March 13, 2016

Crisis: Republicans, American Military, Chomsky, Sanders & TPP, FBI & NSA
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Blowing the Biggest Political Story of the Last 50 Years
2. Déjà Vu All Over Again? The Disastrous War On Terror
     Appears to Be On Repeat

Noam Chomsky on the 2016 Republicans: 'I Have Never
     Seen Such Lunatics in the Political System'

4. Sanders Accepts Challenge to Kill TPP If Elected...
     Nothing from Clinton So Far

5. FBI and Access to NSA Data on Americans


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, March 13, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is on an article that seems a bit mistaken about Republicans; item 2 is about an article that seems a bit mistaken about the American military; item 3 is about some recent ideas of Chomsky plus some on my own thesis that the really intelligent and informed (like Chomsky) have difficulties in getting heard (apart from being repressed for deviance); item 4 is about Sanders and the TPP; and item 5 is a fine article about the American Bill of Rights that is almost totally dead by now, and has been killed by secret courts, who protect the secret stealings by the secret services of all the secrets that any member of the public (with some internet connection) might have had.

Also, this is a Sunday, and there were fewer items than yesterday, while I also
am a little bit more philosophical.
1. Blowing the Biggest Political Story of the Last 50 Years

The first item is by Neal Gabler on Truthdig and originally on Moyers & Company:

This starts as follows:

Ah, the crescendo of complaint! The Republican establishment and the mainstream media, working hand in hand in their unprecedented, non-stop assault on the “short-fingered vulgarian” named Donald Trump, would have you believe that Trump augurs the destruction of the Republican Party. Former Reagan speechwriter and now Wall Street Journal/CBS pundit Peggy Noonan expressed the general sentiment of both camps when she said on Super Tuesday that “we’re seeing a great political party shatter before our eyes.”

I say. My problem is that I have been following the press very well indeed on American politics and security, especially, since June of 2013; that I think Robert Reich does not belong to the mainstream media; that I believe Reich is a progressive; and that I've heard the same story about the demise of the Republican Party from Reich. (See e.g. here.)

Now I may be mistaken; Reich may be mistaken; and the Republican Party may be getting stronger and stronger, but then we have to believe Neal Gabler.

And I do not know anything about Neal Gabler except what Moyers & Company tell me. Here is what he wants his readers to believe about the GOP:

But here is what no one in the GOP establishment wants you to know, and no one in the media wants to admit: Donald Trump isn’t the destruction of the Republican Party; he is the fulfillment of everything the party has been saying and doing for decades. He is just saying it louder and more plainly than his predecessors and intra-party rivals.
Well... on balance: no. My reasons may not be what you think, but they seem rather good to me:

First, Trump does get the majority in most elections for the Republican presidential candidate, but there were quite a few different candidates, all Republicans as well. And second, and more importantly: The Republicans exist for a long time in a very large country, and very probably is made up of various sets of people and various political ideas. Third, electing a presidential candidate is only one of the many things the Republican Party is doing.

So I conclude that it is more probable that Trump heads a part of the Republican Party, but by no means all of it, and that he definitely is a rather large problem for the leadership of the Republicans because (i) he is a billionaire who is very difficult to control, and because (ii) not all of his positions are what the Republican leadership would like to see.

My guess is therefore that Neil Gabler is mistaken, if only because the real position seems more complicated than he represents it as being.

There is also this:

The media have been acting as if the Trump debacle were the biggest political story to come down the pike in some time. But the real story – one the popularity of Trump’s candidacy has revealed and inarguably the biggest political story of the last 50 years — is the decades-long transformation of Republicanism from a business-centered, small town, white Protestant set of beliefs into quite possibly America’s primary institutional force of bigotry, intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, warmongering, intractability and cruelty against the vulnerable and powerless.

Again on balance: No.

First, there is no Trump debacle in the mainstream media: it is a big success story there. Second, while I tend to agree that "the decades-long transforma- tion" of the Republican Party - which I date as starting in 1971 with the Powell memorandum, which is thus year 45 years ago this year - would be a quite interesting story, it isn't, and it isn't for several reasons, of which the most important one seems to be the death of the real free press, which indeed is dead, although there still are quite a number of decent alternatives (but with very much less money and with far fewer pages) [1].

Third, it also seems to be the case that there are something like 3*N Republican Parties: That fronted by the national leadership; that fronted by various presidential candidates; and that fronted by prominent members, and with N being a large number for any of the (prominent) writers on any of these subjects.

And while I certainly do not want to drown you or myself in a sea of vagueries
and partial relevancies, I do believe you have to distinguish at least three levels on which "The Republican Party", and indeed also "The Democratic Party" tend to exist: In the national leadership; in the various candidates; and in movements headed by various prominent members.

It is far from the same in any of these three positions when compared to the other two.

Déjà Vu All Over Again? The Disastrous War On Terror Appears to Be On Repeat

The second item is
by Tom Engelhardt on AlterNet and originally on TomDispatch:

This is from the beginning of the article, and is - in part - about the fact that the 17th American commander in 14 years of Afghan wars has been nominated to command the American war efforts in Afghanistan:
If such a scenario isn’t the essence of déjà vu all over again, what is?  Imagine, for a minute, each of those 17 ISAF commanders (recently, but not always, Americans, including still resonant names like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal as well as those like Dan McNeill and David McKiernan already lost in the fog of time) arriving at yearly intervals, each scrambling to catch-up, get the big picture, and run the show.  Imagine that process time after time, and you have the definition of what, in kid culture, might be called a do-over -- a chance to get something right after doing it wrong the first time.  Of course, yearly do-overs are a hell of a way to run a war, but they’re a great mechanism for ensuring that no one will need to take responsibility for a disaster of 14 years and counting.
I think that is a more or less fair assessment, although my own stresses would be different:

It seems to me that this is not so much evidence for a "yearly do-over" as it is evidence that the Americans are much less interested in winning wars than in having a strong military presence in most places that have some strategic or financial interests for them (which in fact is most places on earth) - but the point on no one being really responsible seems a good one.

Here is Tom Engelhardt's vision of American military things:
In movie terms, you could think of Washington’s war policies in the post-9/11 era as pure “play it again, Sam.”  If this weren’t the grimmest “game” around, involving death, destruction, failed states, spreading terror movements, and a region flooded with the uprooted -- refugees, internal exiles, transient terrorists, and god knows who else -- it could instantly be transmuted into a popular parlor game.  We could call it “Do-Over.”  The rules would be easy to grasp, though -- fair warning -- given the recent record of American war making, it could be a very long game.
I may be more cynical than Tom Egelhardt is, but I repeat my previous diagnosis, and add that Afghanistan also supplies a good training ground for American generals. (They play with the lives of Afghans and the lives of American soldiers, but who really cares for these, other than a few journalists?)

My last quote is quite interesting and is new for me:

* Here, for instance, is a typical, can’t-miss, Do-Over headline: “Back to Iraq: U.S. Military Contractors Return In Droves.”  For Washington’s third Iraq War, with a military that now heads into any battle zone hand-in-hand with a set of warrior corporations, the private contractors are returning to Iraq in significant numbers.  In the good old days, after the invasion of 2003, for every American soldier in Iraq, there was at least one private contractor.  As RAND’s Molly Dunnigan wrote back in 2013, “By 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense employed 155,826 private contractors in Iraq -- and 152,275 troops. This degree of privatization is unprecedented in modern warfare.”  (Afghan War figures were remarkably similar: in 2010, there were 94,413 contractors and 91,600 American troops in that country.)
This indeed is quite interesting, and in fact shows a large difference with all previous wars that the USA conducted:

There were more American private contractors than there were soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and besides all of these soldiers were also privates, for Nixon privatized the US army (which I was and am against [2]).

Also, I should add that I am unsure of the meaning of "private contractor", other than that (i) they are being paid, and that (ii) they are not part of the US army (etc.)

But they were certainly there to profit themselves, and that is one of the other changes the Republicans wrought: The privatization of war, which means in effect large profits for private individuals and corporations.

To return to the theme of the article at the end of this review:

It seems to me less a function of "a yearly do-over" than a function of these parameters: (i) a real training and testing ground for American generals and troops, also involving (ii) the idea that "America" - that is: the American military-industrial complex (<- Wikipedia) - needs a strong presence to dominate and to make war profits rather than winning wars and indeed (iii) the yearly renewal of commanding officers helps to make these non-responsible (in public) for most failures.
3. Noam Chomsky on the 2016 Republicans: 'I Have Never Seen Such Lunatics in the Political System'

The third item is by Simone Chuh on AlterNet and originally on Hankyoreh:
This starts as follows (and it seems Simone Chuh is a South-Korean journalist and activist):

Chun: Do you feel that there will be any significant change in the foreign policy of the United States after President Obama?

Chomsky: If Republicans are elected, there could be major changes that will be awful. I have never seen such lunatics in the political system. For instance, Ted Cruz’s response to terrorism is to carpet-bomb everyone.

Yes, I agree.

In fact, I have been thinking for 50 years now (!) that most politicians are far from ordinary men, and not because they know more about politics, economics, law, psychology or philosophy (they generally know a lot less, apart from practical details, than academic professionals), but mostly because they are far more pretentious than ordinary men, far better liars, and considerably more dishonest.

That is, originally I thought this about Dutch politicians, and indeed also without thinking that these politicians - who are more impertinent, better liars and more dishonest - are, for these reasons, madmen, lunatics, or insane. Fundamentally, I thought they were far more dishonest and mostly not very realistic, but I did not think them mad. [3]

But I agree with Chomsky that both Trump and Cruz seem more like lunatics than like sane people, and my main reason is the very crazy plans both have, although I am also aware that these plans may be stated, in part at least, to please their audiences, who often belong to the least educated, the least knowledgeable, and the most prejudiced.

Next, there is this on Bernie Sanders:

Chun: How about Bernie Sanders–what do you think his foreign policy will be?

Chomsky: He is doing a lot better than I expected, but he doesn’t have much to say about foreign policy. He is a kind of New Deal Democrat and focuses primarily on domestic issues.

Yes, that seems true - although it is also true that being a New Deal Democrat is quite radical in a political field that has moved sharply rightward.

Here is the last bit I will quote:

Chun: Do you believe that Americans would support another war?

Chomsky: The public is easily amenable to lies: the more lies there are, the greater the support for war. For instance, when the public was told that Saddam Hussein would attack the U.S., this increased support for the war.

Yes, indeed.

But this also points to a major difficulty for Chomsky, and indeed for other intelligent and informed people who write about politics, which may be formulated as follows about Chomsky:

While Chomsky is still an extremely intelligent and very well informed person who writes about politics (and other things), in fact the more intelligent he is and the more informed he is, by and large the fewer people are interested in him.

I formulated it a bit strongly, but it does seem to be true. Here are two reasons.

First, over 95% of the people there are have IQs between 70 and 130. It is these people - or a sizeable subset of them - that you have to convince, if you
want to convince anyone, and most of them are not really interested in subtle
rational arguments.

And second, a political audience (an audience that is somewhat interested in politics) is quite different from a scientific audience, precisely because they are not predominantly interested in truth, but in values: They want their political club to win, and they don't very much care about the rational qualities of the arguments, as long as their club does win.

Please note that I am not against Chomsky, nor against intelligence and rationality: I merely point out that really intelligent people with lots of relevant knowledge precisely for these reasons will find it normally more difficult to find
large audiences than less intelligent and less rational men.

And it is a great pity, but it seems a solid fact.

4. Sanders Accepts Challenge to Kill TPP If Elected... Nothing from Clinton So Far

The fourth item is b
y Jon Queally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows
Accepting a challenge and passing it on ahead of primary voting in Ohio and elsewhere on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed that if elected president he would refuse to present the contoversial TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement to Congress and asked his rival Hillary Clinton to join him in that pledge.
I agree with Sanders because - as I see it - the TPP (and the TTIP, the TiSA and the CETA) are pacts that are in fact designed to take away most of the powers of national governments, national parliaments, and national judiciaries to decide
the affairs of the nation, and to hand these over to the multi-national corpo- rations that have but one criterion: the maximum profit for themselves.

And this happens by deregulating all national powers, and hand these over to special "courts" manned by lawyers for the multi-national corporations, who decide cases that can only be started by the multi-national corporations, and
to which there are no appeals, and that are decided by just one question: Did
the multi-national corporation miss a bit of its projected expected profits?

If it did, the inhabitants of the nations have to pay, from their taxes, hundreds of millions or several billions in damages to the CEOs of the multi-national corporations. If it didn't, the multi-nationals can try again, with a somewhat different schema.

Also, most of the cases are meant to be heard in secret. And this will rapidly destroy all the advantages Europe had over Texas or China, but this again is very much in the interests of the CEOs of multi-national corporations, for these
will profit very much.

Here is the schema explained by Bernie Sanders:

Invoking the fight over NAFTA, Sanders told the crowd: "They said it was going to create all kinds of jobs in America. I didn’t believe that for one second. In 1995 I was on the picket lines opposition to that. You don’t need a PhD to understand that a trade agreement written by corporate America was to force American workers to compete against desperately poor people all over the world. American workers should not have to compete against people making pennies an hour."
But they had to, because of the deregulations. And thus they were frauded doubly: They were made to compete with far poorer people, and they lost
all their advantages and most of their rights. And now any payment that they want that is more than the Chinese or the Pakistani get, will be an attack on
the profits of the multi-national corporations...

Here is a last bit, on some of the support Bernie Sanders gets:
Sanders also received the endorsement on Friday of Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kaptur indicated that a key reason for her support was the senator's position on the economy, specifically his career-long opposition to so-called "free trade" deals like NAFTA, pushed through in the 1990's under President Bill Clinton, and his recent leadership in opposing TPP and similar corporate-friendly deals.

"I come here to introduce the next president of the United States," Rep. Kaptur told the capacity crowd in the SeaGate Convention Center to applause. "America could have no stronger Democratic leader for jobs in America, for fair trade and for economic progress for all, not just the privileged few, than Bernie Sanders."

I agree, and indeed he is the only presidential candidate with sound economical and financial plans (which does not mean I agree with all, but which does mean that I consider them a whole lot better than Hillary Clinton's, and then all the Republicans).

5. FBI and Access to NSA Data on Americans

The fifth and last item today is by Peter Van Buren on Common Dreams and originally on We Meant Well:

This starts as follows:

Hear that hissing sound? That is the last gasps for air from the Bill of Rights. The Bill is one breath away from hell.

The FBI has quietly revised its rules for searching data involving Americans’ communications collected by the National Security Agency.

The classified revisions were accepted by the secret U.S. FISA court that governs surveillance, under a set of powers colloquially known as Section 702. That is the portion of law that authorizes the NSA’s sweeping PRISM program, among other atrocities.

Yes, indeed. And this is what I expected, indeed from 2005 onwards. Here
is a brief explanation (with bold words bolded by me):

Since at least 2014 the FBI has been allowed direct access to the NSA’s massive collections of international emails, texts and phone calls – which often include Americans on one end of the conversation, and often “inadvertently” sweep up Americans’ domestic communications as well. FBI officials can search through the NSA data, using Americans’ identifying information, for “routine” queries unrelated to national security.

As of 2014, the FBI has not been required to make note of when it searched NSA-gathered metadata, which includes the “to” or “from” lines of an email. Nor does it record how many of its data searches involve Americans’ identifying details.

So, quick summary: secret surveillance programs enacted in secret ostensibly to protect America from terrorism threats are now turning over data on American citizens to the FBI, fully unrelated to issues of national security. The rules governing all this are secret, decided by a secret court.

That is: The secretly established secret treasure trove of data gathered about all people who are on the internet anywhere (something like 4 billion persons now) that is being overseen by a secret court, can now be surveiled in secret by the FBI, which also does not even need to make notes of when or what it searched for.

This is Peter Van Buren's conclusion:

If that does not add up to a chilling definition of a police state that would give an old Stasi thug a hard-on, than I don’t know what is.

I strongly agree.

About the only thing that is missing - that may be provided by the next American government, if it is Trump's or Cruz's - is a public notification
that from February 10, 2017 onwards all Americans who owe less than 50 million dollars, are not in the Senate or the House, and do not belong to the NSA, the FBI, or any other American secret service, and also do not belong to the alpha-males that make up the American leading military men, are the definite inferiors of any member of the excellent groups of men I just mentioned.

Will it happen? Probably not - but it will be a fact: Anything you may ever had said in any criticism of any American government may be used against you, quite possibly in a secret court, without benefit of lawyers.

God bless America, since Americans in majority seem unable to do it themselves! [4]

[1] I mention Democracy Now!, Truthdig, AlterNet, Common Dreams and Mother Jones as examples. One interesting - and worrisome - question is what will happen to these if Trump or Cruz gets to be president of the USA: Will they exist roughly as before, or will they be manipulated away or simply forbidden?

I have no idea, and am just throwing up the question. Indeed, this would also be a test to what extent Sheldon Wolin's (<- Wikipedia) ideas on inverted totalitarianism are true: if mostly true, these alternative sources of news will probably continue to exist; if mostly false, they will disappear. (Either alternative is unpleasant, I agree, but the latter probably very more so.)

In case you are interested: Here are four links to Wolin from March and April of 2013: One, Two, Three, Four. (They are interesting but theoretical. And there are more in 2013.)

[2] The main reasons are that the military is the strongest force in any society, and as long as any ordinary man can be drafted if of the appropriate age, this means ordinary men at least in principle may have some control over the army (were it only by refusing to do certain things).

In the USA, during the Vietnam era, this also meant that sons of rich men that were drafted had to jump through some hoops to escape being drafted to Vietnam, and sons of less rich men often had to flee to Canada or Sweden, and became strong opponents of the war.

Nixon dissolved these problems by making the whole American army private, which he could do only because the USA is a very populous country. This also meant a whole lot less public control of the American army.

[3] Incidentally, while I think no psychiatrist has ever been capable of providing any good rational definition of what it means to be mad (insane, mentally incapable, etc.) this is a shortcoming of present-day psychiatry (which in this psychologist's opinions are not even scientific), and I do think some people do get mad - which most people would agree to if they were exposed to such mad people, indeed also without being able to give precise and valid definitions.

If you are interested in more, try
DSM-5: Thomas Szasz's ideas about psychiatry

[4] It so happens that I am a lifelong atheist. But it remains true that most Americans did little or nothing to save themselves from their secret services.

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