25, 2014
Crisis: Hagel, Smith, NSA, Krugman, College, Snowden, Richter
  "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

 Chuck Hagel forced to step down as US defense secretary
‘How the hell can you privatise water?’ – when Harry
     Leslie Smith (91) met Owen Jones (30)

3. Is There Any Hope for America to Transcend the
     Disastrous Thinking of the National Security State?

4. Paul Krugman: Deluded New Majority in Congress Insists
     We're Living in an Ayn Rand Novel

Why College Is Necessary But Gets You Nowhere
6. The Question of Edward Snowden
7. Wolf Richter: Global Business Outlook “Darkest Picture
     Since Financial Crisis”

About ME/CFS


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, November 25. It is a
crisis log.

There are 7 items and 8 dotted links: Item 1 is about the dismissal of Chuck Hagel as U.S. defense secretary; item 2 is a nice interview with Harry Leslie Smith by Owen Jones; item 3 is a good interview on AlterNet with Tom Engelhardt; item 4 is Paul Krugman on Ayn-Rand-"economists"; item 5 is Reich on why college still is profitable, probably, moneywise; item 6 is a good review
of "Citizenfour"; and item 7 is about the crisis, that still continues, even according to many business leaders.

And here goes:

1. Chuck Hagel forced to step down as US defense secretary

The first item today is an article by Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts on The Guardian:
This starts as follows (and is one of many I could also have quoted):

The US defense secretary has been fired after less than two years in office as the White House reorders a national security strategy upended by the Islamic State (Isis).

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama’s third Pentagon chief and a former Republican senator, will leave the Department of Defense just weeks after his spokesman said Hagel was looking forward to serving “for the remainder” of the Obama administration.

Confirming his departure during an awkward White House ceremony, Obama said Hagel would stay in post until a successor was confirmed by the Senate, though the president was less effusive than he had been announcing the departure of his friend and closer political ally, the attorney general Eric Holder.

Obama went out of his way to list Hagel’s achievements, but avoided dwelling on US engagement in Iraq and Syria, merely praising Hagel’s work “helping build the international coalition” against the Islamic State.

There is considerably more in the article, and elsewhere, but this is about the gist.

2. ‘How the hell can you privatise water?’ – when Harry Leslie Smith (91) met Owen Jones (30)

The next item is an article by Owen Jones and Harry Leslie Smith on The Guardian:

This is an interview of Harry Leslie Smith by Owen Jones. I liked it, and am about midway between the two, since I am 64 (but I look a lot younger, probably mostly through 30 years of taking vitamins and other supplements in large doses [2]). In any case, here are a few selections:

What was it like growing up in Barnsley in interwar Britain?

I don’t know how you can sum it up because it was so brutal – there was no other word for it. I was born five years after the end of the first world war. That alone was a disaster that crippled soldiers. That’s the trouble with wars, too: after a war, the government doesn’t give a damn about the soldiers. There were guys with no arms or legs who were living under the same desperate circumstances as everyone else.

Yes, indeed: I think Harry Leslie Smith is quite right, though this is mostly neglected or denied. If you want to know more about this, here are two books I can recommend, both by George Orwell: "Down and out in Paris and London" and "The road to Wigan Pier".

Here is some more on the same theme - hunger:

Do you remember your youth as a time of hunger?

Oh yes, absolutely. If you didn’t have a job, you didn’t have money; if you didn’t have money, you didn’t have food – that’s the whole point. That’s why I did this barrowboy job as a child. I got four shillings a week and managed to put a little bit more food into the house.
And this is on poverty:

She wasn’t very impressed when you brought her back to Britain, was she?

The conditions for the German people and Dutch people was so far advanced from what we had in England. They all had inside toilets, they had baths with hot running water, electric stoves. I couldn’t get over it, because we were still washing with a tin bath in the kitchen. depends. On the one hand, Harry Leslie Smith is right that the conditions in Holland were a bit better than they were in England. On the other hand, it depended a lot on where you lived, and while my family - that was quite poor - had inside toilets always during my life, there was no shower until I was 13 or so, and no hot running water either till then, and no electric stoves that were any use, and no baths. But on average Harry Leslie Smith is right: In England it was worse than in Holland for the working people, in the 1930ies.

Finally this is on the present situation in Great Britain:

What’s your fear about the situation facing people in Britain today?

Even now I shudder to think what people are going through to feed their children. It’s so bloody unnecessary as far as I can see. It’s appalling. It’s all these zero hour contracts – how could the government allow something like that to even come into existence? You can’t take money from the average worker and not from the big businesses. The government hand everything out now to private companies – in the old days, the government used to be the ones who looked after everything. How the hell can you privatise water? It’s the basis of life.

Yes indeed - and I, who is extremely well-educated (mostly by my own efforts, though I have got two really excellent university-degrees) agree with Smith that it is "bloody unnecessary": Quite so! 

Also the link is well worth reading so I repeat it:
This is a good article by Harry Leslie Smith from 2013, also on The Guardian.

3. Is There Any Hope for America to Transcend the Disastrous Thinking of the National Security State?

The next item is an article by Don Hazen and Jan Frel on AlterNet:

In fact, this is an interview with Tom Engelhardt, who edits tomdispatch, and gets reviewed quite a lot in Nederlog because he is a quite sensible and intelligent man.

Here are the first question+answer:

AlterNet: Looking back over the past decade, it seems things have gotten worse. True or false?  

Engelhardt: Thirteen years later, it's gotten endlessly worse. What I see as the worst part of it is that -- forget politics for a minute -- there just seems to be no learning curve in Washington. It's like, you know what it reminds me of, but not in an amusing way? That old movie Groundhog Day? Bill Murray wakes up the next morning and it's always the same. Except in this case, each day gets worse.

And now we're at a point where, the National Security State -- what I call in the title of my book, the Shadow Government -- has little accountability whatsoever. If I were break into a house, and I was found and caught, I would be brought to court for it. I might end up in jail. 

If the Shadow Government breaks into a house, nothing will happen. You can run through the crimes, they range from destroying evidence of a crime they committed, CIA destroying its own tapes, perjury before Congress, to kidnapping and assassination, including the murder of American citizens, torture which we all know about. Every kidnapping which we like to call rendition because it sounds somewhat politer.

Quite so. Next, skipping a lot that is interesting, about the internet:

AlterNet: What has it done for us? Are we stronger or weaker?

Engelhardt: I think I'm too close to it to know. This is one I don't think I can answer. Some of the internet completely appalls me because one of the things that I see about the internet is it takes certain constraints and taboos off people. I'm always struck by this.

I have internet since 1996 and a computer since 1987, though I had a friend who had an Apple II since 1980, while I first programmed a mainframe in 1973 (but that was very simple, as a program and as a task). I think I know more about computing than Engelhardt does, though I do not think that is very relevant, but I can answer AlterNet's question:

We - that is: the ordinary citizens and intellectuals - are definitely a lot weaker with the present internet that carries government spies everywhere, for precisely the same reason as ordinary Germans and German intellectuals were a lot weaker under Hitler: The Gestapo controlled much, though not by far as much as the NSA has insight in.

Also, I really like computers and the good things about the internet, but the above is simply the realist's answer to the present situation, where almost anything electronic that you can buy comes with extensive and secretive spying apparatuses of some kind.

This has to stop, quite radically also, and in the end it can only be stopped by a combination of laws and technology, and until that happens this is my judgment: Everybody except the NSA and the government is a lot weaker because of the illegal governmental spying on everything that the internet allows.

Anyway... this is a good interview, and there is a lot more under the last dotted link.

4. Paul Krugman: Deluded New Majority in Congress Insists We're Living in an Ayn Rand Novel 

The next item is an article by Janet Allon on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:
Paul Krugman is not exactly optimistic about the new Congress that will be sworn in in January. That's because both houses of legislature will be dominated by the party that has essentially failed to grasp the fundamental economic realities of our day, which is that when the economy is at rock bottom where ours has been for the past six years, everything changes.
I must say thay while Krugman is considerably better than most economists I know of, he is an economist, and economy is not a hard science, and indeed quite often not a science at all.

In any case, here is the part I did want to quote, which is the ending of the article - and everything but the last statement is Paul Krugman:
Unfortunately, too many still don’t; one of the most striking aspects of economic debate in recent years has been the extent to which those whose economic doctrines have failed the reality test refuse to admit error, let alone learn from it. The intellectual leaders of the new majority in Congress still insist that we’re living in an  Ayn Rand novel; German officials still insist that the problem is that debtors haven’t suffered enough.
Not a lot of reason for optimism.

Yes indeed, though I must say that the "economic debate" can be hardly serious when one is opposed with utter bullshit that goes back to Ayn Rand's crazy beliefs or one has to discuss with academically educated economists who "refuse to admit error".

I mean: the debate may be serious in various ways, but it hardly can be academic or intellectually interesting with such opponents.

5. Why College Is Necessary But Gets You Nowhere

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

I'll come to Robert Reich in a minute. First, I refer you to something I wrote recently on Frank Zappa (<-Wikipedia):
The reason to start with this is that Frank Zappa refused to fund his children's college education, not because of lack of money, but because he thought they would not learn anything useful.

I am sure Robert Reich does not agree with Zappa, and indeed I probably do not, supposing at least we speak of ordinary people, and even fairly intelligent ones, for about them Reich is probably correct.

He starts as follows (and I have made two cuts, indicated by "(...)"):

This is the time of year when high school seniors apply to college, and when I get lots of mail about whether college is worth the cost.

The answer is unequivocally yes, but with one big qualification. (...)

Put simply, people with college degrees continue to earn far more than people without them. And that college “premium” keeps rising.

Last year, Americans with four-year college degrees earned on average 98 percent more per hour than people without college degrees.

But here’s the qualification, and it’s a big one.

A college degree no longer guarantees a good job. The main reason it pays better than the job of someone without a degree is the latter’s wages are dropping.

In fact, it’s likely that new college graduates will spend some years in jobs for which they’re overqualified.

And in fact, that last situation - doing a job for which you are formally overqualified - holds for at least 46%.

So the brief answer seems to be this: If you want to earn more money than others, you'll have to go to college, though I am rather sure that the average
will not learn much there, which also doesn't or shouldn't worry them, since
they study to get richer and not to learn a lot.

In fact, I am talking about an educational system that admits a third of the population, which means that it is, on average, not for the really gifted persons, who are 1 in 50 at most.

Though again, if you belong to the happy few with an IQ over 140, you also have to go to college, and I will not worry about you, because - except if you get ill
with an incurable disease - you very probably will get a well-paying job.

6. The Question of Edward Snowden

The next item is an article by David Bromwhich on The New York Review of Books:

It is a review of Citizenfour, that I still have not seen (maybe this week). I give four quotes, from a lot more, that is well worth reading. The first sets the scene and gives an overview:
Citizenfour, a documentary about the rise of mass, suspicionless surveillance and about the dissidents who have worked to expose it, naturally centers on Snowden; and most of the film concentrates on eight days in Hong Kong, during which Poitras filmed while the Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill introduced themselves, conducted searching interviews and conversations with Snowden, and came to know something of his character.
OK - though I take it that an additional reason to concentrate on the days in Hong Kong is that there is little or no film of the later days. (I don't complain: I explain.)

There is also this bit on some others who are being portrayed (and I removed Greenwald from the quotation simply because I wrote a fair amount about him):

Citizenfour gives a setting for Snowden’s action through its portrait of several other vivid personalities. William Binney, the mathematician who conceived the NSA’s Stellar Wind surveillance program in late 2001—thus laying the foundation for the subsequent programs of NSA data collection—tells how he quit the agency for reasons of conscience similar to Snowden’s when he realized that the government was turning its powers inward to spy on Americans. (...) Finally, Jacob Appelbaum, a freelance critic of surveillance, is seen in his element as an educator and agitator, wondering how it is that so many people associate freedom with privacy, while the same people accept the idea that privacy has been abolished.
In fact, as the article makes clear, Snowden and Binney seem to disagree about Stellar Wind, at least in the sense thay Snowden insists that the Fourth Amendment also prohibits that gathering of possible evidence without warrant (as can be seen below, in the last quotation).

Next, there is this bit on Snowden's motives:

In an interview about Citizenfour with the New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, Snowden has said that his action seemed to him necessary because the American officials charged with the relevant oversight had abdicated their responsibility. He meant that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the intelligence committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate had utterly failed to guard against extraordinary abuses of the public trust under the pretext of national security. Nor had they undertaken the proper work of setting limits to government spying on Americans consistent with the spirit of the First Amendment and the letter of the Fourth Amendment.

“Abdicated” is the right word. Obama, Holder, and the heads and members of the relevant committees acted as if the machine was working; as if they had no responsibility to watch, with care, the expansion it was undergoing; as if it was not their business to restrain its operations with some attention to the processes of informed consent.

Actually "abdicated" is a mild term for what "Obama, Holder, and the heads and members of the relevant committees" did, for they explicitly lied, and betrayed the faith that they would do their jobs at least responsibly.

My last quotation is this:

Asked by Lessig to consider the desirability of a system of encryption that could be broken only by a specific court order, Snowden replied that the Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless seizure as well as warrantless search. Lessig then pressed Snowden to say what he thought of such a reform, by way of total encryption of data collected through mass surveillance, “putting aside the Fourth Amendment.” Snowden answered that in his view, such a procedure would still violate “our natural [human] rights.”
I think Snowden is right.

Wolf Richter: Global Business Outlook “Darkest Picture Since Financial Crisis”

The next and final item for today is an article by Yves Smith and Wolf Richter on Naked Capitalism, that shows - there is good evidence - that the situation in the economy is still very far from rosy, good or safe:

The opening is by Yves Smith and starts thus (with a small correction by me)
Yves here. Wolf likes to paint in bright colors, but the points he makes are consistent with business and financial press reporting, if you cut through the hype. Europe is still teetering on the verge of recession. Growth in Japan has gone negative. China is slowing down, to a degree that led the authorities to give it a monetary shot in the arm. And the US simply is not getting to liftoff. Even with official unemployment falling, consumers are cautious about purchases, with most planning to spend less on Christmas than last year. Corporate capital expenditures in the US are increasing, but so far, this is in the “a robin does not mean it’s spring” category. So with the US as the one possible engine for world expansion, and that one not firing robustly, it’s not hard to see the reason for global business leaders getting more nervous.
Indeed. And this is the beginning of Wolf Richter's article:
The plunging price of oil since June has been a leading indicator: global economic growth is in trouble, despite six years of unprecedented central-bank free-money policies that caused asset prices to soar but has accomplished little else. This scenario has now been confirmed by businesses that help drive the economy forward – not by economists and Wall Street hype mongers: their outlook for the next 12 months has plummeted since June to the worst level since crisis year 2009.
There is a lot more there, and almost nothing is rosy or good.
[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] In case you are interested: There is a considerable amount in the indexes of Nederlog, but in fact, although I knew that life extension was one major aim of taking large doses of vitamins from 1985 onwards, I never took them for that reason, but to be helped against the problems of my disease, which is M.E., that
invalidated me at age 28, on 1.1.1979. Then again, the vitamins have helped me more than any of the other things I did, though they have not cured me, and it also seems likely that I do look a lot younger than I am because I took lots of vitamins for 30 years now. (And yes, I also know most medical doctors will deny both. If they do: They do not know what they are talking about. They simply give vent to their prejudices, probably in a trained medical manner.)

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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