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Nederlog

 March 21, 2016

Crisis: (Non-)voting, 90%, Super Pacs, 'Humanitarian' War, Transparency
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1.
 Voting With Our Feet
2. America in Crisis: What Happens When Neither Political
     Party Answers to the Bottom 90 Percent?

3.
Who’s Funding Super PACs This Election Season? Good
     Question

4. The Fallacy of ‘Humanitarian’ War
5. Obama Administration Denied or Censored Information
     in 77% of FOIA Requests During 2015

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, March 21, 2016.


This is a crisis blog (on this first day of Spring, that locally looks drab) with 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Chris Hedges that I didn't like; item 2 is about the major American political parties, who quietly have discarded the non-rich 90%; item 3 is about super pacs: Within six years after allowing these very anti-democratic institutions, they now also don't need to say who they are; item 4 exposes the fallacy of 'humanitarian wars': I agree, but doubt I will read the book; and item 5 is about Obama's pretense that he heads The Most Transparent Government: 77% of all requests for information are either not answered or are answered in a censored way.
 
1. Voting With Our Feet

The first item is
by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Bernie Sanders’ political corpse in the presidential race is still warm, but some of his prominent liberal supporters already are urging us to flee to Hillary Clinton. Sanders, who knows the game is up, will soon become the Democrats’ pied piper. He will seek to entice his supporters into the Democratic Party rattrap. He has decried the disruption of Trump rallies—denigrating the only power we have left—saying “people should not disrupt anybody’s meetings.” His “political revolution,” like his promise of a movement, is a cynical form of advertising. Sanders will, like the Barack Obama of 2008, end as an impediment to the mass movements he claims to represent. And mass movements in our system of “inverted totalitarianism” are our final and only hope.

O that horrible Bernie Sanders! According to Chris Hedges he is a fake, and presumably always was one, from 1970 onwards.

I do not believe this, but then I tend to be a scientific realist rather than a political idealist. [1] And indeed, if we look at programs and proposals, I'd say almost everyone of even vaguely progressive values will very probably agree that the proposals of Bernie Sanders are better than those of Hillary Clinton, which in turn are better than those of any Republican presidential candidate.

But these options are not open to Chris Hedges, who rather does not vote or votes for the Green Party rather than for any candidate who might win, whether this is Clinton or Sanders, and - it seems - also regardless of the opposition.

Chris Hedges continues:

When fundamental rights are abolished by the state, as novelist and activist Arundhati Roy has pointed out, “they are almost always won back only through revolution.” And it is not as if we have much time left. Josh Fox, in his brutally honest film about the looming effects of climate change, “How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change),” notes that we have to cut 80 percent of all carbon emissions by 2020 if we are to have any hope of saving the Greenland ice sheet. The Paris climate talks were a step backward. The loss of the polar ice will flood coastal cities around the globe. It will trigger a global ecological catastrophe. It will displace hundreds of millions of people. It will bring, if not revolution, violence, anarchy, chaos, suffering and death that will rival the black plague. And our elites intend to do nothing to stop it. That fact alone should send us into the streets.

But these are just two individuals, neither of whom is known by me. And the theses of both are not really credible to me: Mr Roy seems to exaggerate somewhat, and Mr Fox is supposed to have made a series of statements that
entail that New York, Amsterdam and Los Angeles will "soon" be flooded, if "we" don't cut 4/5ths of all carbon emissions within 3 3/4 years (which I am willing to agree would be miraculous).

In any case, these statements are not facts. They are guesses, and  the guesses seem to be not well founded by me, and indeed to be much too weak for the strength of the conclusions built upon them.

Here is another bit by Chris Hedges, that seems better than the first two quoted bits:

The Democrats, and in particular Hillary and Bill Clinton, are responsible as much as anyone on the right for our being sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit. They told the same lies as the right-wingers. They fed the same hate. They too orchestrated the corporate coup. (...) The Clintons and the Democratic Party filled the prisons and destroyed welfare. And under President Obama it has gotten worse. Obama authorized the assassination of U.S. citizens. He signed into law legislation that permits the military to act as a domestic police force and detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without due process. He and the Democratic Party establishment are attempting to ram new trade agreements down our throats.

I more or less agree with this, although the quoted paragraph involves a lot of unstated information (that can be found, to a considerable extent, from the crisis index, if you care and have the time).

Here is Chris Hedges' conclusion, or one of his conclusions from his analysis:

There are mechanisms to wrest back our democracy. Voting in presidential elections is not one of them. Shutting down Trump rallies, as took place in Chicago, and blocking fracking sites are examples of the only form of direct democracy left. We must begin to mobilize around mass actions. We must, in large and small ways, disrupt the system.

But I disagree with his analysis: For one thing, I think any Republican candidate will be worse than Clinton. I agree Clinton is not good and one of the
Wall Street bankers' candidates, and I do not trust her, but she is less bad than Trump of Cruz. For another thing, I think neither Roy nor Fox is very convincing, and the evidence to start making a practical revolution needs to be considerably stronger (in my opinion).

And while I believe voting with one's feet is important, and political activism also is important, I do not see much of a revolutionary or even a pre-revolu- tionary climate in the USA.

In this last point I may be mistaken, for I do not live in the United States, but I think I am right in rejecting Chris Hedges' arguments for the Green Party or for now trying to make a revolution in the streets.

2. America in Crisis: What Happens When Neither Political Party Answers to the Bottom 90 Percent?

The second item is
by Thom Hartmann on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

Neither party today does much of anything for the bottom 90% of Americans, as so clearly demonstrated by a recent study out of Princeton that showed that the likelihood of legislation passing that represents the interest of that bottom 90% was equivalent, statistically, to white noise. 

Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? offers the fascinating premise that starting with the McGovern Commission of 1972 (which largely excommunicated Labor from having a large role in Democratic Party decision-making) and going into a full-out embrace of the “professional class” – i.e. the top 10% economically – the Democratic Party has largely abandoned the American working and middle class – the bottom 90%. 

I tend to agree with the quotation: Most in the 90% have little or nothing to expect from the American government, and they seem largely to be abandoned by their political elites, and indeed to have been abandoned for quite a long time as well.

Then again, I do not know about the McGovern Commission, and would myself date the collapse of the Democrats-as-a-party-for-the-90% from Bill Clinton's adoption of the Third Way (<- Wikipedia), which indeed also changed the Democrats to the New Democrats
(<- Wikipedia), or at least: That was the presumption. [2]

But I may be mistaken. In any case, the article tells us that by the late 1980ies, those Democrats who would end up as the Third Way/Clinton Democrats aka New Democrats

(...) even went so far as to suggest it was a good thing that much of America’s blue-collar working-class high-school-diploma jobs go to China and Mexico, as we here in America needed to move to the “new economy” jobs of technology, medicine, and finance, requiring a college education.

This ideological change in the Party led to the Clinton-era 1990s policies that gutted our industrial base, ripped apart the social safety net (ending “the era of big government”), and financialized our economy.

I do recall my puzzlements in the 1990ies about how one could change either Europe or the USA to societies where the vast majorities had a college education (for most don't), and indeed also about whether these could be real societies (the rich thinkers in Europe and the USA; the poor workers in India and China?!), but indeed I did not spend much time on these, and I had serious  health and other problems.

Again, I don't know who is (more) to blame: The Clintons, the Democratic Party's ideological changes, or both, but it seems correct that under Clinton the social safety net was destroyed and the economy was financialized, and that last part mostly by deregulations (which effectively took away the protections of the poor against the attacks of the rich).

Then there is this sketch of the developments in the Republican Party that were started in the early 1970ies by Lewis Powell Jr (<-Wikipedia):

Prior to the 1970s, business in America had been largely apolitical, preferring to focus instead on making money and running companies.  But Powell convinced the Chamber of Commerce and a group of wealthy ideologues to change all that, and a group of billionaires and foundations rose to the call and created the huge and well-funded “conservative” infrastructure of think-tanks, media arms (hate radio and Fox News), and the Koch Network.  

Within a generation, the Party elites relied almost entirely on Big Business and Big Money to get elected, only throwing rhetorical bones to the bottom 90% with their cynical “god, guns, and gays” strategy. 

Yes, I think myself that Powell achieved a lot for the Republicans and the rich,
including the partial takeover of many non-profit organizations by what were, in fact, Republican lawyers or activists, who also learned to speak the leftist/liberal lingo (which they also falsified). This also happened in the 90ies, both in the USA and in Europe.

In any case, the last paragraph seems more or less correct: From the 1990ies onwards, both big American parties worked for Big Business and Big Money, and
the leaders of both big parties also were paid big money to work for Big Money (and quite often after having finished the job they were later rewarded for: Bill Clinton made most of his many millions after 2000).

The article ends like so, which is not very cogent:

Arnold Toynbee is, probably apocryphally, quoted as having said: “When the last man who remembers the horrors of the last great war dies, the next great war becomes inevitable.”  

It could be updated to read today: “When the people who remember what America was like before the Reagan Revolution begin to die off, the next revolution is inevitable.”

Whether it’ll be played out in the ballot box or the streets is yet to be seen.

Toynbee - or whoever said so - conveniently forgot that WW II was started well within the living memories of the survivors of WW I (for that ended within a mere 21 years before the second one started).

The restatement implies that the next revolution is still ten or twenty years in the future: I recall the Reagan years quite well, and am from 1950, and I am not dead yet (and may live another 10 years or more).

I do not know whether that prediction for the next revolution is correct, but it seems (now (!)) more correct than Chris Hedges in item 1.

3. Who’s Funding Super PACs This Election Season? Good Question

The third item today is b
y Andrea Germanos on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Campaign finance reform advocates have rallied against super PACs’ ability to influence elections since their creation in 2010, and new reporting by the Washington Post puts a spotlight on how “ghost corporations” are pumping money into these committees, with their big money contributors hiding behind a veil of secrecy.

As the Center for Responsive Politics explains: “super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates,” though they “are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates.”  They report their donors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) monthly during an election year.

Yes, indeed - and this also was a very anti-democratic procedure, because it implies that the few rich can use parts of their riches to influence the choices (and ideas, values and desires) of the many poor, who all lack the money to
address the very rich.

And now the rich donors found a way not to report who they are: It is by means of "limited liability companies" aka LLCs aka corporations:

Sarah Posner sums up the problem in her reporting, writing, “By donating to a super PAC through an LLC, donors and companies are able to buy political influence and sway elections without revealing their identities.”

Among those who’s cautioned against such influence is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who previously said, “We have one of the worst election processes in the world right in the United States of America, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money.”

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has denounced super PACs, and said last month that the nation’s “corrupt campaign finance system is undermining American democracy.”

I agree with Carter and Sanders, but there is - so far, and apart from the death of SCOTUS judge Scalia - little reason to believe super pacs will soon diminish in influence and power: The law sorely needs changing, but that requires a somewhat progressive new Supreme Court judge.

4. The Fallacy of ‘Humanitarian’ War

The fourth item today is by

This starts as follows:
Rajan Menon’s new book, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention, launches a timely argument against a dominant argument lying behind so much of modern American foreign policy — “humanitarian intervention” or “liberal interventionism.”
(...)
Menon offers powerful argumentation skewering the concept of “humanitarian intervention,” demonstrating how it operates often as little more than a subtler form of an imperial agenda. Naked imperial ambitions tend to be recognizable for what they are. But when those global ambitions are cloaked in the liberal language of our “right to protect” oppressed peoples, prevent humanitarian outrages, stop genocide, and to topple noxious dictators, then the true motives behind such operations become harder to recognize.

What humanitarian could object to such lofty goals? Yet the seductive character of these “liberal interventionist” policies end up serving — indeed camouflaging — a broad range of military objectives that rarely help and often harm the ostensible objects of our intervention.

I agree, but then again this also seems obvious to me: Of course one's political leaders - whoever they are - will nearly always tell lies about unpleasant things!

Then again, it seems as if many seem to accept a premiss like this:

  • "My political leaders never lie to me."

And while that is an obvious falsehood if stated as blandly as this, and indeed - very probably - is a political lie, it still seems a widely accepted tacit premiss, which in this context means: A premiss that is not stated, but is believed, and for that reason appears convincing.

Indeed, that is my basic explanation why so many people seem to accept the falsehoods that there are 'humanitarian wars' (presumably faught by living deads [3]) and seem to accept the obvious lies of their leaders.

Here is an illustration of the kind of thinking/speaking that political leaders use these days:

From a humanitarian point of view, can the deaths of half a million Iraqis and the dislocation of a million or so more be considered to have contributed to the wellbeing of “liberated Iraq?” As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, she regretted the death of 500,000 Iraqi children who, in Saddam’s Iraq, had been deprived of medicines under a long U.S. embargo, but, she concluded, “it was worth it.” One wonders to whom it was worth it? Where is the humanitarian vision behind such a comment?

Clearly, Albright lied. What she should have said is: "Because Our Ends Are Always Humanitarian, I Don't Regret The Deaths Of 500,000 Children: They Died For Humanitarian Reasons!" For this very probably does much more catch her real position than what she is quoted as saying, although I agree that the second part may sound harsh. (But also true.)

There is, of course, the following argument:

Ultimately the case for “humanitarian intervention” is justified by the quest for international justice, protection of civilians, and the broadening of democratization and human rights. The U.S. has regularly invoked these principles in justifying its ongoing — indeed nonstop — wars over the past several decades.

Yet the sad reality is that the selective nature of U.S. interventions raises serious questions about the true motivation behind invoking such “universal” values. U.S. calls for  “democratization” more often operate as punishment to its enemies (“regime change”) but rarely as a gift to be bestowed upon friends (“friendly dictators.”)

But the first paragraph is to me merely a very easily repeated series of very cheap lies, that serve to make the very unpalatable - a major war - seem palatable, by presenting it as doing good, which a major war never does in
majority: Very much and very many lives are destroyed in wars, and hardly any war seems good briefly after the fact (when the many murders and destructions are still obviously there).

The article ends thus:

Here is a cogent critique of the recent decades of U.S. foreign policy misadventures in which our military has become the primary instrument of U.S. policy — and justified in the name of humanitarian goals. We rarely get to hear these arguments so clearly presented.

Perhaps. It seems to me that the "cogent critique" may be made very simple:

To speak of "humanitarian wars" is about as cogent as to speak of "living dead" or of "kind-hearted cruelty" or of "loving tortures", and lying is very often a lot easier and very often a lot more palatable than speaking the truth.

But perhaps another book was justified.

5. Obama Administration Denied or Censored Information in 77% of FOIA Requests During 2015

The fifth and last item today is b
y Mike Krieger on Washington's Blog:
This starts with a message from Associated Press, and is here for those who believe Obama (boldings in the original):

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration set a record for the number of times its federal employees told disappointed citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn’t find a single page requested under the Freedom of Information Act, according to a new Associated Press analysis of government data.

In more than one in six cases, or 129,825 times, government searchers said they came up empty-handed last year. Such cases contributed to an alarming measurement: People who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, also a record. In the first full year after President Barack Obama’s election, that figure was only 65 percent of cases.

I also note that it turned out (as the article explains) that the government often lied: Files that could not be found when critics of the government asked for them, could be found later.

And here is another quote:

Overall, the Obama administration censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them in a record 596,095 cases, or 77 percent of all requests. That includes 250,024 times when the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.
I suppose this is "Transparent Government" according to Obama: No reply or a censored reply in 77% of requests for information.

--------------------------
Notes
[1] In fact, the differences between being a scientific realist and being a political idealist are rather deep (especially for those who know science) and quite fargoing. I will not spell them out here (though I may write a Nederlog on these differences), but say here only that this is one of the major differences between my own attitudes and the attitudes of most who are much interested in politics: The strongly politically interested or motivated people are not often inclined to (real) science. Conversely, those who know considerable amounts of (real) science, often and for that reason are less interested in political arguments.

[2] The links in this quote - to
the Third Way and to the New Democrats - are well worth looking into. Also, it is worth remarking that - at least from my point of view - the "Third Way" is better known than either the "New Democrats" or "New Labour" (Blair's supposed creation). Finally, whatever these are called, these movements are based on what I firmly think are lies. (But check them out yourselves.)

[3] In case you miss the point: "humanitarian wars" and "living deads" are both examples of contradictory ideas: Wars are not humanitarian; deads are not alive.
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