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Nederlog

February 3, 2015
Crisis: Surveillance, Croatia, Reich, Corporations Served By Obama, Syriza
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton
















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Sections
Introduction

1. No, ministers – more surveillance will not make us safer
2. Thousands of Croatia’s Poorest Citizens Just Had Their
     Debts Wiped Out

3.
The Share-the-Scraps Economy
4.
The Next Corporate Sting: Rigging the Rules in Obama's
     New Budget

5. 
Syriza Official Vows to Kill EU-US Trade Deal as 'Gift to
     All European People'
 


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, February 3, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about a Guardian article (with special treatment because this is good for cellphones) about surveillance in England; item 2 is on a Croatian plan that looks much
like my own, of 2008 (but it will not work for non-Croatians); item 3 is Robert Reich on the changes Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama introduced, that will give all power to the rich and unprecedented poverty and misery to the rest; item 4 contains two dotted articles that explain Obama's new tax plans: Below the lies there are enormous savings in taxes for the rich corporations; and item 5 is about a supposed vow "from Syriza" to save Europe from the TTIP (which I cannot believe, alas).

1. No, ministers – more surveillance will not make us safer  

The first item today is an article by Cory Doctorow on the - mostly thoroughly destroyed - Guardian site, that now has this article headed by some 2/3rds of the total volume with JavaScripts (thank you, Wolfgang Blau, o thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you - but happily I've turned Javascript off!):
Also, this is written again in the horrible Times font, which MUST be selected, according to the wishes of Wolfgang Blau, it seems because it makes it much easier for cellphones - so OK: What follows is the text as prescribed by Herr  Wolfgang Blau, for I do not want to deny you the incredible joys of Times, and it is PRESCRIBED on the present Guardian:

It’s almost Groundhog Day. You can tell, because the same bad internet ideas keep resurfacing, as though everything we fought for has been wiped off the slate overnight and we’ve woken up back at square one. Like the Snooper’s Charter – which four Lords tried to ram into an undebated amendment to the security bill last week, despite the fact that it was effectively identical to several different earlier incarnations, each of which was dismissed as a dumb, ineffective, overreaching load of Orwellian nightmare-fuel.

The fact that some deranged killers murdered some free speech advocates doesn’t make mass surveillance (as opposed to, you know, keeping track of jihadis who are known to be planning acts of terror, which the French spooks failed to do, possibly because they were too busy rolling around in their own mass-surveillance haystacks) any less stupid and unworkable.

At last week’s LSE debate After Snowden one of the panelists pointed out that the plan to carry out mass surveillance has been proposed – and debated at the LSE – for decades, and always found to be unsupported in evidence. It’s expensive and it distracts cops from looking at people who have done things that are genuinely suspicious (such as the Tsarnaev brothers, whom the US spy agencies stopped paying attention to because they were too preoccupied with their Big Data terrorism-detection machine to actually follow people who had announced their intention to commit terrorist acts).
(...)
Why does this keep coming up, despite the evidence that it doesn’t work?
Isn't that beautiful? I mean the text's appearance? You get it because Wolfgang Blau has prescribed it, and I can't avoid it with my browser, and I also would not want to deny you the incredible beauties of Times. [1]

As to what the text says:

It does
"keep coming up, despite the evidence that it doesn’t work"
because our political masters want all the power they can get, and that means surveilling all on the total bullshit pretext that this makes them safe from "terrorism" [2], so as to give the government the opportunities to arrest anyone with - according to them - unpleasant opinions of any kind, put him or her into incommunicado for three months or so, perhaps have him or her enjoy some EIT (as it is now called), and have him or her sentenced by some secret court to 30 years imprisonment or so for spouting things the government doesn't want the people to hear.

Am I exaggerating?

Not much, if at all: This happened to Manning; it may happen to Assange; it almost happened to Risen. And all they did was to inform the people about some criminal things some governments did in secret.

There is more in the article, if you want to read it.

2. Thousands of Croatia’s Poorest Citizens Just Had Their Debts Wiped Out

The next item is an article by Natasha Hakimi Zapata on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
A program called “fresh start” began Monday in Croatia and it’s as incredible as it sounds. Called “unprecedented” and “exceptional” by economists, the plan just goes to show that some countries still know how to invest in their citizens rather than leave them to continue to spiral in an endless cycle of debt and poverty.

The Washington Post:

Starting Monday, thousands of Croatia’s poorest citizens will benefit from an unusual gift: They will have their debts wiped out. Named “fresh start,” the government scheme aims to help some of the 317,000 Croatians whose bank accounts have been blocked due to their debts.

Given that Croatia is a relatively small Mediterranean country of only 4.4 million inhabitants, the number of indebted citizens is significant and has become a major economic burden for the country. After six years of recession, growth predictions for Croatia’s economy remain low for this year.

“We assess that this measure will be applicable to some 60,000 citizens,” Deputy Prime Minister Milanka Opacic was quoted as saying by Reuters. “Thus they will be given a chance for a new start without a burden of debt,” Opacic said earlier this month.
(...)
The government will not refund the companies for their losses.
In fact, this is according to the plan I had in 2008-2009, when the crisis started:

It seemed both cheaper and more fair to me, and besides very rational, to get
rid of all the debts by declaring all of them zero, and start anew while nothing in productive capacities or jobs had (yet) been lost - and also start anew on the basis of new principles, and with properly tamed banks...

Meanwhile, we are 6 years of austerities - for nearly everyone who is not very rich - further, and nearly everyone is poorer (except the rich, who are a whole lot richer), and now we have this - for "
some 60,000 citizens" of Croatia.

Well... it is a very small step, on a European scale, at least, but I do still consider the plan fair and rational. (But no, I do not really see this approach grow much larger, at least not without another major crisis, I have to admit.)

3. The Share-the-Scraps Economy

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows (and if you want to see Robert Reich on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that disappeared from his website, try Robert Reich video Jan 30 : it is quite good and instructive and takes only 2 m 27 s):

How would you like to live in an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots’ owners?

Meanwhile, human beings do the work that’s unpredictable – odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours – and patch together barely enough to live on.

Brace yourself. This is the economy we’re now barreling toward.

They’re Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, and Airbnb hosts. They include Taskrabbit jobbers, Upcounsel’s on-demand attorneys, and Healthtap’s on-line doctors.

They’re Mechanical Turks.

The euphemism is the “share” economy. A more accurate term would be the “share-the-scraps” economy.

Yes, indeed. Also, you - and not only U.S. citizens - owe this to Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama, although Reich does not say so: They are the political deregulators who removed nearly all the stops on the egoistic greed of the bank managers and the other rich managers, e.g. of Big Pharma.

But here is Reich's judgment on the new schemes that offered "freedom, Freedom, FREEDOM!" - for nearly everyone to be fully exploited by the few rich:

The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.

In effect, on-demand work is a reversion to the piece work of the nineteenth century – when workers had no power and no legal rights, took all the risks, and worked all hours for almost nothing.

Yes, indeed. And I agree that this seems to be the future for nearly everyone in the West, of course always excepting the very rich, who engineered it all,  that is: together with "democratic politicians" from nearly every party and from nearly every side.

4.
The Next Corporate Sting: Rigging the Rules in Obama's New Budget

The next item is an article by Robert Borosage on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

President Obama rolls out his budget today, triggering the next salvos in the debate about America’s future. The president’s budget calls for ending the destructive caps on federal spending known as the “sequester.” It would make vital investments in infrastructure, education, and R&D, and begin paying for making two years of community college free for all, a first step to a K-16 public education plan. It would raise taxes on the wealthy to help pay for tax breaks for working parents. Democrats are rallying to support it.

Republican leaders have already pronounced it “dead on arrival.” Led by Rep. Paul Ryan, they will demonstrate their continued preference to starve public programs and savage the most vulnerable rather than ask the rich and corporations to pay a little more in taxes. Attentive citizens will know exactly who is on what side.

Well... I am so "attentive" a citizen that I know that the plan Obama rolled out is total bullshit, and is meant to be total bullshit, and indeed does not have any realistic chance whatsoever, but then that is the Obama technique: flatter the people by spoken lies, while ramming the secret TTP and the secret TTIP down their throats, so that the rich get even richer, and the poor have to pay nearly all, while earning very little.

But there is more on Common Dreams, for there also is an article by Nadia Prupis (written a bit later, and using the previous article):
This starts as follows:

President Barack Obama on Monday announced a new proposal as part of his 2016 budget to tax the trillions in offshore profits made by U.S.-based multinational corporations, but critics say the plan leaves in place a system that "encourages companies to game the system to avoid U.S. taxes."

The proposal would impose a 19 percent tax on the future overseas earnings of U.S.-based companies, as well as a one-time 14 percent tax on the trillions in offshore profits that those companies hold right now.  The Obama administration said revenues from the one-time tax will go toward fixing the country's crumbling infrastructure and filling in a projected gap in the Highway Trust Fund—which has suffered chronic shortfalls as revenues from fuel taxes remain unchanged since 1993 while construction costs continue to rise.

More precisely, this continues thus:

"President Barack Obama's decision to challenge international tax avoidance is laudable, but his execution leaves a lot to be desired," said Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice. "If companies were required to pay the same tax rate on their foreign profits as their domestic income, then they should owe 35 percent on their accumulated foreign profits, rather than the 14 percent that President Obama is proposing under his new transition tax."

"Such a low tax rate would disproportionately benefit the worst corporate tax dodgers and leave billions in tax revenue on the table that could be used to make critical public investments," McIntyre said.

And here is the real plan of Obama:

MSNBC explains:

Currently, U.S. corporations only have to pay taxes on earnings when they bring the money back home, at which point they’re taxed at the full 35% corporate rate. That has led many corporations to stockpile cash overseas to avoid being taxed, sometimes delaying repatriation indefinitely.

Under Obama’s plan, future corporate earnings overseas would face a minimum tax of 19%, which corporations could then bring back to the U.S. without being taxed further.

In addition, the New York Times reports, "The president will reiterate his call for a business income tax overhaul that lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, and 25 percent for manufacturers."

That is, Obama wants to lower the corporate tax rate all over, because that makes the rich much richer. Here is some background:
"The last time [corporations] pulled this scam," Borosage wrote on Monday, "they got a huge tax break and the money was largely used for mergers and stock buybacks, hiking the bonuses of the executive suite and doing virtually nothing for jobs. Worse, more corporations decided they could benefit from the scam, and started reporting more of their profits abroad. Only small business and patriotic corporations face the nominal corporate tax rate of 35 percent."
Yes, indeed. There is also this:
(...) Borosage argues Obama is making the same political mistakes that punctuated budget negotiations with Republicans during his first term. "In rolling out his budget, the president said he learned that it was better to tell Americans what he thought should be done, than to compromise pre-emptively. So why not simply end deferral and tax multinational profits at the same rate as those of domestic businesses? Why give companies an incentive to move production or report profits abroad?"
That seems too sympathetic to Obama: He did not make "political mistakes" the first time either: He wanted what he got. He also does not make any political mistakes now: he wants what he proposes, for the very rich. (Besides, he seems to have changed his story on "compromises", which he has told for years: "You cannot make political deals without compromising.")

Anyway... the Borosage article (and I like both) ends as follows, with a story about Churchill:

There is a hoary, apocryphal, sexist story about Churchill that summarizes our situation. Churchill was said to be seated next to a fancy socialite at a grand dinner. Tired of her airs, Churchill supposedly asked:

“Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?”

“My goodness, Mr. Churchill,” she responded, “Well, I suppose…we would have to discuss terms, of course.”

Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”

Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you take me for?”

Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”

This is how the rules get rigged. We desperately need to rebuild America. The anti-tax lobby stops sensible tax hikes. The corporate lobby grabs the opportunity. Bipartisan support builds for another sting. And we wonder how the 1 percent has managed to capture virtually all of the country’s income growth, while the middle class continues to sink.

Yes: Obama is in favor of the rich, in the measures he signs and supports,
while pretending to speak on the side of the poor.

But do read the two above linked articles: They are quite good.

5. Syriza Official Vows to Kill EU-US Trade Deal as 'Gift to All European People'

The next and last item for today is an article by Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

An official with Greece's newly elected Syriza party may have sounded the death knell for a proposed EU-U.S. trade deal that has faced a mountain of opposition from civil society.

The deal is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), now facing its eighth round of talks between negotiators this week in Brussels.

The TTIP, which would be the biggest trade deal ever, has been criticized as a corporate-friendly deal that threatens food and environmental safety under the guise of "harmonization" of regulations.

Georgios Katrougkalos, now deputy minister for administrative reform, confirmed what he had told EurActiv Greece ahead of his Syriza party's victory last week: that his parliament would not ratify the trade deal.

"I can ensure you that a Parliament where Syriza holds the majority will never ratify the deal. And this will be a big gift not only to the Greek people but to all the European people," EurActiv reported Monday.

Because Syriza's coalition partner also appears to share the anti-TTIP views, EurActiv reports, this means the Greeks could issue a veto, thereby threatening to block the deal.

I say. Do I believe it? No, and for several reasons.

First, the speaker is "a deputy minister for administrative reform". I don't mean to downsize him, but he does not appear to be a major spokesman, and also he merely affirmed he said the same thing before becoming
"a deputy minister for administrative reform".

Second, and much more importantly: I am quite certain that Draghi, Dijsselbloem and/or Merkel know some way to circumvent the possibility of a veto by Greece. (They may kick the Greeks out, or they may change the rules that allows one nation to veto all, for example.)

So while the article is quite good, I cannot believe that the Syriza Party will succeed in killing the TTIP.
---------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes

[1] I am sorry, but I have not seen anything from any editor or any journalist who writes for The Guardian or indeed any reader ("Comments are for the moment disabled") about the massive changes implemented by Herr Blau:

ALL I have seen so far was the statement by a man called Wolfgang Blau, whom I have never heard of, that the website of The Guardian got "changed", read: nearly totally destroyed.

Since then I have to look at a site that was possibly stylish around 1992, all - it seems - because The Guardian now is fit for cellphones, and I have to read all the headlines to find any one headline, because photographs also are not easily displayed on cellphones, and I have to read everything in Times font if I read The Guardian to find anything, because cellphones have few fonts and tiny screens, and also don't display photographs well, and Herr Blau made Times font the only font The Guardian displays....

[2] Which is utter baloney: You simply cannot guard "the people" from terrorists. It is a total Big Lie (<-Wikipedia). The only ones for whom there are sufficient police and military to prevent attacks on are the politicians and the very rich who can pay for their own safety. 
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