April 10, 2015
Crisis: Spies & Lobbyists, U.S.A., Ayn Rand, Techno-"Libertarians", Stop Killer Robots
  "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. Lobbyists for Spies Appointed To Oversee Spying
2. Just How ‘Socially Advanced’ Is the U.S.? You Might Be

The Age of Selfishness: What Made Ayn Rand Tick -- And
     Why She's a Right-Wing Favorite Today

5 Worst Things About the Techno-Libertarians Solidifying
     Their Grasp on Our Economy and Culture

5. Citing Moral and Legal Void, Rights Groups Demand
     Preemptive Ban on 'Killer Robots'


This is a Nederlog of Friday, April 10, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 documents that quite a few former lobbyists or CIA people got moved thtough the revolving door to further spying on everyone; item 2 is about how socially advanced the exceptional state filled with exceptional people that is the current U.S.A. (according to some) really is; item 3 is about Ayn Rand (the mother of "libertarianism"); item 4 is a good piece on the bad sides of Silicon Valley; and item 5 is about a good proposal to ban 'killer robots' because both they and their makers are (presently) unaccountable.

1. Lobbyists for Spies Appointed To Oversee Spying

The first item is an article by Lee Fang on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Who’s keeping watch of the National Security Agency? In Congress, the answer in more and more cases is that the job is going to former lobbyists for NSA contractors and other intelligence community insiders.

A wave of recent appointments has placed intelligence industry insiders into key Congressional roles overseeing intelligence gathering. The influx of insiders is particularly alarming because lawmakers in Washington are set to take up a series of sensitive surveillance and intelligence issues this year, from reform of the Patriot Act to far-reaching “information sharing” legislation.

I say, but I am not amazed: The American government wants to control the American population very much rather than protect them; it has the best instrument ever for it; and it has put up and will put up a lot of money and power to use that instrument - everyone's computer or cell phone - to get as much information as it possibly can (while lying and deceiving).

As to the president:

After the first revelations of domestic surveillance by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, President Obama defended the spying programs by claiming they were “subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate.” But as Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., and other members of Congress have pointed out, there is essentially a “two-tiered” system for oversight, with lawmakers and staff on specialized committees, such as the House and Senate committees on Intelligence and Homeland Security, controlling the flow of information and routinely excluding other Congress members, even those who have asked for specific information relating to pending legislation.

That is: the president's defense of the NSA was based on lies. The NSA is only formally but not factually "subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate": In fact the NSA (and other secret services) control the flow of information including the access to it by members
of Congress.

The article continues as follows:

The Intercept reviewed the new gatekeepers in Congress, the leading staffers on the committees overseeing intelligence and surveillance matters, and found a large number of lobbyists and consultants passing through the revolving door between the intelligence community and the watchdogs who purportedly oversee the intelligence community. We reached out to each of them earlier this week and have yet to hear back

This is followed by a list of some five or six individuals who indeed were lobbyists or consultants who now passed through the revolving doors to continue their work
as government officials.

Also, while several are new members of Congress, they also got immediately nominated as chairmen of important sub-committees.

But I leave these to your interests, though I agree it is frightening. Here is the end of the article:

But lobbyist control over the House and Senate intelligence and homeland security committees may have a profound impact on a range of surveillance issues debated by Congress this year, including the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act and the Patriot Act.

“This is an extreme case of an industry capturing the legislative committees that oversee the industry,” says Craig Holman, a lobbying and government ethics expert at Public Citizen, an advocacy group with a strong focus on corporate accountability. “While the reverse revolving door, in which industry moves their lobbyists and executives into the government committees and agencies that regulate the industry, is disturbingly commonplace in most sectors, this sounds like the cybersecurity industry has a lock on the relevant congressional committees.”

Quite so, and this promises no good news for June 1, when the Patriot Act is to be renewed or terminated.

But this is a good article that deserves full reading.

2. Just How ‘Socially Advanced’ Is the U.S.? You Might Be Surprised 

The next item is a brief article by Ear to the Ground on Truthdig:

This is here for two reasons: I am interested in statistics, and I am usually also a bit amazed when Americans claim they are "exceptional".

Clearly that last claim is a bit of nationalism, which is also quite common in very many other nations, even though these nationas tend to be a bit more careful in straightly asserting their own "exceptional" excellence.

And what I am a bit amazed about is how much lacking in real exceptional rankings the U.S. is:

Although the United States, in the words of columnist Nicholas Kristof, is “the most powerful colossus in the history of the world,” it lags significantly in quality of life for its citizens. In the Social Progress Index 2015 the U.S. does not make the top 10, or even top 15. The global study measured “basic human needs,” “foundations of wellbeing” and opportunity.

Overall, the U.S comes in at 16th, and some indices are particularly startling.

As Kristof writes in The New York Times: “The index ranks the United States 30th in life expectancy, 38th in saving children’s lives, and a humiliating 55th in women surviving childbirth. O.K., we know that we have a high homicide rate, but we’re at risk in other ways as well. We have higher traffic fatality rates than 37 other countries, and higher suicide rates than 80. We also rank 32nd in preventing early marriage, 38th in the equality of our education system, 49th in high school enrollment rates and 87th in cellphone use.”
See? There is a lot more on Social Progress Index 2015.

3. The Age of Selfishness: What Made Ayn Rand Tick -- And Why She's a Right-Wing Favorite Today

The next item is an article by Elias Isquith on Alternet:
This starts as follows:

With Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul having recently announced his intention to be the next U.S. president (an announcement he delivered, incidentally, from Louisville’s Galt House Hotel), now seems as good a time as ever to reexamine the life and legacy of one Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, a woman better known as Ayn Rand.

This is not the first time that an avowed fan of the novelist, polemicist and pseudo-philosopher has reached such heights of American politics, of course. Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee in 2012, at the very least used to be a big fan; and her views were well-aligned with those of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party’s 1964 presidential nominee (of whom she was a big fan). Her ideas — especially her uncompromising opposition to redistribution — permeate throughout the conservative movement still.

Indeed, she was a pseudo-philosopher, and also a very bad writer. I know because I read several of her books in my early twenties, around 1972, when I had American friends - none of whom were philosophers or had studied philosophy - who recommended her. (Without them I very probably would not have read her then, for she was - and is, quite deservedly - relatively unknown in Europe.)

Also, at that time I wanted to study philosophy, but since I had left school because I found it too stupid aged 17, I did not yet have a highschool-diploma (of the kind that would give me access to the university: I had a lesser one). [1]

In any case, I had been reading a lot of philosophy since I was 17, notably Marx, Descartes, Plato. Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Russell (by then some 25 of his books), Montaigne and Mill, and also a lot of related matters, like Quite's "Mathematical Logic" (for I cared a great lot about logic), psychology, physics, sociology and mathematics: I really wanted to know, and had worked quite hard.

With this background (and a lot more) I was somewhat amazed to find that Ayn Rand, seen against that background of reading, did not amount to anything I could take seriously, and especially not because she simplified and schematized so much, usually also without giving clear reasons.

The present article is mostly an interview with the writer of a recent book about Ayn Rand:
Yet while there have been books about Rand before, none of them have been quite like “The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis,” a new graphic novel from artist, photographer and sculptor Darryl Cunningham. The artist and former mental health care worker combines mediums to take a long look at Rand’s history, but he goes one step further, looking at how her influence extends into the present day, and even played a role in bringing on the Great Recession and financial crisis.
I agree that "her influence extends into the present day, and even played a role in bringing on the Great Recession and financial crisis" - but it is a pity that Cunningham does not seem to know a lot about philosophy. At least, in case he does, it gets not reflected in the interview, that mostly is concerned with Rand from a psychological point of view.

Here is one quote that attempts to explain why Ayn Rand did get popular in the U.S.:

I think young people in particular are attracted to objectivism and toward Rand because, certainly when you’re a teenager, you feel quite often very alienated. If you want to raise your self-image, there’s no better way than to read objectivism because it puts you at the center of the universe; you can be more important than everyone else. If you want to feel that everyone else is a fool and a sheep, then objectivism will give you that power; it will lift your self-esteem.removed

I think most people grow out of that approach and see a more equal way of looking at things.
Quite possibly so, but this is not true of me: I thought objectivism was mostly simplified nonsense, and I am quite sure anyone who is genuinely intelligent and not prejudiced (and also not flawed by education) would think the same, especially when knowing some of the truly great philosophers.

Anyway, I leave the interview to your interests. (I found it a bit disappointing, simply because it is mostly about her person rather than her philosophy.)

4. 5 Worst Things About the Techno-Libertarians Solidifying Their Grasp on Our Economy and Culture

The next item is an article by Richard Eskow on Alternet:

This starts as follows:

Nowadays the Silicon Valley is either celebrated as a hotbed of creativity or condemned as a cauldron of greed and wealth inequality.

While there are certainly some talented and even idealistic people in the Valley, there's also an excess of shallow libertarianism, from people who have enriched themselves with government-created technology who then decide they're being held back by government. That's shortsighted and vain. And yes, there are serious problems with sexism and age discrimination – problems which manifest themselves with some ugly behavior.  

But such ethical problems aren't solely, or even primarily, the product of individual character defects. They're the result of self-reinforcing cultural norms at work. Anthropologists and sociologists could do worse than study the tech culture of the Silicon Valley. It would be important work, in fact, because this insular culture is having a deep and lasting impact on our economy and society.

Yes, indeed. And this is a good article that deserves full reading. It does list 5 points, that follow, each of which gets accompanied with a fair amount of text,
which you can read by clicking on the last dotted link.

Here are "the five worst things" (bold in the original):

1. Tech products become the byproducts of a money-making
     scheme rather than an end unto themselves.
2. Even inspired leaders internalize a worldview which places
     profits over humane behavior.
3. The culture encourages a solipsistic detachment from
     reality, even as its brute economic strength colonizes
     everything it touches.
4. The Valley gets fixated on lame (and sometimes
     antisocial) buzzwords.
5. The Silicon Valley's culture is hurting our economy.

The text is good, in proof of which I quote a part from the fifth point (which also connects to Ayn Rand):

The Valley's hurting our economy in another way, too. Somehow, some of the titans of tech have gotten the misguided idea that they are exemplars of libertarian self-created success. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Silicon Valley runs on government-subsidized technology, from microchips to the Internet itself. Corporations like Amazon used government-created tax breaks to build near-monopoly leverage and turn it against their suppliers.

And now, having enriched themselves through government generosity, some of the Valley's billionaires are using their publicly-assisted wealth to back political candidates and organizations under a “libertarian” label that is better described, at least economically, as a far-right agenda. These candidates and organizations push our political dialogue in a more conservative direction – which in turn creates a political climate which tends to permit more of the things that have already wounded our economy, like deregulation and lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

Yes, precisely - and I also agree that "libertarian" seems to mean - in practice  - mostly "far-right": the liberty of the few rich to mercilessly exploit the many poor.

For more, click on the last dotted link.

5. Citing Moral and Legal Void, Rights Groups Demand Preemptive Ban on 'Killer Robots

The last item is an article by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows (and seems a good and quite important initiative to me):

Fully autonomous weapons, or "killer robots," present a legal and ethical quagmire and must be banned before they can be further developed, a new human rights report published Thursday urges ahead of next week's United Nations meeting on lethal weapons.

The report, titled Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots, was jointly published by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic and outlines the "serious moral and legal concerns" presented by the weapons, which would "possess the ability to select and engage their targets without meaningful human control."

Although fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, their "precursors" are already in use, such as the Iron Dome in Israel and the Phalanx CIWS in the U.S., the report states.

Under current law, the makers and users of killer robots could get away with unlawful deaths and injuries if the weapons are allowed to develop. Allowing weapons that operate without human control to make decisions about the use of lethal force could lead to violations of international law and make it difficult to hold anyone accountable for those crimes. Moreover, civil liability would be "virtually impossible, at least in the United States," the report found.

"No accountability means no deterrence of future crimes, no retribution for victims, no social condemnation of the responsible party," lead author and HRW Arms Division researcher Bonnie Docherty said in a press release on Thursday. "The many obstacles to justice for potential victims show why we urgently need to ban fully autonomous weapons."

I quite agree. There is more under the last dotted link.


[1] And I did study philosophy, and was a very good student - but I was removed as the only Dutch student ever to be removed since WW II for honestly stating his opinions in a public lecture in the form of questions, and while I was ill for nearly ten years then, from the right of doing an M.A. briefly before taking it.

My crimes? I was extremely intelligent; I was not a communist (as most students then were); my teachers were lazy incompetents; and I said so.

Out I went, indeed quite illegally and against my expectations: The lazy and incompetent whores of reason who removed me - screaming 16-fold I was "a fascist" (while my father and grandfather were communists who were convicted by Dutch collaborating nazi-judges to the concentration-camp, where my grandfather was murdered, and I was none of the kind at all) - must have hated me very passionately (and more than I had realized).

None of these whores of reasson ever published anything since 1988. They are (or were) Dutch "academic philosophers", and the worst kind of utter incompetents I ever met, who also were the best paid.

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