21, 2014
Crisis: Hedges on Revolt, Krugman on Obama, Reich on Ebola, Security State, Torture
  "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

The Imperative of Revolt
‘Paul Krugman’s Sloppy, Wet Kiss’ for Barack Obama
3. Getting a Grip on Ebola
4. Reality of National Security State Trumps 'Delusions' of
     U.S. Democracy

5. The Torture Secrets Are Coming

About ME/CFS


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, October 21. It is a
crisis log.

There are five items with five dotted links: Item 1 is about Hedges' "The imperative of revolt" and explains that in my view that is mostly an idle hope as things are; item 2 is on Krugman's embracing Obama, which I also found odd; item 3 is about Reich on Ebola, who thinks it is mostly hysteria in the U.S. and I agree; item 4 is about the National Security State, but hands back the problem to "the American people"; and item 5 is by someone writing for the ACLU who may be a little premature.

In fact, the main item to day is
item 1 where I consider an analysis by Wolin and Saul, and conclude that there is presently little hope for a revolt, at least not without another economic collapse.

Here goes for today:

1. The Imperative of Revolt

The first item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig!:

This starts as follows - and the questions are good ones:
I met with Sheldon S. Wolin in Salem, Ore., and John Ralston Saul in Toronto and asked the two political philosophers the same question. If, as Saul has written, we have undergone a corporate coup d’état and now live under a species of corporate dictatorship that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” if the internal mechanisms that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible remain ineffective, if corporate power retains its chokehold on our economy and governance, including our legislative bodies, judiciary and systems of information, and if these corporate forces are able to use the security and surveillance apparatus and militarized police forces to criminalize dissent, how will change occur and what will it look like?
I have to admit that, although I am a philosopher, I did not know about Wolin until March 2013, and I did not know about Saul until today.

And I suppose this shows something is missing in me, but I admit I have not been that interested in politics (of which I had a huge dose the first twenty years of my life, much larger than most), since I decided age 20 that it was science much more than politics that I was really interested in and expected most of the human emancipation to come from. Also, I am ill since I was 28, of course, which also changed my life and its possibilities very much - 36 years of illness and lack of energy.

But OK: I should also say that since I missed them, most must have missed them, which is a great pity, because I mostly agree with the questions in the previous paragraph and with the diagnosis in the following one:
Wolin, who wrote the books “Politics and Vision” and “Democracy Incorporated,” and Saul, who wrote “Voltaire’s Bastards” and “The Unconscious Civilization,” see democratic rituals and institutions, especially in the United States, as largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power. Wolin and Saul excoriate academics, intellectuals and journalists, charging they have abrogated their calling to expose abuses of power and give voice to social criticism; they instead function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers. Neither believes the current economic system is sustainable. And each calls for mass movements willing to carry out repeated acts of civil disobedience to disrupt and delegitimize corporate power.
This I mostly agree with, though I should say I am quite skeptical about mass movements that are not propelled by some good understanding of a topic and by feasible plans - which means that I cannot support most mass movements I have known about the last 45 years, and indeed nearly all of them also have failed (except as mechanisms to launch a few - mostly very undeserving - persons to what later became obvious were mostly corrupt careers).

Next, there is this (skipping some):
This devolution of the economic system has been accompanied by corporations’ seizure of nearly all forms of political and social power. The corporate elite, through a puppet political class and compliant intellectuals, pundits and press, still employs the language of a capitalist democracy. But what has arisen is a new kind of control, inverted totalitarianism, which Wolin brilliantly dissects in his book “Democracy Incorporated.”
The old systems of governance—electoral politics, an independent judiciary, a free press and the Constitution—appear to be venerated. But, similar to what happened during the late Roman Empire, all the institutions that make democracy possible have been hollowed out and rendered impotent and ineffectual.
I will below make a list of points, but now continue with more quotations that make more points.

First, there is this on the presence of a democratic husk that is combined with the lack of any coherent continuous opposition - and this is Wolin talking:
"We still have elections. They are relatively free. We have a relatively free media. But what is missing is a crucial, continuous opposition that has a coherent position, that is not just saying no, no, no, that has an alternative and ongoing critique of what is wrong and what needs to be remedied.”
Second, here is Wolin's - completely non-marxist - view of what is fundamentally wrong with capitalism:
“Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate customs, mores, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy,” Wolin said. “That is where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. It wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy."
Actually, I think this is less about capitalism as it is about the current neoliberal (aka and better: neoconservative) proponents of a special form of it, that reduces everything to the question "which recipe makes the most (economical) profit?" - which is just stupid ideologizing, but for that very reason also is quite popular.

Third, there is not only no coherent intellectual opposition to capitalism, there also is no coherent factual oppositon left:
There is no effective organized opposition to the rise of a neofeudalism dominated a tiny corporate oligarchy that exploits workers and the poor.
Fourth, the class of academics has, once again (see Benda), betrayed both the people's rights and the nurturing of rational critical ideas, and instead sold out to the money of the corporations:
“The reform class, those who believe that reform is possible, those who believe in humanism, justice and inclusion, has become incredibly lazy over the last 30 or 40 years,” Saul said. “The last hurrah was really in the 1970s. Since then they think that getting a tenured position at Harvard and waiting to get a job in Washington is actually an action, as opposed to passivity.”
I have seen that whole process in Holland, from the 1970s onwards: Nearly everybody was lying; nearly everybody was only interested in a career; and the filtiest careerists got the best of jobs, and also destroyed the real universities, reducing them to colleges - and indeed their whole real idea of "a revolution" was any movement that gets me (the "revolutionary" "academic") a tenured position.

So let me makea list of points. Here are eight of them:
  • Democratic rituals and institutions are these days largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power.
  • Academics, intellectuals and journalists these days function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers.
  • The corporations have succeeded in seizing nearly all forms of political and social power.
  • All the institutions that make democracy possible have been hollowed out and rendered impotent and ineffectual.
  • What is especially missing as regards ideas is a crucial, continuous opposition that has coherent ideas.
  • What is especially missing as regards facts is any effective organized opposition: The "left" has become "Third Way", i.e. right wing lite, and helped destroy the trade unions and helped installing austerity for the poor.
  • Capitalism, or at least its ideologists, wants an autonomous economy. It wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy, and has reduced economy to the question "what is most profitable for the rich".
  • The vast majority of the academics have sold out, already in the 80-ies,
    and have destroyed the universities and remade them into colleges were almost anyone with an IQ higher than 100 can get some sort of diploma, if only in "multimedia studies", provided he or she has the money to pay for it.
I think that is mostly correct - and it means that I see little grounds for hope, apart from another major economic collapse. In fact, that is almost the only hope I have, for I think a major economic collapse is likely, though this also will lead to
much harm, much repression and much poverty for very many.

But we are not yet done with Chris Hedges' article, for Hedges asked Wolin and Saul for their ideas on revolution:

Wolin and Saul, while deeply critical of Lenin’s ideology of state capitalism and state terror, agreed that creating a class devoted full time to radical change was essential to fomenting change. (...) The alliance between mass movements and a professional revolutionary class, they said, offers the best chance for an overthrow of corporate power.
I do not think so: Firstly, you do not "create classes", and secondly the whole idea of "a professional revolutionary class" seems to me outdated (and bound to be scoped up by the NSA). Also, it did not work out well for either the Soviet Union or China: Being revolutionized by a very small "professional revolutionary class" meant the members of that - extremely small - class kept power for at least 60 years, while all the time maintaining dictatorships.

And there is this on the policies of the neoconservatives (which incidentally I find a better name than "neoliberals"). This is Saul talking:

"The neoconservatives (..) have always been Bolsheviks. They are the Bolsheviks of the right. Their methodology is the methodology of the Bolsheviks. They took over political parties by internal coups d’état. They worked out, scientifically, what things they needed to do and in what order to change the structures of power. They have done it stage by stage. And we are living the result of that. The liberals sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers. They were unwilling to engage in the real fight that was won by a minute group of extremists.”
Yes, and the right has been quite successful, and have built up their positions and their policies from the early seventies onwards. The reasons they have been quite successful are mainly that they had a lot of money; they worked (and work) in secret; and they were not opposed by neither the political parties nor the academics (who indeed for forty years mostly "sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers") nor the trade unions.

Finally, there is the proposal of the title: "The imperative of revolt". What to think about this given the list of points I made?

As I said, I see little grounds for hope on a realistic revolt, apart from the next economic collapse - and then the outcome will depend on a combination of chance and feasible ideas.

2. ‘Paul Krugman’s Sloppy, Wet Kiss’ for Barack Obama 

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

This starts as follows (and has been treated before in Nederlog):

Historic Obama critic Paul Krugman made an about-face in his opinion of the president’s performance in a much-discussed Rolling Stone essay on Oct. 8 that Salon columnist Thomas Frank, who believes Krugman’s “relentless, one-man war on austerity… should have earned him a second Nobel Prize,” finds incredible.

In the Rolling Stone essay, the economist and New York Times columnist declared Obama “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”

Frank begins his critique of the piece by affirming that his disappointment with the president and the disappointment of so many others occurred in significant part “because we paid such close attention to Paul Krugman.” From the Affordable Care Act to the stimulus and financial reform, Krugman wrote time and again, Obama didn’t go far enough. But now Krugman’s decided that “the glass is half full,” Frank states.

Frank makes the case for half empty. “On the really momentous economic issues of our time,” he writes, “all of them brought into sharp, awful focus by the financial crisis of 2008—Obama’s response has ranged from merely competent to disastrous.”

The reason this is here is mainly because I think Thomas Frank is right, and the link to his essay works. Also, he has the advantage - so to speak - of having been a strong Obama supporter for a long time.

3. Getting a Grip on Ebola 

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

We have to get a grip. Ebola is not a crisis in the United States. One person has died and two people are infected with his body fluids.

The real crisis is the hysteria over Ebola that’s being fed by media outlets seeking sensationalism and politicians posturing for the midterm elections.

That hysteria is causing us to lose our heads. Parents have pulled their children out of a middle school after learning the school’s principal had traveled to Zambia. Zambia happens to be in Africa but it has not even had a single case of Ebola.

I agree, and there is a considerable amount more that draws the same picture.

That is: I agree Ebola is not a crisis in the USA, but it has been made into a crisis by the combination of the media and the considerable part of the U.S. population that hardly can think rationally, and therefore often responds hysterically.

Then again, that last problem - that a
considerable part of the U.S. population hardly can think rationally, and therefore often responds hysterically - seems to me to be considerably larger than Reich seems to assume, but I agree that writing about that problem will not make one popular and indeed also will not really change the situation.

4. Reality of National Security State Trumps 'Delusions' of U.S. Democracy

The next item is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:
"I think the American people are deluded."
The speaker is Michael J. Glennon, who is a political scientist who wrote a new book "National Security and Double Government" in which he argues as follows:

Glennon argues that because managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies operate largely outside the institutions meant to check or constrain them—the executive branch, the courts, Congress—national security policy changes very little from one administration to the next.

This explains, he says, why the Obama version of national security is virtually indistinguishable from the one he inherited from President George W. Bush. It's also why Guantanamo is still opena lot; why whistleblowers are being prosecuted more; why NSA surveillance has expanded; why drone strikes have increased.

Yes - but the double government also got explained by Wolin (see item 1), and it is better seen, it seems to me, as a take over of nearly all political powers by the rich and the conservatives, who also have been scheming to do just that from the early seventies onwards. And they have achieved a lot.

Also, Glennon's "solution" seems to me very thin, and mostly based on hope without supporting facts:

To dismantle this so-called "double government"—a phrase coined by British journalist and businessman Walter Bagehot to describe the British government in the 1860s—will be a challenge, Glennon admits. After all, "There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change."

But he is not hopeless. "The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people," he said. "The people have to take the bull by the horns."

The reason that is very thin and mostly based on hope without supporting facts is that Glennon is right about "the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people": You cannot remove that in this or in the next generation, and that means that "the American people", or at least that considerable part that is mostly ignorant about politics, will not do it.

5. The Torture Secrets Are Coming

The next item is an article by Marcellene Hearn on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows - and Marcellene Hearn is a staff attorney for the ACLU:

Once you've seen the Abu Ghraib photos, they're not easily forgotten.

The hooded man, the electrodes, the naked bodies piled upon each other, and the grinning soldier with a thumbs up. The images are the stuff of nightmares. They're also incontrovertible evidence that our government engaged in torture, and their publication sparked a national conversation that helped end the Bush administration's torture program.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still fighting to keep the full truth about torture – including photos the public hasn't yet seen – from the American people. But recently the courts and the Senate have been pushing back, resisting the government's claims that it can't reveal its torture secrets. As a result, those secrets may finally be dragged into the light.

And this means that the hope the title gives is - well: premature. In fact, the article ends as follows:
With the courts and the Senate holding the line, we may soon know more than ever – not only about our past – but also about our present abusive practices. Only then can we truly move forward, and not backward.
I hope she is right, but we will not know until October 29 at the soonest.

[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)

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)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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