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Nederlog

December 19, 2015
Crisis: CISA Passed, Sanders, Krugman, Scruton on "The Left", Pete Seeger
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Introduction


Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, December 19, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the fact that the CISA (with a new name) has been passed, with a double trick; item 2 is about how the main US media block Bernie Sanders; item 3 is about Krugman as a film critic (of a film about the economy that may be interesting); item 4 is about Roger Scruton's ideas about "The Left" and his own conservatism; and item 5 is about a long read about Pete Seegers as a target of the FBI (also interesting in combination with item 4).

Also, those who worry about my computer (I am one of them, though the problems are completely my own fault: See December 5): I did download Ubuntu 97 today, and it installed. (So I am a bit more confident that the system will remain working.)

1. Last-Minute Budget Bill Allows New Privacy-Invading Surveillance in the Name of Cybersecurity

The first item is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

In the wake of a series of humiliating cyberattacks, the imperative in Congress and the White House to do something — anything — in the name of improving cybersecurity was powerful.

But only the most cynical observers thought the results would be this bad.

The legislation the House passed on Friday morning is a thinly disguised surveillance bill that would give companies pathways they don’t need to share user data related to cyberthreats with the government — while allowing the government to use that information for any purpose, with almost no privacy protections.

Because Speaker of the House Paul Ryan slipped the provision into the massive government omnibus spending bill that had to pass — or else the entire government would have shut down — it was doomed to become law.
Probably I belong to "the most cynical observers", for this is more or less what I expected - and once again:

The US government is not surveilling everyone to protect them against terrorism; the US government is surveilling everyone because it wants total control of all its inhabitants. This is also why it will be extremely difficult to make them stop this illegal surveillance (it is in gross and obvious contradiction with the Fourth Amendment) without a nearly revolutionary change in government.

The text of the bill — now known as the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, formerly known as CISA — wasn’t released until shortly after midnight Wednesday morning, giving members of Congress essentially no time to do anything about it.

The bill removes a restriction on direct information sharing with the National Security Agency and the Pentagon; eliminates a restriction on the government’s use of that information for surveillance activities; allows law enforcement to use the information to prosecute any and all crimes; and leaves it up to the individual agencies to scrub personally identifying information when they feel like it.

This is also how bills are passed these days, especially if they are of very great importance to over 300 million surveilled Americans: You attach the filth you want to pass to any bill that must pass; you do not inform any Congressman of anything that is in the bill; and thus you assure that the sub-humans you rule will be surveilled 24 hours a day by the super-humans from the secret services. Right?!

Here is the summary:

“The bill is all the worst parts” of the different cybersecurity bills negotiated in recent months, Nathan White, senior legislative manager for Access Now, told The Intercept. “It was negotiated in secret. … It’s a sneaky process they’ve used.”

Because of the last-minute timing, members of Congress “are not even going to know what they’re passing,” White said. “We don’t have time to get an informed vote, they’re pulling a fast one on the Senate.”

And the White House is reportedly on board.
Of course the White House is on board: Power! More Power! Absolute Power! That is what they hope to get, and indeed are getting with this new surveillance bill.

Here is Frank Church once again:
If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.
I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.
2. Media’s Near Blackout on Bernie Sanders Keeps Many Voters in the Dark  

The second item is by Bill Boyarsky on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Bernie Sanders’ strong, progressive and inspirational message is just right for a nation afflicted by poverty and a shrinking middle class. Yet he is having trouble breaking through mass-media disinterest in his candidacy and its obsession with Donald Trump.

Yes, indeed. I have read several articles about this, and Sanders is said to get between 81 and 23 times less attention than does the sick clown Trump. Also, I think the US mainstream media are less obsessed with Trump (about whom only extremely stupid or ignorant people can feel any enthousiasm) as - I think - obsessed with the idea of not giving Sanders a fair hearing.

Well... here is Sanders:

“Half of people 55 years of age or older have zero savings for retirement. Got that? You’re 57 years old, you got nothing in the bank. How do you think you’re feeling? You’re scared to death. See that on television? CNN? NBC? ABC? … Not so much. We are a country where millions of people are in despair. Black, white, brown. They want to see a reflection of their life, of their reality, in media, and in many respects, they are not. And then they say, ‘Who the hell is talking about me? Who knows about my life? Why should I vote? No one cares—no one even knows what’s going on in my life.’ So media becomes an important part of the reality of America, and I think we need some big changes there.”

Yes, indeed. The same held for me - I had absolutely no money at 55, being ill since I was 28 - but I do now have a minimal pension, which is slightly better than the dole I received for 31 years (without ever having been regarded as ill, which created very big problems for me, for I am really ill, and would have left Holland else already in 1980). In fact, the pension is also better than I would have gotten in the USA, though it isn't much more than the Amsterdam dole.

There is more quoted in the article that is good, but I leave this with a quotation by a twenty years old student, who talks sense:

“For many students, and for me, it’s less tangible—Bernie is sort of our last hope for a political system that … we’re jaded and disaffected with, combined with a strong sense of urgency around climate inaction, increasingly visible police brutality and escalating poverty.

“Many of us were taught in middle and high school that America had [an] admirable … functioning, democratic system, and some of us believed it too. Most of us have never really seen it though—with gridlock, legalized corruption, layers of manufactured fakeness and propaganda—the call for a political revolution is the only thing that could keep us from slipping into total political apathy.”

3. Paul Krugman on the Movie that Big Money Doesn't Want You to See

The third item is by Janet Allon on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:
Paul Krugman has not quite become a film critic, but he does give “The Big Short," the new movie about the financial crisis of 2008, a thumbs up in Friday's column. His over-arching point is that some powerful interests want to spin the history of the crisis into something it was not, namely a problem of too much government regulation, when in fact the opposite is the case. And they are doing their best to make sure that "we don’t remember what happened, or that we remember it wrong."

I think Krugman is right, although I haven't seen "The Big Short" and do not know his evidence for his thesis that those who seek to lie to the public to serve their selfish interests, now lie that there was "a problem of too much government regulation" while in fact there were 35 years of successive deregulations that benefitted only the rich and their bankers.

Here is a preview:

The Big Short” is based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name, one of the few real best-sellers to emerge from the financial crisis. I saw an early screening, and I think it does a terrific job of making Wall Street skulduggery entertaining, of exploiting the inherent black humor of how it went down.

The film achieves this feat mainly by personalizing the tale, focusing not on abstractions but on colorful individuals who saw the rot in the system and tried to make money off that realization. Of course, this still requires explaining what it was all about. Yet even the necessary expository set pieces work amazingly well. For example, we learn how dubious loans were repackaged into supposedly safe “collateralized debt obligations” via a segment in which the chef Anthony Bourdain explains how last week’s fish can be disguised as seafood stew.

Yes, indeed. Here is a little more:
But it is true that many influential, seemingly authoritative players, from Alan Greenspan on down, insisted not only that there was no bubble but that no bubble was even possible.

And the bubble whose existence they denied really was inflated largely via opaque financial schemes that in many cases amounted to outright fraud — and it is an outrage that basically nobody ended up being punished for those sins aside from innocent bystanders, namely the millions of workers who lost their jobs and the millions of families that lost their homes.

Precisely. Anyway...you now know what Krugman thinks is a film you ought to see.

4. Roger Scruton: ‘These left thinkers have destroyed the intellectual life’  

The fourth item is by Mick Hume on Spiked-OnLine:

This starts as follows:

Ours is an age of intellectual conformism, in which expressing offensive opinions often seems to be deemed the worst offence of all; academia is decreed a ‘safe space’ where ‘uncomfortable’ ideas are banished, and using the wrong word can see you accused of committing a ‘microaggression’. And you are supposed to apologise at the first sign of a wagging finger.

Roger Scruton apparently didn’t get the memo. During our conversation, the conservative philosopher gently but unapologetically delivered blunt and cutting opinions on subjects ranging from Slavoj Zizek to Jeremy Corbyn, from banning the veil to Islamist terrorism, from homosexuality to fox hunting. Whatever anybody thinks of his views, they should surely endorse his aversion to the ‘radical censorship of anything that disturbs people’ and his insistence that the controversial ‘needs to be discussed’ rather than continually ‘pushed under the carpet’.

I also never got the memo, but I am not a conservative, am six years younger than Scruton, and I fell ill in the first year of my university studies, and remained ill ever afterwards, while I am also systematically discriminated in Holland, I suppose in the end for not having any of the popular opinions nearly everyone in Holland either has or pretends to have. (Most pretend.)

As to Roger Scruton: I more or less like him, and I have read several books by him, although I do not think he is a major philosopher and I do not agree with his conservatism.

Then again, I agree with him that "the controversial ‘needs to be discussed’"; that there are few remaining real intellectuals (to which Scruton does belong); that there really are some people - a few, indeed - who are considerably more intelligent than most of their contemporaries and who are, for that reason, more important than most of their contemporaries, indeed also if they are wrong; and that there are these days, and indeed the last 35 years, very few intellectually and morally credible real leftists.

Here is a summary of Scruton's last book:

In just under 300 pages he Scruton-izes a collection of stars, past and present, of the radical Western intelligentsia – the likes of Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson in Britain, JK Galbraith and Ronald Dworkin in the US, Jurgen Habermas, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze in Europe. An expanded and updated version of his controversial Thinkers of the New Left (1985), the book ends with a new chapter entitled ‘The kraken wakes’ dealing with the ‘mad incantations’ of Alan Badiou and the left’s marginally newer academic celebrity, the Slovenian Zizek.

Of these I do not know Alan Badiou, but I am willing to agree with Scruton that  the others are either thoroughly uninteresting or - more or less, to sometimes very - mad, and that nearly all are also quite difficult to comprehend (especially Lacan and Deleuze) while they tend to write nonsense.

Then again, I never believed anyone of them to be "leading thinkers of the left" or indeed "leading thinkers" of any kind. Indeed, there may well be a difference
of opinion between Scruton and me about who is really leftist, as is illustrated by the following example:

Take Deleuze’s book, A Thousand Plateaus – the English translation has only been out a few years, but it’s already gone through 11 printings. A huge, totally unreadable tome by somebody who can’t write French.’

‘Yet this is core curriculum throughout the humanities in American and English universities. Why? The one sole reason is it’s on the left. There is nothing that anybody can translate into lucid prose, but for that very reason, it seems like a suit of armour around the age-old prejudices against power and authority, the old unshaped and unshapeable agenda.’

My points in fact are two, and it seems to me Scruton misses both of them.

The first is this. Deleuze lived from 1925-1995, and I know of him since 1978, but I would never (and did never) regard him in any way as "a thinker of the left" indeed in part because I agree with Scruton on his truly awful style.

In fact, I would regard none of the list of thinkers Scruton mentioned as "a serious thinker of the left", and if I were asked who is a serious leftist thinker I would mention persons like Bertrand Russell, George Orwell, Noam Chomsky and - indeed also, though he was less leftist than the other three - John Maynard Keynes. Also, each of these wrote much better than any on the list that Scruton mentioned, and is - certainly, in my opinion - considerably more intelligent (and also, quite deservedly, much more popular) than "the leftist thinkers" Scruton mentioned.

The second point is this. It seems to me that "the left" has been much in retreat and in decline since the late 1970ies, and that what is currently called "the left" is mostly not what I would call "the left" (who knows it very well: both of my parents were communists all their adult lives) but is a thoroughly recooked partial and mostly fraudulent part of another ideology, that was much influenced by Clinton's and Blair's "Third Way", which was not socialism nor leftism at all, but was - as William Black said about them - a "group that pretends sometimes to be center-left but is actually completely a creation of Wall Street--it's run by Wall Street for Wall Street with this false flag operation as if it were a center-left group. It's nothing of the sort.""

I think Roger Scruton missed the second point almost completely, and this in part also contributed to his diagnosis of "the left" of 1985, which he still seems to believe mostly.

Here is Scruton on the importance of May of 1968 in the genesis of his conservatism:

Scruton’s powerful aversion to ‘the French gurus of ’68 and their jargon-ridden prose’ dates from that student revolt in Paris in 1968. It gave birth to a generation of radical thinkers, and, in the process, helped turn at least one young Englishman into a conservative. ‘I was there in Paris and I was indignant at the stupidity of what I observed. I was a normal young person in England, I was brought up in a Labour Party family and as far as I had any views they’d be vaguely on the left.’

I also went to Paris in 1968, even twice, in May and in June, and I was also rather strongly influenced by it, but not in Scruton's way. One reason is that I am six years younger than he is; another more important reason is that my father and his father were communists, which had landed both of them in Nazi concentration- camps in 1941, where my grandfather was murdered.

In fact I came back from Paris with two general thoughts. The first was that very few saw it as I saw it (from a mostly communist pespective, with very leftist parents, but with very few of the then common leftist prejudices), and the second was - odd but quite true - that my own father (member of the Dutch CP since 1934) was a considerably more credible revolutionary than any of the students I had seen in Paris, included Dany Cohn-Bendit and his mates.

Indeed, I still think so, and one of the other things my experiences in '68 in Paris at least contributed to is that I gave up Marx and marxism by the end of 1970, never to return to it either.

There is something Scruton sees in the current left that seems better explained as I did above (they are not leftists: they are merely well-paid academic role-players, with very small talents) than it is by him:

‘But these great ideals, for which people did fight and die, were changed under the pressure of 20th-century politics into bureaucratic processes, that are constantly equalising, constantly passing little bits of legislation to ensure that anybody is not discriminating, not standing out, not learning something that puts them in a higher category than anybody else. And, likewise, liberté has been bureaucratised in the sense that it doesn’t any more represent the freedom of people to break out, to do the thing that they really want to do. Rather it’s conceived as a form of empowerment – the state gives you this in the form of vouchers or privileges, privileges, for example, that you might have as a gay, or a woman, or an ethnic minority. So in all these ways, both those ideals have ceased to be ideals and become the property of the state, to distribute among people according to the fashion of the day.’

Yes, indeed - but this bureaucratization of former leftist ideals, that now is "conceived as a form of empowerment" was in fact mostly effected by Clintonesque and Blairite lies and degeneracies, and indeed made what once were leftist ideals of freedom and intelligence into bureaucratic privileges given these days by powerful bureaucrats to the properly behaved second-class "citizens" with far fewer rights and considerably less education than the real leftists of the late 1960ies had.

So my general diagnosis of Roger Scruton is that he is attacking small fry as "leftists" who are not so much leftists as academic role-players out for money and fame; that he is missing some of the real leftists, who also were all of much greater competence than those he attacks (Russell, Orwell, Chomsky, Keynes); and that he seems to have missed most of the degeneracy of the left that was done by Clinton and Blair for their own personal interests.

5. Pete Seeger’s FBI File Reveals How the Folk Legend First Became a Target of the Feds

The fifth item is by David Corn on Mother Jones:

This starts as follows (and is a long read):

From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the US government spied on singer-songwriter Pete Seeger because of his political views and associations. According to documents in Seeger's extensive FBI file—which runs to nearly 1,800 pages (with 90 pages withheld) and was obtained by Mother Jones under the Freedom of Information Act—the bureau's initial interest in Seeger was triggered in 1943 after Seeger, as an Army private, wrote a letter protesting a proposal to deport all Japanese American citizens and residents when World War II ended.

Seeger, a champion of folk music and progressive causes—and the writer, performer, or promoter of now-classic songs, including as "If I Had a Hammer," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," Turn! Turn! Turn!," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Goodnight, Irene," and "This Land Is Your Land"—was a member of the Communist Party for several years in the 1940s, as he subsequently acknowledged. (He later said he should have left earlier.) His FBI file shows that Seeger, who died in early 2014, was for decades hounded by the FBI, which kept trying to tie him to the Communist Party, and the first investigation in the file illustrates the absurd excesses of the paranoid security establishment of that era.

There is a whole lot more, and in case you are not much interested in Pete Seeger it still is worth reading because it shows basically how crazy the FBI and the CIA were in persecuting people like Pete Seeger, who seems to have been mostly influenced by ideas about freedom and decency, and indeed also how conserva- tism may unpack itself if it gets real power, which also may not be how Roger Scruton would like to see them do it.

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