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Nederlog


  September
8, 2014
Crisis: Torture, Celebgate, Politics, Think Tanks, Security, Evil, Wall Street
  "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
















Sections
Introduction

1.
You Can’t Say Something Like That And Not Do Something
     About It

2. Celebgate: it's not the internet we need to fix but men's
     squalid behaviour

3. Driving American Politics Underground
4. Are Think Tanks Selling Influence to Foreign Powers?
5. Almost Every Slice of American Society Wants To  
     Strengthen Social Security Except Washington Insiders

6.
Human failure to recognize, reject, and remember evil:
     essential topic for the 99.99%’s victory

7. Finally, Wall Street gets put on trial: We can still hold the
     0.1 percent responsible for tanking the economy


About ME/CFS


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, September 8. It is a
crisis log.

There are seven items. At least item 1, item 2, item 3 and item 6 and item 7 seem interesting to me (for various reasons).

1. You Can’t Say Something Like That And Not Do Something About It

The first item is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

new report from Amnesty International, prompted by President Obama’s recent acknowledgement that “we tortured some folks”, reminds us that you can’t say something like that — and then not do something about it.

The report states:

One measure of a country’s failure to meet its international human rights obligations might be when its president acknowledges that country’s responsibility for crimes under international law that have been public knowledge for many years but still fails to take the required next step.

Damning. But it gets worse. As Amnesty puts it:

A further indicator might be if the president takes to issuing something akin to a plea for sympathy for the perpetrators, even as the government blocks remedy for the victims.

Yes - and after this Dan Froomkin puts up a video in which you can see Obama excuse the "folks" (he calls them "folks" too) who did the torturing: They were working "very hard" (torturing folks, but OK: they did it patriotically) and "it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had", for clearly one is a bit (too) sanctimonious if one accuses the CIA of torturing people. (True, but (too) sanctimonious, the president said.)

As it happens, I disagree with the title, but that indeed is due to my reading of Obama, who has a strange relation to the truth:

He says whatever makes him look good, and he does this well and charmingly, but he does whatever serves the American rich's interests best - or so it would seem from nearly 6 years of evidence (of which there is quite a lot in Nederlog, that I will not repeat here: Consult the
crisis index).

And my expectation is that "the public" will not hear much more about "the folks" who got tortured, nor about the very hard-working, quite tired, and much pressed patrtiotic "folks" who did the torturing, whom one should - especially - not feel "too sanctimonious" about.

I may be mistaken, for the Senate's report on torture, that is being revised and redacted by the CIA that the report was meant to investigate, has not appeared yet.

But it seems Obama has said most he wants to say: Some hard-working, much pressed "folks" - well, ahem, ahem - "tortured" some other "folks", but one should not feel "too sanctimonious" about the first class of "folks", while one can take Obama's word that the second class of "folks" get the best treatment that the American military can give, on Guantánamo and other rendition-sites.

Really!
2. Celebgate: it's not the internet we need to fix but men's squalid behaviour

The next item is an article by John Naughton on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Inevitably, it has become known as Celebgate. Starting on 26 August, private, often nude, semi-nude or otherwise compromising photographs of upwards of 100 female celebrities, including actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Dunst, began to leak on to the web.

The haul was clearly the result of a serious hacking attack on the AppleiCloud accounts of these people but to date the perpetrators have not been identified, although the FBI is on the case. In due course, people will go to jail for this because some of the stolen photographs were taken when the subjects were underage, which means that anyone circulating or downloading them was/is trafficking in child pornography.

There is considerably more on Celebgate in the article, which I leave to you. What I do want to pick up are two more general points John Naughton makes.

There is abundant evidence that large numbers of people behave appallingly when they are online. The degree of verbal aggression and incivility in much online discourse is shocking. It's also misogynistic to an extraordinary degree, as any woman who has a prominent profile in cyberspace will tell you.
(...)
There's no point in blaming the internet for this. All the technology has done is to reveal a deeply unpleasant truth: when you remove the social constraints on behaviour that operate in the offline world, then a darker side of human nature emerges snarling into the light.

Yes, I agree - and it is mainly because of the anonymity:

Almost all indeed often extremely incivil content is by completely anonymous (for more or less ordinary users) assholes, who would be much more polite if their real names, ages, degree of education, and home addresses could be printed under their opinions.

But ordinary people want to be online anonymously, and that is mainly because this makes it possible to hide everything about them, which they very much like to do (1) because very few are truly intelligent, truly moral, truly helpful, or truly attractive personalities, and (2) because anonymously they can offend, demean, abuse, scold and degenerate anyone, and many seem to enjoy "these freedoms of the internet" a lot: No one can hold them accountable or responsible! What joy!

And yes: While I never was impressed by ordinary men, and definitely am not one myself, and neither were my parents, the vast majority consists of ordinary men, and turned out to be considerably more creepy and cruel and sadistic than I did think without that great blessing that is called internet.

Live and learn!

3. Driving American Politics Underground 

The next item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows (and is the beginning of a good article):
Politics, if we take politics to mean the shaping and discussion of issues, concerns and laws that foster the common good, is no longer the business of our traditional political institutions. These institutions, including the two major political parties, the courts and the press, are not democratic. They are used to crush any vestiges of civic life that calls, as a traditional democracy does, on its citizens to share among all its members the benefits, sacrifices and risks of a nation. They offer only the facade of politics, along with elaborate, choreographed spectacles filled with skillfully manufactured emotion and devoid of real political content. We have devolved into what Alexis de Tocqueville feared—“democratic despotism.”
I mostly agree, but I should add that, while politics does have the meaning Hedges attributes to it (among other meanings), this has been the case - at best - only since ca. 1920, when women were given the right to vote, both in the U.S. and Holland, and around that time also in most other European nations.

And I think I should also add that in fact not very many people did do politics as defined by Hedges. It depends on where one draws the line(s), and on how much (probably correct) relevant information one expects in people taking part in politics, and it also depends on the issues, but overall the majority of people have not felt much interest in politics. Most voted, and most occassionally talked about politics, but that was it, for most, at most ordinary times.

Note that this does not mean that democratic politics did not or cannot work:

It did work, more or less, from the forties or fifties onwards, in the U.S. and in Western Europe, and it did so fundamentally in pulling in representatives from many groups and interests in society, and in trying to work out a more or less systematic system of rules and regulations that set out which rights and duties which men in which roles would have.

Finally, Chris Hedges is correct in saying that this form of political democracy is mostly dead; that "
the two major political parties, the courts and the press, are not democratic" anymore; and that - although he does not say that - one important reason it does not work anymore is that the rich have deregulated themselves, and the rest of society, and have effectively taken over politics, in which most of what they or their representatives do is deceiving and bullshitting, all with an eye of getting themselves even richer and more powerful, and at the cost of anyone who is neither rich nor powerful.

Next, here is Chris Hedges' third paragraph:
Pundits and news celebrities on the airwaves engage in fevered speculation about whether the wife of a former president will run for office—and this after the mediocre son of another president spent eight years in the White House. This is not politics. It is gossip. Opinion polls, the staple of what serves as political reporting, are not politics. They are forms of social control. The use of billions of dollars to fund election campaigns and pay lobbyists to author legislation is not politics. It is legalized bribery. The insistence that austerity and economic rationality, rather than the welfare of the citizenry, be the primary concerns of the government is not politics. It is the death of civic virtue. The government’s system of wholesale surveillance and the militarization of police forces, along with the psychosis of permanent war and state-orchestrated fear of terrorism, are not politics. They are about eradicating civil liberties and justifying endless war and state violence. The chatter about death panels, abortion, gay rights, guns and undocumented children crossing the border is not politics. It is manipulation by the power elites of emotion, hate and fear to divert us from seeing our own powerlessness.
Well...yes and no, and it mostly depends on one's definition of "politics".
Mine (in the Philosophical Dictionary) is this:

Politics: Theoretically: The science of government; practically: the attempt, alone or cooperating with others, to achieve power in some institution of government in some society.

See Politics - introductory texts for considerably more.
I think my definition is a bit more adequate, and it explains why the rich may be doing politics while they are killing democratic politics - for I think most of what Hedges describes is politics, though I agree with him it also is mostly deception, and has very bad consequences for everybody who is neither rich nor powerful.

Here is a part of Hedges' diagnosis:
Corporate money has replaced the vote. Dissent is silenced or ignored. Political parties are Punch and Judy shows funded by corporate puppeteers. Universities, once the epicenter of social change, are corporate headquarters, flush with corporate money, government contracts and foundation grants. The commercial press, whose primary task is attracting advertising dollars, has become an arm of the entertainment industry. It offers news as vaudeville. 
I agree (and especially note what he says about universities: Yes!) - except that I insist that these deceptions are politics as well, though indeed not (true) democratic politics, even though they generally pretend they are democratic.

Hedges also mentions Edward Bernays (who is both more important and more evil than he seems) and Sheldon Wolin, and is right in both cases, and then quotes one of my favorite political thinkers, Alexis de
Tocqueville. I give two of the three paragraphs (quoted from "Democracy in America", which you should read if you haven't done so):

I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them but he does not see them. ...

Above these an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, farseeing, and mild. ... It seeks only to keep men fixed irrevocably in childhood. ... It provides for the citizens’ security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?

Yes! And I, who hail from communist and anarchistic parents and grandparents, have seen this all my life, at least since I was 14 - which is also why I cannot take ordinary men very serious, why I do not believe much in democracy-as-is (or perhaps better: -as-was), and why I am an individualist, and also, why I do not believe everybody or most people are my equals, not in riches, not in intelligence, not in knowledge, and not in capacities to face risks and take troubles. [2]

Here is Hedges' conclusion:

We must embrace these groups to relearn what it means to be citizens and to participate in democracy. We must discredit and disrupt the system of faux politics that characterizes the corporate state. If we engage as citizens, rather than as spectators, if we reclaim politics, we might have a chance.
I agree - but this will not be easy, in considerable part because few know much about politics; few are truly intelligent; and all have been mostly miseducated an much lied to.

4. Are Think Tanks Selling Influence to Foreign Powers?

The next item is an article by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

More than a dozen prominent Washington, D.C., think tanks on which experts have long relied for independent research and policy analysis “have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities,” a New York Times investigation found.

The arrangements involve the capital’s most influential think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Atlantic Council and the Center for Global Development. The paper reports that “each is a major recipient of overseas funds, producing policy papers, hosting forums and organizing private briefings for senior United States government officials that typically align with the foreign governments’ agendas.”

I say - but I think this is very likely true. Then again, I also should say that I cannot take "experts [who - MM] have long relied for independent research and policy analysis" done by such Think Tanks very serious, and also that this probably has been the case since Sixties or Seventies at the latest.

In any case: The above last dotted link will give you more information, including a link to the New York Times article that gets mentioned.

5. Almost Every Slice of American Society Wants To Strengthen Social Security Except Washington Insiders 

The next item is an article by Steven Rosenfeld on Alternet:

This starts as follows: 

As strengthening Social Security becomes a higher profile issue in a handful of toss-up U.S. Senate races, a new poll of likely 2014 voters in those states and nationwide finds overwhelming support to boost benefits by taxing all Americans equally.   

There is rather a lot more, and you get the link above, but this sounds to me like a thoroughly confused item: While I am much in favor of "strengthening Social Security", I am also much against "taxing all Americans equally".

As to the taxes people pay ("We pay taxes to buy civilization", as Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. put it):

It seems quite evident to me that the rich, who have profited most from the society they live in, at least in terms of the article everyone wants (money), also should pay the most taxes, and indeed they did, for quite a while, and that did not make them much poorer either.

But I may confuse things, and also should say this is an AlterNet article, and AlterNet is - alas - not very strong on rational intelligence.

In any case: Most Americans, of all political stripes also, want to keep or strengthen social security, and that seems good.

6.  Human failure to recognize, reject, and remember evil: essential topic for the 99.99%’s victory

The next item is an article by Carl Herman on Washington's Blog:
This starts as follows (and is mostly the reason it is here):

Around 1969 as a young boy, I looked-up the definition of the word, evil. I found something like, “Preference and actions for one’s own material wealth over the well-being of others.”

I’ve always remembered that definition as the one that made the most sense. I’ve never found it again in more modern dictionaries.

In 2007, Stephen Zarlenga (Executive Director, AMI) asked my opinion: “Carl, do you think there’s some kind of ‘slave gene’ that explains people worshipping the very leaders crushing them?” I responded, “Maybe. There’s plenty of consideration that the ‘human animal’ has a fear-reflex and reptilian brain function attracted to hierarchies. We certainly find this fear and system-worship in our work for monetary reform.”

That must have been a peculiar dictionary! Here is, in comparison, what I found in my copy of the Shorter OED (Oxford English Dictionary):
evil (..) A. The antithesis of GOOD. (..) I. Bad in a positive sense. 1. Morally depraved. (..) 2. Doing or tending to do harm. (..)
I'd say that the Shorter OED is a bit better (and there is a lot more there, but none is like Herman's quoted definition), if only because there is a lot of evil, such as sadism and cruelty, or indifference to another's ill fate, that has nothing to do with “Preference and actions for one’s own material wealth".

As to a slave gene: Why not very much rather consider stupidity? Or if that sounds too awful: Lack of intelligence? That very probably is not rendered by a single gene, and indeed part is not even genetical, but a consequence of a bad education or a bad schooling, but certainly stupidity, or lack of intelligence, explains a lot about why people are "
worshipping the very leaders crushing them”.

There is more in the article that makes little sense. Thus we are told about
(...) the 99.99% who seek simple justice.
So at most 1 in 10.000 does not seek "simple justice"?! And 9999 in 10.000 do?!

Well... I think these ideas are difficult to quantify sensibly anyway, but  I quote from an article I wrote on December 31, 2010:

Putting it all in a table with percentages (while remembering that intelligence and moral courage are probably for the largest part determined by innate factors, and non posse nemo obligatur):

    Percentage
intelligent good 1
intelligent not good 9
not intelligent good 9
not intelligent not good 81
all   100

That is one important part of the reason why Hazlitt was right and so much of human society so often is in such a mess:

"If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are prone to mischief, 'to every good work reprobate.'"

I am not saying these numbers are adequate, but they seem rather a lot more reasonable than 1 in 10.000 who does not seek "simple justice". Not all people are bad or indifferent, but surely not all people are just or good either, and indeed in my opinion most are not, at least not on their own initiative. (See item 2.)

7. Finally, Wall Street gets put on trial: We can still hold the 0.1 percent responsible for tanking the economy

The next item is an article by Thomas Frank on Salon:

This starts as follows:

The Tea Party regards Barack Obama as a kind of devil figure, but when it comes to hunting down the fraudsters responsible for the economic disaster of the last six years, his administration has stuck pretty close to the Tea Party script. The initial conservative reaction to the disaster, you will recall, was to blame the crisis on the people at the bottom, on minorities and proletarians lost in an orgy of financial misbehavior. Sure enough, when taking on ordinary people who got loans during the real-estate bubble, the president’s Department of Justice has shown admirable devotion to duty, filing hundreds of mortgage-fraud cases against small-timers.

But high-ranking financiers? Obama’s Department of Justice has thus far shown virtually no interest in holding leading bankers criminally accountable for what went on in the last decade.

Yes, and that seems quite unjust to me. But there now is a case where the defendants won, and won against the banks, and won basically on this explanation:

Executives do not always share the interests of the corporation that employs them. They weren’t “defrauding themselves,” as our federal protector laughs, they were defrauding the suckers that paid their bonuses, the shareholders that invested in them, the European pension funds that believed their excreta was Grade A Prime.

The name for this kind of scheme is a “control fraud”; it happens when the officers who control a firm use their power over the firm to enrich themselves while driving the firm itself to the boneyard. The country has seen control frauds many times before; indeed, the man who invented the term was a regulator of S&Ls during the S&L meltdown of the 1980s, and he saw the pattern so many times back then that he wrote a book about it. I am referring to my friend Bill Black, a professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and also a Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Financial Regulation at the University of Minnesota’s School of Law. Control fraud, Black says, always follows the same recipe, with banks growing rapidly by making vast numbers of extremely risky loans, executives immediately getting rich with big bonuses, and the bank eventually collapsing under the weight of those malicious loans.

There is a lot more in the article, but control fraud is the basic mechanism by which a number of bank managers managed to become millionaires or billionaires, while they let the rest of the world pick up the costs (helped by the U.S. governments).

---------------------------------
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.)

[2] Here is another quote from De Tocqueville, that I quoted in 2008:
"J'ai pour les institutions démocratiques un goût de tête, mais je suis aristocrate par instinct, c'est à dire que je méprise et crains la foule. J'aime avec passion la liberté, la légalité, le respect des droits, mais non la démocratie. Voilà le fond de l'âme."
As to "je méprise et crains la foule": Here is Horace, who was De Tocqueville's very probable inspirer:
odi profanum vulgus et arceo
I will leave these untranslated. (I only add that (1) I do know "the people" quite well: I was raised in a very poor family, and (2) I have been educated for something like 35 years in the belief, enthusiastically instilled by very many quite rich university professors of no real intellectual talents whatsoever, that "everybody knows that everyone is equal" - which I reject and rejected because my very courageous parents were not the equals of Eichmann, nor of the SS that tortured my father and grandfather. But yes: That "everybody knows everyone is equal" was the (public) "conviction" of 99% of Dutchmen, whose grandparents also stood and looked and did nothing while over 1% of the Dutch population was gassed for being "of inferior race".)

However, the article on De Tocqueville (<-Wikipedia) quotes him in English:
"But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom"
Yes, indeed.


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)



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