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Nederlog

May 27, 2015
Crisis: NSA & McConnell, USA, Reich, Sanders, Scheer & Hedges - 4/7, Einstein
  "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

Sections
Introduction

1.
Mitch McConnell Will Do Just About Anything Not to
     Vindicate Edward Snowden

2. America Could Have Been One Giant Sweden -- Instead It
     Looks a Lot Like the Soviet Union

3.
Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #6: End Corporate
     Welfare Now

4. 'Today We Begin a Political Revolution': Bernie Sanders
     Launches Presidential Bid in Vermont

5. VIDEO: Scheer and Hedges: For the Corporatist State,
     Information Is Control (Part 4/7)

6. Why Socialism?

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 6 items and 7 dotted links: Item 1 is about an Intercept article on McConnell and Snowden; item 2 is about how the USA might have been Sweden (but I disliked the article); item 3 is a fine article + video by Reich, who insists correctly that corporate welfare must be stopped; item 4 is another fine article about Sen. Bernie Sanders (who does have the only presidential candidacy I can take seriously, so far at least); item 5 is a fine article + video on the interview Hedges had with Scheer; and item 6 is an article by Albert Einstein from 1949 about socialism, that I reproduce because I recently found it while I like it.
1. Mitch McConnell Will Do Just About Anything Not to Vindicate Edward Snowden

The first item today is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Senate Republican leaders managed to scrape up enough votes just past midnight Saturday morning to put off decisive action on the NSA’s bulk collection of American phone records until next Sunday, May 31.

But the hardliners — and make no mistake, they are taking an even harder and more absurd line than the NSA itself — have no endgame.

Only two outcomes are possible at this point:

First, three provisions of the Patriot Act — one of which has provided the legal cover for bulk collection — expire on June 1. (Indeed, the Obama administration has already begun the process of winding it down.)

Or second, the Senate passes the USA Freedom Act, which extends those provisions but requires the NSA to request specific records from telecom companies, instead of getting them all.

And it seems - but yes, it isn't June 1, yet - that the first alternative, which also is the best, will be in place by June 1. This still doesn't mean the battle has been won, but I grant that, if this is the outcome, it is a better outcome than I have been counting on for a long time. [1]

Also, I see I may have a - not very important - difference of opinion with Dan Froomkin, who writes:

The reasons McConnell and others cite for wanting to extend the program as is — despite the fact that it’s flatly illegal, essentially useless, and spectacularly invasive — are laughable. In fact, the compromise they’re willing to fight to the death to oppose was actually proposed by the NSA.

The issue is they just don’t want Snowden officially vindicated, by an act of Congress.

I don't think so. To be sure, I agree that the reactions against Snowden were a lot stronger and a lot more tasteless than I expected, which may be made into an argument that does support Dan Froomkin's view. And I agree this also may have colored the views and the votes of quite a few senators.

But I think McConnell was and still is motivated less by hatred of Snowden than by his love of getting full control of the American population, including the chance - a few years in the future, probably under a Republican president - of weeding out all the radicals that the GOP disagrees with, by hook or by crook, and mostly in secret, through secret courts.

I grant that I may be mistaken, but what the NSA promised MvConnell was a degree of power over the complete American population that no one ever had,
and that no one ever came close to, and I think he really wants it, for the 1%:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts  absolutely. Great men are  almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

2. America Could Have Been One Giant Sweden -- Instead It Looks a Lot Like the Soviet Union

The next item today is an article by John Feffer on Alternet, but originally on tomdispatch:
This starts as follows:

Imagine an alternative universe in which the two major Cold War superpowers evolved into the United Soviet Socialist States. The conjoined entity, linked perhaps by a new Bering Straits land bridge, combines the optimal features of capitalism and collectivism. From Siberia to Sioux City, we’d all be living in one giant Sweden.

It sounds like either the paranoid nightmare of a John Bircher or the wildly optimistic dream of Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, however, this was a rather conventional view, at least among influential thinkers like economist John Kenneth Galbraith who predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would converge at some point in the future with the market tempered by planning and planning invigorated by the market. Like many an academic notion, it didn’t come to pass.
I don't agree with the first two paragraphs, and I was there, at the time, and followed the news quite well and read a great lot. I don't think anyone who lived and thought in the nineteensixties or nineteenseventies in a somewhat responsible way would have thought, then or now, what the first paragraph suggests.

Also, I don't think either Birchers' or Sanders' fans would have agreed then with what here gets imputed to them, and I don't see them agreeing now.

Again, I disagree with the beginning of the third paragraph, for it simply is not true that "this" - the picture sketched in the first two paragraphs - "
was a rather conventional view".

What is true is that a few economists, such as Tinbergen and Galbraith, proposed the possibility that the ideas that were at the basis of socialism and capitalism might "
converge at some point in the future", but they certaintly did not predict "the United Soviet Socialist States".

There is also a little later on this, that I might agree to with some reservations on the terminology:
The United States is not exactly immune from such trends. The state has also become quite illiberal here as its reach and power have been expanded in striking ways. As it happens, however, America’s Gosplan, our state planning committee, comes with a different name: the military-industrial-homeland-security complex. Washington presides over a planet-spanning surveillance system that would have been the envy of the Communist apparatchiks of the previous century, even as it has imposed a global economic template on other countries that enables enormous corporate entities to elbow aside local competition. If the American tradition of liberalism and democracy was once all about “the little guy” -- the rights of the individual, the success of small business -- the United States has gone big in the worst possible way.
(...)
Instead of the best of all possible worlds, the international community now faces an unholy trinity of authoritarian politics, cutthroat economics, and Big Brother surveillance.
But having read through all of the article, it does seem to me most like a potted history of the last 55 years or so, with quite a few big names, plans and proposals thrown in, but nearly all done in such a way that for me, who can recall all of the last 55 years, the history sounds more like a fairytale than what I remember.

In brief, this is an article I simply didn't like. (You can check it with the last dotted link. There is a whole lot more.)

3. Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #6: End Corporate Welfare Now 
The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

Corporations aren’t people, despite what the Supreme Court says, and they don’t need or deserve handouts. 

When corporations get special handouts from the government – subsidies and tax breaks – it costs you. It means you have to pay more in taxes to make up for these hidden expenses. And government has less money for good schools and roads, Medicare and national defense, and everything else you need.

You might call these special corporate handouts “corporate welfare,” but at least welfare goes to real people in need. In the big picture, corporate handouts are costing tens of billions of dollars a year. Some estimates put it over $100 billion – which means it’s costing you money that would otherwise go to better schools or roads, or lower taxes.

Conservatives have made a game of obscuring where federal spending actually goes. In reality, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most in dire need. An increasing portion goes to corporate welfare.

Other examples: The oil, gas, and coal industries get billions in their own special tax breaks. Big Agribusiness gets farm subsides. Big Pharma gets their own subsidy in the form of a ban on government using its bargaining power under Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. And hedge-fund and private-equity managers get a special tax loophole that treats their income as capital gains, at a lower tax rate than ordinary income.

Quite so. There is more there, and there is also a fine video in which he explains this in 2 m 45 s:



This is a really good video: Recommended.

4. 'Today We Begin a Political Revolution': Bernie Sanders Launches Presidential Bid in Vermont

The next item is an article by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

With a progressive vision that includes breaking up the biggest banks, political transparency, free college education, environmental action, and equity for working and middle class Americans, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Tuesday officially launched his bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

Speaking at a rally at Waterfront Park in Burlington, the socialist-Democrat kicked off his campaign like any Vermonter would: with free Ben & Jerry's ice cream and live Zydeco music.

In remarks prepared for delivery, Sanders said: "Today, with your support and the support of millions of people throughout this country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally. Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly that: ‘Enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people and not to a handful of billionaires, their Super PACs and their lobbyists."

"Let me be very clear," he added. "There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent and when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. There is something profoundly wrong when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable. This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change and, as your president, together we will change it."

Quite so - that is: I don't know whether Sanders will succeed (and there are 1 1/2 years to go), but so far he is the only candidate I would vote for. There is considerably more in the article, and it is good.

5.
VIDEO: Scheer and Hedges: For the Corporatist State, Information Is Control (Part 4/7)

The next item is an article posted by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:
This is part 4 from 7, and I am quite glad that Kasia Anderson - I think - took the trouble to link in the videos and to prepare the texts: it is quite important, at least for people who want to know what happened and who want to react rationally. [2]

So, to start with, here is the video (from the Real News) of part 4:

 


And here is a selection from the text, after telling you that part three is here, and you can also find there links to earlier parts:
Crisis: War Crimes, NSA, Surveillance, Financial Crimes, Snowden, Scheer & Hedges - 3
The present part 4 starts as follows (by Kasia Anderson):

In this installment of their seven-part interview series posted on The Real News Network, Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer and columnist Chris Hedges drill into the motivations for the collusion between big tech companies and the U.S. government.

The end result: Control of Americans’ data leads to control of citizens themselves. Or, as Hedges succinctly puts it, “When they have everything on you, they control you. And they have everything on us.”

I agree, although I might have put the last thus: “When they have everything on you, they may control everything about you. And they have everything on us.”

But OK - Part 4 starts as follows (and I added the link):

CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges for The Real News. Welcome back to part four of my discussion with Robert Scheer about his book They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.

Let’s get into this issue that we discussed at the end of part three about the reaction on the part of private corporations Google, Apple, and others, because the exposure of their complicity with the security and surveillance state (which, as you point out, is global) hurts their business model (they are beginning to create systems of encryption), and whether you think that that will be an effective check on this intrusion of the security and surveillance apparatus into our personal lives.

Here is the beginning of Robert Scheer's answer:

PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I think it’s a real eye-opener for them. And I think that there’d been this incredibly naive notion in Silicon Valley. A lot of the research for this book was done talking to these people. And somehow they were the libertarians unleashed, and the government was made up of fuddy-duddy people, and they didn’t really understand modern technology. And they were creating a new culture, a new world, in which people get to see all kinds of ideas and think all sorts of thoughts and everything.

And, you know, the price of that is you still had to be nice to these government folks—for a number of reasons. You wanted tax breaks. You wanted them to intervene with foreign governments. You wanted military contracts. You know, after all, Amazon, Jeff Bezos, who bought the The Washington Post, he is now building the big cloud that is going to contain our information for NSA and the CIA.

So they are complicit. There is a profit sector in government. They are using, basically, a military creation, which was the internet, to begin with. So there was a weird relationship. And in the book I document how, you know, Sergey Brin and others at Google went off to big meetings and had highest clearance and, you know, were complicit in all this.

The brief of it: Amazon, Google, Facebook and others were quite complicit, and indeed played a similar game: They secretly took data from the very many folks using their software, and used the data to advertise them specifically, and also sold the data to others.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the company Scheer and Hedges agree on that did not play wasn't Quest (as both agree it was) but was Lavabit (<- Wikipedia) that was run by Ladar Levinson.

Indeed, here is a bit (from 2014) by Ladar Levinson on The Guardian:

This is also quite interesting, because it shows how authoritarian the United States has gotten (and Levinson says a lot less than he could say, and the reason is that saying more would lead to prison, which is prettty ridiculous in a case like his).

Back to Scheer and Hedges. This is Robert Scheer:
The feds can go after your taxes. The feds can intimidate you. They can blackmail you. I mean, this information can also be mined to do in the head of Apple, right?
Yes, indeed - and coupled to secret courts and legal statements such as Levinson received that forbade him to talk with anyone but a lawyer, these - very authoritarian, completely anti-democratic - ways will shut up most.

Here is the part on total control:
HEDGES: (..) Well, what that said is that they have everything on me, they have everything on my staff. And when you have—and we saw it in a kind of cruder form with Hoover. When they have everything on you, they control you.

SCHEER: Yes.

HEDGES: And they have everything on us.

SCHEER: Yes.
Indeed, there is also this, relating to Sen. Feinstein:

HEDGES: Right. They think they’re immune.

SCHEER: Yeah.

HEDGES: But as soon as they buck the system, they’re treated like everyone else.

SCHEER: Yeah, and they were going to frame the staff. And it’s really quite ominous.
Indeed, also because the programs and methods the NSA used were illegal, and because the legal status of the CIA's and the NSA's doings were not at all settled then.

I skip some and turn to Scheer:
SCHEER: But the abandonment, say, by this constitutional law professor Barack Obama, he should be—he knows this stuff better than I do. First of all, he knows the extent of surveillance ’cause he’s ordering it up. But as a constitutional law professor, he knows why we have a Fourth Amendment, he knows why we have to have individual sovereignty, he knows why we have to observe the government. Why is he not using his presidency as a bully pulpit to educate us about our Constitution?
This is in the context of Scheer's praising the U.S. Constitution, to which I come in a moment.

First about the above quotation: I think Obama got to be a constitutional law professor as a step in his career, and not because he in any way agrees to it. Indeed, this seems to hold for most lawyers (certainly for those I saw) and the law: They believe much less in the law, and much more in personal lawyering. And therefore the answer to the last question is (in my opinion): Because he doesn't care for the law; he cares for power.

Next, there is this, by Hedges, who replies to Scheer's touting of the Constitution:
HEDGES: Bob, it’s been—our Constitution has been absolutely rewritten by judicial fiat. None of—whether it’s privacy, whether it’s First Amendment rights, whether it is the decision by the Supreme Court to interpret unlimited campaign contributions by corporations as petitioning the government, whether it is drawing up kill lists, whether it is the misuse of the Espionage Act to shut down whistleblowers, whether it is the misinterpretation of the Authorization to Use Military Force act to assassinate, to serve as judge, jury, I mean, it’s gone.
I think I am midway between Scheer and Hedges here. That is, I agree with Hedges that much of the Constitution has been legally rewritten. But I agree with Scheer on the following, that I have quoted before, which is in fact Aristotle:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
I believe this is a statement most reasonable men will agree to, and the reason I think this pleads for Scheer's position is that the laws may be changed, but the Constitution itself cannot be withdrawn, as long as there is a United States founded upon it.

There is also - in the context of a reasonably long discussion that I skip - this bit of Scheer that I more or less halfly agree with:
SCHEER: (...) You know, I say, you know, there’ll be people in the audience who say, oh, unless we get Citizens United overturned, unless we get money out of politics, unless we do the—it’s all over. Well, I won’t accept that. If people can fight back in Stalin’s Russia, fight back against the Stasi, who are dissidents, or people who fought back against Hitler—there were plenty of people that tried to fight back, okay? And at least they alerted people outside of their countries.
I agree with this - BUT: As soon as you run the real risk to be lifted from your bed and end up in a concentration camp for thirty years, where you will be starved and worked to death, there still will be a few willing to take these enormous risks, but most will not. Indeed, I know this fairly well from Holland's history: My father and his father did have the courage to go into the resistance (and ended both up in a Nazi concentration camp) - but six times more Dutchmen went into the SS than went into the resistance, at the same time. (And the Dutch, in considerable part thanks to the cooperation of Cohen and Asscher with the Nazis, managed in the end to send more than 1% of their population to the concentration camps, for being "of the wrong race", where nearly all were gassed or otherwise murdered.)

There is a considerable amount more under the last dotted link. And this whole series is highly recommended by me.

6. Why Socialism?

The final item today is by Albert Einstein (<- Wikipedia: yes indeed, the one) that was originally published in the first issue of the Monthly Review, in May of 1949:

This is here for three reasons: I recently found it; it is a quite competent article by one of the few real geniuses of the 20th Century; and he also was quite aware of the difficulties socialism posed with regard to power.
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Notes
[1] Incidentally, this is mostly about optimism vs pessimism, which seems more a matter of mood and character rather than objective evidence. And I willingly grant that if I err, I err on the pessimist side, and that for two reasons, mostly: First, I think in this case - the controlling of the population by the NSA, or by information gathered by the NSA - pessimism ("Damn! They may get their desires!") was wiser than optimism ("Who cares? Spying on the whole population is unconstitutional!"). Second, and in general: I have seen very few of my own  political, legal, or economic desires seen practised since the 1970ies, and those that were tended to be less important, and were practised in a half-assed way.

[2] I am one of these, though I realize that being rational and being political are not easily unified consistently. (If given the choice, mine is for rationality.) Maybe I will write about this later.

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