March 1, 2015
Crisis: Obama and privacy, Truthdig, U.S. presidents, Net neutrality, Fascism
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "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. “He makes George W. Bush and Nixon look good”: Why
      Obama’s attack on privacy is so historic 

2. That’s All, Folks
The 10 Smartest (and the Dumbest) Presidents in
     America’s History

FCC Delivers a Free Speech Victory
Fascism is Coming Alive Again


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, March 1, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is an interesting article on the new book of Robert Scheer, who also gets interviewed; item 2 is a somewhat astonishing article by Scheer's son Peter, who gives up being the managing editor of Truthdig; item 3 is an article on the smartest and the dumbest
presidents of the U.S.; item 4 is on  net neutrality (and a bit less interesting than I thought); and item 5 is an argument that fascism may come to the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand (that has nothing to do with me, but is interesting).

1. “He makes George W. Bush and Nixon look good”: Why Obama’s attack on privacy is so historic

The first item today is an article by Elias Isquith on Salon:

This starts as follows:

As increasingly tends to be the case, this year’s edition of the Academy Awards was deemed by many to have been a boring dud. But aside from Chris Pine’s tears and Patricia Arquette’s clarion call for true gender equality, one of the few memorable moments of the show was undoubtedly when Laura Poitras won the best documentary award for her movie on the Edward Snowden NSA leaks, “Citizenfour.” Flanked by the film’s producer and editor, as well as Salon alum Glenn Greenwald, Poitras used her acceptance speech to argue that the Snowden leaks “don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself.”

That’s a view shared by many critics of mass surveillance — and none more so than Robert Scheer, the celebrated journalist, author and founder of Truthdig. Scheer’s been warning about the dangers of big data for years, but his new book, “They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy,” is his most thorough and detailed attack on the new status quo yet.

I should say I've never watched (or listened to or read about) the Academy Awards, though I do know Laura Poitras got an award, which I like. (My reason not to watch? It's must be horribly boring, and is addressed at the many.)

Indeed, I quite agree with Laura Poitras that

the Snowden leaks “don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself.”

This is also an important reason for me to keep writing about the crisis, though I should add that I am fairly pessimistic. [1] Then again, as Edmund Burke said: "If you despair, work on". And so I do. (And I am fairly pessimistic rather than desperate.)

The rest of this article is an interesting interview with Robert Scheer. I select some bits and give some comments - and the speaker is always Scheer.

I think the Internet is the best and worst of worlds. I love it. I edit an Internet publication and it’s been very liberating, and yet it has the seeds of very vicious surveillance and destruction of privacy.

Actually, I don't "think the Internet is the best and worst of worlds". My main reasons are that I am using a computer daily since 1987 (longer than most), and
"have internet" since 1996 (idem), during which time I slowly built up an internet site of currently 500 MB, but until the summer of 2009 my connection was by a fairly flaky and expensive phone.

It is only since 2009 I have fast internet. That indeed changed rather a lot for me, but then again I was 59, and had spent most of my life till then reading (mostly difficult: mathematical, philosophical, logical, scientific, literate) books, and I still like books - the ones I read - more than the internet.

Here is a bit of Robert Scheer on the government and on totalitarianism:

If you accept this view of a benign government it’s very clear that this data gets to be mined by any government in the world. It represents an assault on privacy that is a totalitarian assault in terms of its scope, and so that’s really what the book centers on.

I agree - and I do not think the U.S. government is "benign". Part of my reason is precisely that they are proceeding in a very secretive very totalitarian way to know everything about anyone - which will be used to judge anyone, eventually, if this goes on, for that always was the case when there was lots of information on people in the hands of a government.

This is Scheer looking back to the 1990ies:

People said, the consumer should have to explicitly opt-in to allow you to use that data. That’s the first big battle on privacy that we lost, and I would like to see the discussion return to some variation of opt-in. If people are going to mine your data, third party or private organization are going to mine your data, you have a right, you should be asked, do you want that to happen?

Yes, indeed. And anonymous and secret guys who tell a secret court that they have the right to mine my data because I may be a terrorist are behaving as state terrorists and are complete moral degenerates.  (And I did not and do not and will not give them the right to steal my data, and this is all completely regardless of whatever "laws" they surrect or abuse.)

And this is one reason to want to quote Robert Scheer, and is the last quote:

On healthcare I think Obama has done some good things, but I think the record on civil liberties and transparency is abysmal. He’s probably the worst president that we’ve had in our history — he makes George W. Bush and Nixon look good by comparison. I supported Obama. I gave money; I contributed more than I could afford; I thought this guy was going to be great. I thought he was going to be great because of the very sensible things that he said about banking and Wall Street, and about torture and national security, so I drank the Kool-Aid. I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

That at least is honest - and I don't think a democratic president who succeeded in realizing the Republican Mitt Romney's plan for healthcare did a lot of good, while I agree Obama was a fraud on civil liberties, freedom, rights, transparency etc. Also, he may have said "very sensible things" "about banking and Wall Street", but what he did was rewarding and buying out the bankers, who had ruined the economy to start with, and who now for 6 years have been allowed
to grow mega-rich "because prosecuting them might blow up the economy", or whatever Eric Holder's excuse not to prosecute any banker's crimes is.

2. That’s All, Folks

The next item is an article by Peter Z. Scheer on Truthdig (and yes, he is a son of Robert Scheer (<- Wikipedia)):

This starts as follows:

Lest some colleague accuse me of burying the lede, here it is up front: I’m leaving Truthdig. In case you don’t know me, I’m the managing editor, which means I more or less run the show. (Truth is, our talented staff does most of the hard work.) I feel strange about leaving. Roll with me—I have some things to get off my chest.

I say. That is rather amazing. And while I don't think we get the whole truth (which also does not need to be told), here is one part of Peter Scheer's reasoning.

First, some nine years ago, it was a lot easier:

When I started this job nine or so years ago, George W. Bush was in his second term and the U.S. was plainly stuck in two costly, deadly, seemingly endless wars. America was torturing people. Our government routinely lied about pretty much everything. Bush’s attorney general, who tried to eliminate all traces of marijuana and boobies from the national landscape, was replaced by a guy who was somehow worse. The people of New Orleans were drowning and waiting to be saved by the horse enthusiast who was in charge of FEMA. In those times, running Truthdig was a lot easier. The targets were clearly marked.

Second, these days it is a lot more difficult, it seems mostly because of the NSA:

Now, as I write this, an original print of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster sits behind me, Barack Obama’s eyes overseeing everything I type. How appropriate given what we now know about the NSA. I cannot think of a greater disappointment than President Obama—like so many millions of other Americans I completely fell for it. I remember sitting in a Nevada home surrounded by volunteers from California, Chicago and elsewhere. Among those migrants were disaffected Republicans who may have more clearly recognized a fellow traveler in the candidate. I thought then that they were the dupes. I was wrong. Regardless, we were united by a common desire for profound change, and we seemed to have found a vehicle for it in Obama. Of course he would go on to squander it all. Truthdig covered the hell out of Obama’s fall from grace. It wasn’t easy, or popular.

I agree on Obama, except that I was less taken in: It took me about half a year to a year, and I also never was sold on him. But yes, he frauded very many young people, and many of them may have given up on politics altogether.

Here is some more on the NSA:

Don’t get me started on the national security state. It is baffling to me to think that Richard Nixon’s presidency was brought down by a burglary, while the NSA and other intelligence agencies continue to stampede the Constitution without repercussion. They want to know who you are, what you do, what you say and what you think and will put you in prison if you dare let anyone know the full extent of what they’re up to. That’s America now, and the collective reaction is “Meh.”

Yes, indeed - and one of my own general conclusions is that most people are too stupid to deal intelligently with computers: they want the power, but are mostly blind to the dangers, and give up their privacy because this gets stolen from them in secret ways that most can't be bothered to try to understand.

I am not saying this holds for all, since it clearly does not: I am saying that the group of people that is capable of understanding and caring about the loss of their
privacy is a minority. (And that fact is sufficient for very many deep disappoint-
ments of the intelligent few, in a democracy, with two parties, and mostly corrupt or incompetent politicians, many of whom are millionaires.)

Finally, there is this on Peter Scheer's generation:

Let’s think about the long-term consequences of a culture’s failure to value historians, philosophers, artists, musicians, writers and teachers. This attitude and the burden imposed by the student loan system ensure our social slide from passionate to pacified. We’re taking a generation of educated, potentially independent thinkers and turning it into an organ of multinational corpulence.

Yes. And this started in the early 1980ies at the latest, since when also the wages were frozen, except of the rich and their eager servants.

3.The 10 Smartest (and the Dumbest) Presidents in America’s History

The next item is an article by Larry Schwartz on Alternet:

Why did I pick this article? It's a Sunday; it's March; and I am one of the few in my own country who is genuinely interested in extremely intelligent people and who knows these exist, unlike most in my country (for most Dutchmen still insist that "everyone" - at least: with 4 grandparents with real Dutch names - "is of exactly the same value as everybody else", which in my eyes is a stupid lie by the stupid to please the vast majority of the stupid and the none too intelligent).

Anyway... you'll find Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Woodrow Wilson (the only U.S. president with a Ph.D.) and Theodore Roosevelt among the smartest, and Warren Harding, George W. Bush, Andrew Johnson (Lincoln's successor), Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan among the most stupid of presidents.

4. FCC Delivers a Free Speech Victory

The next item is an article by Michael Winship on Consortiumnews:
I thought this would be more interesting. But here is the ending:

Finally, it was Chairman Wheeler’s turn. Just weeks ago, he had been accused of vacillation and undermining Net neutrality with a plethora of ifs and buts that would diminish its effectiveness. But on Thursday he appeared resolute.

“This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate freedom of speech,” he declared, and added, “This is the FCC using every tool in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers.”

Wheeler declared it a “red letter day” and took the vote. As the clock struck 1 p.m. Thursday, he banged down the gavel and another standing ovation erupted as he announced passage of the new rules. At a press conference just minutes later, Wheeler announced, “This is the proudest day of my public policy life.”

Also, it is well to remind you that the decision was taken 3 against 2, and while the decision was good, it is not unopposed, and probably will be attacked.

Fascism is Coming Alive Again

The last item for today is an article by Eric Margolis on Common Dreams:
This is here to show that I am not the only one who thinks this.  This starts as follows:

The wildly exaggerated threat of so-called Islamic terrorism is being shamelessly used by some western governments to boost their flagging fortunes at a time of economic malaise.

Marketing fear is a sure-fire political ploy, as the Bush administration showed. But if you think promotion of “terrorism” hysteria in order to curtail democratic freedoms is something new, have a look at Germany, 1933.

Then the story of the burning of the Reichstag is briefly introduced, which led to the following:

Five days later, Weimar President Paul Hindenberg, a conservative and war hero, signed a new act known as the Reichstag Fire Decree that suspended free speech and assembly and many legal protections. It gave government the right to arrest “terrorists” under a state of emergency.

In early March, Hitler promulgated the Enabling Act that used the threat of so-called “terrorism” to give him virtual dictatorial powers. This coup was made possible by the support of the conservative Catholic Party which, having seen the slaughter of Catholics in Russia and Ukraine by Communists, decided the Nazis were a lesser evil than the Communists.

A few weeks later, arrests of Socialists, Communists and Jews began. Hitler had come to near absolute power by democratic means thanks to national hysteria and fear over so-called terrorism, an utterly meaningless but evocative propaganda term.

Thus it was that Hitler started his career by arresting "Socialists, Communists and Jews", because they were claimed to be terrorists, or helps of terrorists. (Indeed, my father and grandfather were convicted by the Nazis to the concentration camp
because - collaborating Dutch judges said - they were "political terrorists".)

This again is joined to the present, as follows:

We must be very careful. Islamophobia and terror hysteria fit worryingly into the template created by former Columbia University Professor Robert Paxton in his brilliant analysis, “The Anatomy of Fascism.”

Paxton sharply defines fascism, a dreadfully over and misused term, as distinct from conservative regimes. For example, he terms 1930’s Italy and Germany as Fascist states, but Franco’s Spain as conservative.

Hallmarks of fascism:

  • “a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of any traditional solutions;
  • belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action without legal or moral limits, against its internal and external foes;
  • need for authority by natural leaders (always male) culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny; and superiority of his instincts over abstract and universal reason.”

Other traits of Fascism: militarism and historical triumphalism; glorification of war as a purification and nation-building process.

There is considerably more (that I don't know I all agree with) and it ends like this:

George W. Bush was re-elected thanks to Midwestern soccer moms who feared Osama bin Laden was about to swoop down from the Hindu Kush and make off with their little Johnnies.

Something similar is happening again in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Many fear ISIS is outside Peoria or Winnipeg. Scared people readily accept dictators.

Incidentally, here is Robert Paxton's (<- Wikipedia) definition of fascism, from 2004 (as given on the Wikipedia):
Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
I think there are better definitions, but this has some merits. One such better definition is this, that I gave before, and is by the American Heritage Dictionary:
fascism is: "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism." 
But I will leave you here, today - after observing that the present U.S. has seen a "merging of state and business leadership" and is much occupied with "belligerent nationalism".


[1] In fact, I've always been fairly pessimistic since 1970, when I gave up both Marxism and politics. My reasons now are the same as my reasons then:

Most politicians are precisely the kind that should not govern, but are elected;
and they are elected because the majority has hardly any adequate ideas about politics, philosophy, economics, public persons etc. This was also why it seemed to me that it was science, much rather than politics, that should be seen as the instrument to emancipate people, and why I tried the next eighteen years or so
to do all I could to be a decent philosopher-scientist.

But then I got ill after eight years, and was removed as a student briefly before taking my M.A. in philosophy from the faculty of philosophy. The reason that I think this was a very intentional removement were that I was the only one in Holland to be removed from a university for stating my opinions since the defeat of the Nazis; that all I did was state my opinions as an invited speaker; that I was known as a real opponent of the Board of Directors of the University of Amsterdam; that I was seriously ill since ten years; and that I, with a much better anti-fascistic background than anyone else in Holland that I know, was removed by 16 academic totally incompetent and lazy philosophical whores who screamed and screamed at me that I was a "fascist" and a "terrorist", in May of 1988.

After that I did get a brilliant M.A. in psychology, but since I was also ill, I could never use that. And I could not get the doctorate because mayor Job Cohen - another drugscorrupt degenerate Amsterdam mayor - never answered any of my mails, and decided I was not even fit to receive 10 euros a week to clean my house, ca. 2002, which he did, I feel quite sure, because it was me, and I had criticized the illegal dealing of illegal drugs by special personal permits of Amsterdam's (and other cities') mayors a nearly perfect example of political and personal corruption, and of how a few politicians and their eager lawyers can arrange things to get extremely rich in a short time.

       home - index - summaries - mail