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Nederlog

March 23, 2015
Crisis: New Zealand, Journalism, "Citizens United", College, Authoritarianism
  "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. New Zealand Spied on WTO Director Candidates
2. Journalism as Subversion
3. If We Don’t Overturn Citizens United, Congress Will
     Become Paid Employees of the Billionaire Class

4.
Why College Isn’t (and Shouldn’t Have to be) for
     Everyone

5. The New Authoritarianism


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, March 23, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about New Zealand's spying on the WTO to advance its own candidate in secret; item 2 is about Chris Hedges on P. Sainath, who is an interesting Indian journalist; item 3 is about an attempt of Sen. Bernie Sanders to get rid of Citizens United; item 4 is about Robert Reich's explaining that "college is not for everyone"; and item 5 is about a theory about the new authoritarianism, that depends much more on propaganda and deception than on terror.

1. New Zealand Spied on WTO Director Candidates  

The first item is an article by Ryan Gallagher on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

New Zealand launched a covert surveillance operation targeting candidates vying to be director general of the World Trade Organization, a top-secret document reveals.

In the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment, the country’s electronic eavesdropping agency programmed an Internet spying system to intercept emails about a list of high-profile candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, and South Korea.

New Zealand’s trade minister Tim Groser was one of nine candidates in contention for the position at the WTO, a powerful international organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that negotiates trade agreements between nations. The surveillance operation, carried out by Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, appears to have been part of a secret effort to help Groser win the job.

Groser ultimately failed to get the position.

I say. In fact, the Brazilian candidate got the position, but meanwhile this is good evidence that the morally degenerate leaders of New Zealand abuse their own secret services to spy on the WTO so as to give their own candidate all possible secret advantages they can give him.

There is more in the article, that also includes this "boilerplate response" by a spokesperson for New Zealand's prime minister:

“New Zealand’s intelligence agencies have been, and continue to be, a significant contributor to our national security and the security of New Zealanders at home and abroad”

O Lord! I take it he must have been referring - among others - to the grossly corrupt Sir Malcolm Rifkind (<- Wikipedia), about whom the Wikipedia says (minus note numbers):

In February 2015 Rifkind claimed to have no salary and to be self-employed when discussing with what he thought were representatives of a Chinese company that wanted to buy influence in the UK parliament. Rifkind offered to get them access to British ambassadors for £5,000 to £8,000 per half day's work. The people turned out to be journalists for The Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 News who recorded the conversations. As a result Rifkind was suspended from the party while the matter is investigated.

(In fact, he also lied about his having "no salary": It seems - see Wikipedia - that he was receiving at precisely that time at least £ 145,000 a year, in salaries, from Unilever, Adam Smith International, and L.E.K. Consulting. I admit he very well may have thought that to be very little, for a man of his abilities, according to himself. [1])

2. Journalism as Subversion

The next item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

The assault of global capitalism is not only an economic and political assault. It is a cultural and historical assault. Global capitalism seeks to erase our stories and our histories. Its systems of mass communication, which peddle a fake intimacy with manufactured celebrities and a false sense of belonging within a mercenary consumer culture, shut out our voices, hopes and dreams. Salacious gossip about the elites and entertainers, lurid tales of violence and inane trivia replace in national discourse the actual and the real. The goal is a vast historical amnesia.

The traditions, rituals and struggles of the poor and workingmen and workingwomen are replaced with the vapid homogenization of mass culture. Life’s complexities are reduced to simplistic stereotypes. Common experiences center around what we have been fed by television and mass media. We become atomized and alienated. Solidarity and empathy are crushed. The cult of the self becomes paramount. And once the cult of the self is supreme we are captives to the corporate monolith.

As the mass media, now uniformly in the hands of large corporations, turn news into the ridiculous chronicling of pseudo-events and pseudo-controversy we become ever more invisible as individuals. Any reporting of the truth—the truth about what the powerful are doing to us and how we are struggling to endure and retain our dignity and self-respect—would fracture and divide a global population that must be molded into compliant consumers and obedient corporate subjects.

In fact, this is the introduction to the Indian journalist P. Sainath (<- Wikipedia), who is an interesting man.

I say some more about him below, but first want to say something about the above. I more or less agree with it, but I also have one difficulty with it: A good part of the explanation must be that "the mass media" can "turn news into the ridiculous chronicling of pseudo-events and pseudo-controversy" simply because those they deceive with their propaganda are on average too stupid to see through it. [2]

But OK... this is a quotation from Sainath on the Wikipedia:

That's when I learned that conventional journalism was above all about the service of power. You always give the last word to authority. I got a couple of prizes which I didn't pick up because I was ashamed.

And this is a quotation from Sainath from the article:

"The great journalists are all dissidents. They spoke the truth against power and about power. The journalism of dissent is the richest journalism we have. And the Third World and ex-colonial countries have far richer traditions than Europe. In the colonies, journalism was the child of the freedom struggle.”

Yes, indeed. There is rather a lot more in the article.

3. If We Don’t Overturn Citizens United, Congress Will Become Paid Employees of the Billionaire Class 

The next item is an article by Sen. Bernie Sanders (<- Wikipedia) on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

I recently introduced an amendment at the Senate Budget Committee. It was pretty simple. It asked my Senate colleagues to begin the process of overturning the disastrous Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, and to bring transparency and disclosure to the political process.

Here’s what I asked my Senate colleagues to consider:

Are we comfortable with an American political system which is being dominated by a handful of billionaires?

Are we a nation that prides ourselves on one-person, one-vote, or do we tell ordinary Americans you’ve got one vote but the Koch brothers can spend hundreds of millions of dollars?

Do we want a political system in which a handful of billionaires can buy members of the United States Congress?

Who are those members of Congress elected with the help of billionaires going to be representing? Do you think they’re going to be representing the middle class and working families?”

The answers seem clear to me. Unless the campaign financing system is reformed, the U.S. Congress will become paid employees of the people who pay for their campaigns—the billionaire class. Needless to say, not everyone on the Committee agreed.

There is a video in the article of slightly more than 7 m, and it emerges from that and from the rest of the article that Sanders' amendment did not make it: it got voted out with 12 against and 10 for.

In fact this is better than I expected, but indeed I also tend to think that the Senate and the Congress have already been bought, although I do not know this.

In any case, I agree with Sanders, but I do not think that he will win the vote - even though I also think he would win if the questions were put to a Congress that had far fewer effectively bought members.

But we shall see...

4. Why College Isn’t (and Shouldn’t Have to be) for Everyone  

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
This is from the beginning:

Competition for places top-brand colleges is absurdly intense.

With inequality at record levels and almost all the economic gains going to the top, there’s more pressure than ever to get the golden ring.

A degree from a prestigious university can open doors to elite business schools and law schools – and to jobs paying hundreds of thousands, if not millions, a year.

So parents who can afford it are paying grotesque sums to give their kids an edge.

There is considerably more on American colleges (<-Wikipedia), but I have to admit that I do not know much about them, which is in considerable part because
the educational system in the U.S. is quite different from what it used to be in Europe, while also the European system has changed a lot, and has grown considerably worse since I went to university (when it already was quite bad).

One of the things that - still, somewhat - amaze me is that the word "intel- ligence" does not at all occur in Reich's column, although once upon a time at least universities were supposed to educate the most intelligent to become  intellectuals.

But then I have to grant that I also have seen a very strong tendency, that started in Holland already in 1965, to make universities and colleges accessible
"to everyone".

This did not quite succeed (and part of it also was propaganda and deception), but it is true that modern universities are - apart from a few studies that require a real talent, such as mathematics, physics and chemistry - a lot simpler and easier to finish than 25 years ago, let alone 50 years.
[3]

There is also this from the end, after Reich has explained the U.S. might be better if more people get a good technical education:

Instead, we continue to push most of our young people through a single funnel called a four-year college education — a funnel so narrow it’s causing applicants and their parents excessive stress and worry about “getting in;” that’s too often ill suited and unnecessary, and far too expensive; and that can cause college dropouts to feel like failures for the rest of their lives.

It’s time to give up the idea that every young person has to go to college, and start offering high-school seniors an alternative route into the middle class.

Well... yes and no. First yes: I'd say that one should not go to university if one's IQ is less than 130. And my reason is simple: You will not have much of a chance on the really good jobs against those whose IQ is over 130, and it will cost a whole lot of money. And next no: One problem is that there also seem to be few good technical educations in the U.S. (and indeed in Holland), and so it seems you still have some chance on a better job with a college degree than without it, even though the job will probably be none of the best (because so many more people are "college educated" than there used to be), and you may need to pay back a whole lot of money.

5.  The New Authoritarianism 

The last item today is an article by Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman on naked capitalism (and originally on VoxEU):
This starts as follows:

The Changing Dictatorships

Dictatorships are not what they used to be. The totalitarian tyrants of the past – such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot – employed terror, indoctrination, and isolation to monopolise power. Although less ideological, many 20th-century military regimes also relied on mass violence to intimidate dissidents. Pinochet’s agents, for instance, are thought to have tortured and killed tens of thousands of Chileans (Roht-Arriaza 2005).

However, in recent decades new types of authoritarianism have emerged that seem better adapted to a world of open borders, global media, and knowledge-based economies. From the Peru of Alberto Fujimori to the Hungary of Viktor Orban, illiberal regimes have managed to consolidate power without fencing off their countries or resorting to mass murder. Some bloody military regimes and totalitarian states remain – such as Syria and North Korea – but the balance has shifted.

I more or less agree, but I would like to have an explanation - and it seems to me this is quite easy: "in recent decades" the press has become much less free, indeed mostly through a combination of loosing many advertisements, the growth of the internet, and being bought by big corporations, which thus has become much more corporate, and has started censoring itself, so as to please the corporations that bought them, while it also has a lot more bullshit. [4]

But this is my own guess. I can give some statistical evidence (there are far less independent papers, and many that have been bought), but it would have been nice to get some more.

There is also this:

Dictatorships and information

In a recent paper, we argue that the distinctive feature of such new dictatorships is a preoccupation with information (Guriev and Treisman 2015). Although they do use violence at times, they maintain power less by terrorising victims than by manipulating beliefs. Of course, surveillance and propaganda were important to the old-style dictatorships, too. But violence came first.
Yes - but why are so many people taken in? It seems to me from a combination of two factors, both of which have several branches that I will not consider here:

First, the majority is not well educated, and does not read much nor know much; and second, there are far fewer independent sources of news that are easily available to them that may tell them the truth, or at least a part of it.

Again this is my own guess, for which I have some statistical evidence, and again it would have been nice to get some more.

There is considerably more in the article (but I found it a bit disappointing, and perhaps the article should have been longer).

---------------------------------------------------------------------

P.S. Mar 24, 2015:
I fixed a note number's link. (
[3])

Notes


[1] In contrast, for me - whose degrees are better than Sitr Malcolm's, I am sure - that is about 30 years of dole. (It's true I am ill, but not according to the
Amsterdam dole.)


[2] According to recent statistics, the average American now watches more than 4 hours of TV every day. And yes, this makes or keeps you stupid (which does not necessarily mean one must be unintelligent: stupidity is a marked lack of intelligence or a marked presence of unconscious ignorance.)

[3] Let me remind the reader what I have learned about how universities  - and I know colleges need not be universities, but I also know the term "college" is much abused and very vague - were in the past, and in Holland before 1971, for they certainly are no longer like it.

This is mostly the Dutch situation as was and as is:

At most 5% or so of the people of the right age got into university; their IQs were about 125 or higher; they had a good pre-university education with 3 or 5 foreign languages, and with mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history and geography all examined both in writing and verbally, and indeed with exams in 14 or 16 subjects.

That is as was. As is:

Something like 30% or so of the people of the right age got into university; their IQs are on average less than 115; they had a bad pre-university education with 1 or 2 foreign languages, and mostly without mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history or geography; and most who got into the university were examined in 6 or 7 subjects, all taken and examined on a much lower level than before. Also, the "universities" now take half the time of what they did 40 or more years ago.

But they keep calling them "universities", though they educate far less, and though those they educate are on average considerably less intelligent than used to be the case, and they also start these days with a much worsened pre-university education.

The above describes the Dutch situation, which I know best, but similar things happened all over Europe, except - it seems - in Finland.

[4] And I should also say that without a real free press, that is also popular and widely read, a real democracy will die, simply because the people lack the
information to make honest and rational choices.


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