April 29, 2015
Crisis: Snowden, Sanders, Sweden & Assange, Trade Deals, Against TPP
  "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


1. Nearly Two Years After Snowden, Congress Poised to Do
     Something — Just Not Much

2. Sen. Bernie Sanders Gears Up to Launch 2016
     Presidential Campaign

Sweden’s Top Court Gives Julian Assange the Chance to
     Appeal Arrest Order

4. Opposition Amassing to 'Outdated and Unsound' Trade

5. The 23 Count Indictment of the TPP


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about the three proposed bills about the NSA that are before Congress (and I cite some of
Frank Church); item 2 is about the Good News that Bernie Sanders decided to run in the presidential primaries (as a Democrat); item 3 is about a decision by Sweden's Supreme Court to
allow Assange to appeal against his arrest order; item 4 is about a letter by over 2000 civil society groups to Congress that pleads to stop fast tracking the TPP; and item 5 is a list of 23 arguments why the TPP should not be accepted, plus a sixth dotted link to a very good argument about the TPP and TPIP by Yves Smith.

1. Nearly Two Years After Snowden, Congress Poised to Do Something — Just Not Much 

The first item today is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Members of Congress appear ready to use a rare moment of leverage over the NSA to place modest limits on only one of the many mass surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden.

The USA Freedom Act of 2015, a long-awaited compromise bill negotiated by House and Senate Judiciary Committee members, was unveiled Tuesday. The bill calls for the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the National Security Agency to be replaced with a more selective approach in which the agency would collect from communications companies only records that match certain terms. The bill also requires more disclosure — and a public advocate — for the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

But nearly two years after Snowden gave the public a rare and extensive view into the U.S. surveillance state, Congress is doing nothing to limit NSA programs ostensibly targeted at foreigners that nonetheless collect vast amounts of American communications, nor to limit the agency’s mass surveillance of non-American communications. The limited reforms in the new bill affect only the one program explicitly aimed at Americans.

I say. It seems to me that this compromise bill will simply allow the NSA to continue as it has done since 2007 (and before, but around 2007 they really started collecting everyone's private information), with extremely little real difference. And the supposedly
"more selective approach in which the agency would collect from communications companies only records that match certain terms"
contradicts the Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
-- Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution
For the terms are not specified; the NSA has no proper oversight; and "records that match "certain terms"" merely affirms that the Fourth Amendment's security "against unreasonable searches and seizures" is totally gone: You have no privacy, and anything you do or say on the internet will be recorded and stored.

Here are the other two proposed bills:
The new bill is also expected to garner considerably more support than two outlier proposals. One, by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, would renew the PATRIOT Act as is. Another, sponsored by Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., is called the Surveillance State Repeal Act and would completely repeal both the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act, which the NSA cites as legal authority for the “Prism” and “upstream” programs that “incidentally” collect untold amounts of domestic content. A group of whistleblowers endorsed that bill yesterday.
I wrote about the Surveillance State Repeal Act yesterday, and I agreed with the whistleblowers. It also seems the only bill that is morally decent and respects the Fourth Amendment.

As to the - sickeningly styled - "
USA Freedom Act of 2015":
The new bill has the political virtue of splitting the differences between Republican and Democratic elites, even as it leaves out in the cold a nascent alliance of libertarian-leading Republicans, anti-surveillance liberals and privacy activists who wanted more. It accepts — without any public evidence — the claim that the intelligentce community needs access to domestic phone records. Judiciary committee members were quoted in the Washington Post saying the bill “would ensure the NSA maintains an ability to obtain the data it needs to detect terrorist plots.”
This is not a "Freedom Act", but a somewhat disguised slavery act:

A state in which the secret services of the state "
needs access to domestic phone records" on the incredible scale this has been happening since 2007 - everyone is treated as a criminal who has no right to any privacy - is not a democracy but is an authoritarian police state.

Besides, there are no limits of any kind on spying on anyone who is not American, which incidentally also means that the NSA will continue to spy on every American, but indirectly, namely simply by letting the GCHQ do most of its American spying while the NSA does nearly all the English spying, and then they swap data, "and no law of any kind has been broken, for our secret services did not spy on our inhabitants".

I suppose that will be the immediate future: more spying on everyone, which happens also not "
to detect terrorist plots” (the NSA did not detect any terrorist plot) but to find and then repress anyone with ideas and values that the government of the U.S. does not like, as Senator Frank Church (<- Wikipedia) warned in 1975 (quoted from Wikipedia):
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.
It has happened: the U.S. has crossed the bridge, and these the days the capacities for making a total tyranny are far worse and far more powerful than Church could foresee in 1975, and are turned against "the American people" by
their governments, quite on purpose, to guarantee that governing elite and the financial elite rule supreme and forever.

2. Sen. Bernie Sanders Gears Up to Launch 2016 Presidential Campaign

The next item is an article by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

It’s on, as of Thursday: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is slated to announce that he’s throwing in to join the roster of candidates for the 2016 election. He’ll be running as a Democrat.

Excellent - for Bernie Sanders is one of the few senators who talk and write sense. The article also quotes the Washington Post as follows:

Sanders shares many of the same political stances as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a darling of liberals who has repeatedly said she is not running for president. That means Sanders may end up serving as the most prominent voice for the left wing of the party — particularly voters who are suspicious of Clinton and her close ties to Wall Street.

Sanders’s backers said they hope he can serve as a proxy for Warren’s disappointed drafters, helping to animate small-dollar Democratic donors with his brash persona and speeches condemning the “billionaire class.”

[...] Sanders chose to run in the Democratic primary due to his interest in participating in the party’s primary debates, according to confidants. If he ran as an independent, he would not be able to engage with the national Democratic infrastructure or act as a direct foil to Clinton in the early primaries and caucuses.

Yes, indeed. And I think he acted wisely when he chose to run in the Democratic primary, were it only because that way he can confront Hillary Clinton directly.

Senator Sanders may not win the primary nor the presidency (which I think would be a major pity, but I am a realist) but at least he is the first candidate I can believe in - and he may make considerable problems for Hillary Clinton, who is simply one of the banks' many presidential candidates at present.

3.  Sweden’s Top Court Gives Julian Assange the Chance to Appeal Arrest Order

The next item is another article by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

Sweden’s Supreme Court has given WikiLeaks figure Julian Assange the green light to appeal allegations of sexual assault stemming from two incidents that allegedly took place in the town of Enköping and in Stockholm in 2010. 

The claims, about which Assange has maintained his innocence, introduced the potential threat of extradition to Sweden and the U.S. that compelled him to seek asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London nearly three years ago. Whether or not this latest development represents a shift in Assange’s fortunes remains to be seen.

This sounds at least a bit odd in two respects: First, Assange is described as a "WikiLeaks figure", and second it is stated that it is unclear whether this "represents a shift in Assange's fortunes".

For clearly, whether one likes Assange or not, he is not merely "
a "WikiLeaks figure"" and also, while I agree that the case is far from finished, this is at least a small gain for Assange.

Here is a quotation from Al Jazeera America in the article:

Even if Sweden drops the investigation, he faces arrest by British police for jumping bail granted while the British courts considered the European arrest warrant issued by Sweden.

“The Supreme Court grants leave to appeal in the matter regarding the arrest,” the court said in statement, which provided no date for when the appeal will be heard.

As I said, the case continues.

4. Opposition Amassing to 'Outdated and Unsound' Trade Policies

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

With dissent fermenting on both sides of the political aisle, more than 2,000 civil society groups are urging Congress to reject Fast Track trade authority, warning that the legislation would pave the way for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation proposal they say "replicates and expands on the most damaging provisions of past U.S. trade pacts."

The joint letter (pdf), signed by 2,009 labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom, and other groups, describes Fast Track authority—which would empower President Barack Obama to negotiate trade deals that could not be amended or filibustered in Congress—as "simply inappropriate given the scope of the pending agreements."

Yes. In case you think that saying that Obama's many deceptions about the TPP are "simply inappropriate" is simply inappropriate [1], read on: Here is a quotation of the joint letter:
After decades of massive trade deficits, devastating job loss, downward pressure on Americans' wages, attacks on environmental and health laws and floods of unsafe imported food under our past trade agreements, America must chart a new course on trade policy. To accomplish this, a new form of trade authority is needed that ensures that Congress and the public play a much more meaningful role in determining the contents of U.S. trade agreements.
Fast Track is an abrogation of not only Congress' constitutional authority, but of its responsibility to the American people.
Indeed. The article also says some Republican may vote "no" to the bill, and adds that Democrats are more divided. There is also this:
The AFL-CIO, for example, on Tuesday indicated that how candidates position themselves on Fast Track and the TPP will serve as a litmus test for the 2016 elections.

As Ben Wikler, Washington director for MoveOn.org, said in a press release (pdf) Monday, "This is a basic, threshold question for Democrats: Will they stand with Elizabeth Warren and the public? Or will they vote against the people that, at least in the past, elected them to office?"

Here is a quote from the President of the United States:
I think it is entirely appropriate for folks to have strong views, and trade deals have always been controversial. It's part of, you know, American politics.  And so I don’t mind people saying, you know what, we’re not getting enough of this or we’re not getting enough of that, I'd like to see more of this, I'd like to see less of that. And I've met with all of the opponents and my team has met with all the opponents, and I'm willing to continue to engage and debate, and there will be a broad, open debate about this issue. But when people start suggesting that these are secret deals, that there’s some hidden agenda, I have to remind them of who I am and what I've been doing for the last six and a half years and—and ask them maybe to—to keep things a little bit in perspective.
I say?! These secret trade deals, that you yourself elevated to "national security" status, are not secret?! He has "met with all of the opponents"?! And "there will be a broad, open debate about this issue"?! With 8 minutes maximal per member, and no amendments possible at all?! My goodness!! What a liar is the president of the U.S.!

You disagree? You may, but do read the next item:

5. The 23 Count Indictment of the TPP 

The last item today is an article by Joe Firestone (a Ph.D. in political science, who taught political science to graduates and undergraduates) on Naked Capitalism:

This is a fine piece listing 23 reasons to vote against the TPP. 22 out of 23 each end with "it would still be sufficient to vote to kill it!" I will leave the 23 reasons to your interests, but here is part of the Conclusion:

The governing functions of the TPP regime would not be exercised with the consent of the governed. The combination of the vague definition of “investment,” the ISDS criminogenic tribunals, and the elevation of the principle of “expectation of profits” above the principles of “public purpose,” “consent of the governed,” and “separation of powers,” is tantamount to the overthrow of democracy, preserving its form in national level elections, but emptying its elections of meaningful content in mandating change and conferring legitimacy on national authorities.

And, further, the ISDS tribunals if in operation, would not exercise just powers, but only illegitimate power derived from the TPP agreement itself, negotiated in secret, passed without benefit of open debate based on the secret text of the TPP, and intended to remain secret for years after the TPP is signed. That makes TPP decision making, performed without the consent of the governed, tyranny, and makes those who want to pass the TPP guilty of conspiracy to create tyrannical rule of the few over the people of the United States and other TPP member nations.

Right now, those who want to pass Fast Track Authority and the TPP, in the face of the 23 reasons, recorded in the 23 stanzas, for killing these things, any one of which is reason enough to vote to kill them, apparently number the President of the United States, most of the corporate media, a majority of the Senate, though perhaps not a majority of its Democratic members, a large number of Representatives in the House, mostly Republican, but including some Democrats, who may or may not reach a majority of the House with the help of a full court press corporate and billionaire-funded media campaign that we will see intensify in the coming days and weeks. So, these are the forces arrayed against democracy and for tyranny. These are the forces in back of the attempt of the elite to engineer a bloodless coup, that they hope will replace national popular sovereignty with globalizing corporate rule.

I agree, also with the last paragraph, that ends thus:

So, these are the forces arrayed against democracy and for tyranny. These are the forces in back of the attempt of the elite to engineer a bloodless coup, that they hope will replace national popular sovereignty with globalizing corporate rule.

The reason to quote it again is that it seems more likely than not - to me, at least - that "the forces arrayed against democracy and for tyranny" will win. This is a most unwelcome conclusion (for me, at least) but it is realistic - and no, I do not counsel giving up: one has to continue to fight against tyranny and fascism, also if they have most of the power and most of the money (and much of the government, most of Congress, and most of the press and TV on their side).

To end today's Nederlog, here is another link to a very good article on Naked Capitalism about the TPP and the TTIP. This is by Yves Smith, and is from March 2, last, when I missed it:

This is a rather long but very good article, from which I will just quote one bit
by Elizabeth Warren, who explains one of her criticisms of the TPP and TTIP (and the ISDS are the mostly secret corporate "courts" Obama wants so very, very much):

ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.

If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?

If the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, big corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.

These words may be compared to the lies of Obama (see here). And this
article is much recommended.

[1] Namely because those who have nothing to say because they are flat out wrong of flat out stupid usually do manage to blurt out that any opposition to their ideas is "simply inappropriate" (after which they refuse to argue and want to switch the topic of conversation: you are being "inappropriate").

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