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Nederlog

Jun 9, 2016

Crisis: Operation Condor, Bernie Sanders, Drone Wars, Philosophy & Banking
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Introduction

1.
Should George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Others Be
     Jailed for War Crimes?

2. A Public Note to my Friend, Bernie Sanders
3. Calling Out Drone War as a War Crime
4. Can Philosophy Stop Bankers From Stealing?

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, June 9, 2016.

This is a crisis log. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about murders and justice and Operation Condor; item 2 is about Bernie Sanders, by Robert Reich; item 3 is about drone wars and Ann Wright; and item 4 is about bankers and morality (and seems a little confused or vague).

1. Should George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Others Be Jailed for War Crimes?

The first item is by Rebecca Gordon on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch:
This is from the beginning (and before starting this: Clearly the answer to the question in the title should be - in my opinion - yes!):
Operation Condor was launched by the security forces of five military dictatorships: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Brazil soon joined, as did Ecuador and Peru eventually. As a Cold War anti-communist collaboration among the police, military, and intelligence services of those eight governments, Condor offered an enticing set of possibilities. The various services could not only cooperate, but pursue their enemies in tandem across national borders. Indeed, its reach stretched as far as Washington, D.C., where in 1976 its operatives assassinated former Chilean ambassador to the U.S. Orlando Letelier and his young assistant, Ronni Moffitt, both of whom then worked at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank.

How many people suffered grievously or died due to Operation Condor? A definitive number is by now probably beyond recovery, but records from Chile’s secret police suggest that by itself Argentina’s “dirty war”—the name given to the Argentine junta’s reign of terror, “disappearances,” and torture—took the lives of 22,000 people between 1975 and 1978. Thousands more are thought to have died before that country’s dictatorship ended in 1983. It’s generally believed that at least another 3,000 people died under the grimmest of circumstances in Chile, while thousands more were tortured but lived.
This is just a summary. There is a lot more in the article, that is good. It is too long to excerpt it, and I only take up two points it raises.

The first point is this - and please note this point is not about justice itself, but about the time it took:
Why did it take 40 years to bring the architects of Operation Condor to justice? A key factor: for much of that time, it was illegal in Argentina to put them on trial. In the first years of the new civilian government, the Argentine congress passed two laws that granted these men immunity from prosecution for crimes committed in the dirty war. Only in 2005 did that country’s supreme court rule that those impunity laws were unconstitutional.
That is a clear answer. The final point is about justice:

But there’s a question that can’t help but arise: What’s the point of bringing such old men to trial four decades later? How could justice delayed for that long be anything but justice denied?

One answer is that, late as they are, such trials still establish something that all the books and articles in the world can’t: an official record of the terrible crimes of Operation Condor.
I agree, but I think one general aim of justice (and here I mean real justice, based on knowledge of the relevant facts) is that it aims at knowing the truth and at publishing the truth if it is known.

As to its being "
official": Personally, while I agree in outline, I am more interested in having a good published report than in having a less good published official report. (But this is probably due to my personal back-
ground. [1])

This is a recommended article.

2. A Public Note to my Friend, Bernie Sanders

The second item is b
y Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

Dear Bernie:

I don’t know what you’re going to do from here on, and I’m not going to advise you. You’ve earned the right to figure out the next steps for your campaign and the movement you have launched.

But let me tell you this: You’ve already succeeded.

No, I am sorry, but this is simply not true. I like Bernie Sanders and I like Robert Reich, but it simply is not true that not winning the presidential candidacy you have striven for during nearly a year is a success.

What I agree with is that Bernie Sanders ran a fine campaign with many good proposals, and  what I also agree with is that he should have won the presidential candidacy (and quite probably would have done so if only the main media were reporting the truth rather than indulging in lies and propaganda), but I don't agree he succeeded. That is simply not a fact.

The rest is indeed considerably better. First there is this, on what Bernie Sanders did win, which indeed is quite impressive:

At the start they labeled you a “fringe” candidate – a 74-year-old, political Independent, Jewish, self-described democratic socialist, who stood zero chance against the Democratic political establishment, the mainstream media, and the moneyed interests.

Then you won 22 states.

And there is also this on Sanders' program:

You’ve done it without SuperPACs or big money from corporations, Wall Street, and billionaires. You did it with small contributions from millions of us. You’ve shown it can be done without selling your soul or compromising your conviction.

You’ve also inspired millions of us to get involved in politics – and to fight the most important and basic of all fights on which all else depends: to reclaim our economy and democracy from the moneyed interests.

Your message – about the necessity of single-payer healthcare, free tuition at public universities, a $15 minimum wage, busting up the biggest Wall Street banks, taxing the financial speculation, expanding Social Security, imposing a tax on carbon, and getting big money out of politics – will shape the progressive agenda from here on.

I agree with most of that, though I am a bit hesitant about "[y]ou’ve also inspired millions of us to get involved in politics". Then again, my reaction
is (once again) personal, and based on the facts that (i) my parents were very much more "
involved in politics" than almost anyone I know and that
(ii) I don't think that being convinced to vote is much of an involvement with politics.


3. Calling Out Drone War as a War Crime

The third
item is by Dennis Bernstein on Consortiumnews:

This starts as follows:

Leading the charge against the U.S. “drone war” — now a key part of the Pentagon’s forward fighting strategy — is an unlikely individual, Colonel Ann Wright, who spent most of her adult life as a diplomat, working in the U.S. State Department.

Colonel Wright reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul in 2001. But in 2003 she took an action that would transform her life. She resigned her position in opposition to the then-impending U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since then, she has become a full time global peace activist.

This is here mostly because I agree with Ann Wright. Here is the first part of what I will quote:

DENNIS BERNSTEIN:  Set the Scene.  As a former diplomat, somebody who spent a good deal of time in the military, what brings you and Code Pink to Creech for the seventh year in row? What’s at the core for you?

COLONEL ANN WRIGHT:  Well, it’s this weapons system. The weapon system that the president of the United States is using as kind of his personal assassination tool.

He has become the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and the executioner of people around the world, who the United States intelligence agencies have identified as people who are doing something that is against U.S. interests. And we certainly know that our intelligence community is not infallible, and they’ve made lots of mistakes.

We also know for a fact that the drone program kills lots and lots and lots of people who are no threat to the United States.
Yes, indeed. I also know the defense president Obama would give for his drone program, namely that it kills fewer people than an ordinary war would kill, but I agree (I suppose) with Ann Wright that this is baloney:

You can't prove that you are morally good or justified by showing that the immoral acts you furthered are or might be less bad than some alternative you might also have followed. For they are still immoral and still bad (and indeed both alternatives may be immoral acts of war).

Here is more on Ann Wright's ideas and motives:

AW:  Well, I think it’s that our government is always saying that its surveillance programs – their invasion of our own privacy by surveillance through cell phones or through drone actions here in the United States – how precise it is, you know, “very few violations of constitutional rights.”
(..)
We don’t seem to have anyone that adjudicates the evidence. We just have the president of the United States who now has taken the authority to make that decision on whatever is written on this little piece of paper, on a Tuesday, to determine whether a person lives or dies, and along with that person anyone else that might be in that circle.

So it’s very imprecise […] and it in no way correlates to our own judicial look at what humanity is supposed to be doing to each other. There’s no opportunity for that person to defend themselves, to offer evidence to say “Hey, you got the wrong person. Here’s the evidence that shows that I didn’t do anything that you are alleging.” They don’t have that chance at all. They are just blown away.

And people that are in the car with them, are in the house with them, the kids, the relatives, the mothers, the grandfathers are disappeared because our intelligence agency, which is not infallible, has made a mistake. So, those are things that concern me, as a former military, retired military, former State Department person.

I think she is quite right and this is a recommended article.

4. Can Philosophy Stop Bankers From Stealing?

The fourth
item is by Lynne Parramore on Native Capitalism and originally on New Economic Thinking:

This starts as follows:

Does the question of morality have a place in the realm of banking and regulation? That it feels awkward to even raise the issue is convenient for bankers who engage in reckless and harmful activities every day without fear of punishment.

Ed Kane, Professor of Finance at Boston College, believes it’s vital to discuss moral questions, in plain English, without abstractions. Following his own advice, he is blunt in characterizing some of the behavior in the banking industry in recent years: “Theft is a forced taking of other people’s resources,” he says. ‘That’s what’s going on here.” Kane urges a deep inquiry into our culture to understand why bankers so commonly get away with crimes in the United States.

First three personal admissions:

I have been following the crisis now for three years almost daily, in the course of which I have read a reasonable amount of articles by Lynn Parramore. My general conclusion is that she often is vague. Second, I do know a whole lot more of philosophy than Lynn Paramore. (I have studied it and am reading philosophy now for more than 50 years.) Third, this article is not so much about philosophy as it is about morality, although it's true that the title may not be Parramore's (for it may be by some editor).

And next an observation on the first paragraph:

The initial question seems to me a piece of academic baloney: Clearly banking and regulation are subject to moral judgements. Everything that humans do is - quite naturally also - subject to moral judgements, and indeed banking and bankers are far more often judged in moral terms (this or that of their actions or non-actions are or are not good, desirable, or decent) than in factual terms, for the simple reason that everyone can make moral judge- ments, simply because everyone has feelings and values, while knowing the facts of the matter one judges tends to be more of a problem.

And no, this does not imply one's moral judgements are unfounded: You do not need to be  a baker to judge that the bread is rotten; you do not need to be a banker to judge that he is a liar and a fraud. You may be quite correct in either case, and in either case you do not need professional qualifications. (You may be wrong, and you may be mistaken, but you are entitled to make moral judgements.)

Also, "[t]hat it feels awkward to even raise the issue" (whether banks, banking and bankers are subject to moral rules and judgements) seems a supposition that only pleases immoral and unjust bankers. I see no reason to make it at all, and every reason not to make it: Everybody judges things, and most of these judgements are in terms of values, likes and desires, and such judge- ments simply are part and parcel of being human.

Here is some on Kane's views:

In Kane’s view, the word “should” — used in the moral sense — needs to be reinserted into the vocabulary of bankers. Today’s executives may spend a lot of time considering the question, “Could we get away with it?” but there is little focus on the question, “Is it right to do it?”

In a new paper for the Institute for New Economic Thinking, ”
Ethics vs. Ethos in US and UK Megabanking” Kane argues that when bankers make reckless and harmful choices while counting on unlimited taxpayer support to bail them out, they are plainly stealing. He calls it “theft by safety net.”
In my opinion (a philosopher's) the first quoted paragraph is an obvious platitude, although I am willing to believe that for a professor of finance
this may seem different.

But I agree with Kane's diagnosis that the bankers simply are stealing from
the taxpayers.

Then there is this, with which I agree in a sense (and see below):

Why is this not considered a crime? Because, says Kane, politicians nearly everywhere are bought off by bankers. Plain and simple. The regulators who might intervene are more worried about their careers and hopping through the revolving door between government and the industry.

In Kane’s view, pernicious cultural norms within banks and regulatory agencies have crowded out fundamental moral principles. Regulators in both the U.S. and the U.K. are fully aware that the reckless pursuit of profits is one of the main reasons for the expanding scale and frequency of financial crises over the last 50 years, but they tend to approach the issue differently.

As to the first paragraph: I tend to agree that very many (American) politicians probably "are bought off by bankers", but I do not know any
proof of this (beyond lobbyists, that also are far less researched than they
should be).

And it also is not "[p]lain and simple", simply because a lot more is going
on than buying off politicians, and one main thing is deregulation: Not only are bankers buying off politicians; they have also mostly succeeded in deregulating away most of the legal rules that protected the non-rich, and most of the legal rules that made their actions financial crimes.

Here is a final question:

Is it too late?

“It really gets down to our family structure,” says Kane. “Many children are not being disciplined. They’re not learning about their obligations to other people. They’re learning only about the obligations of other people to them. When they sense that their parents are lying and cheating, well, it’s seen simply as a betrayal.”

The educational system in the U.S. doesn’t help. “The thing that our schools teach better than anything else is how to copy. Who to copy from. How to get away with it,” says Kane

I say. If "[i]t really gets down to our family structure" (which again is very vague: I choose to understand it in the sense: "the education one's own family provides in the home") I am very pessimistic:

I did get a decent moral/ethical education from my parents, but they were among the 1 in a 1000 to 1 in 500 of Dutchmen who resisted the Nazis in WW II - the rest, for various reasons, some of which may have been good or unavoidable, chose to collaborate. (Immediately after WW II it seemed as if "7 million Dutchmen had been leaders of the resistance", although nearly all of them did nothing in the resistance. [2] And in case you don't worry: More than 1% of all Dutch - over 100,000 persons - were murdered in WW II for "having the wrong race", while anti-semitism was at its fiercest in Holland in the 1950ies, when the facts about the concentration camps were known. [3])

And as to the education I got: It was really very bad - but since then (35 and more years ago) all of education has been halved, while almost no one discusses education or the values and facts it should teach.

Finally, is it really as bad as Parramore seems to think? I don't know, for she is - once again - vague.

What seems true is that she has found a professor of finance who has discover- ed (pretty late, I'd say, but I am not a professor of finance) that there are moral dimensions to banking, bankers and finance.

I agree, but I know that since I was 8 at the latest. (And I learned it from my family, indeed.)

---------------------

Notes

[1] The personal background is that my father spent 3 years, 9 months and 15 days as a "political terrorist" in German concentration camps, where his father was murdered, and I can recall very many publications from the 1950ies and 1960ies in which survivors of concentration camps tried to get their torturers to court, which generally did not succeed (then). Besides, of the few that did get punished, many were liberated after 3 to 5 years in prison.

This only started to change somewhat in the 1970ies and later.

[2] The quote - "7 million Dutchmen had been leaders of the resistance" - was given by former prime minister Piet de Jong, who reported that his boatsman had said so, briefly after returning to Holland in 1945, after having
fought for years in the English Navy as a captain of a submarine.

Piet de Jong concluded from this "that the war had been very serious". I conclude from this that the vast majority of Dutchmen (there were 7 million adults then) lacked the moral courage or the principles to go into the resistance.

Also, I found precisely the same spirit in the University of Amsterdam in the 1970ies and 1980ies: Around 95% of the students agreed that "everybody knows that truth does not exist" simply because it made their studies and their getting an academic degree a whole lot easier.

[3] Incidentally, even these numbers - over 100,000 Dutchmen were murdered, which was more than 1 in a 100 of all living Dutchmen - are rarely mentioned in Holland. But they are completely true.

As to Dutch anti-semitism: I rely on a long interview with the Portugese prof. dr. José Rentes de Carvalho, who spent many years in Holland, and - because
he was blackhaired and dark - was much discriminated in the 1950ies "as a Jew" (which he wasn't). Prof.dr. Karel van het Reve said similar things, but then he had a similar background (communist parents) as I have (which he also gave up, but a little later than I did).


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