March 8, 2016

Crisis: Trump & Berlusconi, American Wars, Sanders, Trump, Corporate Media
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Donald Trump, America’s Own Silvio Berlusconi
2. Killing Someone Else’s Beloved: The American Way of  
     War in Campaign 2016

Weekend of Bernie's: Huge Maine Victory Caps
     Resurgency for Sanders

4. Imagine Obama's National Security Policies in Trump's

5. The West and Syria: The Corporate Media vs. Reality


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is a good article on the many parallels between Berlusconi and Trump; item 2 is about warfare by drones and is also a decent article; item 3 is about Bernie Sanders' chances: He still may win the presidential candidacy; item 4 is about Obama's security policies, which are illegal, and the chances these fall in Trump's hands: this is another recommended article; and item 5 is about the corporate media, that these days lie or withhold rather than write the truth, also about painful items, and how this relates to living in a democracy.

1. Donald Trump, America’s Own Silvio Berlusconi

This first item is by Alexander Stille on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

AS A WRITER who has covered Silvio Berlusconi since he became Italy’s prime minister in 1994, it has been difficult not to be overcome with a powerful sense of déjà vu all over again watching the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Some of the resemblances are obvious as well as uncanny. Both are billionaires who made their initial fortunes in real estate, whose wealth and playboy lifestyles turned them into celebrities. Both have had ugly divorces and brag of their sexual prowess. (...) They are masters of media manipulation, Berlusconi as Italy’s largest private television owner, Trump as the star of his own reality TV show and creator of the Trump “brand.” Entering politics, both have styled themselves as the ultimate anti-politician — as the super-successful entrepreneur running against gray “professional politicians” who have never met a payroll and are ruining their respective countries.

Yes, that seems correct - and both entrepreneurs are indulging in bullshit when they blaim "professional politicians" for ruining their respective countries: They haven't done so in Europe; those who are doing so in Europe are mostly not elected; and indeed the two billionaires also fail to mention one reason why "gray “professional politicians”" may be less likely to ruin their countries than billionaires: They lack the money to go to another country.

Here is some more on the parallels between Berlusconi and Trump:

Both are deliberately transgressive, breaking through the tedium of politics-as-usual by using vulgar language, insulting and shouting down opponents, adopting simple catchy slogans, and making off-color jokes and misogynistic remarks. Their verbal “gaffes” — which would be suicide for most politicians — are actually part of their appeal.

Yes, that is true - and here the problem is again that this appeals to the many ignorant "poorly educated" (beloved by Donald Trump) instead of the few who are qualified to judge. (But this is less a problem of the candidates than of any democracy in which most voters must be counted among the mostly ignorant and the mostly unintelligent. One can take this as illustrating Winston Churchill's saying that democracy is a bad system, but less bad than any other, but it really is a serious problem with candidates like Berlusconi and Trump.) [1]

The following bit is also correct in my opinion:

But this nose-thumbing of “political correctness” has allowed both Berlusconi and Trump to successfully create an unusual hybrid persona: a kind of everyman’s billionaire. Someone who, on the one hand, by virtue of extreme wealth, success, and audacity, is a kind of superman for whom the normal rules of conduct don’t apply. At the same time, their plain, coarse speech connects viscerally with many people, particularly the less educated part of the electorate. They have an improbable inter-class appeal, very rich men who pursue policies that benefit the very rich (see the proposed Trump tax cut) while making effective rhetorical appeals, in a beerhall idiom, to the grievances of the struggling members of the middle and working classes.

Neither Trump nor Berlusconi has a real political program; what they are selling is themselves.

Yes, and both billionaires are obvious frauds for the minority of the intelligent - but they succeed or may succeed because the majority is ignorant and unintelligent. [1]

This is the last bit that I will quote, and it is again correct, and also quite important:

Yet there is another element — a systemic one — that helps explain why Italy and the U.S. are the only major democracies in which a billionaire circus has raised its tent: the almost total deregulation of broadcast media.

Precisely - and this is another instance why deregulation was the favorite tool of the rich and the rightists: It is sold in elections as if it were "Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!" whereas in fact it is the freedom for the rich to say almost anything they please without having to hear any denial, and the freedom of the rightist rich to exploit everyone maximally.

And this is a recommended article, with a lot more on the parallels between Trump and Berlusconi.

2. Killing Someone Else’s Beloved: The American Way of War in Campaign 2016

The second item is b
y Mattea Kramer on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch:
This starts as follows:

The crowd that gathered in an airplane hangar in the desert roared with excitement when the man on stage vowed to murder women and children.

It was just another Donald Trump campaign event, and the candidate had affirmed his previously made pledge not only to kill terrorists but to “take out” their family members, too. Outrageous as that might sound, it hardly distinguished Trump from most of his Republican rivals, fiercely competing over who will commit the worst war crimes if elected. All the chilling claims about who will preside over more killings of innocents in distant lands—and the thunderous applause that meets such boasts—could easily be taken as evidence that the megalomaniacal billionaire Republican front-runner, his various opponents, and their legions of supporters, are all crazytown.

Yet Trump’s pledge to murder the civilian relatives of terrorists could be considered quite modest—and, in its bluntness, refreshingly candid—when compared to President Obama’s ongoing policy of loosing drones and U.S. Special Operations forces in the Greater Middle East.
I think it is probably quite true that Donald Trump is a megalomaniac (<- Wikipedia) and indeed I also have serious doubts about his sanity, but it is simply not true that his "legions of supporters [..]", or the legions of supporters of other GOP candidaters, "are all crazytown".

The real problem in fact is deeper:

These "legions" are mostly not crazy, and indeed most probably the vast majorities are civic and civil Americans who are not crazy at all, but who are, instead, deceived by a billionaire (he says) and/or by a handful of professional politicians all of whom may fairly be styled "crazy" for their campaigning bullshit.

Then again, it seems more fair and also more sensible to realize that the professional politicians of the GOP simply are bad (or evil) and lying persons willing to say almost anything to further their own chances of getting to be the world's most powerful person, while their victims are those they deceive who support them, and whom they can deceive so succesfully and so easily because these victims are unintelligent and ignorant.

As to warfare by drones, there is this, that more or less explains the process by which persons do get on a kill list:

Classified documents recently leaked to the Intercept by a whistleblower describe the “killing campaign” carried out by the CIA and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command in Yemen and Somalia. (The U.S. also conducts drone strikes in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya; the leaked documents explain how President Obama has institutionalized the practice of striking outside regions of “active hostilities.”) Intelligence personnel build a case against a terror suspect and then develop what’s termed a “baseball card”—a condensed dossier with a portrait of the individual targeted and the nature of the alleged threat he poses to U.S. interests—that gets sent up the chain of command, eventually landing in the Oval Office.  The president then meets with more than 100 representatives of his national security team, generally on a weekly basis, to determine just which of those cards will be selected picked for death.  (The New York Times has vividly described this intimate process of choosing assassination targets.)
There are - apart from other problems - two major problems with warfare by drones: The first is that Obama conducts all these wars in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya and also the present Afghanistan on the basis of a 15 year old agreement that the Americans could drone Afghanistan, while in legal fact all wars the USA conducts have to be approved by Congress (see also item 4); the second is that most who are killed by drone warfare are generally unknown, and often are women and children.

The last fact is supported as follows:

That’s because intel on a target’s precise whereabouts at any given moment can be faulty. And so, as the Times reported, “most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.” In 2014, for instance, the human-rights group Reprieve, analyzing what limited data on U.S. drone strikes was available, discovered that in attempts to kill 41 terror figures (not all of whom died), 1,147 people were killed.  The study found that the vast majority of strikes failed to take down the intended victim, and thus numerous strikes were often attempted on a single target. The Guardian reported that in attempts to take down 24 men in Pakistan—only six of whom were eventually eliminated in successful drone strikes—the U.S. killed an estimated 142 children.
So in sum it appears as if the American government has been fighting wars since 15 years that it should not and that were not approved by Congress; that it currently fights these illegal wars mostly with drones because it doesn't like to see American soldiers killed; and that it kils around 20 times more innocents in order to kill the possibly non-innocents (for their cases have been decided by spying on the phones and computers of those involved with them, and may not at all hold up in any objective court).

And this is a recommended article.
3. Weekend of Bernie's: Huge Maine Victory Caps Resurgency for Sanders

The third item is b
y Jon Queally on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Record-breaking turnout fueled a dramatic day of voting and an emphatic victory for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the Maine caucus on Sunday, topping a weekend where the senator bested the former secretary of state in three out of four contests nationwide.

With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, the Maine Democratic Party results showed that Sanders claimed 64 percent of the vote to Clinton's 36 percent. On Saturday, as Common Dreams reported, Sanders also won in Nebraska and Kansas. In the four total contests over the weekend, Clinton's sole victory came in Louisiana.

I say. I note three things: (1) I have hardly seen Sanders' win in the main media (that still are mostly dismissive about Sanders); (2) Sanders beat Clinton 3 to 1 (though the one Clinton won is the largest); (3) and most importantly: Sanders won because of a "[r]ecord-breaking turnout".

There also is a fourth thing that I have read: Most of the states that favored Clinton have been passed, and the rest of the states mostly favor Sanders. I report this as I have read it, but I don't know whether it is true.

As to the record turn-out, there is this:

According to local reporting from across the state, it appears—in addition to the obvious support for his political message—that record turnout was the driving factor for Sanders' win. In a tweet, the Maine Democratic Party said the number of voters on Sunday was unprecedented in state history. "More Maine Democrats caucused today than ever before," said the message.

This is heartening not only because it shows fundamental democratic force, but especially because Bernie Sanders still does not get much of a hearing or a voice in the main media (both TV and paper).

Here is the current situation in terms of won delegates and superdelegates (and the latter are basically party officials who tend to tow the line):

Following the weekend contests and ahead of the Democratic primary in Michigan on Tuesday, Clinton continues to hold a sizable, though certainly surmountable, lead in terms of pledged delegates. According to the latest breakdown by Real Clear Politics, Clinton currently has won 658 pledged delegates compared to Sanders who has won 471. In terms of superdelegates — elected lawmakers as well as former and current party officials who can support the candidate of their choice —Clinton currently enjoys the declared support of 458 while Sanders has the public support of just 22.

This also means that the struggle between Sanders and Clinton isn't over by far: Even counting all delegates - the ones she won, and the superdelegates - Clinton still has less than half of the candidates she needs to win the candidacy.

4. Imagine Obama's National Security Policies in Trump's Hands

The fourth item is by Trevor Timm on Common Dreams and originally on The Guardian: 

This starts as follows:

As Donald Trump gets closer to locking up the Republican nomination and therefore one step closer to the presidency, it’s worth looking back at one of the Obama administration’s most troubling legacies: specifically, the national security precedents that have allowed the US to spy on countless people and kill without accountability. The prospect now – a terrifying one – is of Trump in charge of this vast apparatus.

Civil liberties advocates have been warning of a scenario like this for more than six years. The extraordinary national security powers George W Bush pioneered and Obama shamefully entrenched could now fall into the hands of someone many people consider a madman. Someone whose opinion changes with the wind – or the sound of the crowd – and whose entire candidacy is based around personal vendettas.

I agree: First, the information that allows killing of people by drones is based on spying (that very often is less effective and less conclusive than it should be); second Obama has "entrenched" the "extraordinary national security powers George W Bush pioneered", which indeed is "shameful" because there was no need for this, and certainly no need for continueing these powers; and third it indeed does not look implausible to this psychologist to call Trump "a madman".

Then there is this:

The FBI still has carte blanche to look at NSA’s international intercepts for Americans caught up in its net, and just last week the New York Times reported that the NSA plans to remove key privacy protections from much of its surveillance data, so that it can be shared with other federal agencies without any administrative protections. Are these the types of powers we want in the hands of a Trump administration?

These powers should not be in the hands of the Obama administration or the Bush administration either, for they are fundamentally authoritarian and non- and anti-democratic.

It is a bitter shame the NSA spies on everyone, all in total contradiction with the Fourth Amendment and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; it is sickening to read that the FBI has "carte blanche" to see these (if about any of the over 330 milion Americans); and it is also sickening to read that all these illegally gathered data are now being "shared with other federal agencies without any administrative protections".

But I grant I have been expecting this in fact since 2005 - and it is not nice to find 11 years later that these authoritarian anti-democratic and deeply illegal policies have been pursued as much as possibly by all governments (that I know of, including the Dutch government) since then.

Then there is this on Obama's wars, none of which are declared by Congress, although that is the law:

And then there’s war: the Obama administration has done more damage than Bush did to the constitutional principle that Congress should be the only governmental body that can declare it. The US is currently waging war in multiple countries – Syria, Iraq and Libya – using a law written 15 years ago meant for Afghanistan, to go after a terrorist organization that did not exist at the time.

Precisely - and this is utterly ridiculous, totally illegal, and the policy of Obama's government for eight years.

As to Guantánamo:

Guantánamo Bay prison, a symbol of torture and indefinite detention which should have been closed years ago, remains open. While Obama still says he wants to close it, his administration has enshrined the concept of indefinite detention into our system, and no matter who is president next has the opportunity to exploit that.

If you believe Obama, you are a fool, if only because he very often says the opposite of what he does, while it is obvious why he does so: The president's words are believed and propagandized (by many) in part because they are the president's, while what the president does tends to be far less obvious (and is often not in the news).

Finally, as to the liar Hayden:

Michael Hayden, Bush’s CIA and NSA director, recently said that the military would refuse illegal orders from Trump. The problem is: why should we believe him? Besides being branded a serial liar by the Senate’s CIA torture report, Hayden is best known for carrying out orders from the Bush administration to circumvent the Fisa court and spy on Americans without warrants after 9/11 – orders later judged illegal.
I disbelieve anything he says, simply because he is the man who is saying it, and because I know he is a serial liar, also with extremely strong interests to lie and deceive.

This is a recommended piece, but only because this is Common Dreams and not The Guardian, for I will not link anyone anymore to The Guardian, for the simple reason that more than half of any of their articles these days consists of JavaScript that I extremely strongly dislike and totally distrust.

5. The West and Syria: The Corporate Media vs. Reality

The fifth and last item today is by Ian Sinclair on Raging Bull-Shit and originally on Open Democracy:

This starts as follows:

“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary”, George Orwell noted in his censored preface to his 1945 book Animal Farm. “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”. Orwell went onto explain that “at any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it”.

The corporate media’s ‘coverage’ of Syria adds a twist to Orwell’s dictum – inconvenient reports and facts do occasionally appear in respected newspapers and on popular news programmes but they are invariably ignored, decontextualised or not followed up on. Rather than informing the historical record, public opinion and government policy these snippets of essential information are effectively thrown down the memory hole.

Yes, indeed: Orwell was certainly right, especially about the ease with which unpopular ideas are silenced when the majority believes in some orthodoxy, as the majority nearly always does, and as cannot be rational and scientific, for the majority has no adequate ideas what these are. [1]

And it is also true that the corporate media now and then do "report" on facts that do not quite (or at all) fit in with the prevailing orthodoxy (which these days comprise the thesis that papers that are mostly lying and/or mostly engaging in fantasies and amusements are nevertheless "upholding democracy and "the free exchange of ideas" - which is utter trash), but their reports are not often serious, and are rarely followed up.

There is a lot more on the West and Syria that I skip. The article ends thus:

As always, the government prefers to treat the public like mushrooms – keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit. And with our supposedly crusading, disputatious, stroppy and difficult fourth estate unable or unwilling to report basic facts and to connect some very simple dots, what chance does the general public have of ever gaining even a basic understanding of what the West is doing in Syria?

The answer to that last question is - fortunately or unfortunately - quite clear:

Without a free press, the majority - "
the general public" - will not learn the truth about many of the things they should learn the truth about; without a really free press there is no real democracy; ergo, in the United States there
is no real democracy anymore. (This is a valid argument, by the way...)

There also is not yet an authoritarian climate in which the press gets prescribed what it should and should not write, and else gets closed (as in Turkey, these days), but if Donald Trump gets president
, I expect that to be there soon, for it would be much easier for him.

[1] Indeed, I wrote about this serious problem of democracy several times, and one popular bit is this: On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals
- and no, I am not one who believes that everybody is equally intelligent and equally informed.

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