March 13, 2015
Crisis: TTIP, Oil Prices, British Surveillance *2, Bernie Sanders, Glenn Greenwald 
  "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. Trade Deals Will Supplant Democracy with Corporate
     Tribunals, Warn Critics

2. Tomgram: Michael Klare, Is Big Oil Finally Entering a
     Climate Change World?

3. UK Parliament Committee, Calling For Reform, Shows Its
     “Evidence” to Justify Mass Surveillance

David Cameron to close gap in oversight of mass

Bernie Sanders Blasts “Robin Hood in Reverse” Subsidies
     to the Rich, Calls for Full Employment

6. Glenn Greenwald "The Finance Industry Has Captured
     Our Government"


This is a Nederlog of Friday, March 13, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 7 dotted links: Item 1 is about a good article on the TTIP; item 2 is about an article that attempts to explain the falling oil prices; item 3 is about Glenn Greenwald on a report of a UK Committee, and item 4 is an article on The Guardian on the same subject; item 5 is about a good video of Bernie Sanders; and item 6 is a video-interview with Glenn Greenwald from 6 years ago that I found quite clear and interesting.

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

1. Trade Deals Will Supplant Democracy with Corporate Tribunals, Warn Critics    

The first item today is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Provisions of international trade deals currently under negotiation threaten domestic sovereignty while giving corporations special legal rights, charges a letter signed by more than 100 law professors and sent on Wednesday to congressional leaders and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

The letter (pdf), organized and released by the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Alliance for Justice (AFJ), specifically opposes the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) language in the corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the equally troubling Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

"ISDS grants foreign corporations a special legal privilege, the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly cause a loss of profit for the corporation," the letter reads. "Essentially, corporations use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments. These challenges are not heard in a normal court but instead before a tribunal of private lawyers."

In particular, the letter points out that in recent years, corporations have challenged numerous regulations aimed at protecting the public interest, "including decisions on plain packaging rules for cigarettes, toxics bans, natural resource policies, health and safety measures, and denials of permits for toxic waste dumps."

Yes, precisely - and especially paragraph three. This is also why the TTIP proposes many anti-democratic and extra-legal things: it is pro-corporate, anti-people. Also, it is one of the things president Obama is very much for - and desires to fasttrack through Congress (so hardly anyone will be able to read it).

Here is some more on the TTIP:

While the TPP is likely to be the trade pact that U.S. lawmakers take up next, the proposed TTIP between the U.S. and Europe is just as deferential to corporate interests.

In an op-ed published at Common Dreams on Thursday, Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden described the TTIP as "a charter for big business, forcing lawmakers to uphold the so-called 'rights' of investors above every other consideration—human rights, environmental protection, democratic accountability. It is a constitution for the free movement of capital."

Quite so. And this is a good article that deserves full reading.

2. Tomgram: Michael Klare, Is Big Oil Finally Entering a Climate Change World?

The next item is an article by Michael Klare on tomdispatch, with an introduction by Tom Engelhardt:

The introduction - by Tom Engelhardt - starts as follows:
Welcome to the asylum! I’m talking, of course, about this country, or rather the world Big Oil spent big bucks creating.You know, the one in which the obvious -- climate change -- is doubted and denied, and in which the new Republican Congress is actively opposed to doing anything about it. Just the other day, for instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote a column in his home state paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, adopting the old Nancy Reagan slogan “just say no” to climate change. The senator from Coalville, smarting over the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, is urging state governors to simply ignore the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “landmark limits” on those plants -- to hell with the law and to hell, above all, with climate change. But it’s probably no news to you that the inmates are now running the asylum.
Yes, or perhaps no: It is not news "that the inmates are now running the asylum", but even so, the fact that the Senate Majority Leader is now saying state governors should "simply ignore the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “landmark limits"", that is "to hell with the law and to hell, above all, with climate change" is simply a form of sick and illegal moral degeneracy.

I call it so because the
Senate Majority Leader should follow the law, and should not act against it, even if he disagrees with it. Here is Aristotle (also quoted on June 10, 2013):
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.
But not according to Mitch McConnell: The laws are subservient to his desires and his delusions, and can be broken at will as long as he agrees.

And here is the start of Michael Klare's article (to which the above - and quite a lot more - served as an introduction):
Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.
Here is one paragraph from his article, that generally argues that it is likely that oil prices will not go above 100 dollars a barrell before 2020, which means that many of the projects to obtain more 'tough oil' (from fracking or from deep wells in icy seas) simply are too expensive.

This paragraph describes the scene as it was 10 years ago:

To fully appreciate the nature of the energy industry’s predicament, it’s necessary to go back a decade to 2005, when the production-maximizing strategy was first adopted.  At that time, Big Oil faced a critical juncture.  On the one hand, many existing oil fields were being depleted at a torrid pace, leading experts to predict an imminent “peak” in global oil production, followed by an irreversible decline; on the other, rapid economic growth in China, India, and other developing nations was pushing demand for fossil fuels into the stratosphere.  In those same years, concern over climate change was also beginning to gather momentum, threatening the future of Big Oil and generating pressures to invest in alternative forms of energy.
But - Klare argues - that was then, and these days there is alternative energy.

There is a considerably larger amount of text in the article, and I don't know how convincing Klare's case is - but he is right that if, say, the costs of fracking require a price of over $100 a barrel, then it is too costly to frack at present prices.

For more, see the last dotted link.

3.  UK Parliament Committee, Calling For Reform, Shows Its “Evidence” to Justify Mass Surveillance  

The next item is an article by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept (and also see item 6, that I found interesting):

This starts as follows:

The Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC) issued a lengthy report today on the surveillance practices of GCHQ. Invoking the now-standard Orwellian tactic of claiming that “bulk collection” is not “mass surveillance,” the Committee predictably cleared GCHQ of illegality, but it did announce that it has “serious concerns” over the agency’s lack of transparency and oversight. Citing the Snowden disclosures, it called for a yesterdayyesterdaysignificant overhaul of the legal framework governing electronic surveillance.

I dealt with an earlier article on this report yesterday. The above quotation is followed by a quote from the report, that you can find under the last dotted link, and then continues thus:

The report follows a British court decision last month finding that GCHQ did act illegally in spying without the transparency required by human rights laws. In light of the numerous official findings in the U.S., U.K. and the EU of illegality and the need for reform when it comes to electronic surveillance, it is hard to imagine how anyone could say that we’d have been better off if Edward Snowden had not blown the whistle on all of this and instead allowed us to remain ignorant of what these governments were doing in the dark. Given all these findings even from these governments, is there anyone who still thinks that way?

Well... the last question is probably best answered by noting that (1) Edward Snowden is still mostly an avoided topic in the mass media, and (2) it also seems as if he is still mostly judged as a kind of moral freak who stole stuff he had no right to steal - and this seems to be the view of both the GOP and the majority of the Democrats.

I agree with neither point - I think Snowden's revelations ought to be discussed far more than they are now, and I also think that they are very important and that Snowden did the only possible thing he could rationally do to show they are very important for everyone - but I think (1) and (2) are still quite true, which is also quite sad.

Here is part of Glenn Greenwald's conclusion:

GCHQ literally collects billions of emails and other electronic communications events every day. But don’t worry: they don’t read every single one of them. They only read “***%” of what they collect, or “fewer than *** of *** per cent of the items that transit the internet in one day.” So what’s the big concern?

The great irony of this is that the Committee here is marching under the banner of greater transparency, even as their principal arguments rest on asterisks of concealment. But this is how the largest western democracies generally function: they make highly dubious (often disproven) claims to justify radical powers, and then demand that you accept them on faith, because allowing you to see the evidence for yourself would endanger your life. That tactic, as much as anything, is a very compelling explanation for why Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers decide to do what they do.

Yes - and I should note that the “***%” of what they collect, or “fewer than *** of *** per cent of the items that transit the internet in one day” is quite correct: Nothing gets quoted, but you get the news that the PM did read them (and you - a mere secondrate citizen - should trust the PM).

And yes, Glenn Greenwald is quite right when he says:

But this is how the largest western democracies generally function: they make highly dubious (often disproven) claims to justify radical powers, and then demand that you accept them on faith, because allowing you to see the evidence for yourself would endanger your life.

For this indeed is total trash: First, you cannot trust the government anyway, and second their demands involve a sickeningly anti-democratic trickery: They make you into a secondrate citizen who has no right to know what the anonymous secret services are up to, because .... you have to trust the government.

No: any government that hides much of its doing in secrecy is anti-democratic, and may be fairly excpected to be authoritarian in principle.

4. David Cameron to close gap in oversight of mass surveillanc

The next item is an article by Patrick Wintour on The Guardian:
This starts as follows (and discusses the same report as Glenn Greenwald did in item 3):

David Cameron has moved to close a hole in the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies after it was revealed for the first time that they were creating “bulk personal datasets” containing millions of items of personal information, some of it gathered covertly without any statutory accountability.

Some of the data appears to have been gathered from other government departments as well as commercial organisations.

The disclosure came in a long-awaited 149-page report prepared by parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) examining the oversight and capabilities of the UK intelligence agencies in the wake of the revelations of Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor.

The inquiry found the laws governing the agencies’ activities – including mass surveillance – require a total overhaul to make them more transparent, comprehensible and capable of restoring trust in their work.

The report said the legal framework is unnecessarily complicated and – crucially – almost impenetrable. The current laws could be construed as providing the agencies with a “blank cheque to carry out whatever actives they deem necessary”, it said.

This is rather from the other site than Glenn Greenwald, it seems to me.

For example, to report mock-seriously as if there is

a hole in the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies

whereas in fact there is no real parliamentary oversight of the British intelligence activities seems to me misleading the public.

And as to that "hole":

In a heavily censored section of the report, the committee said the datasets contain personal information about a wide range of people and vary in size from hundreds to millions of records.

It added that there is no legal constraint on storage, restraint, retention, sharing and destruction. Surveillance agencies do not require ministerial authorisation in any way to access the information. Committee members said the information gathered in the bulk personal datasets is not necessarily gathered by the agencies, implying it may have been harvested by either commercial organisations or other government agencies for other purposes, and then handed over.

The datasets vary from hundreds to millions of records and are acquired through overt and covert channels, the committee disclosed and are not derived from any specific legal power.

So the "hole in the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies" gave them the liberty to amass hundreds of millions of records?! And all without any
constraint on storage, restraint, retention, sharing and destruction"?!

And then there is Hazel Blears, who is supposed to speak for Labour:

Blears, said: “What we’ve found is that the way in which the agencies use the capabilities they have is authorised, lawful, necessary and proportionate.

“But what we’ve also found is there is a degree of confusion and lack of transparency about the way in which this is authorised in our legal system. It is that lack of transparency that leads to people reaching the conclusion that there is blanket surveillance, indiscriminate surveillance.”

The report confirmed that GCHQ does have the capability for bulk interceptions but denied that represents a blanket or indiscriminate surveillance, saying the security services neither have the resources nor motive to look at more than a small fraction of the material available to it.

Well, if she said that she is - like most of her political colleagues, left, right and center - a doubletalking bullshitter:

First paragraph: No, you have not found it, or if you've found it you are keeping it secret: The GCHQ has been abusing its permissions and has conducted unauthorised, illegal, and unnecessaty surveillance of - let's say - hundreds of millions of persons.

Second paragraph: No, it is not the "lack of transparency" that has led "to people reaching the conclusion that there is blanket surveillance": it were Edward Snowden's revelations - and these made it quite transparent. Also, what Ms Blears seems to want is blanket surveillance, without any questions asked or answered also, for that is what Great Britain has. She just wants "better laws" to allow the GCHQ these powers.

Third paragraph: Orwellian. On the one hand, the report says the GCHQ is doing bulk interception, but on the other hand it claims this doesn't matter because... only a small part is being read by human eyes. But it got collected; it can stay wherever it is as long as no one knows; it can be used by anyone in any government for any purpose - but the committee insists this does not matter, and is not "blanket or indiscriminate surveillance" on the total bullshit ground that - so far - the records it has gathered and may use may not have been read by a human, as yet.

And here is about the only recommendation of the report I agree to without major qualifications:

It also found it unacceptable that MI6 undertakes intrusive operations abroad but is under no requirement to keep comprehensive and accurate records of when it uses these powers.

Yes, of course - and it seems also to do so inside Great Britain, so fas as my knowledge of Edward Snowden's revelations and the British press reach.

And OK - this article does end with a quotation that makes sense:

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “The ISC has repeatedly shown itself as a simple mouthpiece for the spooks – so clueless and ineffective that it’s only thanks to Edward Snowden that it had the slightest clue of the agencies’ antics.

“The committee calls this report a landmark for ‘openness and transparency’ – but how do we trust agencies who have acted unlawfully, hacked the world’s largest sim card manufacturer and developed technologies capable of collecting our login details and passwords, manipulating our mobile devices and hacking our computers and webcams?

Precisely: You can't trust Great Britain's secret services - and you also cannot trust the majority of Britain's politicians, for they are often no more than "a simple mouthpiece for the spooks".

5. Bernie Sanders Blasts “Robin Hood in Reverse” Subsidies to the Rich, Calls for Full Employment

The next item is an article by Yves Smith on Nakedcapitalism:
This starts as follows:

Bernie Sanders gave a forceful, if sobering, assessment of the state of the economy from the perspective of working men and women, as well as retirees, and focused on the hypocrisy of corporations and the wealthy that poor-mouth as a way to extract even more subsidies and tax breaks. Sanders called for an end to socialism for the rich, or what he calls “Robin Hood in reverse” and demanded the government do more to promote job creation and better wages.

The fact that a speech like this is noteworthy is a testament to how the Democratic party has become a pro-corporate venture which generously allows women, gays, Hispanics, and people of color to join in the looting.

Yes, indeed. But the main point is the video, which is also under the following link:
And I agree with Sanders.

6. Glenn Greenwald "The Finance Industry Has Captured Our Government"

The last item today is not an article but a video. This is a record of an interview Glenn Greenwald gave to C-span's Washington Journal back in 2009, which I decided to watch because of its title:
This is 22 m 22 s long, but most of it (in fact, until the last question, that indeed isn't answered) is quite good and quite perceptive, also six years later.

And indeed I regard these two facts (1) the finance industry has captured the U.S. government and (2) the secret services are stealing everybody's data on any computer and any cellphone, as the two most significant political differences compared with the hundred foregoing years, when these things had not happened or weren't possible.

These two facts also make it considerably more difficult to judge current politics, which again is made much more difficult by the third fact that makes a major political difference: (3) the mass media serve the government, the finance industry or the secret services much rather than the people. This also is a radical difference from how the situation was, till well into the 1990ies.

In any case: The interview is quite good and quite clear.

P.S. Mar 14, 2015:
I corrected an "and" and two case of "GCHQ" (both were ill written).

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