August 29, 2015
Crisis: NSA, FBI vs Snowden, Indifference, Disasters, Economics No Science, Maher

 "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


Appeals court rejects challenge to NSA's ongoing mass
     collection of phone data

2. FBI Pressured Scandinavian Countries to Arrest and
     Extradite Edward Snowden

3. Global Response to People Fleeing Ravages of War:
     'Callous Indifference,' Humanitarian Failure

4. Declassified CIA Documents Reveal How Disastrous
     America’s Post-9/11 Plans Really Were

5. 21st Century Economics: A Dismal Science Indeed
6. The true axis of evil (in the USA)

This is a Nederlog of Saturday August 29, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article about a rather crazy decision of a US appeals court (which amounts to the thesis that only people who can prove the secret and illegal investigations of everyone's data did, specifically, concern him may appear in court); item 2 is about the USA's efforts to arrest Snowden (which leads me to argue Snowden is
safer in Russia than in most other countries); item 3 is about The Global Response to people fleeing wars: 'callous indifference'; item 4 is about declassified CIA documents (with a reflection by my on costs); item 5 is about the science of economics, that is for the most part not a real science, because it makes no predictions that stand up; and item 6 is about a nice and good interview with Bill Maher from 2002, with three points I have a few comments on: The true axis of evil; (lack of) intelligence; and being a member of a minority.

1. Appeals court rejects challenge to NSA's ongoing mass collection of phone data

The first article is by Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian:
  • Appeals court rejects challenge to NSA's ongoing mass collection of phone data

This starts as follows:

A federal appeals court has rejected a high-profile challenge to the ongoing mass collection of US phone data by the National Security Agency without ruling on the merits of bulk surveillance.

Judges for the District of Columbia court of appeals found that the man who brought the case, conservative lawyer Larry Klayman, could not prove that his particular cellphone records had been swept up in NSA dragnets.

The ruling reversed an injunction from a lower court on the phone records surveillance program – but only in a technical sense, as the injunction never actually went into force.

But the judges’ decision does not impact that of a different federal appeals court, which in May found that the bulk phone records collection lacked a foundation in law. That ruling, by the second circuit court of appeals, added momentum to a congressional rollback of the surveillance program that has yet to take effect.

OK...but as to the decision of the federal appeals court with which the article started, there is a somewhat obvious reply:

Klayman shot back, telling the Guardian the judges were “intellectually dishonest” as the widespread nature of NSA bulk phone records collection has been on display for more than two years since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s surveillance disclosures.

“It’s outrageous this court would allow the constitutional rights of Americans to be trampled upon,” Klayman said. “The court has become the tool of the establishment.”

For when it is obvious since Snowden that the NSA collects everything, also from Americans, and does so in total secrecy as far as the NSA is concerned,  while that is (accoding to another federal court) unconstitutional and illegal, to  claim that you first have to prove that your private information has been collected by the NSA indeed amounts to the defense that the NSA should do as it pleases and can do as it pleases as far as this court's judges are concerned.

The article ends as follows, quite correctly on the basis of my knowledge:

Although Congress in June barred the NSA from collecting US phone data in bulk, the ban does not take effect until December. Privacy advocates have warned that the replacement surveillance powers Congress created are sufficiently broad to permit the NSA or partner agencies to reconstitute much of the barred surveillance in different forms.
That is: I expect that collecting everything simply will continue, if perhaps in a slightly different way ("the phone companies have to store the data") and with a slightly different bit of propaganda, indeed especially with judges as reported, who wipe their asses with the laws and the constitution.

2. FBI Pressured Scandinavian Countries to Arrest and Extradite Edward Snowden 

The next article is by Roisin Davies on Truthdig:

  • FBI Pressured Scandinavian Countries to Arrest and Extradite Edward Snowden

This starts as follows:

The FBI repeatedly asked Scandinavian countries to detain and deport whistleblower Edward Snowden if he attempted to enter their territories, recently released official documents reveal.

In the aftermath of Snowden’s 2013 leak of documents exposing U.S. and British surveillance of digital communications, he had left Hong Kong and was applying to various countries, including Norway, for asylum. Believing that he may have been seeking asylum in Scandinavia, the FBI contacted the police forces of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland “to inform them that the US Department of Justice had charged Snowden with theft and espionage, and issued a provisional warrant for his arrest, according to documents released by Norway’s national broadcaster NRK,” The Guardian reports.

I say, although I am not at all amazed. But no, I didn't know this. In fact, I think Snowden is safer in Russia than in most other places, since it is much easier to kidnap him from - say - Norway or Ecuador than from Russia.

Here is a little more, quoted from The Guardian:

In a separate letter to the Norwegian foreign ministry on the same day, the US embassy in Oslo spelled out its request that the government of Norway should “effectuate the return of Mr Snowden to the United States by way of denial of entry, deportation, expulsion or other legal means”.

In a subsequent letter dated 4 July the embassy repeated its request that Snowden be arrested and extradited to the US under the 1977 extradition treaty between the two countries.

Snowden’s lawyer Ben Wizna told NRK he suspects that the US sent similar documents to most of Europe and other countries at the time.

Snowden has been invited to Norway next week to receive the Bjørnson Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression, but he decided not to travel because he could not receive guarantees from the Norwegian government that he would not be extradited, the academy told NRK.

Which seems a quite correct decision to me, and indeed, were I Snowden I also would not go personally to Germany, indeed regardless from guarantees.

3. Global Response to People Fleeing Ravages of War: 'Callous Indifference,' Humanitarian Failure

The next article is by Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:

  • Global Response to People Fleeing Ravages of War: 'Callous Indifference,' Humanitarian Failure

This starts as follows:

It's a crisis of record proportions that is being met with global "callous indifference" and failed, dehumanizing responses, human rights experts say.

The crisis, described as Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War Two, involves hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict, many from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, trying to reach safety in Europe.

For some, the journey reaches a fatal end. As the Associated Press notes, the deaths come "by land and sea."

Austrian officials said Friday that 71 likely Syrian refugees, including eight women and three children, died in the back of a truck that was abandoned in Hungary.

The main reason this is here is in fact the beginning of the first paragraph, which seems - by and large, with exceptions - quite correct to me:

It's a crisis of record proportions that is being met with global "callous indifference"

I think that is quite true, and not only as regards to people who flee the ravages of war. Here are two observations, both of them a bit vague, but both true to the best of my knowledge:

First, it wasn't much better ten, twenty or thirty years ago. Humane reactions to human suffering nearly always are from some minorities, rather than from a majority of the proud consumers.

Second, I do think it is a bit worse than it was, and the only decent reason I can think of is that almost everyone is nearly everywhere bombarded with advert- isents, lies and propaganda.

For more on minorities, see item 6.

4. Declassified CIA Documents Reveal How Disastrous America’s Post-9/11 Plans Really Were

The next article is by Peter Frankopan on Common Dreams:

  • Declassified CIA Documents Reveal How Disastrous America’s Post-9/11 Plans Really Were

This is a fairly long article that starts as follows:
Scholars working on the contemporary Middle East are living through something of a golden age where evidence is uniquely plentiful for three reasons.

First, the disastrous failures of US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to an unprecedented programme of declassification of documents (some with significant redactions) as part of the cathartic process of trying to understand how so many mistakes were made before and after 9/11.

Second, the cache of cables dumped by WikiLeaks, coupled with further revelations from material leaked by Edward Snowden, has provided an exceptional level of insight into the workings of the intelligence agencies over the past three decades, together with priceless new information about the decision-making processes and about operational activities.

And third, there has been a cache of materials found locally following the military interventions of the past 12 years – such as audio tapes recovered from the presidential palace in Baghdad in 2003 that recorded thousands of hours of meetings, discussions and even phone calls made by Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, or boxes of cassettes that belonged to Osama bin Laden that were retrieved from a compound in Kandahar two year earlier.

This treasure trove allows us to understand the failures, incompetence and poor planning that accompanied the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in astonishing detail, but also to frame these within the context of a wider region – and a wider period.
I think I was aware of the first two of these three reasons, but not of the third.

And I will not consider what difference the three reasons make (I suspect: factually not very much, except perhaps for "s
cholars working on the contemporary Middle East") but I will quote two specific points.

The first is this:

The impact of the blanket restrictions on Iraqi exports and financial transactions was devastating – especially on the poor. Initial estimates in The Lancet in 1995 suggested 500,000 children alone died from malnutrition and disease as a direct result of the sanctions over the course of five years. When Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, was interviewed on the television programme 60 Minutes and asked about the fact that more children had died in Iraq as a result of sanctions than in Hiroshima in 1945, she replied nervelessly: “I think it is a very hard choice.” Nevertheless, she went on, “We think the price is worth it.”
I say: 500,000 children - half a million - die, wholly apart from the very many other deaths, and you reply that their lives were "worth it": how sick are you?

And as to that very same war:

Few today believe we did the right thing in supporting the attack on Iraq. Even Jeb Bush recently declared that he would not have supported it had he known then what he knows now. The cost and consequences of the military intervention have been catastrophic.
And there is the cost: not only the lives lost by servicemen, the value of which cannot even be estimated, not the tens of billions spent on the war. The biggest cost of the war, as new research from Harvard suggests, is the cost of looking after the 170,000 veterans who are 70 per cent or more disabled as a result of their injuries. The long-term cost to the US economy is estimated to be $6 trillion (£3.9trn) – or $75,000 for every single household in the United States.
I take it that losses through not being able to work (when 70 percent or more disabled) are included, and clearly the "$75,000 for every single household" is not a debt, but most of it will have to be paid, bit by bit, presumably from the taxes.

21st Century Economics: A Dismal Science Indeed

The next article is by Don Quijones on Raging Bull-Shit:

  • 21st Century Economics: A Dismal Science Indeed

In fact, the article is a repeat from December 2012, but I like Raging Bull-Shit, and the article is good.

Also, I realize that I explained the day before yesterday why virtually no one - but academic philosophers and their students - is interested in modern academic philosophy, and yesterday why psychology is not a real science.

It so happens that I have excellent degrees in both subjects, and not in economy, but then I did read a good lot of economics (including - for example - Marx, Keynes, and Samuelson) and I agree few economists are worth reading, because they are in fact dreaming about systems that have little to do with reality.

The article starts as follows

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.
John Kenneth Galbraith

Since the first stage of the Global Financial Crisis erupted in 2007-08, economists, policy makers and central bankers have trotted out a now-familiar line: that the bursting of the sub-prime bubble that sparked the crisis was a one-in-a-million event that could not be predicted or anticipated.

But what if the economic models they were using – and continue to use – are completely flawed? As the Swedish documentary posted below reveals, the neo-classical model that has formed the basis of economic “science” (a term I use in the loosest possible sense) over the last 30 or so years has ignored one essential – some might say the essential – ingredient of any modern economy: debt.

Quite so. And it isn't just debt that is not discussed by most economists:

Steve Keen, one of a select few economists to have warned of the risks posed by the subprime bubble, argues that subscribing to an economic model which excludes banks, money and debt is “insane” and is the reason why the vast majority of economists had no idea the crisis was coming.

What’s more, most of the models used by economists and central bankers today do not reflect the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the global financial industry.

As research by Stefano Battiston has shown, around 80 percent of the entire global corporate world is controlled by just 100 companies. And the vast majority of these companies are banks and financial institutions that have become so highly interconnected that a seemingly isolated problem in one institution can quickly spread to infect the whole system.

And given the scale of leverage in the financial sector, with some banks leveraged as much as 60 or 70 to one, as well as the huge risks associated with many bank investments, in particular derivatives products, the chances of a systemically vital institution experiencing its own “Lehman moment” is far greater than most regulators and central bankers are currently letting on.

Or to put the whole matter slightly otherwise:

While economists insisted - in majority, not: all - on talking about economies without considering banks, debts or money, nothing has been done about the very many major crimes and corruptions in the banking world ("too big to fail!") and nothing has been done about making the public financially responsible for the failures of the bank managers, which means in fact that all one can do is
wait for the next crisis and hope it will not destroy the economy (or indeed hope it will, since one has given up on capitalism and capitalist economists).

In either case, rational people will tend to avoid both the advice and the tales of most professional economists, simply because they have been wrong (and wrong, and wrong) about most things most of the times, and because the models they do use do not even account for obvious things (like: banks, money or debts).

Here is Don Quijones last paragraph:

When the British historian Thomas Carlyle coined the term “dismal science” to describe the economics discipline in 1849, little could he have known just how bad things would actually get. A poor man’s science with very little, if any, predictive capacity, economics has metamorphosed over the last few decades into a dogma, a creed, a sect — and what’s more, one whose core tenets have been used to excuse and enable the worst excesses of a rogue financial sector.

I agree - and yes, this means that economy-as-a-science is not a science, simply because it has very little predictive capacity, for this is how one distinguishes real sciences from everything else: Real sciences make predictions that are far more often correct than incorrect. Therefore, purported "sciences" that fail that crucial test are not real sciences, and this holds for most of economics.

The true axis of evil (in the USA)

The last item of today is not an article and also not recent: It is 55 minutes of interview by Larry King of Bill Maher, from 2002:

  • Bill Maher on Larry King Live after "Politically Incorrect" is cancelled by ABC (2002)

I like the interview, with a considerably younger looking Bill Maher: Most of the questions are sensible, and the replies of Maher are well formulated and sensible.

But you don't need to watch it for the following three points, all of which are quite correct from my perspective:

A. The true axis of evil

Here is Bill Maher on what he considers to be "the true axis of evil":

"The true axis of evil in this country which is the brilliance of our marketing people combined with the naivité and often plain dumbness of our population. That is the real axis of evil.

Marketeers can make you believe anything. They can sell you anything. Anything from George Bush to dogfood. It doesn't matter. And when you have the kind of money that big time politicians have they can make you believe what they want you to believe."

Yes, indeed! Even though I expect not many will agree! The major problem of the West (and indeed the world) is the half whose IQs are maximally 100, who form, together with the clever marketeers who manipulate them,"A Genuine Democratic Majority", and who can be misled into believing and doing virtually anything.

They are the majority, and their votes virtually guarantee that those who mislead them, who have the money, the wit, and the lacks of morality and responsibility that enable them to do so very willingly, are elected and re-elected without end.

B. On US intelligence

So one major problem is the average US intelligence. Here is one exchange between King and Maher:

Larry King: You agree with Mencken who said 'No one ever got broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people'?
          Bill Maher: Almost no one. Right.

Yes - and no: Not all Americans are stupid or ignorant, and indeed quite a few are intelligent and knowledgeable. But it is a minority, and in something that functions as if it were "A Genuine Democracy" (although in fact it is a plutocracy, were the rich few manipulate the rest through money and propaganda) all votes count as 1 and thus the votes of the intelligent minority generally make no difference.

C. On Belonging to a minority:

And here is how Bill Maher assesses his own situation, and that of people who like his ideas:

"About 14% of people think I am right most of the time, and that is about correct."
I accept that as a fair estimate (and indeed Maher's videos are rarely seen by more than a few hundred thousands). Whether the percentage is quite right I don't know, though Maher added that he quoted a result established in "focus groups" (which are part of the techniques to explain and exploit markets and consumers).

Finally, here is Bill Maher's reply to the question why he doesn't go into politics, as a professional politician:

"Why can't I run? I do not represent the views of the majority - and that's OK because the majority to me is not always that wise. (...) So when people say you don't conform to the majority I say "thank you" and take it as a complment."

"We are a distinct minority, and minorities don't win."

That seems all quite correct to me, and indeed conforms to the role the intelligent minority - apart from a few Public Intellectuals - must play:

The best they can hope for, in the world in which they currently live, is that they may keep (some of) the tradition in which the intelligent minority can continue to function, think, read and publish existing (which is not a certainty), and that some of their ideas will be picked up by the next generation.


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