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Nederlog

December 30, 2014
Crisis: Economics, Greece, Greed, Snowden Docs, Civilizations
  "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

Sections
Introduction

1. The Failure of Republican Economics
2.
Vowing to End 'Neoliberal Experiment,' Greek Left Rises
     as Snap Elections Called

3.
Greed Kings of 2014: How They Stole from Us
4. New Snowden Docs Reveal Wider Net of NATO 'Kill List'
     Targets

5. “No civilization would tolerate what America has done”


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, December 30, 2014.

It is a
crisis file, and consists of 5 articles with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the failure of republican economics; item 2 is about Greece and its left; item 3 is about how billions got stolen from the American people; item 4 is about another revelation from Snowden; and item 5 discusses a not very well-phrased article.

This file got uploaded a bit later than normal.
1. The Failure of Republican Economics

The first item today is an article by Robert Reich that I first found on Truthdig but that was first on Reich's site:
This is from the beginning:

Few economic theories have been as thoroughly tested in the real world as supply-side economics, and so notoriously failed.

Ronald Reagan cut the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent and ended up nearly doubling the national debt. His first budget director, David Stockman, later confessed he dealt with embarrassing questions about future deficits with “magic asterisks” in the budgets submitted to Congress. The Congressional Budget Office didn’t buy them.

George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton but then slashed taxes, mostly on the rich. The CBO found that the Bush tax cuts reduced revenues by $3 trillion.

Yet Republicans don’t want to admit supply-side economics is hokum.

Well... yes, but with two qualifications: "supply-side economics" never was a serious economic theory, which indeed also is one important reason Republicans don't admit it is hokum: it was meant to be hokum from the start, that is, it was set up to deceive. (And yes, I do know there are many Friedmannites among economists, but I doubt their intellectual acumen and/or their honesty.)

Next, here is the central part of the article, that seems quite correct to me - except that one fairly obvious inference is not made:

In this as in other domains of public policy, Republicans have not shown a particular affinity for facts.

Climate change? It’s not happening, they say. And even if it is happening, humans aren’t responsible. (Almost all scientists studying the issue find it’s occurring and humans are the major cause.)

Widening inequality? Not occurring, they say. Even though the data show otherwise, they claim the measurements are wrong.

Voting fraud? Happening all over the country, they say, which is why voter IDs and other limits on voting are necessary. Even though there’s no evidence to back up their claim (the best evidence shows no more than 31 credible incidents of fraud out of a billion ballots cast), they continue to assert it. 

Evolution? Just a theory, they say. Even though all reputable scientists support it, many Republicans at the state level say it shouldn’t be taught without also presenting the view found in the Bible.

Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? America’s use of torture? The George W. Bush administration and its allies in Congress weren’t overly interested in the facts.

The pattern seems to be: if you don’t like the facts, make them up.

Yes, that is all quite true, but the real problem are the facts that lie behind them:

(1) the majority of American voters is stupid or ignorant, while (2) the "debate" is mostly for their benefit, for they decide who gets the vote, which means that (3) most political debates are about illusions and (4) are meant to be about illusions (for otherwise they would be framed (<- Wikipedia) differently).

And these facts - as I suppose they are - and especially (3) and (4) are not often stated or discussed, I must suppose because then somebody might whisper or scream "Conspiracy theory! Aargh!".

Well, firstly there clearly are conspiracies, and many more than are found out. Second, I agree the main problem with conspiracy theories is the proof, and without proof it must remain mostly imaginary (even if it is true).

But third, I'd say there is sufficient evidence for (1) - (4) inclusive - and I agree that makes almost any political or economic debate (possibly apart from small circles of academics) pretty illusory, simply because it cannot be rational and informed. [1]

2. Vowing to End 'Neoliberal Experiment,' Greek Left Rises as Snap Elections Called

The next item is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

"The future has already begun."

That's what Alexis Tsipras, head of the leftwing Syriza Party in Greece, reportedly said on Monday after parliament failed in its third attempt to elect a new president and the scheduling of a popular general election was announced for next month.

I say, especially because of the Syriza Party (<-Wikipedia), which seems to be one of the few genuine leftist parties (or perhaps: associations - see the last Wkipedia link - for it is composed from many leftist groups) that is left in Europe.

In fact, here is a quote from a recent op-ed from Tsipras:

In an op-ed published on Sunday in the leftwing Avgi newspaper, Tsipras explained his party's thinking in clear terms:

SYRIZA’s victory will be the start of a great national effort to save society and restore Greece – a national effort with international repercussions, since our historical responsibility is to pave the way for an alternative policy in Europe, turning a Eurozone country from a neoliberal experiment to a model of social protection and growth. [...]

[W]e are coming to unite, not separate [Greece]– to build on the ruins of a looted society. That is why SYRIZA’s government will not be a single-party government, it will be the government of the people.

With rhetoric like that and Syriza's victory in a popular election a very possible outcome, the financial markets in Europe are reportedly jittering about how an anti-austerity takeover of the Greek government will impact the Eurozone.

The Guardian is quite correct that this is rhetoric, but I don't mind that in an op-ed, and so far as I know the Greeks - the great majority, at least - are among those hardest hit by the crisis, that can only be tamed by new rules, new laws and new practices that are mostly leftist (since the crisis was started by the rightists' "liberalization" of the economical laws and rules).

There is also this:

As Channel 4's Paul Mason explains on his blog on Monday, "people all over Europe who’ve opposed austerity see [these developments in Greece] as a turning point" in the years-long fight against regressive cuts to public services, pensions, and the privatization of national assets across the continent.

Asking readers to understand the pervasive impact of austerity across Europe, Mason describes how the economic crisis in Greece—where youth unemployment is now 60 percent—has become emblematic for economic policies that have "destroyed the prospects for much of a generation."

I don't know that "people all over Europe who’ve opposed austerity see [these developments in Greece] as a turning point" (it may be true: I said I don't know) but it seems quite true that the Greeks - in so far as that they are not rich - have become the victims of "economic policies that have "destroyed the prospects for much of a generation.""

In fact, here is something that Mason said in the last link that seems more relevant:

So even as the symbolism of moderate Marxism is plastered all over Syriza, in reality its programme for Greece is mainstream Keynesian economics.

If it wins, the question is: can the European institutions stomach it. The ECB, European Commission and IMF are all pledged to an economic doctrine that demands a further decade of austerity, tight finances, and cautious use of monetary policy and central bank tactics.

For the Marxism (both moderate and less moderate), you'll have to check the Wikipedia article linked above (supposing that you don't have any Greek), but Mason seems correct that most of their economic ideas are Keynesian.

Also, my guess is that "the European institutions" cannot stomach it, and not because it is irrational, but because Keynesian policies are not pro-rich, while being pro-rich seems to be the real conviction - that may be hidden under the propaganda most politicians mouth so very easily - of the vast majority of the current European politicians.

I do not know how this will work out, but I agree with Mason that so far at least it looks all quite positive.

O, as to the huge debts the Greeks have, Jon Queally ends his article as follows:

A strong re-negotiation of its debt would not be unprecedented, Milios explained. "More than 50% of Greek debt needs to be written off," Milios explained. "The solution [of debt forgiveness] that was given to Germany at the London conference in 1953 is what we must do for Greece."

In fact, that is quite like a plan I had by the end of 2008:

Undo the laws that led to the present mess; shut all the major banks, for good; declare all major economical debts nil; and start again from there, noting that all that has been lost are money (paper, numbers) and banks (instititutions of the non-producing greedy rich), while the rest is still standing. This certainly would have destroyed the prospects of many bank managers, but it also would have elevated the prospects of nearly all who are not rich. And it might have worked, as indeed none of the austerity packages has worked: these only helped to move yet more money from the poor to the rich.

3.  Greed Kings of 2014: How They Stole from Us

The third item is an article by Paul Buchheit on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

The Merriam-Webster definition of 'steal' is to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice. Much of our country's new wealth has been regularly taken by individuals or corporations in a wrongful manner, either through nonpayment of taxes or failure to compensate other contributors to their successes.

Yes, quite so, though I do not like Merriam-Webster's definition very much, and prefer the one my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives (and I give only the main and first part):

1. To take dishonestly or secretly (...) b. In wider sense: To take or appropriate dishonestly (anything belonging to another, whether material or immaterial) (...)

This is better because it mentions honesty and does not mention property, and also does not have the - somewhat odd - addition "especially as a habitual or regular practice", which is odd, because the frequency does not matter, though it aggrevates the crime.

In either case, the rich have stolen enormous amounts of money from the poor since 1980, and have done so basically by politics and by bullshit.

The politics were and are meant to free the rich from the laws that made them behave reasonable to those who were not rich; the bullshit was and is directed especially at the 50% of the dumbest, knowing full well that if these are taken in, the elections are won, and that it is very easy to take them in: all you need is the wish to do so, which generally is motivated by the money you will gain; the lack of morals to mouth profitable lies and deceptions (and the last is a sine qua non for nearly any modern politician); and the money to make your lies known while looking popular.

There is this about the corporations (supported by facts you can find out about by clicking on the last dotted link):

As schools and local governments are going broke around the country, companies who built their businesses with American research and education and technology and infrastructure are paying less in taxes than ever before. Incredibly, over half of U.S. corporate foreign profits are now being held in tax havens, double the share of just twenty years ago. Corporations are stealing from the nation that made them rich.

Yes, indeed - and they are doing it mainly by paying less taxes, in terms of percentages of incomes, than any ordinary middle class person, and by paying small salaries to most of their workers.

There is this about the rich:

Defenders of inequality argue that fortunes are deserved because of innovation and hard work. But many of the 40 Americans who own as much as the poorest half of the country have relied on less deserving means of accumulating great fortunes (details here).

In fact, I do believe in inequalities of many kinds: Some are much more intelligent, much more energetic, much more beautiful, much more humorous, much better walkers, much better calculators etc. etc. than most others - but I don't believe that any inequality in talents or gifts can justify that your income, property or fortune should be much larger than of those who lack your talents or gifts.

Besides, being quite smart myself, I certainly never believed that "the leaders of industry", as capitalist entrepreneurs liked to be called, are in almost any way more gifted than are real intellectuals (who rarely become a "leader of industry").

The only difference I do see between "the leaders of industry" (and banks, and P.R.-organizations etc. etc.) and the rest is that the former are considerably more
greedy, more egoistic, and more dishonest than almost anybody else.

And there is this about inequality deniers:

After 35 years of wealth theft there are still inequality deniers—notably the American Enterprise Institute, which claims that income inequality has been shrinking since 1989, and that we should be asking whether or not the bottom 60% are paying their fair share.

I am not amazed that the AEI - Cheney's institute, after all - make up "facts" from thin air and imagination, but I should like to point out that one of the members of the AEI is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom I, and most Dutchmen, only know as an evident fraud, but who still gets audiences in the U.S. because she is "an atheist". (The last link is to an article I wrote in 2005. It is linked because it is, apart from the very beginning, all in English.)

Anyway... the article under the last dotted link is well worth reading in full.

4. New Snowden Docs Reveal Wider Net of NATO 'Kill List' Targets

The fourth item is an article by Andrea Germanos, again on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Newly revealed documents show that NATO's "kill list" for Afghanistan operations included not just senior Taliban leaders but those suspected of being low- and mid-level operatives as well as drug traffickers, Der Spiegel has reported.

Some of the secret documents, which are from 2009 to 2011, are from the trove released by Edward Snowden, the German paper states.

"The documents show that the deadly missions were not just viewed as a last resort to prevent attacks, but were in fact part of everyday life in the guerrilla war in Afghanistan," Der Spiegel reports.

As part of a strategy the White House called "escalate and exit" that started in 2009, NATO troops would start with a "cleansing" phase—killing insurgents. The paper cites Michael T. Flynn, the head of ISAF intelligence in Afghanistan, as saying during a briefing: "The only good Talib is a dead Talib."

I suppose Flynn thought he was speaking like a real cowboy ("The only good Indian is a dead Indian") while I draw your attention to the fact that most of those who were killed probably were killed merely because they were "suspected".

In fact, Andrea Germanos seems to have her knowledge from one of the pdf files I mentioned yesterday and indeed downloaded myself, but this is a quite good use of these files. 

And there is considerably more under the last dotted link.

5. “No civilization would tolerate what America has done”

The fifth and last item today is an article by David Mascriota on Alternet:

This is not a very good article, but it asks a question that is good, at least apparently.

But before turning to that, I'll try to explain the title, which is used in the last paragraph of the article, that goes like this:
The sane minority might ostensibly protest the racism of the criminal justice system, but they are actually demanding that America become a civilized society. No civilization would tolerate what America has recently done, but it is that very concept —the idea of civilization—that the silent majority so fiercely seems to hate and reject.
First, the "sane minority" is the counterpiece to Nixon's "silent majority". I do not think it is a a happy choice, because once you decide that the majority is insane, there is very little left to hope for - though I can understand it. [2]

Next, while I agree, very broadly speaking, that what most Americans lack is civilization (and tolerance), I can't agree to phrases like "
No civilization would tolerate what America has recently done" because - unless you use the term "civilization" in a quite non-standard way - there are many civilizations whose populations tolerated in vast majority what the Americans recently did. (I don't say they are admirable.)

This may not be what you like to think, but it is a fact.

Now to the question Mascriota poses - and I have added a Wikipedia link to a brief review of the book Chomsky and Herman wrote:
Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman wrote the classic  Manufacturing Consent, about the manipulative and exploitative relationship corporate media has with the American public. What if the consent is not manufactured? What if, as historian Morris Berman contends, the plutocratic theft of American lives and treasure is not actually a robbery, but a transaction?
To start with, most of the consent is manufactured (or advertisement does not work and never did) - and see the section "Editorial bias: five filters" in the last linked Wikipedia article if you doubt this - and indeed the whole phrase "the manufacture of consent" goes back to the early 1920ies.

So the supposition is pretty meaningless, as is indeed Morris Berman's contention, that seems most like a redefinition that aims to get rid of the word "robbery" (since any robbery is a transaction, but not all transactions are robberies) - and see item 3.

But it may be replaced by another supposition:

Suppose the majority of mankind is - e.g. naturally, in part from the lack of any real talents most are born with - not given to much thought or practice of human solidarity; is mostly egoistic and limits that egoism, at best, to parts of his or her family, friends and acquaintances; may be quite often quite cruel, also with very little provocation [3]; and is neither smart nor learned. Then what?

It does not stop me, in the first place because I know that people's personalities are to a large extent cultural creations, that also depend on many factors, and in the second place because it never seemed a good idea to me to provide 1% with most of the income a society generates, and to let them propagandize 50% + a little more of the people (who - indeed - are mostly neither intelligent nor learned) to choose as the 1% wants them to choose.

But that is the system that currently rules the U.S. [4]

---------------------------------
Notes

[1] I am not saying one should stop debating. I am saying one should call things as they are, rather than as the majority wishes to see them.

[2]I do not think the majority is insane, and I am a psychologist. I do think the majority is stupid, ignorant, and - among other things - for those reasons quite often cruel, but none of these characteristics has much to do with (in)sanity.

[3] To make one point briefly: The Romans definitely had or were "a civilization", but they had for about four centuries the highly popular circuses, in which people (and other kinds of animals) were slaughtered quite painfully in order to amuse the population, that indeed generally was amused.

[4] Also, this does not have anything to do with capitalism-or-not, at least not if it is understood there are (at least) two kinds of capitalism: Keynesian capitalism-with-a-human-face, and Friedmannian capitalism-with-a-pretended- human face.

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