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Nederlog

November 2, 2015
Crisis: Sheldon Wolin, China, Guardian on Turkey, Crash, American Markets
"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.
Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism
2. Chinese newspaper editor sacked for criticising Beijing's
     'war on terror'

3. The Guardian view on the Turkish elections: a victory
     with a price
   
4.
Apocalypse now: has the next giant financial crash
     already begun?

5. The Rigging of the American Market


Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Monday, November 2, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is an excellent article by Chris Hedges plus a good one by another writer about Sheldon Wolin,
who died at October 21, aged 93; item 2 is about an apparent increase in authori- tarian attitudes in China; item 3 is about The Guardian's Editorial on Turkey, that
also has grown more authoritarian; item 4 is about an article by Paul Mason on the global economy, that may be summarized as: there may not be a crash right
now, but the economical situation is far from rosy; and item 5 is about an article
by Robert Reich that outlines how the many non-rich are plundered in the USA (which led me to promiss Europeans that soon after the TTIP gets signed, Europe will "enjoy" many of the features now limited to the USA, that We Europeans all get for free from Obama, just like the many Syrians refugees).

1. Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism

The first item today is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig and is about Sheldon Wolin (<- Wikipedia) who died on October 21, aged 93, as is the second item below, that is written by Richard Kreitner, and is on Common Dreams:

I have added the second article for those who want another view than that of Chris Hedges, but will not review it here.

Chris Hedges starts as follows - and before quoting him, I'd like to say that this is an excellent article that I strongly recommend you to read all of:
Sheldon Wolin, our most important contemporary political theorist, died Oct. 21 at the age of 93. In his books “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” and “Politics and Vision,” a massive survey of Western political thought that his former student Cornel West calls “magisterial,” Wolin lays bare the realities of our bankrupt democracy, the causes behind the decline of American empire and the rise of a new and terrifying configuration of corporate power he calls “inverted totalitarianism.”
I say. I did not know this. I think it is a pity, but indeed one who reaches 93 got older than most, and I also do not know whether his health was still good or bearable, though the interview he did in 2014 with Chris Hedges - reviewed by me starting here and ending here (with links) - shows him to be still intellectually quite competent at 92.

Next, here are a number of quotations from Wolin and Hedges, that are all quite good. (Again, I strongly recommend you read all of this article: There is more that is good there than I quote here.)
Wolin throughout his scholarship charted the devolution of American democracy and in his last book, “Democracy Incorporated,” details our peculiar form of corporate totalitarianism. “One cannot point to any national institution[s] that can accurately be described as democratic,” he writes in that book, “surely not in the highly managed, money-saturated elections, the lobby-infested Congress, the imperial presidency, the class-biased judicial and penal system, or, least of all, the media.” 
Yes, though I think I should add that Wolin's understanding of "democracy" was considerably more comprehensive than the minimalist understanding that now is common, that insists that there is "democracy" if most adults can vote and if the elections are mostly fair.

That second definition totally "forgets" about manipulating voters, about adverti- sements, about big money whose dollars are now counted as if they are votes, about the often lying and normally corrupt media, or about the many Americans
who vote but do so from prejudice and not from any realistic understanding of the issues, the possibilities, and the choices.

So I agree considerably more with Wolin. Next, on inverted totalitarianism:
Inverted totalitarianism is different from classical forms of totalitarianism. It does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader but in the faceless anonymity of the corporate state. Our inverted totalitarianism pays outward fealty to the facade of electoral politics, the Constitution, civil liberties, freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary, and the iconography, traditions and language of American patriotism, but it has effectively seized all of the mechanisms of power to render the citizen impotent.
(...)
Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said when we met at his home in Salem, Ore., in 2014 to film a nearly three-hour interview, constantly “projects power upwards.” It is “the antithesis of constitutional power.” It is designed to create instability to keep a citizenry off balance and passive.
This doesn't quite clarify it to me, so I'd say - and I may be mistaken, both as regards Wolin's intentions, and as regards the facts of the matter - that inverrted totalitarianism gets expressed, in part at least, by:

(i) the fact that small groups of politicians and governmental bureaucrats make decisions affecting the lives of many millions, whose opinions are systematically not considered; by (ii) populations that, it seems quit conscious- ly, have been educated to a far lower level than they might have been, and would have been at an earlier date; and by (iii) media that lie, deceive, merely amuse or are silent about many important and relevant matters they ought to honestly inform their readers or viewers of.


These are my guesses about inverted totalitarianism - but these three points also are true (to the best of my knowledge, at least).

There is also this on inverted totalitarianism:

Inverted totalitarianism also “perpetuates politics all the time,” Wolin said when we spoke, “but a politics that is not political.” The endless and extravagant election cycles, he said, are an example of politics without politics.

“Instead of participating in power,” he writes, “the virtual citizen is invited to have ‘opinions’: measurable responses to questions predesigned to elicit them.”

Political campaigns rarely discuss substantive issues. They center on manufactured political personalities, empty rhetoric, sophisticated public relations, slick advertising, propaganda and the constant use of focus groups and opinion polls to loop back to voters what they want to hear. Money has effectively replaced the vote.
Especially the third paragraph is quite true and quite clear (in my opinion).

Next, there is this on the distinction between inverted and ordinary totalitarianism:
In classical totalitarian regimes, such as those of Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. But “under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics—and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”
That - speaking broadly, to be sure - "economics dominates politics" may be illustrated by the importance given (by neoliberals aka neoconservatives) to concepts like profit, greed, and egoism (all embraced as positive: profit dominates everything, and ought to; greed is good and desirable; egoism is good and natural) and also is illustrated by the importance of former and future
bankmanagers that meanwhile are in government, to get things even more
done as the banks like to seem them done.

Then there is this on the corporate state (the state mostly run by and in the interests of corporations, as is the present American state):

The corporate state, Wolin told me, is “legitimated by elections it controls.” To extinguish democracy, it rewrites and distorts laws and legislation that once protected democracy. Basic rights are, in essence, revoked by judicial and legislative fiat. Courts and legislative bodies, in the service of corporate power, reinterpret laws to strip them of their original meaning in order to strengthen corporate control and abolish corporate oversight.

He writes: “Why negate a constitution, as the Nazis did, if it is possible simultaneously to exploit porosity and legitimate power by means of judicial interpretations that declare huge campaign contributions to be protected speech under the First Amendment, or that treat heavily financed and organized lobbying by large corporations as a simple application of the people’s right to petition their government?”

I agree with the first paragraph, but am a bit doubtful about the second one, though indeed this might be given as an example of inverted totalitarianism.

There is this on "the elites", which means here especially those with a finished university education:

And the elites, especially the intellectual class, have been bought off. “Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system,” Wolin writes. “No books burned, no refugee Einsteins.”

I think that is mostly correct: What used to be called "the intellectuals" almost all have caved in and support the status quo, because they have been corrupted by
higher pay. (It is as simple as that: people and opinions can be bought, and have been bought.)

There is this on the war on terrorism:

“The war on terrorism, with its accompanying emphasis upon ‘homeland security,’ presumes that state power, now inflated by doctrines of preemptive war and released from treaty obligations and the potential constraints of international judicial bodies, can turn inwards,” he writes, “confident that in its domestic pursuit of terrorists the powers it claimed, like the powers projected abroad, would be measured, not by ordinary constitutional standards, but by the shadowy and ubiquitous character of terrorism as officially defined.”

I think this was a bit better expressed by Goering:

            

Then there is this:

In his writings, Wolin expresses consternation for a population severed from print and the nuanced world of ideas. He sees cinema, like television, as “tyrannical” because of its ability to “block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue.”

I tend to agree. I also tend to call this stupidity rather than "tyrannical", but in either case Wolin objects to the same things I do (and I don't have a television
since 1970): That pictures tend to
“block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue.”

There is a lot more in Chris Hedges' article, and I repeat that I think you should read all of it.

2. Chinese newspaper editor sacked for criticising Beijing's 'war on terror'

The next item is by Tom Phillips on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

A Chinese newspaper editor has been sacked for criticising Beijing’s controversial war on terror following the introduction of draconian new rules that outlaw any criticism of Communist party policy.

Zhao Xinwei, the editor of the state-run Xinjiang Daily newspaper, was removed from his job and expelled from the party after an investigation found him guilty of “improperly” discussing, and publicly opposing, government policy in China’s violence-stricken west.

That is - to interpret this: The Chinese Communist Party is still firmly in power in China, or at least wants to be seen as being firmly in power. Mr Zhao Xinwei must
have been courageous, as can also be seen from the following:

The former editor’s “words and deeds” had gone against government attempts to rein in religious extremism and terrorism, the official China News Service agency reported on Monday.

In Xinjiang, a sprawling region of west China where Beijing is grappling with what some describe as a low-level insurgency against Communist party rule, the crackdown on dissent has been particularly intense.
I can't take China's government as neutral and honest, but the second paragraph
at least suggests that more is the matter than the Chinese government likes to
get known by the public.

Finally, there is this, that doesn't sound nice or liberal or progessive:

Zhao’s removal from the job and the Communist party comes just over a week after Beijing unveiled harsh new rules banning party members from “making groundless comments on national policies”.

Those who “irresponsibly make comments about national policies” or who “defame the nation, the Party and State leaders or distort the history of the nation and the Party” will be punished, the state-controlled Global Times tabloid newspaper reported.

“Party members who take the liberty to decide or publicly comment on issues that they have no place to, such as issues that should be decided by the CPC [Communist Party of China] Central Committee, will also be subject to punishment,” it added.

Beijing has shown an increasing intolerance for dissent since Xi Jinping – a man some call China’s most powerful leader since Mao - became Communist party chief in November 2012.

Yes, indeed. And while I do not know about Xi Jinping, the first three paragraphs, that seems to quote the Chinese government, are quite totalitarian.

3. The Guardian view on the Turkish elections: a victory with a price

The next article is by Editorial on The Guardian:
This starts as follows (and presumes you know Erdogan won the last elections):
There is an old Turkish proverb which says that a defeated wrestler always wants another match. It could have been coined to describe the increasingly dire situation of Turkey in recent years under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He is undoubtedly an effective and shrewd politician, in that he initially offered a programme and policies that appealed to both the traditional and the more modern sectors of society, to religious people and to the more secular classes, and to both ethnic Turks and to minorities, especially the Kurds.

His Justice and Development party, or AKP, has as a result been in charge for 13 years and he himself at the helm for a decade. But he was never an instinctive democrat, respectful of constitutional principles, or resigned to the alternation in power essential in a true democracy, and his attitude to any setback has always been to get round the obstacle by some other means.
This is more or less OK, though I should like to add that (i) I know of hardly any West-European or American politician that I would describe as "an instinctive democrat" or indeed as working in a state of "true democracy" (there is no true
democracy in Europe or the USA, certainly not in governments, and I also see very few "instinctive democrats"), while (ii) I agree that Mr Erdogan seems to me to be considerably more of an authoritarian and a clever manipulator than many of his European colleagues, neither of which seems good for Turkey (from my point of view, that is not well informed about Turkey, but is well informed about democracies, both real and purported).

Here is The Guardian's description of what Mr Erdogan tried to achieve, and mostly did achieve:
The immediate answer is that he undermined the coalition-building that would have given the country a stable government after the June election, contriving to have it fail so that he could get this second chance. This was cavalier, but characteristic.

In retrospect his years in power have seen the reduction, one by one, of all independent centres of power. He cut the Turkish military down to size, arguably a necessary move, but the methods were dubious. He fell out with his silent partner, the Gülen movement, and curtailed its influence in the media and education. He has increasingly politicised the judiciary and the law enforcement agencies, with Washington’s annual human rights report on Turkey this summer only one of many recent condemnatory accounts.

Formulated differently, Mr Erdogan seems to take (and to want to take) a quite authoritarian course, that also only rewards himself and his own party.

There is also this:
One former member of the AKP wrote recently that a process of purging it of moderates and replacing them with conservative religious figures began years ago. “Those who asked questions, offered constructive criticism or were generally disposed to moderation” were thrown out, he claimed.

The worst development of recent months has been the return to war with the PKK, the Kurdish armed movement.
The first paragraph conforms to what I said, and the second seems bad to me.

Here is The Guardian's judgement:

President Erdoğan has got his majority back, but Turkey has been damaged in the process. Its independent institutions have been undermined, its constitutional rules have been disregarded, the relations between ethnic Turks and Kurds have deteriorated, and it is back in a war it thought was over.
I agree.

4. Apocalypse now: has the next giant financial crash already begun? 

The next article is by Paul Mason on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
The 1st of October came and went without financial armageddon. Veteran forecaster Martin Armstrong, who accurately predicted the 1987 crash, used the same model to suggest that 1 October would be a major turning point for global markets. Some investors even put bets on it. But the passing of the predicted global crash is only good news to a point. Many indicators in global finance are pointing downwards – and some even think the crash has begun.
I say, but I grant that October 1 passed without me realizing that Martin Armstrong had forecast that then another financial armaggedon would start.

Then again, it might have been true, and Paul Mason also seems mostly correct in believing that the economical situation still is dire.

Here is some of his evidence:

Since 2007, the pile of debt in the world has grown by $57tn (£37tn). That’s a compound annual growth rate of 5.3%, significantly beating GDP. Debts have doubled in the so-called emerging markets, while rising by just over a third in the developed world.
Incidentally, "tn" = "trillion" = "a thousand billion" = "a millon millions", and the quotation shows that the debts are rising a lot more than the GDP (which is far from healthy).

Here is the main cause:
The underlying cause of this debt glut is the $12tn of free or cheap money created by central banks since 2009, combined with near-zero interest rates. When the real price of money is close to zero, people borrow and worry about the consequences later.
In other words: six years later, all that austerity has brought ordinary people is more austerities (while the real rich really got a whole lot richer).

And here is something else:
World trade volumes have contracted tangibly since December 2014, according to the Dutch government index, while the value of global trade in primary commodities, which scored 150 on the same index a year ago, now stands at 114.
In other words: There is a whole lot less global trade, and there is also this:
China – the engine of the post-2009 global recovery – is slowing markedly. Japan just revised its growth projections down, despite being in the middle of a massive money-printing programme. The eurozone is stagnant. In the US, growth, which recovered well under QE, has faltered after the withdrawal of QE.
It doesn't seem to be going well, in brief. Whether that is a sign that the next crash is starting, I simply don"t know.

5.
The Rigging of the American Market

The final article today is by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

Much of the national debate about widening inequality focuses on whether and how much to tax the rich and redistribute their income downward.

But this debate ignores the upward redistributions going on every day, from the rest of us to the rich. These redistributions are hidden inside the market.

The only way to stop them is to prevent big corporations and Wall Street banks from rigging the market.

For example, Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than do the citizens of any other developed nation.

That’s partly because it’s perfectly legal in the U.S. (but not in most other nations) for the makers of branded drugs to pay the makers of generic drugs to delay introducing cheaper unbranded equivalents, after patents on the brands have expired.

This costs you and me an estimated $3.5 billion a year – a hidden upward redistribution of our incomes to Pfizer, Merck, and other big proprietary drug companies, their executives, and major shareholders. 

Note that the beginning states Robert Reich's quite correct general point (ordinary Americans pay far more than they should), which is illustrated by the rest, of which the high prices for drugs is one example.

I would like to say here that I think it very probable that as soon as the TTIP has been approved, this will get "corrected": The Europeans will soon have the same  primitive relations as the Americans have, and pay a lot more for their drugs, simply because profits come first, and are vastly more important than people's
rights, democratically agreed principles, or national laws.

But this was an aside. Here is more by Reich on how ordinary Americans are plundered by the rich:

Likewise, the interest we pay on home mortgages or college loans is higher than it would be if the big banks that now dominate the financial industry had to work harder to get our business.

As recently as 2000, America’s five largest banks held 25 percent of all U.S. banking assets. Now they hold 44 percent – which gives them a lock on many such loans.

If we can’t repay, forget using bankruptcy. Donald Trump can go bankrupt four times and walk away from his debts, but the bankruptcy code doesn’t allow homeowners or graduates to reorganize unmanageable debts.

Again, as soon as the TTIP will have been agreed, America's banks will soon be able to likewise plunder ordinary Europeans (for profits come first, etc.)

Here is another example of trickling up rather than down:

Why have average domestic airfares risen 2.5% over the past, and are now at their the highest level since the government began tracking them in 1995 – while fuel prices, the largest single cost for the airlines, have plummeted?

Because America went from nine major carriers ten years ago to just four now. Many airports are now served by one or two.

Precisely - and four or two big corporations can make a lot of easy (and secret) deals (all of which fleece the customer even more).

In brief:

Add it up – the extra money we’re paying for pharmaceuticals, Internet communications, home mortgages, student loans, airline tickets, food, and health insurance – and you get a hefty portion of the average family’s budget.

Quite so - and thanks to that noble liberal progressive democratic president Obama, as soon as the TTIP gets approved, then all these enormous advantages
will be enjoyed by ordinary Europeans as well!

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