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Nederlog

May 2, 2015
Crisis: Robert Reich, Surveillance, Corporatism, Sanders' Challenge, Democrats
  "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
















Sections
Introduction
1. The Political Roots of Widening Inequality
2.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats Unite to Check
     Surveillance and Patriot Act

3.
Caving In to Corporatism: Endgame for Secret “Trade”
     Pact Negotiations

4.
The Sanders Challenge
5. In Defense of Hillary Clinton, Democrats Embrace Citizens
     United Decision



Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, May 2, 2015.

This is a
crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a - fairly long - article by Robert Reich; item 2 is about a bill that is supposed to pass that will assure there is more surveillance; item 3 is a good article about how democracy is doomed and will be overtaken by corporatism; item 4 is about the challenge of Bernie Sanders and is a good article; and item 5 is about how the registered Democrats shift their opinions 180 degrees to support Hillary Clinton.

Also, as I briefly explained yesterday: I had problems with my computer, that meanwhile have been overcome. (These were - in the end - not serious, but I
did fear I had to buy another computer, which I wanted to do anyway, and did.
The present outcome is good, because the problem was solved; I have a new computer; and I can install it at my leisure. More later.)

And the present file got uploaded a bit earlier than is normal for me.

1. The Political Roots of Widening Inequality

The first item today is an article by Robert Reich on his blog:
This starts as follows (and this also is a longer article than is usual for Reich, at least on this blog):
For the past quarter-century I’ve offered in articles, books, and lectures an explanation for why average working people in advanced nations like the United States have failed to gain ground and are under increasing economic stress: Put simply, globalization and technological change have made most of us less competitive. The tasks we used to do can now be done more cheaply by lower-paid workers abroad or by computer-driven machines.
I say. And I say so, because this sounds pretty incredible to me, for at least two reasons:

First, I do not see any specific reason why the supposed facts that "
The tasks we used to do can now be done more cheaply by lower-paid workers abroad or by computer-driven machines" should be related to being or feeling "competitive". And second, I don't believe there is any good research that connects feelings (states? convictions? theories?) about "competitiveness" (anyway a word with many different meanings) to these supposed facts (or indeed almost anything else).

This doesn't mean - I am "a social scientist", in some sense, after all [1] - there is no such "research", for there is a lot of "research" in "the social sciences" that I regard as trashy anyway, but I am pretty certain "competitiveness" is difficult to research, and not very relevant anyway - as are "income" and "(perceived) income inequality" (for example).

But OK - Robert Reich also tells us that he changed his mind:
While the explanation I offered a quarter-century ago for what has happened is still relevant—indeed, it has become the standard, widely accepted explanation—I’ve come to believe it overlooks a critically important phenomenon: the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite that has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs.
And about this he is right, in some sense at least, for "political power" also is not a concept all agree about, nor are "the rules by which the economy runs".

I'll leave that for the moment, and turn to another thing Robert Reich is right about:
Worse yet, the ensuing debate over the merits of the “free market” versus an activist government has diverted attention from how the market has come to be organized differently from the way it was a half-century ago, why its current organization is failing to deliver the widely shared prosperity it delivered then, and what the basic rules of the market should be.
I agree. First, the "ensuing debate" was almost only propaganda, since it was based on false premisses. The truth is that (1) there is no free market without an activist government that maintains it by laws and regulations, while (2) for most on the rightist site of the debate, the phrase "free market" was used as a false
and intentionally confusing term that in real terms meant the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor without almost any law or regulation.

Next, there is this:

A deeper understanding of what has happened to American incomes over the last 25 years requires an examination of changes in the organization of the market. These changes stem from a dramatic increase in the political power of large corporations and Wall Street to change the rules of the market in ways that have enhanced their profitability, while reducing the share of economic gains going to the majority of Americans.
True - except for the facts that (1) this movement for the rich and against the poor started in 1979 and 1980, with the elections of Thatcher and Reagan, which is 35 rather than 25 years ago, and (2) the "dramatic increase in the political power of large corporations and Wall Street" mostly consisted in very many deregulations i.e. abandonments of legal rules that protected the non-rich many from the rich few, which indeed had the effects Reich stated, and besides were effected by the incredible corruption of Holder and Obama, who chose to create "too big to fail" banks led by "too big to jail" financial criminals. [2]

And indeed, Reich sees that as well, for he later says:

Financial laws and regulations instituted in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929 and the consequential Great Depression have been abandoned—restrictions on interstate banking, on the intermingling of investment and commercial banking, and on banks becoming publicly held corporations, for example—thereby allowing the largest Wall Street banks to acquire unprecedented influence over the economy.
(...)
Meanwhile, the largest banks and auto manufacturers were bailed out in the downturn of 2008–2009. The result has been to shift the risks of economic failure onto the backs of average working people and taxpayers.
Precisely - which is a major crime: The hundreds of millions non-rich are made to pay for the mistakes that a few thousands rich bankers made.

And not only that:
Meanwhile, corporate executives and Wall Street managers and traders have done everything possible to prevent the wages of most workers from rising in tandem with productivity gains, in order that more of the gains go instead toward corporate profits. Higher corporate profits have meant higher returns for shareholders and, directly and indirectly, for the executives and bankers themselves.
Yes, indeed - but the following may be a little clearer:
Fifty years ago, when General Motors was the largest employer in America, the typical GM worker earned $35 an hour in today’s dollars. By 2014, America’s largest employer was Walmart, and the typical entry-level Walmart worker earned about $9 an hour.
The - very large - difference was pocketed by the few rich. Here is one of Reich's conclusions:
The more basic problem is that the market itself has become tilted ever more in the direction of moneyed interests that have exerted disproportionate influence over it, while average workers have steadily lost bargaining power—both economic and political—to receive as large a portion of the economy’s gains as they commanded in the first three decades after World War II.
That is mostly true, as is the last paragraph of the article:
Ultimately, the trend toward widening inequality in America, as elsewhere, can be reversed only if the vast majority, whose incomes have stagnated and whose wealth has failed to increase, join together to demand fundamental change. The most important political competition over the next decades will not be between the right and left, or between Republicans and Democrats. It will be between a majority of Americans who have been losing ground, and an economic elite that refuses to recognize or respond to its growing distress.
But I fail to see why the political right and left are - in effect - declared irrelevant:

It seems to me that the right are for the rich and the bankers (albeit it with very many lies and intentional confusions, and these days even with a whole Orwellian set of terms that do not mean what they do mean in dictionary terms) and the left are for the non-rich, and it also seems to me that the party of the right is the Republican Party and the party of the left is the Democratic Party.

Indeed, one of the things I fail to understand is why so many people insist that
there is no right nor left: I can see that most of the leading politicians are corrupt, lying and deceiving, and I can also see that the supposedly leftist politicians have been turned to rightist rich careerists who merely pretend they are leftist.

But I do not see that the few leading liars who are politicians in any way refute the basic opposition between right and left that goes back to 18th Century, and that still seem to be quite valid:

The right is conservative and pro rich; the left is progressive and pro non-rich; the right wishes to undo all regulations that protect the poor from excessive exploitatation; the left wishes to increase regulations that protect the poor and the non-rich; the right is for more inequality; the left is for more equality.

And so on, and so on - but I also realize that few who talk about politics with dogmatic certainty have read as much as 5 or 10 procent of the list of political texts I put up (which is quite interesting and worthwile).

2. Congressional Republicans and Democrats Unite to Check Surveillance and Patriot Act

The next item is an article by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:
Twin bills that would revise the Patriot Act and curb the state surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden look certain to become law as bipartisan support mounts in both chambers of Congress.
Unfortunately, what the "twin bills" are remains unstated, but I take it these bills are not the bill that is supported by the whistleblowers. Here is a quotation from the New York Times:

On Thursday, a bill that would overhaul the Patriot Act and curtail the so-called metadata surveillance exposed by Edward J. Snowden was overwhelmingly passed by the House Judiciary Committee and was heading to almost certain passage in that chamber this month.

An identical bill in the Senate — introduced with the support of five Republicans — is gaining support over the objection of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who is facing the prospect of his first policy defeat since ascending this year to majority leader. …

Under the bipartisan bills in the House and Senate, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection, and sweeps that had operated under the guise of so-called National Security LettersU issued by the F.B.I. would end. The data would instead be stored by the phone companies themselves, and could be accessed by intelligence agencies only after approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

The legislation would also create a panel of experts to advise the FISA court on privacy, civil liberties, and technology matters, while requiring the declassification of all significant FISA court opinions.

Which is to say: Surveillance will continue, but the phone companies have to do the dirty work of storing everything so that the NSA can read it at its convenience (and the FISA "courts" are irrelevant anyway: they hardly ever object to anything the NSA does or wants).

But yes, this is the probable future of surveillance: it will continue, and most of what you hear in the mass media
about it, including the New York Times, is propaganda and/or subtly or grossly misleading bullshit.

3. Caving In to Corporatism: Endgame for Secret “Trade” Pact Negotiations

The next item is an article by Don Quijones on Wolf Street:
This starts as follows:

Two game-changing trade agreements — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its sister pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — are perilously close to completion. Their basic aims are three-fold: to elevate the rights of “investors,” that is of corporations, above the rights of citizens; to transfer sovereignty from the seats of national government to the corporate HQs of the world’s largest multinationals; and to cement Western domination of the global economy for the foreseeable future.

Naturally, few voters are likely to support such a radical program. Hence the acute need for secrecy, obfuscation and lies throughout the negotiation process. Eventually, even they are not enough. The lies start showing through and the flimsy facade begins to slip. In the later stages — roughly where we are now — the only way to finish the job is to incrementally, almost imperceptibly snuff out the institution of representative democracy itself. To do that, one must still keep the illusion of democracy alive, at least until the ink on its death warrant (i.e. a fully signed trade agreement) is dry.

Yes, quite so - and Don Quijones article is quite good and well worth reading, even though it is far from optimistic. It ends as follows:

Unfortunately, few people in positions of power or responsibility seem to notice or care, while the vast majority of the population remains oblivious to what is even happening under their noses. And that is how democracy dies.

Indeed.

4. The Sanders Challenge

The next item is an article by Robert Borosage on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Tweeting that “America needs a political revolution,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders threw himself Thursday into the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Sanders is in many ways the mirror image of Hillary Clinton, the favored candidate in the race. She has universal name recognition, unlimited funds, and a campaign operation rife with experienced political pros. He is not widely known, has little money, and has never run a national campaign. But in a populist moment, he is the real deal – a full-throated, unabashed, independent, uncorrupted, straight-talking populist. And that is a big deal.

Yes, indeed - though I have to add that if Sen. Bernie Sanders is "not widely known" the reason must be that the majority of the Americans is (at least) quite ignorant about both politics and politicians - which again is not amazing if it is true (as I have heard repeatedly, from different sources) that 60% (!!) of the present day Americans believe that Noah's Ark really happened... [3]

Anyway - this is a good article that well deserves full reading. Here is some about the good points about Sanders:

Sanders has already released a 12-point Economic Agenda for America. He has been a leader in what is increasingly a consensus agenda for Democrats: an increase in the minimum wage, paid sick days, paid vacation, pay equity, affordable child care.

But Sanders’ agenda is far bolder. It addresses the structures that are geared to generate extreme inequality. Since 1978, CEOs have increased their own pay by almost 1,000 percent, while the wages of 90 percent of Americans have lost ground. As Sanders says, that can occur only if the rules are systematically rigged to favor the few.

So Sanders calls for an end to the corporate-defined trade and tax policies that have racked up unprecedented and ruinous trade deficits while shipping good jobs abroad. He is a leader in the effort to stop fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is supported by the Democratic president, the Republican congressional leadership and the business lobby.

He calls for breaking up the big banks, and making Wall Street serve rather than savage Main Street. The big banks are more concentrated than ever. Too big to fail, too big to jail, they are too big to exist. His leading donors are unions, not Wall Street bankers.

Note that there is considerably more in  the article (and I mostly agree with Sanders, who seems one of the few honest, intelligent and sensible senators).

Here is the end of the article:
And win or lose, Sanders’ campaign will have far greater importance than serving as Clinton’s trainer. His message will reach millions, helping to reinforce the central realization that the rules have been rigged against them. He will powerfully attack Republicans for both their fawning billionaires competition and their reactionary economics.
(...)
Running for president against the Clinton operation, with little money and limited name recognition, risks embarrassment and reputation. Sanders has decided that the stakes are high enough and it is time to take that risk. Whether you support him or not, don’t discount him. He’s the real deal and this is a big deal.
Yes, indeed. If he looses, as indeed he well may, it will be because he lacks the money, and not because his ideas and values are bad. And in any case, he will
have the opportunity to make his ideas and values more widely heard than they were till now, and that is important as well.

5. In Defense of Hillary Clinton, Democrats Embrace Citizens United Decision

The final item today is an article by David Sirota on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

Less than three weeks into her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has already accomplished a stunning feat: She appears to have unified large swaths of the Democratic Party and its activist base to support the core tenets of the Citizens United decision—the one that effectively allowed unlimited money into politics.

That 2010 Supreme Court ruling declared that, unless there is an explicit quid pro quo, the fact that major campaign donors “may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt.” The theory is that as long as a donor and a politician do not agree to an overt bribe, everything is A-OK.

When the ruling was handed down, Democrats were outraged, and Hillary Clinton herself has recently suggested she wants it overturned. Yet with revelations that firms with business before Clinton’s State Department donated to her foundation and paid her husband, Clinton’s campaign and rank-and-file Democratic activists are suddenly championing the Citizens United theory.

I say?! But no, I see no reason to doubt David Sirota, and indeed he gives evidence in the rest of the article, which is well worth reading in full.

He also says:

To advocates for limiting the influence of money in politics, this pushback from Democrats is particularly rich (pun intended) coming from a party that spent a decade asserting that Republicans raking in cash from Big Oil and pushing oil-friendly policies was rank corruption. The Democratic defense of their presumptive presidential nominee registers as especially disturbing to campaign finance reform advocates considering the mighty efficiency of the Clinton fundraising machine.
Yes, indeed. And for me it either proves or strongly supports the notion that the majority of the registered Democrats are more like cattle-following-the-Leader than like rational human beings - and please note that I am speaking of "registered Democrats" rather than of "Democrats" or "Americans".

And in case you think that is too strong: I also think that most politically active people in either American party are personal careerists, these days, much rather than honest
rational persons, and I think that was mostly brought about in the Democratic Party by the other Clinton, Bill himself, who argued for the lie
 that is known as the Third Way.

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Notes
[1] Namely because I have an excellent M.A. in psychology, and besides know the University of Amsterdam very well, because I visited it regularly and studied there between 1970-2005. Besides, I know more about methodology and philosophy of science than anyone I've ever met.

[2] Yes, they chose to do so, and yes it was - very - corrupt. And to the best of my knowledge, Eric Holder already affirmed in 1999 that he would not jail big corrupt and criminal bankers on the explicit - completely illegal - ground that he supposed their banks were "too big to fail". And then he got to control the DoJ...

[3] I have read or heard this several times, and each time it was received with little amazement, even though this means that 60% of the present Americans are both more stupid and more dogmatic than their - much more religious! - forefathers of the 18th Century, who were not as literal minded. (I do not know whether it is correct, but if it is correct, I'll be pretty disappointed though not very amazed.)


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