Jun 23, 2016

Crisis: Democratic Party, Surveillance, Pentagon, Government vs Privacy
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Thomas Frank on Clinton & Democratic Establishment:
     What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?

2. Senate Narrowly Rejects Controversial FBI
     Surveillance Expansion—For Now

3. New Cold War Feeds War Machine
4. As Quietly as Possible, the Government is Renewing
     Its Assault on Your Privacy 


This is a Nederlog of Thursday, June 23, 2016.

This is a crisis log. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about the decline of the Democratic Party, and also the decline of real leftist parties in general; item 2 is about a - probably temporary - stoppage of the FBI's attempts to expand surveillance and the use of the (extremely anti- democratic, very authoritarian) national security letters; item 3 is about the real end of the Pentagon: money, as much money as they can get; and item 4 is about diverse attempts of the American government to get absolute control of everyone by extending its attacks on any kind of privacy.

Thomas Frank on Clinton & Democratic Establishment: What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?
The first item today is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now!:
This is from the introduction (with a Wikipedia link added by me):
We speak to Thomas Frank, author of the new book, "Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?"
First there is this:
AMY GOODMAN: (..) Welcome to Democracy Now!, Thomas Frank. You write that, well, it’s—the problem with establishment Democrats is not that they have been bribed by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and others, but that long ago they determined to supplant the GOP as the party of Wall Street. Explain.

THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Well, it’s not so much that they decided to—first they decided that they—that they didn’t want to be the party of the working class any longer. They didn’t want to really be the party of the middle class. And this goes back to the 1970s, if not—if not before. (..) And by the 1990s, that had really come into full flower with the Bill Clinton administration, and they became—you know, they actively courted Wall Street.
It is interesting that Frank claims that the Democratic Party (or much rather, I suppose: its leadership) "decided (..) that they didn’t want to be the party of the working class any longer. They didn’t want to really be the party of the middle class."

It is unfortunate that he doesn't give much evidence (and no, I didn't read his book), although I can think of several reasons why:

First, as I said, this was a decision by the leaders much rather than by "the party". Second, the leaders of the Democratic Party, like the leaders of the Republican Party, are nearly all rich men or women. And third, "
the working class" and "the middle class" are much harder to get big amounts of money from - for elections, to pay politicians well, for think tanks etc. - than it is from Wall Street or other groups of extremely rich corporatists.

But I am guessing, though the story I guessed is plausible. Next, there is this,
which I selected because this was a world wide reaction, that in fact removed very much of the previously existing real left:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that provided an alternative vision for workers. Once you had the collapse of communism and socialism in other parts of the world, the Democratic elite no longer felt they needed to necessarily appeal to organized labor.

THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, or to lots of different groups, by the way. That’s the sort of the—I guess you would call that, you know, the very—the grand, sweeping view of history. But, in fact, the Democratic abandonment of the working class really does begin in the Vietnam era (...)
Yes, indeed (until "view of history").

And here I am considering "
the grand, sweeping view of history", which seems to have included the ending of the Dutch Communist Party and of the Italian Communist Party in 1991, the radical reorganization of policies and ideas of the French Communist Party, and also many changes in social democratic parties in Europe, nearly all of which grew much more "liberal", as e.g. shown by the Dutch social democrats, that transformed itself to little else than a liberal party around the middle 90ies (when it also got into a pact with the Dutch Liberal Party - which in Holland is mostly conservative, in fact, and pro rich - to rule Holland, as indeed it did).

There is a lot more of similar changes in many other countries. I recall being somewhat amazed by the collapse of the Dutch CP, which had meanwhile given up democratic centralism, incorporated feminism, did not regard the Soviet Union (while it existed) as really socialist, and had changed many of its policies, all in the 80-ies, but again I have to mostly guess at explanations.

And two explanations with some truth in them are that (1) most communist parties had long been supported by money from the Soviet Union, and that simply completely stopped with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and (2) in
some sense, that collapse was very widely seen, and not just by communists,
socialists and leftists, as a collapse of socialist ideals.

Both points are true, but I do not know how important they were, and also the
second point should not have been accepted by socialists and most leftists, simply because it was clear to them (as indeed it had been clear to me, since I visited the German Democratic Republic in 1964 (!)) that the Soviet Union simply was not socialist. [1]

I am sorry that I can't be more definite. As to Frank's thesis that "
the Democratic abandonment of the working class really does begin in the Vietnam era": I doubt it, and one problem is - again - that Frank gives no evidence.

Next, there is this on Bill Clinton and his enormous successes as president:

THOMAS FRANK: (...) But yeah, Clinton had five major achievements as president. And when I say these are his major achievements, that’s according to his fans, according to his admirers. And all five of them were Republican or conservative initiatives. In addition to NAFTA, you had the crime bill in ’94; you had welfare reform; you had deregulation, you know, across the board, of banks, also of telecoms; and you had the balanced budget. These are the five sort of great things that when people say, you know, Bill Clinton is this wonderful president, those are the things that they look back on. Every single one of them ended in disaster. And every single one of them—well, arguably, with the exception of the balanced budget, but every single one of them was a Republican, a conservative initiative. And he got them done.
This is simply true, indeed "with the exception of the balanced budget":

Bill Clinton realized neoconservative neoliberal points - welfare reform, deregulation, NAFTA, crime bill - but was very much praised for this by
the Democrats (although he laid the foundations for the crisis of 2008).

Finally, here is Frank's explanation for the Democrats great solidarity with Wall Street and is very rich bankers, who in turn strongly supported both Clintons:
THOMAS FRANK: (...) And the answer that I finally came up with is that it’s not just all the—you know, all the campaign donations; it’s a sort of class solidarity between the kind of people that fill Democratic administrations these days, you know, the cream of the professional-managerial class, the people at the very apex of our country’s meritocracy system, our status system, and the people on Wall Street. I mean, it’s not a coincidence that there’s this—in the early years of the administration, anyway, there’s this incredible, you know, revolving door action between the administration and Wall Street.
Yes, I think this is probably true: The leaders of the Democratic Party are all
rich men and women, who are "
the cream of the professional-managerial class, the people at the very apex of our country’s meritocracy system, our status system", indeed very much like the leaders of the big banks: They all belong
to the 1%

There is considerably more in the interview, which is recommended reading.

2. Senate Narrowly Rejects Controversial FBI Surveillance Expansion—For Now

The second item is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

A controversial amendment that would expand the FBI’s surveillance power was narrowly defeated in the Senate Wednesday.

The final tally was 58 to 38, two votes shy of the 60 needed for the amendment to move forward. The issue will likely surface again soon, however, as Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., immediately filed for a motion to reconsider the amendment.

The amendment — lumped on last-minute to a criminal justice funding bill — would have expanded the scope of information the FBI can collect by sending technology and Internet companies what’s known as a national security letter—without getting any kind of court approval first.

The FBI would be able to access information about suspects’ online behavior including what websites someone visits and for how long, IP address, social media activity, email headers, and more.

Companies can’t talk about the requests because they come with a gag order. Only a handful of national security letters have been made public in the decades since the FBI started issuing them

I note two things about this (and I agree with Jenna McLaughlin that it very probably is a matter of time until the FBI's wishes are granted):

(1) The expansion of the
FBI’s and the NSA's surveillance power is THE main end of the "war on terror", simply because an organization that knows everything about anyone will have the absolute power over everyone [2], and (2) the usage of national security letters is a clear sign that the FBI and the NSA (etc.) are transforming the USA into a police state, indeed precisely because "they come with a gag order".

Here is Comey (who wants to have everything anyone did with a computer in his personal secret files, to be made use of whenever this is convenient in the
next forty years or so):

Burr repeated FBI Director James Comey’s assertion that the expansion being discussed is really just fixing a “typo” in the law—because the FBI used to regularly seek those records before one company, whose identify remains unknown, “bucked the system” as Burr put it, and refused to hand them over because the language of the law was confusing.

In fact, the FBI has been trying to expand the power of its national security letters since 2008, when the George W. Bush Department of Justice interpreted those powers more narrowly than the FBI liked.

Yes, indeed. And they are successful, and have been successful for over 15 years now. And a tiny fraction of more successes will transform the USA into a full fledged police state, running on national security letters that forbid anyone to say anything.

3. New Cold War Feeds War Machine

The third item is by Chuck Spinney on Consortiumnews:

This starts with the following introduction:
The apparent madness in the Obama administration starting a new Cold War with Russia and China makes sense if viewed from the perspective of the Military-Industrial Complex, which must justify ever-larger budgets, as Chuck Spinney explains.
First as to the Military-Industrial Complex (<- Wikipedia): As the link explains, the term and the idea are due to Eisenhower, who made the points about the Military-Industrial Complex in 1961. (This is well worth reading if you never did!)

And second, the point of Chuck Spinney is quite correct, and indeed part of a much wider point, which is this - and I formulate it in three steps, the first "classical": (i) "Follow The Money!", especially (ii) in every governmental institution, for these all aim at getting as much money for them as is possible, with as little control as is possible, for (iii) their real aims are basically to get as much money and power for their leaders, while keeping their bureaucrats free from criticism (and the nominal policies they implement
are generally of secondary importance for these institutions).

Here is Chuck Spinney on the MICC, which has an extra term when compared to the
Military-Industrial Complex (incidentally, I am not a proponent of most
abbreviations, but this is a side remark):
The simple-minded idea that foreign policy (i.e., grand strategy) drives strategy and shapes force structures and budgets simply does not work in the real world. And the reason is fundamental: the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC) is not a top-down mechanistic phenomenon that responds predictably to this kind of naive control theory.

The MICC is more accurately thought of as a synthetic (bottom-up) living culture that creates its own political- economic ecology. Part of that ecology is the MICC’s corrupting effects on domestic politics. President Eisenhower’s prophetic warning about the rise of misplaced power hinted at but did not delve into the reasons for the living nature of this political- economic ecology.

It is now 54 years later, and the MICC has evolved into a deeply entrenched, bewildering variety of ever changing  goal-seeking factions, each fighting for money and power in a game of very messy domestic politics. These factions are loosely self-organized (via revolving doors, for example) into iron triangles that grow and decay over time.

Yes, I think that is very probably correct: It is not foreign policy that drives strategy; it is the needs for power and money for the generals that lead diverse parts of the Pentagon that creates most of the policies of the Pentagon - and see the above point on the central role of money.

As to the iron triangels in the last paragraph: That does refer to this picture, that I have used before, and that does expain part of the mechanism:

And here is Spinney on the real basic policy of the Pentagon:

 Put another way, the MICC is fundamentally a bottom-up living, evolving political-economic organism, and it produces its own peculiar ecology.

It is made up of self-organizing factions in which the pursuit of each faction’s individual goals create combined effects that can be thought of as the MICC’s emergent properties. There is simply no way the sterile top-down logic described above can cope with the MICC’s ever-evolving power games and unpredictable work-arounds.

Or as Colonel John R. Boyd, a fighter pilot, aircraft designer and strategist, has observed: “People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy. They are wrong; the Pentagon does have a strategy. It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”

It is simply to get as much of the tax money as they possibly can.

4. As Quietly as Possible, the Government is Renewing Its Assault on Your Privacy

The fourth item is by Trevor Timm on Common Dreams:
This starts with the following introduction:
Having failed to secure an anti-encryption bill, the FBI and justice department are now engaged in a multi-pronged attack on all sorts of other privacy rights
First here is a repeat of a point made in item 2:

(1) The expansion of the FBI’s and the NSA's surveillance power is THE main end of the "war on terror", simply because an organization that knows everything about anyone will have the absolute power over everyone [2].

Indeed, it seems to be one of THE main ends of all American governments since 2001 to get to know 
everything about anyone - and the reason is (again) that this will give them the absolute power over everyone.

So no, I am not at all amazed that the FBI wants to spy on everything done by anyone on any computer: They want to get the absolute power.

Here is one part of their project (which has nothing to do with "terrorism", but everything with total control):

Worse, the FBI wants its hundreds of millions of facial recognition photos – along with its entire biometric database that includes fingerprints and DNA profiles – to be exempt from important Privacy Act protections. As the Intercept reported two weeks ago: “Specifically, the FBI’s proposal would exempt the database from the provisions in the Privacy Act that require federal agencies to share with individuals the information they collect about them and that give people the legal right to determine the accuracy and fairness of how their personal information is collected and used.”
And please note that the FBI wants to control everybody in secret (in fact, just like any real propagandist: See yesterday).

Then there is this, with precisely the same theme of secret control of absolutely everyone, with the help of the neofascist national security letters that forces everyone who receives them not to publish or say anything:
In Congress, Senate Republicans are pushing for a vote this week on controversial new warrantless surveillance measures that would let the FBI use unconstitutional National Security Letters to get email records and internet browsing history from countless US citizens – without going to a judge or court at all.
As shown by item 2, that has, probably only for a brief moment, failed.

Here is the third example of the FBI that tries to get full absolute control about anybody's computer that may be anywhere, without any responsibility to anyone:
The justice department, meanwhile, is busy attempting to implement a new rule for the court system that would make it much easier for the FBI to hack into computers worldwide – including those of hacking victims. Using the obscure process for amending the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the department has convinced the courts that they should be able to get one warrant to potentially hack thousands of computers, and shouldn’t have to comply with the normal rules involving getting the court order in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred.
And here is the last example: The American justice department is argueing and succeeded to convince the courts that the government is beyond control of anybody other than the government:

Also in the courts, the justice department has continued to argue that the US government doesn’t need a warrant to gather the cell phone location information of Americans – even though that type of information can give authorities your precise whereabouts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The justice department convinced the fourth circuit court of appeals last month to overturn its previous ruling that police need a probable cause warrant to get such information.
The USA is growing more and more neofascistic by the day, or so it seems to me. And few seem to care, although that is in part because most of this happens in courts and much of it happens in full or partial secrecy. [3]


[1] At that time, I had just turned 14 and was still a child, although I had by then read considerably in Marxist and communist literature, simply because my parents were communists and had a lot of it (included quite a few books by
Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin), from which I had picked up rather a lot of what socialism was supposed to be.

Therefore, when I arrived in the GDR I was prepared to like it - but imme- diately from the beginning disliked it a lot, simply because it was evidently quite militaristic and very totalitarian, and both of these contradicted what I had learned about socialism.

I did protest, and got into serious difficulties, but my point is that if I could see this at age 14, in spite of the fact that I had a communist education and was well-disposed towards the GDR before having been there, every non- prejudiced adult who travelled to the Soviet system must have reacted similarly.

In fact, it seemed extremely few communists did, until the early 1980ies.

[2] I have been saying this since 2005 (<- Dutch link) and everything I have since learned (which was quite a lot) only confirmed this.

[3] It does seem to me as if the USA is growing more and more neofascistic by the day, but you will have to wait until I have published my essay on fascism and neofascism to get my full meaning. (I am sorry. It will be soon on line.)

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