This is a Nederlog
of Saturday, December 12, 2015.
This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a fairly bad article by one Alastair Crooke (not: Alistair Cooke, in case you remember him); item 2 is about a planned merger of Dupont and Dow Chemical on Common Dreams, who got it right; item 3 is nominally about a network CEO, but is taken by me as information on what does make Americans so Ex-Cep-Tio-Nal; item 4 is about Paul Krugman's review of Robert Reich's most recent book; and item 5
is about a disappointing article on Spiegel International (that sounds
just like a "personalized" NYRB-article, which is a style I detested
the last 50 years).
1. Cornering Russia, Risking World War III
The first item is by Alastair Crooke  on
This starts as follows:
We all know the narrative in which we
(the West) are seized. It is the narrative of the Cold War: America
versus the “Evil Empire.” And, as Professor Ira Chernus has written,
since we are “human” and somehow they (the USSR or, now, ISIS) plainly
are not, we must be their polar opposite in every way.
“If they are absolute evil, we must be
the absolute opposite. It’s the old apocalyptic tale: God’s
people versus Satan’s. It ensures that we never have to admit to any
meaningful connection with the enemy.” It is the basis to
America’s and Europe’s claim to exceptionalism and leadership.
Well...no, not really.
Firstly, I do not "know" "the narrative in which we
(the West) are seized", and indeed I do not
believe in "narratives". These are nearly always fairytales,
often spinned by "journalists", mostly directed at the stupid and
uneducated halves of their audiences, and while I may be said
to know the fairytales of Pinnochio and the Fox and the Sour Grapes, I
do not "know" any of an arbitrary number of evident lies
that have been cooked up as apparently truthful explanations for the stupid or the uninformed.
Secondly, Ira Chernus is just one
professor, and while I have read his article I did not review
it precisely because it struck me as fairly hysterical, indeed quite as
depicted in these first two paragraphs, which just are plain rot,
Thirdly, I much dislike the
automatic extension of the WASP's latest ideology of American Superhumanism
(Übermenschen, in good German) aka Exceptionalism ("We Are Just Better
Than Anybody Else And If You Don't Believe It We Will Bomb The Hell Out
Of You") to Europe and Europeans: I don't believe it and strongly
reject it, for nationalism is not at all a good basis for assigning
human excellencies, which are always individual and not
of groups, races, faiths, or nations.
Then there is this:
Westerners may generally think ourselves
to be rationalist and (mostly) secular, but Christian modes of
conceptualizing the world still permeate contemporary foreign policy.
It is this Cold War narrative of the
Reagan era, with its correlates that America simply stared down the
Soviet Empire through military and – as importantly – financial
“pressures,” whilst making no concessions to the enemy.
Sorry, but this is also plain nonsense.
Firstly, clearly, the West is still mostly
Christian, and has been so since about a 1000 years, though indeed
parts of the strengths of the faith - especially among those who
discarded it or most of it - have much diminished.
Secondly, Reagan is dead. The Soviet Union
is dead. What is the relevance of "the Reagan era" and "the
Soviet empire" that died nearly 25 years ago or more? It is not
explained, it is merely asserted.
There is also this:
But Bill Kristol is again just one
commentator on TV. Why are his opinions of 13 years ago
relevant today? And yes, while I agree something like what
Kristol said 13 years ago articulated something like what many
in the GOP seem to believe in 2015, this is all just too vague.
These two narratives, the Cold War
narrative, and the neocons’ subsequent “spin” on it: i.e. Bill
Kristol’s formulation (in 2002) that precisely because of its Cold War
“victory,” America could, and must, become the “benevolent global
hegemon,” guaranteeing and sustaining the new American-authored global
order – an “omelette that cannot be made without breaking eggs” –
converge and conflate in Syria, in the persons of President Assad and
President Obama is no neocon, but he is
constrained by the global hegemon legacy, which he must either sustain,
or be labeled as the arch facilitator of America’s decline.
The second paragraph also seems to be mostly composed of wishful
thinking, again delivered without a shred of evidence.
The end of the article is this:
Well... OK, but none of the foregoing
justified this conclusion or made it even plausible. And while I was no
great admirer of Alistair Cooke, I listened fairly often to his Letters
from America, because they were mostly sensible and were stated in
decent and clear English. I do not think Alastair Crooke is of the same
Russia’s call to co-operate with Western
states against the scourge of ISIS; its low-key and carefully crafted
responses to such provocations as the ambush of its SU-24 bomber in
Syria; and President Putin’s calm rhetoric, are all being used by
Washington and London to paint Russia as a “paper tiger,” whom no one
In short, Russia is being offered only
the binary choice: to acquiesce to the “benevolent” hegemon, or to
prepare for war.
2. The DuPont and Dow Chemical Merger: Bad Deal for People and
The second item is by
Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:
Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm
after two of the oldest and largest corporations in the United
States—DuPont and Dow Chemical—announced
Friday plans to merge into a $130 billion giant, thereby establishing
the world's biggest
seed and pesticide conglomerate.
The new behemoth, named DowDuPont, would
then be split into "three independent, publicly traded companies
through tax-free spin-offs," according to a joint corporate statement
marking one of the the largest deals of 2015.
These companies would focus on
agriculture, material science, and "technology and innovation-driven
Specialty Products company," the statement continues. Together, they
would form the second-largest chemical company world-wide.
The merger, if it goes through, is
expected to slash numerous jobs.
And it would expand the influence of two
Big Ag players, with the combined venture retaining control over "17
percent of global pesticide sales and about 40 percent of America’s
corn-seed and soybean markets," according
to the calculations of Washington Post analysts.
This is quite bad news, though it fits
well with the enormous winnings and financial gains for the very rich
and their multi-national corporations that were effected the last 35
Here is some more:
"Just a handful of large chemical
companies including Dow and DuPont already control most of the seed
supply used to grow crops like corn and soybeans, as well as the
herbicides that genetically engineered seeds are designed to be grown
with," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of advocacy organization
Food & Water Watch, in a statement
"Any merger that consolidates this
market into fewer hands will give farmers fewer choices and put them at
even more economic disadvantage," Hauter continued. "And it will make
it harder for agriculture to get off the GMO-chemical treadmill that
just keeps increasing in speed. The Department of Justice needs to
block this merger to prevent the further corporate control of the basic
building blocks of the food supply."
to This Network CEO Revel in the Amazing Profits of Presidential
third item is by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:
starts as follows, which I take also as a realistic account of
why I consider the above a realistic account of American Ex-Cep-Tio-
Even as large swaths of
the population call
for media outlets to do their part in
stemming the "dangerous tide of hatred, violence, and suspicion" taking
hold in the United States, corporate media—which stands to benefit
nicely from the $5 billion 2016 presidential election—is egging on that
same divisive rhetoric.
"Go Donald! Keep getting
out there!" CBS Corporation chief executive Les Moonves reportedly
said during an investor presentation Monday.
advertising dollars already flowing CBS's way as a result of the
crowded 2016 GOP presidential primary, Moonves said: "We love having
all 16 Republicans candidates throwing crap at each other — it's
great. The more they spend, the better it is for us."
"And, you know, this is
fun, watching this, let them spend money on us, and we love having them
in there," he declared. "We're looking forward to a very exciting
political year in '16."
Na-Lism: I think this is mostly founded on people like Les Moonves, who
willing to sell out everything that they morally, intellectually or
politically stand for, simply for getting more money themselves. (It is very normal, I agree.)
That is also what American Ex-Cep-Tio-Na-Lism seems to be: The faith of
the most stupid, least educated Americans, that also is fanned by the
in order to manipulate it in their direction.
4. Challenging the Oligarchy
The fourth item is by Paul Krugman on The New York Review of Books:
This is a review by
Krugman of Robert Reich's latest book, Saving Capitalism: For the
Many, Not the Few. It starts as follows:
Back in 1991, in what now seems
like a far more innocent time, Robert Reich published an influential
book titled The Work of Nations, which among other things
helped land him a cabinet post in the Clinton administration. It was a
good book for its time—but time has moved on. And the gap between that
relatively sunny take and Reich’s latest, Saving Capitalism, is
itself an indicator of the unpleasant ways America has changed.
Well...yes, or mostly
so, although (i) I am myself not much interested in The Work of
Nations, and especially (ii) it seems to me too late to "call for class
war" or indeed for "an uprising of workers against the quiet class
war that America’s oligarchy has been waging for decades", if only (apart from more theoretical
objections) because the "workers" - at least if these are understood to
be blue collar workers rather than white collar workers - are mostly
dead or white collar, because their jobs are now done by Chinese or
Indians, who are much cheaper.
The Work of Nations was in some ways
a groundbreaking work, because it focused squarely on the issue of
rising inequality—an issue some economists, myself included, were
already taking seriously, but that was not yet central to political
discourse. Reich’s book saw inequality largely as a technical problem,
with a technocratic, win-win solution. That was then. These days, Reich
offers a much darker vision, and what is in effect a call for class
war—or if you like, for an uprising of workers against the quiet class
war that America’s oligarchy has been waging for decades.
Indeed Krugman is aware of that (though it started earlier):
Something else began happening
labor in general began losing ground relative to capital. After decades
of stability, the share of national income going to employee
compensation began dropping fairly fast.
Then there is this, which shows some of the
fairly crazy inhibitions academic economists work under:
Economists struggling to make
economic polarization are, increasingly, talking not about technology
but about power. This may sound like straying off the
reservation—aren’t economists supposed to focus only on the invisible
hand of the market?—but there is actually a long tradition of economic
concern about “market power,” aka the effect of monopoly. True, such
concerns were deemphasized for several generations, but they’re making
a comeback—and one way to read Robert Reich’s new book is in part as a
popularization of the new view, just as The Work of Nations
The reason to call this a "fairly crazy inhibition" is
simply that power
is fundamental both in politics and in economics. Then again, Paul
Krugman needs evidence:
There’s growing evidence that
does indeed have large implications for economic behavior—and that the
failure to pursue antitrust regulation vigorously has been a major
reason for the disturbing trends in the economy.
I say. But then that has been obvious
to me for 45 years:
Of course both political power and market power are fundamental for
much that is happening in the economy. And I am not saying that
this was obvious to me 45 years ago to stress or insist that I was an
original: This was obvious to many who seriously
considered either economics or politics, even though it was not
what academic economists paid much attention to.
Then there is this:
Robert Reich has never shied
away from big
ambitions. The title of The Work of Nations deliberately
alluded to Adam Smith; Reich clearly hoped that readers would see his
work not simply as a useful guide but as a foundational text. Saving
Capitalism is, if anything, even more ambitious despite its compact
length. Reich attempts to cast his new discussion of inequality as a
fundamental rethinking of market economics. He is not, he insists,
calling for policies that will limit and soften the functioning of
markets; rather, he says that the very definition of free markets is a
political decision, and that we could run things very differently.
“Government doesn’t ‘intrude’ on the ‘free market.’ It creates the
I generally like Robert Reich, but I do not
think he is a new Adam Smith or indeed a new Marx or new Keynes (and I
read several books of each of the last three).
This is also part of the reason I did not read The Work of
Nations, though indeed (i) 1991 was also the most horrible year I
lived through, and (ii) I was not yet aware of the neoconservative
policy of deregulation (started
under Reagan in the US, continued by Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama), while
(iii) I was around 1990 still considerably more interested in
philosophy and psychology (in which I still thought I might make a
career, since I was evidently very good at "the academic game") than I
was in politics or economics. 
There is this on the decline of trade unions in the USA, which I think
is quite correct, and also needs saying:
Meanwhile, forms of market
benefit large numbers of workers as opposed to small numbers of
plutocrats have declined, again thanks in large part to political
decisions. We tend to think of the drastic decline in unions as an
inevitable consequence of technological change and globalization, but
one need look no further than Canada to see that this isn’t true. Once
upon a time, around a third of workers in both the US and Canada were
union members; today, US unionization is down to 11 percent, while it’s
still 27 percent north of the border. The difference was politics: US
policy turned hostile toward unions in the 1980s, while Canadian policy
didn’t follow suit.
Indeed: It was policy; it was made by
politicians; much of it started under Reagan; and
indeed the policies were made into law, and indeed only
in the USA and not in Canada, though that borders on the USA
and is rather a lot like it, again for political reasons,
Then there is this, that also seems correct and is in need of being
But why has politics gone in
direction? Like a number of other commentators, Reich argues that
there’s a feedback loop between political and market power. Rising
wealth at the top buys growing political influence, via campaign
contributions, lobbying, and the rewards of the revolving door.
Political influence in turn is used to rewrite the rules of the
game—antitrust laws, deregulation, changes in contract law,
union-busting—in a way that reinforces income concentration. The result
is a sort of spiral, a vicious circle of oligarchy. That, Reich
suggests, is the story of America over the past generation. And I’m
afraid that he’s right.
Yes, indeed - and here it were politics
and the law that drove economy, which happened mostly through deregulations, which are neoconservative
politics translated into laws. Also, this was clearly seen
by the neoconservatives (and hardly or not at all by ordinary
"leftists", who were mainly confused by Clinton's and later also
Blair's - utterly false and fraudulent - "Third Way", and indeed for
the most part ceased to be real leftists, real progressives or real
This is Krugman's ending:
In the meantime, Saving
is a very good guide to the state we’re in.
I suppose this is strong support for Robert
Reich. I will later return to Saving
Capitalism, but have no time for it today.
Anger and Hatred: The Rise of Germany's New Right
The fifth item is by Spiegel Staff on Spiegel International:
This has a summary (bold in the original):
For years, a sense of
disillusionment has been growing on the right. Now, the refugee crisis
has magnified that frustration. Increasingly, people from the very
center of society are identifying with the movement -- even as
political debate coarsens and violence increases. By SPIEGEL Staff I do not think this is a good piece, but I will reproduce a few points from it, while abstaining from reproducing the many odd "personalized bits" of various named Germans, which do not
interest me at all (and which sound to me just like a New York Review
of Books review since the 1960ies that tend to proceed in precisely the
same mock "personalized" style: I am not interested in personal trivia). 
The subject is Germany. Here is one of the points:
It is still just a radical minority that is
responsible for much of the xenophobia and violence. The tens of
thousands of volunteers who offer their assistance in refugee shelters
every day still predominate. But at the same time, a new right-wing
movement is growing -- and it is much more adroit and, to many,
appealing than any of its predecessors.
In fact, it seems to me that this is in part due to Clinton's (and later also Blair's) remaking of "leftism" into what is and was in effect neoconservatism, but the whole "Third Way", which was how this was popularized, is not mentioned in the article.
Then there is this:
The New Right comes out of the bourgeois
center of society and includes intellectuals with conservative values,
devout Christians and those angry at the political class. The new
movement also attracts people that might otherwise be described as
leftist: Putin admirers, for example, anti-globalization activists and
radical pacifists. Movements are growing together that have never
before been part of the same camp.
"Putin admirers" as "leftists"? I say. There is also this:
The state and its organs, such as the
government and parliament, have become the object of a kind of derision
not seen since the founding of postwar Germany. Once again, political
representatives are being denounced as "traitors to their people," the
parliament as a "chatter chamber" and mainstream newspapers as
Really? Did the writers consider or know much about the late 60ies and early 70ies? I am asking, for I don't know. Besides, there is considerable truth in the convictions that the leading politicians have betrayed the people, and that mainstream newspapers are
"systematically conformist", though indeed I am not much interested in
the uninformed ideas of the many, even if they happen to be right.
Then there is this:
The 1 million refugees who have arrived in
Germany in 2015 are now acting as a catalyst for this new right-wing
movement. The fear of foreigners, of being "swamped" by them, is
bonding the New Right together and drawing more "concerned citizens"
into their ranks every day.
There were in 2014 around 81 million Germans, so 1 million refugees
amount to slightly over 1% of the total population. It seems a bit
crazy to say that slightly more than 1% can "swamp" Germans, but then
ordinary people are not often very rational or very informed.
Finally, I quote this (from much more):
The Otto Brenner Stiftung, a foundation
with ties to German labor unions, published a study of right-wing
populism in Germany over the summer. The organization found that
supporters of the New Right no longer clearly identify themselves as
right-wing. "The division between traditionally leftist and
traditionally rightist attitudes is disappearing," the study says.
Perhaps. But again I do not know what is meant by "traditionally leftist and
traditionally rightist attitudes", and indeed in considerable part because of the Third Way (see above).
Anyway - that was the Spiegel (and there is much more in the article).
- I say it for those who are old enough to remember him - Alistair Cooke,
who died in 2004 aged 95, quite briefly after having ended his 58 years
lasting Letters from America for the BBC.
Then again, this is also from the much
sweeter times when I could get the BBC WS on radio, and thus get some fairly
I am not saying I was right, nor indeed that I was wrong: I am only
saying that at that time, in 1991, I still did not have my M.A.; I was
ill since 1.1.1979; and also I did not believe (and do not believe)
that being more politically active would have made much difference to
almost anyone. And in fact I still think I was right to try to get an
M.A. and some academic position before doing other things. Well, I got
my M.A. but by 1992 my health had been totally destroyed for the next 25 years by mayor Van Thijn and the illegal drugsdealers Van Thijn protected.
 The article starts as follows (precisely as if it were a New York Review of Books article, since the 1960ies or before):
Martin Bahrmann, a local politician in the
Saxon town of Meissen, was just preparing to speak in a council debate
on refugee shelters when a ball-point pen ricoched off the back of his
head. It was a cheap, plastic writing utensil -- blue with white
I am sorry, but I am not interested in the experiences or the opinions of this 27-year old, who works in politics "without being paid for it".
This is a type of personalized baloney (there is a lot more in the article) that I just find very distasteful and completely irrelevant.