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Nederlog

November 19, 2015
Crisis: Mass Surveillance, Media, Revolution (?), Monopolies, Stopping Isis
 "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
















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Sections

Introduction

1. Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism
2. NYT Editorial Slams “Disgraceful” CIA Exploitation of Paris Attacks,
But Submissive Media Role Is Key

3. The Oligarchy vs. The People: Why We Need a 'Political Revolution'
4. U.S. Economy Increasingly Dominated by Monopolies as 2015
Corporate Mergers Continue

5. Stopping ISIS: Follow the Money

Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, November 19, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article in the New York Times Glenn Greenwald enthused about - I think it is not bad, but not as good as Glenn Greenwald seems to think; item 2 is the article by Glenn Greenwald from which I got the reference to item 1 - this is mainly about the radical decline of free and investigative journalism (I agree) and about the thesis that secret services like the NSA and GCHQ have gotten all they wanted (I don't agree); item 3 is about an article by John Acheson that asserts the need for a revolution but that I did not find very convincing; item 4 is about monopolies, oligopolies, arbitrations, riches and power (with some references by me); and item 5 is about how Isis can be stopped: by following the money it receives, and blocking it.

1. Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism

The first item today is by The Editorial Board of the New York Times:
This starts as follows (and I owe the link to the next item):
It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.

Speaking less than three days after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris killed 129 and injured hundreds more, Mr. Brennan complained about “a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists.”

What he calls “hand-wringing” was the sustained national outrage following the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, that the agency was using provisions of the Patriot Act to secretly collect information on millions of Americans’ phone records.
Yes, indeed. And one of the things Brennan does wrongly is to speak in these out and out propaganda terms.

He also said this:

In his comments Monday, Mr. Brennan called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call,” and claimed that recent “policy and legal” actions “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.” It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says.
I agree with the New York Time's estimate of Brennan's (and Clapper's) honesty, and also with the following:
In fact, indiscriminate bulk data sweeps have not been useful. In the more than two years since the N.S.A.’s data collection programs became known to the public, the intelligence community has failed to show that the phone program has thwarted a terrorist attack. Yet for years intelligence officials and members of Congress repeatedly misled the public by claiming that it was effective.

The intelligence agencies’ inability to tell the truth about surveillance practices is just one part of the problem. The bigger issue is their willingness to circumvent the laws, however they are written. The Snowden revelations laid bare how easy it is to abuse national-security powers, which are vaguely defined and generally exercised in secret.
Yes, I agree to all of this, but I am not quite as happy with it as Glenn Greenwald appears to be: See the next item.

My main reason not to be overly enthusiastic is that all of this is obvious from 2013 at the latest.

2. NYT Editorial Slams “Disgraceful” CIA Exploitation of Paris Attacks, But Submissive Media Role Is Key

The second item today is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows (in reaction to item 1):

A truly superb New York Times editorial this morning mercilessly shames the despicable effort by U.S. government officials to shamelessly exploit the Paris attacks to advance long-standing agendas.

The New York Times editorial is item 1, and while it was a decent article, I am less enthusiastic than Glenn Greenwald (who does know a lot more about the American media than I do).

The editorial, which you should really read in its entirety, destroys most of the false, exploitative, blame-shifting claims uttered by U.S. officials about these issues. Because intelligence agencies knew of the attackers and received warnings, the NYT editors explain that “the problem in [stopping the Paris attacks] was not a lack of data, but a failure to act on information authorities already had.” They point out that the NSA’s mass surveillance powers to be mildly curbed by post-Snowden reforms are ineffective and, in any event, have not yet stopped. And most importantly, they document that the leader of this lowly campaign, CIA chief John Brennan, has been proven to be an inveterate liar

Well... I wouldn't say it "destroys most of the false, exploitative, blame- shifting claims uttered by U.S. officials": It contradicts them, and indeed quite rightly so. (But "destroying" requires more.)

There is also this, with which I disagree:

Indeed, what more powers could agencies like the CIA, NSA, MI6 and GCHQ get? They’ve been given everything they’ve demanded for years, no questions asked. They have virtually no limits.

I'd say: Considerably more powers, such as special courts for terrorists; the allowance to torture people accused of terrorism; the allowance for the police to see (in secret) some or most of the files the NSA and GCHQ etc. gather; the right (which I think anyway is taken) to store the NSA/GCHQ information indefinitely; the creation of several more Guantánamo's in the US and outside the US ....

There are various ways in which the situation may get worse (a lot worse, also) than it is now, bad as that is.

Then there is this, that is wholly correct:

But there’s one vital question the NYT editors do not address: Why do the CIA and other U.S. government factions believe — accurately — that they can get away with such blatant misleading and lying? The answer is clear: because, particularly after a terror attack, large parts of the U.S. media treat U.S. intelligence and military officials with the reverence usually reserved for cult leaders, whereby their every utterance is treated as Gospel, no dissent or contradiction is aired, zero evidence is required to mindlessly swallow their decrees, anonymity is often provided to shield them from accountability, and every official assertion is equated with Truth, no matter how dubious, speculative, evidence-free, or self-serving.

And this, that also is quite true (and quite bitter):

Many journalists are in pure servant-stenography mode, not reporting and definitely not questioning claims that emanate from the sacred mouths of these Pentagon and CIA priests. Just look at the reports I cited to see how extreme this obsequious behavior is. What can excuse “reporting” like this?

This, of course, is how propaganda is cemented: not by government officials making dubious, self-serving claims (they’ll always be motivated to do that), but by people who play the role of “journalist” on TV and in print acting as their spokespeople, literally suppressing all the reasons why the officials’ claims are so questionable if not outright false.

Yes, and the differences between how journalism is done now, by most of the main media journalists, and how it was done 35 and more years ago, show that very probably the types of journalists who are favored have radically changed:

These days most main media journalists are spokespeople for the politicians and governmental bureaucrats they interview; 35 and more years ago most main media journalists at least investigated the truth of most of the claims the same persons make, and seriously questioned government spokespersons.

Here is Glenn Greenwald's conclusion:

Kudos to the NYT editors for pulling no punches this morning in making all this deceit manifest. But the real culprits aren’t the government officials spewing this manipulative tripe but the journalists who not only let them get away with it but, so much worse, eagerly help.

I agree. And I do not see an easy or a fast cure.

3. The Oligarchy vs. The People: Why We Need a 'Political Revolution'

The third item today is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Hillary Clinton is racking up endorsements from large unions and other groups that used to represent the interests of the people they served.  Now they’ve joined the press, the political parties and government as tools of the oligarchy.

It’s been apparent for decades that the US is no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy. Political parties, the press, and government are controlled by plutocrats and a few uber rich families.

But as the endorsements roll in, it’s becoming apparent that the civil institutions we used to rely on to be watchdogs and counterweights to corporate power have also been taken over.

Bottom line: Sanders is right. We need a revolution if we want to take the institutions designed to serve us, both public and private, back from the oligarchy.

This is also a summary of the article. I don't quite agree with all, but I do agree with the main contention: "civil institutions we used to rely on to be watchdogs and counterweights to corporate power have also been taken over".

There is considerably more in the article, which I leave to your interests. Here is the general thesis restated:

Even the watchdogs have been co-opted

We used to think that the civil institutions functioned as a third arm of society distinct from government and business, and capable of holding both accountable.  The press, unions, NGO’s, religious organizations—in theory, at least—worked to hold both business and government accountable.

Thanks to Reagan, we began losing the press thirty years ago.  Today, they are little more than a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Oligarchy.  Our increasingly secular society means that religion follows politics more than shaping it.

And now, it’s clear that NGO’s and Unions are being absorbed into the Corporate Borg as both Parties become pawns to moneyed interests. 

So, not only has our government and political process been bought, but the senior members of the NGO and Union community have become enmeshed in the game of money and power that is destroying our Democracy.
I don't agree with all of this either, but the last paragraph seems correct. Here is Atcheson's conclusion (in part):

It will take a revolution to reclaim our country

Our only chance of snatching our country back from the fatcats and plutocrats is to conduct a quiet revolution.  The key to that is to get money out of politics, and the only candidate who can do that is one who is not on the take from the oligarchy.  The interests of labor, environmentalists, and the middle class cannot be served by people beholden to the institutions they are charged with constraining. 

Only Bernie Sanders fits that bill.
Hm. I agree money must be taken out of politics, but there are other ways than Bernie Sanders (e.g.: if two thirds of the states don't want it). Also, while I like Bernie Sanders, he may fail to win the candidacy or fail to win the presidency or he may (as happened to two Kennedys and Martin Luther King) get shot.

Basiclally, this article is a bit too simpleminded, or so it seems to me.


4.
U.S. Economy Increasingly Dominated by Monopolies as 2015 Corporate Mergers Continue

The fourth item today is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet:
This starts as follows:
There’s more evidence that corporate America is becoming ever more monopolistic and that’s not good for small businesses or consumers. This year is on track to see the most corporate mergers and takeovers since the Great Recession of 2008, according to many business page reports that said October was the fifth biggest month ever for mergers.
Yes: Clearly the USA (and other Western countries) are growing more monopolistic, though indeed that is not a very clear concept, in part because there also are oligopolies (not one big trader in commodity X, but a few), and in part because the concept is both political (especially Marxist) and economical.

Here are two references:

First, there is "Monopoly Capital", by Baran and Sweezy, that I read in the 1960ies. I liked parts of it, and did not like other parts of it, but the reference is here because I read on the Wikipedia that there is renewed interest in the book (that is from 1966) these days.

Second, I know of "monopoly capitalism" since the 1960ies as well, because that was part of the analysis of the Communist Party: Capitalism is mostly exercised by a few very large multi-national corporations, most of which are monopolies or oligopolies, which in fact make most important decisions. That at least sounds somewhat interesting, for which reason it is odd that if you type in
"monopoly capitalism" in Wikipedia, you are led to the item "state capitalism" which is definitely something else (for that requires the state to rule most capital, rather than the monopolies or oligopolies). [1]

Anyway... these are two references for those who want to know more about monopolies, oligopolies and multi-national corporations.

Here is another tendency that is disquieting:

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported in a recent series that corporate America is increasingly forcing its customers to agree to arbitration in disputes—forgoing the constitutional right to a jury trial—when signing contracts for basic services, and Robert Reich said in his new book, Saving Capitalism, the U.S. economy is increasingly dominated by monopolies.
The point of making people "agree" to arbitrations is that it bypasses the courts (and I wrote "agree" rather than agree, because almost no one is able to understand the legal detail and ramifications of such "agreements"):
“Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to apply for a credit card, use a cellphone, get cable or Internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same applies to getting a job, renting a car or placing a relative in a nursing home,” the Times said. “By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies like American Express devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.”
In fact, I doubt that is legal, but then to forbid it requires a law, and such a law will be fought tooth and nail by the corporations that profit from its absence.

Here is the conclusion of the article:

Various economists have researched and noted America’s growing gap between its rich and everybody else has been partly fueled by the outsized financial rewards granted to executives and major shareholders in firms that dominate their field, achieving virtual monopolies.

“But the unchecked combination of mega-firms tells just half the story of the rising imbalance of wealth and power (both market and political),” Meyerson writes. “The other half is the legal obstacle course that makes it effectively impossible for consumers to come together, and for workers to form unions.”

Well, I don't know whether that is "half" of it, but I agree that the rich grew richer by getting a lot more money, and the rich grew more powerful by making it difficult or impossible for the non-rich to combine against them.

5. Stopping ISIS: Follow the Money

The fifth item today is by Peter Van Buren on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Wars are expensive. The recruitment and sustainment of fighters in the field, the ongoing purchases of weapons and munitions, as well as the myriad other costs of struggle, add up.

So why isn’t the United States going after Islamic State’s funding sources as a way of lessening or eliminating their strength at making war? Follow the money back, cut it off, and you strike a blow much more devastating than an airstrike. But that has not happened. Why?
In fact, the last question is raised but not answered. Peter Van Buren outlines in the rest of his article that Isis gets its money especially from donations (from at least 40 countries) and from oil, and I can give my guess about the oil: This is not attacked (on a large scale) simply because American oil companies want to take it over without many damages - to fields, wells, and equipment - after Isis is beaten.

But this is just a guess. Here is Peter Van Buren's ending:

So as is said, ISIS’ sources of funding grow curious and curiouser the more one knows. Those seeking to destroy ISIS might well wish to look into where the money comes from, and ask why, after a year and three months of war, no one has bothered to follow the money.

And cut it off.

I have formulated my guess about the oil (of which Isis is supposed to sell 2 to 4 millions of dollars worth each day). And I do not know why the sources of the money Isis receives are not followed. There are quite a few possible reasons.

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[1] I repeat the information that while I mostly like Wikipedia, I merely use it and do not communicate with it or contribute to it.

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