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Nederlog

March 19, 2015
Crisis:  People's Budget, Surveillance Rejected, Corruption, Israel, TTIP explained
  "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. The People's Budget: Progressive Proposal Aims to
     Un-Rig Failed Economic System

2. The psychology of mass government surveillance: How   
     do the public respond and is it changing our behaviour?

3. Let’s not fool ourselves. We may not bribe, but corruption
     is rife in Britain

4.
Appeal to Israel's Right Pays Off as Netanyahu Survives
     to Win Re-Election

5. John Hilary: Proposed TTIP Agreement Is Profoundly
     Undemocratic


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, March 19, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about a plan proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus; item 2 is about an interesting Amnesty International survey, that found that the considerable majority of Europeans do not want mass surveillance (but it was published by The Guardian that insists on messing up its graphics and videos); item 3 is about an article of George Monbiot who has a good case Great Britain is far more corrupt than it was, simply by deregulating the corrupt practices that enrich the few; item 4 is about Netanyahu's winning the Israeli elections; and item 5 is a very good interview with John Hilary, who clearly and cogently explains why the TTIP and the TTP are secret anti-democratic plans that seek to enrich the big corporations by extra-legal means.

1.The People's Budget: Progressive Proposal Aims to Un-Rig Failed Economic System  

The first item is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This has the following subtitle (that makes a mistake that the title doesn't make):

The budget plan 'fixes an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead,' says Congressional Progressive Caucus

Surely a plan does not fix the economy?! The title correctly says: "aims". And there is no reason to assume the plan will be adopted by Congress, although that indeed is no reason not to propose it. Anyway - this starts as follows:

Offering a sustainable alternative to regressive federal budget proposals put forth this week by the Republican majorities on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Wednesday released The People's Budget: A Raise for America, which aims to "level the playing field" for low- and middle-income Americans.

Here is an outline (but again formulated with that mistake):

"The People's Budget fixes an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead," the document reads. "Despite their skills and work ethic, most American workers workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities. They earn less and less as corporations and the wealthy continue amassing record profits. It has become clear to American workers that the system is rigged."

The CPC budget (pdf), in turn, attempts to un-rig that system by:

  • creating new jobs
  • increasing the minimum wage
  • reversing harmful cuts to safety net programs (and then bolstering those same supports)
  • implementing new tax brackets for those who earn more than $1 million annually
  • providing debt-free college to every student
  • enacting a price on carbon pollution and investing in renewable energy
  • allowing states to transition to single-payer health care systems
  • funding public financing of campaigns to curb special interest influence in politics.

Broadly speaking, I agree - although (1) plans do not "fix an economy" and (2) the present plan does not have any chance of being adopted by the present Congress.

But yes: It is true that there are viable alternative plans to those desired by the GOP, and they deserve to be known, which is the reason it is listed here.

2. The psychology of mass government surveillance: How do the public respond and is it changing our behaviour?

The next item is an article by Chris Chambers on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:
Amnesty International has today reported the outcome of a Yougov survey in 15,000 people across 13 countries, studying for the first time international views of mass surveillance and whether the public believe it is changing their own behaviour.
This is at least an interesting survey. Here are some main results - and there is much more in the article (which also is cursed by one of Wolfgang Blau's horrible "innovations": all graphics are printed in a half see-through format that makes all graphics exceedingly vague: This Is The New Guardian (That Is Horrible To See) [1]).

The first result is that there is no majority support for surveillance anywhere - which is good to know:
Across all 13 countries, there was no majority support for surveillance – only 26% of people, overall, agreed that the government should monitor the communications and Internet activity of its own citizens, while a similar number (29%) felt their government should monitor overseas citizens. Only 17% of respondents believed their government should monitor everybody - citizens, foreign nationals, and foreign countries - while twice as many (34%) believed their government should never monitor any of these groups.
That is quite good, and indeed better than I expected (but please note that this is not behavior but opinion: Real behavior may differ rather a lot from publicly asked opinions).

There is also this, that seems a bit strange to me, although it does fit rather well with the thesis that most men are nationalists ("My Country Right Or Wrong!"):
In all surveyed countries, more people were in favour of their government monitoring foreign nationals (45%) than citizens (26%). In some countries the rate of agreement for monitoring foreign nationals was more than double that of citizens.
Next, there is this (but again I have a warning that this is not about real behavior but about opinions):
In almost all the surveyed countries, most people (60% on average) said that surveillance would not change their tendency to publicly criticise their government. And, interestingly, for those people who indicated that it would change their behaviour, surveillance was usually associated with more criticism rather than less.
There are considerably more results that you can get by clicking the last dotted link. And there is this general conclusion:
We now have data suggesting that surveillance is generally unpopular and that it could be changing some aspects of our behaviour. As the UK begins revising its surveillance laws, policy makers may do well to heed such evidence.

Well... Europe's nations are supposed to be democratic. I agree this is merely a survey, but yes: Given that surveillance is quite impopular, it should be stopped.
In a real democracy, that is (in which I never lived, to be sure).

3. Let’s not fool ourselves. We may not bribe, but corruption is rife in Britain 

The next item is an article by George Monbiot on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

It just doesn’t compute. Almost every day the news is filled with stories that look to me like corruption. Yet on Transparency International’s corruption index Britain is ranked 14th out of 177 nations, suggesting that it’s one of the best-run nations on Earth. Either all but 13 countries are spectacularly corrupt or there’s something wrong with the index.

Yes, it’s the index. The definitions of corruption on which it draws are narrow and selective. Common practices in the rich nations that could reasonably be labelled corrupt are excluded; common practices in the poor nations are emphasised.

This week a ground-changing book called How Corrupt is Britain?, edited by David Whyte, is published. It should be read by anyone who believes this country merits its position on the index.

In fact, this seems mostly like a review of the last mentioned book. Here are, to start with, some of the practices that seem corrupt to George Monbiot (and me) but that tend to be seen as ordinary business by ordinary business men:

Would there still be commercial banking sector in this country if it weren’t for corruption? Think of the list of scandals: pensions mis-selling, endowment mortgage fraud, the payment protection insurance scam, Libor rigging, insider trading and all the rest. Then ask yourself whether fleecing the public is an aberration – or the business model.

Clearly, fleecing the public is the business model since Obama and Holder have arranged it so that big banks and their managers can do what they please and will not be prosecuted. And in fact:

No senior figure has been held criminally liable or has even been disqualified for the practices that helped to trigger the financial crisis, partly because the laws that should have restrained them were slashed by successive governments. A former minister in this government ran HSBC while it engaged in systematic tax evasion, money laundering for drugs gangs and the provision of services to Saudi and Bangladeshi banks linked to the financing of terrorists. Instead of prosecuting the bank, the head of the UK’s tax office went to work for it when he retired.

There is a considerable amount more, which you can find by clicking on the last dotted link. It is a good list, but it also does presuppose one has been following the news fairly closely.

Here is George Monbiot's ending:

How Corrupt is Britain? argues that such narrow conceptions of corruption [that limit it to the giving of bribes - MM] are part of a long tradition of portraying the problem as something confined to weak nations, which must be rescued by “reforms” imposed by colonial powers and, more recently, bodies such as the World Bank and the IMF. These “reforms” mean austerity, privatisation, outsourcing and deregulation. They tend to suck money out of the hands of the poor and into the hands of national and global oligarchs.

For organisations such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, there is little difference between the public interest and the interests of global corporations. What might look like corruption from any other perspective looks to them like sound economics. The power of global finance and the immense wealth of the global elite are founded on corruption, and the beneficiaries have an interest in framing the question to excuse themselves.

Yes, many poor nations are plagued by the kind of corruption that involves paying bribes to officials. But the problems plaguing us run deeper. When the system already belongs to the elite, bribes are superfluous.

Yes, that seems mostly correct, though it should be added or stressed that present day enormous corruptions that enrich the few have been made possible by Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama's deregulation of the laws that forbade corruption.

4. Appeal to Israel's Right Pays Off as Netanyahu Survives to Win Re-Election 

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

This starts as follows:

With a desperate lurch to appease the far-right of the Israeli electorate in the final days before national elections in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was able to declare a re-election victory for his Likud Party early Wednesday morning despite a nail-biting campaign and a recent surge by the more moderate Zionist Union party led by Isaac Herzog.
(...)
"Against all odds: a great victory for Likud," Netanyahu declared to supporters in Tel Aviv, shortly after Herzog conceded.

One way of explaing this "Against all odds" result is to assume the elections may have been rigged. Then again, this possibility is nowhere mentioned, and it seems commentators are agreed the elections were honest. [2]

There is considerably more in the article, which I leave to your interests, but it also mentions another article that I have also read and found sensible. It is by Gideon Levy and was originally published in the Israeli paper Haaretz:

The title, to be sure, must be satirical. It starts as follows:

The first conclusion that arose just minutes after the announcement of the exit polls was particularly discouraging: The nation must be replaced. Not another election for the country's leadership, but general elections to choose a new Israeli people – immediately. The country urgently needs that. It won’t be able to stand another term for Benjamin Netanyahu, who emerged last night as the man who will form the next government.

If after six years of nothing, if after six years of sowing fear and anxiety, hatred and despair, this is the nation's choice, then it is very ill indeed. If after everything that has been revealed in recent months, if after everything that has been written and said, if after all this, the Israeli phoenix succeeded in rising from the ashes and getting reelected, if after all this the Israeli people chose him to lead for another four years, something is truly broken, possibly beyond repair.

Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people and they deserve him. The results are indicative of the direction the country is headed: A significant proportion of Israelis has finally grown detached from reality. This is the result of years' worth of brainwashing and incitement.

I agree the result was very disappointing. But then it also is a result that is the product of "six years of sowing fear and anxiety, hatred and despair." There is more in the article.

5. John Hilary: Proposed TTIP Agreement Is Profoundly Undemocratic

The last item today is an article by Michael Nevradakis on Truthout:
This starts as follows (with a small correction by me):
Executive director of London-based human rights and anti-poverty organization War on Want John Hilary discusses the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is currently being negotiated in secret between the European Union and the United States, and the potential adverse impacts of this agreement on the economy, employment, corporate regulation and the environment.
This is a very good interview that you should read all of. Here are two bits:

One of the characteristics of this agreement is the secrecy that is surrounding it. Apparently, members of the European Parliament who have followed the negotiations for TTIP have been essentially forced to sign confidentiality agreements. Is this correct?

That's absolutely correct, and the level of secrecy surrounding these negotiations means that ordinary people across Europe and most of the national members of parliament have no idea what's going on. The European Commission placed a 30-year ban on all public access to the key documents behind TTIP right at the beginning of the negotiations. Any members of the European Parliament who are given access to the special reading rooms where they can see some of the documents - they have to sign documents promising that they will not share any of what they've seen outside that room. Really, it's like a scene from the Stalinist Soviet past, where you have individual documents marked with secret markings, so that they can trace the source of any leaks when the documents do go out into the public domain. It's profoundly un-transparent and anti-democratic, and it's destroying any credibility within the European Commission itself.

In fact, since the interested parties are exclusively lawyers and lobbyist for the big corporations, and governments I'd say it is not so much Stalinist as fascist - where I can point to this definition of "fascism" in the American Heritage Dictionary:
fascism is: "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism." 
There is also this:

One of the main areas of contention surrounding TTIP are the so-called "investor-state dispute settlements," which would allow multinational corporations to sue sovereign governments over policies that they do not agree with, in special courts. Could you share with us some examples of what these settlement courts are like and what this would mean as far as oversight of these corporations?

You're right to say that this is one of the most controversial areas of TTIP, this idea that corporations could be elevated to the status of nation-states, and they would be given the right to sue sovereign governments in special courts. I think it's important to say that this is not using the normal, domestic judicial system; it's a parallel system of justice [that] is available only to those corporations. So for the first time, a US corporation could have access to these corporate courts to be able to sue our governments if they felt that their profits in the future were going to be undermined.

And there are already examples that this is happening (and I summarize here from the article):

Canada wanted to block the poisonous MMT but was backed down by Ethyl, a U.S. corporation; Slovakia wanted to reverse the impopular health privatization, but was backed down by a Dutch company of profiteers, that also was awarded 22 million dollars; Egypt wants to introduce a minimum wage, but is sued by a French company that wants to profit as much as it can; Philip Morris is sueing the Australian government for plain packaging requirements on all cigarettes; and a Swedish company is sueing the German government for trying to phase out nuclear power.

And that is before the TTIP has been accepted!! As John Hilary says:
This is a fundamental challenge to our national sovereign democracies. Do we not have the right, as democratic countries, to decide our future policies without having to pay off every corporation [that] wants to take action against us? I think people in Europe are absolutely outraged when they hear what this ISDS clause means, and that's why it's become so toxic in the TTIP negotiations.
But the "people in Europe" are not supposed to even read these proposals, nor are their parliamentarians supposed to read them without committing themselves that "they will not share any of what they've seen"!

Anyway - as I said: You should read all of this article if youn want to understand what the big corporations and their governmental politicians (often former big corporation rulers or lawyers) have secretly in store for every European.

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Notes

[1] Check it out for yourselves! The Guardian's videos and the Guardian's graphics are invisible for one third. This is The New Guardian, that is quite sick!

[2] I am also willing to accept this, but I do not know the evidence (and do not trust Nethanyahu, but that is not a reason to suppose elective corruption).

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