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Nederlog

March 3, 2015
Crisis: British pensions, Responsibility, British politics, Security State, Dem. Nominees
  "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















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Sections
Introduction

1. Pension freedom day? Pension fleecing day, more like
2. Bush White House’s Repeated Torture Denials Led CIA
     Torturers to Seek Repeated Reassurances

3. If only our MPs had the same passion as Michael Sheen
4.
Robert Scheer on National Security: ‘We Don’t Have
     Adults Watching the Store’ (Video)

5.
Will the Democratic Nominee for 2016 Take on the
     Moneyed Interests?


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is on Polly Toynbee, who fears many elderly Brits will be fleeced (essentially by their own greed, which is why I can't care much); item 2 is on Dan Froomkin who correctly observes none of the higher-ups who were responsible for the tortures in American (overseas) prisons have been prosecuted; item 3 is about British politics; item 4 is about a lecture by Robert Scheer, who concluded as I would have; and item 5
is about Robert Reich on the things Democratic nominees in 2016 should demand.

This got uploaded a bit earlier than usual.

1. Pension freedom day? Pension fleecing day, more like

The first item today is an article by Polly Toynbee on The Guardiam:
This starts as follows:
The old don’t, in my experience, grow much wiser – but one of David Cameron’s more cynical tropes is that anyone reaching pension age, however venal their former lives, is magically bestowed with virtue and sagacity. Showering better-off pensioners with bribes, Cameron avers it’s “what people who have worked hard and saved all their lives deserve” – regardless of the cost to current hard workers.

Some are about to be reminded that there’s no fool like an old fool. On “pension freedom day” – 6 April – watch the retired scramble to withdraw lump sums: a feelgood bonanza for those most likely to vote Conservative. Car manufacturers predict a sales jump, so do buy-to-let estate agents and travel firms. Some will be wise to take their cash: why not take a cruise with pension pots too small to make much difference. But there’s alarm that fraudsters will make off with colossal booty, and City scammers will cream off the rest.

The insurance provider Phoenix Group says 45% of pension savers have already been contacted by outfits encouraging them to release their cash. Offers of phenomenal interest rates abound if they shift their pension into “amazing investment opportunities” – rare earth minerals and phoney carbon credits. Clever wording stays within the law – not offering “advice”, which requires Financial Conduct Authority registration, but a “no-obligation pension review” with “no upfront fees” and “no hidden charges”.
There is a lot more there, and it's not nice, and Polly Toynbee is quite right in being very worried - but I also should say that (1) my pension rights were all of 7 euros a year (which have been bought off) and (2) I agree that "there’s no fool like an old fool": If people are so greedy as to sell their pension rights to the highest bidder in the hope on more cash, I agree they very probably are being  scammed, but I will not feel much bothered, indeed because they are old enough to know better.

2. Bush White House’s Repeated Torture Denials Led CIA Torturers to Seek Repeated Reassurances

The next item is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

The Bush administration was so adamant in its public statements against torture that CIA officials repeatedly sought reassurances that the White House officials who had given them permission to torture in the first place hadn’t changed their minds.

In a July 29, 2003, White House meeting that included Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet went so far as to ask the White House “to cease stating that US Government practices were ‘humane’.” He was assured they would.

I say. I also note that this was before the torturing in Abu Ghraib became known. This is from the introduction to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal on Wikipedia:

During the war in Iraq that began in March 2003, personnel of the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency committed a series of human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.[1] These violations included physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder.

(...)

Documents popularly known as the Torture Memos came to light a few years later. These documents, prepared shortly before the Iraq invasion by the United States Department of Justice, authorized certain enhanced interrogation techniques, generally held to involve torture of foreign detainees. The memoranda also argued that international humanitarian laws, such as the Geneva Conventions, did not apply to American interrogators overseas.

The last set of arguments were refuted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.

There is also this:

The new documents don’t actually refute any of the Senate report’s conclusions – in fact, they include some whopper-filled slides that CIA officials showed at the White House. But they do call attention to the report’s central flaw: that it didn’t address who actually gave the CIA its orders.

As Cole writes:

The overall picture that the new documents paint is not of a rogue agency, but of a rogue administration. Yes, the CIA affirmatively proposed to use patently illegal tactics — waterboarding, sleep deprivation, physical assault, and painful stress positions. But at every turn, senior officials and lawyers in the White House and the Department of Justice reassured the agency that it could — and should — go forward.

Yes indeed - and while a few simple soldiers have been convicted for the atrocities they committed, none of the people who commanded them, from
the White House down, have ever been prosecuted.

There is considerably more under the last dotted link.

3. If only our MPs had the same passion as Michael Sheen 

The next item is an article by Owen Jones on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

“You must stand up for what you believe, but first of all, by God, believe in something.” If only Michael Sheen’s words were adapted for the parliamentary oath MPs are compelled to recite as they take their seats. Sheen’s passionate plea in Tredegar – and his defence of Britain’s most treasured institution, the NHS – will surely resonate across political boundaries. Look at parliament, the heart of our “representative” democracy: all too unrepresentative, technocratic, professionalised, too full of managerialists who quibble over details and nuances rather than meaningful differences, let alone grand visions.

If only Labour politicians showed the same passion as Sheen in defending the NHS, people have tweeted me. The Tories, of course, regard the NHS’s existence as some sort of affront to their basic values: it is an institution that puts need before profit, an approach that neoliberalism was supposed to have definitively disposed of. Its very existence is subversive, a reminder that society could be different. 
Yes - but the Tory bullshit is just the bullshit of the rich pretending that their story holds for all, and indeed succeeding to a large extent because the media mostly agree and because Labour MPs also mostly agree with the Tories.

Here is some more:

But Sheen was making a broader argument – about a political elite that has abdicated power to the market. This is what has eroded our democracy: having outsourced everything from housing to basic utilities to profiteers, politicians have surrendered so much power that it is hardly surprising that voters lose faith in the democratic process as a vehicle for change.
Yes. And that is one of the basic problems of postmodern (or post-postmodern) democracy: "Your" elected parliamentarians are not there anymore to act and vote for you, but they are there for themselves and their own very well-paid careers - and that is especially so in countries where there are but two political parties that can seriously contend for power, such as the U.S. and Great Britain.

Here is Owen Jones's last question, with my answer:
Why are there not more passionate, resolute opponents of the status quo in our parliament? In our nation of food banks, zero-hours contracts, legal loan sharks, stagnating living standards and a shameless, self-enriching elite, they are desperately needed.
I agree "passionate, resolute opponents of the status quo" are very much needed, but I do not expect them from Labour, Lib Dems or Tories (indeed with some rare exceptions, to be sure, that do not change my argument):

The fact that one has risen through a party and is deemed, by its leadership, to be ready ready for parliamentary election means in general - these days - that one has proven one is a conformist and a careerist willing to do and say almost anything for personal profit.

And this is the same for all three domineering English parties, with very little difference - which is also why they sound the same on many fundamental issues.

4. Robert Scheer on National Security: ‘We Don’t Have Adults Watching the Store’ (Video)   

The next item is an article by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

“To treat this apparatus of the national security state as if it’s on any level acting in a rational sense, other than trying to have an enemy so we can have a big defense industry … is utter nonsense,” Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer told an audience at a conference on nuclear weapons hosted by the Helen Caldicott Foundation on Sunday.

He continued: “We don’t have adults watching the store.”

I like Robert Scheer, but this seems - somewhat subtly - mistaken on two counts.

First, I think there is "a rational sense, other than trying to have an enemy so we can have a big defense industry". It is not mine, but it is there: To change the U.S. into an authoritarian state where the power is in the hands of the rich few.

You may discuss about what sort of authoritarian state, but this really seems to have been the - carefully orchestrated: Republicans usually sing from the same hymn sheet - end of the Republicans, and indeed also of many of the leading  Democrats, and is so since the 1980ies (since when real wages for the 90% have sunk or stayed the same, while the few rich got enormously richer).

Second, there are "adults watching the store”, though I agree with Scheer that these adults are not rational. Also, they are not rational because they are blinded by a combination of power and ideology, to which very few have any rational defense, because the types that become politicians these days are rarely well informed - intellectually, I mean - about philosophy, politics and most other things that are relevant to their decent functioning.

The video that comes with this article works (with Javascript on, to be sure) and I saw part of it. (It is 28 m 14 s.)

It ends as follows (also quoted in this article):

So finally, let me just say, we are developing a surveillance state that protects incompetence, protects people who do not respect freedom and will deny the American people from having that freedom, and will usher in the 1984, Brave New World vision of a population that censors itself because it will know it is under constant observation.

Yes, I agree. 

5. Will the Democratic Nominee for 2016 Take on the Moneyed Interests?

The final item for today is an article by Robert Reich on his site:

This is concerned with the following question:

The big unknown is whether the Democratic nominee will also take on the moneyed interests – the large Wall Street banks, big corporations, and richest Americans – which have been responsible for the largest upward redistribution of income and wealth in modern American history. 

Part of this upward redistribution has involved excessive risk-taking on Wall Street. Such excesses padded the nests of executives and traders but required a tax-payer funded bailout when the bubble burst in 2008. It also has caused millions of working Americans to lose their jobs, savings, and homes.

Yes. Here are a few of the things a Democratic nominee could do:

The Democratic candidate could condemn this, and go further — promising to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act, once separating investment from commercial banking (until the Clinton administration joined with Republicans in repealing it in 1999). 

The candidate could also call for busting up Wall Street’s biggest banks and thereafter limiting their size; imposing jail sentences on top executives who break the law; cracking down on insider trading; and, for good measure, enacting a small tax on all financial transactions in order to reduce speculation. 
And here are some more things a Democratic nominee might do:

The candidate could demand an end to corporate welfare and excessive intellectual property protection, along with tougher antitrust enforcement against giant firms with unwarranted market power.

And an end to trade agreements that take a big toll on wages of working-class Americans. 

The candidate could also propose true tax reform: higher corporate taxes, in order to finance investments in education and infrastructure; ending all deductions of executive pay in excess of $1 million; and cracking down on corporations that shift profits to countries with lower taxes.

There are more things listed by Robert Reich, who also asks:

But will she (or he) do any of this?

My own answer to that question is: Not if "she" is Hillary Clinton. In fact, I know of only two people who might try: Jesse Ventura and Bernie Sanders - but I do not know they will run, and it seems less likely they will be the nominee if Hillary Clinton runs, which may be taken as a virtual certainty.

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