Prev-IndexNL-Next

Nederlog


  August
19, 2014
Crisis: U.S. Democracy, Ferguson, Crisis, Justice, Stewart on NSA
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "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
Sections
Introduction

1.
The Disease of American Democracy
2. Get the F#/k Out of Here Or You'll Be Shot
3. The Terrible Handling of the Economic Crisis Is a Cause of
     the Ferguson Riots

4. Where’s the Justice at Justice?
5.  Jon Stewart slams Obama's domestic spying program

About ME/CFS


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, August 19. It is a crisis log.
 
1.  The Disease of American Democracy

The first item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:

Actually, this is - in my opinion - a very optimistic piece, because it assumes that American democracy exists; that it is worthwile; and that it can be saved from the "monied interests" (I quote Reich) that now control it.

In contrast, here is a reference to an article by Sheldon Wolin (<- Wikipedia), who taught politics at Princeton, that was published in 2003 - and I had to do a search to find it, for it disappeared from Common Dreams, that seems to have revised more than its site's looks:
This a brief article, and it is certainly worth reading.

I am not saying it proves anything (and real proofs of non-trivial things are hard to find in politics) - I just wanted to show that Reich's article is optimistic.

Now to Reich's article. It starts as follows:

Americans are sick of politics. Only 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, a near record low. The President’s approval ratings are also in the basement.

A large portion of the public doesn’t even bother voting. Only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2012 presidential election. 

Put simply, most Americans feel powerless, and assume the political game is fixed. So why bother?
The answer Reich gives at the end is foreseeable: If you don't bother, then you've lost, but he does not give an argument that says "if you do bother, you - probably - have not lost", and indeed that is hard to give, for reasons he himself outlines.

First, there is a reference to a study by Gilens and Page, which has been mentioned before in Nederlog, who surveyed 1,799 policy issues in detail and found that (and I quote Gilens and Page):
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
What lawmakers did respond to were wealthy individuals and "monied interests" - and the study considered policy issues from 1981 till 2002, that is, it hardly or not at all covered the many consequences of 9/11.

Second, Reich quotes Walter Lippman (<- Wikipedia) who published a book (in 1922) in which he argued that
the broad public didn’t know or care about public policy. Its consent was “manufactured” by an elite that manipulated it. “It is no longer possible … to believe in the original dogma of democracy,” Lippman concluded.
I do not agree that the broad public doesn't "know or care about public policy", but I agree the majority doesn't know much about public policy, that is, except for propaganda. And that is a major problem for democracy ("government of the people, by the people, for the people", to quote Lincoln).

Third, Reich considers "interest-group pluralism" that, while it concedes that ordinary individuals hardly count, insists their interest-groups may count. There is something to be said for that, except that

Starting in 1980, something profoundly changed. It wasn’t just that big corporations and wealthy individuals became more politically potent, as Gilens and Page document. It was also that other interest groups began to wither.

Grass-roots membership organizations shrank because Americans had less time for them. As wages stagnated, most people had to devote more time to work in order to makes ends meet. That included the time of wives and mothers who began streaming into the paid workforce to prop up family incomes.

Union membership also radically fell, and so did the membership in other "countervailing powers" (that is, those that oppose big money). Also, the political parties changed character: they became national fund-raising machines, so as to be able to buy the many advertisements that popularize them (which itself is an anti-democratic notion: that you win your voters by advertising, rather than by rational and informed arguments).

The results get summed up by Reich as follows:
We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments.
Yes - but even so Reich ends by saying:

The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized.

We have to establish a new countervailing power. 

The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor, and our votes.

I do not see this happening. First, "most of us" never were that interested in politics, and certainly not in an informed and intelligent way; second, which "new countervailing power": those there were have been mostly destroyed; and third the "monied interests" have shown themselves to make their money by fraud, deception, corruption and theft - but they still have the power, and still succeed in deceiving most, and that is the basic problem.

I admit I may be too pessimistic or too cynical, and I agree with the line of argument that may be summarized as "if you don't do anything, then you're certainly fucked", but I would like to see a much better argument that outlines that "if you do something specific, like X, then you probably will not get fucked".

And I admit that is very hard to find these days (if you want it free from propaganda).


2.  Get the F#/k Out of Here Or You'll Be Shot 

The next item is an article by Abby Zimet on Common Dreams, that has a four line title that I will not copy but that you find by clicking the next link:

This starts as follows:

Ferguson continues to implode, with the governor calling in the National Guard even as a chilling autopsy report finds that Mike Brown was shot six times, including twice in the head. Meanwhile, reporters trying to document a crisis born of "racial storytelling that has created all black men (as) dangerous" are likewise being maced, arrested and threatened just for being there. Jaw-dropping video of one such encounter, wherein pointing a finger and shining a light can get you shot.

That video is in the article, as is another one by John Oliver that I saw, that is quite good.

3. The Terrible Handling of the Economic Crisis Is a Cause of the Ferguson Riots

The next item is an article by Washington's Blog, that I picked because of the title:

There is this quotation from Voth and Ponticelli to back up the title:

Does fiscal consolidation lead to social unrest? From the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability. In this paper, we assemble cross-country evidence for the period 1919 to the present, and examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. We test if the relationship simply reflects economic downturns, and conclude that this is not the key factor. We also analyse interactions with various economic and political variables. While autocracies and democracies show a broadly similar responses to budget cuts, countries with more constraints on the executive are less likely to see unrest as a result of austerity measures.

But this does not establish what the title says: it may be so, or it may not be so.

Indeed, if I were asked about causes of the riots in Ferguson, the two most prominent ones I would mention are (i) the shooting of the black teenager by a white cop and (ii) the gigantic militarization of the U.S. police.

Also, given the second, I am in some doubt whether this is a "terrible handling": it is, but it may be quite intentional - the American people, especially the blacks, have to learn their place, which is at the foot of the ladder, with their hats in their hands, smiling politely, while asking for favors from the rich, such as not being shot six times by a cop.

4. Where’s the Justice at Justice?

The next item is an article by Maureen Dowd on The New York Times:

This is in fact about James Risen, who has run out of legal defenses to keep him out of jail, which he risks because he does not want to reveal his journalistic  sources to the U.S. Department of Justice - as indeed he shouldn't, but try telling that to Obama.

I generally avoid the NYT, because I do not trust it and don't like its style, and indeed this article starts quite ridiculously, in my view:

JIM RISEN is gruff.

The tall slab of a reporter looks like someone who could have played an Irish Marine sergeant in an old World War II movie.

Who wants to know how Ms Dowd looks upon James Risen? What is its relevance or importance?

But OK: she interviewed him, and here is one of the points of the story (halfway down the text):

Attorney General Eric Holder wants to force Risen to testify and reveal the identity of his confidential source on a story he had in his 2006 book concerning a bungled C.I.A. operation during the Clinton administration in which agents might have inadvertently helped Iran develop its nuclear weapon program. The tale made the C.I.A. look silly, which may have been more of a sore point than a threat to national security.
(...)
The subpoena forcing Risen’s testimony expired in 2009, and to the surprise of just about everybody, the constitutional law professor’s administration renewed it — kicking off its strange and awful aggression against reporters and whistle-blowers.

By the way: the constitutional law professor’s = (one should always pick the shortest word, according to George Orwell) Obama's.

And here is the second point (near the end):

So why don’t they back off Risen? It’s hard to fathom how the president who started with the press fluffing his pillows has ended up trying to suffocate the press with those pillows.

How can he use the Espionage Act to throw reporters and whistle-blowers in jail even as he defends the intelligence operatives who “tortured some folks,” and coddles his C.I.A. chief, John Brennan, who spied on the Senate and then lied to the senators he spied on about it?

“It’s hypocritical,” Risen said. “A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin. They don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistle-blowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

The pillows metaphor also isn't what I would call good writing (why not rather: the president who started with being hugely flattered by the press has ended up trying to kill the free press?), but the rest is OK, and indeed I think Risen is correct:

Obama really does not want a free press, even though that is part of the constitution. He wants a press that is free to write what the government likes it to write, and that otherwise is silent - and he seems to have mostly reached that goal.

5. Jon Stewart slams Obama's domestic spying program

The final item today is not an article but a video:

I liked it and it takes 4 m 40 s. Here are two of the logos - and the second one is actually from the last spying satellite that the NSA got in the air. That is how they think about being controlled, and how they view themselves - and yes, it is real:

 


---------------------------------
Notes
[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.) 


About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)



       home - index - summaries - mail