February 17, 2016

Crisis: Free Speech, France, Populist Revolution (?), USA, Minimum Wage
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Greatest Threat to Free Speech in the West:
     Criminalizing Activism Against Israeli Occupation

2. France Dumps Liberté for Security
Democratic Primary Makes Clear: A Populist Revolution        is Coming
4. A Country Breaking Down
5. Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, Minimum Wage, Minimum

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, February 17, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article on The Intercept that shows how free speech is seriously threatened in the U.K., the U.S.A and France; item 2 is about France whose government does its best to limit and smother liberty, egality and fraternity there; item 3 is about
some of Piketty's recent opinions (which are in part too optimistic, I think); item 4 is about the USA's infrastructure (which is awful); and item 5 is about an article by Peter Van Buren that is recommended.

1. Greatest Threat to Free Speech in the West: Criminalizing Activism Against Israeli Occupation

This first
item is by Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

THE U.K. GOVERNMENT today announced that it is now illegal for “local [city] councils, public bodies, and even some university student unions … to refuse to buy goods and services from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, tobacco products, or Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.” Thus, any entities that support or participate in the global boycott of Israeli settlements will face “severe penalties” under the criminal law.

This may sound like an extreme infringement of free speech and political activism — and, of course, it is — but it is far from unusual in the West. The opposite is now true. There is a very coordinated and well-financed campaign led by Israel and its supporters literally to criminalize political activism against Israeli occupation, based on the particular fear that the worldwide campaign of Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment, or BDS — modeled after the 1980s campaign that brought down the Israel-allied apartheid regime in South Africa — is succeeding.

I say. This sounds like Politically Correct [1] dictatorship: You are not allowed, that is, it is illegal, "to refuse to buy goods and services from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, tobacco products, or Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.”

To be sure, it seems (!!!) as if this is directed to "
local [city] councils, public bodies, and even some university student unions" and not to British private persons ("if you refuse to buy from this arms trader we will lock you up!") but this is clearly state terrorism that seeks to impose its own moral norms on everyone else, and starting with those bodies it controls part of the finances of.

Also, the order - as stated, at least - is very ambiguous: Are these organizations forced to buy from any arms trader? Or from all sellers of fossil fuels? Or from all sellers of tobacco products from anywhere? Or just those produced by "
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank"?

I presume the last is intended, but it is not clearly stated. Anyway here is an example of French state terrorism [2]:

THIS TREND TO outlaw activism against the decadeslong Israeli occupation — particularly though not only through boycotts against Israel — has permeated multiple Western nations and countless institutions within them. In October, we reported on the criminal convictions in France of 12 activists “for the ‘crime’ of advocating sanctions and a boycott against Israel as a means of ending the decadeslong military occupation of Palestine,” convictions upheld by France’s highest court. They were literally arrested and prosecuted for “wearing shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Long live Palestine, boycott Israel’” and because “they also handed out fliers that said that ‘buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.’”

This is state terrorism (terrorism started by states or their organs, like the police, the military or secret services) because any citizen in a decent and free Europe must be able to express his or her political opinions and values, and that is all they did (and this clearly extends to calling for boycotts of countries that have policies one disagrees with: boycotting is legal, and while people should be able to call for it no one needs to agree to it).

And of course no one needs to agree with cititzens who express their political opinions and values: The point is that they should be free to express them - but in England and France it is now forbidden to express certain values and opinions, it seems because they offend Mr. Netanyahu's values and opinions.

The same is true in the United States according to Greenwald and Fishman:

In the U.S., unbeknownst to many, there are similar legislative proscriptions on such activism, and a pending bill would strengthen the outlawing of BDS. As the Washington Post reported last June, “A wave of anti-BDS legislation is sweeping the U.S.” Numerous bills in Congress encourage or require state action to combat BDS.

I say, which I do because I did not know this. Finally, here is a particular sickening example:

As we reported in September, the University of California — the largest academic system in the country — has been debating proposals to literally outlaw BDS activism by formally equating it with “anti-semitism”: as though opposition to Israeli government oppression (opposition shared by many Jews) is somehow the equivalent of, or is inherently driven by, animosity toward Jews.

Indeed. And you must be able to protest against the policies of a government without being tainted or scolded as if that makes you an anti-semite or a fascist.

2. France Dumps Liberté for Security
The second item is by Jonathan Marshall on Consortiumnews:

This starts as follows:

When Islamist radicals destroy centuries-old artifacts, from Bamyan to Palmyra, civilized people everywhere register their outrage. Yet in the name of fighting those same Islamists, some Western governments are destroying their own architecture of legal and human rights that took centuries to build.

The United States, post-9/11, offers countless examples. But now the government of French President François Hollande is bucking condemnations from local and international human rights groups, the United Nations, and the European Council to ram through parliament constitutional amendments that would permanently enshrine the government’s emergency powers.

In the classic words of authoritarian leaders everywhere, France’s interior minister insists, “it is terrorism that is the threat to freedom not the state of emergency.”

Like all budding state terrorists, France's interior minister lied: The state of emergency steals or denies many of the democratic rights of Frenchmen to protest against many things they disagree with.

And I am not the only one who thinks so:

The national emergency — based on legislation dating back to the Algerian War in 1955 — gives the government extraordinary rights to search homes and hold people under house arrest without warrants, ban public protests, and censor the media. The French bar association condemned it as “a judicial and social model which breaks with republican values.”

Precisely: The French government does not have these rights, but it simply appropriated them.

Here are some of the consequences:

Since November, French police have conducted more than 3,200 raids and put about 400 people under house arrest. Yet for all that, prosecutors had initiated only five terrorism-related investigations as of Feb. 2.

“This state of emergency seems to have had relatively limited concrete effects in terms of fighting against terrorism,” commented Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, “but it has on the other hand greatly restricted the exercise of fundamental liberties and weakened certain guarantees of the rule of law.”

In fact, I think that was the point: The French government wanted to shut up its critics (left and right), and now it has the "legal" means to do so.

Finally, I quote this:

France has been increasing police powers for years. In 2013, the legislature quietly passed a law codifying sweeping electronic surveillance powers available to the country’s intelligence agencies, with no judicial review. It passed sweeping new anti-terrorism legislation in 2014 and again in 2015, after the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine.

What am I supposed to say? Vive la France, vive les forces de non-liberté, non-egalité et non-fraternité?! [3]

3. Democratic Primary Makes Clear: A Populist Revolution is Coming

The third item is by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

The influential economist Thomas Piketty is the most recent trans-Atlantic observer to note that the "incredible success of the 'socialist' Bernie Sanders" is indicative of a deeper, populist movement that's brewing across the United States.

In a column published in the French newspaper Le Monde on Monday and translated on his website, Piketty argues that regardless of whether Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, "we are witnessing the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the November 1980 elections."

I certainly hope so, but I do not think that two elections for the presidential candidacy are enough to conclude this with any certainty.

Putting Sanders' rise within historical context, Piketty revisits the period between 1930 and 1980 when the U.S. "pursued an ambitious policy of reduction in social inequalities," with economic policies that included progressive income and estate taxes, as well as the implementation of a federal minimum wage (which reached above 10 dollars per hour, in 2016 dollars, by the end of the 1960s).

"Half a century of steady fiscal progressivity" came to an abrupt end in 1980, when Ronald Reagan "surfed" into the presidency "on a program designed to reinstate a mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past," propelled largely by the frustrations of "the financial elites."

I agree with this diagnosis (and in 1979 there also was the election of Thatcher in Great Britain).

And here is what Reagan wrought:

Piketty said this culminated with the 1986 fiscal reform, which lowered the top tax rates to 28 percent (compared to an average rate of 82 percent for the richest Americans during the previous era), as well as the freezing of the federal minimum wage.

Neither effort, he notes, was "genuinely challenged by the Democrats of the Clinton years and the Obama era" leading to an "explosion of inequalities and huge salaries...and stagnation of the incomes of the majority."
Quite so - and does anyone know any other reason than that the Clintons and Obama and most of the Democrats are almost as pro rich as Reagan was, except that they are somewhat to his left as regards government?

I am asking, but 25 years of avoiding to address the enormous preferences for the richest 1%, which systematically screwed the taxes on the very richest 54% down, suggests that the Democrats know this very well.

4. A Country Breaking Down

The fourth item is by Elizabeth Drew on The New York Review of Books:

This starts as follows (and may not be about what you think it is about):

It would be helpful if there were another word for “infrastructure”: it’s such an earnest and passive word for the blood vessels of this country, the crucial conveyors and connections that get us from here to there (or not) and the ports that facilitate our trade (or don’t), as well as the carriers of information, in particular broadband (if one is connected to it), and other unreliable structures. The word “crisis” is also overused, applied to the unimportant as well as the crucial. But this country has an infrastructure crisis.

The near-total failure of our political institutions to invest for the future, eschewing what doesn’t yield the quick payoff, political and physical, has left us with hopelessly clogged traffic, at risk of being on a bridge that collapses, or on a train that flies off defective rails, or with rusted pipes carrying our drinking water. Broadband is our new interstate highway system, but not everyone has access to it—a division largely based on class. Depending on the measurement used, the United States ranks from fourteenth to thirtieth among all nations in its investments in infrastructure. The wealthiest nation on earth is nowhere near the top.

So this is about the USA's infrastructure and is a long review of five books dedicated to the same subject. I think a good infrastructure is quite important for the qualities of one's life, and so I think the subject is important.

Here is why it is important for the USA:

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) conducts a study of where the United States stands in providing needed infrastructure in various sectors. Though the organization obviously has an interest in the creation of more construction jobs, its analyses, based as they are on information from other studies, are taken seriously by nonpartisan experts in the field. In the ASCE’s most recent report card, issued in 2013, the combined sectors received an overall grade of D+. In the various sectors, the grades were: aviation, D; bridges, C+; inland waterways, D–; ports, C; rail, C+; roads, D; mass transit, D; schools, D; hazardous waste, D; drinking water, D. No sector received an A. That none of the infrastructure categories received an F is hardly grounds for celebration.

Surely, good roads, mass transit, schools, hazardous waste and drinking water, to name some on the list, are quite important to everyone. In case you agree, there is quite a lot more under the last dotted link. 

5. Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, Minimum Wage, Minimum Chance

The fifth item is by Tom Engelhardt and Peter Van Buren on Tomdispatch
This starts as follows (and in fact I only quote from Tom Engelhardt's introduction:

To say that we live on a 1% planet isn't just a turn of phrase. In fact, it would undoubtedly be more accurate to speak of a .1% or a .01% planet.  In recent years, wealth and income inequalities have grown in a notorious fashion in the United States -- and, as it turns out, globally as well. In January, Oxfam released a report on the widening gap between global wealth and poverty. It found that, between 2010 and today, the wealth of the poorest half of the planet’s population fell by a trillion dollars, a drop of 41%, while that of the richest 62 people (53 men and nine women) increased by half a trillion dollars.  Put another way, those 62 billionaires were wealthier than the bottom 50% of the world’s people, while the richest 1% owned more than the other 99% combined.  The direction in which we're heading is obvious.  Just consider that, in 2010, it took 388 of the super-rich to equal the holdings of the bottom 50%; now, that number is 326 people smaller.

Keep that trend line in mind as you read about TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren’s latest adventures in the minimum-wage economy. Back in 2014, he described for this site how, having lost his State Department job for being a whistleblower on the Iraq War, he fell for a time into the low-wage world. As he wrote, “And soon enough, I did indeed find myself working in exactly that economy and, worse yet, trying to live on the money I made. But it wasn’t just the money. There’s this American thing in which jobs define us, and those definitions tell us what our individual futures and the future of our society is likely to be. And believe me, rock bottom is a miserable base for any future.”
I mostly agree and the article by Peter Van Buren is recommended: It does describe the life of - white - American poor quite well.

Then again, I disagree with the quoted beginning: I don't think I "live on a 1% planet" were it only because (i) I strongly disagree with economic inequality, indeed to the extent that I favor that all incomes will be capped at $300,000 a year maximally (which will only hurt the 1%'s incomes!), and (ii) I also see no reason to analogously extend the inequalities of incomes to the planet.

But the Peter Van Buren article is recommended.


[1] I will soon write a Nederlog exclusively about Political Correctness. All I say here is that (i) it is not a well-defined term (ii) I use it with the background that I have an M.A. in what counts as a science and that I do believe in real factual truth, and (iii) I mean by it anyone who seeks to sanction - blame, scold, discriminate, lock up, kill - anyone else simply because the sanctioned persons have other values than the sanctioning person. That is, one is politically correct who sanctions another because the other has other political values (whether right or left).

Also, I do want to remark that I - whose father and grandfather were communists who were convicted by the Nazis as "political terrorists" to concentration camp imprisonment - was called "a fascist" (sometimes "a dirty fascist", sometimes "something like a fascist") by the members of the ASVA who knew absolutely nothing about me than that I was pro science, pro truth and not a marxist, and they were against science, did not believe in truth, and were pseudo-marxists or postmodernists. And we all were students in the University of Amsterdam.

This also lasted more than ten years, so yes: I have extensive experiences of being discriminated by the politically correct, and indeed was also thrown out of the faculty of philosophy briefly before doing my M.A. there (and while I was ill) on the above grounds:

Somebody who is for truth and for science must be "a (dirty) fascist" - in the University of Amsterdam, in 1988.

[2] As I have been saying since 2005 (!) (i) there is terrorism (of various kinds and various motives) by states (the police, the military, the secret services) and there is terrorism by non-states, and (ii) I regard the terrorism of states as far more dangerous than the terrorism of non-states (it is states, like Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia that have murdered or imprisoned tens of millions based on their opinions) and (iii) I think, also since 2005, that much of the propaganda by states against non-state terrorism functioned as an excuse to increase, and indeed also as an attempt to legalize, the states' own brands of state terrorism, including secret spying into the privacy of everyone, on the - quite sick and quite false - grounds that everyone may be "a terrorist" and that "no one has anything to fear who is not a terrorist".

I think all terrorism is reprehensible and immoral, but state terrorism, which has far more finances and far more powers, is much more dangerous to very many more persons than is non-state terrorism.

It is also state terrorism that operated very many concentration camps, and state terrorism that declared its opponents were insane, and locked them up as insane, and abused them as insane.

[3] In case you don't know:
"Liberté, egalité, fraternité" (<- Wikipedia) is (or should I say: was?) the motto of France. The Wikipedia article is well worth reading.

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