September 10, 2015
Crisis: Microsoft vs DoJ, Refugees, Asylum, Orwell on Socialism

 "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


Microsoft case: DoJ says it can demand every email from
     any US-based provider

2. Global Leaders Using Refugee Plight to Push Military

3. A Continent Adrift: Juncker Proposes Fixes to EU's
     Broken Asylum Policies

Orwell on socialism

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, September 10, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. It is a bit abnormal in that I could find only three crisis items that are interesting enough to review here, and for this reason I have added a fourth item: Orwell on socialism.

There are 4 items today, with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about a totally crazy demand from the US DoJ, that pretends that American secret services must have the right to read any e-mail anyone sends to anyone from anywhere, if it is on a computer that is owned by a US-based provider; item 2 is about what the current refugees inspire politicians to do: Keep them out of their countries, but use their misery to bomb their countries even more; item 3 is about the refugee crisis in Europe: the European Union is to be an
"area of freedom, security and justice" only for those happy enough to be born in it (preferably from European partners); and item 4 is about Part III of Orwell's "The Lion and the Unicorn", that contains an interesting and fairly clear statement of Orwell's kind of socialism.

1. Microsoft case: DoJ says it can demand every email from any US-based provider

The first article today is by Sam Thielman on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
The United States government has the right to demand the emails of anyone in the world from any email provider headquartered within US borders, Department of Justice (DoJ) lawyers told a federal appeals court on Wednesday.
I say. They really want a tyranny that insists that a very few secret and anonymous government officials should know everything about anyone anywhere - not just in the United States, but absolutely anywhere.

Well, they do not have that right, and if, by quirk of the Patriot Act, they assigned the "right" to know everything about anyone to themselves, they did so because they are authoritarian criminals who acted completely against the Fourth Amendment, which cannot be withdrawn.

The case being heard in the second circuit court of appeals is between the US and Microsoft and concerns a search warrant that the government argues should compel Microsoft to retrieve emails held on a Hotmail server in Ireland.

Microsoft contends that the DoJ has exceeded its authority with potentially dangerous consequences. Organizations including Apple, the government of Ireland, Fox News, NPR and the Guardian have filed amicus briefs with the court, arguing the case could set a precedent for governments around the world to seize information held in the cloud. Judges have ruled against the tech company twice.

Counsel for Microsoft contends that the US search warrant should not have been used to compel it to hand over emails stored in Ireland. “This is an execution of law enforcement seizure on their land,” Joshua Rosenkranz, counsel for Microsoft, told the court. “We would go crazy if China did this to us.”

Yes, indeed.

The DoJ contends that emails should be treated as the business records of the company hosting them, by which definition only a search warrant would be needed in order to compel the provision of access to them no matter where they are stored. Microsoft argues the emails are the customers’ personal documents and a US warrant does not carry the authority needed to compel the company to hand it over.

“This notion of the government’s that private emails are Microsoft’s business records is very scary,” Rosenkranz told the court.
In this I agree completely with Microsoft: My emails (and anyone else's e-mails) are not the property "of the company hosting them"; they are not public documents; they are private documents; and anyone who reads them or wants to read them other than the addressee while without probable cause that I committed a crime is or wants to be a criminal.

There is also this:
“Both sides are in agreement that there are not as many protections on electronic communications as electronic communicators might like because the providers can do whatever they want with those communications, so long as they do it abroad,” Lynch concluded.

They clearly can, but the fact that they can do it doesn't mean they are allowed to do it.

2. Global Leaders Using Refugee Plight to Push Military Escalation

The next article is by Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday became the latest elected leader to use the plight of refugees in building a rhetorical case for military escalation towards Syria, despite numerous calls for wealthy nations to extend refuge—not bombs—as the humanitarian crisis worsens.

Speaking in the Australian capital of Canberra on Wednesday, Abbott coupled an announcement that the country will admit an additional 12,000 people fleeing conflict in the Middle East with the declaration that the nation will extend its military actions beyond Iraq by joining in the bombing campaign in eastern Syria this week. The move comes despite questions over the Abbott administration's legal footing for the air strikes.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron is also calling for a "hard military force" to remove President Bashar al Assad in Syria. "Assad has to go, [ISIS] has to go and some of that will require not just spending money, not just aid, not just diplomacy, but it will on occasion require hard military force," he declared Wednesday.

I say. Local political leaders decide they want to bomb a country, and hey presto: it is bombed, regardless of international laws or treaties. They just say: X has to go, Y has to go, and we will bomb them until they go.

There is also this on Cameron:

"David Cameron is determined to go to war, and he refuses to let democratic formalities stand in his way," the UK-based Stop the War Coalition declared earlier this week. "His government is even exploiting the refugee crisis, which is the product of US and UK military intervention, in order to force Britain into yet another savage bombing campaign. UK bombing of Syria would only increase the refugee crisis."
Yes, it clearly would. But indeed there is also this:

Moreover, the escalation comes amid lagging humanitarian response, as The Intercept's Murtaza Hussain pointed out on Twitter:


3.  A Continent Adrift: Juncker Proposes Fixes to EU's Broken Asylum Policies

The next article is by six journalists on Spiegel On Line:

This is from the beginning (but I skip the Americanized beginning on Juncker: I don't like initial paragraphs that pretend to give personal information that is totally irrelevant):

The southern countries want to be rid of the refugees, while the eastern states want nothing to do with them. The core powers, Germany and France, refuse to bear the burden alone. Hundreds of thousands of people have turned to Europe for protection from persecution and civil war, as outlined in Europe's founding treaties. But instead, they have found themselves in a cynical transfer station of sorts, trapped in the purgatory of European asylum law that isn't worthy of its name.

Yes, that is about where it stands right now: Scores of leading European politicians who wipe their asses clean with their own founding treaties, simply to keep perfectly legitimate victims of persecution and civil war outside of Europe.

There is also this:
In the Lisbon Treaty, the EU lauds itself as an "area of freedom, security and justice." But these days, all those lofty concepts are rapidly losing their meaning. In Budapest, refugees from Syria storm the trains to Germany. In Austria, 71 people, including four children, agonizingly suffocate in the back of a truck. In the suburbs of Rome, refugees live in slums without electricity or water. In Calais, thousands vegetate under tarps.
Every day, Europeans are left speechless as they hear the latest horror stories from the parallel world of the refugees. The most recent was a picture of the drowned Syrian boy Alan whose body had washed up on a beach. The photo went around the world. But rather than stand together in solidarity in the midst of this crisis, European politicians flee into their respective routines that some critics have rightly identified as organized irresponsibility. The member nations of the world's greatest economic area are obliged to alleviate the suffering of the refugees. But instead, new fences are being erected on Europe's external borders.

Yes, I agree "European politicians" act on purpose as "organized irresponsibility" and yes, about the only thing "European politicians" seem to agree about is surrecting "new fences" on "Europe's external borders"

There is considerably more that I leave to your interests, but it ends like this:

The directorate general of the Commission tasked with coordinating humanitarian aid recently presented a new estimate of the number of Syrian refugees expected by the end of the year. It is expected to rise by 1 to 2 million.

I say.

4. Orwell on socialism 

The next article is by George Orwell (<- Wikipedia). It is from 1941 and is Part III from "The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius":

A. Background

This essay is nearly 75 years old but is very well worth reading, like all of Orwell's political writings. Also, you can find "The Lion and the Unicorn" in Orwell's "Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters", vol 2, where I read it originally, in 1979.

First, a small bit of background on the essay.

This is to a considerable extent based on two theses that Orwell came to reject by the end of 1944: That (I quote from the essay) "Laissez-faire capitalism is dead" and that (again I quote from the essay) "We cannot win the war without introducing Socialism, nor establish Socialism without winning the war."

The first thesis seems to have been based on the considerable collectivizations (without really endangering capitalism) that were made in Great Britain's war  economy. The second thesis seems to have been based on a combination of a
mistaken political analysis and wishful thinking.

My main reason to mention it here is not to criticize Orwell (almost everybody writing on politics in 1940 or 1941 was mistaken) but to make clear that Orwell himself, rather soon also, came to see that he was mistaken, and indeed criticized himself, publicly, as you may find in his "Collected Essays" (etc.) vol 3, on pages 335-39 in my Penguin edition. (This is from his "London Letter" of December 1944.)

Then again, I do not believe Orwell's own criticism applied to his Socialsm (which he did write with a capital S), which is what I am concerned with here.

B. Exposition

Next, the main point of "The Lion and the Unicorn" was to propose the funda- mentals for an English revolution, and an important part of that plan was a clear
formulation of the kind of socialism Orwell was in favor of.

He did give a fairly clear formulation of what he desired, and here it is:

I suggest that the following six-point programme is the kind of thing we need. The first three points deal with England's internal policy (...) [1]

  1. Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.
  2. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.
  3. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.
The general tendency of this programme is unmistakable. It aims quite frankly at turning this war into a revolutionary war and England into a Socialist democracy. I have deliberately included in it nothing that the simplest person could not understand and see the reason for. In the form in which I have put it, it could be printed on the front page of the Daily Mirror.
So there it is: Orwell's proposal for an English revolution that would establish socialism.

Next, there are three clarifications. First on nationalizations:

1. Nationalization. One can ‘nationalize’ industry by the stroke of a pen, but the actual process is slow and complicated. What is needed is that the ownership of all major industry shall be formally vested in the State, representing the common people. Once that is done it becomes possible to eliminate the class of mere owners who live not by virtue of anything they produce but by the possession of title-deeds and share certificates. State-ownership implies, therefore, that nobody shall live without working. How sudden a change in the conduct of industry it implies is less certain. In a country like England we cannot rip down the whole structure and build again from the bottom, least of all in time of war. Inevitably the majority of industrial concerns will continue with much the same personnel as before, the one-time owners or managing directors carrying on with their jobs as State employees. There is reason to think that many of the smaller capitalists would actually welcome some such arrangement. The resistance will come from the big capitalists, the bankers, the landlords and the idle rich, roughly speaking the class with over £2,000 a year – and even if one counts in all their dependants there are not more than half a million of these people in England.
There is more in "The Lion and the Unicorn", mostly mitigating the extent and the speed of nationalizations. I will return to this below, and meanwhile give one more quote from Orwell's explanation of nationalization:
From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves.
I say. This seems to me quite idealistic and unrealistic, but I will also explain that below.

Second, about incomes.
2. Incomes. Limitation of incomes implies the fixing of a minimum wage, which implies a managed internal currency based simply on the amount of consumption goods available. And this again implies a stricter rationing scheme than is now in operation. It is no use at this stage of the world's history to suggest that all human beings should have exactly equal incomes. It has been shown over and over again that without some kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs. On the other hand the money reward need not be very large. In practice it is impossible that earnings should be limited quite as rigidly as I have suggested. There will always be anomalies and evasions. But there is no reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation. And within those limits some sense of equality is possible. A man with £3 a week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.
In fact, I proposed a smilar schema (last two days ago: see here) and the main difference between my proposal and Orwell's proposal of 75 years ago is that I considered a rate of 1 to 20 instead of 1 to 10.

Here are three remarks. First, as I explained two days ago, at most 3% would loose money, and the same or something very similar holds for Orwell's proposal. Second, it can be supported by many arguments, from many different sources, and from most or all historical periods. Third, one important point is to put an end
to profit as the main criterion of life, culture, civilization and welfare: it is not, and it should not be.

Third, about education:

3. Education. In wartime, educational reform must necessarily be promise rather than performance. At the moment we are not in a position to raise the school-leaving age or increase the teaching staffs of the elementary schools. But there are certain immediate steps that we could take towards a democratic educational system. We could start by abolishing the autonomy of the public schools and the older universities and flooding them with State-aided pupils chosen simply on grounds of ability.
This doesn't say much, but I agree with Orwell that much more should be invested in education than now; that education should be free for all, as should be all necessary books etc.; and that the only criterion that makes sense to distinguish between people is ability - which I am afraid many current leftists and progressives deny, mostly because this might ban some of their favorite groups, or indeed because their own IQs aren't that high. [2]

C. Criticism

So far for the exposition of Orwell's socialism. What do I think of it?

I agree with Orwell on incomes and education. As to the rates of lowest to highest incomes: I am twice as liberal as was Orwell, but I do like to remark that in the only American poll I know about the the rates of lowest to highest incomes they desired, a majority was in favor of a rate of 1 to 7, which is both recent (of a few
years ago) and more strict than Orwell's proposal.

My main reservations are about nationalizations, and the two most important ones are these: (1) who will have the power over all the nationalized properties, and (2) what will "the people" get for co-owning the nationalized properties?

The first question is the most important, for Stalinism and Maoism showed that if the state owns the nationalized properties, in fact the very few who make up the state become the effective owners of everything, simply because they have the power.

And indeed I would add that this makes the situation of nearly everyone who does not belong to the state's organs probably worse than under laissez-faire capita- lism, as was indeed the case under Hitler and Stalin (both of whom claimed to be socialists), even though there was no absolute necessity for this - but "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (and I think that is a
fundamental insight that is true for everybody).

But the second question is also quite relevant. Suppose Orwell's kind of socialism were realized. Now you - somehow - owe nearly everything you see that was produced by men, except that you share that ownership with everyone else. What did you gain? Formally, everything; factually, nothing, it seems to me, for everyone else owes the same as you do. (And no, I don't believe many will feel as Orwell claimed: that "
the State is themselves", and indeed if they do, I still don't quite see what this would practically mean.)

What is the solution?

I will not argue this here (and yes, the question is quite academic, but so it was in fact for Orwell, 75 years ago), but I would retain private property, and instead of nationalizing everything to what can only be the state, I would alter the ownership of firms from their previous possessors, whoever they are, to the persons working in those firms, and start from there, and indeed not nationalize them: I would hand them to whoever worked in the firms, and tell them from now one they collectively own it, because they work in it. [3]

Does that solve all problems? Of course not. But here is my proposal of another first principle than Orwll proposed:

Repropriation: [4] All mines, railways, banks and industries are the property of those who work in them; all land up to a maximum is the property of whoever farms it, if it is farmland; all of the rest of nature is the property of everyone under the responsibility of a parliament, that is the highest power in the country.

Will this solve all problems? Again: Of course not, but it seems more realistic and far less dangerous than nationalizing everything.

Finally, I have two additions:

Public law: The laws are retained, apart from the necessary changes that follow from the three previous measures, and remain public and applicable to every citizen in the same way.

Parliamentary supremacy: The laws are maintained by parliament, and are changed by ordinary majorities. Every adult has a right to vote for parliament, and everyone's vote counts as one. The parliament is the supreme power in the state, and should work to maintain a socialist constitution.

Both serve to maintain democracy. And no, I didn't write a socialist constitution, but I think it is very desirable to have one, because one needs a legal foundation that cannot be changed except by revolution, again to ascertain that fundamental rights of everyone are maintained, independently from whoever is in parliament.


[1] There are three more points, but these are now wholly outdated, as they relate to England's colonies, and they can be safely left out.

[2] None of this holds for me: I was no prodigy, but I was clearly very intelligent.

[3] That means that they owe the profits in common, but with the restriction that no one should get more than the maximal income, and that they should pay
taxes to the state.

[4] By "repropriation" (it seems the word is new) I mean "changing of owners": From the few rich to the many poor, specifically (in part on the ground that the few rich have made a major mess of society and of nature).

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