April 16, 2016

Crisis: Press Freedom, Trump, Torture "Normalized", Chomsky & Propaganda
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Three New European Union Laws May Limit Freedom of
     the Press

2. Make Trump Great Again! Taking The Donald to Toddler

Has Torture Become Normalized in Our Culture? It's Still
     Unbelievably Inhumane

4. Noam Chomsky: This Is the Propaganda System That
     Corporate Media Uses to Dominate Society


This is a Nederlog of Saturday, April 16, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about how the European press will be tamed by the European politicians (!!); item 2 is about an article about Trump that I somewhat misjudged; item 3 is about torture and is a very good article (it is also painful and sickening, but that is no fault of the author, but due to the subject) ; and item 4 is about a decent interview with Chomsky, mainly about propaganda.

1. Three New European Union Laws May Limit Freedom of the Press

The first item is b
y Emma Niles on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
Europe’s journalists may be in serious trouble. A package of legislation was approved Thursday by the European Parliament, and it could severely limit freedom of the press in European Union nations. The General Data Protection Regulation, which was originally instated in 1995, has now been reformed by a number of provisions.
I say, for I did not know this, and this looks quite frightening, as can be seen from the next quotation (which is a quotation, apart from the first line):

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports:

"[A]fter years of political battle, the European Parliament adopted the Passenger Name Record directive, the Data Protection Package, and the Trade Secrets Protection Act. The stakes were immense and the debates long and heated, leading to dissent and divisions within many political groups and campaigns about the potential impact from journalists.

Reports this week show that journalists in the EU cannot afford to think about press freedom in purely national terms anymore. Members of the press in member states are already facing challenges, with Germany considering using the law against insulting a country’s leader to bring charges against a TV comedian for allegedly insulting the Turkish president, and a photojournalist in Spain being fined €601 ($676) under the country’s so-called gag law last week after posting a photograph of a policeman making an arrest. In France, photojournalist Maya Vidon-White has been charged under a law that bans the publishing of photos showing victims of terror attack, according to Associated Reporters Abroad.

If the laws adopted today by the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the 28-member European Union, are fully incorporated or strictly interpreted, journalists might face further restrictions."

For - to start with - both cases (that is: against the satirical German comedian and against the photojournalist) are definite and large extensions of state powers at the costs of comedians' or journalistic rights to inform the public properly (which includes the right to satirize politicians).

And besides (but this may be more personal) I really don't like "the European Union" or "European politicians": I think
"the European Union" is a fundament- ally mistaken project, and I also don't trust its politicians (and certainly not the Dutch ones), for they have too much power, too few responsibilities, and also they receive too much money and too many privileges.

Finally, there is this, that explains both of my concerns:

Just a few months ago, the European Parliament seemed close to adopting a Trade Secrets Directive that would have protected whistleblowers and journalists “who act in the public interest.” Since the Panama Papers leak, however, concerns arose over the rule. Some worried it potentially “allows companies too much leeway to hide information from the public and sue whistleblowers.” Thursday’s package of legislation was approved despite these concerns. Although the European Parliament claims the law will give citizens “more control over their own private information,” journalists fear that the package of reforms will limit freedom of press by “providing corporations with more tools to prosecute whistleblowers and investigative journalists.” It could also harm Internet companies who refuse government orders to remove content. “[T]he regulation is sweeping in its scope and powers and its approach to weighing free expression against privacy remains unbalanced,” a professor of journalism told CPJ.

For this rather precisely opposes - what I think are - the lies ("claims") of the European parliament with the probably quite correct fears of the journalists, and I repeat:

Although the European Parliament claims the law will give citizens “more control over their own private information,” journalists fear that the package of reforms will limit freedom of press by “providing corporations with more tools to prosecute whistleblowers and investigative journalists.”

The article also contains the information that these new laws first have to be "transposed into the national laws" (?!) of the 28 European states, and will come into force in 2018.

2. Make Trump Great Again! Taking The Donald to Toddler Town

The second item is
by Frida Berrigan on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch:

This is from the beginning - and I grant I miscalculated (so to speak) this item a bit (and I will try to explain):
Still, after all these months—can it truly be nearly a year and not an eon or two?—I guess I finally have to accept that he’s really running for president and I have to figure out how to explain Donald Trump to my kids.
I had selected this item on the basis of my considerations that Donald Trump seems quite childish to me, also not in a healthy way, and that Frida Berrigan seems to be a decent journalist (I "know" of her by way of a few articles I've read).

But I was mostly mistaken: Her children are nine, three and two, and I think you simply cannot properly explain Donald Trump to children of that age. [1]

That is, I believe you can explain an intelligent 9-year old some of the following:
It’s time to accept that, even though (or do I mean because?) he’s racist and sexist, blustering and entitled, full of lies and blames and hates, he’s a Republican presidential candidate of consequence. I know, I know—I’m the last person in the United States to do this, but bear with me.
But judging on the basis of my own memories of how I was at 9, and of several rather intelligent children of that age whom I met considerably or much later,
I don't think you can fully or adequately explain the thoughts and the feelings intelligent adults have when they contemplate Trump. [2]

But Frida Berrigan does seem to understand why Trump seems quite childish to me:

As a kid, Trump was sent off to military school, which he memorably claimed was harder than real military service. In assessing himself in the best possible light (something he’s never stopped doing quite publicly in these last months, giving the world a unique lesson in self-love), he told biographer Michael D’Antonio with pride (I think), “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same.”

In a way, don’t you think that sums up the problem on hand? America First! Make America Great Again! Me! Mine! Build the Wall! Keep Out the Muslims! Aren’t these the grown-up equivalent of first-grade slogans and sentiments? Maybe Trump never got to be a real toddler and so did not grow into a real man (no matter what he thinks of his “hands”).

Yet this doesn't evolve into a rational explanation of Donald Trump, and neither is this the sort of story that you can give to a nine year old in the hope of an adequate understanding.

Or so it seems to me.

3. Has Torture Become Normalized in Our Culture? It's Still Unbelievably Inhumane

The third item is
by Silja J.A. Talvi on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

What if we called torture by another name? Would torture begin to mean something again?

Torture sets out to break down the human spirit. Think about even a small fraction of the ways torturers have destroyed minds, bodies and souls throughout history. Narrow that down to what the United States has done in the last several decades. If you can bring yourself to do it, try to picture actual acts of torture. Not televised, fictionalized, made-for-entertainment torture, but the real thing.

Imagine being wrenched, stretched, crammed, frozen, beaten, hung, drowned, sexually violated, forced to defecate on yourself in the presence of others, mocked, thrown, pushed, chained to the floor, chained to the ceiling, having feeding tubes stuck down your throat or up your anus, being exposed to ear-shattering volumes 24/7, not being allowed to sleep for days or weeks on end to the point of hallucination and suicidal ideation, having electrodes attached to your genitals, being forced to wear a hood while you are being interrogated, sexually violated and photographed, being made to pose in sexual positions with other men, being photographed in diapers, not being allowed clothing or blankets in freezing temperatures, not being allowed to urinate or defecate, not being allowed to eat or drink water for days, not being allowed to see daylight or touch another person for months or years, being shown pictures of your family and being told that your wife and children will be raped, dismembered and killed.

All of that is American torture.
All of which is very sickening [3] and it is therefore good that somebody wrote it out. What may strike some as even more sickening than the fact that these
tortures were being done to many people, is that they were systematically kept silent and/or mostly not criticized for what they were and are: Illegal acts of extreme human cruelty.

For there is also this:

Worst of all, the U.S. and its multitudinous intelligence, law enforcement and corrections agencies have rarely been held accountable for this torture. For most Americans, torture is not associated with punishment and long prison sentences for violations of international human rights law. These days, in fact, U.S. torture has a Teflon-coated wall of complacent acceptance built up around it.

Then there is this, on what are in fact 15 years of CIA tortures in so-called "black sites" (which are so secret few know much about them! [3]):

In reaction to the 9/11 attacks, the CIA jumpstarted a global program of abduction, imprisonment and torture in secret detention sites known as black sites. In early December 2015, as most of the world was still consumed with news reportage related to the November terrorist bombings in Paris, Human Rights Watch released a phenomenal, 153-page report that received only a small fraction of the attention it should have received. “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture” brought to light the fact that absolutely not one person has been prosecuted in association with the myriad forms of torture committed in worldwide CIA-run black sites as well as the foreign prisons to which CIA abducted and forced people to endure torture at the hands of other perpetrators.

“We would be in a very different situation today if anyone had been prosecuted,” said Laura Pitter, senior national counsel for Human Rights Watch.

Yes, indeed. Besides, Laura Pitter is also quite right about the following two psychological gentlemen:

In addition, said HRW's Laura Pitter, two CIA contractors should also be investigated: psychologists James Mitchell and John Jessen, who were responsible for creating, enhancing and even personally implementing many of the torture techniques used at CIA black sites. The CIA psychologist contractors earned no less than $80 million for their efforts, which appear to have pulled together interrogation, torture, humiliation and isolation tactics and techniques from various military branches, intelligence agencies, as well as U.S. supermaximum prisons. Unfortunately, Pitter said, the Obama administration's Department of Justice has effectively refused to prosecute anyone involved directly or indirectly in the CIA black sites program.

In case you wonder why (and read German), you might consider [3].

The article ends as follows:

Torture has essentially become woven into the fabric of American culture. It is hard to foresee an immediate future for the United States in which torture can be taken seriously for the horror and outright violation of basic human dignity that it is. That bodes poorly for the survivors of torture who are trying to seek restitution and apology, and also for the modern-day incarnation of the American government, which seems to have lost sight of its moral center altogether.

Yes, indeed. And this article is very good and is strongly recommended. Also, there is considerably more in it than I treated.

4. Noam Chomsky: This Is the Propaganda System That Corporate Media Uses to Dominate Society

The fourth item i
s by Andrew Smolski on AlterNet:

This is from the beginning, and is (in my opinion) quite interesting:

Noam Chomsky: I should say that my co-author [Edward S. Herman - MM], who crafted the basic framework, is a specialist on corporate power and corporate control. In fact, his book Corporate Control, Corporate Power is one of the classics in the field. What he looked at is pretty simpleminded and straight forward.

Take a look at the structure of the media system. The major media institutions are great corporations, some of them parts of megacorporations. Like other businesses, they sell a product to a market. The product that they sell is audiences. The market is other corporations, because they survive pretty much on advertising in the modern period. It wasn’t always like this. There are other external influences, primarily state power, which itself is very heavily under corporate control, and which has its own propaganda institutions, called public diplomacy or something like that. And also, a constant flow of people in top government and corporate media positions, and very close interactions of other kinds.

That’s the basic structure. What do you expect to come out as the media product of a system of major corporations selling audiences to other corporations in close interaction with a major power system, state power, that there all very much interlocked with?

The reason this is quite interesting is that (I guess that) few persons will think of themselves as one-of-the-very-many-whose-private-facts-are-being-sold,
from corporation to corporation, and to the highest corporate bidder, and also without any attention in either sellers or buyers that what is sold was illegally gathered given the Fourth Amendment, at least from Americans.

But this is what is happening - and this also means that as one among billions of individuals whose private facts are being stolen and sold without any warning or explanation, one is totally powerless (if one hasn't made it into the very select circle of the very rich).

Then there is this on the education of journalists (in the USA):

If you go to a journalism school, the best journalism school, you’re taught to be objective, not biased, and objectivity has a meaning. Objectivity means report accurately what’s going on within the Beltway. So, within the basic framework of discussion set by power systems, and discuss that accurately. But, if you go beyond that, and you raise a question about the fundamental assumptions of the power systems, then you’re biased.

For example, global warming; some people say it’s serious, some people say it isn’t happening, so report those two positions. But, don’t go beyond that. Don’t ask if it has something to do with the institutional structure of society that might destroy us all. Don’t ask that.

First I note (in passing) that this seems to be limited to "the best journalism school[s]" (bolding and plural s added), which I shall not further discuss because I simply don't know enough about American schools for journalists.

Next, I can explain what Chomsky says by stating that he assumes that
(i) there is a set of basic assumptions of both facts and values that is assumed by both the corporations and the government;
(ii) that set also describes what may and may not be discussed in journalism (!); and
(iii) that set denies the rights of journalists to question the basic assumptions of facts and values that are assumed by the corporations and the government.

I think that is basically correct, although it would not be easy to give a precize listing of the basic assumptions and values in (i). Also, I guess that quite a few more or less conformistic people will simply deny the existence of such a set of assumptions of facts and values, e.g. on the grounds that it is (for the most part) not explicitly taught, or on the grounds that it is difficult to list properly.

It is hard to convince conformists of anything that doesn't rhyme with their conformist presumptions, so all I say here is that I personally met with the
basic assumptions of both facts and values that were - very tacitly but quite
definitely - assumed in the University of Amsterdam, namely when I was invited to speak in 1988 ("because you can do that so well", I was also told) to the faculty of philosophy and simply gave a listing of mostly plain facts and logical arguments that did not rhyme with
the basic assumptions of both facts and values that were assumed in the UvA: I was simply kicked out of the faculty of philosophy and was denied the right to take an M.A. in philosophy (in which I was a very good student), also in spite of the admitted fact that I was physically ill.

And I had not at all reckoned with this, also because what I did was only speaking the truth (as I saw it), though I grant I was also angry and scandalized. But at that time I simply could not speak the truth about the UvA in the UvA (where from 1978 till 1995 (!!) the existence of truth was systematically denied (!!)), and I was removed from the UvA when I tried - quite illegally, but even so.

Back to Noam Chomsky and the present:

Again, there are countries that accept refugees and countries that generate refugees and refuse to accept them, like us, like Western Europe. Western Europe claims to have a refugee crisis. So, there’s a couple countries that have had better records than the others. So, Sweden for example has one of the better records. It’s a country of eight million people with 40,000 refugees, half of one percent. Unlike Lebanon, a poor country, not a rich country, with probably over 25% of the population are refugees. Germany, a rich country with over 80 million people, taken in a million refugees, and they are crushed under the crisis.

Yes, indeed: It is simply a system of lies that the Westeuropean countries engage in to escape their duties of accepting refugees of war, and Chomsky correctly explains why these are lies: Because even the Swedes and the Germans, who accepted most of the refugees, did not accept more than half of 1 procent, to a bit more than 1 procent, of their total populations, whereas
Lebanon, which is a great lot poorer than either Sweden or Germany, has over 25% of refugees.

[1] Yes, I know children watch a lot more TV than I did as a child (my family had no TV until 1963, when I was 13) and that they may learn quite a few things from their laptops that I - for one, like everybody else of my age - did not think of when I was 9, and I also have known one or two extremely intelligent nine year olds, with whom one could rationally discuss things. But I don't think you can - more or less fully - explain to most nine year olds what you feel and think about Donald Trump as an adult.

There's a little more in the next note:

[2] The reason that I don't think you can - more or less fully - explain the feelings adults have when they watch Trump to most 9 year olds, is not that they are less intelligent (they are as intelligent as adults) but that they do not have the associations that adults have, which are based on rather extensive knowledge of other adults, that only arise with growing up into adulthood.

[3] But this is not to say more sickening things do not happen. For one example, here is a quotation from Michael S. Voslensky's "Nomenklatura" about the proceedings of diverse bands of the Cheka in the 1920ies in Russia - and this is quoted in German:
Professor P. Miljukow liefert uns folgende leidenschaftslose Aufzählung: "Jede Abteilung der Tscheka in der Provinz hatte ihre eigenen, von ihr bevorzugten Foltermethoden. In Charkov
wurden die Leute skalpiert und von den Handknochen "Handschuhe" abgezogen. In Voronez setzte man die Gefolterten nackt in Fässer, die innen mit Nägeln ausgeschlagen waren und
brachte die Fässer ins Rollen; man brannte den Opfern einen
fünfzackigen Stern in die Stirn, und den Priestern setzte man ein Kranz aus Stacheldraht auf. In Caricyn und Kamysin versägte man die Knochen mit einer Säge. In Poltava und Kremencug setze man die Opfer auf einen Pfahl. In Ekaterinoslav kreuzigte
und steinigte man sie. In Odessa briet man die Offiziere im Ofen oder zerrisz sie in Stücke. In Kiew legte man sie in einen Sarg
mit einem bereits zersetzende Leichnam, begrub sie lebendig und grub sie nach ein halber Stunde wieder aus."
-- Nomenklatura, p. 427

(In case you do not read German, you might feel happy. I may translate this later, but today lack the time.) In any case, while I do not claim the above things happened in the CIA's "black sites", nobody seems to really know (outside the CIA) what did happen there.

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