January 14, 2016

Crisis: Al Jazeera, Corbyn Effect, Socialism, Corporations, My Computer
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Al Jazeera America Terminates All TV and Digital

2. The Corbyn Effect: Survey Shows Huge Support in
     Labour Party for Its Leader

3. Kshama Sawant Delivers a Socialist Response to
     Obama’s State of the Union Speech

4. The 21st Century Sure Has Been a Great Time to
     Be a Corporation

5. On my computer

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, January 14, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Glenn Greenwald on the demise of Al Jazeera America; item 2 is about "The Corbyn Effect": He still is popular in England; item 3 is about a reply by an American socialist to Obama's SOTU-speech; item 4 is about how insanely profitable the big corporations were lately, in strong contrast with nearly everybody else; and item 5 is a brief update about the state of my computer.

1. Al Jazeera America Terminates All TV and Digital Operations

The first article is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Executives of Al Jazeera America (AJAM) held a meeting at 2 p.m. Eastern Time to tell their employees that the company is terminating all news and digital operations in the U.S. as of April 2016, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs. The announcement marks a stunning and rapid collapse of what, from the start, has been a towering  failure.

The main reasons to report on this are that (i) I think the main media in the USA mostly do propaganda and ceased doing honest journalism, so that (ii) I am mildly in favor of anything that might break or upset the unceasing flow of propaganda- said-to-be-news.

And this attitude also extends to Al Jazeera, even though I am myself an atheist classical liberal (with atheism in my family extending back to the 1850-ies).

Then again, Glenn Greenwald was far from impressed by AJAM:

From the start, employees complained vociferously that network executives were paralyzed by fear, believing they had to avoid all hints of bias and opinion in order to steer clear of what these executives regarded as the lethal stench of the Al Jazeera brand for American audiences. This turned much of the network into a diluted, extra-fearful version of CNN, which itself has suffered from remarkably low ratings for years.
I do not know whether this is correct, simply because I saw a little of AJAM but not enough to judge myself, although I am willing to trust Glenn Greenwald.

And Greenwald also gives the main reason for AJAM's demise. It is purely economical:

AJAM has been losing staggering sums of money from the start. That has become increasingly untenable as the network’s owner and funder, the government of Qatar, is now economically struggling due to low oil prices.
I say. (And this may entail further shrinkings of Al Jazeera.)

2. The Corbyn Effect: Survey Shows Huge Support in Labour Party for Its Leader

The second item is by Roisin Davies on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

Jeremy Corbyn appears to be reshaping the U.K. Labour Party, with a survey showing “overwhelming support for him [and] a decisive shift to the left.”

The Guardian “interviewed Labour secretaries, chairs, other office holders and members from more than 100 of the 632 constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales,” and found that “almost every constituency party across the country we contacted reported doubling, trebling, quadrupling or even quintupling membership, and a revival of branches that had been moribund for years and close to folding.”

I say. I did not know that, and it is good news, indeed in considerable part because the English press - including The Guardian, in majority - is against Jeremy Corbyn.

Also, it is good news not because I am a socialist (I am not [1]) but because British politics since Tony Blair is mainly a field for lying careerists, and Jeremy Corbyn is not a lying careerist.

And while I disagree with Corbyn on some very fundamental matters, he is honest, and he may reform the Labour Party, that much deserves reforming.

There is also this from The Right-Turning Guardian [2]:

The rise in membership has been uneven across the country. In contrast with steep rises in London and elsewhere in England and Wales, the rises in Scotland have been relatively modest, ominous for the party’s hopes in May’s Scottish parliamentary election.

Members, in spite of unhappiness with public splits within the PLP, say there is no appetite for deselection of MPs. But some acknowledge that proposed boundary changes in 2018 could result in de-facto deselection.

Returning members, who had left Labour mainly in protest over the 2003 Iraq invasion, are making an immediate impact, partly because they are familiar with the rules.

Both returning members and new ones tend to be mainly leftwing. There are few reports of attempted infiltration from hard-left groups.

Whether that is all true I do not know, though I agree to the last paragraph for the simple reason that there are few hard-left groups left, and there are far more new members of Labour than there were members of the small remaining hard-left groups.

3. Kshama Sawant Delivers a Socialist Response to Obama’s State of the Union Speech

The third item is by A/V Booth on Truthdig:

This starts as follows, and it is here because it is a response of a socialist American:
Obama’s final State of the Union was filled with optimism for the future of the United States. I share this confidence, but for very different reasons. My confidence is based not on big corporations or the prosperity of Wall Street and its billionaires. It is based instead on the immense potential power of American workers, of the 99%, to fight for a better society against the Billionaire Class, whose limitless greed threatens our society and our planet.
I do not share the confidence, and my main reason is that "the Billionaire Class" has been intrigueing and deregulating now for 35 years, and has succeeded in getting rid of most of the laws that constrained their enormous greed and great powers.

Then again, I am willing to accept that a socialist leader is more or less bound to say what Kshama Sawant said.

Here is her analysis of Obama's presidency:
Under Obama’s two terms in office the Wall Street barons who crashed the global economy, who needed to be bailed out and rescued with our money—these same gangsters have not only walked away free, but have taken the lion’s share of the recovery. America’s 20 wealthiest people—a group that could fit comfortably in one luxury jet—now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people. These same billionaires are bankrolling the political establishment of both major parties. Congress isn’t regulating Wall Street. It is Wall Street that controls Congress.
I think that is correct. Much more could have been said, but I think she is fundamentally right in insisting that "Congress isn’t regulating Wall Street.
It is Wall Street that controls Congress.
" And that is a major problem.

Here she is on Bernie Sanders:

Bernie Sanders is giving voice to the enormous desire for progressive change. Many of Bernie’s supporters are excited to support a self-described democratic socialist candidate. But what is socialism? Millions are asking. A socialist society would put people before profits, the environment before big oil. In which the resources of the major corporations are taken into democratic public ownership, rationally planned for the needs of society as a whole. I am not a Democrat, but I would welcome it if Bernie Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination, as this would be a major blow to the political establishment and to corporate politics.
I don't think Bernie Sanders is as socialist as Kshama Sawant. I may be mistaken, but from my own - quite informed - European perspective, he seems more of a social democrat than a democratic socialist (but I agree both terms are vague).

Kshama Sawant is a socialist, and I am not, and indeed she allows me to say where I fundamentally disagree. She said, in effect that
"A socialist society (..)" is one in which "the resources of the major corporations are taken into democratic public ownership, rationally planned for the needs of society as a whole."
This is a correct definition of socialism, though it isn't very precise. Well, I much dislike the major corporations, but I also do not believe in a "democratic public ownership" for the simple reason that "public ownership" will strongly tend to be the ownership of the party that leads the country after the revolution.

This happened in the Soviet Union, this happened in China, this happened in Cuba, and this has happened in other "socialist countries". It is logically possible to prevent this - see my On Socialism - but the strong lure of absolute power makes this possibility rather unlikely.

She ended as follows:

Eugene Debs, the great American Socialist, once said: “The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough … The time has come to regenerate society.”

I like Debs, but he died 90 years ago this year. And I do not think it is sensible in the 21st Century to divide political choices on lines like these appeared to Eugene Debs circa 1925. I dislike capitalism from what I've seen of it. I dislike socialism from what I've seen of it. [3]

If I had a say, I'd be in favor of laws that make it impossible for anyone to earn more than 20 times as much as the poorest, provided the poorest had a decent income.

This would not cost the 99% a penny; it would be a simple law corresponding to a simple moral principle: "No one should earn more than 20 times as much as the poor"; and it would put an end to the very small class of billionaires and millionaires who have ruled most of the world for centuries.

It certainly isn't capitalist, and probably also isn't socialist, because it is not for "public ownership". It does seem the simplest idea that may work, but then it puts
an end to anyone making more than 20 times as much as I do, and that end to
the motive of major greed may be the reason not to adopt this plan either.

4. The 21st Century Sure Has Been a Great Time to Be a Corporation

This fourth item is by Kevin Drum on Mother Jones:

This starts as follows:

This is apropos of nothing in particular. I was just noodling around on something else and happened to run across this data, so here it is. The economic recovery of the Bush years might have been pretty anemic for most of us, but it was sure a great time for the corporate world: Between 2001 and 2006, pretax profits went up 3x and after-tax profits went up even more.

And here are the data, with two trend lines (linear regressions) drawn in by me (and if you want better graphics, and without trend lines, try the last dotted link: I wanted to fit it in the normal limits of Nederlog):

The break falls between 2001 and 2004. And indeed - as Kevin Drum tells his readers - as far as after-tax incomes are concerned: While ordinary folks with ordinary incomes (the 99%) lost about 5% the extra-ordinary folks with extra-ordinary incomes (the 1%) gained nearly 400%.

5. On my computer  

The fifth and last item today is not a crisis item but is a brief report on the status of my computer.

The state of my computer is of some importance for those who like to read my site(s), especially since I made a considerable mistake last November: I installed a later version of Ubuntu without verifying it had the High Contrast Inverse option, on which I rely since the second half of 2012, when I got - quite painful - dry eyes.

This was all my fault, and if you want to know more about this, consult this, this or this. (These are also short, but a bit clearer than the present note.)

Meanwhile, the computer is working and has been working most of the time, but it still is not quite OK. I will have to sort this out this year, but I am currently in need
of some better health, and the computer mostly works.

[1] The fact that I am not a socialist is a bit more meaningful in my case than in many others, because both of my - intelligent, honest - parents were communists for over 40 years, and my mother's family were anarchists since the 19th Century.

Also, while I disagreed with my parents about Marx and socialism, I agreed with them, and still do, about most of their criticisms of capitalism: it was unfair, immoral, profit-oriented, and condemned most people to spend their lives holding boring or demeaning jobs as wage slaves.

I still agree with these criticisms, but I am not a socialist because I found in my late teens that I disagreed with
Marx (for quite good reasons also) and had found in my early teens that Soviet style socialism (which I then experienced myself, in the GDR in 1964) was not socialism but simply a dictatorship.

There is a lot more I might tell about these choices, which I will not do here, except for one addition: One of the things that makes me differ from most who are actively engaged in politics is that I believe much more in science than in politics if I were asked "what do you think is the main way human beings may be emancipated?"

But this also is very much a minority view (at least: amongst those who are politically active).

[2] As I have outlined in 2015 - see here and here - I think The Guardian made a major mistake by preventing its readers to copy it; by doing that in a way that I don't see in JavaScript; and by adding great amounts of JavaScript to their articles (that now tend to have considerably more JavaScript than text).

This also considerably lessened my liking of The Guardian: I think it is turning right, and does so basically because of the self-interest of those making it.

And no: I do not know of any other paper that prevents its readers from copying it, and I think being able to copy parts of the text is the only way of discussing things rationally in these times were ordinary journalism and editing has mostly sold out to rich owners.

[3] The main point here is the repeated addition of "
what I've seen of it": I do not judge socialism by wishful thinking about what it might - eventually - be, but by what it was, even if I agree that was mostly a lie - but it was a lie that was believed (for quite a long time, at least) by millions upon millions of people who did identify themselves as "socialists" or "communists", including my parents and their friends.

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