February 15, 2016

Crisis: Sanders+Hedges, Wall Street, Toxic Crisis, GOP&Torture, Germany
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Bernie Sanders’ Phantom Movement
2. Here’s a Way to Hold Wall Street Accountable 
It Ain't Just Flint: America’s Coast-to-Coast Toxic Crisis
4. New GOP Plans for Torture
5. Turkish-German Pact: EU Split by Merkel's Refugee Plan

This is a Nederlog of Monday, February 15, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is Chris Hedges' reaction to Bernie Sanders (with mine attached); item 2 is about an interesting article by Margaret Flowers and Jill Stein, in part about a fine plan and proposal by Bill Black; item 3 is about the fact (?) that there are far more toxic water supplies in the USA than in Flint, but it is a bit thin on relevant evidence; item 4 is about new GOP plans to torture (which are both sick and illegal, so I have a voting advice); and item 5 is about a bad Spiegel article that I finally included in Nederlog, mostly because I strongly dislike its totally irrelevant "human interest" introduction: Please skip this baloney!

1. Bernie Sanders’ Phantom Movement

This first
item is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This starts as follows - and the whole article has the merit of explaining why Chris Hedges is opposed to Bernie Sanders:

Bernie Sanders, who has attracted numerous young, white, college-educated supporters in his bid for the presidency, says he is creating a movement and promises a political revolution. This rhetoric is an updated version of the “change” promised by the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama and by Jesse Jackson’s earlier National Rainbow Coalition. Such Democratic electoral campaigns, at best, raise political consciousness. But they do not become movements or engender revolutions. They exist as long as election campaigns endure and then they vanish. Sanders’ campaign will be no different.

No movement or political revolution will ever be built within the confines of the Democratic Party.
Hm. I will make some comments on parts that seem to be missing. There are at least three such parts: 

First, Bernie Sanders is definitely not (a) Barack Obama: Obama started with virtually nothing plus a long, long, long list of promises of what he was going to "Change!",
"Change!", "Change!" ("Yes, we can!") - and it turned out almost every promise was based on a lie that was only meant to elect him, indeed rather precisely as Honest Hillary is campaigning now. In contrast, Bernie Sanders started on a consistent, leftist and democratic political career that goes back all the way to 1970. This doesn't mean Sanders can win or can't lie or is always right; it does mean that his position is quite different from Obama's.

Second, Chris Hedges disbelieves that Bernie Sanders' campaign will become a movement or engender a revolution, and will be abandoned soon after he has given up his candidacy (which he thinks is what will happen: the Democratic Party will not allow Sanders to win the presidential candidacy). I say: Perhaps. But then that will mostly not be Sanders' mistake but the mistake or the incompetence of his followers: They may not succeed in changing a failed candidacy into a movement - but then again there ought to be far better chances of starting a movement than five, ten or fifteen years ago, and especially if millions of men and women have been woken up.

Third, Chris Hedges also doesn't consider Bernie Sanders' position as an Independent. For Sanders in fact is an independent who chose to run as a Democrat because he agrees far more with them than with the Republicans,
and because there is a Democratic Party machine for national elections in the
USA but not an Independent Party machine that could do the same - or at least,
that is how I understood it. In any case, I do not think it is correct to suggest
that Sanders is working "
within the confines of the Democratic Party".

Then there is this by Chris Hedges on the Democrats:

The Democrats, like the Republicans, have no interest in genuine reform. They are wedded to corporate power. They are about appearance, not substance. They speak in the language of democracy, even liberal reform and populism, but doggedly block campaign finance reform and promote an array of policies, including new trade agreements, that disempower workers. They rig the elections, not only with money but also with so-called superdelegates (...)
I mostly agree, although there are a few Democrats who are not quite like
most of the others, such as Elizabeth Warren, and who try not to succumb to the party machine.

Then again, these are the facts: The USA has - quite ridiculously, in my opinion - merely two big parties that may win a presidential election and most other elections, and indeed both parties are quite corrupt, quite dishonest, and mostly
rely on propaganda.

But that is not Bernie Sanders' desire either - it is a fact of political life in the USA.

Then there is this list of questions by Chris Hedges:

Do Sanders’ supporters believe they can wrest power from the Democratic establishment and transform the party? Do they think the forces where real power lies—the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, corporations, the security and surveillance state—can be toppled by a Sanders campaign? Do they think the Democratic Party will allow itself to be ruled by democratic procedures? Do they not accept that with the destruction of organized labor and anti-war, civil rights and progressive movements—a destruction often orchestrated by security organs such as the FBI—the party has lurched so far to the right that it has remade itself into the old Republican Party?

I will try to answer them:

First question: At least they may have a chance. And they are operating in a
(small d) democratic way, and indeed are opposed by a powerful élite. Then again, while they may fail, they
then will - very probably - fail by the non- democratic manipulations of that elite.

Second question: Again, they may have a chance. I do not know how large
this is, but surely there are many times more supporters of Sanders than there
are supporters of "
the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, corporations, the security and surveillance state" - and while these have their tentacles deep in many places, including the Democratic Party's elites, and while they have a lot of money and power, they also are not at all the same as the Democratic Party.

Third question: "The Democratic Party" is a considerable organization with several elites and several broad branches of membership. I agree it mostly pretends to be democratic in procedure, while in fact it is run by a small elite - but then the Republican Party is worse, and again there is a chance that millions of voters may upset the balance that so far helped the small elites.

Fourth question: That is a loaded question, which in fact asks the reader to concede Chris Hedges' presumption that both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have changed radically: The Republicans now are extreme rightists, and the The Democrats are what The Republicans were. But (i) that
is a radical assumption that (ii) at best is true of the - present - ruling elites
in both parties. In any case, I see not much reason to concede the presumption for the parties (the ordinary members) rather than the elites - and again, Sanders and his supporters are using democratic means and have a chance they may succeed (in some).

So overall my reply is: Sanders and his supporters at least make a chance of changing things, and they are doing this in democratic ways, and are opposed by many in the Democratic elites that mostly run the Democratic Party.

And then I have a question or two: Why not try to make the best of the (small d) democratic chance that Sanders advocates to make a change - as long as this lasts? Surely Sanders is better than Clinton who is better than Cruz or Trump?!

But Chris Hedges has an answer:

I am all for a revolution, a word Sanders likes to throw around, but one that is truly socialist and destroys the corporate establishment, including the Democratic Party. I am for a revolution that demands the return of the rule of law, and not just for Wall Street, but those who wage pre-emptive war, order the assassination of U.S. citizens, allow the military to carry out domestic policing and then indefinitely hold citizens without due process, who empower the wholesale surveillance of the citizenry by the government. I am for a revolution that brings under strict civilian control the military, the security and surveillance apparatus including the CIA, the FBI, Homeland Security and police and drastically reduces their budgets and power. I am for a revolution that abandons imperial expansion, especially in the Middle East, and makes it impossible to profit from war. I am for a revolution that nationalizes banks, the arms industry, energy companies and utilities, breaks up monopolies, destroys the fossil fuel industry, funds the arts and public broadcasting, provides full employment and free education including university education, forgives all student debt, blocks bank repossessions and foreclosures of homes, guarantees universal and free health care and provides a living wage to those unable to work, especially single parents, the disabled and the elderly. Half the country, after all, now lives in poverty. None of us live in freedom.
My reply is this:

I too am in favor of a revolution, and I like most of the things Chris Hedges likes as well. [1] But there is on the moment (and the past 45 years) not the ghost of a chance that it will happen and succeed in the USA, simply because the great majority in the USA is not as far as that.

Then again, it may happen that Bernie Sanders will win the presidential candidacy; Sanders does have a 45 year background of honest leftism; and it is possible he may change quite a number of things.

So why give up on him now? Mostly - it seems, and supposing one is a genuine leftist, as Chris Hedges is - because one believes he is not pure enough "a socialist", or not radical enough by one's own lights, or has some mistaken policies.

I agree that position is tenable, but I also think my position - support Sanders as long as he makes a chance of winning the candidacy, simply because he is the only credible candidate with a chance of winning it and of winning the presidency (at least so far) - is more realistic, and indeed also more democratic.

2. Here’s a Way to Hold Wall Street Accountable

The second item is by Margaret Flowers and Jill Stein:

This starts as follows:

The year 2016 is off to a rocky start for the stock market, not just in the United States but also globally. Many economists are predicting a financial crash this year or next. Stocks are overvalued without a foundation to hold them up, production is down and debt is high. Central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, have run out of solutions, and investors have run out of confidence in them. The grand illusion of economic recovery is about to be exposed.

Financial fraud is at the heart of the coming crisis. In 2008 when a sector rife with fraud crashed, instead of having to face responsibility the too-big-to-fail banks were bailed out with public dollars. The public, meanwhile, bore the cost not just in dollars but also in lost jobs, lower wages and home foreclosures.

I think this is all correct - and Jill Stein is the presidential candidate of the Green Party, which - I am willing to agree with Chris Hedges - may have a somewhat better program than Bernie Sanders has, although there is no chance that the Greens will win the presidency.

In the past 15 years, the U.S. has weathered devastating aftereffects of two financial bubbles: the “dot-com” bubble in the late 1990s, which burst in early 2000, and the housing bubble, which burst in 2008. Many pundits contend that the 2008 financial crisis is over and that we are in recovery, but the reality is that the “recovery” has really been only for those at the top who were bailed out by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve.

Again I quite agree. Then there is this on the economical condition of very many in the present USA:

Half the people in this country have no savings and two-thirds cannot handle an unexpected expense of more than $500, including not being able to borrow what they need from family or friends. The low-wage “recovery” has devastated the middle class, with 51 percent of workers now earning under $30,000 a year.

Here I should say that I am Dutch and have been ill for 37 years and was in the dole for 31 years (because these bureaucrats did not want to admit I was ill, and very probably did know that I was an opponent of the mayor) and that my income is around $15,000 a year - but I only need to take care of my self; I live
a simple life without expensive sins; and I can take care of an unexpected expense of at least $2000, for I saved that much (with trouble, but I did).

I am a bit amazed that my financial situation is better than 2 out of 3 of the current Americans, but then the European social system has not yet been fully
Americanized (as I fear it will be - eventually - when the TTIP is introduced as a "law": paying people for being ill or for not working is "not profitable", therefore forbidden).

A 2011 audit of the Federal Reserve found that $16 trillion had been allocated to banks and corporations for “financial assistance” after the 2008 collapse. As a result, the Fed is currently leveraged 77 to 1—more than double what Lehman Brothers was when it failed in 2008.

Again correct, as is the following diagnosis of the psychology of those enriching themselves at Wall Street:

The reality is that there are no ethics on Wall Street. Everyone is playing against each other and using whatever tools there are—even some they do not fully understand—to make money without regard to the impact they will have on others. It is an “As long as I get mine, then screw the rest” mentality. This mentality has been enabled over the past decade or so by the lack of meaningful oversight. Basically, this behavior occurs because those involved are getting away with it and raking in millions, if not billions, of dollars as their reward. If fraud creates wealth, people will engage in it until they are stopped.

I may perhaps disagree about "the lack of meaningful oversight", simply because I think Eric Holders' oversight was both meaningful and quite criminal, but then the writers may also agree with me.

Finally, I did not quote their support for Bill Black (<- Wikipedia) and his group, but they certainly do, as I do, and here is their mentioning them:

The full plan and an explanation of it can be viewed on their website, New Economic Perspectives.

The last link - New Economic Perspectives  - is very well worth looking at and contains the very good 19-point 60 day plan to restore the US economy, indeed mostly by stopping the corruptions, the loopholes and the deregulations.

3. It Ain't Just Flint: America’s Coast-to-Coast Toxic Crisis

The third item is by David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz on AlterNet:

This starts as follows (and while it is correct, I found this article a bit disappointing because it is vague):
Talk about nightmares: the children of a city, thousands of them, may have been poisoned by lead in its drinking water in a process set off by adults intent on saving a little money, who learned of the dangers and then ignored the warnings of scientists, revealed nothing to the public about the risks to their health, insisted on the water’s safety, and in some cases suppressed information about its actual state.
There is more there, and indeed I know that there are considerably more Flints from Youtube, but this is most of the information I got from the present article:
President Obama would have good reason to worry if his kids lived in Flint.  But the city’s children are hardly the only ones threatened by this public health crisis.  There’s a lead crisis for children in Baltimore, Maryland, Herculaneum, MissouriSebring, Ohio, and even the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and that’s just to begin a list.  State reports suggest, for instance, that "18 cities in Pennsylvania and 11 in New Jersey may have an even higher share of children with dangerously elevated levels of lead than does Flint." Today, scientists agree that there is no safe level of lead for children and at least half of American children have some of this neurotoxin in their blood.
Altogether, then, I count 35 cases, but I would like to see better evidence that
29 cities (bolding added) "
may have an even higher share of children with dangerously elevated levels of lead than does Flint".

There is also this:

In truth, the United States has scores of “Flints” awaiting their moments.  Think of them as ticking toxic time bombs -- just an austerity scheme or some official’s poor decision away from a public health disaster.  Given this, it’s remarkable, even in the wake of Flint, how little attention or publicity such threats receive.  Not surprisingly, then, there seems to be virtually no political will to ensure that future generations of children will not suffer the same fate as those in Flint.
Well... once again: I'd like to see more evidence, and indeed if that were to come (evidence of "scores of “Flints”") I take it there will be a considerably stronger public reaction.

4. New GOP Plans for Torture

The fourth item is by Nat Parry on Consortiumnews:

This starts as follows:

Troubling comments within the Republican presidential field over whether to reinstate torture and implement other war crimes have been drawing criticism lately, with the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, even feeling compelled to weigh in last week by calling out the “loose talk” in the Republican primaries.

On Feb. 9, McCain took to the Senate floor to condemn remarks by his Republican colleagues regarding the use of torture, saying that “these statements must not go unanswered because they mislead the American people about the realities of interrogation, how to gather intelligence, what it takes to defend our security and at the most fundamental level, what we are fighting for as a nation and what kind of nation we are.

Kudos to John McCain - who did serve as a soldier, who was shot down, and who was tortured, while none of these things hold for any of the torture-happy Republican candidates.

Then there is this on Rubio's - crazy, ignorant, sick, sadistic and quite illegal - opinions on how sweet he would feel if he could torture anyone accused of terrorism:

Rubio also reiterated his support for waterboarding, saying that terrorism cases should not be held to the same humane legal standards of traditional law enforcement. “Well, when people talk about interrogating terrorists, they’re acting like this is some sort of law enforcement function,” he said. “Law enforcement is about gathering evidence to take someone to trial, and convict them. Anti-terrorism is about finding out information to prevent a future attack so the same tactics do not apply.”

Taking this to its logical conclusion, what Rubio seems to be saying is that it is perfectly permissible to detain individuals suspected of ties to terrorism, without due process (or evidence), torture them into providing information, which may or may not be true – including perhaps identifying other suspected terrorists – in an endless process of extra-legal detention and torture that produces neither actionable intelligence nor evidence that can be used in a court of law.

Yes, indeed: What he seemed to be saying is that what he calls "terrorists" are beyond the law (?!?!), and may be arrested and tortured on mere suspicion, and not because they committed any crime, but to prevent future crimes. And he seems to be for a kind of - completely extra-legal, probably mostly secret - inquisition for those accused of "terrorism".

Here is one moral conclusion that Nat Parry draws:

What the current “debate” over bringing back torture highlights, however, besides how perverse the Republican dialogue has become, is why prosecutions of the Bush-era CIA torture program are essential, and why it is so damaging that the Obama administration has shirked its responsibilities in this regard for more than seven years.

I agree but I don't see either the Republicans or the CIA or Obama change their points of view, that vary between "We need lots more torture (and damn all the legalities)" to "it is regrettable Our Exceptional Men and Women tortured, but we will not prosecute them, for they are Exceptional (unlike the "folks" they brutally tortured)".

But in any case, you do have a strong advice to vote: Those who agree - with the United Nations and most countries - that torture is illegal and a crime should not vote for any Republican.

5. Turkish-German Pact: EU Split by Merkel's Refugee Plan

The fifth item is by Horand Knaup, Peter Müller, René Fischer and Christoph Schulz:

This starts as follows - and this start is one reason why I discarded this article already two times, but now you are going to have it:
On a recent windy Saturday morning, António Rocha heads out to sea off the north end of the Greek island of Lesbos in accordance with his mission: securing the maritime border between Greece and Turkey. Rocha, a 52-year-old officer with the Portuguese coast guard, steers his ship, the Tejo, into the meter-high waves with the two 350-horsepower engines whining in protest. Rocha stands at the helm, legs spread wide for balance, and scans the sea for inflatable rafts full of refugees. "Only a lunatic would head out today," Rocha says. Lunatics or, to be more precise, the desperate. And there are plenty of those these days.
Mister António Rocha gets two more introductory paragraphs, after which he totally disappears from the whole article, never to be heard of again.

I detest these sick openings since I was about 50 years ago first regaled by them in the New York Review of Books. And I will here explain why I detest these utterly irrelevant personal details as well:

WTF is the relevance of the "recent" and the "windy"? Why the hell do I and whoever reads this trash need to know it was "Saturday" and "morning"? Why do I need to know the name of "António Rocha"? What is the point of mentioning "Lesbos"? WTF do I need to know he is 52 and not 51, 53, 45, 37
or 34? And also not 44 or 62? WTF do I need to know the name of his ship: "Tejo"? What difference does it make to me or any reader that the waves were "meter-high"? What the hell is the point of mentioning he had "two" (not "three", nor "one", nor "four") engines? What is the point of saying they were "
350-horsepower"? Why do I - and God knows how many others - need to be told he has "legs spread wide for balance"?! And what is the fucking point of quoting him on "lunatics"?!

Here are my answers: ALL of that information was totally wasted baloney, utter bullshit, which you - and I and whoever reads the Spiegel - get served by 4 journalists who cannot write, but who believe, probably for no rational reasons whatsoever, that you
- and I and whoever reads the Spiegel - need some meaningless "human interest" baloney to grasp your attention, when you are interested to find things out about the Turkish-German pact.

No! I want to read about the Turkish-German pact - as the title has it! - and I am totally uninterested in the whereabouts, the age, the rank, the ship, the ship's name, the number of engines, the horsepower of the engines, the choppy sea, the day, the time of day, the vicinity of the ship, and the opinions of Mr Rocha, who just does not belong in an article like this, and indeed who gets totally removed after three paragraphs full of completely irrelevant and uninteresting details.

Anyway... these are my opinions, and I have them for 50 years now, and I still detest this totally fake "human interest" bullshit.

Also, the whole article is scarce on information, for what we are told comes to this:

The nucleus of Merkel's plan is an offer to take a predetermined number of refugees each year -- a range of between 200,000 and 300,000 is currently making the rounds in the Chancellery. They would then be distributed throughout Europe, with every member state required to take refugees from the Middle East in accordance with its size and capabilities. Ideally, all of those who sought to make their way from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands on their own would be turned back to Turkey. They could then decide whether to apply to be included in the quota bound for Europe or to return to their homeland.

That, at least, is the theory.

In practice, though, Merkel has made very little progress towards this goal.
Which I translate thus: Most Europeans - if their leaders are to be trusted - don't want to rescue refugees; quite a few detest Mohammedans; many don't want to pay for refugees; and so "Europe" mostly seeks ways to prevent the arrivals of refugees or tries to make them turn back. (Also, the European leaders will never hand the bill to the US government, whose policies are most responsible for creating the refugees in the first place.)

So now there are some plans that sound completely inadequate to help the several millions of refugees; which are still pretended to be "humanistic" although the treatment of the refugees is not; and which anyway do not seem to work at all.

O, well... more to follow, no doubt, but I much hope without sick and false and totally irrelevant "human interest" introductions, which I - at least - deeply detest for 50 years now: It is irrelevant blather inserted by folks who can't write.


[1] But my opinion on "socialism" (and indeed also on its meaning) are not those of Chris Hedges, as indeed I explained on September 21, 2015: See my "On Socialism".

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