April 8, 2015
Crisis: American Oligarchy, Secret Services, "Scientific Experts", Inequaity, Surveillance
  "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. How America Became an Oligarchy
2. Our Intelligence Apparatus, Operating in the Dark
Everyone Has the Right to Challenge “Scientific Experts”
Don’t blame rising inequality on technological change
5. Surveillance State Repeal Bill Gets Bipartisan Support


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, April 8, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is a very good article by Ellen Brown on why America now is an oligarchy and not a democracy anymore; item 2 is a fine article by Katrina vanden Heuvel on the very great threats - to democracy and justice - posed by the American secretive intelligence agencies; item 3 is a fine Scientific American article on "scientific experts"; item
is about inequality (and quite good but for a sentence); and item 5 is about an interesting article on a surveillance bill.

 How America Became an Oligarchy

The first item is an article by Ellen Brown (<- Wikipedia) that I found on Raging Bull-Shit (and some other sites):

This starts as follows - and is an interesting continuation of the last item yesterday:

“The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have owners.”
George Carlin, The American Dream

According to a new study from Princeton University, American democracy no longer exists. Using data from over 1,800 policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concluded that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of – or even against – the will of the majority of voters. America’s political system has transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where power is wielded by wealthy elites.

Yes, indeed - and I much like the starting with a quotation of George Carlin (the link works and is quite worth seeing). Indeed, here is some of it (quoted from May 18, 2012) and it is about the owners:

You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paper work and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you're going to collect it it. And now they're coming for your social security money. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it. They'll get it all from you, sooner or later. Cause they own this fucking place. It's a big club and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the big club.

Quite so. How did it get to be this way (which it wasn't for most of the 20th Century's regulated capitalism)?

How did we lose our democracy? Were the Founding Fathers remiss in leaving something out of the Constitution? Or have we simply gotten too big to be governed by majority vote?

Democracy’s Rise and Fall

The stages of the capture of democracy by big money are traced in a paper called “The Collapse of Democratic Nation States” by theologian and environmentalist Dr. John Cobb. Going back several centuries, he points to the rise of private banking, which usurped the power to create money from governments:

The influence of money was greatly enhanced by the emergence of private banking.  The banks are able to create money and so to lend amounts far in excess of their actual wealth.  This control of money-creation . . . has given banks overwhelming control over human affairs.  In the United States, Wall Street makes most of the truly important decisions that are directly attributed to Washington.

There is more on this in the article (though I failed to find an internet copy of “The Collapse of Democratic Nation States”). I do believe the above is correct. Here is some more on the real holders of power, who are neither the people nor the politicians:

According to monetary historian Murray Rothbard, politics after the turn of the century became a struggle between two competing banking giants, the Morgans and the Rockefellers.  The parties sometimes changed hands, but the puppeteers pulling the strings were always one of these two big-money players.

In All the Presidents’ Bankers, Nomi Prins names six banking giants and associated banking families that have dominated politics for over a century.

And here are some of the problems politicians and the electorate face - or indeed do not face out of ignorance:

First, running for office became expensive, so that those who seek office require wealthy sponsors to whom they are then beholden.  Second, the great majority of voters have little independent knowledge of those for whom they vote or of the issues to be dealt with.  Their judgments are, accordingly, dependent on what they learn from the mass media.  These media, in turn, are controlled by moneyed interests.

Quite so. And here is a final bit on decline of national states, national governments and the influence of national elected politicians (supposing these are not bought):

[T]oday’s global economy is fully transnational.  The money power is not much interested in boundaries between states and generally works to reduce their influence on markets and investments. . . . Thus transnational corporations inherently work to undermine nation states, whether they are democratic or not.

The most glaring example today is the secret twelve-country trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If it goes through, the TPP will dramatically expand the power of multinational corporations to use closed-door tribunals to challenge and supersede domestic laws, including environmental, labor, health and other protections.

In brief, this is a very good article you should read all of: Use the last dotted link.

2. Our Intelligence Apparatus, Operating in the Dark 

The next item is an article by Katrina vanden Heuvel on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Forty years ago, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr. played a crucial role in exposing decades of appalling secret conduct by U.S. intelligence agencies. Today, he is publishing “Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy,” a timely and provocative book exploring the origins of the national security state and the urgent challenge of reining it in.

As the chief counsel to the Church Committee I, Schwarz helped bring to light shocking abuses that occurred under administrations of both parties. Led by Idaho Sen. Frank Church (D), the committee’s 1976 investigation uncovered, for example, the FBI’s monstrous attempt to drive Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide and the CIA’s enlistment of the mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro. Foreshadowing future scandals, it also revealed that the National Security Agency spent three decades spying on telegrams sent by U.S. citizens.

Incidentally, here is the Frank Church item on Wikipedia, from whom I quote this - very prescient - piece (in the Wikipedia item):

In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything—telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide.

If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.

I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.

Next, here is more by Katrina vanden Heuvel:

In response to the findings, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and established permanent select committees to oversee intelligence operations. Indeed, it was the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that produced the bombshell report on the CIA’s torture program released in December — though not the unredacted report the nation deserves to see. In the post-Sept. 11 era, however, these intended safeguards against excessive secrecy have undeniably and disastrously failed. As I have written before, it’s long past time to form a modern Church Committee to investigate fully secret U.S. intelligence activities in the 21st century.

I agree (and the stress should be on "fully"), and I also agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel that this is in the present circumstances quite unlikely, and anyway would be only one step of many necessary steps:
Of course, a new Church Committee is only one step toward the larger goals of reining in excessive secrecy and preserving our constitutional rights. “We only have the rights that we protect,” exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden told me in an interview last year. “It doesn’t matter what we say or think we have. It’s not enough to believe in something; it matters what we actually defend. So when we think in the context of the last decade’s infringements upon personal liberty and the last year’s revelations, it’s not about surveillance. It’s about liberty.”
Quite so. Here is the ending of the article:
Indeed, the stakes cannot be overstated. As Schwarz writes in the final words of his book, “America — the greatest democracy on Earth — will not thrive in a secrecy culture. We have a choice. Will we continue down secrecy’s path of silence and darkness? Or will we let the light shine in?”
This is another article that deserves full reading. 

3.  Everyone Has the Right to Challenge “Scientific Experts”

The next item is an article by John Horgan in Scientific American (that I found on dr. Healy's site):
This starts as follows:

Years ago I was blathering to a science-writing class at Columbia Journalism School about the complexities of covering psychiatric drugs when a student, who as I recall had a medical degree, raised his hand. He said he didn’t understand what the big deal was; I should just report “the facts” that drug researchers reported in peer-reviewed journals.

I was so flabbergasted by his naivete that I just stared at him, trying to figure out how to respond politely. I had a similar reaction when I spotted the headline of a recent essay by journalist Chris Mooney: “This Is Why You Have No Business Challenging Scientific Experts.”

(Journalist Chris Mooney argues that the views of anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy can be dismissed because she is not a “scientific expert,” but by this logic the views of journalists like Mooney should also be discounted).

Mooney is distressed, rightly so, that many people reject the scientific consensus on human-induced global-warming, the safety of vaccines, the viral cause of AIDS, the evolution of species. But Mooney’s proposed solution, which calls for non-scientists to yield to the opinion of “experts,” is far too drastic.

Yes, quite so - and no, I do not agree with Jenny McCarthy, and indeed I also know little about autism. But I am a psychologist with one of the best M.A.'s ever, and that is quite relevant for the following quotation of journalist Chris Mooney (who is an American who has a B.A. in English), and who also quotes Harvey Collins in the following quotation, who is no less an expert than a real sociologist of science:
“Collins carefully delineates between different types of claims to knowledge. And in the process, he rescues the idea that there’s something very special about being a member of an expert, scientific community, which cannot be duplicated by people like vaccine critic Jenny McCarthy… Read all the online stuff you want, Collins argues—or even read the professional scientific literature from the perspective of an outsider or amateur. You’ll absorb a lot of information, but you’ll still never have what he terms ‘interactional expertise,’ which is the sort of expertise developed by getting to know a community of scientists intimately, and getting a feeling for what they think. ‘If you get your information only from the journals, you can’t tell whether a paper is being taken seriously by the scientific community or not,’ says Collins. ‘You cannot get a good picture of what is going on in science from the literature,’ he continues. And of course, biased and ideological Internet commentaries on that literature are more dangerous still. That’s why we can’t listen to climate change skeptics or creationists. It’s why vaccine deniers don’t have a leg to stand on.”
No (and I am not a climate change skeptic nor a creationist) - only two types of persons have such naive views about "experts": sociologists of science (which in my eyes - and I started out as a philosopher, but was denied the right to take an M.A. in that - is not a real science) and journalists, and "experts" like psychiatrists, who also are not real scientists either but pseudoscientists.

I certainly have the 'interactional expertise', and what I learned in acquiring it is (i) there are quite a few different types of scientists, who disagree about a lot
and (ii) this is also true in the real sciences (look at present day physics!), while (iii) quite a few supposed sciences - psychology, sociology, psychiatry, for example - are not real sciences but are - in spite of very well-paid professors assuring you the opposite, in which they are motivated by their pay and their status much rather than any real science - for the most part pseudosciences, in which there is an enormous amount of pretense and promises, but very few real results of uncontested scientific value.

And in fact the
'interactional expertise' I acquired - also with a very high IQ - taught me that much of so-called "science" is not properly scientific, in part because there is a lot of money to be made by exaggerating; in part because there is not enough science available to make the pseudoscience into a real science (which may happen eventually, in some cases); and in part because many scientists know very little about methodology and philosophy of science.

And here is John Horgan:

I agree with Mooney and Collins on some fundamental issues. I’m not a Kuhn-style postmodernist, the kind who puts scare quotes around “truth” and “knowledge.” Science is a uniquely potent method for discovering how nature works, and it gets some things right, once and for all: the atomic theory of matter, the (basic) big bang theory, evolution by natural selection, DNA-based genetics.

Also, I give great weight to consensus and credentials, which provide a fast and dirty way to decide whether a claim should be taken seriously.
But the history of science suggests—and my own 32 years of experience reporting confirms—that even the most accomplished scientists at the most prestigious institutions often make claims that turn out to be erroneous or exaggerated.Scientists succumb to groupthink, political pressures and other pitfalls.
Precisely (although I have my doubts about the big bang). Anyway - another good
article that deserves full reading.

4. Don’t blame rising inequality on technological change

The next item is an article by Owen Jones on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
“There is no alternative.” It is the slogan, battle cry and sneer of our era. It is ever present in this general election, like a police sentinel guarding a sacred political consensus, batoning anyone who deviates from received wisdom. The fortunes of Britain’s richest 1,000 can double in a period of economic trauma while hundreds of thousands depend on charities to meet that most basic human need, food. A proposed mansion tax levied on a tiny fraction of the population is met with accusations of cruelty while predominantly poor disabled Britons are compelled to shell out money they don’t have because they are deemed to have a spare bedroom, all in order to balance the nation’s books. More than 400 people can be paid over £1m at one business alone, Barclays Bank, when the whole country of Japan has fewer than 300 executives paid that amount. Why? Because there is no alternative: either policies are pursued that guarantee the concentration of wealth and power in the bank accounts of a tiny elite, or the rich will flee and the economy will collapse.

Britain’s booming elite is soaked with triumphalism. It believes its traditional enemies – principally a trade union movement and political left with a coherent ideology and mass following – have been seen off. This elite is flattered, comforted and protected by an ideology that equates the perpetual enrichment of the wealthy with the wellbeing of the nation, promoted by a media owned by its own kind, an academy largely emptied of intellectual dissidents, and a network of thinktanks kept afloat by corporate and well-to-do private individuals.
This also is a good article that deserves full reading. I agree with most of it, but not quite with the ending:
We need a whole new way of thinking. The nation’s wealth is not the product of the genius of a few canny entrepreneurs. It is a collective endeavour, the product of the labour of millions and the support of the state. The hospital cleaner, the road-builder, the teacher training up both workers and the entrepreneurs of the future: all help generate wealth. The state builds and maintains the infrastructure, funds the research, educates the nation, protects property and tops up low wages. So much of our collectively produced wealth should not be locked away in a few bank accounts. The triumphalists will tell us that there is no other way. They are wrong, and it’s about time we called their bluff.
For we do not "need a whole new way of thinking": We need to disbelieve much of the rot we are served that is recent and new, for the simple reason that these
are lies that serve the interests of the few rich.

5.  Surveillance State Repeal Bill Gets Bipartisan Support

The last item is an article by Donald Kaufman on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is planning to push for a new bill to stop the federal government from forcing tech companies to give it access to customer emails, texts and photos.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., is spearheading the proposed legislation—called the Surveillance State Repeal Act—with the help of five co-sponsors, including Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. Pocan plans to present it when Congress comes back from its two-week recess on April 12. The bill will also stop the government from forcing companies to allow backdoor access that bypasses security protocols for their customers’ privacy.

This seems a reasonable idea, and it is nice it got bipartisan support. Here are
two voices argueing over it. First, FBI director Comey, who is appealing to fear:
“Encryption threatens to lead us all to a very, very dark place,” Comey said during a public appearance at the Brookings Institution in October. “Have we become so mistrustful of government and law enforcement in particular that we are willing to let bad guys walk away, willing to leave victims in search of justice?”
I have, if you want to know an answer: I think the U.S. government has assembled far too many powers for it to continue being a real democracy, and this assembling of governmental powers - especially of the secret services and the FBI - has been happening quite intentionally. (And besides, you are obviously bullshitting in a pretty sick and stupid way, as if you are addressing a congregation of morons.)

Next, Patrick Eddington from the Cato Institute:

Eddington said the idea that encryption alone is going to shut down law enforcement is “absurd.”

“The mass surveillance that the NSA and FBI have developed didn’t stop the underwear bomber, the Boston Marathon bomber or the shootings at Fort Hood,” he said. Eddington and other critics of mass surveillance say law enforcement agencies achieve better results with targeted surveillance of suspected criminals carried out with warrants.

Yes, indeed - but it is not merely that it probably would perform better:

It is especially that mass surveillance is incompatible with a real and effective democracy, and with personal freedom and personal privacy: I do not want to
live in a country where a tiny percentage has access to everything anybody does
or says, and can send the secret services in if they find anything they don't like.

That is not a democracy: it is tyranny of the very few over the very many.


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