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Nederlog

 March 28, 2016

Crisis: Violence, Nader & Sanders, Democrats, Trump & Bullshit, TTP
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1.
We All Are Islamic State
2. Ralph Nader: Why Bernie Sanders was right to run as a
     Democrat

3.
Robert Scheer Talks With Thomas Frank About
     Democrats’ Shift Away From Addressing Inequality

4. Donald Trump’s Reign of Bullsh*t: He’s Not Lying to Us,
     He’s Just Completely Full of It

5. The Thing Sanders, Trump, and Clinton Agree On. It’s
     That Bad.
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, March 28, 2016.


This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is by Chris Hedges who claims that "we all" - he, me and you, for example - "are Islamic state" (I don't think so, but I agree with him that the situation is serious); item 2 is about an article by Ralph Nader about Bernie Sanders: Sanders had no choice but to run as a Democrat (given his background and career); item 3 is about a radio program by Robert Scheer who shows the Democrats are not really concerned about inequality since Bill Clinton; item 4 is about Trump's reign of bullshit (and I provide some of my own explanations) and item 5 is about the TPP.

1. We All Are Islamic State

The first item is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Revenge is the psychological engine of war. Victims are the blood currency. Their corpses are used to sanctify acts of indiscriminant murder. Those defined as the enemy and targeted for slaughter are rendered inhuman. They are not worthy of empathy or justice. Pity and grief are felt exclusively for our own. We vow to eradicate a dehumanized mass that embodies absolute evil. The maimed and dead in Brussels or Paris and the maimed and dead in Raqqa or Sirte perpetuate the same dark lusts. We all are Islamic State.

To which I say: Yes and no, for this is both true and one extreme. The opposite - love, kindness, sharing, empathy, idealism - is also both true and the other extreme. In fact, most people are mostly in the middle, though I am quite willing to agree that this also is not a noble group: See ordinary men for a serious look at the middle position. (There also is a brief remark at the end of this review on the thesis that "We all are Islamic State" - and no, I don't agree.)

There is also this, for those who want to flee to religion:

The Christian religion embraces the concept of “holy war” as fanatically as Islam does. Our Crusades are matched by the concept of jihad. Once religion is used to sanctify murder there are no rules. It is a battle between light and dark, good and evil, Satan and God. Rational discourse is banished. And “the sleep of reason,” as Goya said, “brings forth monsters.”

Flags, patriotic songs, a deification of the warrior and sentimental drivel drown out reality. We communicate in empty clichés and mindless, patriotic absurdities. Mass culture is used to reinforce the lie that we are the true victims. It re-creates the past to conform to the national heroic myth. We alone are said to possess virtue and courage. We alone have the right to revenge. We are hypnotized into a communal somnolence, a state-induced blindness.

Incidentally, Chris Hedges is a protestant minister. I am not, and in fact am a lifelong - philosophically very learned - atheist, but yes, of course I agree with him (if that is what he is saying) that most that religions bring to most people is an excuse not to think rationally and not to act reasonably. (There are exceptions, but these indeed are exceptional.)

There is also this, that should be compared with the number killed by terrorists since 2001, which you find conveniently here - which shows that the number of veterans who commit suicide is about fifteen times higher (on a rough calculation):

Twenty-two veterans of U.S. military service commit suicide every day. They do it without an explosives belt. But they share, with suicide bombers, the overpowering urge to be rid of the world and the sordid role they had in it. 

And there is this on the few who profit (enormously) and the many who suffer:

The merchants of death, the arms manufacturers, are among the few who profit. Most of the rest of us are caught in a cycle of violence that will not cease until we end the U.S. occupation of the Middle East, until we learn to speak in a language other than the primitive howl of war, death and annihilation.

Yes, but to speak that language we need to retain or return to such powers as we have to think rationally and act reasonably - which we all have, albeit to a variable extent, just as we all have the potentials for cruelty and irrationality, and again to a variable extent.

I leave it at this, except for a remark on the thesis that "We all are Islamic State": I think not. Chris Hedges is not; I am not; and quite a few others are neither as irrational nor as unreasonable as many followers of Islamic State (Isis).

And while I am not certain about the differences the (somewhat) rational and reasonable may make, I think it also is important not to forget that all men have some capacity for being rational and reasonable; that all men are individuals; and that it tends to help to realize that all persons differ, and that
the real situations tend to be more complicated and complex than most confident political analyses pretend they are.

2. Ralph Nader: Why Bernie Sanders was right to run as a Democrat

The second item is
by Ralph Nader in The Washington Post, and originally on his site:

This starts as follows:

During a recent town hall in Columbus, Ohio, Sen. Bernie Sanders said the unthinkable. At least, you would have thought he did, judging by the response of several Democratic operatives. Sanders was deemed “extremely disgraceful” by Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and “a political calculating fraud” by Brad Woodhouse, a former DNC communications director.

What was his crime? The old-fashioned Rooseveltian New Dealer had answered a question about why he is running as a Democrat, instead of as an independent, with typical candor: “In terms of media coverage, you had to run within the Democratic Party,” he observed, adding that he couldn’t raise money outside the major two-party process.

And that is why Sanders did not run as an independent: He could not run as an independent. Here is some more:

The reality is that Sanders is right, and the backlash against him reflects all too well what two-party tyranny can do to a more-than-nominal third-party challenger. This is especially true of candidates like Sanders, who — despite advancing political views similar to the classic Democratic New Deal platform — now sits well to the left of the party’s corporatist, hawkish establishment.

Yes indeed. Incidentally, Ralph Nader, although he agrees that Sanders had no alternative, says he would not do as Sanders did:

Given another chance, I still wouldn’t run as a Democrat; I continue to disagree with the party’s platform and direction. Sanders is different, though: However he’s appeared on Vermont ballots in the past, he’s really a progressive Democrat. He has caucused with the party in Congress for decades, even if its corporatist core has abandoned his New Deal priorities. This is perhaps why he has been able to make it so remarkably far.

And that is honest of Nader - and indeed Nader is also right in stressing that Bernie Sanders is considerably more of a Democrat(ic Party member) than is Nader. I agree with Nader that there is something much like a "two-party tyranny" by the Republicans and the Democrats, which also is not ideological but is basically financial: without the help of either the one or the other, no one will succeed in American politics-as-is.

3. Robert Scheer Talks With Thomas Frank About Democrats’ Shift Away From Addressing Inequality

The third item is b
y Robert Scheer on Truthdig:
This is from five pages of text (which I welcome, because I read much faster than I can talk).

I start with a bit on the supposed differences between the Clintons and the Republicans:

When Scheer suggests that Bill and Hillary Clinton may not represent a lesser evil—when compared to Republicans—but merely a “different kind of evil,” Frank responds: “You could make the argument that Bill Clinton did things in the 1990s that no Republican would have been capable of doing. ... Reagan couldn’t push bank deregulation as far as Clinton did. Clinton did things that Reagan would never have dared to do: welfare reform ... [and] NAFTA. George Bush couldn’t get NAFTA passed. ... So you start to think that the game that the Clintons play with us, where we vote for them because we have nowhere else to go. ... There’s a sort of political economics of how we the voters are manipulated in this situation, and they’re very, very good at playing that game. And so people like you and me who are on the left are captured, basically. We don’t have anywhere else to go. And they play us in a certain way.”
Incidentally, this is in considerable part a similar situation as Ralph Nader addressed in the previous item.

Apart from that, I agree with the present article that the Clintons - and especially Bill, in the nineties - did quite a lot of very bad things, which I think they did to please their financial backers (who also did support Bill after he ceased to be president: he was paid many tens of millions of dollars "for speeches").

Then there is this on the theme of inequality:

And so my, the question in the book is, you know, the Democrats have been talking about inequality forever; this is why they exist as a party, is to take this on. Why haven’t they been able to do anything about it? And the answer isn’t what you think. You know, it’s not just because Republicans are so diabolically clever and stop them all the time. And it’s also not just because of the money that is sloshing around in politics, although that’s, you know, obviously that’s a huge part of the story. But the answer is because the Democrats aren’t who we think they are. You know, they talk about inequality, but their heart really isn’t in it. Income inequality is really not something that they have cared about for a very long time.
I think that is right, and I also think this started with Bill Clinton, who wasn't  much against inequality as long as he would get financially better from his political machinations, and indeed he did.

There is also this on many deregulations, that were mostly effected under Clinton:

I mean, the Clinton administration was, it was a parade of deregulation. There were many different bank deregulations. And the repeal of Glass-Steagall took years; it wasn’t just this one act at the end, it went on and on and on, first under Reagan and then under Clinton. But it was, they repealed it by bits and pieces in slow motion.
Finally, here is another point that I pick out because I have repeatedly said similar things:
So you know, Democrats love to talk about the one percent, and the point one percent, and the Koch Brothers; and that’s all true, and that’s all fine. But the real mass constituency for inequality is not the one percent. It’s the ten percent.
That is in my terms: The 1% (and the 0.1% and the 0.01%) are only abled to do the things they do for themselves by being supported by a considerably larger group of - quite well-paid - persons, who support the rich few for a share in their enormous takes, and indeed it makes sense to estimate this as around 10%.

4. Donald Trump’s Reign of Bullsh*t: He’s Not Lying to Us, He’s Just Completely Full of It

The fourth item i
s by Eldar Sarajlic on AlterNet and originally on Salon:

This starts as follows:

In his seminal essay “On Bullshit,” philosopher Harry Frankfurt defines bullshit as a form of communication aimed to obscure the matter of facts being discussed by using the words that are neither necessarily true nor false. This definition hinges on a crucial distinction between a liar and a bullshitter. Unlike the liar, who hides things about himself in an attempt to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality, the bullshitter hides that “the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him.” In other words, bullshitter doesn’t care about what the truth is. He just talks as it suits his purposes.

I like "On Bullshit" and used it also to clarify the situation in medicine and psychiatry, indeed before I turned to politics. And I think the differences between liars and bullshitters is better formulated as follows:

Liars say things they believe are not factually correct in order to profit from the acceptance of their lies; bullshitters do not care for what are or are not the facts: they say things because they believe saying them will make them look better in their audience's eyes.

Then again, while their motives do differ, I think it is fair to say both lie, although I agree with Frankfurt that liars probably agree that there is truth and it is important, while bullshitters often simply do not care what is the truth, and only care for the beliefs they create in others' minds.

Next there is this on the parallel between Frankfurt's concept of bullshit and Donald Trump's extreme ease with truth and falsity:

It is hard not to notice the similarity between what Frankfurt describes in his essay and the current discourse of Donald Trump. As PolitiFact reports, most of Trump’s campaign statements have been blatantly false, mostly false or partially true. Only 2 percent of his statements are described as true. Although one is tempted to call him a liar, which many have done, he is not a liar but a bullshitter.

Well, as I said bullshitters are liars, though I agree with Frankfurt that not all liars are bullshitters: A liar is a bullshitter if his primary point is not to convince his audience that certain non-facts are true, but if his primary point is to please his audience, whatever the truth of his sayings, which also implies a considerable or total disregard for factual truth and falsity.

This also entails something like the following:

But, the novelty of Trump is not only in the nonchalant disregard for the truth instead of its deliberate distortion, but also in the widespread acceptance of bullshit as the legitimate political discourse. By “legitimate” I do not mean that bullshit suddenly becomes the way politicians speak and justify their actions. What I mean is far more serious: bullshit is legitimate in politics when everyone starts accepting that words uttered in political discourse do not matter anymore.

I said "something like" the following, and one reason is that bullshit does not
get legitimate because "
everyone starts accepting that words uttered in political discourse do not matter anymore": it is not about words at all.

Political bullshit gets legitimate because it gets accepted by many audiences that political speakers are not bound by the truth anymore, and can say what they please as long as the audience likes it.

That is, political bullshit gets legitimate to the extent that the audience considers them as if politicians are media stars: sources of amusement rather than political proponents whose claims have to be tested by factual truth or probability.

And indeed this has happened, and it is very dangerous - and see Maher on truth, that I reviewed yesterday. But it is not so much Trump's fault, although he abuses it, for it really is the fault of the audiences, although I am also willing to agree that most of Trump's admirers are indeed so "poorly educated" that they would believe almost anything.

5. The Thing Sanders, Trump, and Clinton Agree On. It’s That Bad.

The fifth and last item today is by David Korten on Common Dreams and originally on YES! Magazine:

This starts as follows:

One issue unites three U.S. presidential candidates from quite different positions on the political spectrum. Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders all oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is a trade and investment agreement between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations now awaiting an up-or-down vote by the U.S. Congress. Trump says it’s a bad deal for the United States. Clinton says it will cost jobs and lower labor, food safety, and environmental standards. Sanders says it is a corporate assault on democracy.

Trump is right: It’s a bad deal. But he’s wrong that it’s bad only for the United States. It’s actually bad for all of the 12 countries. Clinton is right that it will cost jobs and lower standards, but she’s wrong that the problem is failing to set the bar high enough.

Only Sanders names the most essential reason we must reject the TPP: It is an all-out corporate assault on democracy. Its approval would empower corporations to further hamstring efforts by any member nation to address the potentially terminal environmental, social, and economic threats of our time.

This is one way to read the differences between Sanders, Clinton and Trump about the TPP (and the TTIP etc.) and while I agree on the sketch of Sanders' position, I am more doubtful about Clinton's and Trump's positions.

As to Clinton: I think she is often saying what she thinks the greatest majority of her audience wants to hear, almost completely regardless of what she thinks herself, wich means - see item 4 - that she is often fundamentally bullshitting her audiences (but sometimes with some regard for the truth: she is a more serious politician than Trump is).

As to Trump: He is bullshitting so much - only 1 in 50 of his statements is provably true - that I don't think anyone knows what he really thinks about many important things.

But I agree with the position attributed to Bernie Sanders, and indeed the following seems a basically adequate analysis of how the TTP (and the TTIP and the TiSA and the CETA) really work and are intended to work:

International agreements like the TPP are a corporate lobbyist’s dream. Here is the playbook for creating them.

· Get the world’s most powerful corporations together to make a wish list
  of rule changes.

· Bundle them into an international agreement of thousands of pages of
  technical legal text that few people are likely to read.

· Call it a free-trade agreement and promise that it will create jobs, grow
  economies, and bring the world together.

· Include a provision that foreign corporations can sue a signatory
  government for any loss of anticipated profits due to government action.

· Require that these claims be decided by secret international tribunals
   composed of three private-sector attorneys; preclude review of the
   awards they grant.

· Push the agreement through the national legislative bodies of the
  prospective member nations under rules that limit debate, prohibit
  amendments, and require a simple up-or-down majority vote.

I think that is fundamentally correct - and it implies that "the free trade agreements", ever since NAFTA, that was approved under Clinton, were an enormous fraud that was meant from the beginning to only benefit the very rich and the multi-national corporations, and indeed I think that is what it was and is:

An all-out corporate assault on democracy, on fairness, on decency, on justice and on solidarity, that proceeds by denying, disrupting and destroying national governments, national parliaments and national judiciaries, and by replacing all of the considerations these institutions do by just one criterion: Did the multi-national corporations get all the profits they planned? If so, fine; if not convict the nation's taxpayers (!!!) to pay hundreds of millions or several billions to the multi-national corporations.

It is an explicit gross and enormous fascist attack on democracy [1], and it has been furthered and defended by those who pretend to be Democrats: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (both of whom either earned many millions or expect to earn many millions from their very rich backers).

--------------------------
Note
[1] On the supposition that the following definition of fascism - from the American Heritage Dictionary - is more or less adequate (and I think it is):
"fascism" is defined as "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
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