March 11, 2015
Crisis: Political bullshit, Wikipedia, Fossil Fuels, Economical Myths, Pikketty on Euro Zone
  "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. The Parties’ Role Reversal on ‘Interfering’ with the
     Commander-in-Chief’s Foreign Policy

2. Wikipedia Sues NSA Over Dragnet Internet Surveillance
3. Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change
The 3 Biggest Myths Blinding Us to the Economic Truth
Thomas Piketty on the Euro Zone: 'We Have Created a


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, March 11, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about Glenn Greenwald's showing that both Republicans and Democrats bullshit a lot; item 2 is about Wikipedia's sueing the NSA; item 3 is about Monbiot on the UN and on fossil fuels (he is mistaken on both, it seems to me); item 4 is about Robert Reich's identification of 3 big economic myths; and item 5 is an interesting
interview with Thomas Pikketty.

Also, this Nederlog got uploaded a bit earlier than usual.

1. The Parties’ Role Reversal on ‘Interfering’ with the Commander-in-Chief’s Foreign Policy  

The first item today is an article by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Senate Republicans, obsessed as always with carrying out the agenda of the Israeli government and leading the U.S. into more militarism and war, yesterday wrote a letter to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” designed to derail an international agreement governing that country’s nuclear program. Numerous leading Democrats – in Congress and the media – are today using the language of criminality, sedition and even treason to denounce that letter, insisting that it is a violation of American “norms” and possibly American law for members of Congress to “undermine” the President’s conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy.

Harry Reid, sounding (as usual) like the love child of George Bush and Joe Lieberman, said: “Republicans are undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs.” The New York Daily News put mugshot-like photos of four of the GOP signatories above the headline “TRAITORS.” The Washington Monthly‘s Ed Kilgore called it “sedition in the name of patriotism.” The Washington Post‘s Paul Waldman said it is “appalling” because it shows Republicans “can act as though Barack Obama isn’t even the president of the United States.” The most predictably hackish party apparatchiks over at MSNBC accused Republicans of “conducting their own parallel, freelance foreign policy” and argued that felony charges should be considered under the Logan Act.

I quoted the second paragraph so as to give you some backgrounds on what the Democrats said. And I admit I haven't followed much of this for a reason that soon will emerge.

First, here is Glenn Greenwald's initial sum-up of what is behind all this talk of treason, traitors, sedition and immoralities:

Most similar controversies from the past involved prominent Democrats engaging in discussions with foreign leaders which Republicans pilloried as a dangerous and possibly criminal threat to the GOP President’s power to carry out foreign policy. Indeed, it was a staple of the Bush-era debates for Republicans to accuse Democrats of undue and unconstitutional “interference” in President Bush’s constitutional power to carry out foreign policy.
This gets illustrated by Greenwald with rather a lot of details of a quite similar altercation between the Republicans and the Democrats from 2007, when Bush Jr. was president, and Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat's leader in the Senate, went to talk with Assad in Syria.

You can check this out for yourself, but the summary is that it was roughly the same set of exchanges, except that the parties were then switched.

I do want to quote one bit of it, but mostly this is about a side-issue. As I said, this is about 2007, when the positions were switched:
(...) attempts by members of Congress to “interfere” with his actions were illegitimate, possibly illegal, and likely treasonous, because few things are worse than, as Joe Lieberman put it, undermining the Commander-in-Chief (and just by the way, if you’re a citizen who is not in the military, the President is not your “Commander-in-Chief”).
The reason to quote it is the last quite justified remark: Firstly, in a democracy you need not agree with your president, and secondly your president is not your Commander-in-Chief, except if you are in the military.

Here is part of Greenwald's sum-up:

That mentality and rhetoric are no less offensive when used by Democrats today than it was when it was being spewed by Republicans for the entire Bush presidency. And the “treason” rhetoric now being spouted by Democrats is part of a broader embrace by many of them in the Obama era of the worst rhetorical excesses of Bush-era Republicans.
Yes, indeed. And you are being misled.

2. Wikipedia Sues NSA Over Dragnet Internet Surveillance

The next item is an article by Cora Currier on The Intercept:
This starts as follows, and seems good news to me:

Wikipedia is suing the NSA over surveillance programs that involve tapping internet traffic en masse from communications infrastructure in the U.S. in order to search it for intelligence purposes.

The lawsuit argues that this broad surveillance, revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, violates the First Amendment by chilling speech and the open exchange of information, and that it also runs up against Fourth Amendment privacy protections.

“The surveillance that we’re challenging gives the government virtually unfettered access to U.S. communications and the content of those communications,” said Patrick Toomey, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is bringing the litigation on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, and a group of human rights and media organizations including The Nation magazine and Amnesty International, who say that their sensitive overseas communications are imperiled by the NSA’s snooping.

Yes, indeed - and yes they are quite right that these secret searches are unconstitutional and - therefore - illegal, and flatly contradict the First and Fourth Amendments.

Wikipedia also says:
“The NSA copies and reviews the communications of millions of innocent people to determine whether they are discussing or reading anything containing the NSA’s search terms,” ACLU lawyers wrote in their complaint filed today in the United States District Court in Maryland. “Its purpose is to identify not just communications that are to or from the NSA’s targets but also those that are merely ‘about’ its targets.”
I note that the Wikipedia does not detail what the "search terms" are, and indeed I doubt much is known about these terms, other than that they may be any term - which means that the government's secret services can secretly keep an eye on any conversation or opinion (and may secretly decide to do secret things to manipulate those with opinions they don't like or would like to manipulate).

Here is part of the motivation for Wikipedia to sue:
Many of those volunteer contributors, they note, “prefer to work anonymously, especially those who work on controversial issues or who live in countries with repressive governments.” The fear that the NSA could be collecting information on contributors, and perhaps sharing that intelligence with other governments, “stifles freedom of expression and the free exchange of knowledge that Wikimedia was designed to enable.”
Yes, indeed. And there is also this, for this is not by far the first case in which well-intending people try to sue the U.S. government over its illegal and unconstitutional acts and principles:

A previous challenge by Amnesty International and others to warrantless spying on Americans’ international conversations was tossed out because the court said the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that their communications could be monitored under the 2008 FISA Amendments Act. The Supreme Court upheld that decision in February 2013, just a few months before the first Snowden documents were published.

The Snowden documents, and subsequent admissions by the government, said Toomey, “have made clear that the government it not just monitoring targets, but that in order to find the communications of those targets it is monitoring the communications of nearly everyone. That broadens the scope of the surveillance at issue, and removes some of the obstacles [to getting standing] that we encountered in the previous case.”

Indeed - but the present Supreme Court is a political court, that tends to be 5 to 4 conservative. I hope this challenge gets - at least - into court, but even that seems not very likely with the present Supreme Court.

3. Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change 

The next item is an article by George Monbiot on The Guardian:

This starts as follows (and is one in a series that The Guardian calls "keep-
it-in-the-ground: see also March 7):
If you visit the website of the UN body that oversees the world’s climate negotiations, you will find dozens of pictures, taken across 20 years, of people clapping. These photos should be of interest to anthropologists and psychologists. For they show hundreds of intelligent, educated, well-paid and elegantly-dressed people wasting their lives.
No, that is simply not true: These people are not "wasting their lives" - they are doing precisely what is expected from them, and they will be very well paid for it, and that is what their lives are about: being very well paid in a high status job, in which they do essentially nothing.

I do not say they are honorable, moral or useful (they will do so themselves): I am saying that they are very well rewarded for doing essentially nothing, while having a very pleasant life for themselves.

The reasons I know this are mostly because this is what bureaucracies do: Reward those who conform, and reward them well; because I have seen precisely the same schema at work in Holland, in the City of Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam; and also because I have had a Turkish female friend who was a - very well-paid - secretary for the United Nations, who left it because she got very sick from the profiteering, the lies, the immoralities, and the heaps and heaps of moral sounding bullshit that got produced by the U.N., and I see no reason whatsoever to doubt her words: she was honest (and lost a very well-paying easy job); those who kept working at the U.N. kept working because the money was very easy and the status very high, but did essentially nothing.

There is a lot more in Monbiot's article, such as this:
You can search through the UN’s website for any recognition of this issue, but you would be wasting your time. In its gushing catalogue of self-congratulation, at Kyoto, Doha, Bali, Copenhagen, Cancún, Durban, Lima and all stops en route, the phrase “fossil fuel” does not occur once. Nor do the words coal or oil. But gas: oh yes, there are plenty of mentions of gas. Not natural gas, of course, but of greenhouse gases, the sole topic of official interest.
There is nothing random about the pattern of silence that surrounds our lives. Silences occur where powerful interests are at risk of exposure. They protect these interests from democratic scrutiny. I’m not suggesting that the negotiators decided not to talk about fossil fuels, or signed a common accord to waste their lives. Far from it: they have gone to great lengths to invest their efforts with the appearance of meaning and purpose.
Yes, indeed.

But then I am rather astounded that The Guardian starts an action "to keep fossil fuels in the ground", knowing that almost all governments, virtually the whole United Nations, all of the very strong and very rich fossil fuel corportations, and the whole spirit of capitalism is against it.

And I am rather astounded not because I disagree with the end, just as I also very much want everybody to have an IQ over 150, but because this end seems bound to be defeated, and is as impracticable as my desire to see everybody with an IQ over 150.

4. The 3 Biggest Myths Blinding Us to the Economic Truth  

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
This is a short piece accompanied by a short video, but I like it. Here is a short summary of the myths:
1. The “job creators” are CEOs, corporations, and the rich, whose taxes must be low in order to induce them to create more jobs. Rubbish. The real job creators are the vast middle class and the poor, whose spending induces businesses to create jobs. (....)
2. The critical choice is between the “free market” or “government.” Baloney. The free market doesn’t exist in nature. It’s created and enforced by government.  (...)
3. We should worry most about the size of government. Wrong. We should worry about who government is for. (...)
Yes, indeed. Also, these myths have been introduced on purpose, for the benefits of the few rich, at the costs of the many non-rich.

5. Thomas Piketty on the Euro Zone: 'We Have Created a Monster'

The last item today is an article by Julia Amalia Heyer and Christoph Pauly on the Spiegel Online International site:

This starts as follows:

SPIEGEL: You publicly rejoiced over Alexis Tsipras' election victory in Greece. What do you think the chances are that the European Union and Athens will agree on a path to resolve the crisis?

Piketty: The way Europe behaved in the crisis was nothing short of disastrous. Five years ago, the United States and Europe had approximately the same unemployment rate and level of public debt. But now, five years later, it's a different story: Unemployment has exploded here in Europe, while it has declined in the United States. Our economic output remains below the 2007 level. It has declined by up to 10 percent in Spain and Italy, and by 25 percent in Greece.

SPIEGEL: The new leftist government in Athens hasn't exactly gotten off to an impressive start. Do you seriously believe that Prime Minister Tsipras can revive the Greek economy?

Piketty: Greece alone won't be able to do anything. It has to come from France, Germany and Brussels.

That is at least clear, though one important part of the decline of unemployment in the United States is due to the facts that many people are forced into ill-paying jobs, which was possible because social security is far less well-regulated in the U.S. than in Europe.

There is also this:

Piketty: We may have a common currency for 19 countries, but each of these countries has a different tax system, and fiscal policy was never harmonized in Europe. It can't work. In creating the euro zone, we have created a monster.
Yes, I agree. "Europe" was bullshit, because a federation of states with different languages, different backgrounds, different tax systems, and different values was never tried - apart from dictatorships - and very improbable to succeed, and the euro was bullshit because it shouldn't have been pushed as a common currency, precisely because of all these different languages, different backgrounds, different tax systems, and different values, but only - if it was introduced - as a reckoning currency.

But both pieces of bullshit were introduced because European parliamentarians wanted it, it seems because it increased their pay and their powers.

There is also this:

SPIEGEL: It doesn't sound as if you are a fan of the Stability Pact, the agreement implemented to force euro-zone countries to improve fiscal discipline.

Piketty: The pact is a true catastrophe. Setting fixed deficit rules for the future cannot work.
I agree. My final quotation is this:

SPIEGEL: What do you propose?

Piketty: We need to invest more money in training our young people, and in innovation and research. That should be the most important goal of an initiative to promote European growth. It isn't normal that 90 percent of the world's top universities are in the United States and our best minds go overseas. The Americans invest 3 percent of their GDP in their universities, while it's more like 1 percent here. That's the main reason why America is growing so much faster than Europe.

I agree there should be invested "more money in training our young people, and in innovation and research" but I agreed - at least - 45 years with this now, and it hardly happened, I suppose because the rewards take too long to compete with markets' normal short-term profits.

As to the universities: I don't know, except that the universities of the U.S. are run on quite different principles than the European universities. Besides, I don't think "
European growth" is very desirable, especially not without any specfication (for it seems to me Europeans should learn to live on less rather than more).

There is considerably more in the interview, which is interesting.


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