June 12, 2015
Crisis: Patriot Act, Bilderberg, Hedges&Scheer, SCOTUS, Big Pharma & 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

Prev- crisis -Next


Patriot Act Reform Curbed NSA; Cybersecurity Bill Would
     Empower It

What We Know (and Don’t Know) About This Year’s
     Bilderberg Meeting

3. Chris Hedges and Robert Scheer: Rebellion and the
     Freedom Act

4. 8 Ways the Supreme Court Has Been Destroying
     American Democracy

5Leaked Text Shows Big Pharma Bullies Using TPP To
     Undermine Global Health

This is a Nederlog of Friday June 12, 2015.

This is a crisis blog, and indeed a fairly ordinary one, though with interesting items. There are 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a - meanwhile failed - attempt of Mitch McConnell to expand domestic surveillance; item 2 is about the next Bilderberg conference, where the leaders of the world congregate in total
secrecy; item 3 is about an interview Robert Scheer did with Chris Hedges about the latter's new book (and I found this quite interesting); item 4 is about an interesting article that shows the American Supreme Court has been quite harmful
in more ways than it would appear; and item 5 is about another leaked document
about the TTP, that shows no one in his right mind (who is not very rich and also is not Obama, who loves the TTP) wants this.
1. Patriot Act Reform Curbed NSA; Cybersecurity Bill Would Empower It
The first item is an article by Lee Fang on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Only a week after Congress passed reforms to the Patriot Act ending the National Security Agency’s metadata phone collection program, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with the help of big business allies, is moving to expand domestic surveillance of a different type.

On Tuesday, McConnell and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., announced plans to attach the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act to the National Defense Authorization Act. (Update: On Tuesday afternoon, McConnell failed to get the 60 votes necessary to proceed with that particular way of passing the act.)

Though touted as a measure strictly to enhance cybersecurity through information sharing, privacy advocates say CISA is actually about cyber surveillance. The bill provides liability protection for businesses that voluntarily share “cyber-threat” data with the government. Big business has lobbied for CISA because companies see it as a way to shift some anti-hacking defenses onto the government, which would save them money.

The good news is the "Update". The rest is about yet another load of crap, and I do not mean Lee Fang or The Intercept, but what McConnell and Burr tried to push through the Senate.

Here is some more on that CISA that - once again - shows surveillance is really not about terrorism, at all, though that is the pretext: it is about getting all knowledge about everyone, so as to be able to control them forever:

CISA is essentially a cyber-surveillance bill that would empower the NSA and FBI by giving them access to vast new troves of Americans’ information, and let them use that information for investigations that have nothing at all to do with cybersecurity.”

As we noted earlier this year, CISA’s vague definition of a cybersecurity threat that triggers information sharing with the government includes “an imminent threat of death, serious bodily harm, or serious economic harm,” or information that is potentially related to threats relating to weapons of mass destruction, threats to minors, identity theft, espionage, protection of trade secrets, and other possible offenses.

But OK - this threat by McConnell has been thwarted. I do not think he will give up, and indeed he is after the biggest catch the rich few have ever made: Full
control of everyone, by knowing everything they think, want, say, write, and do.

2. What We Know (and Don’t Know) About This Year’s Bilderberg Meeting 

The next item is an article by Roisin Davies on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

This year’s Bilderberg conference begins Thursday.

The secretive gathering of global elites is the stuff of conspiracy theorists’ dreams. Held at the Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol in the Austrian Alps—less than 20 miles away from the summit of leading industrial nations known as the Group of Seven, or G-7—Bilderberg has an attendee list that reads like a who’s who of imperialism and global capitalism.

The heads of Deutsche Bank, Lazard, Banco Santander and HSBC will be joined by Benoît Coeuré, a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank. The vice chairman of BlackRock will also be attending, along with the CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management and the president of the Royal Bank of Canada.

Big business is also well-represented, with the heads of Michelin, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Siemens Austria expected to attend.
Political leadership probably will represent the largest contingent, with the prime ministers of the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium attending. They will be joined by Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO; Heinz Fischer, the president of Austria; and David Petraeus—the disgraced former CIA director now working in the private sector—who can enjoy a cozy chat with Henry Kissinger.

I admit that I took this item for two reasons: First, it is about the Bilderberg
conference, that gathers the most powerful people in the world in a conference that is completely secret, apart from the fact that it takes place, and second it
comprises "
the prime ministers of the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium" and
also David Petraeus.

And while I do not know what makes Petraeus and the prime ministers of Finland and Belgium electable as participants, I can make a guess about the presence of the Dutch PM:

The Dutch comprise some of the richest individuals there are; the structure of division of the social product - who gets what - is much more American than most other European countries; and some (partially) Dutch corporations, like Royal Dutch Shell, are very important players in the energy market.

But I am guessing (and the structure of division of the social product seems to be a closely guarded Dutch secret) while also there isn't anything one really knows, other than that one's "democratically elected" PM may make or help make all manner of decisions no one will know anything about, except those who attended the conference:

While we know who will be there and that they will discuss topics ranging from cybersecurity to chemical weapons threats to Greece, that’s really all we know.

That’s because no notes are taken, and no information is released to the public. No interviews are given, and journalists trying to interview participants at previous meetings have been arrested.
It also gives one such great trust in the efficacy of The Democratic
Institutions... [1]

3. Chris Hedges and Robert Scheer: Rebellion and the Freedom Act 

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

Basically, this is another interview between Chris Hedges and Robert Scheer, and this time Scheer interviews Hedges, and the subject is Chris Hedges' new book Wages of Rebellion”.

As I have said before, I like both men, and I think both are among the most important living American journalists, so I will be following this exchange again fairly closely, both because of the persons involved and because of the topic.

This starts as follows:

Robert Scheer: So, let me begin by asking about—before we get to your book, “Wages of Rebellion,” you had an article this week on Karl Marx. And when I saw the article and I started reading it, I thought, “This is great, but no one’s going to read it.” And in fact, I think we’ve had over 100,000 people come to Truthdig to read it. Is that surprising to you that there would be interest, that—

Chris Hedges: Yes. It is. I had the same reaction you did.
You can find my review of Hedges on Marx here, and as I say there: I come from a real and sincere Marxist family, and know a lot about Marx, whose teachings I gave up when I was 20, while I also think that very few really read Marx (and this is also true of many intellectuals I know who advertised their own Marxism, in the 1970ies and 1980ies, especially).

Then again, turning to the interview, I was not amazed that Hedges on Marx was popular: Hedges is a well-known journalist, while Marx is still by far the best known left wing revolutionary thinker, while the living in America has been grown steadily more and more difficult for the many non-rich.

Somewhat incidentally, here is a bit about Chris Hedges and books:
CH: Well, I think I write for a peculiar kind of reader often—I mean, I try to gear my columns toward people who probably read books. You know, I write columns in the same way that I write books, which is ultimately for myself; I mean, I love books, I have 5,000 books in my house; the only rooms that don’t have bookshelves are the bathrooms and the kitchen. And I often will go to used-book stores, and I live within walking distance of the Princeton University Library, one of the great research libraries in the country. And I love just pulling, discovering a book that I’ve never heard of—pulling it off the shelf of a bookstore, a used-book store or a library.
It so happens that this is just the same for me: I don't write for people who don't read books; I have considerably more than 5,000 books; I really love books and reading; my house is full of books; and I buy and bought most books I owe second hand (which is also the only way I could have assembled my library).

Here is another opinion of Hedges:
You cannot be literate about economics if you haven’t read “Capital.” And his political writings—“The Civil War in France,” “The 18th Brumaire [of Louis Bonaparte],” “The Communist Manifesto”—are brilliant and important.
No, I disagree - and I have read all the works Hedges mentions, simply because my Marxist parents owed them. Indeed, part of the reason is that I believe Hedges has also read them, but then he is the only one I know of, other than my
own late father, who did read them, for I have met many a quasi-marxist in the University of Amsterdam, but none who had read all of these, or indeed most of these: The vast majority of the many academic "marxists" I have met only knew "
The Communist Manifesto".

And I also disagree that the reading of "
Capital" will teach you much about modern economics: If you want to understand modern economics, from a mostly Marxist point of view also, you should read the very much thinner "Producing of Commodities by Means of Commodities" by Piero Sraffa. (But again you will very probably meet very few who read and understood it. I met no one, though I have superficially known hundreds of academic (quasi-)Marxists.)

Hedges also says:
I diverge, as you correctly point out, very dramatically from Marx in that I don’t embrace this notion that time is linear, that human progress is inevitable, that we are going somewhere that is greater and more glorious than where we have been. I don’t share that. And I think that comes out of my own kind of dark understanding of human nature—partly inculcated in the heavy Protestant Calvinist theology in which I was raised—but I think even more significantly influenced by my 20 years as a war correspondent in some of the most brutal conflicts (...)
With this I agree, indeed without agreeing with Hedges on Protestant Calvinist theology, for I am an atheist, and my mother's family were atheists since around the 1850ies. [2]

Then there is this by Robert Scheer:
RS: Yet your book is an attempt at optimism, because you’re singling out people who are in struggle—individuals who challenge the system. But you liken them to religious mystics; you make them seem almost as if they’re acting compulsively, without hope, without reason. They have to do it.
This is mostly about modern leftist leaders. Chris Hedges may be right about them (and I don't know) but it is not something I agree with, and indeed it also was not what inspired my parents to be Marxists: The crisis of the Thirties and the rise of Nazism (and the occupation of Holland).

Hedges also says (and "Niebuhr" is written as I do it):
And I think that that is the quality of a rebel. They kind of never conform—even to their own. They’re kind of eternal heretics. And yet they’re absolutely vital in moments of seismic change.
I think that is too romantic - and I have really known a lot of real marxists, mostly though not only in or around the Dutch Communist Party, of which my parents were prominent members, and also a great lot of mostly quasi-marxists,
especially in the University of Amsterdam, that was in the hands of the students [3] from 1971-1995, and where marxism was the dominant faith, that was apparently practised by many academics and students.

Again, Hedges may be right about some of the leaders, but he is not right about
most of the many real and quasi marxists I have known, who indeed also differed
widely in their motives.

Here is another bit by Hedges, on "the best and the brightest" of modern students:
So that, you know, the humanities, which were once the kind of core mission of institutions like these, are just appendages. Fewer and fewer majors, diminished resources, and it’s all about building technical systems, including business schools, that produce classes of service managers for corporate power. I mean, we had at one point—I don’t know what the figure is now—but not very long ago, we had 49 percent of the graduating class at Harvard going into the financial services industry, and that didn’t count all the people who went to law school to become corporate lawyers. At that point you’re probably talking 60 or 70 percent. And Princeton is no different.
I am not amazed, and a considerable part of my reasons not to be amazed is that I think that the great majority of men, including most of "the best and the brightest", are followers: They may be smart, but they are neither original nor individualistic.

This doesn't hold for me, but then I am really an exception, not only intellectually, but also in terms of the family I come from. Then again, this is
another reason why I hold history is always made by minorities, whether from the left, the right, or the center: the great majority always follows their leaders,
indeed mostly regardless of the facts, the evidence, or the moralities involved.

Indeed, here is one example of that thesis (and not an example that will contribute to your feelings of happiness):
CH: Well, this is the problem: It doesn’t matter what we want. I mean, there’s no question. People don’t want corporations to—they want campaign finance. People didn’t want bailouts for banks; constituent calls were 100 to 1 against those bailouts across the political spectrum. But they passed anyway. When I challenged Obama in federal court against section 10-21 of the National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA], opinion polls were a 97 percent disapproval rating of section 10-21, which allows the military to be used as a domestic police force, but it passed anyway. Because it doesn’t matter what we want.
This is quite true, though I should also say why these - and many other - quite impopular measures are getting passed by the Senate and the House: Mostly because "We The People" have been succored, propagandized and misled into
accepting many schemes of deregulation that effectively disfranchised them (and this happened both by Republicans and by Democrats).

Here are Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges on the American elite:
RS: (..) And so really, what you are suggesting is that these people, despite their education that formed this elite, are stupid. That they are so shortsighted, they don’t understand that they are creating the means of their own destruction, and rendering meaningless the culture of the life they have celebrated. Isn’t that basically what you are saying?

CH: Yes. I went to school with them. They are stupid. I mean, they’re not stupid in terms of being able to manage complex systems—economic systems, technical systems—but they’re kind of stupid as human beings. In that they don’t stop and think of what matters in life. Because what matters to them are—and let’s go back to my divinity training—are their idols. The monuments they build to themselves, either in terms of power or money or maybe fame. And they’re absolutely blinded by their own hubris, and this goes right back to classical Greek tragedy.

This seems to me mostly correct and it also ties in with the point I made about the fact that most people, including the intelligent ones, are followers rather than individualists (and indeed the last is considerably more difficult).

Here is a question by Robert Scheer:

RS: In your book, “Wages of Rebellion,” you stress that those movements have to remain basically nonviolent, and that there’s been a corruption of violence in your experience in revolutionary movements that led to becoming oppressive movements. How do you defend that view, when you consider how limited the power of nonviolence is against a whole state apparatus or military?

I agree that movements for radical change (let's say) need to be mostly non- violent, and indeed part of my argument is that the state is extremely powerful, and quite capable of crushing most armed dissent - but it is not capable of crushing or killing millions, even if they are willing to try.

But yes, the main problem is: How to set these millions into movement? (They're not there now.)

Finally, here is Chris Hedges on Marxism:

I think many people talk about Marxism as a kind of religion; I don’t think that’s wrong, the belief in the inevitability of history, the dialectics of history to reach a certain point, it gives you a kind of faith. But I do think that’s an important element, and I think that it’s gonna be very hard to resist without it.

I agree that most people I saw who were Marxists - many, compared with most - struck me as being involved in a political religion rather than in rational science. And I think that is a pity, firstly because Marxism is not a religion, originally, and secondly because if it is regarded as a political religion, as it usually is, it will probably fail, because - also in politics - most illusory systems will fail, simply because they contradict the real facts.

But I liked this interview, and there is a lot more text under the last dotted article. Recommended!

4. 8 Ways the Supreme Court Has Been Destroying American Democracy

The next item is an article by Steven Rosenfeld on Alternet:

This starts as follows:

Most people have little idea how badly the U.S. Supreme Court has damaged American democracy.

It’s not just watching a handful of billionaires drive the Republicans’ 2016 presidential contest from the inside out, as a result of the Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 and others that followed. There’s been a long line of anti-democratic rulings going back decades that have narrowed who can — and cannot — participate in politics, from citizens to candidates to parties and reformers.  

These maddening problems and their source fill the pages of a striking new book about the First Amendment and what the Bill of Rights is really about from New York University legal scholar Burt Neuborne. It’s called Madison’s Music, named after the Bill of Rights’ author James Madison. Neuborne explains how core democratic rights have been shredded by decades of narrow-minded rulings that intentionally ignore Madison’s tapestry envisioning a populist, people-centered, activist politics.

I say, although I am not very amazed. But this is an interesting article that is well worth reading. And I will quote the eight ways Neuborne sketches, but without the texts that explain them:

1. First big mistake: making free speech the top right.
2. Giving the rich disproportionate political power.
3. Thwarting efforts to balance big money
4. Giving corporations more political power.
5. Ensuring the two major parties are monopolies.
6. Weakening effective third parties.
7. Makes elections uncompetitive via redistricting.
8. Allowing the governing class to suppress the vote.

For more, see the last dotted link. Recommended.

5. Leaked Text Shows Big Pharma Bullies Using TPP To Undermine Global Health  

The last item is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Bolstering long-held criticisms from public interest groups, newly leaked sections of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) show how Big Pharma is employing "an aggressive new form of transnational corporatism" to increase profits at the expense of global health.

The TPP's "Healthcare Annex"—which seeks to regulate government policies around medicines and medical devices—would give big pharmaceutical companies more power over public access to medicine while crippling public healthcare programs around the world and "tying the hands" of the U.S. Congress in its ability to pursue Medicare reform and lower drug costs.

There is rather a lot more under the last dotted link which is well worth reading.

Here is the ending, that seems correct to me:

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange urged readers to consider the latest leak in a broader context.

In a statement released alongside the leaked text, Assange said, "It is a mistake to think of the TPP as a single treaty. In reality there are three conjoined mega-agreements, the TiSA, the TPP and the TTIP, all of which strategically assemble into a grand unified treaty, partitioning the world into the west versus the rest."

He continued: "The Great Treaty is taking shape in complete secrecy, because along with its undebated geostrategic ambitions it locks into place an aggressive new form of transnational corporatism for which there is little public support."

Yes, indeed. For considerably more click the last dotted link. Recommended.


P.S. June 13, 2015: As to item 3 above, and Chris Hedges' fascination with Karl Marx: I think the best explanation of what I thought was wrong with Marx's theories (which I gave up in 1970, when I was 20) is from August 1976. Note this
is 83 Kb, was originally 13 typed pages, and mentions rather a lot of things - e.g. Sraffa's "Producing of Commodities by Means of Commodities", Mills, Russell's "Power", Lewis Mumford, Robinson & Eatwell, Stegmüller, Woodcock, Huxley,  William James, and more, and see the "Postscript on literature" also of August 1976 - that I had all read by then, and that were not (and are not) often read by ordinary marxists or quasi-marxists.

Indeed, there are three points to be made about Marx and Marxism (and the last two are links to lemmas in my Philosophical Dictionary):

1. I come from a real, sincere and deeply Marxist family, unlike most I have
   met who claimed to be Marxists. Both of my parents were in the communist resistance in WW II, and my father and his father both were arrested in the summer of 1941, and convicted to the concentration camp as "political terrorists",
by Dutch collaborating judges, which my grandfather did not survive.

2. In part because of this background, in part because I very early read deeply in
   Marx, and in part because most of both the students and the lecturers and professors I met in in the University of Amsterdam said they were Marxists (mostly because the UvA was then owned by the students, and Marxism was very fashionable then and there, though much less so outside the university) I very soon learned that most Marxists I met (i) knew hardly any of Marx's writings and
indeed (ii) were mostly merely doing and saying what was fashionable, I decided
I could take at most only a very few seriously: Most were quasi-marxists by my standards, were it only for the first reason (though I rarely said so). Besides:

3. Although I definitely gave up Marxism in 1970, and that simply because I had
    seriously investigated it and refuted it, I did not fall out with my parents.
I thought they were intellectually mistaken, but I also thought that nearly all men must be, when speaking about philosophy, politics, or religion, and I did not blame them, the more so since they were really sincere and quite honest and quite moral, which again is a fairly rare experience in my meetings with other people.

So these three points, together with what I wrote in
August 1976 (nearly 40 years ago), are my reasons for not being a Marxist, and also for not being able to take most who claimed they were Marxists serious.


[1] Actually, I have never had great faith in The Democratic Institutions, basically because I think that democratic elections in which everyone has one vote
makes it a virtual certainty - with half of the electorate having an IQ that is maximally 100, while having almost no rational or well informed ideas - that the governors they elect will be usually second and third raters at best.

Then again, while granting that, the one living alternative of having the rich few decide almost everything is far more unpalatable, indeed in considerable part because they decide secretly and for themselves.

There really are better ways to run a state, but it seems there are too few interested in alternatives to push these through.

[2] This had a special reason - a great-great-grandmother got swindled out of her farm by Catholic priests - but it is a fact, which means my mother's family was one of the first atheist families in Holland.

[3] This fact - that the Dutch universities were formally in the hands of the students between 1971 and 1995 - made for a unique situation in the world, but
unfortunately no one wrote its history (apart from what I did), and it seems that
in general the present University of Amsterdam pretends that these years either did not exist or that nothing of any importance happened then.

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