May 7, 2016

Crisis: BernieOrBust, Panama Papers *2, TTIP, The Modern Press
Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. #BernieOrBust: Sanders Fans Debate Whether to Vote
     for Clinton If She is Democratic Nominee

2. Panama Papers Leaker Criticizes Governments’
     Inadequate Response to Revelations

3. 'Why? And Why Now?' Panama Papers 'John Doe' Steps
     Out of Shadows

The TTIPing Point: Protests Threaten Trans-Atlantic
     Trade Deal
Here's How the White House Shapes Foreign Affairs

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, May 7, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a somewhat interesting and certainly fair (!) discussion about Bernie Or Bust; item 2 and item 3 are both about the Panama Papers, with the second being better; item 4 is a so-so article in Spiegel International on TTIP (which suffers from too many political non-entities being displayed with first name, last name, and age as if this informatiom adds anything: it doesn't); and item 5 is an interesting bit about the radical changes in the media the last 10 years, which made them a great lot worse than they were.

Also, I should say this is probably a bit worse than it would have been if I had slept well last night, but I did not. Anyway, here goes...

1. #BernieOrBust: Sanders Fans Debate Whether to Vote for Clinton If She is Democratic Nominee

The first item is
by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:
This starts as follows:
As Democratic challengers Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton press on in the Democratic primary, Sanders trails in the pledged delegate count by more than 300. Add in superdelegates, and Clinton is just under 200 delegates shy of the number needed to clinch the nomination. Even as Sanders maintains his commitment to stay in the race, voters looking for political revolution are facing the question of whether or not to support his rival Hillary Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee for president. We host a debate between Kshama Sawant, Socialist city councilmember in Seattle and member of Socialist Alternative, who is a Sanders supporter and says she will not support Clinton; and Mike McGinn, former mayor of Seattle from 2010 to 2013, who hosts a podcast on social change called "You, Me, Us, Now." He is a Bernie Sanders supporter, but will back Hillary Clinton if she becomes the nominee.
This is fair enough. And first, here is Amy Goodman with some - seriously needed - numbers:
AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re going to take a look at the new movement called "Bernie or Bust." A recent McClatchy-Marist poll found one out of four Sanders supporters say they would not back Clinton in a general election. About 70 percent say they would support her.
This is important, because it is the only empirically founded number that says how many Sanders supporterts would support Hillary Clinton if she wins the presidential elections: 3 out of 4 would, 1 out of 4 would not (they said recently). I will accept that, provisionally.

And here is first
Kshama Sawant (<-Wikipedia) on her position:
But we are very much in sympathy with the sentiments that have been expressed by the people who have initiated Bernie or Bust, which is that it’s really kind of a bankrupt strategy to say that all the people, the millions of young people who have been politicized, you know, for the first time in their lives because of Sanders’s message of a political revolution against the billionaire class, should now all hunker down and support Clinton.
I completely disagree - but I also understand that this may well be due to my age, my intelligence and my education: I am in my middle sixties (so am not one who "has just been politicized" of circa 20); I am really very intelligent (unlike the large majority, including folks of 20 who have "just been politicized") and I have one of the best M.Sc.'s ever handed out. (Also, I am listing these because I think these are important bits in explaining why I differ from Sawant: Not because I am young, ignorant and naive.)

And I agree none of this guarantees I am right, but it does make for some differences. Here is what I disagree with in Sawant's quotation:

It is not "a bankrupt strategy": Nobody ever assured you that you have the constitutional right to choose from a candidate you like and one you don't like,
and the problem arises what you should do if the most sympathetic candidate is defeated, and you must choose (if you choose at all) from two candidates you think are both evil.

Also, once you agree to these inequalities (which I do, and which Sawant seems to do):
Bernie Sanders is much better than Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is much better than Donald Trump
then given that Bernie Sanders is not the presidential candidate (which is NOT given yet, but suppose) then obviously you should support Clinton, even if you
insist she is bad. But Trump is much worse, and besides, he is a temperamental moron who evidently is a narcissist, so the choice seems obvious.

Except to
Kshama Sawant and a bunch of 20 to 25 year olds, who - apparently - want to play the game of their extremely pure intentions and enormous personal integrity when doing the extremely difficult and heroic act of voting, which is supposed to prevent them from choosing the least bad candidate if all they are offered is the choice from two bad candidates... [1]

Here is Michael McGinn (<-Wikipedia), who is considerably older than Sawant (he is in his middle fifties):
MICHAEL McGINN: (..) I’m definitely an early Bernie Sanders supporter and, I would say, a die-hard one. I’m not a die-hard Democrat, by any means. And that’s one of the reasons I supported Bernie. In fact, I believe I endorsed Kshama in her re-election campaign just this past year here in Seattle. But the reason is, is that I look at the differences between Clinton and Trump, and what a disaster Trump would be.
I completely agree with McGinn: Clinton is a bad choice, but given that either she or else the moronic narcisstic disaster Trump is going to be the next president (which is not certain now), clearly you support Clinton, indeed not because you support her points of view or program, but because the only alternative is very much worse.

Then again this is a fair and considerably more extended discussion, which is recommended.

2. Panama Papers Leaker Criticizes Governments’ Inadequate Response to Revelations

The second item is b
y Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:
This starts as follows and is one of two articles that I will review, now that the anonymous whistleblower of the Panama Papers published a short text.

The present article starts as follows:

The still-unidentified whistleblower behind the release of the Panama Papers, 11.5 million documents detailing the practices of international tax evaders, spoke out on Friday to explain the motivation for the leak, praise NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and assert that the response of governments to the revelation has been insufficient.

“For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have,” The Guardian quoted the leaker as saying. “My viewpoint is entirely my own.”

In case you don't know about the Panama Papers, there is a considerable amount of information about them in the first half of April of this year: see the index.

Here is a summary of some of the opinions of the whistleblower (whose full text also is displayed in the article that is next reviewed):

The whistleblower said the leak of 11.5m documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca had triggered a “new, encouraging global debate”, thanks to the publication last month of stories by an international consortium of newspapers, including the Guardian.

“Shell companies are often associated with the crime of tax evasion. But the Panama Papers show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal, by definition they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes,” the source wrote. “Income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time.”

I'd say that tax evasion should be illegal, especially for big corporations. Besides if it is currently "legal" to evade the taxes imposed by the country where you do most of your business or have your headquarters, then it is currently "legal" because it has been legalized by Clinton, Bush Jr. or Obama.
And there is this:

“For his revelations about the NSA, he [Snowden] deserves a hero’s welcome and a substantial prize, not banishment,” the source said. ...

Despite some positive steps, the UK government needed to do more, the source said: “The UK still has a vital role to play in ending financial secrecy on various island territories, which are unquestionably the cornerstone of institutional corruption worldwide.”

The whistleblower was generally underwhelmed by official reaction to the leak.
I agree, and I also was "underwhelmed", but I do have an adequate explanation:

Most governments and most professional politicians these days - whatever they publicly say, whatever their political color - support the interests of the rich, and the rich love tax evasions, shady deals and general dishonesty by themselves (to the non-rich).

And see the next item:

3. 'Why? And Why Now?' Panama Papers 'John Doe' Steps Out of Shadows

The third item is
by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows (and duplicates a bit of the foregoing item, but the present one is better):

"For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have," wrote John Doe. "My viewpoint is entirely my own, as was my decision to share the documents with Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), not for any specific political purpose, but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale of the injustices they described."

A searing critique of widespread wealth and income inequality, the 1,800-word missive decries "America's broken campaign finance system" and denounces capitalism as "economic slavery."

Indeed, one of the reasons this article is a lot better than the previous one is that it does give the text of "the 1,800-word missive" (instead of relying on a
summary from another paper).

Before we come to that, here is one more piece about the importance of tax avoiding to the greatest of "America’s own corporate behemoths":

But, "There's just one problem with the administration’s latest feint at populist messaging," wrote commentator and author Chris Lehmann on Friday: "the United States itself is a prime offender in the global race-to-the-bottom among corporate tax scofflaws—and that dubious distinction is largely the handiwork of the Obama White House."

In fact, Lehmann noted, "far from serving exclusively as a sleazy bit of contractual legerdemain for shady drug cartels or terrorist cells, the dummy-corporation brand of international tax avoidance is a very common business model for America’s own corporate behemoths."

This is quite correct on two things: (i) Obama's administration designed a great amount of the new laws and deregulated old laws that made this possible, and that same administration is merely feinting "at populist messaging" to make it seem as if it were otherwise, and (ii) tax evasion is normal for and acceptable from the richest "corporate behemoths" (but not at all for the non-rich).

Now to some quotations by the whistleblower. The full text is in the article, and there as here it is italized:

Income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time. It affects all of us, the world over. The debate over its sudden acceleration has raged for years, with politicians, academics and activists alike helpless to stop its steady growth despite countless speeches, statistical analyses, a few meagre protests, and the occasional documentary. Still, questions remain: why? And why now?

The Panama Papers provide a compelling answer to these questions: massive, pervasive corruption.

I completely agree, and this is also in part behind my radical proposal:

To limit all rewards people get for working of any kind to between a minimum of 1 (say: 15,000 euroos per year) to 20 (300,000 euroos per year), and to limit all riches one may own to 1 million euroos. [2]

I think that is the best, and quite possibly the only way to tame the egoistic, the dishonest, and the greedy: Simply by making their riches illegal.

In case you fear this: Then you must belong to the 1% of the very rich, or - at worst - to the 3% of their direct menials, for 97% of everyone do NOT loose a cent if my proposal were to become law. [3]

The following is also quite correct:

The prevailing media narrative thus far has focused on the scandal of what is legal and allowed in this system. What is allowed is indeed scandalous and must be changed. But we must not lose sight of another important fact: the law firm, its founders, and employees actually did knowingly violate myriad laws worldwide, repeatedly. Publicly they plead ignorance, but the documents show detailed knowledge and deliberate wrongdoing.

That is: The laws do no longer correspond to more or less widely supported distinctions between good and bad; and the law firms did "knowingly violate myriad laws worldwide, repeatedly".

The whistleblower also strongly criticizes: Banks, financial regulators and tax authorities have failed. (..) And he criticizes the courts, and many judges:
Hopelessly backward and inefficient courts have failed. Judges have too often acquiesced to the arguments of the rich (...)  And he criticizes the media:
The media has failed. I think he (?) is mostly right.

Most of all he (?) criticizes lawyers:

But most of all, the legal profession has failed. Democratic governance depends upon responsible individuals throughout the entire system who understand and uphold the law, not who understand and exploit it. On average, lawyers have become so deeply corrupt that it is imperative for major changes in the profession to take place, far beyond the meek proposals already on the table. To start, the term “legal ethics,” upon which codes of conduct and licensure are nominally based, has become an oxymoron.

I agree - and I concluded myself 25 years ago, after meeting many lawyers who pretended that they were helping me but did not and only cashed their checks, that a lawyer tends to be the counterpart of the lowerclass criminals they help: they are these days upper class criminals who can avoid being caught because they know the law. (Yes, there are a few exceptions: I know.)

At present, law is not a science, it is not a code, it is not a moral system, it is mostly and merely a set of rules that allow the rich to get richer, while convicting the poor for protesting.

This is the last bit I'll quote:

The collective impact of these failures has been a complete erosion of ethical standards, ultimately leading to a novel system we still call Capitalism, but which is tantamount to economic slavery. In this system—our system—the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese.

It seems to me as if the capitalism-with-a-human-face, that ruled from the late 40ies to the early 70ies, has been deregulated, very much on purpose, so that it could be replaced by capitalism-without-a-human-face, which indeed
mostly has happened since the 1980ies. [4]

But I don't quite agree with the "economic slavery" - yet, though this may be real in five to fifteen years. My reason is that I know history, and the capitalism-without-a-human-face that ruled in the 19th Century is a lot worse than the present system in the West, at least for the vast majority.

Then again, this may change quite rapidly, and it probably will if there is another major crash like 2008.

4. The TTIPing Point: Protests Threaten Trans-Atlantic Trade Deal

The fourth item is
by Dinah Deckstein, Simone Salden and Michaela Schleszl:

This starts as follows:

As the battle over TTIP was lost, Angela Merkel feigned resolution yet one more time. "We consider a swift conclusion to this ambitious deal to be very important," her spokesperson said on her behalf on Monday. And this is the government's unanimous opinion.

But the German population has a very different one. More than two-thirds of Germans reject the planned trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. And even in circles within Merkel's cabinet, the belief that TTIP will ever become a reality in its currently planned form is disappearing.

That's because on Monday morning, Greenpeace published classified documents from the closed-door negotiations. Even if the papers only convey the current state of negotiations and do not document the end results, they still confirm the worst suspicions of critics of TTIP.

This seems an adequate summary. Alas, the same can not be said about considerable parts of the rest, that play the journalistic con game of quoting
various persons, complete with first name, last name, age and profession, all of whom may be fine persons, but who are really a handful of unknowns gathered by these three journalists, who apparently lack the gifts of writing a more general survey, based on some reading and studying of their own. (And I am sorry: I dislike this - extremely easy and sleazy- style for 50 years now.)

Happily, they also do make some non-personalized comments. Here is one:

A large share of the recruits to the anti-TTIP movement come from the more educated parts of society, as indicated by a survey conducted by TNS Enmid, one of Germany's leading pollsters. These aren't professional troublemakers -- they're people who don't like to be taken for idiots. "The government has been withholding essential information," one of them chides. "I never would have been allowed to do that in my previous position as an executive."
OK - and I agree with that executive (whose first name, last name and age are not listed, happily):

In fact Obama's government, Merkel's government, and the European Union all tried to lampoon, to trick, and to deceive the hundreds of millions of their inhabitants by keeping the - extremely bad - proposed laws they prepared for the hundreds of millions a deep secret, and who tried to push through these proposed laws almost or wholly without them being read by almost anyone.

But the rest, although without full personal details, seems to me again mostly baloney, of the kind that praises (I quote) "
the professionalization of non-governmental organizations". O, Lord...

Aah well... I threw it away. (I'm sorry, but it was again baloney, and also I am tired today: I did not sleep enough last night.)

5. Here's How the White House Shapes Foreign Affairs Coverage

The fifth and last item today is by Kevin Drum on Mother Jones:
This is from a fairly small file by Kevin Drum, who mostly quotes from an interview that David Samuels of the New York Times Magazine had with Ben Rhodes "the chief messaging guru for foreign affairs in the White House".

I will give one quotation from it, and not about the White House but about the enormous changes that have taken place in the media, all of which made the media much worse, and all of which undermined the freedom and independence of "the press" (including TV and cable), which in turn very seriously undermined the necessary condition to keep a real democracy: Honest media, with honest journalists, who try to render the facts as facts.

Here is the quotation (and the bolding is in the original):
It is hard for many to absorb the true magnitude of the change in the news business — 40 percent of newspaper-industry professionals have lost their jobs over the past decade....Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.
In fact these are two sea changes: (1) 2 out of 5 (nearly half) of all newspaper-industry professionals have lost their jobs in the past 10 years, and (2) they have been replaced by ignorants who "literally know nothing" (but will never tell you about their age nor their ignorance).

There are many more changes, but this one shows that critical and intelligent news in the newspapers is mostly a thing of the past: What you will get are the opinions of the government, brought to you by very young major ignorants, who think that is their duty, as press: To convey the opinions of the government to the people.

It is a very great pity, for a real, honest, and really free press is of fundamental importance for a real political democracy.

[1] Yes, I am a bit sarcastic here, and the sarcasm is about the risks people take with voting. I am sorry, but choosing in an election is not heroic and not really difficult. The "BernieOrBust" movement seems to be of the pattern "I want it all and I want it now, and if not: Fuck all!".

[2] Yes, I know this is one, single and radical proposal, that probably is too simple as stated.

But it really is an alternative to the system we have, that is really different, without being radically different, for while I do like to disown the extremely rich, I do not like to disown the vast majority, whom I want to have better instead of the same or worse lives, and I do not have much against capitalism if it is legally restrained as stated.

And I would like to see this discussed.

[3] Similar restrictions apply as formulated in [2]. But this is a serious idea.

[4] As to capitalism-with and without-a-human-face: I made the distinction repeatedly in Nederlog, and am on the moment too tired and pressed for time to find links.
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