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Nederlog

 February 29, 2016

Crisis: About Elites, Chomsky, Republican Establishment, Fukushima Crisis
Sections                                                                     crisis index    
Introduction   

1.
The Graveyard of the Elites
2.
Noam Chomsky Wants You to Wake Up From the
     American Dream

3. An Open Letter to the Republican Establishment
4. Five Years on and the Fukushima Crisis Is Far From
     Over
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, February 29, 2016.


This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items today, with 4 dotted links (and no, I am sorry, I didn't find more): Item 1 is about an article by Chris Hedges on the elites (with some extensions by me); item 2 is about a recent film about Noam Chomsky, mostly about elites and power; item 3 is about an article by Robert Reich that is also mostly about elites and power; and item 4 is an update by a Greenpeace activist five years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

1. The Graveyard of the Elites

This first item is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Power elites, blinded by hubris, intoxicated by absolute power, unable to set limits on their exploitation of the underclass, propelled to expand empire beyond its capacity to sustain itself, addicted to hedonism, spectacle and wealth, surrounded by half-witted courtiers—Alan Greenspan, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and others—who tell them what they want to hear, and enveloped by a false sense of security because of their ability to employ massive state violence, are the last to know their privileged world is imploding.

“History,” the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto wrote, “is the graveyard of aristocracies.”

Perhaps, but I think one ought to be a little more cynical or rather: realistic.

For it seems to me that the very rich have gotten nearly everything they wanted, since the 1971 Powell Memorandum (<-Wikipedia), and that they planned this far better than their oppositions [1], while Pareto indeed said what he is quoted as saying, but he also insisted that every complex society is being led by some aristocracy (whether from nobles or from the communist party top or from elected parliaments), though these may have widely different social plans and ideologies.

Then there is this:

The carnival of the presidential election is a public display of the deep morbidity and artifice that have gripped American society. Political discourse has been reduced by design to trite patriotic and religious clichés, sentimentality, sanctimonious peons to the American character, a sacralization of militarism, and acerbic, adolescent taunts. Reality has been left behind.

Yes, I agree - but again I see this in rather more cynical or realistic terms:

It seems to me that the main underlying reason that made this carnival of
the gross
are the stupidity and ignorance - sorry: the lack of intelligence and
of almost any relevant knowledge - in considerable parts of the American population, and indeed especially in Republican voters. (If only because the
Democrats did put up competent candidates.)

Then there is this, that is mostly correct:

Our constitutional democracy is dead. It does not work. Or rather, it does not work for us. No politician or elected official can alter anything of substance. Throughout the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama there has been complete continuity on nearly every issue. Indeed, if Obama has a legacy it is that he made things incrementally worse. He has accelerated the assault on civil liberties, expanded the imperial wars—including empowering the government to order the assassination of American citizens—and opened up new drilling sites on public lands as if he were Sarah Palin. He has failed to rein in Wall Street, which is busy orchestrating another global financial meltdown, and turned our health care system over to rapacious corporations.

I agree with most, but not with the beginning: The "democracy" "works" simply because it does succeed in (i) bamboozling most of the American public and in (ii) generally - so far: these elections may be an exception - getting someone elected as president who was approved by the political leaders in their parties.

But yes, I agree democray in the USA, in the sense of: ordinary people having a significant say about politics and politicians, is mostly quite dead.

There is this on Obama, that seems quite justified to me:

Obama, now a charter member of our ruling elite, will become rich, as did the Clintons, when he leaves office. The moneyed elites will pay for his two presidential libraries—grotesque vanity projects. They will put him on boards and lavish him with astronomical speaking fees. But as a democratic leader he has proved to be as pathetic as his predecessor.

Yes, indeed - or more so, for he got elected originally on utterly false messages that we was to be an agent of "Change!", "Change!", "Change!", quite unlike his predecessor - whose policies he mostly followed without bringing any fundamental change.

And it is true that Obama's financial future looks very rosy, for in the next 8 years or so he will be rewarded by the banks' very rich CEOs for all the services he did for them while president, precisely like Bill Clinton was rewarded and made a major multi-millionaire (as well).

There is also this on real motives:

The whole election cycle is a carnival act, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. It caters to the most venal instincts of the public. It is an example of the deep cynicism among elites who, like all other con artists, privately mock us for our gullibility and naiveté. We are treated like malleable children.

As before: Yes, but it does signify something, namely that the political elites - once again - have succeeded in misleading the majority of the American population, and got one of their own group elected as president, and it does also signify that most of the American public is mostly ignorant about the real forces that play them.

This in turn strongly suggests that those of the elite who "
privately mock us for our gullibility and naiveté" are in fact quite right: Only a quite unintelligent and quite ignorant population - in majority: there are quite a few intelligent knowledgeable Americans, but only in minorities - would tolerate the present deceitful elites and choose one of them.

Finally, I quote this on corporations, with which I agree:

Corporations control the three branches of government. Corporations write the laws. Corporations determine the media narrative and public debate. Corporations are turning public education into a system of indoctrination. Corporations profit from permanent war, mass incarceration, suppressed wages and poor health care. Corporations have organized a tax boycott. Corporations demand “austerity.” Corporate power is unassailable, and it rolls forward like a stream of lava.

Yes indeed, although one should also recognize that a corporation - see Wiliam Hazlitt's "On corporate bodies": old but very true and very perceptive - in fact is an assembly of private persons who set up a corporation to do as they please mostly without any of these private persons having any real financial or legal responsibility.

Indeed, having mentioned
Wiliam Hazlitt - my favorite author, with Montaigne and Multatuli - here are two quotations by him, that in my opinion are true of most men and women, and also of the current presidential elections:
If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are  prone to mischief, "to every good work reprobate."  William Hazlitt

Man is a toad-eating animal. The admiration of power in others is as common to man as the love of it in himself: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave. William Hazlitt
In case you disagree: Watch the supporters of Donald Trump (and ask yourself: what do they know that I don't know, and what do I know that they don't know).

2. Noam Chomsky Wants You to Wake Up From the American Dream

The second item is by David Swanson on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:
If you've just seen Michael Moore's movie and are wondering how in the world the United States got diverted into the slow lane to hell, go watch Noam Chomsky's movie. If you've just seen Noam Chomsky's movie and are wondering whether the human species is really worth saving, go see Michael Moore's movie.
I haven't seen either movie but - from reviews - I guess that they are both well worth seeing.

This is about the movie about Chomsky:

Chomsky explains how concentrated wealth creates concentrated power, which legislates further concentration of wealth, which then concentrates more power in a vicious cycle. He lists and elaborates on 10 principles of the concentration of wealth and power -- principles that the wealthy of the United States have acted intensely on for 40 years or more.
I will list the ten principles in a moment, but first a remark or two about "for 40 years or more":

There seem to be two plausible dates to give for the start of the neoconserva- tive backlash: 1971 and the Powell Memorandum, and 1980 and the election of Ronald Reagan as president.

I think myself that the later date is the genuine beginning, though I agree that the Powell Memorandum was quite important, but in my opinion more as preparation for the conservative backlash that followed rather than as the backlash itself.

Next, the principles Chomsky sketched about "
concentrated wealth" and  "concentrated power" are true - and as old as the Greeks and, especially, the Romans, and explain much about human civilization, that so far has mostly turned around rich elites and their desires.

It also should be said that the 20th Century was mostly a painful and cruel mess -
"History is little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind", as Gibbon said - with two world wars, over 40 years of cold war, and in the rich West only some 35 years of "capitalism-with-a-human-face" as I call it, namely from 1945 till 1980 (when riches were shared to a much larger extent
than now, or before, and in fact only between 1965 and 1980 on a large scale).

Here are the principles Chomsky discusses. I only provide the titles: For more you have to check out either the above article or the film:

1. Reduce Democracy.
2. Shape Ideology.
3. Redesign the Economy.
4. Shift the Burden.
5. Attack Solidarity.
6. Run the Regulators.
7. Engineer Elections.
8. Keep the Rabble in Line.
9. Manufacture Consent.
10. Marginalize the Population.
Then there is this on these anti-democratic principles of pure power:

Unless the trends described above are reversed, Chomsky says, things are going to get very ugly.

Then the film shows us a clip of Chomsky saying the same thing decades earlier when he was still shown on U.S. television. He's been marginalized along with the rest of us.

As I have indicated, these anti-democratic principles of pure power have ruled most of human history, which also means that I agree with Chomsky that the
probability is that "
things are going to get very ugly".

And while I do not know who David Swanson means with "the rest of us", I agree that the main media have been changed, intentionally also, and helped by the rise of the computer, from quite a lot of diverse suppliers of real news and real opinions and to a very few suppliers of deceptive "news" plus approved opinions by approved talking heads. (This itself is sufficient to terminate any real democracy: You need a diversified and free press, and without it you have no real democracy.)

David Swanson does propose an eleventh principle, and I think he is correct. Here it is, with some explanatory text:

11. Dump Massive Funding into Militarism. Why should this be included? Well, militarism is the biggest public program in the United States. It's over half of federal discretionary spending. If you're going to claim that lobbyists are concentrating wealth through their influence on the government, why not notice the single budget item that eats up over half the budget? It does indeed concentrate wealth and also power. It's a vast pot of unaccountable funding for cronies. And it generates public interest in fighting foreign enemies rather than enemies hanging out on Wall Street.

Quite so. Here are the last two sentences of the article:

The United States still has a very free society, Chomsky advises. A lot can be done, he tells us, if people will only choose to do it.

Well... the freedoms are a lot less; the legal punishments for deviance (like smoking marijuana) have been a lot heavier; and while I agree that still a lot can be done, it is also true that a good case can be made that the present
American population just is not intelligent and informed enough to do it.

I much hope I am mistaken, but the last 35 years were not good for democracy, intelligence, civilization or rational and decent government.
3. An Open Letter to the Republican Establishment

The third item is by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

You are the captains of American industry, the titans of Wall Street, and the billionaires who for decades have been the backbone of the Republican Party.

You’ve invested your millions in the GOP in order to get lower taxes, wider tax loopholes, bigger subsidies, more generous bailouts, less regulation, lengthier patents and copyrights and stronger market power allowing you to raise prices, weaker unions and bigger trade deals allowing you outsource abroad to reduce wages, easier bankruptcy for you but harder bankruptcy for homeowners and student debtors, and judges who will let you to engage in insider trading and who won’t prosecute you for white-collar crimes.  

All of which have made you enormously wealthy. Congratulations.

This certainly does not apply to me, but the middle paragraph adequately describes what the rich did achieve since the 1980ies.

There follows some criticism that I skip, after which there is this:

Finally, by squeezing wages and rigging the economic game in your favor, you have invited an unprecedented political backlash – against trade, immigration, globalization, and even against the establishment itself.

The pent-up angers and frustrations of millions of Americans who are working harder than ever yet getting nowhere, and who feel more economically insecure than ever, have finally erupted.

Yes and no. That is, while I agree that the very rich did themselves create an important part of their problems, and especially by increasing their own rich incomes mostly through decreasing the incomes of the rest, I think it is also
true that the very rich always tried to do these things, and never cared for
the poverty of others, except hypocritically (a very few excepted).

Finally, here is Reich on the failings of the very rich (who did have most of the powers since 1980, and who could indeed have done quite differently):

You would have done far better with a smaller share of an economy growing more rapidly because it possessed a strong and growing middle class.

You’d have done far better with a political system less poisoned by your money – and therefore less volatile and polarized, more capable of responding to the needs of average people, less palpably rigged in your favor.

But you were selfish and greedy, and you thought only about your short-term gains.

Again yes and no: Yes, this is true as a moral argument, but no, the very rich have hardly ever been moved by moral arguments, and have been restrained only by laws, that also were actively maintained by governments.

But the laws were deregulated, by Reagan, by Clinton, by Bush and by Obama.

And in my own view, almost the only hope to undo the power grab of the very rich is another collapse of the economy, and to a larger extent than in 2008, that also will be undone by either a return to a kind of Keynesian much fairer sharing or some more radical changes.

4. Five Years on and the Fukushima Crisis Is Far From Over

The fourth and last item today is by Shaun Burnie on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows, and is an update on Fukushima (<- Wikipedia) (about which there also is an interesting article by Ralph Nader of 2014):
Scotland is over 9,000 km from Japan, but there’s something the two countries have in common. Along the Scottish coastline, buried in riverbeds, and mixed into the Irish Sea, you can find significant radioactive contamination coming from the other side of the world. Yes, radioactive contamination. All the way from Japan.
I am not amazed, for this was quite foreseeable. (Besides, it also means that the rest of the 9,000 km have been radioactively contaminated as well.)

Shaun Durrie is a member of Greenpeace. Here is some of what he found, some 5 years after the Fukushima disaster:

Greenpeace Japan sent a team to the Fukushima evacuation zone to conduct independent radiation testing; and researchers on the Rainbow Warrior, kitted up in full body chemical suits, pulled floating seaweed from the surrounding area to use as samples. Our results were unfortunately as you would expect – high levels of contamination.  Subsequently, we’ve also found radiation is still so widespread that it’s unsafe for people to return across large parts of Fukushima.
And there is this about a former Japanese prime minister, who was on board on the Rainbow Warrior:
For Mr Naoto Kan, who was Japan’s leader when the disaster hit, this voyage is as much personal as it is political. In the years since 2011  he has spoken out publicly against the nuclear industry, standing alongside millions of Japanese people opposed to nuclear power – a far cry from the current “tone-deaf” Abe administration, which is desperately trying to save a nuclear industry in crisis. Opposed by the majority of citizens, and beset by enormous technical, financial and legal obstacles, it’s an effort that I believe is doomed to failure.
Quite possibly so. In any case, Mr. Kan (<- Wikipedia) seems sincere in his opposition to nuclear power.
--------------------------
Note

[1] I wrote "oppositions" in the plural because there were quite a few different more or less leftist oppositions, varying from feminists and women's groups, through academics and students, through musicians and movie stars, through trade unions and many civic groups and more - and nearly all of these are mere shadows of what they were in the 1970ies.

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