Prev-IndexNL-Next

Nederlog

September 23, 2015
Crisis: China, Chomsky, Clinton Fading (?), Big Tech, Political Upheaval (?)

 "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. 
China Pressures U.S. Companies to Buckle on Strong
     Encryption and Surveillance

2. Noam Chomsky on Orwell
3. 
Why Hillary’s fading and the Dems have a new
     front-runner

4. Why Big Tech May Be Getting Too Big
5. Our Moment of Political Upheaval


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, September 23, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is on China and its desires and pressures that US internet corporations play by their rules to get access to Chinese markets: no more strong encryption, and agreeing on surveillance (I argue this is very dangerous); item 2 is about Noam Chomsky on Orwell and the Republicans (I argue the Republicans are in fact run by a very small group around Karl Rove, but have no proof); item 3 is about an article about Clinton and Sanders, which I like but found a little too optimistic; item 4 is about an article by Robert Reich on who runs the economy; and item 5 is about
a quotation by Katrina vanden Heuvel
that again seems too optimistic to me.

1. China Pressures U.S. Companies to Buckle on Strong Encryption and Surveillance

The first article today is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits President Obama, he and Chinese executives have some business in Seattle: pressing U.S. tech companies, hungry for the Chinese market, to comply with the country’s new stringent and suppressive Internet policies.

The New York Times reported last week that Chinese authorities sent a letter to some U.S. tech firms seeking a promise they would not harm China’s national security.

That might require such things as forcing users to register with their real names, storing Chinese citizens’ data locally where the government can access it, and building government “back doors” into encrypted communication products for better surveillance. China’s new national security law calls for systems that are “secure and controllable”, which industry groups told the Times in July means companies will have to hand over encryption keys or even source code to their products.

Among the big names joining Xi at Wednesday’s U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum: Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft.
I say, and I consider this quite important for the following reasons:

(1) China is an enormous internet market (2) China is governed by its Communist Party, in an authoritarian way (3) the Chinese government does what the US government likes to do, and does as well as they can: Get everybody's files and everybody's data so as to come to control everybody (e.g. first by "private warnings" possibly (indirectly) from the local secret services, then by government warnings, and then by disappearances that will remain mostly unknown, because they come with gag orders that will prevent almost everyone from discussing them).

Therefore, if the Chinese government can cajole corporations like
Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft to do in China what the Chinese government wants it to do (essentially: "hand over encryption keys or (..) source code to their products") then the American government can cajole the same companies to do the same things for the American government as for the Chinese government - in spite of item (2) in the previous paragraph.

Does this seem an odd argument? Consider this:

The meeting comes as U.S. law enforcement officials have been pressuring companies to give them a way to access encrypted communications. The technology community has responded by pointing out that any sort of hole for law enforcement weakens the entire system to attack from outside bad actors—such as China, which has been tied to many instances of state-sponsored hacking into U.S systems.

In fact, one argument privacy advocates have repeatedly made is that back doors for law enforcement would set a dangerous precedent when countries like China want the same kind of access to pursue their own domestic political goals.

But here, potentially, the situation has been reversed, with China using its massive economic leverage to demand that sort of access right now.

Yes, precisely - and here is an additional argument:

This may - eventually - end up by massively weakening the security of both American corporations working in China and in the USA, simply because
Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft may decide to give security keys and software to the Chinese government for gaining access to their enormous markets, which will very quickly entail that they do the same for the American government - but then that was the end from the beginning: Get full access over anyone's computer, so as to control them in ways the current governments, whether Chinese of American, see fit.

Here is the warning by Amnesty and others:
“Governments across the globe are increasingly using technology to crack down on freedom of expression, censor information on human rights violations and carry out indiscriminate mass surveillance in the name of security, often in collaboration with corporations,” the group wrote. “Internet companies have a responsibility to respect international human rights in their global operations. This entails putting pro-active measures in place so that serious human rights abuses can be avoided.”
That is all true - but corporations work for profits rather than for security, and the profits the Chinese market promises are enormous. Besides, it seems to me that currently big corporations - whether in banking, in pharmaceuticals or in internet activities - have sided with the governments against the ordinary people: That is also much more profitable.

Here is the ending of the article:
When and if the Chinese are able to convince the companies to build weaker encryption, however, Segal said he thinks U.S. law enforcement will leap on that opportunity to get the same thing.
I quite agree and indeed think that a likely development, simply because the Chinese market is enormous, and internet corporations run on profit.

2. Noam Chomsky on Orwell

The next article today is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:
I provide two quotes from Chomsky's recent speech "On Power and Ideology".

The first is about Orwell:

Orwell is famous for his searching and sardonic critique of the way thought is controlled by force under totalitarian dystopia. But much less known is his discussion of how similar outcomes are achieved in free societies. He’s speaking, of course, of England. And he wrote that although the country is quite free, nevertheless unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. Gave a couple of examples, provided a few words of explanation, which were to the point. One particularly pertinent comment was his observation on a quality education in the best schools, where it is instilled into you that there are certain things that it simply wouldn’t do to say—or, we may add, even to think. One reason why not much attention is paid to this essay is that it wasn’t published. It was found decades later in his unpublished papers. It was intended as the introduction to his famous Animal Farm, bitter satire of Stalinist totalitarianism. Why it wasn’t published is apparently unknown, but I think perhaps you can speculate.

There is one article in Orwell's "Collected Essays" (Etc.), part 3, called "Author's Preface to the Ukrainian Edition of Animal Farm" that might have qualified, but that does not contain any example of an "observation on a quality education in the best schools, where it is instilled into you that there are certain things that it simply wouldn’t do to say—or, we may add, even to think".

So I do not really know what Chomsky is talking about, but I do have two observations.

First, I do not think that the suggestion at the end that "Why it wasn’t published is apparently unknown, but I think perhaps you can speculate" is quite accurate, at least if I understand it: I think Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus did a good job editing the four volumes of Orwell's "Collected Essays" (Etc. [1]), and they did not have any motive to suppress some of Orwell's writings on totalitarianism. (Others might have, but then Chomsky appears to know which essay he meant, and so it seems to have been published.)

Second, I do not think it is quite accurate to say that Orwell thought that "England" (...) "is quite free". Indeed, here is a quotation from the (originally unpublished) essay I just mentioned (on p. 457-8 of CE-3):

"It is partly that [the workers and intelligentsia] do not want to understand (i.e. they want to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist), and partly that, being accustomed to comparative freedom and moderation in public life, totalitarianism is completely incomprehensible to them."

That is, Orwell thought England was comparatively free, and indeed his next sentence in the article is "Yet one must remember that England is not completely democratic" (and he continues with mentioning "great class privileges" and "great differences in wealth").

It would have been nice if Chomsky had given a reference (he may have, but it wasn't on Democracy Now!) and would not have said "quite free".

The second quotation is about the present Republicans:

The Republican organization—I hesitate to say "party"—is dedicated to undermining the deal, in interesting ways, with the kind of unanimity that one doesn’t find in political parties, though it’s familiar in such former organizations as the old Communist Party—democratic centralism, everyone has to say the same thing. That’s one of many indications that the Republicans are no longer a political party in the normal sense, despite pretensions, commentary and so on.
I agree and I noted a long time ago - five or ten years - as indeed did quite a few others, that speakers for the Republicans always talk as if they had previously read the same hymn sheet, that outlined what they would publicly say, and often down to quite precise verbal details, that also unified terminology.

And I now like to suggest (without proof) that this is in fact how they do work:

The Republicans are and have been led by a very small group, probably centered around Karl Rove, that does send e-mails to all official Republican speakers that
prescribe what they should say, how they should say it, and also what they should not talk about.

And this they do, which explains why they always sound so very similar.

3. Why Hillary’s fading and the Dems have a new front-runner

The next article today is by Shane Ryan on Salon:
This starts as follows, with a quote from Bernie Sanders:

“And now let me tell you something that no other candidate for president will tell you. And that is no matter who is elected to be president, that person will not be able to address the enormous problems facing the working families of our country. They will not be able to succeed because the power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of campaign donors, is so great that no president alone can stand up to them. That is the truth. People may be uncomfortable about hearing it, but that is the reality.”

— Bernie Sanders, Friday, Aug. 14, Clear Lake, Iowa

That seems both quite true and quite scary, and the scary part relates to the question how Bernie Sanders will break "the power of Wall Street" if he were
to be elected president. I believe he intends to do it (and I do so mostly because he is a consistent leftist since the 1970ies), but it will be very difficult, and indeed he may well be shot.

Here is Shane Ryan's sketch of Sanders' present position:
Since announcing his candidacy in an email to supporters in late April—a candidacy that was first dismissed as a fringe protest movement, eventually seen as a minor force that might push Hillary to the left, and is now being recognized as a legitimate threat to the front-runner—Sanders has gathered momentum at a rate that is either impressive or alarming, depending on your perspective.
That seems accurate to me, and there is this explanation of Sanders' success:

This surprising grass-roots success, without the aid of a super PAC or corporate millions, stems from a very simple message: Wealth inequality is destroying the American middle class and leading to increased job loss and poverty.

He has a few favorite stats he likes to deploy to illustrate the scope of the problem, starting with the fact that in America, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. He hammers this message home as his rabid crowds rage along: One family, the Waltons, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent; the 14 wealthiest individuals have added $156 billion to their fortunes in the past two years, which is more than the combined assets of the bottom 130 million Americans; 56 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent; the Koch brothers, as a result of the Citizens United decision, will spend more money on the 2016 election than either Republicans or Democrats.

Again, that seems accurate to me. In contrast, there is this:

A Hillary Clinton Speech, in Five Movements

“Does she support the trans-Pacific trade deal? Under certain circumstances. Reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banks? She’s going to talk about it — at some point. Building the Keystone XL pipeline? She said weighing in wouldn’t be responsible given heAr previous involvement on the issue. A carbon tax? The revolving door between Wall Street and regulators? Nothing. And nothing.”

— Ann Linskey, Boston Globe, Aug. 12

That also seems accurate to me, though I have to add that Clinton has very recently said that she is against the Keystone XL pipeline, but indeed with the
other vagueries standing.

Then again, while I agree with the article (there is a lot more in case you are interested) I don't think the title is, as yet, justified: There is more than a year
to go, and Clinton certainly has a lot more money available than Sanders.

4. Why Big Tech May Be Getting Too Big

The next article today is by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

Conservatives and liberals interminably debate the merits of “the free market” versus “the government.” Which one you trust more delineates the main ideological divide in America.

In reality, they aren’t two separate things and there can’t be a market without government. Legislators, agency heads and judges decide the rules of the game. And, over time, they change the rules.

I quite agree, and indeed in 2005 (see: Liberalism) I said:
(..) there also is a fallacy involved in quite a few kinds of economic liberalism that plead for 'free markets': There are no free markets without state protection and legal rules, not within states, and not between states. Each and every free market either was maintained by the state or by a city, or else existed only because and in the times of a relative balance of power between states or cities. And most of the rhetoric of 'laissez-faire' and 'laissez-aller' is no more than dishonest cant.

Next, there is this:

In more recent years, information and ideas have become the most valuable forms of property. This property can’t be concretely weighed or measured, and most of the cost of producing it goes into discovering it or making the first copy. After that, the additional production cost is often zero.

Such “intellectual property” is the key building block of the new economy. Without government decisions over what it is, and who can own it and on what terms, the new economy could not exist.

Yes... but here there is a distinction and a question.

The distinction is that by now the American government seems to have been taken over, both in persons and in ideas, by two groups that represent the bankmanagers and big oil respectively (with big oil dominating Bush Jr.'s government and banks dominating Obama's government). [2]

The question is: Where are the internet corporations? In fact, I think they are
much less represented in Obama's government than the banks. This may be a mere matter of time (wait till the next government) but that seems to be the fact.

Here is more Reich:

The most valuable intellectual property are platforms so widely used that everyone else has to use them, too. Think of standard operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows or Google’s Android; Google’s search engine; Amazon’s shopping system; and Facebooks’ communication network.

Google runs two-thirds of all searches in the United States. Amazon sells more than 40 percent of new books. Facebook has nearly 1.5 billion active monthly users worldwide. This is where the money is.

OK - and I only use Youtube and don't search with Google, never bought anything in Amazone, don't use Windows nor Apple, don't want a Facebook page, and saw very little of it - but indeed that is just me. And they are very big and very powerful, is also true.

Here is the end of the article:

We are now in a new gilded age similar to the first Gilded Age, when the nation’s antitrust laws were enacted. As then, those with great power and resources are making the “free market” function on their behalf. Big Tech — along with the Big Pharma, giant health insurance companies, Big Agriculture, and the largest banks on Wall Street — dominate our economy and our politics.
That is quite true, though one difference with the Gilded Age is that the big corporations - Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big Agriculture, Big Banks - are now far better organized than they were in the 1920ies, and seem to have
a plan they are collaborating on: Power from the people, to the big corporations, by any means.

And no, I don't think Big Tech (and the other Big corporations) "may be getting to big": I think they are far too big, and far too powerful, and their managers earn far too much money.

5. Our Moment of Political Upheaval

The final article today is by Katrina vanden Heuvel
This is here because of the following quotation:
After all, around the world, there is an uprising against austerity and status-quo politics, and it is having a powerful impact in the United States as the 2016 election campaigns heat up. What seemed impossible — the development of new political movements in Greece and Spain, the selection of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party in Britain, the growing political potency of the New Democrats in Canada, the radical politics of South America, the rise of new radical movements in South Africa and many other examples — is playing out in real time. The rules are not merely being rewritten elsewhere; they are being rewritten in the United States. What we know for certain is that this is a moment of political upheaval. A movement moment.
Well...no. I like the sentiment, I think, but this is much too optimistic, and mainly for two reasons.

First, while I agree some things are happening, and may well agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel [3] on their desirability, it seems to me that, so far at least, far too few people have been activated. This may change, but so far I have not seen any real mass movement inspired by leftist ideas (with the Occupy movement as a partial exception, that was defeated by the government).

Second, not only are each of these movements so far movements of minorities, they also have a very strong opposition: 35 years of successive deregulations, together with billions in money, that the Supreme Court pretends, and has judged as legal fact, are now like votes, have made the corporations far stronger than they ever were since the early 1930ies.

--------------------------------------
P.S. 24 sept 2015: I wrote "Guardian" where I should have had "Intercept": Corrected.

Notes


[1] The full title is: "The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell" with a Volume (1, 2, 3 or 4) attached. I think that is a little too long to quote every time.

[2] For this diagnosis you have to consult Gore Vidal (on oil) and the internet (on banks), but I think both are quite true, as is the claim that the government has been "taken over" by them, which happened over time, starting in 1980, with ever more deregulations on the one hand, and leading professionals from oil or from the banks getting prominent government jobs (for a while, after which they generally went back to the more profitable but less powerful positions they had before governing, using the well-known "revolving door" (which is a mere figure of speech, but does correspond to an existing lack of legislation to prohibit these moves)).

[3] I suppose - being Dutch - I am one of the few who does know how her last name is to be read, in Dutch.

       home - index - summaries - mail