April 12, 2016

Crisis: Bad military, bad banking, bad Americans, bad writing, bad democracy
Sections                                                                     crisis index

The U.S. Military—What a Waste

2. Vampire Squid Goldman Sachs Gets Away with $5 Billion

Americans Agree: It’s Corporate Power That’s In Our

4. Glaciers and sex
We let the idiots take the wheel: Donald Trump, Fox
     News and how we let our democracy rot

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. As to today's title of Nederlog: it's my own (as always, and finding fairly brief titles for some five or more subjects and articles is not easy), after I realized this is an adequate characterization of today's 5 items with 5 dotted links:

Item 1
is about what can only be called the Pentagon's gigantic corruption; item 2 is about Wall Street's enormous corruption; item 3 is about the ordinary Americans who - it seems - massively agree on many things they did not get since decades from the politicians who are supposed to represent them; item 4 is about extremely bad writing (even worse than the standard academic "style", which tends to be bad); and item 5 is about the sick state of America's current democracy.

As I indicated at the beginning, the title is my own summary of today's content. It is a coincidence, but it does seem a fair summary.

1. The U.S. Military—What a Waste

The first item is b
y William D. Hartung on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch:
This starts as follows:
From spending $150 million on private villas for a handful of personnel in Afghanistan to blowing $2.7 billion on an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work, the latest revelations of waste at the Pentagon are just the most recent howlers in a long line of similar stories stretching back at least five decades.  Other hot-off-the-presses examples would include the Army’s purchase of helicopter gears worth $500 each for $8,000 each and the accumulation of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons components that will never be used. And then there’s the one that would have to be everyone’s favorite Pentagon waste story: the spending of $50,000 to investigate the bomb-detecting capabilities of African elephants. (And here’s a shock: they didn’t turn out to be that great!) The elephant research, of course, represents chump change in the Pentagon’s wastage sweepstakes and in the context of its $600-billion-plus budget, but think of it as indicative of the absurd lengths the Department of Defense will go to when what’s at stake is throwing away taxpayer dollars.
This is the start of the article, and there is a whole lot more on the gross  corruption - for that is evidently what we are talking about - of "the Pentagon" in the article.

Most of this listing of corruptions (itself again a very small bit of very much more) I leave to your interests, but there seems to be also something like a systematic explanation for a very long list of quite systematic corruptions that is summarized in the above quote on some of "
the most recent howlers in a long line of similar stories stretching back at least five decades." (Bolding added.)

I shall return to this systematic explanation after the next quotation, that insists - quite correctly, I am afraid - that corruption (for that is what it is, much rather than "waste": someone, or several someones, profit(s) enormously) is endemic to the Pentagon way of doing things:

Keep in mind that the above examples are just the tip of the tip of a titanic iceberg of military waste.  In a recent report I did for the Center for International Policy, I identified 27 recent examples of such wasteful spending totaling over $33 billion.  And that was no more than a sampling of everyday life in the twenty-first-century world of the Pentagon.

The staggering persistence and profusion of such cases suggests that it’s time to rethink what exactly they represent.  Far from being aberrations in need of correction to make the Pentagon run more efficiently, wasting vast sums of taxpayer dollars should be seen as a way of life for the Department of Defense.  And with that in mind, let’s take a little tour through the highlights of Pentagon waste from the 1960s to the present.

And indeed William Hartung proceeds to give something like a summary of the vast corruptions at the Pentagon, which I leave (again) to your interests, and he then says:

One reason the Pentagon has been able to get away with all this is that it has proven strangely incapable of doing a simple audit of itself, despite a Congressionally mandated requirement dating back to 1990 that it do so. Conveniently enough, this means that the Department of Defense can’t tell us how much equipment it has purchased, or how often it has been overcharged, or even how many contractors it employs. This may be spectacularly bad bookkeeping, but it’s great for defense firms, which profit all the more in an environment of minimal accountability

In fact - "Follow The Money!" - it seems to me this can be extended:

The main purpose of the present Pentagon, at least since Bush Jr., is to help make "the defense contractors" the glorious profits they so eminently deserve and to provide their high personnel cushy well-paid jobs in glorious housing.

That is: the end is not to win wars, but to get the greatest possible amount of money from the government for the purposes of war, and in order to do that to continue wars wherever they go on, and perhaps to start wars on other places.

Is this cynical? Yes, but it accords very well with "Follow The Money!". And the article ends like this:

Undoubtedly, from time to time, you’ll continue to hear outrageous media stories about waste at the Pentagon and bomb-detecting elephants gone astray. Without a concerted campaign of public pressure of a sort we haven’t seen in recent years, however, the Pentagon’s runaway budget will never be reined in, that audit will never happen, and the weapons makers will whistle a happy tune on their way to the bank with our cash.

To put this in my words: Until the Pentagon is properly audited - which hasn't happened in 20 or more years, so far as I can see - the Pentagon will get ever more money to be spend in completely irresponsible ways, that one can only summarize by saying that "the defense contractors" keep scoring enormous profits and the generals keep having cushy jobs with the best possible amenities.

2. Vampire Squid Goldman Sachs Gets Away with $5 Billion  'Non-Punishment'

The second item is
by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Goldman Sachs—once described as "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money"—has agreed to pay $5.1 billion to settle a U.S. probe into allegations that it misled mortgage bond investors during the financial crisis, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) said Monday.

The penalty was swiftly denounced as a "non-punishment, non-accountability ritual that will do nothing to stop the Wall Street crime spree."

That denouncement seems quite correct. Here is Matthew Zeitlin quoted on
the subject:

The deal fits the template used by the Justice Department for several massive settlements with big banks over their conduct related to the crisis: No criminal charges or penalties for the individuals involved, alongside a grab-bag of multi-billion dollar payments to regulators, states and consumers.

Other agreements that fit the template: the more than $13 billion settlement the DOJ reached with JPMorgan Chase in November, 2013; Citi’s $7 billion settlement in July, 2014; the almost-$17 billion settlement reached with Bank of America in August, 2014; and the $3.2 billion settlement with Morgan Stanley earlier this year.

In brief, the schema runs as follows:

A big bank engages in big crimes, and makes an enormous amount of money by it; the DOJ "investigates" but always decides - "These are too big to fail, so we won't harm them" - to "punish" the banks with a settlement for part of their profits plus an agreement that neither the big banks nor their managers did anything criminal - and the game can be repeated, and repeated, and repeated endlessly. And it is, also.

And here is Denis Kelleher quoted, who explains why the settlement in the article's title was "a victory for Goldman":

First, it got to keep all the ill-gotten gains for the last eight-plus years.  Second, a $5 billion settlement is meaningless unless it is publicly disclosed how much money was made from the illegal conduct and the total amount of investor losses.  Third, DOJ helped it cover up its illegal actions by letting Goldman merely acknowledge a Swiss cheese ‘statement of facts’ carefully crafted more to conceal than reveal what Goldman really did here. Fourth, Goldman’s net revenue was $37.7 billion and its net earnings were $9.5 billion in 2006 alone, just one year in the midst of this multi-year scheme. Fifth, every single individual at Goldman who received a bonus from this illegal conduct not only keeps the entire bonus, but suffers no penalty at all. Sixth, more than half of the $5 billion appears likely to be tax deductible, meaning U.S. taxpayers will be required to subsidize this settlement. 

In brief: the net earnings were rather a lot more than $9.5 billion dollars; on which they had to pay $5 billion; which left them with probably a lot more than
$4.5 billion dollars plus a statement no one did anything criminal, and everyone
could keep all the salaries and all the bonuses they had received. And they also
(probably) can deduct half of the $5 billion they have to pay, because it is tax deductible.

It is a complete "legal" corruption that makes billions of dollars each year. Here is the end of the article:
Sanders himself, speaking to a crowd in Albany, New York on Monday, said the settlement was an example of "the corruption of our criminal justice system."

"Goldman Sachs is one of the major financial institutions in our country," he said. "What they have just acknowledged to the whole world is that their system…is based on fraud."

A Sanders television ad released earlier this year zeroes in on precisely this corporate malfeasance, with a narrator explaining that Goldman "just settled with authorities for their part in the crisis that put seven million out of work and millions out of their homes. Our economy works for Wall Street because it's rigged by Wall Street and that's the problem. As long as Washington is bought and paid for we can’t build an economy that works for people."

Yes indeed.

3. Americans Agree: It’s Corporate Power That’s In Our Way

The third item is
by Robert Weissman on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

There is widespread recognition among politicians and pundits that Americans are sharply divided by party on virtually all of the big questions facing our country.

Everyone knows this is just the way things are, and it’s why we have gridlock in Congress.

But here’s one thing: That story is not true.

In fact, Americans overwhelmingly agree on a wide range of issues. They want policies to make the economy more fair and hold corporate executives accountable. They want stronger environmental and consumer protections.  And they want to fix our political system so that it serves the interest of all, not just Big Money donors. These aren’t close issues for Americans; actually, what’s surprising is the degree of national consensus.

The problem isn’t that Americans don’t agree. The problem is that the corporate class doesn’t agree with this agenda, and that class dominates our politics.

Well... I have to say "yes and no" to this (and I also refer you to item 5):

Yes, I agree many Americans "agree on a wide range of issues". But no,
these agreements often seem forgotten when they are voting, although
I also admit that many don't vote, and that those who do vote now may well
not be a fair sample from the American population.

The explanation of this somewhat paradoxical fact is - I think - that the agreements that Robert Weismann mentions tend to be found by polls,
whereas the disagreements keep arising in ordinary voting, that seems
a much more emotional event.

Here is some more on the agreements:

By margins of about 2-1, Americans oppose corporate trade deals like the TransPacific Partnership. Americans believe such deals destroy more jobs than they create by a 3-1 margin.

Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor breaking up the big banks. Over nine in ten voters agree that it is important to regulate financial services and products to make sure they are fair for consumers, and four-fifths say Wall Street financial companies should be held accountable with tougher rules and enforcement for the practices that caused the financial crisis. By nearly a 3-1 margin, voters want to see more, not less, oversight and regulation of financial companies. 

Four out of five voters, including three quarters of Republicans, want to expand Social Security benefits. Note: not just maintain, but expand, Social Security benefits.

I say. As I explained, I think these figures are mostly correct (and from polls rather than votes), and it is also true that I do not see much of this in voting.

Here is Robert Weissman's inference:

So, for those who care to look at the data, it’s plain enough what Americans want.

But we’re not getting it.

That’s because of the political power problem. Americans know this, too, and they want far-reaching solutions. “With near unanimity,” reports the New York Times, “the public thinks the country’s campaign finance system needs significant changes.” Nine in ten want to get rid of secret money in elections. More than three quarters want to replace super-rich funding of elections with a system that relies on small donors and matching public funds. As ThinkProgress notes, more Americans believe in witches and ghosts than support Citizens United (no offense to witches intended). There is three-to-one support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

It’s plain enough that public opinion is not enough. We need massive public mobilization, to tear down the political barriers that stand in the way of winning the policies Americans support but plutocrats oppose.

I agree with the last bit, but I am afraid I am a little skeptical about "the
American public". For more, see item 5.

4. Glaciers and sex

The fourth item i
by Notes & Comments (?) on The New Criterion:

This starts as follows:
Back in 1946, George Orwell observed that “In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.” Fast forward a few decades and you have the owlish gibberish of deconstruction, the inanities of postcolonial studies, and kindred exercises in polysyllabic grievance-mongering, not to mention the grimly risible productions from the repellent partisans of “gender studies.”
I say, which I do say not because I disagree nor because I did not know this, but because I faught the fight with the obscurantist academics since 1977, and indeed I also lost it, not because I could not win the discussions, but because there simply was no discussion. (And see item 5.)

And there was no discussion because almost everyone agreed with the obscurantists' utterly false moral claims that they were morally good, and anybody who attacked them was morally bad or - as I was declared, for a mere 12 years - "a (dirty) fascist" (which was contemptible slander in my case, and was in fact motivated by the admitted fact that I was not a Marxist, which was the pretended faith of those who accused me, and of most in the University of Amsterdam at that time, for that was from 1971 till 1995 in the hands of the students - who made a frightful mess out of it).

In any case, this is an interesting and recommended article that I will leave mostly to your interests, for I will quote only three
extremely obscure quotations from it that show academic bad writing (for most writings of most academics are quite bad [1]) at its pretty spectacular worst, and I will quote the end, because I do have to say something about it.

First, here is a quote by the (late) incredible philosophical genius Roy Bhaskar:

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal—of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual . . .
In fact, this is total deluded crap. It also seems to be of the later Roy Bhaskar, while there is a pretense he wrote better when he was younger, but that seems
false to me. For I did read part of Bhaskar's first book from 1975 (long ago), and laid it aside because it was full of similar crap, though I fully grant the possibility that he wrote even worse later on.

Anyway, that was philosophy. Here is literary criticism, from the astounding genius of marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson:

“The visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination; thinking about its attributes becomes an adjunct to that, if it is unwilling to betray its object; while the most austere films necessarily draw their energy from the attempt to repress their own excess (rather than from the more thankless effort to discipline the viewer).”
This is in fact more totally deluded crap. And Mr Jameson is 82 and seems to be still at it!

Here is the third bit, by the feminist all knowing universal genius Judy Butler (I was repeating some of the claims I have read about her, long ago):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
You see? In fact, this was again totally deluded utter crap. Each of these bits (and extra-ordinarily much more) is an excellent example of quite intentional utter bullshit.

But: Two of these three utter incompetents still are at their academic positions, sometimes more than 20 years after publising the above, and they still produce similar bullshit, and seem quite incapable of producing anything much better.

Here is the end of the article:

George Orwell understood that bad writing was generally the sign of bad thinking. But even he didn’t appreciate quite how out of touch with reality pampered intellectuals could get. The bad writing we have adduced here betokens not just cognitive confusion but a deep moral failing: a failure to face up to the basic realities of our common life. So-called “higher” education in America circa 2016 is anything but “higher.” The question is, how long will a credulous public go on supporting an enterprise that is not only irrelevant to the better aspirations of our culture but is positively antithetical to them.

Yes, indeed. As to the "[s]o-called “higher” education in America", see the end of the next and last item:

5. We let the idiots take the wheel: Donald Trump, Fox News and how we let our democracy rot

The fifth and last item today i
by David Masciotra on Salon:
This is here in part because it - sort of - balances item 3, which made some decent points, but which also seems to take a quite optimistic view of both
the native gifts and the degree of education of average ordinary Americans.

I collected three quotes. First, about "Islamic terrorism":

Meanwhile, the cowardly obsession surrounding “Islamic terrorism” continues to play out like a scene of absurdist theater. Tragedies and atrocities, like recent bombings in Brussels and Pakistan, demand sympathy for mourners and vigilance toward the perpetrators, but standard methods of statistical evaluation demonstrate that an American has a one in 4 million chance of dying in a terrorist attack. The average American is more likely to drown in the bathtub.
But many, perhaps most, Americans are worried about terrorists and terrorism, and indeed "the news" (incidentally also in Holland) is every day full of "terrorists and terrorism" - for which there is no objective reason (other than
announcers on radio and TV who use the term "terrorist" in every second sentence).

Second, there is this on the educational gifts of average Americans:
Forty-two percent of the public does not believe in evolutionary biology, while 24 percent believe that the sun orbits the earth.

Nearly a quarter of Americans read below the fifth-grade level, which helps to explain why only 29 percent read a newspaper, and why 24 percent of Americans do not read even one book a year.

To divorce the abysmal state of education from the downward turn of American politics straight into the sewer is to deny the connection between drinking battery acid and vomiting.

Third, there is this on the educational gifts and the native intelligence of the most intelligent Americans:

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, nearly 60 percent of first-year college students have to take remedial courses in mathematics or English. Clearly, if a high school graduate is earning acceptance into a college, he is not the worst of the worst, yet it is likely he does not read, write, or perform arithmetic at the level of a high school graduate.

This was just the same in Holland in 2008, and is probably still the case, except that neither "the press" nor the media pays any attention to it (for - who knows? - this might disquiet the public).

So here, to conclude this item (and indeed also the previous item), is my

Brief Review of Pre-University Education In Holland From 1865 - 2015:

1865-1965: A hundred years of decent education: Pupils preparing for university did examinations in around 15 subjects, mostly both written and oral, and in three to five (3 to 5) foreign languages, history, geography, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and more. In terms of IQs they had IQs of 125 or higher. One serious setback was that almost only children of well-to-do parents could study, for there were no student grants. (There were only a few special grants
for extremely gifted students.)

1965-2015: All the schools I went to disappeared, as types; from 1965 onwards the schools preparing for university were radically simplified, and by the 1970ies people did examination in 6 subjects, with one (1) foreign language (usually English); already in the seventies students needed only to be able to read English; there were grants - until ca. 1990 - for everyone who wanted to study, and many did, for a degree meant more money. By 1984 the average IQ of the Amsterdam students was 115; by 2008 all studies had been halved in time; studying had become expensive; grants had almost totally disappeared; and most students entering studies with mathematics or engineering needed remedial teachings in maths (in the first of three years studying), and also most students were no longer capable of writing good and grammatical Dutch. Then again, I suppose that by 2008 most students in most studies with IQs of 105 could become B.A. (with a little application).

But in Holland since 1965 extremely few people cared, and many rejoiced, for at long last almost everyone with any IQ over 100 - with the money, and the remedial teachings - was capable of becoming a B.A. .... [2]

In brief, I am not optimistic, but the great majority of the intellectually ungifted Dutchmen got what they wanted: An education in which at least half of everyone could make "a university degree" (with sufficient money and remedial teachings).

I take it the Americans have by and large a similar system to give the brightest the best education - except that they still have some universities which do make high demands, and except that this murdering of the education of the best by the best (where it happens) is not done as it was done in Holland: In the name of the absolute equality of everyone.

Apart from these differences, ""higher" education" seems similar these days in the USA and in Holland, and can be summarized by a quote from the previous section:
So-called “higher” education (..) circa 2016 is anything but “higher.”
[1] Yes, definitely! And I know because I have read very many writings of academics. And incidentally: I said "most", and not "all": A few can write, but indeed not many.

[2] Incidentally, this is the ideal of Tony Blair: That half of the people of the correct age - everyone with an IQ of 100 or more - can finish a university. (Of course, in sports the standards are quite different, but that is really important: Sport. In top sport only extreme talent can make it; in today's highest education half of everybody can get a degree.)

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