April 18, 2016

Crisis: Saudi Arabia, Sanders, "Our Stone-Age Brains", Clinton, "The News"
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Will the U.S. Confront Saudi Leaders About Their
     Country’s Role in 9/11?

2. The Best Reporting on Bernie Sanders Over the Years
Bill Moyers: How Our Stone-Age Brains Get in the Way
     of Having a Smart Democracy

4. Is Hillary Clinton Above the Law?
This Article Is Not About Donald Trump

This is a Nederlog of Monday, April 18, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about Saudi Arabia: I made little out of it, and think that is - mainly - not my fault; item 2 purports to list "The Best Reporting" about Bernie Sanders: I don't think it did very well; item 3 is about "Our Stone-Age Brains": I am sorry, but this philosopher and psychologist is not a historian and think this is bulllshit; item 4 is about Hillary Clinton's mailserver problems: I suppose the most probable conclusion is that she is, in this respect at least, above the law; and item 5 is and isn't about Donald Trump, and indeed is mostly about the - lack of - qualities of the current TV news in the USA: I believe it is mostly correct about the news (and give my own precisifications), but I have to admit I am one of the very few who doesn't have a TV since 1970. (It didn't harm me...)

So all in all - to make a summary judgement on the whole Nederlog - this Nederlog is a bit disappointing. That is not my fault (I comment on what is on offer, and almost always try to select the best), but then again yesterday was - in my opinion - quite good (and therefore I commented considerably more).

1. Will the U.S. Confront Saudi Leaders About Their Country’s Role in 9/11?

The first item is b
y Common Dreams Staff on Truthdig (and originally on Common Dreams):
This starts as follows:

The Saudi Arabian government has threatened to sell of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets should Congress pass a bi-partisan bill led by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer that could hold the kingdom responsible for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The New York Times reported Friday.

Of the 22 co-sponsors of the measure, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, 12 are Republicans and 10 are Democrats. The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon.

I say. I had no idea, but then I also am not following Saudi Arabia. And though I have been following the USA, quite well also, or so I think (see the crisis index for one reason), while I meanwhile also know quite a few things about 9/11, I must admit that I don't really get the import of "a bi-partisan bill" "that could hold the kingdom responsible for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks".

But I have not read the bill either. Here is some more on it:

The administration, which argues the legislation will put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of September 11 victims are infuriated.

In their view, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the kingdom and has thwarted their efforts to learn what they believe to be the truth about the role some Saudi officials have played in the terror plot.

I don't trust the Obama administration (either), but - I take it, and I know by now quite a bit about 9/11 - I missed (?) the evidence that "some lawmakers and families of September 11 victims" may have had in mind. So this is not very conclusive or clear either.

Finally - to end this review - here is Bernie Sanders' reaction:

Asked about reports that Saudi Arabia would sell American assets if Congress approves a bill allowing victims of 9/11 attacks to sue the Saudi government, Sanders said the U.S. “can’t be blackmailed.”

Sanders said, “I have said throughout this campaign we are not taking a hard enough look at Saudi Arabia and it’s not only the people who came from Saudi Arabia and participated in 9/11. The evidence is pretty clear. Saudi Arabia is one of the most powerful and wealthiest families of the world. That’s why they can threaten to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars from our economy. The evidence is quite clear that sections of that very large royal family have funded a Wahhabism; this extremely right-wing fundamentalist ideology, which is what ISIS is about, which is what Al Qaeda’s about. There are schools all over this world that are—where children are being educated in this anti-—this horrific fundamentalist ideology.”

I must admit I did not find that very cogent either. First - as the lobbying of Obama's administration seems to show - the USA can be "blackmailed". Second, I agree with Sanders that Saudi-Arabia is quite backward, and I also don't like Wahhabism - but then that is itself no evidence for the thesis that some Saudi Arabians were involved in 9/11 - which, incidentally, may be the

So all in all I haven't learned much from this item, and I don't think that is
my fault either.

2. The Best Reporting on Bernie Sanders Over the Years

The second item is
by Sarah Smith on Truthdig and originally on ProPublica:

This starts as follows, and is here because of the title:

Bernie Sanders became the first socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and ran successfully as an Independent for the House of Representatives and then the Senate. Now, the Democratic challenger to Hillary Clinton has young voters “feeling the Bern.”

The political career of Bernie Sanders nearly ended before it began. In the early 1970s, he lost his first four races — two for the Senate and two for governor — running on the ticket of Vermont’s radical Liberty Union Party, while espousing positions such as ending the Vietnam War and abolishing the CIA. But when he ran as an Independent for mayor of Burlington in 1981, the socialist Sanders beat the five-term Democratic incumbent.

Hm, hm. This is not a large article, and I believe it is faintly praising and not so very subtly criticizing Sanders, while at the same time pretending to be about "the best reporting" about him, and to do so from a somewhat leftish middle of
the road point of view.

I grant I may be mistaken, so here is another selection:

Sanders was elected to the House of Representatives by a 17-point margin in 1990, after Vermont Democrats either endorsed him or stepped aside to clear his path. In Washington, Sanders caucused with the Democrats, but didn’t win many friends among them when he called Congress “impotent” and said he wouldn’t mind if 80 percent of its members lost their bids for re-election. He voted against the pro-gun-control Brady bill (which has led to attacks on his record in the 2016 race) and opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Sanders led a 2000 effort to allow more imports of low-cost prescription drugs (it was killed by President Bill Clinton) and failed again in 2001.

It tastes the same - some faint good will, some faint ill will, middle of the road.

Ah well... she may have tried honorably, but I do not think this was "the best
reporting" about Bernie Sanders.

3. Bill Moyers: How Our Stone-Age Brains Get in the Way of Having a Smart Democracy

The third item is
by Bill Moyers (<-Wikipedia) on

This starts as follows:

The historian Rick Shenkman is editor and publisher of the indispensable website History News Network. I’m a fan and recently had the pleasure of reading his latest book, Political Animals: How Our Stone-age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics.

Shenkman himself possesses quite a highly evolved brain, but he nonetheless admits he has his own share of stone-age brain cells. However, there is no club in his hand at the moment, just this book, which frankly, packs all the wallop he needs. If you want to know why this is the year of Trump, you’ve got to read it. If you want to know why millions of Republicans still believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, you’ve got to read it. Even if you want to hold on and remain an optimist, you’ve got to read it.
I say?!?! I like Bill Moyers, but this is just bullshit - and I am sorry but at 65 as a degreed psychologist and philosopher I am also quite qualified to make these judgements.

And my judgement is that this is just
bullshit: A historian who hasn't a lemma on Wikipedia has dived back into Sixties stuff about "our stone-age brain" and regurgitates that as if a tired and silly metaphor of that kind could shed any rational light on the problems of democracy.

Here is some more - and no, it doesn't get better:
Bill Moyers: Greetings. This is Bill Moyers. And I’m here to see if we can step out of our stone-age brain for a few minutes while we talk about politics. What’s that? You’re insulted? You don’t have a stone-age brain? That’s what you think. As you’re about to hear, part of us is perpetually Pleistocene. Our roots wind back two and a half million years to hairy-faced ancestors with thick hands and short stubby fingers wrapped around big clubs that will carry them from the cave as they head out for another day of hunting and gathering. It’s true, there’s a little bit of the primitive in all of us; and more than a little bit in many of us.
O Lord! If I am insulted it is because this metaphorical rot gets offered as if it were a rational explanation.

Finally, here is the historian, with some "up to date" "biological" "information" on how "your stone age brain" may keep you from being a sound democrat:
Shenkman: That is his stone-age brain speaking. So the stone-age brain is the brain that developed during the Pleistocene. The Pleistocene is the long ice age, it lasted two and a half million years, and that’s when the human brain was mainly evolving. We’re still evolving as human beings. We haven’t stopped evolving, we’re continuing to evolve. But it was during that period that we mainly evolved. And we evolved to address the problems of hunter-gatherers who lived during that period.
I am sorry. I like Bill Moyers. But this is just utter bullshit. (And yes, I have read the whole article, but the given quotations match its level.)

Besides, there is something else that is quite relevant, but that does not seem at all discussed by Shenkman (whose book I admit not having read, and that I also will not read):

One of the things I am definitely sure about is that there are many Americans (not: all, thank you) who are remarkably stupid and ignorant and who also are  credulous to a nearly incredible extent (for example: 60% of all Americans seem to believe in the literal truth of Noah's Arch story...), and while that is a highly relevant fact for the elections and their outcome, none of this is in any plausible sense due to our supposed "
stone-age brain (..) that developed during the Pleistocene".

What this widespread stupidity and ignorance are due to are (to a considerably lesser extent) native inabilities in some (who may have an IQ of 80 or so) and
(to a much larger extent) the extra-ordinary badness that has American education in its grip at least since the early '90ies.

That deserves discussion, and that explains a lot about the arisal of Trump. But please forget about our "stone-age brain": That is just
bullshit, if only - and I am a philosopher and a psychologist - because there is absolutely no one alive who does know how the brain manufactures the experiences, ideas and values we all have. And that includes Rick Shenkman.

For more, see the end of item 5.

4. Is Hillary Clinton Above the Law?

The fourth item i
s by Ray McGovern on Consortiumnews:

This starts as follows:

“Enough of the emails,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders in Brooklyn-ese, while turning to Secretary Hillary Clinton during their first debate on Oct. 13, 2015. Sanders won loud applause for what seemed a gentlemanly gesture in withholding criticism for her use of a private email server for classified information.

But when Sanders said “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” I had a flashback to a House hearing three decades ago on large liberties taken with the law during the Iran-Contra affair under President Ronald Reagan. Beginning his testimony, then-Secretary of State George Shultz made the mistake of saying, in effect, who cares about laws being violated: “The American people are tired of hearing about Iran-Contra.”

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, was quick to respond: “Mr. Secretary, I did not take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States until I got tired.”

OK, point to Obey (though I must admit I rather liked Shultz, which may have been because there wasn't internet then: I thought he usually tried to be honest, unlike most others in Reagan's government).

The following is a lot more relevant, and I added a Wikipedia link to William Binney:

For technical commentary on this issue, I turned to a specialist VIPS colleague named William Binney [<-Wikipedia - by MM], who worked for NSA for 36 years. Binney co-founded NSA’s SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) Automation Research Center, and retired from NSA as Technical Director. He said he shares my very strong feelings on the issue. He told me the following:

“The email issue with Secretary Clinton is one of the most severe compromises of security I have ever known. After all, if the Chinese, Russians and other hackers can penetrate the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) servers and take the records of over 21 million U.S. citizens that over the years have applied for security clearances, then penetrating Hillary Clinton’s private server would be a piece of cake. Such penetration would yield insight into decision making at the highest level of the U.S. government, including what might be revealed in emails with the President.

“This is worse that the compromise of predominantly lower-level data by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and gives insight into planning at the highest levels in Washington – something that even all the torrent of data exposed by Edward Snowden could not provide. Reports that Clinton instructed subordinates to delete the security classification line on sensitive reports and email them to her, suggests a total disregard for the need to protect classified information and arrogance in deeming herself above lawful regulations governing the handling such data.

“We might as well have had an in-place mole at the highest level of our government."
I accept most of that, but not the last conclusion, for - unless I am mistaken - there is no evidence that Clinton's mailserver was cracked. The last conclusion
needs such evidence, or so I think.

Here is one of Ray McGovern's conclusions:

For leaking mostly low-level classified information to the public so the people could know about illegal or questionable acts by the government – none of the data top secret, the level that some Clinton emails have now been stamped – Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

But it seems that the applicable legal standard — or double standard — is that the more sensitive the security breach and the higher the status of the offender the lighter the punishment. For instance, Gen. David Petraeus divulged top-secret/code-word information to his biographer/mistress and lied to the FBI about it, but received only a misdemeanor citation (a fine and probation but no jail time) for mishandling classified material.

I agree with that. I think Manning's trial was grossly unfair, as was Petraeus' "punishment". And for that reason, I guess that the most likely answer to
the question the title poses is "Yes, Hillary Clinton is above the law", in this
respect, perhaps indeed rather like David Petraeus.

5. This Article Is Not About Donald Trump

The fifth and last item is by Tom Engelhardt on TomDispatch:

This has a subtitle that you might have expected:
(And If You Believe That, You’ll Believe Anything)

This does not start as follows - for what follows comes after a sum-up, which it summarizes:

Now, let me try to sum up that week in American “news” glimpsed in passing at the gym and then watched as it repeated itself at dinner time and other moments.  Here goes: Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Ted Cruz.  Donald Trump. Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Hillary Clinton.  Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  Donald Trump.  (Bernie Sanders.)  The previous week, it would, of course, have been Brussels, Brussels, Brussels, Donald Trump, Brussels, Brussels, Brussels, Donald Trump, etc., etc.

There.  Satisfied?  Now, turn off that TV, put down that screen in your hand, I’ve got something to tell you about the news.

I don't doubt that "the news" on the main TV-media looks (rather a lot) as it was described above.

But then I should also say that it did not look much better in the 1960ies (!!),
which is part of the reasons that I do not have a TV since 1970. Really! (And I also don't have and don't want a cell-phone.)

The main reasons why I banned TV from my house(s) are that I hardly ever learned anything from it, whereas I had to view far too much propaganda and far too many advertisements. And I like learning things, while I hate and despise propaganda and advertisements.

Also, I do not think I missed much of "the news", and indeed I did read a daily paper every day (except Sunday) from 1970 till the end of 2010, which I then gave up because it had been made into something that was too superficial, too "amusing" and too dishonest for me to read daily. And at present and since 2011 I have been getting by (while still believing I don't miss much, though this does happen occasionally) mostly by reading English and American media, with a smattering of Dutch.

But I admit I must be one of the very few who has hardly seen any television for 46 years, and that I am entirely untypical.

So here is some more on what typical people (99/100) do watch, mostly every day:

Here’s what often dominates the news zone these days:

* The Donald, The Hillary, and the others crisscrossing the country, shouting at and insulting each other, and giving more or less the same speeches (or, in the case of Trump, narcissistic rambles).

* Blood-curdling accounts of the latest terror attacks in Europe or the U.S.

* Photogenically weepy or stoic Americans bemoaning the loss of houses, schools, and lives in what the news now regularly refers to as “extreme weather” (without a hint -- 99% of the time -- of why that weather might be increasingly extreme).

* And let’s not forget those remarkably ever-present American “lone wolf” killers who take out their fellow citizens with numbing regularity in workplaces, movie theaters, military bases, schools, etc.

All of this and more, of course, becomes the essential adrenalizing fodder of the 24/7 attention machine.
I say - and I am (once again) very glad for not owning a TV since 1970. And while the above was a summary of the current news (that most Americans do watch), here is (after considerably more that I leave to your interests) an analysis of the news:

The news -- no matter your screen of choice -- increasingly does several things:

* It creates its own heightened, insular world to replace the world we actually live in.

* At its most effective, it’s like a recurrent floodtide washing over you.

* It has an obsessional quality, with single stories engulfing everything else, inducing a deeply skewed view of the world, no matter what event or events are being followed.

Who can doubt that the Internet, social media, email, and the rest of the package are the signature addictive activities of our age?
I suppose I must agree with the first three points (but I never saw any full American news) which leads me to the conclusion that this cannot be the news, even though it is "the news". I explain my distinction:

The news (if it were real) consists mainly of factually correct reports on the things that most people (including both highly educated and not highly educated people) think are important. Real news is not sensational, it is not propaganda, and it tries to be honest and impartial.
Also, real news is not ideologically motivated, and it does not give interpretations, but only the facts.

Given the above summary and description of "the news", I must conclude that there is no real news in the United States, at least not on TV, and indeed that
seems to be the case, albeit with a few exceptions, like The Real News Network (<-Wikipedia), and - at an earlier time - Breaking The Set (<- Wikipedia) (and I did watch some of both last named institutions or programs, and liked most of what I saw).

In contrast, what the Americans do have, quite plentifully also, is the "news":

The "news", in contrast to the news, consists mainly of factually incorrect or at best partially correct reports on things ordinary people think important; the "news" tends to be quite sensational, and much of it is
propaganda, that also does not try to be honest or impartial, and indeed it isn't. It seems to be on TV in the USA every day, in many somewhat different
forms, that yet all manage to conform more to the "news" than to the news.

I take it the above is mostly factually adequate. If so, it does explain some about the stupidity and ignorance that seem widespread under ordinary Americans, indeed of every kind. (And see item 3.)

It also doesn't promise well for "the democracy" this is taking place in, simply because a real democracy requires a real free and really varied press and media.

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