March 31, 2015
Crisis: Podemos, NSA, Scheer, Poor & Rich, Economy & Economists, Cleese
  "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 Podemos revolution: how a small group of radical
     academics changed European politics

2. Information-Sharing Bill Would Extend NSA’s Reach,
     Opponents Argue

3. Book Review: ‘They Know Everything About You’
The Rise of the Working Poor and the Non-Working Rich
5. What’s Wrong with the Economy—and with Economics?
6. SPIEGEL Interview with John Cleese: 'Satire Makes
     People Think'


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about a long article in The Guardian about the Spanish Podemos; item 2 is about the "information sharing" U.S. bill that, if accepted, will again extend the powers of the NSA; item 3 is about a recent book by Robert Scheer; item 4 is about Robert Reich on the working poor and the non-working rich (with some personal
details by me); item 5 is about an economical conference given to the question what is wrong with the economy (forgetting the economists, by the way); and item 6 is about a recent interview with John Cleese, whom I like since discovering him in January of 1972 (and I give one good quote).

1. The Podemos revolution: how a small group of radical academics changed European politics

The first item is an article by Giles Tremlett on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:
At the start of the 2008 academic year, Pablo Iglesias, a 29-year-old lecturer with a pierced eyebrow and a ponytail greeted his students at the political sciences faculty of the Complutense University in Madrid by inviting them to stand on their chairs. The idea was to re-enact a scene from the film Dead Poets Society. Iglesias’s message was simple. His students were there to study power, and the powerful can be challenged. This stunt was typical of him. Politics, Iglesias thought, was not just something to be studied. It was something you either did, or let others do to you. As a professor, he was smart, hyperactive and – as a founder of a university organisation called Counter-Power – quick to back student protest. He did not fit the classic profile of a doctrinaire intellectual from Spain’s communist-led left. But he was clear about what was to blame for the world’s ills: the unfettered, globalised capitalism that, in the wake of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, had installed itself as the developed world’s dominant ideology.
This is the beginning of what The Guardian bills as "The long read", and indeed it is: The download was 358.4 Kb, although I should add that more than half of this (!!) is - in the Blauified Guardian, with its horrific 1992 webstyle - Javascript code.

Also, I should say I do not like the writing style of the present article, which reminds me too much of that of the New York Review of Books, that I also don't like for close to 50 years.

Then again, this is probably mostly personal, and indeed my model of excellent English prose are William Hazlitt, John Florio (Montaigne's first translator) and Bernard Mandeville, and this shows how oldfashioned I must be, to really like writers who are dead for centuries and are hardly read by anybody.

Anyway... here are parts of the second and third paragraph:
But when they launched their own political party on 17 January 2014 and gave it the name Podemos (“We Can”), many dismissed it. With no money, no structure and few concrete policies, it looked like just one of several angry, anti-austerity parties destined to fade away within months.

A year later, on 31 January 2015, Iglesias strode across a stage in Madrid’s emblematic central square, the Puerta del Sol. It was filled with 150,000 people, squeezed in so tightly that it was impossible to move. He addressed the crowd with the impassioned rhetoric for which opponents have branded him a dangerous leftwing populist. He railed against the monsters of “financial totalitarianism” who had humiliated them all. He told Podemos’s followers to dream and, like that noble madman Don Quixote, “take their dreams seriously”. Spain was in the grip of historic, convulsive change.

I say. It may be so, and 150,000 people is quite a lot, and the situation in Spain has been rather awful for many for a long time, but so far I have not gotten any real evidence, apart from "150,000 people".

There is also this (still from the beginning):
Polls suggest that he is right. Since 1982, Spain has been governed by only two parties. Yet El País newspaper now places Podemos at 22%, ahead of both the ruling conservative Partido Popular (PP) and its leftwing opposition Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE). If Podemos can grow further, Iglesias could become prime minister after elections that are expected in November. This would be an almost unheard-of achievement for such a young party.
For the rest, I have to abbreviate a lot, and select only points that seem interesting.

To start with, here is some on Pablo Iglesias (much abbreviated):
He is named after the man who founded the PSOE in 1879.
As a teenager, Iglesias was a member of the Communist Youth
Deeply influenced by Antonio Gramsci
And this is on one of the fundaments of Iglesias' ideology:
He repeated, mantra-like, that the blame for Spain’s woes lay with “la casta”, his name for the corrupt political and business elites he claimed had sold the country to the banks. The other enemy was Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel and the unelected officials who oversaw the euro from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.
I agree on “la casta” and "the unelected officials who oversaw the euro": Both really exist, as does Podemos (and there are far fewer members in “la casta”
and the other group).

There is this on the leader and the party and a jingle:
the strange and tense marriage between a single, charismatic leader – Iglesias – and an organisation that hates hierachy.

The party’s name – which echoes not just Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan, but also a TV jingle for Spain’s European and World Cup-winning football team
Incidentally, the "strange and tense marriage" is similar to France in 1968 (which I still have lively memories of, for I went there in May and June of 1968).

There is also this, that seems to me less serious:
The Podemos project was born with two contradictions that would become increasingly apparent over time. First, it would be both radical and pragmatic in its pursuit of power. Second, it pledged to hand control to grassroots activists, despite the fact the party depended on one man’s popularity.
This seems less serious to me because it is quite typical for a party that rapidly goes from nothing to being quite popular.

And here is the outcome of the votes on the elections for the European Parliament, which was the first that Podemos took part in:
On the night of the election, Podemos surprised everybody. It took 8% of the vote, with Iglesias, Echenique and three others becoming MEPs.
There is also this, on the opposition between the twenty year olds and those in their forties and above:
Podemos will win much of the youth vote at the general election, but those who attend their rallies – many of them members of local Podemos circles – are mostly older. Activism comes more easily to those in their forties and above, many of whom recall the heady early years of Spain’s democratic transition and are surprised by the younger generation’s passivity.
This remains rather odd to me, and I wrote about it in the beginning of 2013: Why are so many so apathetic?. I then summed up ten possible reasons for it:
Bad education, stupefying media and especially 50 years of TV, natural languages poisoned by public relations and advertisement figures of speech, and the relativization of all values, all knowledge, all aspirations to what the democratic masses, manipulated by propaganda and public relations, approve.
There is an explanation of each point under the link.

Here is another difference between Podemos and the other Spanish parties:

If Podemos wants to be more than a traditional party or a top-heavy populist movement then it must deliver on direct democracy. The party’s use of transparency websites (detailing all spending, including salaries), voting tools and online debate is already cutting-edge.
How I wish clichés - such as: "already cutting-edge" - could be avoided! But apart from that: Yes, so far Podemos seems to have a degree of openness that is rare.

There is also this:
Others who would like to work for Podemos say the salary cap of €1,900 per month is prohibitive.
Well... it is about €1,000 per month more than I live on. I agree that may be "prohibitive" (I am doing it for 40 years now, for I have also been ill nearly all that time and I have never been richer) for the left-wing Spanish academics. (If it is, I'd say: Drop them!!)

There is a whole lot more - click the last dotted link - but this seems enough.

To end this section: What do I think of Podemos? I like them on the basis of the knowledge I have, but that is not really much. But I do wish them well, because
the parties that currently lead Spain are certainly very corrupt.

2. Information-Sharing Bill Would Extend NSA’s Reach, Opponents Argue

The next item is an article by Thor Benson on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Dozens of organizations and individuals, including some of the nation’s leading security experts, have come together to urge lawmakers to oppose the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill whose backers say would “improve cybersecurity in the United States through enhanced sharing of information about cybersecurity threats, and for other purposes.”

Some of the bill’s opponents—including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Free Press Action Fund, the New America Foundation and 45 others—sent a letter this month to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, arguing that, despite the bill’s name, CISA would do little to strengthen cybersecurity and would actually expand unnecessary surveillance on Americans. 

The proposed law, which is currently being considered by the Senate panel, would set up a new network for private corporations to share customer data with nearly all levels of law enforcement and intelligence. That data might include anything from customers’ names to their Internet histories to the content of their communications. However, the bill does not include any measures to increase protection of such sensitive personal information.

And there is this:

CISA would allow “private companies to share any information deemed to be an indicator of a cyberthreat (called a signature)—free of liability and without any guarantee that a review process has taken reasonable steps to remove personal information beforehand,” privacy expert Joshua Kopstein, who did not sign the letter, wrote at Al Jazeera America. “Once shared, the National Security Agency will be able to access all the data in real time, and law enforcement agencies will be allowed to retain and use it for a broad set of purposes, not just imminent threats to life and limb.”

One other alarming provision of CISA as it is currently written would allow companies to instigate “countermeasures” against possible cyberthreats while being given immunity from prosecution for wrongful attacks.

Which means: It is authoritarian and dictatorial in (1) getting free, unmonitored access to anything anybody does or says with any computer or cellphone, and even in (2) allowing "companies to instigate “countermeasures” against possible cyberthreats while being given immunity from prosecution".

3. Book Review: ‘They Know Everything About You’ 

The next item is an article by Peter Richardson on The National Memo:

This is the link to the article. I quote from Alexander Reed Kelly's link on Truthdig to it:

“For democracy,” [Scheer] claims in the book’s first sentence, “privacy is the ball game.” Without the liberties guaranteed by the First and Fourth Amendments, both of which assume the importance of personal sovereignty, the American experiment is a hollow exercise. In contrast, the new surveillance state assumes that citizens “are all potential enemies of the government.” That assumption, in turn, has produced a bipartisan crusade “to turn the war on terror into a war on the public’s right to know.” To support his claim, Scheer devotes three chapters to the importance of whistleblowers — and to the rough treatment they typically endure. He also notes that the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, which fails to distinguish them from genuine spies, than all previous administrations combined. Along the way, Scheer identifies several unlikely heroes, including Chief Justice John Roberts, whose “defense of privacy in the age of the Internet set as clear a standard on the subject as the nation has ever enjoyed through its judicial system.”

Although the underlying issues in Scheer’s book are far from new, technology has supercharged their significance. “No government has been more far-reaching and effective in invading the private space of the individual than our own,” Scheer concludes. Moreover, everything we have learned about that invasion “resulted not from the ordinary checks and balances of our political system but, rather, from the all-too-rare example set by a few brave truth tellers risking imprisonment or worse.” Though Scheer doesn’t say so, his point also reflects the limits of traditional journalism. Many Americans assume that news organizations will detect and report government misconduct. But even in its glory days, The Washington Post needed a whistleblower to uncover the Watergate story, and today’s news organizations are shedding jobs at an alarming rate, in part because the digital revolution has decimated their business model.

Scheer directs his argument to general readers, not to constitutional scholars or policymakers. A portion of this audience may regard privacy as obsolete, and some notable liberals consider Edward Snowden a cowardly traitor. Melissa Harris-Perry, a political science professor and columnist at The Nation, taunted Snowden on MSNBC in 2013, presumably in an effort to defend the Obama administration from its critics. Under such conditions, one wonders how we will address, much less solve, the systemic problems Scheer identifies. But by raising them so forcefully, he continues to perform the important work he began five decades ago.

Yes, indeed. Here is a link to a brief review of the book on Truthdig:

4. The Rise of the Working Poor and the Non-Working Rich

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows - and I like it especially because of a reason I will give after the quotation:
Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy. As Speaker John Boehner has said, the poor have a notion that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.”

In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time — sometimes sixty or more hours a week – yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. 

It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others. 

In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them.

Quite so. And the reason I like this a lot is that it very closely corresponds to a lesson my mother taught me when I was 4 and she walked me to school, which was also briefly before the Dutch pension schema was introduced.

We were very poor, which I did not know, for my father had regular work as a house-painter, which made just enough to feed himself, his wife and his two children, and pay for the house and the energy and the health-insurance, but which also left nothing.

Also, while walking with my mother while I was 4, I saw an old lady, who must have been in her seventies, search through the refuse that the grocery-shop had put outside, and so I asked my mother what she was doing. "She is trying to find something to eat, for she is very poor", my mother told me. "Your father and I are against that, and we are trying to get her some money."

What my mother was referring to was especially the fact that both she and my father were communists, which I may not have understood then, but understood
soon after.

Anyway... there is considerably more, but if you believe that "
poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy" or that "the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others" I can only lament your intelligence, your
morality, and the fact that you have been successfully totally deceived.

5. What’s Wrong with the Economy—and with Economics?

The next item is an article by Grete Brochmann, Simon Head and Itamar Rabinovic on the New York Review of Books:
The article starts as follows (but is a mere introduction to a range of videos):
This conference is taking place eight years after the onset of the Great Recession in December 2007, and nearly six years after the recession was declared to be officially over in the US in June 2009. Yet the events of six and eight years ago continue to haunt us. One of the great powers of the global economy, the Eurozone, has yet to put the recession behind it, while the uneven performance of the US economy—spurts of growth accompanied by stagnant real wages—has led economists such as Paul Krugman and Larry Summers to ask whether the US has succumbed to “secular stagnation”: Is the economy now burdened with structural impediments which will make strong and sustained growth difficult to achieve?
As I said, this introduces quite a few hours - at least 7 - of videos with economists (including Paul Krugman, in one) who expatiate on the topic of the title.

I have three remarks.

First, while I have the most recent Firefox (on Linux) I could not load one video, despite repeatedly trying. I did get the others, after several tries.

Second, I have watched hardly anything, mostly because (i) I have read a rather considerable amount of economics (also see the next point) and because (ii) I have attended far too many very boring lectures by acclaimed academics not to know that if I am to partake of their intellectual effusions, then it really must be in written form, since I need to spend at most 1/4 of the time that I would have to spend listening to them, while also (iii) I also much like to avoid listening to American academic women who condescend to their audiences through their noses (and I did briefly listen to several of these). [1] So this is here mostly as a service to my audience.

Third, what I learned thanks to having read Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and quite a few others is that (1) economy is not a real science, in spite of the fact that it contains a fair amount of - usually not too difficult - mathe- matics, and it is not a real science, at least in part, because (2) most economists are far more interested in their own incomes, careers, and statuses to be able to take a realistic non-ideological stance.

You may object to the third point (and also to the others), but while this seems evident to me since a long time (the late seventies, at the latest, in my case), it seems also very difficult to refute nowadays, when nearly all economists failed to predict the crash of 2008: If they can nearly all miss an event of that size, the reason must be that their science is not a science for the most part, but is mostly one of several ideologies each of which pretends to be scientific.

And besides: I do listen to economists, but I generally do not think they are as smart as they think they are, nor as certain as they like to pretend, although there were a few - Keynes, Ramsey, Sraffa, especially - who were quite smart.

6. SPIEGEL Interview with John Cleese: 'Satire Makes People Think'

The last item for today is an article by Christoph Scheuermann and Barbara Supp on SpiegelOnLine International:
It so happens that I like John Cleese and Monty Python ever since first being exposed to them, in the beginning of 1972, on the recommendation of my English girlfriend, who directed me to the cinema with the words "This is something you will really like", and she was quite right.

This is a decent recent interview with Cleese - now 75 - of which I quote one bit because I agree with it. This is Cleese talking:
I think you can reduce suffering a little bit, like the Buddhists say, that is one of the few things I take seriously. But the idea that you can run this planet in a rational and kind way -- I think it's not possible. There will always be these sociopaths at the top -- selfish people, power-seekers who want to spend their whole lives seeking it. Robin Skynner, the psychiatrist that I wrote two books with, said to me that you could begin to enjoy life when you realized how bad the planet is, how hopeless everything is. I reached that point these last two or three years when I saw that our existence here is absolutely hopeless. I see the rich people have got a stranglehold on us. If somebody had said that to me when I was 20, I would have regarded him as a left-wing loony.
Yes, indeed - and Cleese was 20 around 1960, and I was 20 around 1970. Then again, it took "the rich people" from the 1970ies till the 2000s to reach their present position in which they do rule nearly everything, and do so also in a sickening greedy and egoistic way, all for themselves - the 1% - only.


[1] I am sorry, but this really is an American affliction: Most American women - not all, and I lived with one of them who did not - speak through their noses in a - to me, at least - rather horrible way. And it is an American affliction, simply because nearly all English women do not (and I lived with one of these as well). It is really awful, and it also can be totally avoided, but instead is cultivated in the videos that I saw.

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