who can give up essential
liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety, deserve neither liberty
-- Benjamin Franklin
"All governments lie and nothing
say should be believed."
"Power tends to corrupt, and
absolute power corrupts
absolutely. Great men
almost always bad men."
court rejects challenge to NSA's ongoing mass
collection of phone data
2. FBI Pressured Scandinavian
Countries to Arrest and
Extradite Edward Snowden
3. Global Response to People
Fleeing Ravages of War:
4. Declassified CIA Documents
America’s Post-9/11 Plans
5. 21st Century Economics: A
Dismal Science Indeed
true axis of evil (in the USA)
This is a Nederlog of Saturday
August 29, 2015.
This is a crisis
blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1
is about an article about a rather crazy decision of a US
appeals court (which amounts to the thesis that only people who
can prove the secret and illegal investigations of everyone's
data did, specifically, concern him may appear in court); item 2 is about the USA's efforts to arrest Snowden
(which leads me to argue Snowden is
safer in Russia than in most other countries); item 3
is about The Global Response to people fleeing wars: 'callous
indifference'; item 4 is about declassified CIA
documents (with a reflection by my on costs); item 5
is about the science of economics, that is for the most part not
real science, because it makes no predictions that stand up; and item 6 is about a nice and good interview with Bill
Maher from 2002, with three points I have a few comments on: The true
axis of evil; (lack of) intelligence; and being a member of a minority.
1. Appeals court
rejects challenge to NSA's ongoing mass
collection of phone data
The first article is by Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
A federal appeals court
has rejected a high-profile challenge to the ongoing mass collection of
US phone data by the National Security Agency without ruling on the
merits of bulk surveillance.
Judges for the District
of Columbia court of appeals found that the man who brought the case,
conservative lawyer Larry Klayman, could not prove that his particular
cellphone records had been swept up in NSA dragnets.
The ruling reversed an
injunction from a lower court on the phone records surveillance program
– but only in a technical sense, as the injunction never actually went
But the judges’ decision
does not impact that of a different federal appeals court, which in May
found that the bulk phone records collection lacked a foundation in law. That ruling, by
the second circuit court of appeals, added momentum to a congressional rollback of the surveillance program
that has yet to take effect.
OK...but as to the decision
of the federal appeals court with which the article started, there is a
somewhat obvious reply:
Klayman shot back,
telling the Guardian the judges were “intellectually dishonest” as the
widespread nature of NSA bulk phone records collection has been on
display for more than two years since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s surveillance disclosures.
“It’s outrageous this
court would allow the constitutional rights of Americans to be trampled
upon,” Klayman said. “The court has become the tool of the
For when it is
obvious since Snowden that the NSA collects everything, also
from Americans, and does so in total secrecy as far as the NSA
is concerned, while that is (accoding to another federal court) unconstitutional
and illegal, to claim
that you first have to prove that
your private information has been collected by the NSA indeed amounts
to the defense that the NSA should do as it pleases and can
do as it
pleases as far as this court's judges are concerned.
The article ends as
follows, quite correctly on the basis of my knowledge:
in June barred the NSA from collecting US phone data in bulk, the ban
does not take effect until December. Privacy advocates have warned that
the replacement surveillance powers Congress created are sufficiently broad to permit the NSA or
partner agencies to reconstitute much of the barred surveillance in
That is: I expect that
collecting everything simply will continue, if perhaps in a slightly
different way ("the phone companies have to store the data") and with a
slightly different bit of propaganda,
indeed especially with
judges as reported, who wipe their asses with the laws and the
2. FBI Pressured Scandinavian Countries to
Arrest and Extradite Edward Snowden
next article is
by Roisin Davies on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
The FBI repeatedly asked
Scandinavian countries to detain and deport whistleblower Edward
Snowden if he attempted to enter their territories, recently released
official documents reveal.
In the aftermath of
Snowden’s 2013 leak of documents exposing U.S. and British surveillance
of digital communications, he had left Hong Kong and was applying to
various countries, including Norway, for asylum. Believing that he may
have been seeking asylum in Scandinavia, the FBI contacted the police
forces of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland “to inform them that the
US Department of Justice had charged Snowden with theft and espionage,
and issued a provisional warrant for his arrest, according to documents
released by Norway’s national broadcaster NRK,” The Guardian
I say, although I am not at
all amazed. But no, I didn't know this. In fact, I think Snowden is
safer in Russia than in most other places, since it is much easier to
kidnap him from - say - Norway or Ecuador than from Russia.
Here is a little more,
quoted from The Guardian:
Which seems a quite correct
decision to me, and indeed, were I Snowden I also would not go
personally to Germany, indeed regardless from guarantees.
In a separate letter to
the Norwegian foreign ministry on the same day, the US embassy in Oslo
spelled out its request that the government of Norway should
“effectuate the return of Mr Snowden to the United States by way of
denial of entry, deportation, expulsion or other legal means”.
In a subsequent letter
dated 4 July the embassy repeated its request that Snowden be arrested
and extradited to the US under the 1977 extradition treaty between the
Snowden’s lawyer Ben
Wizna told NRK he suspects that the US sent similar documents to most
of Europe and other countries at the time.
Snowden has been invited
to Norway next week to receive the Bjørnson Prize from the Norwegian
Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression, but he decided not to
travel because he could not receive guarantees from the Norwegian
government that he would not be extradited, the academy told NRK.
Response to People Fleeing Ravages of War: 'Callous
Indifference,' Humanitarian Failure
next article is
by Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:
It's a crisis of record
proportions that is being met with global "callous indifference" and
failed, dehumanizing responses, human rights experts say.
The crisis, described
as Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War Two, involves hundreds
of thousands of people fleeing conflict, many from Syria, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan, trying to reach safety in Europe.
For some, the journey
reaches a fatal end. As the Associated Press notes, the
deaths come "by land and sea."
Austrian officials said
Friday that 71 likely Syrian
refugees, including eight women and three children, died in the back of
a truck that was abandoned in Hungary.
The main reason this is
here is in fact the beginning of the first paragraph, which seems - by
and large, with exceptions - quite correct to me:
It's a crisis of record
proportions that is being met with global "callous indifference"
I think that is
quite true, and not only as regards to people who flee the ravages of
war. Here are two observations, both of them a bit vague, but both true
to the best of my knowledge:
First, it wasn't much better ten, twenty or thirty years ago.
Humane reactions to human suffering nearly always are from some minorities,
rather than from a majority of the proud consumers.
Second, I do think it
is a bit worse than it was, and the only decent reason I can think of
is that almost everyone is nearly everywhere bombarded with advert-
Declassified CIA Documents Reveal How Disastrous America’s Post-9/11
Plans Really Were
For more on minorities, see item 6.
next article is
by Peter Frankopan on Common Dreams:
This is a fairly long article
that starts as follows:
I think I was aware of the
first two of these three reasons, but not of the third.
First, the disastrous
failures of US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to an
unprecedented programme of declassification of documents (some with
significant redactions) as part of the cathartic process of trying to
understand how so many mistakes were made before and after 9/11.
Second, the cache of
cables dumped by WikiLeaks, coupled with further revelations from
material leaked by Edward Snowden, has provided an exceptional level of
insight into the workings of the intelligence agencies over the past
three decades, together with priceless new information about the
decision-making processes and about operational activities.
And third, there has been
a cache of materials found locally following the military interventions
of the past 12 years – such as audio tapes recovered from the
presidential palace in Baghdad in 2003 that recorded thousands of hours
of meetings, discussions and even phone calls made by Saddam Hussein
and his inner circle, or boxes of cassettes that belonged to Osama bin
Laden that were retrieved from a compound in Kandahar two year earlier.
This treasure trove allows
us to understand the failures, incompetence and poor planning that
accompanied the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in astonishing
detail, but also to frame these within the context of a wider region –
and a wider period.
And I will not consider what difference the three reasons make (I
suspect: factually not very much, except perhaps for "scholars working on the contemporary Middle
East") but I will quote two
The first is this:
The impact of the
blanket restrictions on Iraqi exports and financial transactions was
devastating – especially on the poor. Initial estimates in The Lancet
in 1995 suggested 500,000 children alone died from malnutrition and
disease as a direct result of the sanctions over the course of five
years. When Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, was interviewed
on the television programme 60 Minutes and asked about the fact that
more children had died in Iraq as a result of sanctions than in
Hiroshima in 1945, she replied nervelessly: “I think it is a very hard
choice.” Nevertheless, she went on, “We think the price is worth it.”
I say: 500,000
children - half a million - die, wholly apart from the very many
other deaths, and you reply that their lives were "worth it": how sick are you?
And as to that very same war:
Few today believe
we did the right thing in supporting the attack on Iraq. Even Jeb Bush
recently declared that he would not have supported it had he known then
what he knows now. The cost and consequences of the military
intervention have been catastrophic.
I take it that losses
through not being able to work (when 70 percent or more disabled) are
included, and clearly the "$75,000
for every single household"
is not a debt, but most of it will have to be paid, bit by bit,
presumably from the taxes.
And there is the cost: not
only the lives lost by servicemen, the value of which cannot even be
estimated, not the tens of billions spent on the war. The biggest cost
of the war, as new research from Harvard suggests, is the cost of
looking after the 170,000 veterans who are 70 per cent or more disabled
as a result of their injuries. The long-term cost to the US economy is
estimated to be $6 trillion (£3.9trn) – or $75,000 for every single
household in the United States.
5. 21st Century Economics: A Dismal Science Indeed
next article is
by Don Quijones on Raging Bull-Shit:
In fact, the article is a
repeat from December 2012, but I like Raging Bull-Shit, and the article
Also, I realize that I explained the day before yesterday why virtually
no one - but academic philosophers and their students
- is interested in modern academic philosophy, and yesterday
why psychology is not a real science.
It so happens that I have excellent degrees in both subjects, and not
in economy, but then I did read a good lot of economics (including -
for example - Marx, Keynes, and Samuelson) and I agree few
are worth reading, because they are in fact dreaming about systems that
have little to do with reality.
The article starts as follows
extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.”
John Kenneth Galbraith
Since the first stage of
the Global Financial Crisis erupted in 2007-08, economists, policy
makers and central bankers have trotted out a now-familiar line: that
the bursting of the sub-prime bubble that sparked the crisis was a
one-in-a-million event that could not be predicted or anticipated.
But what if the economic
models they were using – and continue to use – are completely flawed?
As the Swedish documentary posted below reveals, the neo-classical
model that has formed the basis of economic “science” (a term I use in
the loosest possible sense) over the last 30 or so years has ignored
one essential – some might say the essential – ingredient of
any modern economy: debt.
Quite so. And it
isn't just debt that is not discussed by most economists:
Steve Keen, one of a
select few economists to have warned of the risks posed by the subprime
bubble, argues that subscribing to an economic model which excludes
banks, money and debt is “insane” and is the reason why the vast
majority of economists had no idea the crisis was coming.
What’s more, most of the
models used by economists and central bankers today do not reflect the
increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the global financial
As research by Stefano
Battiston has shown, around 80 percent of the entire global corporate
world is controlled by just 100 companies. And the vast majority of
these companies are banks and financial institutions that have become
so highly interconnected that a seemingly isolated problem in one
institution can quickly spread to infect the whole system.
And given the scale of
leverage in the financial sector, with some banks leveraged as much as
60 or 70 to one, as well as the huge risks associated with many bank
investments, in particular derivatives products, the chances of a
systemically vital institution experiencing its own “Lehman moment” is
far greater than most regulators and central bankers are currently
Or to put the whole
matter slightly otherwise:
insisted - in majority, not: all - on talking about economies without
considering banks, debts or money, nothing has been done about
the very many major crimes and corruptions in the banking world ("too
big to fail!") and nothing has been done about making the
public financially responsible for the failures of the bank
which means in fact that all one can do is
wait for the next crisis and hope it will not destroy the economy (or
indeed hope it will, since one has given up on capitalism and
In either case, rational people will tend to avoid both the advice and
the tales of most professional economists, simply because they have
been wrong (and wrong, and wrong) about most things most of the times,
and because the
models they do use do not even account for obvious things (like: banks,
money or debts).
Here is Don Quijones last paragraph:
I agree - and yes, this
means that economy-as-a-science is not a science, simply
because it has
very little predictive capacity, for this is how one distinguishes real
sciences from everything else: Real sciences make predictions
that are far more often correct than incorrect. Therefore, purported
"sciences" that fail that crucial test are not real sciences,
holds for most of economics.
When the British
historian Thomas Carlyle coined the term “dismal science” to describe
the economics discipline in 1849, little could he have known just how
bad things would actually get. A poor man’s science with very little,
if any, predictive capacity, economics has metamorphosed over the last
few decades into a dogma, a creed, a sect — and what’s more, one
whose core tenets have been used to excuse and enable the worst
excesses of a rogue financial sector.
6. The true axis of evil (in the USA)
The last item of
today is not an article and also not recent: It is 55
interview by Larry King of Bill Maher, from 2002:
I like the interview, with a
considerably younger looking Bill Maher: Most of the questions are
sensible, and the replies of Maher are well formulated and sensible.
But you don't need to watch it for the following three points, all of
which are quite correct from my perspective:
A. The true axis of evil
Here is Bill
Maher on what he considers to be "the true axis of evil":
"The true axis of evil in this country which is the
brilliance of our marketing people combined with the naivité and often
plain dumbness of our population. That is the real axis of evil.
Marketeers can make you believe anything. They can sell you anything.
Anything from George Bush to dogfood. It doesn't matter. And when you
have the kind of money that big time politicians have they can make you
believe what they want you to believe."
Yes, indeed! Even though
I expect not many will agree! The major problem of the West
the world) is the half whose IQs are maximally 100, who form, together
with the clever marketeers who manipulate them,"A Genuine
Democratic Majority", and who can be misled into believing and
doing virtually anything.
They are the majority, and their votes virtually
those who mislead them, who have the money, the wit, and the lacks of
morality and responsibility that enable them to do so very
willingly, are elected and
re-elected without end.
So one major problem is the average US intelligence. Here is
one exchange between King and Maher:
Larry King: You agree with Mencken who said 'No one ever got
broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people'?
Bill Maher: Almost no one. Right.
Yes - and no: Not all Americans are stupid or ignorant, and indeed
quite a few are intelligent and knowledgeable. But it is a minority,
and in something that functions as if it were "A Genuine Democracy"
(although in fact it is a plutocracy, were the rich few manipulate the
rest through money and propaganda)
all votes count as 1 and thus the
votes of the intelligent minority generally make no difference.
C. On Belonging to a minority:
And here is how Bill Maher assesses his own situation,
and that of people who like his ideas:
"About 14% of people think I am right most of the time, and
that is about correct."
I accept that as a fair estimate (and indeed Maher's
videos are rarely seen by more than a few hundred thousands). Whether
the percentage is quite right I don't know, though Maher added that he
quoted a result established in "focus groups" (which are part of the
techniques to explain and exploit markets and consumers).
Finally, here is Bill Maher's reply to the question why he doesn't go
into politics, as a professional politician:
"Why can't I run? I do not represent the views of the
majority - and that's OK because the majority to me is not always that
wise. (...) So when people say you don't conform to the majority I say
"thank you" and take it as a complment."
That seems all quite
correct to me, and indeed conforms to the role the intelligent
- apart from a few Public Intellectuals - must play:
"We are a distinct
minority, and minorities don't win."
The best they can hope for, in the world in which they
currently live, is that they may keep (some of) the tradition
in which the intelligent minority can continue to function, think, read
and publish existing (which is not a certainty), and that some
of their ideas will be picked up by the next generation.