June 3, 2015
Crisis: Scheer & Hedges, NSA Reforms *3, Graduates, Systemic Corruption
  "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

Prev- crisis -Next


VIDEO: Robert Scheer Identifies a ‘Serious Division’
     Between His and Chris Hedges’ Views (Part 6/7)

2. One Small Step for NSA Reform, One Giant Leap for

3. For Terrorist Fearmongers, It’s Always the Scariest Time

4. How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best

Senate Passes USA Freedom Act, Restricting NSA
     Surveillance Powers

6. Systemic Corruption Has Destroyed America

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday June 3, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about the sixth interview (as presented by the Real News) of Robert Scheer by Chris Hedges
(and I think it is quite interesting, and pay a reasonable amount of attention); item 2 is about Dan Froomkin's reaction to the news that the NSA gets - formally - somewhat reformed; item 3 is about a Glenn Greenwald article that shows the
fearmongers in the Senate are now fearmongering for fourteen years about the needs for spying on everyone even though this did have zero (0) results in fourteen years; item 4 is about how corporations lovebomb bright students with
emails to make
them choose for the corporations; item 5 is about another article about the - formal - restrictions of the NSA; and item 6 is about an article on systemic corruption in the U.S. with quite a lof of links in proof.

Yesterday I promised that I would put the series of interviews that Chris Hedges had with Sheldon Wolin in 2014 in one file, and would write some comments to these. Well... I did, but since I have 38 comments (mostly fuller explications)
that I did not finish it yet. It will probably arrive this week, but not today.

Also, I start today with another part from another series of interviews that Chris Hedges did, namely with Robert Scheer. And no, I don't mind at all: I think both are fine journalists and fine writers, and they are discussing really important themes.
1. VIDEO: Robert Scheer Identifies a ‘Serious Division’ Between His and Chris Hedges’ Views (Part 6/7)

The first item is an article by Natasha Hakimi Zapata on Truthdig:

As the title says, this is the 6th from 7 parts of the interview that Chris Hedges had with Robert Scheer. I am - again - quite glad that someone took the trouble to link in the videos and to prepare the texts: it is quite important, at least for people who want to know what happened and who want to react rationally.

So, to start with, here is the video (from the Real News) of part 6:

And here is a selection from the text, after telling you that part five is here, and you can also find there links to earlier parts:
The present part 6 starts as follows (by Natasha Hakimi Zapata):

In perhaps the liveliest portion of the seven part interview on The Real News Network, Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges discuss the culture of violence in the United States as their opposing views on American history come to light.

After debating whether violence is in fact ingrained in the very foundation of American culture, as Hedges believes, or whether the American people are continually misled by elites into war upon war, Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief and the author of “They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy,” says:

But you do realize, Chris, what’s dividing us here now is—if I understand this correctly, I think it’s a serious division. My reading of American history—yes, we always can have lumpenproletariat. We will have drunken people doing this. We’ll have—. You know. But my view of American history—and I think it’s an accurate one; I don’t think it’s a romanticization—was that the aspirations of the people in this country, from all of their immigrant background, was basically a healthy aspiration of a better life, a fairer life, more opportunity, and that at critical points it has been betrayed by an elite that even betrayed its own long-run interests.

I think I am on the side of Robert Scheer here: I agree that many immigrants to the U.S. came there because they had "healthy aspiration of a better life, a fairer life, more opportunity" and I agree these aspirations were "betrayed by an elite", while my reply to Chris Hedges would be not so much to deny that "violence is in fact ingrained in the very foundation of American culture", for clearly it is: you can't have "freedom for all" plus slavery for the blacks, for one example, but to insist that violence is ingrained in human beings and that for this and many other reasons all constitutions and all governments like all men will be far from perfect, at least in practice. [1]

But we shall see. This is from the beginning of the interview, by Chris Hedges:
HEDGES: We are a deeply violent culture. We always have been. It is the nature of imperialism, which—of course, we colonized ourselves, and in a way that’s very different from Europe, with the subjugation and campaigns of genocide against Native Americans. The whole institution of slavery was one that was kept in force by coercion, and then the subjugation of African-Americans after emancipation through convict leasing, up to Jim Crow laws, up to the current system of mass incarceration, which of course targets, as Michelle Alexander has pointed out, primarily people of color, poor people of color. We have one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the industrialized world, 83 weapons, I think, per 100 Americans. (....)
And I think that especially having come out of disintegrating societies—I’ve covered the war in Yugoslavia or I covered the civil war in El Salvador—I’m cognizant of how swiftly societies can unravel, how quickly law and order breaks down, how fragile social, political, and cultural systems are, and how easily neighbor can kill neighbor, how swiftly human beings can be acculturated to carry out atrocities. That’s one of the most disturbing things that comes out of being a war correspondent.
I think Chris Hedges is mostly right in stressing that the American society is more violent than the Western European societies (of the same time), because of slavery and racism; because the white Americans murdered most of the Indian Americans; and because there are many more weapons per American person than there are in Europe - and that is just a few items on a list that could be made considerably longer.

And I think he is also mostly right in stressing "
how swiftly societies can unravel, how quickly law and order breaks down, how fragile social, political, and cultural systems are, and how easily neighbor can kill neighbor, how swiftly human beings can be acculturated to carry out atrocities".

Indeed, if you want to more about this, I advice you to read Christopher Browning's "Ordinary Men", that discusses how quite ordinary German men were turned (and in part turned themselves) into mass murderers under the Nazis, for
the most part without any complaints, also.

Here is Scheer's reply:
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, there’s no question about our propensity for violence. I was in Vietnam, both the South and the North, and I saw what carpet bombing does and I saw the destruction. I mean, three and a half million people were killed, Indochinese people, along with 59,000 Americans, and there was no rhyme or reason. And the bloodlust, the vengeance, the indifference to human life, the idea that maybe these people had families who cared, loved, you know, the people we’re bombing, napalming, and so forth, that’s pretty blatant.
That is also correct, and I make a point here that I can't recall either of them making in the interviews:

witnessed a lot of destruction, a lot of war, and a lot of senseless murders, and in this they differ from most ordinary people in the United States and Europe. (Indeed, I haven't experienced war in 65 years, and the only deads I've seen were my parents, who died naturally, and my brother, who drowned.)

I do think this makes a considerabole difference. Here is Robert Scheer:
SCHEER: Yeah. It’s a greatest act of terrorism that the world has ever seen is the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The target was during the day when schoolchildren would be out, would be vulnerable. There was no military reason for it. General Eisenhower was against it and said there was no reason. And it was done to justify a big wartime program that we had spent money on, but it was also to prevent the Soviets from being one of the occupying powers of Japan and so forth. So there was a lot of cynical political reasons.
This is mostly correct (though the children would have been killed as well if the bomb had been dropped during the night).

Here is some more of Robert Scheer, who in fact addresses a considerable difference between his education and that of Chris Hedges:
SCHEER: Where I disagree is to blame this on anything that traces back to who we are as a people. I think we are manipulated into violence. I don’t think it’s part of our culture. I think the basic cultural experience coming out of an immigrant culture, which we are—all of us are immigrants, with the exception of the people we committed genocide against, the native population, came here to do things other than to be violent. They wanted to succeed, they wanted to have security, they wanted to have a family.
Yes, although the manipulation was strongly helped by stupidity as manifested by Archie Bunker (<- Wikipedia): Generation after generation of the more stupid Americans, who judged each other not as individual persons, but in terms of the nations their parents, grandparents or greatgrandparents came from: "You think or want so because you are a wop, a kike, a kraut, a polack" etc. etc.

As to the considerable difference between Scheer and Hedges: Scheer was born in a poor immigrant family in the Bronx; Hedges was born in an arrived ministerial
family in Vermont, and went to a private boarding school.

There is considerably more by Robert Scheer on his poor background, which you can read by clicking on the first dotted link. It ends thus:
SCHEER: So my view of the society is that the impulses that came up from below—and I don’t think I’m romanticizing it—were closer to Woody Guthrie’s description or Pete Seeger’s description that people had a thirst for freedom and it ultimately would be in favor of equality and respect for individual
That seems to me a bit too optimistic: Both were quite intelligent quite leftist singers, and where in these three respects different from ordinary workers.

Here is an exchange between Scheer and Hedges:

SCHEER: And if I could just add one little thought, what I’ve been doing as a journalist all my life is trying to get powerful, respectable, ruling-class, well-educated people to do the right thing. You know, why are you in a war that makes no sense? Why are you ignoring poverty? Why aren’t you more concerned about income inequality? Why do you smash the labor movement? So most of my issues in my life and my reporting and my concern is: why are you people being so irrational and selfish and mean-spirited, you people of power? And so that—.

HEDGES: Well, because for them it does make sense.
I think here is an important part of the differences between the two: Robert Scheer, who comes from a poor background, blames the elite - the "powerful, respectable, ruling-class, well-educated people" - while the much richer educated Chris Hedges seems to favor a more Marxist analysis of responsibilities.

Here are my two reasons why I am more in sympathy with Robert Scheer:

First, my parents were quite intelligent, sincere and long time Marxists, and indeed my father knew Marx well enough to be the man in the Dutch Communist Party who had the main responsibility for educating the members of the CP in Amsterdam in the principles of Marxism from ca. 1950 till nearly 1970. Also, I knew Marx considerably better than he did. And I disagree with the Marxist class analysis, indeed in good part because it appears to me more as a metaphysics
than as a real analysis of real people. [3]

And second, I think Scheer is right in blaming the elite(s)
- the "powerful, respectable, ruling-class, well-educated people" - simply because they have the money, and they have some of the power, while he is also right that the great majority live like conformists and careerists, and generally behave as if they are "irrational and selfish and mean-spirited".

But here also enters a point of my own, that is rather fundamental, that is partially seen by Scheer and Hedges:

SCHEER: Yeah. But, generally, what were you [the rich and powerful - MM] thinking?

HEDGES: Well, a lot of them don’t think. I mean, a lot of them are not culturally, historically, or linguistically literate about the countries they seek to dominate.

SCHEER: Okay. Now here I am in total agreement. The great lesson in my life is we don’t have adults watching the store.

But I am not "in total agreement" with Chris Hedges here:

I am quite willing to grant that most of the elite "don't think", but I insist that if anybody can think it are the rich and well-educated, and that if they "don't think" that is mostly not because they are stupid (though I agree most are (!)), but because it is in their own personal interests as rich and well-educated persons not to think about most issues that are painful to them or that would clearly point to their own responsibilities or that indeed might considerably lessen their own incomes or that of their friends or family.

So while I agree that the great majority of the elites do not think, and indeed also are not very good at rational thinking, I think it is the duty of the elites to think as rationally as they can, for any society can only be charted through the very many difficulties it will meet if its elites are rational [2], while if they fail in that, as they certainly do, they are much to blame, because they have the best positions to think rationally, have access to most information, and may do so to the best of their abilities, while if they do not do so, it must be for the largest part because they have blinded themselves voluntarily by their selfish interests. And this is what happens now and happened many times in the past.

There is also this:

HEDGES: And Erich Fromm writes about this in Escape From Freedom, that there is a segment of society that has the kind of individual strength to—because accept the anxiety that comes with freedom. But especially in moments of turmoil, you have large segments of the society—and I would argue a majority of a society—that wants the iron fist and they don’t want to make moral choice. They want to be told what to do.

SCHEER: And this is where we disagree, because my view of what happens, say, the period I was growing up, is that because of the Great Depression, we had a mass movement in this country that was determined to change the economy, make it more responsive to the needs of people, empower workers, empower farmers, who were then generally small farmers, protect them against the vicissitudes of what was called a free market, to break the cartels (..)
Here I agree with both: Chris Hedges is right that normally, in "moments of turmoil" "a majority of a society" "wants the iron fist", while Robert Scheer is right that during the Great Depression, indeed - I think - in considerable part because of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this was not so, and many were somewhat more enlightened - but then again, that may have been something of a fluke,
even though it also did produce some 40 years of steadily increasing welfare (1939-1979) for most people in the West, at least after WW II was won.

Then there is this:
SCHEER: Alright. But you do realize, Chris, what’s dividing us here now is—if I understand this correctly, I think it’s a serious division. My reading of American history—yes, we always can have lumpenproletariat. We will have drunken people doing this. We’ll have—. You know. But my view of American history—and I think it’s an accurate one; I don’t think it’s a romanticization—was that the aspirations of the people in this country, from all of their immigrant background, was basically a healthy aspiration of a better life, a fairer life, more opportunity, and that at critical points it has been betrayed by an elite that even betrayed its own long-run interests.
I agree, and do so indeed in part because I reject a Marxist analysis of history:
On a commonsensical level, the elites are responsible for the declines or destructions of the societies they lead, and indeed also if they decide not to think
rationally about those things that may harm their own personal interests.

Here is the last bit I will quote from this series:
SCHEER: You know, I blame the elite. You know, my people at City College did not mess up this country. Okay? You know, some of them rose to positions of power. Some of them got ahead. But in the main, we were struggling to make sense of a society in which we had very little power. Okay? And to the degree that we could have an impact on it, we made it a better society. At every key turn, it was an elite. And some increasingly came from poorer backgrounds and were co-opted, but it was an elite that didn’t even have the sense to act in an adult, rational way for their own self-interest, going along, basically, with the war in Vietnam, for instance. That’s the whole point of the best and the brightest. They introduced madness in foreign policy, right?
Yes, I agree - and I know this makes matters more difficult, for it means that there are few nominally rational people:

Those who do not belong to the elite generally either are too stupid, or too misled, or have too little time to think through their problems in a rational way; and those who do belong to the elite generally prefer not to think and indeed also generally not even to speak of precisely those things that assure their own personal elitist positions and incomes.

The only support I can offer at this point is that (1) this has always been so and that (2) all changes that are made by humans - in art, in science, in culture, in politics, in religion - that are important for many have been first made by some bright individual and then spread by what were initally very small groups.

2 One Small Step for NSA Reform, One Giant Leap for Congress

The next item is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Exactly two years after journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras traveled to Hong Kong to meet an NSA whistleblower named Edward Snowden, Congress has finally brought itself to reform one surveillance program out of the multitude he revealed — a program so blatantly out of line that its end was a foregone conclusion as soon as it was exposed.

The USA Freedom Act passed the House in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote three weeks ago. After hardliner Republicans lost a prolonged game of legislative chicken, the Senate gave its approval Tuesday afternoon as well, by a 67 to 32 margin. The bill officially ends 14 years of unprecedented bulk collection of domestic phone records by the NSA, replacing it with a program that requires the government to make specific requests to the phone companies.

Yes, that is an adequate summary - although personally I doubt that the NSA will be limited or hampered in its data-gathering activities, if only because they are secretive, protected, and have factual access to the phone companies anyway.

There is also this:

After 14 years of rubber-stamping executive-branch requests for pretty much anything related to terrorism, Congress had an extraordinary moment of opportunity to pass genuine reform. The Snowden revelations had changed the public’s attitudes about government surveillance. And three provisions of the Patriot Act were set to expire.

But in the end little was done, and the very evil Patriot Act was replaced by the slightly less evil Freedom Act. (Progress!)

There is also a good listing of distinct point of views at the end of the article, that
is too long to copy. This is recommended reading.

3.  For Terrorist Fearmongers, It’s Always the Scariest Time Ever

The next item is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
There is this from near the beginning:

For the fearmongers in the West and their allies, it’s always the scariest time ever; that “the threat has never been greater” is basically a slogan they reflexively spew. In March, the right-wing Canadian defense minister, Jason Kenney, arguing for new surveillance powers, announced: “While few believe full-scale conventional war is likely any time soon, the threat of terrorism has never been greater.”

In February, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell, arguing for renewal of the Patriot Act, warned that “the ‘lone wolf’ terrorist threat to the United States has never been greater.” In January, an anonymous senior aide to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron argued for a new “snooper” bill by saying that “the terrorist threat has never been greater.” In mid-2014, U.K. Prime Minister Cameron himself raised the threat level to “severe” and announced that “Britain faces the ‘greatest and deepest’ terror threat in the country’s history.”

The brief of it is that they are all intentionally lying and misleading the population, because they know that crying "Terrorism! Terrorism! Terrorism!
The threat of terrorism has never been greater!" will deceive most of the population and will lead to giving themselves - the very few in the government, nearly all millionaires - all the tools for the state terrorism they want so very
much for themselves.

And there is this from the end:
Here we are 14 years after 9/11, and it’s still always the worst threat ever in all of history, never been greater. If we always face the greatest threat ever, then one of two things is true: 1) fearmongers serially exaggerate the threat for self-interested reasons, or 2) they’re telling the truth — the threat is always getting more severe, year after year — which might mean we should evaluate the wisdom of “terrorism” policies that constantly make the problem worse. Whatever else is true, the people who should have the least credibility on the planet are the Lindsey Grahams and Dianne Feinsteins who have spent the last 15 years exploiting the terror threat in order to terrorize the American population into doing what they want.
Quite so - and "doing what they want" was and is the creation of their own state terrorist apparatus that will give their kind more power than anyone of their own kind ever had or indeed ever could dream of (before the age of computing).

4. How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates

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

This starts as follows:

To seek enlightenment, intellectual or spiritual; to do good; to love and be loved; to create and to teach: these are the highest purposes of humankind. If there is meaning in life, it lies here.

Those who graduate from the leading universities have more opportunity than most to find such purpose. So why do so many end up in pointless and destructive jobs? Finance, management consultancy, advertising, public relations, lobbying: these and other useless occupations consume thousands of the brightest students. To take such jobs at graduation, as many will in the next few weeks, is to amputate life close to its base.

I watched it happen to my peers. People who had spent the preceding years laying out exultant visions of a better world, of the grand creative projects they planned, of adventure and discovery, were suddenly sucked into the mouths of corporations dangling money like angler fish.

At first they said they would do it for a year or two, “until I pay off my debts”. Soon afterwards they added: “and my mortgage”. Then it became, “I just want to make enough not to worry any more”. A few years later, “I’m doing it for my family”. Now, in middle age, they reply, “What, that? That was just a student fantasy.”

I agree to that, and indeed I also "watched it happen to my peers", and it was the more galling that they - fashionable twenty-plus year olds normally from fairly rich backgrounds - pretended to be communists or marxists who discriminated me
as as "(dirty) fascist" simply because I had said I was not a marxist or had said I like Peirce better than Marx as a ohilosopher. (That was the extent of my "crimes"!)

And I also agree with the rest of the article (mostly), which is interesting, although I must add that personally I believe that I do not belong to the group
of the brightest students" indeed for a considerable part because they did not
admit me as one of them, while my IQ is over 150 and I made better marks than
any student I've met, also while being ill and with an ill girlfriend, and while
being myself from a very poor though quite intelligent Marxist proletarian family.

So why I agree with the article, I am not much impressed by most "bright students", and also not by the fact that they allow themselves to be made accountants, bank managers or CEOs through being lovebombed by mails from corporations who like to hire them.

And as real intelligence starts at 1 in a 1000 or more, I am also not much amazed that those who aren't are also quite easily manipulable, though I agree with Monbiot that this also is a shame. (And see Julien Benda and the end of item 1.)

5. Senate Passes USA Freedom Act, Restricting NSA Surveillance Powers

The next item is a good short article by Roisin Davies on Truthdig:
This contains a quotation from the BBC (and quite a number of interesting links):

What is changing? The expiry of the Patriot Act brings to an end bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata - who called who, when and for how long, but not the content of calls - by the US. Under its successor, records must be held by telecommunications companies and investigators need a court order to access specific information. Technology companies will be given greater leeway to reveal data requests. The measures are intended to balance concerns on privacy with providing the authorities the tools they need to prevent attacks.

What stays the same? Key parts of the Patriot Act are retained in the Freedom Act. They include the provision allowing the monitoring of “lone wolf” suspects - potential attackers not linked to foreign terror groups, despite the US authorities admitting the powers have never been used. The Freedom Act also maintains a provision allowing investigators to monitor travel and business records of individuals, something law officers says is more effective than bulk collection.

I do not think that "the authorities" "need" these "tools" "to prevent attacks":
There is no proof of any need, for in 14 years these "tools" have produced exactly nought.

And apart from that, this is accurate only if you believe that the current U.S. is a state of law, where the secret NSA, that is also covered by secret courts, that issue secret judgements, that cannot be talked about at all, will stick to the law
in spite of the fact that they broke the laws - literally - billions of times, knowingly and on purpose, simply because they were working in secret, and they
wanted the materials they got.

I don't believe
the current U.S. is a state of law and I don't believe the NSA will abide by the law. For more, see NSA Whistleblower William Binney: The Future of FREEDOM

6. Systemic Corruption Has Destroyed America

The next and final item for today is an article by Washington's Blog on his site
This starts as follows:
Preface: It’s been less than a month since we last posted on this topic … but, sadly, we’ve got many more examples.
and continues:
Government corruption has become rampant:
after which you'll find a long list of dotted links that (strongly) support the title.

I leave this to your interests, but want to point out what causes "systemic corruption": egoistic greed, that also looks away from its own malfeasances
and pretends that "things are like that because they have to be like that". (For more see item 1.)


[1] A possibly interesting note is that on paper Stalin's laws of the 1930ies for the Soviet Union were very good.

[2] NB that I am not saying they will succeed; I am only saying that rational thinking is the best condition to fail as little as possible, and that my defintion of being rational -
he is rational who proportions his beliefs according to the evidence, and he is irrational to the extent that he does not - is not dependent on personal valuations.

Indeed, the main reason why the elites are not thinking rationally is that they have personal valuations that make it desirable for them not to think properly about those things that
might endanger their own elitist positions and incomes.

[3] As to classes (in society): I believe that there are the rich and the poor, and normally their interests, at least economically, are opposed, but I do not believe that the concept of class is very helpful:

I think so because it - "the class of capitalists"
- is too abstract: There are 3 times more people alive than there are seconds in the life of a 70 year old; no one knows more than 50-250 people tolerably well; few met more than a 1000 or a few 1000s of people in their lives on any personal basis, and for these and other reasons I very much prefer to analyze societies in terms of groups rather than classes - for groups do meet, may struggle, have some ideology etc. none of which can be said other than metaphorically about classes of people.

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