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Nederlog

July 18, 2015
Crisis: On "Human Rights", On "Terrorism", Capitalism's End, Greek Debts
  "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. High court rules data retention and surveillance
     legislation unlawful

2.
The Chattanooga Shootings: Can Attacking Military Sites
     of a Nation at War be "Terrorism"?

3. The end of capitalism has begun 
4. How Goldman Sachs Helped Create the Greek Debt Crisis


This is a Nederlog of Saturday July 18, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article about a decision by the English High Court (plus some by me on "human rights"); item 2 is about an article of Glenn Greenwald on "terrorism" that I
don't quite agree with (also because Glenn Greenwald doesn't seem to agree
with himself); item 3 is about "a long read" based on a book by Paul Mason,
that seems mostly baloney to this reader; and item 4 is about an article by
Robert Reich on Greek banking and Goldman Sachs, that explains things I
found interesting and didn't know.

1. High court rules data retention and surveillance legislation unlawful 
The first article today is by Owen Bowcott on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Emergency surveillance legislation introduced by the coalition government last year is unlawful, the high court has ruled. A judicial challenge by the Labour MP Tom Watson and the Conservative MP David Davis has been upheld by judges, who found that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) 2014 is “inconsistent with European Union law”. The act requires internet and phone companies to keep their communications data for a year and regulates how police and intelligence agencies gain access to it.

The government will now have to pass fresh legislation that must come into effect before the end of March. The two MPs said the judgment underlined the need for prior authorisation by a judge before officers are permitted to examine the retained information from the internet, social media or phone calls. The Home Office, however, said it would appeal against the ruling, which, it warned, may result in police and investigators losing data that could save lives.

This is fairly good news, though I should add that "The Home Office" lied
about the lives it "could save": The government doesn't exist to save lives
(that is what doctors, firemen and private persons may do, for the most part) simply because it is too small for that end.

A government exists to maintain law and order, and it has far transgressed its powers by declaring anything anybody does with any computer or cellphone may be inspected, saved, and later used for any governmental purpose:

That is state terrorism - which historically has been far, far more dangerous than non-state terrrorism. (Both the Soviet-Union and Hitler's Germany survived by state-terrorism, that cost the lives of millions; and both governments would and did indulge in the same propaganda-talk as the Home Office.)


But OK - here are the problems the British judges saw:
The judges identified two key problems with the law: that it does not provide for independent court or judicial scrutiny to ensure that only data deemed “strictly necessary” is examined; and that there is no definition of what constitutes “serious offences” in relation to which material can be investigated.
Yes, indeed - though it may be clearer if formulated negatively: Only the goverment decides what they investigate (and they gather absolutely everything)
and they don't even need the pretext that what they gather (private pornography
for example) is an offence, serious or not: they want it so as to check that you
are the kind of person they want you to be.

Here is what the two parliamentarians argued:
In their challenge, Davis and Watson argued that the law allowed the police and security services to spy on citizens without sufficient privacy safeguards.They said the legislation was incompatible with article eight of the European convention on human rights, the right to respect for private and family life, and articles seven and eight of the EU charter of fundamental rights, respect for private and family life and protection of personal data
I agree, but I should add that I don't believe in the European convention on human rights, because these list some of the rights that were in the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that you find under the link, and proceeded by inserting all kinds of exceptions to human rights, that enable the secret services - who are the state's terrorists - to do as they please, and that also form the basis of the GCHQ's claims that anything they do (in so far as this gets known, which isn'tfar) is "legal".

The GCHQ may well be right, "legally" speaking. For example... here is Article 8 from the European Convention:
ARTICLE 8
Right to respect for private and family life
1.
Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family
life, his home and his correspondence.
2.
There shall be no interference by a public authority with the
exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the
law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of
national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the
country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection
of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
And here is Article 12 from the Universal Declaration:

Article 12.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Article 12 indeed states a human right of individuals, without qualification, as it should be. Article 8 (like nearly all articles of the European Convention) can best be read in the reverse order of its presentation:

It guarantees the rights of any goverment (that always declares itself "democratic" and "civilised") to - secretly - deny anyone any privacy if the
government or its agents simply declare that they are denying your privacy
(and I quote):
in the interests of
  • national security,
  • public safety or
  • the economic wellbeing of the country, for
  • the prevention of disorder or
  • crime, for
  • the protection of health or
  • morals, or
  • for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
In other words: You have no rights on any privacy whatsoever if your government (that may be quite totalitarian) declares that it breaks your privacy for any of these eight exceptions - which makes the "right" it qualifies a completely empty piece of propaganda.

I would not be amazed if I were to hear that the Europan Convention on "human rights" has been written by the GCHQ. If it wasn't, it anyway consists of the assurances of the rights of governments to do anything they please to anyone, as long as it falls under any of the above eight reasons to do so, which always offer leeways to do as they please (we broke your privacy because you
seem to be breaking: national security, public safety, economic wellbeing, the social order, crime, health, morals, or - if none of these applies - because you did not sufficiently heed the freedoms and rights of the GCHQ, or anyone else).

The so-called "
Europan Convention on "human rights"" is a specification of the rights of governments to deny you the human right you had under the Universal Declaration, without any limitation, for any of their own purposes.

It is an utter mockery of the real human rights, as these were declared in 1948.

This is also why I would not at all be amazed if the English government wins the case in the end: All they need to do is to claim that they are breaking your privacy (or anyone's privacy) because they - honestly, truly, sincerely - think you (or anyone else) are a moral risk (or a criminal risk, or  a health risk, or a safety risk, or a security risk, or etc. etc.)

2. The Chattanooga Shootings: Can Attacking Military Sites of a Nation at War be "Terrorism"?

The next article today is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

A gunman yesterday attacked two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four U.S Marines. Before anything was known about the suspect other than his name — Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez — it was instantly and widely declared by the U.S. media to be “terrorism.” An FBI official announced at a press briefing: “We will treat this as a terrorism investigation until it can be determined it was not.”

That “terrorism” in U.S. political and media discourse means little beyond “violence by Muslims against the West” is now too self-evident to debate (in this case, just the name of the suspect seemed to suffice to trigger application of the label).
Well... first some background, also because Glenn Greenwald refers immediately below the quotation to an article he wrote that was published on June 19 2015, and that was reviewed by me the next day (<- my review, with a link to the article).

I quote two bits from my review, namely first a statement by Glenn Greenwald, and then my reaction to it. Here is Glenn Greenwald's quotation:

In fact, it ["terrorist" - MM] is, as I have often argued, a term that justifies everything yet means nothing.
And this was my reaction:
I think that the term "terrorist" means a lot: Those to whom it is applied are evil persons with evil ends who use evil methods, but I agree with Greenwald in so far as what is "evil" again depends for most almost wholly on the group one happens to belong to.
I think I was quite correct, although I agreed with most of Greenwald's arguments in June, and indeed I also stressed that the term "terrorism", which does - roughly: there is no precision here - mean what I said it does, is very relative: One's own "heroic freedom fighters" are "despicable terrorists" according to one's opponents, whose "heroic freedom fighters" again are "despicable terrorists" according to one's own side (whatever that is).

But none of this means that "terrorism" is meaningless: It is quite meaningful, and indeed means roughly the same for most who use it, except that they use it nearly always from their own political point of view, and to blacken their opponents.

As regards terrorism, there is also this:

The U.S. drone program constantly targets individuals regarded as “illegal combatants” and kills them without the slightest regard for where they are or what they are doing at that moment: at their homes, in their sleep, driving in a car with family members, etc. The U.S. often targets people without even knowing their names or identities, based on their behavioral “patterns”; the Obama administration literally re-defined “combatant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone.”
Yes, indeed - and in fact the killings are done on the basis of whoever has a cell-phone that is deemed to have been used by "a terrorist", whoever that
may be, and generally without any other knowledge. (It may have been handed to another person, for example. But it's the cell-phone that ultimately is the target of the drone.)

There is more in the article, that I agree mostly with, but I do maintain that "terrorist", indeed like "friend" and "enemy", has a relatively clear meaning,
but its application depends very much on who uses it and the group the user belongs to.

3. The end of capitalism has begun

The next article today is by Paul Mason on The Guardian:
I say. I hadn't noticed this, but then I am not the economics editor of Channel 4, who has a new book to publish ("Postcapitalism"). Also, this is "a long read", that is based on that book, and that comes with the following summary:
Without us noticing, we are entering the postcapitalist era. At the heart of further change to come is information technology, new ways of working and the sharing economy. The old ways will take a long while to disappear, but it’s time to be utopian

Really? Well... I have done my best, and have read it all, but I could find little decent rational argumentation, amidst a lot of utopian thinking, and a few more or less factual bits.

Here is the start:

The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die.

Actually, it is 35 years, for it started with Thatcher and Reagan and - while I have a computer since 1987, that I can program in 6 or 7 languages, and have one of the best M.A.'s ever - I do not know what "the process technology" is, nor how a "technology" "creates" things, and I have the same or similar difficulties with much of the article: it sounds thoroughly utopian to me, and seems to consist mostly of slogans, without any factual evidence.

Not everything is bad, for there is this in the - long - article, that seems mostly true:

The solutions have been austerity plus monetary excess. But they are not working. In the worst-hit countries, the pension system has been destroyed, the retirement age is being hiked to 70, and education is being privatised so that graduates now face a lifetime of high debt. Services are being dismantled and infrastructure projects put on hold.

Even now many people fail to grasp the true meaning of the word “austerity”. Austerity is not eight years of spending cuts, as in the UK, or even the social catastrophe inflicted on Greece. It means driving the wages, social wages and living standards in the west down for decades until they meet those of the middle class in China and India on the way up.

Meanwhile in the absence of any alternative model, the conditions for another crisis are being assembled. Real wages have fallen or remained stagnant in Japan, the southern Eurozone, the US and UK. The shadow banking system has been reassembled, and is now bigger than it was in 2008. New rules demanding banks hold more reserves have been watered down or delayed. Meanwhile, flushed with free money, the 1% has got richer.

But most of the rest seemed baloney to me. Indeed, to check whether others thought the same I even checked the comments (which I rarely do), and found a decent comment, but it was critical, and it has since disappeared....

"And so it goes."

4. How Goldman Sachs Helped Create the Greek Debt Crisis

The final article today is by Robert Reich. I found it on Truthdig, but it is originally from Reich's site (and also on The Nation):

This starts as follows:

The Greek debt crisis offers another illustration of Wall Street’s powers of persuasion and predation, although the Street is missing from most accounts.

The crisis was exacerbated years ago by a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein. Blankfein and his Goldman team helped Greece hide the true extent of its debt, and in the process almost doubled it. And just as with the American subprime crisis, and the current plight of many American cities, Wall Street’s predatory lending played an important although little-recognized role.

In 2001, Greece was looking for ways to disguise its mounting financial troubles. The Maastricht Treaty required all eurozone member states to show improvement in their public finances, but Greece was heading in the wrong direction. Then Goldman Sachs came to the rescue, arranging a secret loan of 2.8 billion euros for Greece, disguised as an off-the-books “cross-currency swap”—a complicated transaction in which Greece’s foreign-currency debt was converted into a domestic-currency obligation using a fictitious market exchange rate.

As a result, about 2 percent of Greece’s debt magically disappeared from its national accounts.

There is considerably more in the article, which I found interesting: it did tell me a number of things about Greece that I did not know.

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