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Nederlog

May 17, 2015
Crisis: Surveillance, Clinton "earnings", Obama, American Republic, Personal
  "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.
Surveillance diehards in the Senate will do anything to   
     stop NSA reform

2. Hillary and Bill Clinton earn more than $25m for giving
    100 speeches

3.
The Liberal Apologies for Obama’s Ugly Reign
4.
Losing the American Republic
5. Some personal remarks



Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, May 17, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about a good article by Trevor Timm that outlines that the NSA is far from defeated; item 2 is about an article that notes that the Clintons "earned" $ 25 million the last 1 1/2 years with speeches, while Bill "earned" $ 50 million, again by speeches, during the four years that his wife was secretary of state; item 3 is an interesting article
that helps explain Obama; item 4 is about how the American Republic is going down; and item 5 is not a crisis item but consists of a few personal remarks.

In fact, the present Nederlog is a bit hasty and a bit brief (and also I couldn't find much), but I am doing my best and, as long as I am writing about the
crisis, I am dependent on what I can find in the news.

1. Surveillance diehards in the Senate will do anything to stop NSA reform

The first item today is an article by Trevor Timm on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
The NSA and its surveillance state supporters in the Senate are making a last ditch effort to prevent Congress from taking away any of the spy agency’s authority to snoop on innocent Americans, despite the fact that there is now broad support for NSA reform in Congress.

Earlier this week, the House overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill designed – at least so its authors hope – to end the surveillance program of every American’s phone records that Edward Snowden first exposed in June 2013. The bill passed by a huge margin, partially buoyed by the fact that a recent court opinion makes it virtually impossible for the NSA to continue as is. As Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first broke the Edward Snowden story, noted after the bill passed, the vote is a significant moment. It’s the “first time since 9/11 that powers justified in the name of terrorism will be reduced rather than increased.”

But unfortunately it also passed because the bill is so weak, it was hard for many to object to it. Intelligence officials told the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris that they can more than live with USA Freedom Act, calling it a “a big win” compared to what it could have been. Another unidentified former official said: “The NSA is coming out of this unscathed.”

This is as I expected: The "Freedom Act" (an utterly bullshit name) was bad, but the alternative was worse. The article explains it all fairly well, and is worth reading in full.

There is the ending:

The American public should not accept even a one day extension of the appalling law that allowed the NSA to invade millions of innocent people’s privacy in secret for all these years. Mitch McConnell’s plan seems to be to pass a “temporary” extension of the law to allow for more debate and “compromise” (like two years wasn’t enough time to come to a solution to this problem). Of course, he just wants to use that time to neuter the USA Freedom Act even more.

Letting the Patriot Act expire would be a bipartisan rebuke of the NSA’s powers, it would be a vindication for Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, but more importantly, it would be a win for the rights of the American people.

I agree, but this last option will probably not be taken, alas.

2. Hillary and Bill Clinton earn more than $25m for giving 100 speeches

The next item today is an article by Associated Press on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

Hillary Clinton and her husband and former president Bill Clinton reported on Friday they had earned more than $25m in speaking fees since January 2014.

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign reported the income in a personal financial disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission. The report, required of every candidate for the White House, also shows she earned more than $5m from her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices.

To be sure: 25m = 25 million dollars, which means these American aristocrats make $500,000 per speech. To the best of my knowledge this is not because the speeches are interesting or the audiences are extremely large, but because this is
in fact money mostly supplied by bankmanagers who buy influence.

Note this is only for the last 1 1/2 years. Thus, while his wife was Secretary of State, Bill Clinton did the talking:
A recent Associated Press review of the Clintons’ disclosures and State Department records found that Bill Clinton had been paid at least $50m for his appearances between 2009 and 2012, the four years that Hillary Clinton served as the nation’s top diplomat.
To my mind - $ 500,000 is more than I earned in my whole life, which the Clintons get for talking half an hour to an hour - this is completely ludicrous, yet it also seems quite normal - at least for people with the amount of power the Clintons had and may have - in the present U.S.

But no, this is not a democracy: This is an aristocratic plutocracy, with the Clintons as leading members since 25 years.

3. The Liberal Apologies for Obama’s Ugly Reign

The next item is an article by Paul Street (<- Wikipedia) on Counterpunch:

This starts as follows:

So this is how Barack Obama is moving into the final 20 months of his dismal neoliberal presidency, which he once (proudly) described as ideologically akin to the Eisenhower White House. He is nauseating much of his own Wall Street-captive party’s electoral base by trying to push through the absurdly regressive, secretive, eco-cidal, and global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership treaty – a massive investor rights measure that promises to reduce wages, deepen inequality, undermine popular sovereignty, and assault already endangered livable ecology in the name of (what else?) “free trade” and “growth.”

The treaty is so toxically capitalist and transparently authoritarian that even the leading right-wing corporate Democrats Bill and Hillary Clinton – champions of the arch-neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – have to keep their distance from it in accord with Mrs. Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

This is an interesting piece by someone who got Obama right in 2008, and published two books about it, namely "Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics" in 2008, and "The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power" in 2010. (I did not read them.)

There is also this:

There are a number of understandable and respectable responses (horror and disgust come to mind) to these latest corporatist White House policies, but surprise is not one of them. This is precisely the capitalist Obama that a good cadre of Left activists and writers tried (none more voluminously than this writer) to warn liberals and progressives about from the beginning of the Obama phenomenon and then presidency.

Yes, indeed. And no, he tricked me as well, in the beginning, for the greatest
part because at that time I knew a whole lot less about American politics than I do now, and also I didn't have fast internet until the summer of 2009, which really cramped my access to the internet. Then again, by the end of 2009 I'd
seen mostly through him: Just another liar for the big corporations, even though
he is half black. I grant he is a good liar and deceiver. [1]

And there is this:

As the onetime Obama enthusiast Frank had the decency to admit, the financial crisis “worked out the way it did”—with Wall Street unpunished, richer, and more powerful than ever—“in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way…"

Yes indeed: Obama chose from the very beginning for the banks and their managers (as did Clinton), and the article contains a good story about this.
He never faught with Wall Street: he cooperated as much as he could (and
will be rewarded when he has ended his presidency).

Here is a sum-up:

Any remotely serious investigation of the real Obama and his career (what I undertook in my 2008 volume) would have revealed someone very different: a “deeply conservative” agent and servant of American Empire and Inequality, Inc. masquerading (like fellow arch-neoliberal Bill Clinton in 1992) as a man of the people – an old and deadly character (with a tantalizing racial twist fit for the post-Civil Rights era in Obama’s case) at the long duplicitous heart of U.S. political culture.

Yes, indeed. And this is a good article, well worth reading in full, in which case
you may also savour the story about the relation between Obama and the banks'
managers.

4. Losing the American Republic

The next item is an article by William R. Polk (<- Wikipedia) on Consortiumnews:

This comes with a summary, which I quote because it clarifies what this article is about:

Decades of letting neocons dictate a hawkish foreign policy have put the American Republic in profound danger, just as presidents from George Washington to Dwight Eisenhower predicted, warnings that Americans must finally take to heart, says ex-U.S. diplomat William R. Polk.

I agree that the American Republic is "in profound danger", but I don't think the main reason is that "neocons" have "dictate[d] a hawkish foreign policy". To be sure, that "hawkish foreign policy" cost an enormous amount of money that could and should have been much better spend (on infrastructure and education, for example), but I feel pretty sure now that the main reason the American Republic is in very great danger are that the neocons and neolibs have for 35 years now
deregulated almost anything they could deregulate, and especially the banks, in which they were much helped by Clinton and Obama (formally "Democratic presidents", but see item 3), while the main media, both TV and press, do rarely write honestly about the major themes, as was the case at least from the 1930s
to the 1990s. [2]

This starts as follows:

In The Financial Times of April 23, Philip Stephens begins a perceptive article with the obvious statement that “It is easier to say that Obama never gets it right than to come up with an alternative strategy.”

Of course it is. It was never easy to construct a coherent policy, but it was never impossible. The problem we face today is different. It is that for a long time we have not been presented by our leaders with any strategy. So the obvious question a citizen (and a taxpayer) should demand be answered is why, despite all the effort, all the proclamations and all the lives and money we are spending, does almost every observer believe that we do not have a policy that we can afford and that accomplishes our minimal national objectives? In this first part of a two-part essay, I will address that problem.

This also is a long article (and the first of two) from which I will quote just two more bits.

The first is about the American people:
More fundamentally, could it be that we, the citizenry, the voters and the taxpayers,  simply do not care enough or keep ourselves well enough informed to make our leaders perform the tasks they avidly seek and we pay them to do?
(...)
As Alex de Tocqueville observed of us, “the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.”
De Tocqueville - a very interesting man, with a very fine mind - was certainly right, and the American people are, on average, stupid and ignorant (and no, this doesn't amuse me, though it does frighten me). Then again, there are very many Americans and there are also quite a few intelligent and learned ones, though  proportionally they form a small minority (that is also not at all agreed on most things, and has many different opinions).

And in any case, "democracy" (so called) will probably remain in America, so even if it is the underlying problem, nothing much will be done about it, indeed also because it is a lot easier to deceive a majority of the stupid or ignorant folks that form the majority in the state, and pretend one has "the democratic majority".

The second is a quotation from Eisenhower (<- Wikipedia) - which may amaze you, coming from a Republican president who still can be recalled by nearly half
 of the American population:

Against the power of “the military-industrial complex, ” Eisenhower memorably warned that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. …

“This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

There is a lot more in the article.

5. Some personal remarks

The final item today is not a crisis item (there were not many) but consists of various personal remarks.

First, today it is Norway's National Day (<- Wikipedia). I know few are interested, but I lived there for more than two years; I really liked the country; I should never have left it, but alas I did; and in the end the happiest years I had were from 1975-1977, living in Norway, farming, driving, reading, thinking, skiing and generally doing what I pleased to do in a beautiful environment.

This estimate of mine has a lot to do with the fact that I fell ill on 1.I.1979 and have been ill ever since, but even so: These were the happiest years of my life, again especially because of the environment and the freedom.

Second, I thought I had some more remarks, but since this also is a Sunday and I am already rather late, I break this item here off.

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Notes

[1] As to Obama's being half black: I made the point because the naive would have thought that a (half) black man would have been more progressive.
I think that still may be true on lower levels, but not anymore on a presidential or Senate level.

[2] I don't want to exaggerate, for I don't think "the printed press" was all that good in the times it was dominant and had money, but it surely was a whole lot better than it got in the present century, and that not so much because I agreed with what they printed, but because they printed the things that mattered, and were mostly serious, whatever their political direction (I am speaking about the better papers, to be sure), whereas nowadays, if I buy a paper, then it seems mostly bent on amusing me, and on keeping silent about the things that interest or concern me. This is definitely not as it used to be, but I fear that too is difficult to get for anyone who has not read the NRC-Handelsblad (or a similar once good paper) from 1970-2010. These were really different times, that were much better for the intelligent reader.

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