April 5, 2016

Crisis: Legal vs. Good, Guardian, Corruption, Voter Suppression, Wealth
Sections                                                                     crisis index

A Key Similarity Between Snowden Leak and Panama
     Papers: Scandal Is What’s Been Legalized

2. Corporate Media Gatekeepers Protect Western 1
     Percent From Panama Leak

‘Corruption’ as a Propaganda Weapon
4. Stop Voter Suppression
5. The Panama Papers – What Happens When Corruption
     Is Systemic


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links, and it so happens that most are concerned with interpreting the Panama Papers:

Item 1 is about an article by Glenn Greenwald, who points out that there is at best only an intersection between the law and what is good; item 2 is mostly about The Guardian and its supposed tendency not to report much on depradations and dishonesties of Western rich men; item 3 is about how charges of corruption against politicians are often politically motivated; item 4 is about an article by Robert Reich on voter suppression in the USA; and item 5 is another article about the Panama Papers, that recommends concentrating on "the architecture of wealth extraction" rather than on individuals who profited or may have profited.

1. A Key Similarity Between Snowden Leak and Panama Papers: Scandal Is What’s Been Legalized

The first item is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
FROM THE START of the reporting based on Edward Snowden’s leaked document archive, government defenders insisted that no illegal behavior was revealed. That was always false: Multiple courts have now found the domestic metadata spying program in violation of the Constitution and relevant statutes and have issued similar rulings for other mass surveillance programs; numerous articles on NSA and GCHQ documented the targeting of people and groups for blatantly political or legally  impermissible purposes; and the leak revealed that President Obama’s top national security official (still), James Clapper, blatantly lied when testifying before Congress about the NSA’s activities — a felony.
Yes, indeed. What is important to grasp are the following "principles":

    - what is legal is not necessarily what is good
    - what is good is not necessarily what is legal

In fact there is only an intersection between (what some people call) the legal and (what some people call) the good, and indeed there is a third difficulty that resides in the fact that different people tend to have (somewhat) different opinions on what is and is not good and also on what is and is not legal.

There is in quite a few minds (and especially the minds of the more or less conformist) something like a confusion of the legal and the good:

But illegality was never the crux of the scandal triggered by those NSA revelations. Instead, what was most shocking was what had been legalized: the secret construction of the largest system of suspicionless spying in human history. What was scandalous was not that most of this spying was against the law, but rather that the law — at least as applied and interpreted by the Justice Department and secret, one-sided FISA “courts” — now permitted the U.S. government and its partners to engage in mass surveillance of entire populations, including their own. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer put it after the Washington Post’s publication of documents showing NSA analysts engaged in illegal spying: “The ‘non-compliance’ angle is important, but don’t get carried away. The deeper scandal is what’s legal, not what’s not.”
I add here that some (including me) who have never accepted that the sayings and writings of a few lawyers in the Justice Department (which is corrupt, for it serves the rich bankmanagers by refusing to prosecute their crimes) and a few (largely secret!) decisions of a few judges at FISA "courts" constitute "the law".

Clearly, they do not, at least not as long as the Fourth Amendment (<- Wikipedia) has not been deleted from the Constitution, and it hasn't.

All of the above was introductory to the following two facts. First, there is this:
Yesterday, dozens of newspapers around the world reported on what they are calling the Panama Papers: a gargantuan leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm that specializes in creating offshore shell companies. The documents reveal billions of dollars being funneled to offshore tax havens by leading governmental and corporate officials in numerous countries (the U.S. was oddly missing from the initial reporting, though journalists vow that will change shortly). 
Yes. In fact, for the moment this is almost all that I know of the Panama Papers, and the same holds for nearly any more or less "normal reader" of the news. And in fact, most of the entries in today's Nederlog are there to find a rational approach to the Panama Papers.

Then again, I am not a quite normal reader of the news, and it seems that
I have several advantages that most of the quite normal readers of the news do not have:

(1) I do know a lot about politics, and I have a good understanding of science, and excellent academic degrees in philosophy and psychology;
(2) I had communist parents (and communist and anarchist grandparents) and
am neither a conformist nor a careerist (but I am not a communist nor an anarchist, and was not since I was 20 [1]);
(3) I have never voted since I did not have to anymore, in 1971 (sorry, I am not going to associate with the best liars in the country), and if I were asked what is the single proposal I could make to radically improve the world it would
be to forbid anyone of making more than 20 times as much as the poorest in his or her society: You may excel, but not by getting hundreds or thousands or millions of times as rich as others, for that defrauds and degrades everybody who is poorer than you, and gives you - whoever you are - far too much power. [2]

But while I think all of the above points are relevant, I still do not know much about a rational approach to the Panama Papers.

One thing to keep in mind is this:
Some of these documents undoubtedly reveal criminality: either monies that were illegally obtained (and are being hidden for that reason) or assets being concealed in order to criminally evade tax debts. But the crux of this activity — placing assets offshore in order to avoid incurring tax liability — has been legalized. That’s because Western democracies, along with overt tyrannies, are typically controlled by societies’ wealthiest, and laws are enacted to serve their interests.
Yes, precisely: Given that there is only an overlap between what's legal and what's good, it should be added that what is in the laws of any society will be
more in the service and sometimes under the command of the "
societies’ wealthiest".

And one of the crimes (I think) the rich have legalized is that they are allowed to flee paying the taxes their nations impose on everyone.

2. Corporate Media Gatekeepers Protect Western 1 Percent From Panama Leak

The second item is
by Craig Murray on Truthdig:

This starts as follows, and mostly concerns the question of who is going to interpret the findings from the Panama Papers. This is a relevant question:

Whoever leaked the Mossack Fonseca papers appears motivated by a genuine desire to expose the system that enables the ultra wealthy to hide their massive stashes, often corruptly obtained and all involved in tax avoidance. These Panamanian lawyers hide the wealth of a significant proportion of the 1 percent, and the massive leak of their documents ought to be a wonderful thing.

Unfortunately, the leaker has made the dreadful mistake of turning to the western corporate media to publicize the results. In consequence the first major story, published Sunday by the Guardian, is all about Vladimir Putin and a cellist on the fiddle. As it happens, I believe the story and have no doubt Putin is bent.

It is not clear to me why it is reasonable to assume that "the leaker has made the dreadful mistake of turning to the western corporate media": First, I do not
know why this was a mistake, and second, I do not know whether there was any good alternative.

What does seem true is that the Blairite Guardian [3] - so far - mostly reports
from the Panama Papers on countries that are not popular in the West:

The main search they have done is for names associated with breaking United Nations sanctions regimes. The Guardian reports this too and helpfully lists those countries as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia and Syria. The filtering of this Mossack Fonseca information by the corporate media follows a direct western governmental agenda. There is no mention at all of use of Mossack Fonseca by massive western corporations or western billionaires—the main customers. And the Guardian is quick to reassure that “much of the leaked material will remain private.”

Yes, but the Guardian did report on the father of David Cameron (who did not behave honorably, let's say). And the Guardian also probably is right in saying very few will be able to read much or all of over 2 terrabytes of information.

Then again, I also have no reason to assume that the Guardian is particularly honest (in fact, since they lately include enormous amounts of Javascripts, I think they are not) but the following is not a good argument:

What do you expect? The leak is being managed by the grandly but laughably named “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists”, which is funded and organized entirely by the USA’s Center for Public Integrity. Their funders include:

Ford Foundation
Carnegie Endowment
Rockefeller Family Fund
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Open Society Foundation (Soros)

Among many others. Do not expect a genuine expose of western capitalism. The dirty secrets of western corporations will remain unpublished.

I don't see what is particularly wrong with the name, and I also don't see why these funders would preclude accurate reporting.

Then again, I do agree that I don't blindly trust the Guardian nor the rest of the main media, and that there is a fair probability that the Western main media will not report much on the corruptions of Western political leaders.

But I think we shall have to wait and see what happens: it is very early days since the Panama Papers became known.

3. ‘Corruption’ as a Propaganda Weapon

The third item is
by Robert Parry on Consortiumnews:
This starts as follows:

Sadly, some important duties of journalism, such as applying evenhanded standards on human rights abuses and financial corruption, have been so corrupted by the demands of government propaganda – and the careerism of too many writers – that I now become suspicious whenever the mainstream media trumpets some sensational story aimed at some “designated villain.”

Far too often, this sort of “journalism” is just a forerunner to the next “regime change” scheme, dirtying up or delegitimizing a foreign leader before the inevitable advent of a “color revolution” organized by “democracy-promoting” NGOs often with money from the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy or some neoliberal financier like George Soros.

Yes, I agree: I do not trust the mainstream media, and I don't because I think they are partial, biased, and dishonest, and sometimes also corrupt. (I also think they are often ill written, boring and trivial, but this is an aside.)

And I think by now that many of the journalists of the mainstream media ceased to be real journalists, mostly because they ceased to rationally criticize holders of power.

Next, there is this:

We are now seeing what looks like a new preparatory phase for the next round of “regime changes” with corruption allegations aimed at former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The new anti-Putin allegations – ballyhooed by the UK Guardian and other outlets – are particularly noteworthy because the so-called “Panama Papers” that supposedly implicate him in offshore financial dealings never mention his name.

Possibly so. I have read about corruption allegations against Lula da Silva and Putin. I simply do not know enough of either Brazil or Russia to adequately judge them.

The last bit I quote from the article is this:

A British media-watch publication, the Off-Guardian, which criticizes much of the work done at The Guardian, headlined its article on the Putin piece as “the Panama Papers cause Guardian to collapse into self-parody.”

But whatever the truth about Putin’s “corruption” or Lula’s, the journalistic point is that the notion of objectivity has long since been cast aside in favor of what’s useful as propaganda for Western interests.

I did not know about the existence of the Off-Guardian. And I agree that "the notion of objectivity has long since been cast aside", at least in the mainstream media.

There is a lot more in the article, that is interesting.

4. Stop Voter Suppression

The fourth item iby Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

A crowning achievement of the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, was pushing through the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recognizing the history of racist attempts to prevent Black people from voting, that federal law forced a number of southern states and districts to adhere to federal guidelines allowing citizens access to the polls.

But in 2013 the Supreme Court effectively gutted many of these protections. As a result, states are finding new ways to stop more and more people—especially African-Americans and other likely Democratic voters—from reaching the polls.

I agree, in the sense that I have read about some of these "new ways" to stop people from reaching the polls.

Here is Reich's idea about what has to be done:

We need to move to the next stage of voting rights—a new Voting Rights Act—that renews the law that was effectively repealed by the conservative activists on the Supreme Court.

That new Voting Rights Act should also set minimum national standards—providing automatic voter registration when people get driver’s licenses, allowing at least 2 weeks of early voting, and taking districting away from the politicians and putting it under independent commissions. 

Voting isn’t a privilege. It’s a right.

I suppose Reich is correct. And I also suppose such a renewal has to wait on a renewed Supreme Court.

5. The Panama Papers – What Happens When Corruption Is Systemic

The fifth and last item today is by Joe Brewer on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Over the weekend, an historic release of information came out in the Panama Papers showing exactly who, how, and when a vast network of people stole and hoarded money. Our minds easily grok the realities of Vladimir Putin embezzling a billion dollars through offshore accounts or the Prime Minister of Iceland stealing cash from public coffers. Where we fail more easily is visualizing the system of shell companies, accounting tools, trade regimes, tax havens, and legislative changes that make up the system of wealth extraction all of these individuals are using in collaboration with their partners in crime.

In fact, I suppose very few readers are capable of (adequately!) "visualizing the system of shell companies, accounting tools, trade regimes, tax havens, and legislative changes that make up the system of wealth extraction". For one thing, I am not capable of it, though I agree the system exists and is quite important.

There is also this:

What really matters is the architecture of wealth extraction that has been systematically built up in every country around the world. I use the word ‘architecture’ intentionally here for two reasons: (1) to remind us that there were architects who intentionally created this exploitative system (it did not arise naturally or by accident); and (2) the purpose of this system was to hoard as much wealth as possible in the hands of a tiny elite.

I agree with both points. But this does not make it much easier to grasp that architecture.

P.S. Apr 6, 2016: I fixed the dotted link in item 4, which was not fixed (by Robert Reich) yesterday.
[1] I liked my parents (both of whom are dead since 20 or more years) and I admired their moral positions, which I still do, but I really could not agree anymore with either Marx or Dutch communism after I had read a fair amount of Marx (and Engels and Lenin) between 1966 and 1969.

Also, I think my arguments to reject Marx were quite good, and I saw this over 20 years (!) earlier than "the rest of my generation" - in so far as these were marxists or communists, which many in the University of Amsterdam were, in the 1970ies and early 1980ies, when it was much like "a marxist university", at least in philosophy, the social sciences, and quite a few languages.

Besides, I strongly doubt that most of my generation know as much of Marx as I did and do, and indeed I never heard him being discussed rationally in the context of the University of Amsterdam.

[2] I am quite serious about a cap on what people may acquire (both in salaries and in ownership) for themselves. In case you are interested, see my On Socialism.

I liked The Guardian a lot better in 2013, but since then they introduced - without any discussion that I have seen - a complete change in their Javascript (half of the files you get from them now are full of reams of Javascript) and in their allowance of copying, and I think both are enormous steps backwards: The Guardian now spies on its users, and does not permit readers to copy anything.

Also, I think I adequately described The Guardian as "Blairite" after having seen the treatment most of their columnists gave to Jeremy Corbyn. And since I despise both Blair (ever since seeing him give a speech to Labour in 1996: an enormous fraud) and Blairites, who seem to me mostly neo-conservative liars and frauds, The Guardian has rather deeply fallen in my estimation, at least compared to 2013 (before these changes in The Guardian were effected).

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