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Nederlog

June 14, 2015
Crisis: TPP * 2, Edward Snowden, Dark Money, Capitalism vs Commons
  "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.
You Can’t Read the TPP and You Can’t Find Out Who in
     Congress Has

2.
Has the U.S. Learned Anything From Edward Snowden's
     NSA Revelations?

3. Dark Money Under Fire as Election 2016 Heats Up
4. It's the Planet Stupid!: Capitalism and The Destruction of
     the Commons

5Backlash Grows as Leaked TPP Text Reveals Increased
     Corporate Control of Public Health


This is a Nederlog of Sunday June 14, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about how much of the TPP is known by members of Congress: very little; item 2 is about what "the U.S." has learned from Edward Snowden (answer: the public learned
a decent amount, but the public has these days been manipulated into being - mostly - an irrelevancy for government); item 3 is about the major influence of SCOTUS's "Citizens United" decision: the old system of financing elections has already been broken down; item 4 is about a fine article by John Atcheson, that is mostly about the destruction of the commons by the few rich; and item 5 is again about the TPP (which will have awful consequences for the prices of medicines) and also about the difficulties of knowing little about the TPP (for Obama doesn't
want the billions to know what is being planned for them).

This file also got uploaded earlier than normal. And I also uploaded autobio 30 and autobio 29 plus the TOC to the autobiography files (in /maartensz). The first file has been updated a bit. (These are mostly in Dutch.)

1. You Can’t Read the TPP and You Can’t Find Out Who in Congress Has
The first item is an article by Jon Schwartz on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

You probably know by now that no normal Americans are allowed to see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. It’s classified. Even members of Congress can only read it by going to secure reading rooms in the basement of the Capitol.

But here’s what you might not know: you’re not even allowed to know who in Congress has bothered to do this.

This is quite true, at least for me, and for people following Nederlog. But yes, knowing how many members of Congress read parts of the TPP (or the TTIP or the TiSA) is interesting information, for knowing who may know means knowing something about a legislation that effects the lives of billions of persons.

Well...:

According to congressional staff members, the House Security Office and the Senate Security Office are responsible for supervising the reading of the TPP text. However, when I asked both offices, neither would answer any questions whatsoever, including:

  • Which members have gone to the secure rooms to look at the TPP?
  • Is there in fact a log of visiting members (as you’d assume with classified documents)?
  • Is the secrecy concerning who’s looked at the TPP standard operating procedure for any classified documents, or is there something going on specific to the TPP?
  • Are the House Security Office and the Senate Security Office even the people who know the answers to these questions?
There you have Obama's Trans-Pa-RentTM Ame-ri-canTM De-Mo-Cra-CyTM at work!

And here is a guess of someone I suppose I trust:
Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration, said that his best estimation of how many members of Congress have read the TPP — which has been called the biggest trade deal in history — is “in the single digits.” (Reich himself called the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative recently to ask to see it, and was rebuffed.)
I say: “in the single digits”!

2. Has the U.S. Learned Anything From Edward Snowden's NSA Revelations?  

The next item is an article by David Sirota on Alternet:
This starts as follows:

Two years ago this month, a 29-year-old government contractor named Edward Snowden became the Daniel Ellsberg of his generation, delivering to journalists a tranche of secret documents shedding light on the government's national security apparatus. But whereas Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers detailing one specific military conflict in Southeast Asia, Snowden released details of the U.S. government's sprawling surveillance machine that operates around the globe.

On the second anniversary of Snowden's historic act of civil disobedience, it is worth reviewing what has changed -- and what has not.

Yes, indeed. So here is my review (with a bit of help from the article):
  • There have been some changes in the Senate and the House that - so far! - blocked the reauthorizing of the law that allows the NSA to do surveillance of everyone for everything they do, think, write, transfer or say:
  • there have been considerably stronger changes in public opinion: Many more know now they probably are surveilled and many more are (at least) more sympathetic to Edward Snowden and (at least) more opposed to general surveillance, but
  • the Obama government, like the Bush Jr. government, steadily prosecutes whistleblowers it doesn't like, while protecting and not prosecuting liars or whistleblowers it likes (such as former CIA directors Panetta and Petraeus).
In brief, I think the U.S. has learned something, but since the learning is mostly restricted to the public, and the public opinions' are mostly ignored by both the government and Congress, and indeed to a considerable extent as well by the main media, and therefore there have been few real legal effects, so far.

3. Dark Money Under Fire as Election 2016 Heats Up

The next item is an article posted by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

While Democratic candidates are lining up to denounce the huge influence that dark money is having on politics in the U.S., a new report says that 2016 presidential candidates are relying on such secret contributions "like never before."

In a speech before thousands, likely watched by millions more, Hillary Clinton formally launched her presidential bid on Saturday. During the address given on New York's Roosevelt Island, the Democratic frontrunner railed against the "endless flow of secret, endless money" in politics, saying that she would support a Constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United "if necessary."

These strong words, directed at the large majority of Americans who believe that money has "too much influence" in contemporary American politics, come at the outset of an election cycle expected to attract unprecedented levels of outside spending. 

I wouldn't call these "strong words" but then I have learned some things about American politics, honesty and integrity, namely - in particular - that a presidential candidate will say virtually anything, with a very honest face also, that may make them president (after which they will again "Look Forward!" to where there are no crimes, instead of backwards where all the crimes happened, including their own lies, falsehoods, dishonesties and deceptions).

But in fact the article is not about Hilary Clinton's lies but about a report that documents how the Citizens United ruling has effected American politics:

A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice published Friday outlines the ways in which the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling—and thus Super PACs —has reshaped the political landscape.

"The 2016 candidates are using super PACs like never before," says report author Brent Ferguson, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy program.

"While many have understood that super PACs would make a significant impact on American elections," Ferguson continues, "few could have predicted the speed with which they have evolved and moved to the center of our political system." According to the analysis, the six ways that candidates are engaging with these outside big-money groups are:

And I make a brief break here to say that what follows are just the titles of the six ways. If you want to read the texts that come with them, click the last dotted link:

1. Presidential aspirants appear to be delaying their formal
     announcements to avoid following rules that apply to
     candidates.
2. Several candidates' top aids may be working for super
     PACs.
3. Campaigns are fundraising for their preferred super PACS
     and other outside groups like never before.
4. Candidates are benefiting from a new species of dark
      money group with very close ties to the candidates and
      their super PACs.
5. Super PACs may be expressly coordinating with
     candidates and relying on a questionable exception to
     justify it.
6. Candidates are using outside groups to serve basic
     campaign functions, not just to buy television and mail
     advertisements.

In brief: The old system of elections has been successfully destroyed ("deregulated"), and the new system, that seems to promise nearly all the
power to the few richest, has been already put in its place.

As the article says at the end:

"This means that candidates may be indebted to super PAC donors for more than just attack ads," Ferguson notes, "they may come to rely on them for running viable campaigns."

The report says that lack of enforcement is driving this political trend, where undisclosed donors contribute millions of dollars to essential back shadow campaigns. "Congress and the FEC have consistently failed to act while the current system has  been dismantled," the report concludes. "Until that changes, we will continue to  see politicians push the envelope, moving our elections further and further toward an elite bastion of funders and away from everyday Americans."

Yes, indeed.

4. It's the Planet Stupid!: Capitalism and The Destruction of the Commons

The next item is an article by John Atcheson on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows (and this is a very good article):

There is a war going on right now between those who are working to protect the commons and the hard-core capitalists, who are working to privatize our economy, culture, ecology, environment and government. 

The stakes are high. The outcome will determine whether we live in a dystopian chaos, or a civil society; whether we preserve our natural life support system, or live on life support.

At the moment, it’s a rout. The capitalists are winning, and those very few who speak for the commons are ignored, marginalized or ridiculed.

Yes, quite so - and not only are the capitalists winning; they have been winning since 1979 and 1980, when Thatcher and Reagan were elected, and by now they
have destroyed ("
deregulated") most of the legal foundations of regulated capitailism, which will be very hard to regain without a major revolution, indeed
in considerable part because Congress is for the most part corrupted by their own riches (for most are millionaires) and by the very many lobbyists.

As to the number of lobbyists just in Washington D.C. here is a quote from "Lobbyist" (<- Wikipedia, minus a note):

While lobbyists number 12,000 people in Washington, DC, those with real clout number in the dozens, and a small group of firms handles much of lobbying in terms of expenditures. As an activity, lobbying takes time to learn, requires skill and sensitivity, depends on deft persuasion, and has much in common with generally non-political activities such as management consulting and public relations.

But John Atcheson has a specific point of view:

To understand this conflict, we need to understand what is meant by the commons. Here’s a typical definition:

 The cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.

I would propose a slightly broader definition, one in which “cultural resources” includes the laws, regulations and norms designed to assure an equitable, just, prosperous and sustainable world. These too are under assault from the capitalists.

I agree, even though it is also true that much of the air, the water and the habitable earth now are owned or destroyed by the rich, because this is profitable to them.

Here is one attempt to express the value of a part of the commons in money:

Even when you attempt to monetize the value of the commons as Robert Costanza et. al. have been doing for some time now, it turns out that the annual value of just 17 ecosystem services is worth more than the entire human economy as measured by GDP.  An “ecosystem service” includes things like the value of bees as pollinators, the value flood protection from coastal wetlands, or the value of coral reefs as nurseries for edible seafood. For those who are interested in the numbers, the value of these 17 ecosystem services was $142.7 trillion in 2014. And there are far more than 17 ecosystem services and we get these “services” essentially free, year after year.  By comparison, the gross global product –the annual value of all human created goods and services – is only about $76 trillion.

Actually, while I have no disagreements with these monetary values, I do not think one can put a decent monetary value on - for one example - "the value of bees as pollinators", for one thing because if the bees are gone (killed by neonicotinoids (<- Wikipedia) produced by Shell and Bayer), mankind will be gone. [1]

Here is John Atcheson's basic explanation for what is happening:

How and why does this insanity persist?  Future blind capitalists have stolen the government, media and the terms of the debate.

And it’s not just the natural commons. Plutocrats are privatizing or trying to privatize education; prisons; transportation; water supply; infrastructure construction, management and maintenance; policing; firefighting; Medicaid; Medicare; and Social Security – the list is endless. 

It’s not because the private sector does these things better: In general, the public sector provides better service at comparable or lower costs than private sector equivalents.  It’s for the sake of profits for a very few fat cats at the expense of the vast majority of the people.

Yes, indeed. And as Atcheson concludes:

These used to be part of the shared investment we made for the common good.  The very basis of our government is grounded in the notion that governments are established to assure the “commonweal,” or “commonwealth.”  

But since Ronnie “gubmint-is-the-problem” Reagan, Americans have behaved like slack-jawed yokels at a three-card Monty festival, disabling, underfunding and discrediting government and turning the country over to a bunch of crazed Ayn Rand acolytes, making ourselves poorer, while destroying natural capital, our children’s birthright.

I mostly agree, although it seems to me to be a mistake to blame the average American "slack-jawed yokels at a three-card Monty festival". I don't disagree they are stupid (for the most part, which is the only thing that counts in elections) and that they can be (for the most part) easily deceived, but I think it is mostly the responsibility of their deceivers, namely the rich and most of the politicians.

But this is a strongly recommended article.

5.  Backlash Grows as Leaked TPP Text Reveals Increased Corporate Control of Public Health

The last item is an article by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Truth-out (and originally on Democracy Now!):

This starts as follows:

As the Obama administration praises the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), backlash continues to grow against the deal. WikiLeaks has just published another section of the secret text - this one about public healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry. Newly revealed details of the draft show the TPP would give major pharmaceutical companies more power over public access to medicine, and weaken public healthcare programs. The leaked draft also suggests the TPP would prevent Congress from passing reforms to lower drug costs. One of the practices that would be allowed is known as "Evergreening." It lets drug companies extend the life of a patent by slightly modifying their product and then getting a new patent.

Yes indeed, though it should also be mentioned that - it seems - that so far only at most a 1/20th part (5%) of the very secret TPP is known to non-corporate non-lawyers.

Here is
Peter Maybarduk, who is the director of Public Citizen's Global Access to Medicines Program:

Peter Maybarduk: (..) In this agreement, the US trade representative and the Obama administration put forward a number of proposals that have nothing to do with trade. There are about 30 chapters, only a few have leaked, the rest is negotiated in secret. Among the many harmful proposals that have been made by big business are demands to transform other countries' rules with regard to medical patents and many rules affecting people's access to affordable medicines.

We are very concerned that the TPP would lead to preventable suffering and death in these countries where people rely on access to generics. There are many provisions in the TPP that would expand the pharmaceutical industry's monopoly power.

And here is the same speaker on the effects of knowing "only a few" of the "about 30 chapters":

Peter Maybarduk: We do our best to follow by talking to contacts that we know, but due to the secrecy, it's really only through leaks we're available to evaluate the particular proposals and assess their impact. These are all rules that would otherwise be debated in our Congresses and Parliaments out in the open, rules that include many gifts to big business. And so it's very concerning that we have to rely on someone taking the tremendous risk of leaking a document in order to have a real public debate about the issues.

Quite so. There is considerably more in the interview, which is recommended.

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Note

[1] And you can put a monetary value on the disappearance of mankind as well. I suggest you take the 1654 Reichsmark (plus some pennys) that the SS calculated was the average monetary value (ca. 1941) gained from concentration camp inmates, which in turn makes the monetary value of mankind around 10,000,000,000,000 i.e. 10 trillion, which is peanuts compared to the American debts, so therefore...

(This is plainly insane, but it is reasoning in terms of profitability.)
.

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