6, 2014
Crisis: Inequality, Police, Clegg, Segarra, Stanley L. Cohen, NSA, Big Pharma, consumers
  "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

 The new Washington consensus - time to fight rising

 Police secretly obtained reporter’s phone records in
     Huhne investigation

3. Nick Clegg tells Lib Dems to brutalise Tories over tax
4. Carmen Segarra, the whistleblower of Wall Street
5. The Ordeal of Stanley L. Cohen: Justice as Farce
6. Failure to pass US surveillance reform bill could still
    curtail NSA powers

7. Why We Allow Big Pharma to Rip Us Off
8. The Incarceration of the American Consumer

About ME/CFS


This is a Nederlog of Monday, October 6. It is a
crisis log.

There are 8 items and 9 links. I think the items on inequality, Segarra, Cohen, the NSA and Big Pharma are all quite interesting.

1. The new Washington consensus - time to fight rising inequality

The first item is an article by Larry Elliott on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

The theme of this week’s annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is shared prosperity. In years gone by, the Washington consensus was all about opening up markets and cutting public spending. The new Washington consensus is the need to tackle inequality.

Everybody is getting in on the act. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, will share a platform with Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, and Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, next weekend to discuss how to make global capitalism more inclusive.

The World Economic Forum – the body that organises the Davos shindig – thinks it can go one better. It is angling to get the pope along for its annual meeting in January.

Well... the first paragraph may be credible (though I doubt that as well), but the other ones are not. Here is my explanation:

The theme of rising inequality is now nearly 35 years old, starting in 1980, during all of which years it has become worse and worse (supposing you are an opponent of inequality, that is; if not, make it better and better); I have almost never heard or read any one who was in the first or second rank of any  government or any influential quango about it; while now I am asked to believe that the likes of Lagarde and Carney care about inequality.

Let me put it thus: I do not believe they are serious, but I do believe they care - and so what they did was orchestrate a public relations campaign that will try to flimflam most into believing that those who acted for the Wall Street bankers now suddenly care for the enormous messes and the great inequalities they have wrought over the last thirtyfive years.

Indeed Larry Elliott has similar thoughts, it seems:
But talk is one thing, action another. How does Lagarde’s pledge to fight inequality square with the wage cuts and austerity the IMF has imposed on Greece and Portugal as part of its bailout packages? Is there not a disparity between the commitment of the World Bank president, Jim Kim, to raise the incomes of the bottom 40% of the world’s population with his organisation’s Doing Business report, an annual study that ranks countries by the progress they are making in cutting corporate taxes, keeping minimum wages at low levels and ensuring that paid holidays and sick pay are not excessive?
The reply to this question is Mencken's:
"It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place."
And indeed Larry Elliott proceeds with examples that show why the words of Lagarde and Kim cannot be trusted - although his theme is mostly Ebola and not income inequality (which is a bit odd).

Then again, here are his last two paragraphs:

The test is not what policy makers say about inequality, both at home and abroad; it is what they do. It is about being prepared to redistribute resources from rich to poor. It is about creating an international tax system that prevents revenues being salted away in tax havens. It is about ensuring that trade agreements are not written by multinational corporations. It is about strengthening welfare safety nets and the rights of workers. And it is about recognising that both the private and the public sector have a role.

Bear all this is mind when Washington resounds this week to calls for inequality to be tackled. There is a mountain to climb. Policy makers are still at base camp.

Precisely - with the addition that even the "base camp" seems to be made from propaganda and bullshit.

Then again, there is one thing about this that may be good: At least it may put the topic of inequality on the list of things the main media may treat.

2. Police secretly obtained reporter’s phone records in Huhne investigation 

The next item is an article by Lisa O'Carroll on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Police investigating the former MP Chris Huhne’s speeding fraud secretly obtained a Mail on Sunday reporter’s phone records without his consent, despite laws protecting journalistic confidential sources, it has emerged.

The newspaper revealed it had learned officers from Kent police used laws designed for anti-terrorism to identify a source they had failed to secure through a court application.

In a strong leader article, the Mail on Sunday said the revelation demonstrated the law was giving “officials frightening and near-totalitarian powers”.

It said police were using these secret powers to “wrongfully” seize the phone records of thousands of innocent people.

I say - although I am not amazed at all:

Clearly, once you admit the GCHQ and protect its actions and its secrecy, then the enormous amounts of data they have stolen [2] from the public will be used, in secret of course, wherever possible, for all purposes they may serve,
and especially police purposes.

The same things happen in the USA. There is a lot more in the article, but the above are the main points, and I will quote only one bit more:
It is the second time in a month that revelations have emerged of the police secretly ordering phone companies to hand over journalists’ phone bills, fuelling fears that media organisations will not be able to protect sources, particularly police whistleblowers.
My guess is that there will be a lot more of this kind of material, for this is indeed part of the reasons why the GCHQ (or indeed some other secret organization) assembled it, which is in this case: To stop the press from being really free.

3. Nick Clegg tells Lib Dems to brutalise Tories over tax

The next item is an article by Nicholas Watt and Rowena Mason on The Guardian:
This starts as follows, under a horrible photograph of Clegg making an angry face while clawing the air:

Nick Clegg has instructed his leading ministers to “brutalise” the Tories after George Osborne created an “open goal” for the Liberal Democrats by exempting the rich from further tax increases and using a freeze in benefits for the working poor to help eliminate the budget deficit.

In a sign of how coalition relations have descended into trench warfare in the runup to the election, the deputy prime minister has told senior Liberal Democrats to reach out to “soft Tories” by saying that the chancellor is taking Conservatives back a decade to the era of the nasty party.

The instructions from Clegg, who accused the Tories of “beating up on the poor”, came as the opening of the Liberal Democrat conference was dominated by speculation about future coalition partners if voters elect another hung parliament in May’s general election.

Again there is a lot more in the article, but I have to say - again, as well - that I do not believe Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.

Or more precisely, I believe they will do a lot to get votes - but the votes will certainly not be enough to allow them to play any other role but a secondary
one, and I believe that as soon as the new government will be formed, all the old promises that got some Liberal Democrats elected will be almost completely forgotten.

This is how it went the last time, and also how it went with other political parties in a similar position as the Liberal Democrats.

4. Carmen Segarra, the whistleblower of Wall Street

The next item is an article by Gary Younge on The Guardian:
This starts as follows, with two paragraphs inspired by Vaclav Havel:

In a 1978 political essay, Power of the Powerless, the Czech dissident (and later president) Vaclav Havel paints a scenario of a greengrocer who has been sent a poster announcing “Workers of the World Unite” by the authorities along with his vegetables. Explaining why the grocer would put the poster up in his shop window, Havel writes: “He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life ‘in harmony with society’.”

In this context, argues Havel, the poster’s message has become devoid of meaning. Nobody believes in it. They just have to behave as though they do. “They must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfil the system, make the system, are the system.”

Yes indeed - but to believe that the inhabitants of "free, democratic, rich, Western states" are much different from the inhabitants (in 1978) of "unfree, undemoratic, poor, socialist states" seems quite mistaken, and amounts to a denial of their common humanity.

In fact, most people do conform (once they are 25 or older); they do it for egoistic reasons (it pays better, which is true); and they also do it if their mouths tell tales of revolt (see Clegg, in the previous article): nearly all the leftist political Dutch I have known, and especially the more intelligent, have turned out to be careerists, that moved from being quasi-communists to being quasi-(neo-)conservatives in a remarkably short time, after the fall of the Soviet Union. [3]

Then again, there always is a - quite small - minority of people who can think and dare to act, and Carmen Segarra is one of them:

Carmen Segarra, in the spirit of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden before her, is like the greengrocer who said no. Segarra, a former employee of the New York Federal Reserve, was fired after she refused to tone down a scathing report on conflicts of interest within Goldman Sachs. She sued the Fed over her sacking but the case was dismissed by a judge without ruling on the merits because, he said, the facts didn’t comply with the statute under which she had filed. Segarra is now appealing.

Before she left she secretly recorded her bosses and colleagues, exposing their “culture of fear” and servility when dealing with the very banks they were supposed to be regulating. The Fed is the government agency charged with overseeing the financial sector – a task it singularly failed to achieve in the run-up to the recent financial crisis. What emerges from Segarra’s tapes – released by the investigative website ProPublica – is a supine watchdog wilfully baring its gums before a known burglar so that he may go about his business unperturbed

Gary Younge tells the story of Carmen Segarra, which I leave to your interests. But here is one more quotation that relates to the previous point I made: That in any society - as long as it is more or less working - the great majority conforms, somehow, to a major extent, and for egoistic reasons, and this also applies to most of those who tell the world non-conforming stories:

“One common thread runs through the many different stories of denial,” writes Stanley Cohen in States of Denial. “People, organisations, governments or whole societies are presented with information that is too disturbing, threatening or anomalous to be fully absorbed or openly acknowledged. The information is therefore somehow repressed, disavowed, pushed aside or reinterpreted. Or else the information ‘registers’ well enough, but its implications – cognitive, emotional or moral – are evaded, neutralised or rationalised away.”

Yes indeed - and that state of denial moves most people as soon as they are required to deal with information that shows they must have been wrong about some important point: they deny it, except in so far as they cannot plausibly refute it and the matter has publicity. (Otherwise, they simpy deny it, and may easily get angry that one doubts their integrity.)

5. The Ordeal of Stanley L. Cohen: Justice as Farce

The next item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig!:

This starts as follows:

The use of the courts to erode our civil liberties, as well as expand the ability of the state and corporations to commit fraud and other crimes with impunity, has been accompanied by a campaign to silence the handful of activist attorneys who defend those demonized by the government. The state has imprisoned the great civil rights attorneys J. Tony Serra, who has served two terms behind bars, and Lynne Stewart. And it looks as if Stanley L. Cohen is now on the list. When lawyers who defend the unpopular must suffer severe punishment at the hand of the government, the judiciary is a farce.

Who is Stanley Cohen? Hedges' next paragraph explains it: He clearly is a brave and rational man, who dared to do, for nearly thirty years, what most lawyers very probably do not dare to do and certainly do not do.

He has a website, which is well worth seeing:

From this I quote a part of his "April 13, 2014 Statement on Plea Deal" (which describes his making a plea deal with the US government that will force him to go to jail):

We all know that there is a cost when you say no, when you refuse to go silently into the night, when you reject he notion of complicity. But the work must go on – there is no choice. Mourn not for me but for the millions of people murdered worldwide because of their race, religion, politics or activism. Mourn not for me but for the millions of stateless people reduced to ‘life’ in refugee camps, or who live under Apartheid and Occupation and who are subjected daily to ethnic cleansing, collective punishment and indefinite detention. Mourn not for me but for the whistle blowers, journalists and dissidents murdered, jailed and exiled because of a belief, a simple vision, a commitment to change.

These are brave words, and I believe them, unlike Nick Clegg's baloney, and indeed with far more reason.

Back to Hedges, who starts his second page with this fine paragraph:

The courts, he said, have become less and less hospitable to contrarian defense attorneys. And a series of laws, many passed since 9/11, has made it nearly impossible for those under terrorism charges to mount adequate defenses. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, are used to prevent or severely restrict defendants from communicating with other prisoners and attorneys, relatives, the media and others outside jail. Defendants, even before trial, are often held in solitary confinement in which they must endure around-the-clock electronic monitoring and lockdowns lasting 23 hours a day. They shower and go to the toilet in front of cameras. The extreme sensory deprivation used to break defendants before they enter a courtroom is a form of torture. Statements, beliefs and associations once protected under the Constitution are now considered criminal. Those branded by the state as dissidents, even those who break no laws, can be stripped of their rights and imprisoned without due process. They can be detained and prosecuted not for what they have done, or even for what they might be planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first targeted have been racial Muslims such as those Cohen has defended, but they will not be the last. Now that the state has codified this judicial lynching, the legal equivalent of pre-emptive war, it will be used on the rest of us, as many activists in the environmental, anti-globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements are discovering.

Yes, indeed - I agree. And I am therefore not optimistic. But Stanley L. Cohen indeed is a brave man.

6. Failure to pass US surveillance reform bill could still curtail NSA powers

The next item is an article by Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
Two members of the US House of Representatives are warning that a failure to pass landmark surveillance reform will result in a far more drastic curtailment of US surveillance powers – one that will occur simply by the House doing nothing at all.
That is certainly interesting, since I am against the NSA, and I have noticed that the one thing the present Congress excels in is doing nothing.

Here is the background:

On 1 June 2015, Section 215 of the Patriot Act will expire. The loss of Section 215 will deprive the NSA of the legal pretext for its bulk domestic phone records dragnet. But it will cut deeper than that: the Federal Bureau of Investigation will lose its controversial post-9/11 powers to obtain vast amounts of business records relevant to terrorism or espionage investigations. (...)

Section 215’s expiration will occur through simple legislative inertia, a characteristic of the House of Representatives in recent years.

I say. That is good news - for me and for anyone interested in keeping one's private data private, rather than have them stolen by the NSA, the GCHQ or
other secret services, that work largely without control.

There is rather a lot more in the article, that is not all clear to me, but then the mattter also is complicated, especially since Congress these days tends to avoid passing laws rather than passing them.

Here is the last paragraph, with which I agree:
“However, it’s a good sign that lawmakers are preparing to leverage the Section 215 sunset in order to halt the unlawful, unaccountable, and rights-infringing surveillance practices of the US government,” said Amie Stepanovich of Access.

7. Why We Allow Big Pharma to Rip Us Off

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows - and mind this is about the United States (for things are - still - a bit different in Europe), and I will quote rather a lot because I wrote a lot about Big Pharma, psychiatry and medicine since 2010 (for which see the last link):

According to a new federal database put online last week, pharmaceutical companies and device makers paid doctors some $380 million in speaking and consulting fees over a five-month period in 2013.

Some doctors received over half a million dollars each, and others got millions of dollars in royalties from products they helped develop.

Doctors claim these payments have no effect on what they prescribe. But why would drug companies shell out all this money if it didn’t provide them a healthy return on their investment?

Again Mencken's quote is helpful. These medical doctors are completely incredible to me because
"It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place."
For this is what they would say, receiving half a million or a million dollars with one hand (or less), while writing with the other hand that "these payments have no effect": Clearly, they have major effects, for the patients do as the doctor tells them to do while the doctor gets rich.

There is also this:

Another technique is called “product hopping” —making small and insignificant changes in a drug whose patent is about to expire, so it’s technically new.

In fact, this has happened for over thirty years now, notably in psychiatry, where there are new drugs all the time - except that they are nearly all small variants of Prozac, which get patented to keep them expensive. (In fact fluoxetine, which is Prozac minus the name, is less expensive than sleeping pills in Holland since the patent expired, some 12 years ago.)

And there is this:

Another technique is for drug companies to continue to aggressively advertise prescription brands long after their twenty-year patents have expired, so patients ask their doctors for them. Many doctors will comply.

America is one of few advanced nations that allow direct advertising of prescription drugs.

Yes, indeed. Again, there is this:
A fourth tactic is for drug companies to pay the makers of generic drugs to delay their cheaper versions. These so-called “pay-for-delay” agreements generate big profits for both the proprietary manufacturers and the generics. But here again, you and I pay. The tactic costs us an estimated $3.5 billion a year.
As Robert Reich says, this is one of the big medical differences between Europe and the United States (where it also should be noted that in Europe the medical charges are considerably less, while the health of the population is considerably better than in the U.S.):
Europe doesn’t allow these sorts of payoffs, but they’re legal in the United States because the major drug makers and generics have fought off any legislative attempts to stop them.
Then there is this:

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is spending more on advertising and marketing than on research and development – often tens of millions to promote a single drug.

And it’s spending hundreds of millions more every year lobbying. Last year alone, the lobbying tab came to $225 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s more than the formidable lobbying expenditures of America’s military contractors.

And Big Pharma also spent $36 million on political campaigns. So Reich asks, quite justifiedly:

Why do we put up with this? It’s too facile to say we have no choice given how much the industry is spending on politics. If the public were sufficiently outraged, politicians and regulatory agencies wouldn’t allow this giant ripoff.

But the public isn’t outraged. That’s partly because much of this strategy is hidden from public view.

But I think it’s also because we’ve bought the ideological claptrap of the “free market” being separate from and superior to government.

Yes, indeed: I know that "much of this strategy is hidden from public view" for I have found out most of the above since 2010, and only through reading quite a lot of somewhat or fairly technical stuff, that most other people do not have the time for, even if they have the knowledge to read the technical stuff, which again the majority does not have.

And Reich is also right in blaming "
the ideological claptrap of the “free market”" which he indeed explains quite well, but I think he also misses a third component,
which is that the vast majority treats doctors as if they are a very special class of persons, whom they must trust, can confide in, and must believe: Doctors have, in Allen Frances' phrase, "pure hearts", and would never stoop so low as to accept payments to move their patients to get the latest patented medicine, or indeed do anything improper.

Well, the truth is that medical people are people, and people are easily corruptible by money, and the U.S. has some of the most corrupt medical doctors, who make the highest medical incomes ever.

In brief, here are the five reasons that many American doctors make a whole lot of money, as does Big Pharma with their help:
  • The suppliers of drugs, Big Pharma, is almost totally corrupt (since decades indeed: Check Dr Healy's site).
  • Big Pharma has appropriated most of the data of experiments, and does not publish them if negative, and also writes - secretively - many of the articles that are signed by medical KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders).
  • The public for the most part does not know and mostly cannot know: The corruption is kept secret, and few read medical publications, that anyway are often not what they seem.
  • The doctors are mostly revered by their patients as being a special, honest, scientific sort of person one can trust (which is often false: medical doctors mostly are quite ordinary people, if perhaps a bit more clever than most, and can be bought, and often are).
  • And there is "the ideological claptrap of the “free market”", which is claptrap because the government is the main force and keeps the markets as they are (which is currently in medicine: there are the false and dishonest suppliers of drugs, who buy the services of their dealers, who are medical doctors, who standardly deny that they are bought - "How dare you?!" - and whose leaders sing publicly to affirm their “purity of heart").
8. The Incarceration of the American Consumer

The next and final item today is an article by Ralph Nader on his site:
This starts as follows:

How do corporate attorneys sleep at night considering that with the power of their large corporate clients, they often crush the freedoms of workers, consumers and small communities who are trying to break out of a complex web of shackles?

These highly paid power lawyers expertly weave an intricate system of controls into one-sided contracts enforced by laws garnished with the muscle of big business to wear down all but the most intrepid shoppers.

To answer the first question: By reflecting on the profits they make, and by insisting that the poor owe their poverty to themselves, and not to the system
nor to its willing executers, such as corporate attorneys.

The rest of the article is a good exposition of the reasons the American consumer is incarcerated. I leave it to your interests, and only quote the ending:
It is only going to get worse unless consumer groups rethink and regroup to move systemic shifts of power from sellers to buyers through community-based economies, group buying, cooperatives, and political power leading to updated law and order. (See and for more information.)

Encouraging schools to adopt experiential instruction in detecting consumer fraud and using small claims court to secure inexpensive justice is an easy first step on the long march to consumer justice.

[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.)

[2] I think they have stolen them and I will say so, also if the laws are reformed.

[3] I am speaking here mostly about the Dutch leftist - communists, pascifists, socialists - I have known, who mostly studied in some university, and then made a nice well paying capitalist career, mostly while pretending to be still leftists (and indeed being it, verbally that is).

Also, I think I can really judge these people, because my parents and grandparents were well-known communists and anarchists, who also went into the resistance when that was really dangerous. In fact, I think the choices most of them and I made were opposites: I chose against communism at 20 but for the moral stances of my parents and grandparents; most of the others chose for communism as long as that was popular (until ca. 1985), and against the moral stances of real leftists.

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)

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