruled that if the U.S. government were forced to coordinate with other countries and follow their laws when obtaining such data, "the burden on the government would be substantial, and law enforcement efforts would be seriously impeded," Reuters reports.

Less than a year ago, private mail and letters were protected - formally and legally - by the Fourth Amendment; now anything anyone has written anywhere may be seized by the US government on the ground that this makes things easier for them, for that is what the judge said, with the bullshit deleted.

There is also this:

Yet, Microsoft released a statement arguing, "A U.S. prosecutor cannot obtain a U.S. warrant to search someone's home located in another country, just as another country's prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States."

The corporation vowed to appeal the decision.

Quite so - except that hitherto Microsoft has cooperated a lot with the US government.

3.  Inequality hurts everyone apart from the super-rich – and here's why

The next item is an article by Chris Huhne on The Guardian:

This is from the first paragraph:

From the 1970s onwards, the intellectual and political current has run strongly against equality. The Reagan-Thatcher consensus on low taxes, and their suspicion of redistribution, has been remarkably powerful. The Blair-Brown government had a lower top rate of income tax for all its 13 years than Thatcher did for nine.

Well... the "low taxes" and "their suspicion of redistribution" were basically a propagandistic swindle for the masses, and really meant - "Taxes are what we pay for civilization", Supreme Court judge Holmes Jr. - that they were against civilization, and worked for the rich exclusively, although they never admitted that in politics (where everybody lies anyway, as if that is a man's job).

But I did not know that the horrible hypocrite Blair worked even harder for the rich (which Blair now also belongs to: "There is a new dawn for you") than did the very conservative Thatcher, judged by taxes, which are very important, and show that Blair and Brown were even more anti-civilization than was Thatcher.

Huhne sees "two important pieces of evidence weighing in for the egalitarians" and the first is Piketty's book, about which he says:

Piketty has written a marvellous, persuasive book that breaks with modern economics' love affair with mathematics. It is in the same literary tradition as JM Keynes's The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, with an impressive sweep and grasp of economic history. Most important, it is rooted in the facts of inequality that cry out for explanation.

I have read Keynes and Smith (for the most part) but not Piketty, about whom Huhne writes:

He challenges the conventional postwar view that capitalism was developing in a balanced way so that "growth would float all boats". This complacent assumption was true of the postwar reconstruction, but only as a "consequence of war and of policies adopted to cope with the shocks of war".

No, I do not think it was limited to that: at least in Holland, Germany and Scandinavia there were genuine and widespread movements to emancipate all, or at least most, and many, also from various political directions, were in favor of "capitalism with a human face", that also seemed quite possible and feasible.

Next, Piketty is summarized to the following effect, that I also do not quite agree to:

Piketty shows that in rich countries at the frontier of technology and skills, the growth of incomes is between 1% and 2% a year. Meanwhile, the rate of return on capital averages about 4% to 5% a year. So those who draw their income from capital returns will outstrip wage earners and "inherited wealth grows faster than output and income".

In the period since 1970, aided by the Reagan-Thatcher consensus, inequality has returned to the pre-1914 levels of France's belle époque and the US robber barons. The figures are breathtaking.

I agree that the "figures are breathtaking", but I disagree that "the economy" is the source, reason and motivator of everything: In fact, I do not care much that returns on capital are larger than growth of incomes (in fact, that seems rather normal to me) - the main points are the laws that are in place to tax the rich and everybody else, in order to protect those poorer than the rich are, and to take care there will be a considerable redistribution, and money for public works and civilization.

But this is true, I think:
Piketty says of the United States: "From 1977 to 2007, the richest 10% appropriated three-quarters of the growth. The richest 1% alone absorbed nearly 60% of the total increase of US national income in this period." The squeezed middle does not enter into it. A democratic society will not, and cannot, tolerate such trends.
What this proves, to someone of my cast of mind, at least, is that in these forty years the American tax-schemes have been grossly ineffective, and indeed there were less and less taxes (civilization) to be paid by the rich, and more and more loopholes for them to escape paying most of the taxes they still had to pay.

And that seems to me mostly a quite evident piece of corruption: the rich had to pay less and less taxes, and got more and more loopholes, simply because they paid the legislators (Congress) to do so. They may not like the term "corruption", but there were and are very many lobbyists in Washington, the last forty years, who all offer money for services.

The other "
important piece(.) of evidence weighing in for the egalitarians" according to Huhne is an IMF-report - yes, from the International Monetary Fund - called "Redistribution, Inequality and Growth", which is summarized by the IMF as follows (with my boldings):
The Fund has recognized in recent years that one cannot separate issues of economic growth and stability on one hand and equality on the other. Indeed, there is a strong case for considering inequality and an inability to sustain economic growth as two sides of the same coin. Central to the Fund’s mandate is providing advice that will enable members’ economies to grow on a sustained basis. But the Fund has rightly been cautious about recommending the use of redistributive policies given that such policies may themselves undercut economic efficiency and the prospects for sustained growth (the so-called “leaky bucket” hypothesis written about by the famous Yale economist Arthur Okun in the 1970s). This SDN follows up the previous SDN on inequality and growth by focusing on the role of redistribution. It finds that, from the perspective of the best available macroeconomic data, there is not a lot of evidence that redistribution has in fact undercut economic growth (except in extreme cases). One should be careful not to assume therefore—as Okun and others have—that there is a big tradeoff between redistribution and growth. The best available macroeconomic data do not support such a conclusion.

That is to say: Redistribution works - keeping a financially healthy middle class in fact is more profitable than destroying it; again, redistribution works - for it pays for civilization and public works everybody, except perhaps the extremely rich, needs.

Huhne sums it up as follows:

For liberals, Piketty is a wedge between the classical and the new liberals: he makes it hard to argue that government should only be concerned about equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome. When outcomes become so divergent, equality of opportunity is bound to follow. Meritocracy is dead. Birth matters far more.

One of the biggest battles in most developed countries' politics turns out to be wrong. The right was meant to be nasty and selfish, but good for growth. The left was soft and kindhearted, but a threat to prosperity. However, the evidence strongly suggests that the only people who win from low-redistribution policies are the super-rich. The rest of us lose.

Yes, indeed: Greed is not good - or only good for the very few. Being nasty and selfish is not good - or only good for the very few. And it may perhaps be not wise to be soft and kindhearted, but redistribution works, gives people jobs and decent incomes, and pays for civilization.

In brief, this is a fine article, that you should read all of. 

4.  Welcome to the Piketty revolution: “Capital in the 21st Century” is a game-changer (even if you never read it)

The next item is an article by Sean McElwee on Salon:

Yes, I know it is another article on Piketty. But it is a good one, and explains things fairly well, and also says

Is Piketty’s book more likely to be purchased and sat on a coffee table than read? Certainly. The same can be said of “Das Kapital,” though no one would attempt to deny its immense political impact. Keynes’ “General Theory of Employment” — the ur-text of modern economic policy — also wasn’t widely read by the masses, but no book has had a more potent or prolonged influence on the world economic program. The idea of a dense, academic tome setting the public alight is not extraordinary, but rather quite ordinary. The list can certainly be expanded. It’s unlikely that public fully understood the “Origin of the Species,” the Pentagon Papers, “Silent Spring,” “The Kinsey Report,” “Democracy and Education” or “The Course of Positive Philosophy” at the time of their publications, but their impact on society, because of the movements they either fomented or supplemented, is undeniable.

“Capital in the 21st Century” is such a book. For decades, Americans have been aware of the fact that “growth” was no longer benefiting them and their children. We have noticed that the benefits of new technology and of our labor have been flowing to a very few, and that those same people then dictate policies to consolidate their wealth even further. Our voices are not heard, as both political parties, to differing extents, have become subservient to those with wealth.

That seems true, as does the following paragraph, that also makes a point that I so far mostly missed in others' prose about Piketty:
If nothing else, “Capital” will finally bring questions of “who gets what” back to the center of economics. Economists will no longer be able to couch tax cuts for the rich behind a veil of jargon, disguising power relations as mere economic efficiencies. We forget, if we ever knew, that the earliest economists were philosophers and historians first — and that economics was always considered to be a question of politics.
Yes, indeed: It depends in the end - apart from war - on politics and on the laws politicians frame and retract, and that holds true of economics as well.

Anyway - I have quoted the easier bits from this article, but this also is a good article that I recommend reading all of.

5. (2014) Directors Cut: Chris Hedges: "The many failures of US society and how change can occur"

Finally for today (apart from the brief Personal bit that follows), not an article but a video of 28 min 33 sec made by Leigha Cohen, that is mostly about Chris Hedges, with a short appearance of Eugene Jarecki:
As I've said several times: I like Chris Hedges, for he is intelligent, brave, knows a lot, can write, and has his heart in the right place, even though I do not always agree with him.

Also, I like this director's cut: it concentrates things by cutting out many of the irrelevancies that happen in meetings and talks.

So this is again a recommendation - and yes, it is about what the title says; it is not overly long; it is well spoken and clear; and you very probably will learn from it.

6. Personal

I have said the Dutch Multatuli-excerpts would be all on line over the weekend, but I did not make it. I did get as far as 1254, but there are 1282 numbered ideas (in 7 volumes, that I put on line and commented between 2001 and 2006, mostly, and quite well, also).

It will probably happen this week (and then there is still more to happen) but now you know: I have been busy on it, but didn't finish it yet.

[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

       home - index - summaries - mail