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Nederlog

October 21, 2015
Crisis: Citizens United, Cooper, Socialism, Hersh on Bin Laden, Kunduz Hospital
"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
















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Sections
Introduction

1.
The People vs. Citizens United: 7 Steps to Reversing
     Runaway Political Spending

2. Anderson Cooper Offers No Apology for Slandering Bernie
     Sanders

3.
Why democratic socialism?
4.
Seymour Hersh on Bin Laden
5.
Kunduz hospital attack: 'Even in 20 years we won't get
    such a hospital again'


Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, October 21, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is an interesting and recommended article by Bill Blum, who sets out 7 steps that are necessary to
return to the before-1980 situation (if possible); item 2 is about Anderson Cooper,
who turns out to belong to the 1% of the very rich, and Bernie Sandersp; item 3 is about democratic socialism, and contains interesting quotations by the socialist
Albert Einstein; item 4 is about an article from May this year that I missed: Seymour Hersh explains that most of the "news" about Bin Laden's killing was
pure hooey; and item 5 is about a good article on the Kunduz hospital attack by
the Americans. (I think it is much more likely it was intentional than not.)


1. The People vs. Citizens United: 7 Steps to Reversing Runaway Political Spending 

The first item today is by Bill Blum on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:
This is the second of a two-part series on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and efforts to counter its impact on political spending. Read the first installment here.
This is relevant, for I reviewed that article the next day (here) and said it was a good article, and that I looked forward to the second one. This is it, and it is again good, and it is also not optimistic, which I think is quite justified.

This starts as follows:

The March 2015 edition of the Harvard Law Review features an article that begins with the following (paraphrased) scenario: A presidential candidate walks on stage at a swanky fundraiser organized by a super PAC established to support his candidacy. He asks the assembled Gucci- and Prada-clad donors to pony up the official individual limit on political contributions (currently $5,400) in checks made out directly to the super PAC. He then leaves for another event.

After the candidate departs, a business leader working on behalf of the super PAC delivers a toast to the crowd, asking the donors to pledge $100,000 instead of the measly $5,400. The donors reach for their checkbooks—or better still, ask their aides to fetch them—and voila, they amplify the candidate’s request nearly 20-fold.

Even if you’ve studied the Citizens United opinion and are alarmed that the Supreme Court has overturned decades of federal election law and expanded the meme of money as speech, you still might think this scenario would violate the rules prohibiting “coordination” of fundraising activities between candidates and their super PACs. But you’d be wrong. 

According to a 2011 advisory opinion released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the scenario would be perfectly legal.

The explanation is in the article, but I doubt not it is true and cogent. Here is Bill Blum's (a former judge and attorney) on this:

The saddest part about the Harvard scenario, of course, is that it isn’t an interesting, hypothetical, law-school puzzler. In fact, such brazen and open coordination happens with increasing regularity, and it’s really just the tip of a political process that has degenerated into a structure of “legalized bribery” that has ceded campaign finance to corporations and the super-rich.

The fightback will be long, difficult and uncertain.

Yes, indeed - and in case you doubt this: The US right - to stick to that moniker for the moment - has now worked for 35 years - since 1980, when Reagan was elected - to extend its authority, to corrupt the politicians, and to create an atmosphere in which only rich billionaires and multi-millionaires profit, and they have for the most part succeeded in that.

So I will not be amazed if it takes at least 35 years to turn that back, though indeed it is also true that the economy may collapse well before that, and what
may happen after a major collapse is anybody's guess.

Anyway... I will not attempt to review this article, which is good and recommended, and will instead summarize the 7 titles of the 7 steps Blum recommends.

Here they are (you can read all of it under the last dotted link, and you are recommended to do so if you are politically serious and American), all without any text, except for the seventh, that is quoted in full:

1. Reforming the FEC
2. Passing the Disclose Act
3. Passing the Shareholder Protection Act and ending the
     legal double standard for corporations and unions
4. Expanding public funding of elections
5. Amending the Constitution and building a
     democracy-friendly First Amendment
6. Retaking the Supreme Court
7. Ending inequality

The most important dimension in the many-sided struggle to blunt the corporate stranglehold on our democracy won’t be waged in courtrooms or legislatures. It will be conducted from below, in organized, mass demands for change.

The renowned economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have calculated that in 1979, the top 1 percent of Americans —approximately 160,000 families—owned 7 percent of the nation’s wealth. By 2012, the same, select group owned 22 percent of the nation’s assets. The bottom 90 percent of the population’s wealth share, on the other hand, declined steadily, from 35 percent in the mid-1980s to roughly 23 percent in 2012. 

With great concentrations of wealth have come great concentrations of political power and influence. Citizens United and the rest of the rot in our electoral process stem from such imbalances.

In the final analysis, only we can clean out the detritus. It will take many years and many battles in many places to get the job done, but there’s no alternative, and there’s no turning back.

I think the proposals Blum makes (which he didn't think up himself, as he also tells in the article) are all quite sensible, as is his - pessimistic, but realistic - estimate that this "will take many years and many battles in many places to get the job done".

Indeed, if I am right this may take another 35 years - and remember: the multi- national corporations are extremely rich, and can buy almost any politician, it seems, and may have done so in the USA - I'll be a 100 when the situation has been returned to where it started in 1980.

Finally: Do I think this is likely? Not really, because I expect several economic collapses in the same 35 years, and these may be so enormous that the whole society changes radically.

But I do not know in which direction, and am not optimistic about this alternative either.

2. Anderson Cooper Offers No Apology for Slandering Bernie Sanders. 

The next item is by William Boardman on Reader Supported News:
This starts as follows:
Who was the richest person in CNN’s Democratic presidential debate?

The richest person in the Democratic presidential candidate debate on October 10 was not a candidate. The richest person on that Las Vegas stage was CNN moderator and Vanderbilt heir Anderson Cooper, whose $100 million net worth ($100,000,000) is greater than all the candidates’ worth combined (about $84,000,000). In a very real, if unspoken sense, this “debate” was more like an exclusive club interview with Cooper vetting the applicants for their class credentials.

These class aspects of the debate went unmentioned. In American politics, class issues have traditionally gone unmentioned. The tacit understanding is that if you have the bad taste to ask, then you have no class. If you have class, you will have the right opinions.
I say. I simply didn't know, but it is quite true: Anderson Cooper (<-Wikipedia).

And here are the incomes of the 5 Democratic presidential candidates:

  • Hillary Clinton: $45 million ($31.2 herself, with Bill $111 million)
  • Lincoln Chaffee: $32 million ($31.9 million, mostly his wife’s trust)
  • Jim Webb: $6 million ($4.6 million)
  • Bernie Sanders: $700,000 ($528,014)
  • Martin O’Malley: $-0- ($256,000)
The Clintons have a mere $142 million dollars for themselves - and these indeed are the real advantages of being a politician, and especially in the USA (though Tony Blair's 50 million pounds, plusmenus 30 million pounds, for he is neither accurate nor honest about his own riches, also shows how well a social- democratic politician may do, for himself).

There is considerably more on Anderson Cooper and his great riches [1], which I will skip and leave to your interests.

Here is the ending of the article:

As Sanders put in on CNN at the end of his opening statement:

“What this campaign is about is whether we can mobilize our people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires and create the vibrant democracy we know we can and should have.”
We are at the beginning of what might be a long learning curve as we find out what our country is truly about. Bernie Sanders offers an opportunity to look at realities in broad daylight and make up our minds about them. Anderson Cooper is but one of a legion of self-serving, self-preserving One Per Cent propagandists who will do all they can to keep the Sanders message in the dark.
I suppose that is fair, though I am less optimistic than Bernie Sanders, were it only because the rich have regained a great lot of the powers they had until the 1930ies, and because many American politicians seems ready to be bought, and indeed may get a lot richer that way.

3. Why democratic socialism?

The next article is by David Ruccio (?) on Anticap [2]:
This starts as follows:

Clearly, Bernie Sanders needs to do a better job when it comes to answering the question, “why democratic socialism?” And, along with that, “are you a capitalist?”

He needs to drop the references to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, at least at the start (and refer to them only when challenged about whether or not what he’s suggesting can actually work), and make a different claim: “Look at the great wealth of this country. Why is it, given that wealth, we can’t provide a decent standard of living and quality of life for the vast majority of our population—things like decent, affordable healthcare and public education, paid family leave, even a minimum amount of paid vacation from work? Sure, we provide them for the minority at the top but not for the people who do the bulk of the work in our society. That’s how are economic and political system should be judged, by how it treats workers and their families.”

Hm. In fact, I think that it is best when Bernie Sanders doesn't mention the word "socialism", not because I think that is a bad term, but because very many Americans have "learned" that "socialism" (which few of them can define somewhat properly) is a very bad idea.

That is just verbal strategy. I also have some additonal reasons: Sanders' meaning of "socialism" - which he has championed since 1970 or before - is
not quite what I (and quite a few Europeans) understand by it, but is more in
the direction of "social democracy" - which are the same two words, indeed, but turned around.

The present writer, who is an economist, disagrees with Sanders and also with me, and gives a considerable space to quotations from Albert Einstein, who also
was a socialist.

I like the quotations, and will partially repeat them, in part because the argument is good (but I don't agree with second part, as you will see), in part because it is by Albert Einstein, and in part because it does give a clear reason why so many
Europeans (including my parents and grandparents) did describe themselves as socialists.

Here is the basic argument by Einstein for (some kind of) socialism. I repeat not all (there is more in the original), but the following is quite sufficient - and note all of the following quotation are Einstein's words, from 1949:

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I think this is a fair and good explanation, and indeed it also forms a good part of the reason why my parents were socialists (and communists). And I also agree with it.

What I do not agree with is the following, also by Einstein:

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

The reason I disagree with this is especially this phrase: "the means of production are owned by society itself". I don't think that "society" can "own" things (persons can, and perhaps associations of persons, but not "society" or "the working class") and indeed the "socialism" that existed in the Soviet Union and other European states, and that still exists to some extent in China, means that some committee of the leading party ("socialist" or "communist") will in fact own everything (as was the case in the Soviet Union, in practice).

As the second quoted paragraph shows, Einstein was quite conscious of this major problem. I think myself that giving the ownership of the means of production to "society", "the workers", or "the party" is wrong in principle, and indeed will give the real power to the party and its bureaucracy.

For more, see my On Socialism. Here is the ending of Rucci's article (that contains more, including more quotes by Einstein):

But Einstein’s formulation does provide an alternative way for Sanders to start the discussion: “That’s why I’m a democratic socialist. Right now, we have a very undemocratic capitalism—undemocratic in politics (given the role of a small number of wealthy individuals in funding candidates and in controlling the media coverage of our elections) and undemocratic in the economy (since large corporations and financial institutions have been allowed to control our lives and take us to the brink of economic and ecological disaster). That has to stop. What we need, instead, is democratic socialism—democratic in politics (by solving the problem of campaign finance and media coverage) and democratic in our economy (by reigning in the large corporations and financial institutions, providing decent and affordable healthcare, public education, family leave, and vacations for workers and their families, and by strengthening the more democratic features of our existing economy, such as small local businesses, credit unions, and cooperatives).”

But give Sanders credit: he clearly understands that clarity about the aims and problems of democratic socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition.

I don't think Einstein's formulation - which I like, apart from a fundamental disagreement - will help Bernie Sanders much, and the main reason is neither Einstein nor Sanders, but the combination of enormous ignorance about real
politics and real economics in most American voters, combined with strong
prejudices about the word "socialism".

4. Seymour Hersh on Bin Laden

The next article is by Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté on Democracy Now!:
In fact, this is from May 2015, when I missed it. Here is the point of the article, explained at its beginning:
Four years after U.S. forces assassinated Osama bin Laden, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has published an explosive piece claiming much of what the Obama administration said about the attack was wrong. Hersh claims at the time of the U.S. raid bin Laden had been held as a prisoner by Pakistani intelligence since 2006. Top Pakistani military leaders knew about the operation and provided key assistance. Contrary to U.S. claims that it located bin Laden by tracking his courier, a former Pakistani intelligence officer identified bin Laden’s whereabouts in return for the bulk of a $25 million U.S. bounty. Questions are also raised about whether bin Laden was actually buried at sea, as the U.S. claimed. Hersh says instead the Navy SEALs threw parts of bin Laden’s body into the Hindu Kush mountains from their helicopter. The White House claims the piece is "riddled with inaccuracies." Hersh joins us to lay out his findings and respond to criticism from government officials and media colleagues.
In other words: Apart from the fact that the Americans killed Bin Laden, most of the news that the American government told about his killing were lies.

You may doubt this, and the US government denies it, but you should realize that Seymour Hersh is one of the greatest of American journalists, with several major firsts: He exposed the My Lai Massacre in 1969, and the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in 2004, among other things.

Here is his own summary:

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you guys did a pretty good job. Basically, you covered the tracks. Basically, I think you can say, simply, that the president, as he said on television when he announced the raid, did order the raid, and the SEAL Team Six, the most elite unit we have in our special forces group, they did conduct a mission. They did kill bin Laden. They did take the body. That’s all true. And the rest of it is sort of hooey.
And here is one of his points about how easy it is to control the news for a government that lies with great facility, and also keeps secret as much as it can:
SEYMOUR HERSH: Where do you get the notion of hundred or thousand officials? We’re talking about a closed society. The White House has a lot of control over the information. The senior Pakistani officials have control over the information. We are talking about a country that went, a dozen or 10 years ago, through a WMD sort of cover-up. The notion that there’s some major conspiracy I’m alleging is just sort of—that’s over the top. There’s no major conspiracy here. It’s very easy to control news. We all saw that when—the whole thing about Saddam Hussein and the alleged nuclear weapons. I should think that would be a model for why you might just not be so skeptical of the possibility of holding things. And let me also say, in the piece, it’s not so much that I’m saying what happened. I’m quoting sources. And of course they’re unnamed. You just announced what happened to Jeffrey Sterling today. I mean, what reporter would want to name a source in this administration. You know, bam! He’d be gone. So, there you are.

There is a lot more in the article, which is recommended.

5. Kunduz hospital attack: 'Even in 20 years we won't get such a hospital again'

The last article is by Sune Engel Rasmussen on The Guardian:

This is from near the beginning:

Like most workers in MSF hospitals, the doctors had considered themselves relatively safe until the moment the first rounds hit. Medical facilities are protected under international humanitarian law, and the charity they work for has won the Nobel peace prize for its work treating the sick and injured in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous conflict zones.

It has a reputation for meticulous attention to safety and maintaining links to all groups fighting in areas where it operates, to ensure they respect its legal neutrality.

The charity has now pulled all its staff from Kunduz and demanded an independent inquiry into how American forces came to spend more than an hour shelling one of the few places of shelter left in the battered city.

“We need to know what happened and why it led to an airstrike on a hospital which has been known in the region for the last four years, which has been treating thousands of people,” the MSF president, Dr Joanne Liu, said in London this week. “Until we understand how it happened, we cannot go back to Kunduz.”

To start with, here is my guess about the question "American forces came to spend more than an hour shelling one of the few places of shelter left in the battered city": Because they wanted to.

For this seems far more likely than any alternative, which all must include "the Americans did not know what they were doing", which seems nearly impossible, given that the hospital was there for years and its position had been very many times clarified to the American army.

Here is the toll it took (without personal details, of which there are several in the article):

There were 80 staff and 105 patients in the hospital buildings at the start of the attack, which lasted from 2.08am to 3.15am. So far, 22 people have been confirmed dead, including 12 staff and three children, and more than three dozen others injured. More than 30 staff and patients are still missing.

This poses another question: Were the Americans out to kill as many of the medical staff as they could? (I am asking, and do not know the answer.)

And here is the president of MSF, dr. Joanne Liu:

Liu said MSF’s ability to work in some of the world’s most difficult conflict zones had been put at stake by the attack. “[Parties to a conflict] cannot target patients, medical facilities, ambulances, healthcare workers,” she said. “That’s the bottom line, that’s what the Geneva convention gives us, and we have been working on the understanding that people respect that. If somehow we decide this is somehow not respected any more, then we question everything after that.”

American forces should have known the hospital was protected. Four days prior to the attack, the charity reminded all parties, including the US military, of the exact GPS coordinates of the hospital.

And yes, intentionally targeting a medical facility is a crime (which is why the Americans will never admit it was on purpose, as I think is the most likely).

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


[1] I really had no idea, but indeed rarely watch CNN (etc.) Also, what I find
fairly hard to understand is why a man who owns a hundred million dollars wants to work as a journalist. I agree he has to do something, and maybe my question says more about me than about him, but I definitely would not work as a journalist if I had his riches. (Probably I would do science, indeed.)

[2] Incidentally: I liked the article, but the site looks like it is 2000 or so. 


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