May 23, 2016

Crisis: Revolution, Chomsky, Reich on Trump, Pentagon * 2
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Reform or Revolution
2. Noam Chomsky Reveals The Hypocrisies of Capitalism in
     the Financial Capital of the World

3. Why Trump Might Win
4. High-Ranking Official Reveals How Pentagon Punishes

5. Blowing the Whistle: Former US Official Reveals Risks
     Faced by Internal Critics

This is a Nederlog of Monday, May 23, 2016.

This is a crisis log with 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an interesting article by Chris Hedges (which allows me several precisifications of my own views); item 2 is about Noam Chomsky on capitalism; item 3 is about a Robert Reich article that seems to me to misdiagnose Trump (though I agree he might win the elections); item 4 is about a good article on Common Dreams on a recent whistleblower about the Pentagon; and item 5 is about a bad article on Spiegel International, that's nominally about the same case as item 4, but in fact almost completely about the personality of the whistleblower: The important social facts he revealed are virtually "forgotten". (And that is one of - many - reasons why I don't believe anymore in "a free press" if it belongs to the main media.)

1. Reform or Revolution

The first item is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This is from the beginning (after a sketch of how Rosa Luxemburg (<- Wikipedia) was murdered, nearly a hundred years ago):

The political, cultural and judicial system in a capitalist state is centered around the protection of property rights. And, as Adam Smith pointed out, when civil government “is instituted for the security of property, [it] is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” The capitalist system is gamed from the start. And this makes Luxemburg extremely relevant as corporate capital, now freed from all constraints, reconfigures our global economy, including the United States’, into a ruthless form of neofeudalism.

Wage slavery and employment are not determined by law but by the imperatives of the market. The market forces workers to fall to their knees before the dictates of global profit. This imperative can never be corrected by legal or legislative reform.

Democracy, in this late stage of capitalism, has been replaced with a system of legalized bribery. All branches of government, including the courts, along with the systems of entertainment and news, are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. Electoral politics are elaborate puppet shows. Wall Street and the militarists, whether Trump or Clinton, win.

Yes, that is mostly correct I think, although I also have three comments.

The first is about property rights and capitalism: There is a notion that property rights antedate capitalism, and a related notion that (i) naturally (!) everybody owns his or her own body, and (ii) capitalism is based on and further extends these natural rights of property, that begin with self-ownership of one's body.

The second comment is that I think all of that is ideological baloney. Of course, there was something like personal property before capitalism, and before feudalism, and also before the invention of money, but it functioned all rather differently from how it does today, and since hundreds of years, which is in a system with legal norms, legal fines, legal punishments, and extensive texts of law that very few really know, but that colors everything it touches on.

And third, property rights just are not "natural rights". "Self-ownership" is a legal construction and is not something everybody is born with because he or she has human genes. It is true that your body is "your own", but primitively not in any legal sense of "property", for these are again legal constructions, but because you - your brain - is what has the command over your body.

Then there is this:

Capitalism searches the globe to exploit cheap, unorganized labor and pillages natural resources. It buys off or overthrows local elites. It blocks the ability of the developing world to become self-sufficient.

Meanwhile, workers in the industrialized world, stripped of well-paying jobs, benefits and legal protections, are pushed into debt peonage, forced to borrow to survive, which further enriches global speculators.

Yes, but with one qualification, namely my distinction of capitalism-with-a- human-face and capitalism-with-an-inhuman-face: I think the distinction exists; it is real; and I lived under both systems - namely from 1965-1985 (or from 1950-1985) in the first system, since then more and more in the second system, that was created on purpose by the very rich and those in their pay.

Also, the transformation from the first into the second system was very intentional and consisted of the conscious shedding of all laws that protected the many
from the attacks of the rich few. These laws were
mostly introduced from the thirties till the fifties.

Then there is this:

In an understanding that eludes many Bernie Sanders supporters, Luxemburg also grasped that socialism and imperialism were incompatible. She would have excoriated Sanders’ ostrichlike refusal to confront American imperialism. Imperialism, she understood, not only empowers a war machine and enriches arms merchants and global capitalists. It is accompanied by a poisonous ideology—what social critic Dwight Macdonald called the “psychosis of permanent war”—that makes socialism impossible.

Hm, hm. I like Bernie Sanders, and I am rather sure that he knows Luxemburg's theses as well as I do, and probably since about the same time as I did: In the late Fifties and early Sixties. Also, I guess that Bernie Sanders would reply more or less as I do: Both "socialism" and "imperialism" are intellectual idealizations of far more complicated social systems of social ideals, and in real life one usually stands somewhere between both idealizations, indeed also normally without conclusive information about where one stands.

Then there is this:

Capitalism is an enemy of democracy. It denies workers the right to control means of production or determine how the profits from their labor will be spent. American workers—both left and right—do not support trade agreements. They do not support the federal bailouts of big banks and financial firms. They do not embrace astronomical salaries for CEOs or wage stagnation. But workers do not count. And the more working men and women struggle to be heard, the harsher and more violent the forms of control employed by the corporate state will become.

Again I draw your attention to my distinction of capitalism-with-a-human-face and capitalism-with-an-inhuman-face. One of the main principles that made the former is that - somehow - not a single tendency or group in society did have the powers to further its own interests against the rest, while the main principle that made the latter is that - somehow, again - the very rich succeeded in corrupting most politicians, who in turn deregulated most of the laws that kept the rich from the full exercise of their powers.

Then there is this:

Luxemburg distrusted disciplined, revolutionary elites—Lenin’s vanguard. She denounced terror as a revolutionary tool. She warned that revolutionary movements that were not democratic swiftly became despotic. She understood the peculiar dynamics of revolution. She wrote that in a time of revolutionary ferment, “It is extremely difficult for any directing organ of the proletarian movement to foresee and calculate which occasions and factors can lead to explosions and which cannot.” Those who were rigidly tied to an ideology or those who believed they could shape events through force, were crippled by a “rigid, mechanical, bureaucratic conception.”

Yes, I quite agree, and social revolutions, if real, are not made by design of some small group. Also, Luxemburg and Lenin were opposed on this - quite fundamental - point ever since Lenin published "What is to be done?" (<- Wikipedia) in 1902.

Finally, here is the last quotation I'll discuss:

“Without general elections, without freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, without the free battle of opinions, life in every public institution withers away, becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy rises as the only deciding factor,” Luxemburg said.

The consequences of not carrying out a revolution against corporatism are catastrophic. This makes Luxemburg vital.

I'd say there still are general elections, while there mostly ceased to be a free press: The result is manipulated general elections; there still is freedom of speech, but by now most has been taken by trolls, lawyers and professional deceivers who appeal to the vast masses of the stupid and ignorant, who now can make "their own voices" heard, for the first time in history; while the "free battle of opinions" has long ceased to be, and has been replaced by the forces of paid propaganda, advertisements, and bullshit.

Finally, I like Rosa Luxemburg, especially when compared to Lenin, but she died nearly a 100 years ago, and it does not seem to me to be true that revolutions can be made at will: one has to wait for a revcolutionary situation, and these are rare. For the least you need are both a large number of people willing to risk their lives and a situation in which the forces of the government - police, military, secret  services - are weaker than normal.

This is a recommended article.

2. Noam Chomsky Reveals The Hypocrisies of Capitalism in the Financial Capital of the World

The second item is b
y Alexandra Rosenmann on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

NOAM CHOMSKY: One of the paradoxes of neoliberalism is that it’s not new and it’s not liberal. (applause)

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Exactly. Exactly.

NOAM CHOMSKY: If you look at what you describe is a form of hypocrisy but the same is true of saying that we should not support tax-funded institutions. The financial sector is basically tax-funded.


NOAM CHOMSKY: You recall the IMF study of the leading American banks, which determined that virtually all their profits come from their implicit government insurance policy, cheap credit, access to higher credit ratings, incentives to take risky transactions which are profitable but then if it’s problematic, you guys pay for it, or just take the basis of the contemporary economy, which actually I’ve been privileged to see developing in government-subsidized laboratories for decades. MIT, where I’ve been since the 1950s, is one of the institutions where the government, the funnel in the early days was the Pentagon, was pouring in money to create the basis for the high-tech economy of the future and the profitmaking of the institutions that are regarded as private enterprises. It was decades of work under public funding with a very anticapitalist ideology. So according to capitalist principles, if someone invests in a risky enterprise over a long period and thirty years later it makes some profit, they’re supposed to get part of the profit, but it doesn’t work like that here. It was the taxpayer who invested for decades. The profit goes to Apple and Microsoft, not to the taxpayer.

Both points - the financial sector is basically tax-funded, and Apple and Microsoft simply appropriated most of the findings that were made by others
in universities - seem quite true to me. (Apple's Steve Jobs - to give one example - got the whole idea of windows and a mouse from Smalltalk, all without paying any money.)

There is more under the last dotted link, and this is a recommended (though not a long) article.

3. Why Trump Might Win

The third item is
by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

Since he cinched the Republican nomination two weeks ago, Trump has been the object of even more unfavorable press than he was before – about his treatment of women, his propensity to lie, his bizarre policy proposals.

Before this came months of news coverage of his bigotry, megalomania, narcissism, xenophobia, refusals to condemn violence at his rallies, refusals to distance himself from white supremacists, and more lies.

So how can Trump be pulling even with Hillary Clinton?

I do have a quite good explanation, but that seems to be rejected by 4 out of 5 American voters: It is that 4 out of 5 American voters are mostly stupid and ignorant compared to the remaining 1 in 5, and indeed have been made that way in considerable part through bad education and religion.

Clearly, that is not politically correct, and indeed may very well be construed as "hate speech", which is the dominant sin in "leftist" circles for more than 25 years now.

Well... I don't think that a "left" that defines itself in terms of political correct- ness is the real left, and I think my explanation is factually correct. (And in case you doubt this: I don't like it at all that there are so many fools, but I
am not wilfully blind to the fact that these exist.)

Here is Robert Reich's explanation for Trump's arisal:

Trump’s rise suggests a new kind of politics. You might call it anti-politics.

The old politics pitted right against left, with presidential aspirants moving toward the center once they cinched the nomination.

Anti-politics pits Washington insiders, corporate executives, bankers, and media moguls against a growing number of people who think the game is rigged against them. There’s no center, only hostility and suspicion.

Americans who feel like they’re being screwed are attracted to an authoritarian bully – a strongman who will kick ass.
I think this explanation is mistaken: The "Washington insiders, corporate executives, bankers, and media moguls" all - and very clearly as well! - are forces of the right; while "people who think the game is rigged against them" are or may be forces of the left.

Besides, I have heard the story that "The Left and the Right are forces from the past now: We are neither left nor right nor ... etc." so many times now, nearly always mouthed by people who don't know shit about real politics and real economics, to say plainly that this is ideological bullshit. [1]

The Right amounts to most of the very rich and their well-paid tribes of lawyers and protectors and parasites and servants; the Left should cover everyone else who is not very rich nor a lawyer nor a protector of the rich, nor a greedy parasite or a servant. And this has been so ever since 1789 at the latest, though the rich and their sources of richness have varied a lot since then. Even so: There always - the last 2500 years - were a few rich and many non-rich. [2]

This fundamental opposition has always been there and presently in the West amounts to this: Either you make or hope to make a million or more a year, and you belong to the rich (ca. 3%); or else you don't make a million nor even $300,000 a year (97%) and you do not belong to the rich.

Here is the last bit by Reich that I will quote:

Donald Trump has perfected the art of anti-politics at a time when the public detests politics. Which is why so many experts in how politics used to be played have continuously underestimated his chances.

And why Trump’s demagoguery – channeling the prejudices and fears of Americans who have been losing ground – makes him the most dangerous nominee of a major political party in American history.

I do not agree with the first paragraph, because I don't believe there is "anti-politics". Donald Trump simply is a rich man taking up for the rich, and what makes him peculiar is not so much his own force of character, originality,
or honesty, but much rather that the free press mostly ceased to exist, while most of the main media have protected him, and his 75% of lies, simply because he made the press prosper financially. This also made the press not discuss his very many lies: the press - the main media, that is - now likes to be corrupted itself far more than doing its duties of truly informing the many.

Then again, I agree with the second paragraph - and Trump is very dangerous
because he is irresponsible, uninformed and a rich wastrel with psychological problems.
4. High-Ranking Official Reveals How Pentagon Punishes Whistleblowers

The fourt
h item is by Nika Knight on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows - and yes, I know this article and the next are nominally about the same subject, although (as you shall see) they are very different.

First then, the story of Common Dreams:
Pentagon officials tasked with protecting whistleblowers have lied under oath, illegally destroyed documents, and gone out of their way to ruin people's careers and lives for attempting to raise concerns about government abuses of power, according to a high-ranking Department of Defense (DoD) official, John Crane, who went public with his story on Sunday.
Yes, that is how I read the story (from several sources). Here is more:

Crane's explosive revelations are being released in coordination by the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and Newsweek Japan.

"We need iron-clad, enforceable protections for whistleblowers, and we need a public record of success stories," whistleblower Edward Snowden responded to Crane's revelations in the Guardian. "Protect the people who go to members of Congress with oversight roles, and if their efforts lead to a positive change in policy—recognize them for their efforts. There are no incentives for people to stand up against an agency on the wrong side of the law today, and that's got to change."

Yes, indeed - and Snowden's response was quite sensible as well. Finally, here is a quote by Mark Hertsgaard (also an author of the next item), that is quite good:

"We are now becoming a police state," Diane Roark said in a 2014 television interview. Referring to herself and the other NSA whistleblowers, she added, "We are the canaries in the coal mine. We never did anything wrong. All we did was oppose this program. And for that, they just ran over us."

"They're saying, 'We’re doing this to protect you,'" Roark’s fellow whistleblower William Binney told me. "I will tell you that that’s exactly what the Nazis said in Special Order 48 in 1933 – we’re doing this to protect you. And that’s how they got rid of all of their political opponents."

These are strong statements – comparing the actions of the US government to Nazi Germany, warning of an emerging "police state" – so it’s worth remembering who made them. The NSA whistleblowers were not leftwing peace nuts. They had spent their professional lives inside the US intelligence apparatus – devoted, they thought, to the protection of the homeland and defense of the constitution.

They were political conservatives, highly educated, respectful of evidence, careful with words. And they were saying, on the basis of personal experience, that the US government was being run by people who were willing to break the law and bend the state’s awesome powers to their own ends. They were saying that laws and technologies had secretly been put in place that threatened to overturn the democratic governance Americans took for granted and shrink their liberties to a vanishing point. And they were saying that something needed to be done about all this before it was too late.

Again, quite so - and indeed people like William Binney, Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden are (more) credible to me precisely because they did not start as leftwingers at all.

And in any case, this was a good article that is recommended. Now I turn to the last item, which is an article on S
piegel International that has Mark Hertsgaard as one of its writers, but that turns out to be completely different:

5. Blowing the Whistle: Former US Official Reveals Risks Faced by Internal Critics

The fifth and last item today is by Mark Hertsgaard, Felix Kasten, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark on Spiegel International:
This starts as follows:

John Crane doesn't live far from CIA headquarters on the south bank of the Potomac River, with its verdant forest and rolling hills. The Pentagon is just a few miles upstream. Crane, as a child of the US military-intelligence complex, feels at home here. He served as a part of the system for more than 25 years and he still believes in it -- even if it has since declared him as its enemy.

Crane is sitting in his kitchen. In front of him lies a leather briefcase embossed with the US seal.
This is the crass bullshit I am much opposed to since first meeting it in the New York Review of Books fifty years ago:

The "journalists" are no longer describing the publicly important facts of the case, but are instead portraying one person who got some popularity as if his person and career and personal opinions, and personal income, and personal house, and personal living room all belong to the essence of the case, indeed to such an extent that they crowd out almost all mentioning of the important social facts for the public.

Here is more on some personal views of some persons:

The row stems from the fact that Crane disputes the version of events still put forward today by President Barack Obama and Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when discussing Edward Snowden, the most prominent whistleblower of our times. Snowden didn't have to go underground and he didn't have to take his story public -- that's the message the US government constantly repeats. The system works, the error was made by Snowden: That has been Obama's subtext.
For somebody who knows something about the subject, as both I and Mark Hertsgaard do, it is clear that Obama is plainly lying. But no: Such politically
statements seem to be no longer desired by Spiegel International - much rather than saying he is an evident liar, Obama now has a "subtext".

Of course, Spiegel International doesn't want to quote anyone who says the present USA is a police state (as claimed in the previous item): That might disquiet the readers (I suppose). Instead, they give a lot more personal details about the personal situation of one of the persons involved:
After completing his university studies, Crane worked for a Republican Congressman named Bill Dickinson, a leading member of the Armed Services Committee. Dickinson had been one of the proponents of the idea of establishing an Office of the Inspector General. Once the position was created, Crane became one of the first employees in the office of the newly named inspector. During his career, he worked under around a dozen different inspector generals and helped build the so-called "hotlines" for whistleblowers. For Crane, whistleblowers are a pillar of the democratic system and he is convinced that they help improve the work of government.
These are all facts that Spiegel International finds far more interesting to report than the socially important facts reported in the previous item.

Here is the last bit of personal detail I will quote from this personal report (by no less than four no doubt very well-paid journalists of Spiegel Inter- national) on the person of Crane:

Why did Crane rebel after a quarter-century as a loyal civil servant? Why did he risk his career, his reputation as an irreproachable civil servant, his friendships and his pension?

He strolls through Lady Bird Johnson Park near the Pentagon. Crane has a lot of free time now that he no longer has to go to the office each morning. He holds his arms crossed behind his back as he walks.
So this is how the very same case that was reported quite well in Common Dreams, these days is reported by a part of the formerly free press: The socially important facts are almost all weeded out; nearly all interests focus on personal details of one of the persons involved in this socially important event; and the general impression that is delivered is that a person of this kind - some sort of whistleblower, after all - has some personal
problems and oddities, although that is also not clearly stated.

That is what I make of it - and yes: Both cases treated in item 4 and item 5 are about precisely the same facts.

I'd say that on the basis of my understanding, Common Dreams scored 9 out of 10, and Spiegel International 2 out of 10. The report of Common Dreams is about socially important facts; the report in Spiegel International is about the
quirks in one of the persons who got involved.

This kind of bullshit is also what moved me to give up NRC Handelsblad by the end of 2010, after reading it for forty years: I don't want to be brushed away as if I am an idiot who only craves information about personal quirks of persons involved in some enormous social scandal that is hardly reported.


[1] One of the things I recall was Tyler Ventura, who on Real Time advertised (in a wooden voice) all or most of the things he and his fellow presenters were not: Not left, not right, not old, not young, not ... etc. etc. etc. (for a looooong time), without ever saying what they were for, and especially not saying that one of his co-presenters was both the son of Oliver Stone (like Ventura is the son of Jesse Ventura) and a Shia muslim.

I don't really care much that he is both the son of Oliver Stone and a muslim, but I do care if this is left out in a minutes long sum-up that only says what
the presenters suppose themselves not to be (which in the end is the whole universe minus them).

[2] So yes: I am very classical in insisting that the basic social opposition is between the few rich and the many poor, and that fundamental opposition exists now for over 2500 years. The opposition is clearly fact based (there always have been a few rich and many poor, the last 2500 years), and while it is not true that all the rich oppose the poor, nor true
that all poor oppose the rich, in reality most of either group mostly act like most in their group - and indeed that serves their interests usually as well.

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