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Nederlog

December 20, 2015
Crisis: CISA & Patriot Act, Obama's "mistakes", Moyers on Democracy, The Fed
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Introduction


Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, December 20, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about close parallels between the Patriot Act and the CISA; item 2 is about mistakes that Obama made (I think the article is OK, but I understand Obama as a quite successful careerist fraud); item 3 is by Moyers & Winship, and shows how the very bad news the main media bring in the US also pays the main media a lot; and item 4 is about myths and mysteries about the Federal Reserve Bank, that are ably discussed in the article.

Actually, all four articles I reviewed are recommended (which doesn't happen often).

1. Hasty, Fearful Passage of Cybersecurity Bill Recalls Patriot Act

The first item is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Congress easily passed a thinly disguised surveillance provision—the final version of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA— on Friday, shoehorned into a must-pass budget bill to prevent a government shutdown before the holidays.

Born of a climate of fear combined with a sense of urgency, the bill claims to do one thing—help companies share information with the government to heed off cyber attacks—and does entirely another—increases the U.S. government’s spying powers while letting companies with poor cyber hygiene off the hook. It’s likely to spawn unintended consequences.

Some critics felt its passage was in some ways eerily similar to when the USA Patriot Act, one of the most expansive surveillance bills in recent U.S. history, was made into law shortly after September 11, 2001.

Yes, I agree, and mostly for three reasons: (i) "the USA Patriot Act" also was hardly read by Congress; (ii) it seems likely to me (not: certain) that it was in part produced before 9/11; (iii) it was grossly illegal and in contradiction with
the Fourth Amendment. [1]

Precisely the same holds for this "law" (and I am sorry, but a "law" that clearly and grossly contradicts the Fourth Amendment [1] is at best a "law" and can never be a real law).

Here is more of the article:

In both cases, Congress had little time to even read the bills, making it inevitable that many would vote without being fully informed. And the result is the same—increased power and less accountability for the intelligence community.

“CISA is the new PATRIOT Act. It’s a bill that was born out of a climate of fear and passed quickly and quietly using a broken and nontransparent process,” wrote Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight For the Future, a digital rights group, in an email to The Intercept.

Yes, although there is a rather large difference with the Patriot Act:

That was agreed to - unconstitutionally, as I pointed out - quite briefly after a major terrorist attack that took nearly 3000 lives; this CISA, which mostly repeats and strengthens the - illegal - Patriot Act was introduced after 14 years of little terror.

Here is some more about the extremely underhanded, dishonest and secretive way in which this - illegal - CISA was pushed through Congress:

“We’re all feeling a collective sense of deja vu because we’ve seen this before,” wrote Nathan White, senior legislative manager at digital rights group Access Now in an email to The Intercept. “This is like a bad sequel where we all know the ending, but shouting at the characters doesn’t change anything.”

“Just like the USA PATRIOT Act, CISA was a collection of old ideas that Congress had repeatedly rejected. And just like the PATRIOT Act, they re-wrote the final bill in secret and snuck it through Congress before most people could even read it,” he continued. “And just like the PATRIOT Act, the bill will be used for far more than what Members of Congress think that they are authorizing.”

Yes, indeed, although I suspect myself, now that members of Congress have had 14 years in which they could reflect on the - illegal - Patriot Act, that most members of Congress are for spying on every American, and not because they expect many results in dealing with terrorists (there were none or hardly any all these fourteen years), but because they like more powers for the government, to which they belong.

There is also this, to end my review of this article, that is good and recommended:

Other privacy advocates noted that the cybersecurity bill took a stealthier path to passage than the Patriot Act. “The Patriot Act was billed as something exceptional and game-changing. CISA disguised itself,” wrote Jeff Landale, executive assistant for X-Lab, in a tweet to The Intercept. CISA is “more technically complicated in how it expands the surveillance state,” he wrote. “The main difference politically is that too many in Congress just didn’t see CISA as a big deal.”

Yes, I think that is correct - and the "many in Congress [who] just didn’t see CISA as a big deal" betrayed their electorate: It is a big deal; it makes a fundamental difference in humanity between the NSA and the 300+ milion constantly secretly surveilled American citizens; and it is a straight and conscious betrayal of the Fourth Amendment, also for completely invalid reasons.

This is a further and considerable step towards an authoritarian American state.

2.
The Two Big Political Mistakes of Obama's Presidency

The second item is by David Morris on AlterNet:

This is a long article on some of the failings of Obama. I think it is too friendly towards him, but it is fairly critical.

This is from near the beginning:
When Barack Obama took office, Democrats controlled the White House, both houses of Congress and had outright control — both houses of the state legislature and the governorship of 27 states. Republicans controlled just 17. In 2010, the Democrats lost the House and the number of Democrat-to-Republican controlled states almost exactly reversed. In 2014, Republicans won the Senate. The score regarding state control now stands at an astonishing 32-to-7 in favor of Republicans.
Yes, indeed - and while part of the setbacks of the Democrats may be plausibly explained by racism, I think another part is plausibly explained by the fact that many voters for Obama felt betrayed by him, in which they also were right, in my opinion: Obama never was "a progressive" or "a liberal" - he was a very successful careerist, first and foremost, and rather a lot like Bill Clinton.

Here is what Obama might have done (as he strongly hinted he would do when he was elected, but did not):

But Obama might well have stunted the emergence of the right-wing populist movement, had he pursued an aggressive populist strategy of his own — one that demonstrated government could effectively challenge giant corporations and unbridled private greed on behalf of small businesses and the average family.   

Obama certainly had the opportunity. The economy was in freefall. Millions faced the prospect of losing their homes. Millions more were losing their jobs. After freeing itself of most government restrictions and oversight, the financial sector had become dysfunctional. Even stalwart defenders of laissez-faire capitalism were confessing the error of their deregulatory ways.
Here is what he did, given these tremendous chances for "Change!", "Change!", "Change!":

To his credit, Obama did try to make systemic changes in both the financial and health care sector. To his everlasting discredit, he tried to make these changes without actually structurally changing the system. Instead of confronting power, he bribed the powerful: $700 billion and trillions in low-cost money for the banks, $500 billion for the health insurance companies. He enlisted the support of giant pharmaceutical companies, among the most profitable of all manufacturing firms, by refusing to cap drug prices. He enlisted the support of giant insurance companies by embracing the individual mandate he had opposed during the campaign, thus guaranteeing the companies millions of new mostly healthy younger customers, whose premiums would be heavily subsidized by the government.

At one point Obama met with the CEOs of the nation’s 13 largest banks. He accurately warned them, “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” But rather than make demands, he pleaded with the bankers: “Help me help you.” They were only too glad to do so.

In brief: Barack Obama totally sold out to the rich, to the (rich) bankers, to the rich insurance companies, and to the pharmaceutical companies. What he was elected for was "Change!", "Change!"; what he delivered was "No Change!", "No Change!", and More Money To The Rich.

Not everything was Obama's fault, for Clinton also did very much for the rich and for the bankers, as did Bush Jr:

In 1999, Congress recklessly repealed the Glass-Steagall Act that for 50 years had stopped Wall Street from speculating with government guaranteed deposits.  A year later, Congress recklessly deregulated the derivatives market. The next year the new federal bankruptcy act gave derivatives priority for payment. In 2004, the SEC recklessly waived the rules that limited lenders to a maximum debt-to-net-capital ratio of 12-to-1 for five giant Wall Street firms — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Morgan Stanley. They promptly ratcheted up ratios to 30- and even 40-to-1.
Incidentally, I find two times "recklessly" a bit too much and rather incredible:

Since all Congressmen talk a lot with many lobbyists, I doubt they did not know what they were doing, which was deregulating away all possibility for a rational control of the American economy, simply by giving up the laws that enabled the control. Clearly, most knew this, or so I'd say.

Tĥere is also this on "Obamacare", that in fact was Romney's plan, and on the incredibly strenghtened position of the banks:
One result is that today, if you do a Google search with the term “insurance horror stories” you’ll get over 1 million hits. But now, many if not most are horror stories about Obamacare. Another result is that economic power has become even more concentrated as the number of community banks shrinks while the assets of the 5 biggest banks are almost 40 percent larger than they were before the crisis. These banks now control over 44 percent of the nation’s banking assets and 39 percent of the nation’s GDP. In the health sector, insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies and doctor organizations have engaged in a frenzy of mergers and acquisitions.
Overall, Obama was - in my opinion - simply a careerist fraud, who also was quite successful as a careerist fraud: The bankmanagers are happy; the rich are happy; concentration of riches went on and on; taxes on the rich went down and down; and he can make a lot of money making speeches after he stopped being president.


I don't think the writer of this article is as severe as I am, but this is an interesting and recommended article.

3. Bill Moyers: Bad News for Democracy Is Great News for TV Profits

The third item is by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on The Smirking Chimp:

This starts as follows:
Television news has gone off its rocker and turned our politics into the equivalent of a freak show's hall of mirrors.

The networks have grasped Donald Trump to their collective bosom like the winner of one of those misogynistic, televised beauty pageants he owns. Each pronouncement from the Sultan of Slur is treated as epic, no matter how deeply insulting, bigoted or just plain ridiculous.

You may have seen by now that recent Tyndall Report analysis of the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC. It found that from January 1 through November, the big three had devoted 234 minutes of reporting to Donald Trump but only ten to Bernie Sanders. At ABC,World News Tonight had given the Trump campaign 81 minutes of coverage while Bernie Sanders has received less than a minute. A minute!

I think Moyers and Winship are quite right about the American networks. Also, they give the background for my claims that the news on Trump : the news on Sanders as either 23 : 1 or 81 : 1.

There is also this:

Our friend and colleague John Nichols at The Nation magazine says that it's useless to try to get the networks to dial it back; every Trump bellow leaves them begging for more. Rather, he writes, "When a candidate is playing to the worst fears of Americans, what's needed is more serious and intensive coverage that puts things in perspective... The point is to recognize that there are other candidates who are getting as much support as Trump, that are exciting crowds and gaining significant support, and that are advancing dramatically different responses to the challenges facing America. That's not happening now."
The reason it is not happening can only be that those who run the media in the USA do not want this to happen, either because they earn very well on the moment (which is true) or because they do not want to give the viewers and readers proper and honest news (which I think is also true, in most cases).

There is also this, which shows that the television stations and the networks do have political influence themselves:
And let's not forget the ferocity with which television stations and networks have been fighting against campaign finance reform, fearing the death -- or at least hobbling -- of the golden goose. At The Intercept earlier this year, Lee Fang wrote, "For nearly two decades, the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby group for media corporations, has fought bipartisan efforts to provide free airtime to candidates, a reform advocates say would reduce the moneyed barriers to political entry for candidates... In more recent years, media companies have attempted to obstruct FCC rules promulgated during the Obama administration to digitize mandatory forms revealing information about political ad buys. Even that minor reform was too much."
And the reason is (mostly, it seems) the money they make as it is now. Is it legal? It seems not:
"It's unlawful," writes former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now special adviser to Common Cause's Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. "There are laws and rules on the books that mandate identification of the real sponsors of ads (both commercial and political) -- but they go unimplemented when it comes to the political genre. Failure to enforce the law is corrupting our politics--and goodness knows our politics don't need any more corrupting!"
But it simply goes on and on, in part at least because corruption implies money for the corrupted.

And Michael Copps is right in principle when he says:

It's simple, he says: "Voters have a clear, unambiguous right to know who is trying to influence them. Democracy is about holding power accountable. If we don't even know whom to hold accountable, how do we hope to govern ourselves successfully?"
This means - it seems to me - that democracy is functionally dead in the USA, at least as regards the main media.

4. Who Owns the Federal Reserve Bank and Why is It Shrouded in Myths and Mysteries? 

The fourth item is by Ishmael Hossein-Zadeh on Counterpunch:

This starts as follows (and is a good and recommended article):

“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

— Henry Ford

“Give me control of a Nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws.”

— M. A. Rothschild

The Federal Reserve Bank (or simply the Fed), is shrouded in a number of myths and mysteries. These include its name, its ownership, its purported independence form external influences, and its presumed commitment to market stability, economic growth and public interest
And these myths are the subject of Hossein-Zadeh's article. Here is the first:
The first MAJOR MYTH, accepted by most people in and outside of the United States, is that the Fed is owned by the Federal government, as implied by its name: the Federal Reserve Bank. In reality, however, it is a private institution whose shareholders are commercial banks; it is the “bankers’ bank.” Like other corporations, it is guided by and committed to the interests of its shareholders—pro forma supervision of the Congress notwithstanding.
In other words: They are not there for you, ordinary American consumer: they are there for the bankers, who also own them.

This is on the history of the Federal Reserve Bank:
Soon after Woodrow Wilson replaced William Taft as president, however, the Federal Reserve Bank was founded (December 23, 1913), thereby centralizing the power of U.S. banks into a privately owned entity that controlled interest rate, money supply, credit creation, inflation, and (in roundabout ways) employment. It could also lend money to the government and earn interest, or a fee—money that the government could create free of charge. This ushered in the beginning of the gradual rise of national debt, as the government henceforth relied more on borrowing from banks than self-financing, as it had done prior to granting the power of money-creation to the private banking system.
This seems odd to me - why would the US government give away these great powers to a private institution itself controlled by the banks? - but there is more in the article.

Here is another myth:

And herein lies ANOTHER MYTH that is created around the Fed: that it is an independent, purely technocratic or disinterested policy-making entity that is solely devoted to national interests, free of all external influences. 

I'd say: Of course not - the interests the Federal Reserve Bank serves are the interests of the banks, who also owe it. And there is this myth:

Another MAJOR MYTH associated with the Fed is its purported commitment to national and/or public interest.

That is false for the same reason as the previous myth.

Is there a solution? Yes, at least in principle:

Is there a solution to the ravages wrought to the economies/societies of the core capitalist countries by the accumulation needs of parasitic finance capital—largely fostered or facilitated by the privately-owned central banks of these countries?

Yes, there is indeed a solution. The solution is ultimately political. It requires different politics and/or policies: politics of serving the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, instead of a cabal of financial oligarchs.

But then that solution is blocked by legal actions and propaganda by those who have a strong interest in "parasitic finance capital", and who have created many myths to be abled to continue their parasiting:

The idea of bringing the banking industry, national savings and credit allocation under public control or supervision is not necessarily socialistic or ideological. In the same manner that many infrastructural facilities such as public roads, school systems and health facilities are provided and operated as essential public services, so can the supply of credit and financial services be provided on a basic public utility model for both day-to-day business transactions and long-term industrial projects.

There is considerably more in the article, that is recommended.

-------------------
Note
[1] This is the Fourth Amendment, that is part of the US Constitution, and cannot be legally withdrawn (minus footnotes):
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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