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Nederlog

April 11, 2015
Crisis: British left, British secrecy, Scheier, Hilary Clinton, Corporate Tax Dodgers
  "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. Is the left in Britain still alive and well?
2. Secrecy Shrouds Unknown Role Of Top UK Government
     Official

3.
Bruce Schneier on the Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data
     and Control Your World

4.
The Defining Moment, and Hillary Rodham Clinton
5. Report Reveals How Corporate Tax Dodgers Avoid Paying
    Their Fair Share—or Any Share At All


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, April 11, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is a - to me gravely disappointing - article on "the left" in The Guardian; item 2 is about the total secrecy the British government these days tries to envelope their key players in; item 3 is a good article on security and surveillance; item 4 is about Robert Reich about Hillary Clinton (whom he likes a lot more than I do, but then he knows her since she was 19); and item 5 is about the enormous tax-dodging American companies are doing (and will be doing, for at least two more years).

1. Is the left in Britain still alive and well?

The first item today is an article by Zoe Williams on The Guardian:

This is a long and in my eyes pretty vague article, that is also fronted by a
horribly vague picture (one of many: I think Wolfgang Blau loves vague picture: The Renewed Blauified Guardian is full of them, and also has only vague videos, that don't even tell you how long they last).

Here is the - quite condescending - start:

Rosie Rogers, 28, and I are sitting in a tipi outside her office in Highbury, London. (She works for Greenpeace as a political adviser – of course they have a tipi.) I’m on a quest to find the British left, because it’s become apparent no one quite knows where it has gone, or what it looks like. Far from a beating heart, these days it is made up of many small organisations. “You know the Brownies,” Rogers asks. “You have all those patches? We have so many patches. You have your Reclaim the Power badge, your Focus E15 badge, your UK Feminista badge, your UK Uncut badge. It feels like ‘the left’ isn’t how people identify any more. We don’t say, ‘I’m a lefty, I’m a socialist, I’m a Marxist.’ Sometimes I’m a bit Women’s Institute, sometimes I’ll sign a 38 Degrees petition, sometimes I’ll go on a climate march.”

Here are my reasons why I consider this condescending: Not only the tipi, but also the "quest to find the British left, because it’s become apparent no one quite knows where it has gone, or what it looks like" - and this from someone who gets described on Wikipedia as follows:

Williams describes her political views as left-wing and feminist. In 2014 she defended the social policy legacy of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.

I say. Here is some more on Rosie Rogers (according to Zoe Williams, to be sure):

I know she would hate to be portrayed as a poster-girl of the new left: she doesn’t identify as left and she rejects the idea of anybody being more important than anybody else.

And I know the last opinion: She - Rosie Rogers - is as important as Putin, as Cameron, as Obama, as Bertrand Russell, as Marie Curie, and as anybody else - which is an opinion I first heard in the early 80ies, and was one of the first signs of postmodernism, that also insisted there is no truth, and everything is relative.

O yes - and everybody is as intelligent as everybody else, and all those who were not Newtons the last 250 years merely had other preferences - I have been seriously told by Dutch students whose IQs were about 115 - and certainly not less talents than Isaac Newton. No, no, no! We are all Isaac Newtons, in abilities, which anyway are relative...

In case you doubt it (I thought postmodernism was mainly over by now): They really thought so (and not a single one had as much as 5% of Isaac Newton's talents), even though it clearly was an utterly false, totally childish idea to make everyone equal by lies and deceptons (which also do not exist if there is no truth, as the postmodernists all insisted: "Everybody knows that there is no truth", as I was first told by a university professor in 1978, who lied and deceived.)

It is true Zoe Williams also says this:

Every day, something happens in British politics that pushes at the very boundaries of humane behaviour. A London borough has a “crackdown” against homelessness, which involves confiscating the sleeping bags from people who have nothing but a sleeping bag. A peer announces that we can no longer afford to chip in for the coastguard services that save the lives of refugees who would otherwise perish in the Mediterranean. An unemployed man has his benefits withdrawn because he missed his appointment at a jobcentre, being in hospital with his wife while she had a stillborn child. A government minister, presented with some self-evident fact – benefit sanctions cause people to go hungry – blithely rejects it. A mentally ill teenager ends up in a prison cell, for want of a hospital bed. Some kids in Stoke are found rooting for food in a bin. The leader of a political party suggests re-legalising racial discrimination.

I call it: Evident sadism perpetrated by power-crazed politicians. But I suppose I am far too clear and not at all relativistic enough:

No one I speak to likes the word “activist”, as Maeve Cohen, from the Post-Crash Economics Society explains to me on the phone: “If you have people who identify as ‘activists’, then everybody else is a non-activist, who can leave the activities to the activists. I think everybody should be active.”

Is Maeve Cohen mad? I don't know (I have only Zoe Williams' rendering of her words), but her argument certainly is:

In fact it starts from the - totally false, quite egoistic - assumption that "everybody should be active" (all 7 billion + persons - and in Maeve Cohen's sense, clearly); then moves to the utterly false conclusion that those who identify as 'activists' deny that "everybody else is a non-activist" (?!?! again all 7 billion + persons), which leads to the pretty insane conclusion that you should not say you are an activist.

Incidentally, on the same reasoning you should not affirm to be anything that anyone is or may not be (a man, a mathematician, a bricklayer, a soccer player etc. etc.)

And this is the average intellectual level of the whole article. Well... I leave that to your interests and intellects. Here is Zoe Williams' conclusion:

That’s the left. It’s not called the left. You can’t Google it. You can’t do it by mail order. You can’t dip in every five years and go back to sleep. It starts with a meeting, and you have to turn up. “The only thing that matters,” says McAlpine, “is everything you do.”

To me it sounds like postmodernistic bullshit, but yes: Ms Williams no doubt got her education in the heydays of postmodernism.

2.
Secrecy Shrouds Unknown Role Of Top UK Government Official 

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

This starts as follows:
The British government is refusing to disclose the job title and taxpayer-funded salary of one of the most senior law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom, claiming the details have to be kept a secret for security reasons.

Cressida Dick (pictured above) was formerly one of the highest ranking officers at London’s Metropolitan Police, the largest police force in the U.K., where she headed the Specialist Operations unit and oversaw a controversial criminal investigation into journalists who reported on Edward Snowden’s leaked documents.
O Lord: "security reasons"! Here is some more:

Government officials handling the requests say that members of the public are not entitled to know anything about Dick’s job title, role and responsibilities, or the amount of money she is earning – despite the fact that specific salaries earned by senior Foreign Office officials, as well as their job titles, are usually routinely made available online.

In two separate refusal letters issued in February and March, the Foreign Office said that it would not hand over the information because it relates to “bodies dealing with security matters,” and so the government was “not obliged to consider the public interest in disclosure.”
As far as I am concerned, this is an attempt of the government to try to find
out how much they can get away with, while appealing to "security matters":

Whatever Ms. Dick does, the least they should cough up are her function, role
and responsibilities, for without these she may just as well be a member of
the Mafia that got hired by the government to do its dirty work. (I don't think
she is. I do think the English government is intentionally trying to keep security
almost completely uncontrolled, which is incompatible with democracy.)

3. Bruce Schneier on the Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World

The next item is an article by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now!:
This is from a month old talk with Bruce Scheier, who is a security expert and the
author of the new New York Times best-seller, Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.

It is an interesting article that deserves to be read completely. Here are two bits of it. The first is on the kinds of laws that are - urgently - needed to help restore some of the autonomy that everybody has lost to being tracked, traced, surveilled and data mined, generally in secret:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in our earlier segment, you were talking about that it’s now more of a political and social problem in terms of being able to protect privacy. What are the kinds of—if you were to say the most important kind of law that would need to be passed to be able to get back some of our individual autonomy, what would that be?

BRUCE SCHNEIER: Yeah, it’s never one thing. The problem with privacy in data is there’s so many interconnected things. So we need protection for data collection, data use, data storage, data transfer—you know, buying and selling—and then data deletion. That’s the chain of our data, and we need protections in every place. So it’s not a matter of saying, "We’ll let them collect it, and we’ll regulate use," because now what happens, you know, we saw, past year or so, all these great data breaches—Target Corporation, Home Depot, Anthem Health. All right, this is our data being stored by somebody else that’s stolen by criminals. So we need protections against collection. We need protections against use. And we need proof that we can look at our data, correct it if it’s wrong. It’s a whole slew of things that have to work together—you know, and technologies and laws. This is not a simple problem with a simple solution. Unfortunately, it makes it harder.

Maybe I should repeat part of that:
So we need protection for data collection, data use, data storage, data transfer—you know, buying and selling—and then data deletion. (...) And we need proof that we can look at our data, correct it if it’s wrong.
And the billions with computers and cell phones now have no protection whatsoever, other than the few things they can do themselves, such as encryption.

As to having no protection whatsoever (which is in part maintained by our governments
, who also want to know what we think and do):
BRUCE SCHNEIER: Well, in the United States, there’s not a lot of protection for our data, that data generated by us, collected by third parties. So, your cellphone company collects data of everybody you call, when you call. Your credit card company knows when you make purchases, where and how much. Google knows what you search on. All that data is collected by third parties, and those parties basically own that data. They have the right to buy it, to sell it, to use it however they like.
Precisely: There is no protection, other than the few things you can do yourself.

4. The Defining Moment, and Hillary Rodham Clinton

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

This starts as follows:

It’s a paradox.

Almost all the economic gains are still going to the top, leaving America’s vast middle class with stagnant wages and little or no job security. Two-thirds of Americans are working paycheck to paycheck.

Meanwhile, big money is taking over our democracy.

If there were ever a time for a bold Democratic voice on behalf of hardworking Americans, it is now.

Yet I don’t recall a time when the Democratic Party’s most prominent office holders sounded as meek. With the exception of Elizabeth Warren, they’re pussycats.

Well... that means that the "paradox" this article started with already dissolves: "Big money is taking over our democracy" - and took care to (also) buy most of the Democrats (who anyway tend to be millionaires themselves, if elected to the Senate or the House).

At least, that its how it seems to me (though there are a few more members of Congress that tend to speak sensibly, albeit in a small minority).

Here is a general sum-up of Reich:

Not in ninety years has America harbored a greater concentration of wealth at the very top. Not since the Gilded Age of the 1890s has American politics been as corrupted by big money as it is today.  

If Hillary Clinton is to get the mandate she needs for America to get back on track, she will have to be clear with the American people about what is happening and why – and what must be done. 

For example: Wall Street is still running the economy, and still out of control.

So we must resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act and bust up the biggest banks, so millions of Americans don’t ever again lose their homes, jobs, and savings because of Wall Street’s excesses.

Yes - but do you really expect Hillary Clinton to do that? "Resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act and bust up the biggest banks"? I do not, for the simple
reason that I have seen no evidence whatsoever (and a lot of evidence to
the contrary).

Reich does (or at least: seems to), in part because he has known her since she was 19 (nearly 50 years), as he tells us in the article, although without specifying the extent of his personal knowledge.

Anyway - here is some more on the main things Reich wants done (and I agree with all of these):

Also: Increase taxes on the rich in order to finance the investments in schools and infrastructure the nation desperately needs.

Strengthen unions so working Americans have the bargaining power to get a fair share of the gains from economic growth.

Limit the deductibility of executive pay, and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Oppose trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership designed to protect corporate property but not American jobs.

And nominate Supreme Court justices who will reverse “Citizens United.”

I’m not suggesting a long list.
That is OK, though the corporations also should be taxed more. Here is Reich's sketch of his opposition:

In recent decades Republicans have made a moral case for less government and lower taxes on the rich, based on their idea of “freedom.”

They talk endlessly about freedom but they never talk about power. But it’s power that’s askew in America – concentrated power that’s constraining the freedom of the vast majority.

Hilary Clinton should make the moral case for taking it out of the hands of those with great wealth and putting it back into the hands of average working people. 

I'm sorry, but the last part is nonsense, even though the first part is correct:

Yes, the Republicans are trying to take everybody in with bullshit about "freedom" without ever clarifying that what they really mean is the freedom of the few rich to exploit the many poor, also without restraint and with as little legal protection of the poor as possible.

And yes, "
Hillary Clinton should make the moral case about power" - but no: "average working people" never had "power". At the very best, and indeed perhaps for a mere 15 years or so (from 1965-1980), quite a few polticians
were working for them because they helped elect them, but then indeed it
were the politicians who wielded some power, and not "
average working
people
": That is merely quite false propaganda. [1]

Reich concludes his article as follows:

The question is not her values and ideals. It’s her willingness to be bold and to fight, at a time when average working people need a president who will fight for them more than they’ve needed such a president in living memory.

This is a defining moment for Democrats, and for America. It is also a defining moment for Hillary Clinton.
I don't think so. Her "values and ideals" will not differ much from those of her husband, who is not a genuine progressive, leftist or liberal at all, but redefined "the left" - see: "The Third Way", which was and is an utter fraud - to further his own personal career. I am willing to believe she will be "bold", but it is likely to
be for the bank managers. And "a defining moment" for someone who will get 69 in 2016 is rather a bit too late: she has shown who she is and what she will stand for.

But yes, I never met Hillary Clinton.

5.  Report Reveals How Corporate Tax Dodgers Avoid Paying Their Fair Share—or Any Share At All  

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

This starts as follows:

Pointing to egregious examples of Fortune 500 corporations "manipulating the tax system to avoid paying even a dime in tax on billions of dollars in U.S. profits," a new report from Citizens for Tax Justice makes a sharp case for corporate tax reform.

The 15 companies cited in the CTJ analysis represent a range of sectors within the U.S. economy, from toy maker Mattel to financial services corporation Prudential to broadcaster CBS to media giant Time Warner.

All told, the report reveals that the 15 companies paid no federal income tax on $23 billion in profits in 2014, and they paid almost no federal income tax on $107 billion in profits over the past five years. All but two received federal tax rebates in 2014, and almost all paid "exceedingly low" rates over five years.

"These 15 corporations' tax situations shed light on the widespread nature of corporate tax avoidance," Citizens for Tax Justice declared.

They do so, the article explains, at least in part by exploiting existing tax loop holes that have been on the books for decades. In case you might think these must be relatively small amounts:

"Global Financial Integrity, a financial watchdog agency, estimates that global corporations and wealthy individuals are hiding a total of over $21 trillion," (...)

(I think that is worldwide, but then the US companies are a good part of it.)
Then there is this:

And on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blasted the tax dodgers in a press release.

"At a time when we have massive wealth and income inequality, and when corporate profits are soaring, it is an outrage that many large, profitable corporations not only paid nothing in federal income taxes last year, but actually received a rebate from the IRS last year," Sanders said.

Echoing CTJ's call to overhaul the corporate tax code, the senator continued: "Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor, as the Republicans in Congress have proposed, we need a tax system that demands that large, profitable corporations and the wealthy start paying their fair share in taxes."

It's unclear, however, when that reform will happen

The reason for that last fact is that "serious tax reforms" are being discussed for five years now, and may well extend into the next presidency....

In brief: There will be a great amount of more tax dodging in the U.S. and it is unlikely much will be done about it until 2017 - and indeed then it again will be quite uncertain whether much or anything will be done against it, and especially not if a Republican gets elected as the next president.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Note

[1] I could say a lot more, but here and now only say this:
"average working people" never had political power themselves.
Nowhere. Ever.  (Outside an ongoing revolution, that tend to be very brief times.)

The best they could ever do was congregating into several millions of voters, who elected one politician "to represent" them. And that one politician might have been "from the working class", but in actual fact rarely was, and even if he (or she) was, he had no time to hear more than an extremely small number of the very many who elected him. (These are all plain facts, and therefore I am rather disappointed to read that Reich seems to disagree.)


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