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Nederlog

February 13, 2015
Crisis: Press Freedom, Encryption, Obama's Economics, Banks, Ukraine, Big Bang
  "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. U.S. Drops to 49th in World Press Freedom Rankings,
    Worst Since Obama Became President

2. An open letter to the British Prime Minister: 20th-century
     solutions won’t help 21st-century surveillance

3.
Obama Is Leading the Way Toward Economic
    Catastrophe

4.
Why Public Banks Outperform Private Banks
5.
'Glimmer of Hope' as Minsk Talks Result in New Ukraine
     Cease Fire

6. No Big Bang? Quantum equation predicts universe has no
     beginning
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday, February 13, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about Obama's ranking as A Fighter For Press Freedom: that is virtually non-existent, in spite of his promises ("Transparency!", "Change!"); item 2 is about an open letter to Cameron that is interesting but - in my eyes - rather naive; item 3 is about the American economy and - rightly, I think - a whole lot less optimistic than Obama; item 4 is about a fine piece on public banking and the great dangers of the TPP and TPIP; item 5 is about a very recently agreed cease fire in the Ukraine; and item 6 is not a crisis item but is about the possible exit of the Big Bang hypothesis.

Also, I have uploaded new versions of the Nederlogs of Feb 6 - Feb 12 from which I cut some - quite innocent - hidden data (about pastings) that should have been excised simply because they take space and add precisely nothing.

1. U.S. Drops to 49th in World Press Freedom Rankings, Worst Since Obama Became President  

The first item today is an article by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Each year, Reporters Without Borders issues a worldwide ranking of nations based on the extent to which they protect or abridge press freedom. The group’s 2015 ranking was released this morning, and the United States is ranked 49th.

That is the lowest ranking ever during the Obama presidency, and the second-lowest ranking for the U.S. since the rankings began in 2002 (in 2006, under Bush, the U.S. was ranked 53rd).
And it ends thus, in the words of "James Goodale, the General Counsel of the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers battle":
“President Obama wants to criminalize the reporting of national security information” and “President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.”
There is more under the last dotted link - and this is about the president who promised "transparency" and "change!".

2. An open letter to the British Prime Minister: 20th-century solutions won’t help 21st-century surveillance

The next item is an article by Jonathan Zittrain (a professor of law and of computer science at Harvard University) on The Conversation:
This  starts as follows:

Dear Prime Minister Cameron,

You recently proposed that all internet apps – and their users' communications – be compelled to make themselves accessible to state authorities. I want to explain why this is a very bad idea even though it might seem like a no-brainer.

You said:

“I have a very simple principle which will be the heart of the new legislation that will be necessary. In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally, that we cannot read? Up until now, governments have said: ‘No, we must not’. That is why in extremis it has been possible to read someone’s letter, to listen to someone’s telephone, to mobile communications. … But the question is: are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read. My answer to that question is: ‘No we must not’."

President Obama appears to agree with you.

Yes, but the reason both agree is not the one you offer in your next paragraph:
Heads of government bear the burden of keeping their citizens safe. That’s a crushing responsibility. Police solve violent crimes – and intelligence agencies predict and avert them – in significant part by intercepting the conversations of people conspiring to get away with them.
I know they offer this reason, but lying is extremely easy, and there simply is no way in which "heads of government" or "states" composed of hundreds or tens of millions of persons can be made "safe" by their governors: There simply are not enough military and police to do it, and they could not do it if they wanted it.

They don't want it either: The security they are really concerned with is not that of the average citizen - securing 330 million Americans?! - but their own secuity, and the security of government officials. And that indeed is feasible.

And it is especially feasible if they can find the means to shut up anyone and everyone who disagrees with them, while they think they have found the means to do so because the internet is mostly unencrypted, and they have sufficient money from the taxes to secretly spy on everyone, totally regardless of decency, morality, founded suspicion or the law, and to find out all their secrets, all their behavior, all their payments, all their conversations, all their mails, and all their private (sexual) pictures (in so far as these are on any computer connected to internet).

These findings they then store, again in deep secret, and protected by pronouncements of secret courts, that also have "the right" to forbid that their
decisions are published or even discussed, so that any future government of any color and political taste (such as, say, president Ted Cruz) may use these findings, in secret, again protected by secret decisions of secret courts, to do as they please with anyone who has or had opinions that some future government does not like.

I wrote this out because this is what I fear: The lure of complete and total absolute power of the government and its secret spies over absolutely everyone in their own terrritory, simply because they know everything about everyone (that can be found out by secret spying on his or her computers and cell phones).

For as Lord Acton said: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." And the bad men who rule us, whose main talents are that they are good and plausible liars, are out to get the fullest, the greatest, the most secret and totally anti-democratic control over everyone who lives in their countries.

That is also why they will never give up the fight for controlling every aspect of everyone's information: There never was greater power than the power they seek for their own kind.

3. Obama Is Leading the Way Toward Economic Catastrophe

The next item is an article by William Greider on The Nation:
This starts as follows:

Disregard the happy talk from the Obama White House. The stagnant global economy remains at the precipice of something worse unfolding—full-blown deflation. And the so-called recovery in the US economy remains shaky, despite good employment numbers. Here and abroad, the governing authorities seem to have forgotten the most basic nature of our situation. We live now in a globalized economy where one nation’s cold can lead to another country’s heart attack. Their ignorance is shocking, but also dangerous.

In fact, the US and other leading economies are beginning to mimic some of the same grave errors governments committed in the distant past, circa 1929, when spreading collapses of banks and financial markets morphed into the Great Depression.
Yes - and the "good employment numbers" seem to be mostly of temporary ill paying jobs. But this is an interesting article, that also includes the following:
The fundamental problem blocking recovery is the shortage of consumer demand (too many factories, too few customers) and over-bearing abundance of debt. A real program for recovery would have nations joining to confront those two in a big way.

First, bang on the creditors and governments to make them write off lots of debt, especially for folks who need it to survive. The United States did a little of this but not enough. Obama was more generous with guilty bankers than he was with the borrowers they swindled.

Second, create jobs—real jobs with real incomes for real people (not abstract estimates by economists). Governments and stores of private wealth must be coaxed or compelled to finance big-scale projects of many kinds, the projects that create real jobs, real incomes. The Federal Reserve should get credit for staving off collapse but its monetary stimulus did not succeed in generating a genuine recovery. Europe, now in more desperate straits, is attempting to mimic the Fed, but I expect it will not do any better.
I agree, but the proposed measures don't happen and very probably will not happen simply because they are not in the interest of the rich, and the rich now control the government.

There is a considerable amount more under the last dotted link.

4. Why Public Banks Outperform Private Banks

The next item is an article by Ellen Brown (<- Wikipedia) on Truthdig (and originally on the Web of Debt):

This is here mostly because I like Ellen Brown and like the case she makes for public banks. The present article starts as follows:

In November 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation’s only state-owned bank, “is more profitable than Goldman Sachs Group Inc., has a better credit rating than J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and hasn’t seen profit growth drop since 2003.” The article credited the shale oil boom; but as discussed earlier here, North Dakota was already reporting record profits in the spring of 2009, when every other state was in the red and the oil boom had not yet hit. The later increase in state deposits cannot explain the bank’s stellar record either.

Then what does explain it? The BND turns a tidy profit year after year because it has substantially lower costs and risks then private commercial banks. It has no exorbitantly-paid executives; pays no bonuses, fees, or commissions; has no private shareholders; and has low borrowing costs. It does not need to advertise for depositors (it has a captive deposit base in the state itself) or for borrowers (it is a wholesome wholesale bank that partners with local banks that have located borrowers). The BND also has no losses from derivative trades gone wrong. It engages in old-fashioned conservative banking and does not speculate in derivatives.

And it contains this (on page 2):

In the US, the current threat is from the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and its European counterpart the TTIP. President Obama, the Chamber of Commerce, and other corporate groups are pushing hard for fast track authority  to pass these secret trade agreements while effectively bypassing oversight from Congress.

The agreements are being sold as promoting trade and increasing jobs, but the effect of international trade agreements on jobs was evident with NAFTA, which hurt US employment more through the competition of cheap imports than helped it with increased exports. Moreover, only five of the TPP’s twenty-nine chapters are about trade. The remaining chapters are basically about getting government off the backs of the big international corporations and protecting their profits from competition. Corporations would be authorized to sue governments that passed laws protecting their people from corporate damage, on the ground that the laws impair corporate profits. The trade agreements put corporations before governments and the people they represent.

Particularly targeted are government-owned industries, which can undercut big corporate prices; and that includes publicly-owned banks. Public banks are true non-profits that recycle earnings back into the community rather than siphoning them into offshore tax havens.

Yes, indeed. There is considerably more under the last dotted link, and it is
all very well worth reading.

5. 'Glimmer of Hope' as Minsk Talks Result in New Ukraine Cease Fire

The next item is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Following marathon overnight talks in Minsk, Belarus that began Wednesday, world leaders emerged near dawn to announce that a cease-fire agreement has been reached to at least temporarily stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine with stated hopes that a long-term political solution will follow.

Spurred by a renewed effort by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, the talks brought Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to the table with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate on behalf of rebel forces in the east who have refused to submit to the authority of the Kiev government following a coup last year.

It was Putin who first declared that more than 16 hours of negotiations had yielded substantial progressive and the agreement of a cease-fire that would begin on Saturday. "We have agreed on a ceasefire from midnight 15 February," Putin told reporters early Thursday.

I say - and this is here mostly because I trust Jon Queally and Common Dreams, and not because I have any deep understanding of the real events in the Ukraine, for I don't: I do not know Russian nor Ukrainian, while most of what I read and saw in the press was obvious propaganda.

But this seems a major result, that also was negotiated without the U.S., and the article itself ends with these words of Angus Roxburgh:
[Merkel] understands, better it seems than any other western leader, that this is a make-or-break moment. If cool thinking does not prevail, on all sides, the consequences for Europe could be cataclysmic.
6. No Big Bang? Quantum equation predicts universe has no beginning

The next and last item today is an article by Lisa Ziga on phys.org. This is not a crisis item, and is here mostly because I am interested in fundamental physics:

This is quoted from the beginning of the article:

"The Big Bang singularity is the most serious problem of general relativity because the laws of physics appear to break down there," Ahmed Farag Ali at Benha University and the Zewail City of Science and Technology, both in Egypt, told Phys.org.

Ali and coauthor Saurya Das at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, have shown in a paper published in Physics Letters B that the Big Bang singularity can be resolved by their in which the universe has no beginning and no end.

I say. There is considerably more in the article. My reason to list it here is that while my knowledge of physics is not very deep and also does not extend to the latest physics (but I read and understood most of Feynman's three volumes of his "Lectures on Physics", for example) it is good enough to know that most of what I've read about the Big Bang in the press was more like religion than like physics. [1]

And while I have no reliable ideas at all whether the above theory will stand up I like it if the universe was there and will be there forever (yes, that is a prejudice of mine) and I also like it to see the Big Bang go, if indeed it does, precisely because singularities are deeply problematic (and that is not so much a prejudice as a mathematical fact).

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Note

[1] I knew enough physics to write about quantum logic and to be invited to lecture on that topic in the university while I just had a B.A., but this was in 1982, and since 2000 I have given up on trying to follow physics. (I do know that I disbelieve in string theory and in many universes, but this is mostly founded  on prejudice + a good knowledge of methodology, and not on any deep understanding.)

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