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Nederlog

Aug 14, 2016

Crisis: Money, Congress, Pentagon 1, Germany, Pentagon 2
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Introduction

1.
Stark New Evidence on How Money Shapes America’s
     Elections

2. Congress: AWOL and Out of Control
3. Why Is the Pentagon Hiding the Number of Troops in
     Iraq and Syria?

4. Losing Trust: Frustrations Grow Over German
     Response to Terror

5. The Pentagon Money Pit
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, August 14, 2016.

There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the role of money in politics, which is denied or not discussed by most "social scientists" (who act as if they don't know anything about advertising); item 2 is about an article by Ralph Nader on Congress; item 3 is about the Pentagon's being quite dishonest about the numbers of troops (and see item 5); item 4 is about a Spiegel article about "the German response to terror" (which I again didn't like much - and I mean the article, mostly) and item 5 is about the Pentagon's administrative capacities: In the last 20 years they just missed a mere 6,500,000,000,000 dollars ($6,5 trillion).

In brief: This is evidence about incompetent academics, incompetent Congress, lying Pentagon, panicky Germans, and the trillions of dollars that somehow got lost or were misadministered over the last 20 years of utter maladmini- stration by the Pentagon (that's allowed by Congress).
 
1.
Stark New Evidence on How Money Shapes America’s Elections

The first item today is by Lynn Stuart Parramore on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

Outrage over how big money influences American politics has been boiling over this political season, energizing the campaigns of GOP nominee Donald Trump and former Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders alike. Citizens have long suspected that "We the People" increasingly means "We the Rich" at election time.

Yet surprisingly, two generations of social scientists have insisted that wallets don't matter that much in American politics. Elections are really about giving the people what they want. Money, they claim, has negligible impact on elections.

Actually, I am not surprised at all, but then I am "a social scientist", having an - excellent - M.A. in psychology from the University of Amsterdam. But first a small correction:

It are not precisely "two generations of social scientists" who denied money matters in politics, for the simple reason that not all said so, nor indeed did all who thought so say so, but Parramore is probably correct that the majority of the social scientists either said money is negligible in politics or else did not say so but behaved as if they thought so. [1]

I'll turn to the reasons I know that do account for these facts below. First some more information on the academics and pundits of the social sciences:

Even today, many academics and pundits still insist that money matters less to political outcomes than ordinary citizens think, even as business executives throw down mind-boggling sums to dine with politicians and Super Pacs spring up like mushrooms. The few dissenters from this consensus, like Noam Chomsky, are ignored in the U.S. as "unpersons," though they are enormously respected abroad.

This is a scandal. It has stymied efforts at campaign finance reform and weakened American democracy.

Again, I think this could have been formulated considerably better, but I mostly agree with the point made, for which Parramore proceeds to detail evidence.

I will skip that, except in saying that it outlines a strong linear relation between spending on elections and outcomes: The more one spends, the more the outcomes will be as one desired; and also conversely: the less one spends, the less will the outcomes conform to one's desires.

Here is Parramore's summary:

What are the facts about total campaign spending and election outcomes? As they write: "We can pool all spending by and on behalf of candidates and then examine whether relative, not absolute, differences in total outlays are related" to the differences in votes received by the major political parties.

Their answer is stunning: there is strong, direct link between what the major political parties spend and the percentage of votes they win—far stronger than all the airy dismissals of the role of money in elections would ever lead you to think, and certainly stronger than anything you read in your poli sci class.

Again I should say that I accept the evidence, but I do not consider that "stunning" in any way. Here is my main reason why this is not stunning at all:

Anyone who knows anything about selling commodities of any kind knows that these are normally sold with enormous amounts of advertisements, indeed for at least 90 years now, with ever increasing outlays also, which would not have been spent on advertisements if these did not pay for themselves, plus some profits, on average.

This is very obvious, to say the least - and advertisement agencies are not university academics: they are paid for by those who intend to profit by buying advertisements for their products, and they will not be paid anymore when the
advertising they produce is not profitable.

So what the social scientists who deny money plays a role in politics all deny is more than 90 years of evidence from advertising.

There is considerably more in the article that I leave to your interests. It ends as follows:

If mainstream social scientists are not pursuing the truth, what exactly are they pursuing? Whatever it is, it does not appear to be good for democracy.
Since I am "a social scientist" (albeit not a "mainstream" one), let me here answer what most academic social scientists I have known, nearly all of whom - psychologists, sociologists, pedagogues, to name some - I have known in the University of Amsterdam, are "pursuing":

Their own riches; their
own freedom to do as they please; their own complete lack of any control by anyone; their own status; their own fame; and indeed also (and certainly in the University of Amsterdam: their own freedom (if males, at least) to fuck their female students - which seems to have been the main interest of nearly all academic "philosophers" employed there [2]).

Also, they can do all of this, for generations also, provided they abstain from one thing:

They should not ask any question which can be empirically answered about anything real people do care a lot about - such as the influence of money in politics; the lacks of almost any accountability and any responsibility for anyone who has an academic contract [3]; the very much worsened medical care, and the vastly increased prices of medical insurance; or the average IQs of students in universities.

All of these questions may give rise to political difficulties, and that is the main reason why most academic scientists (who in the social sciences are not so much real scientists as clever propagandists of their own excellencies) avoid asking realistic political questions, although I do agree a minority does ask some of these questions.

Ah well...


2. Congress: AWOL and Out of Control

The second item is by Ralph Nader on Common Dreams and on Nader's site:

This starts as follows:

Taken as whole, with exceptions, the American people have the strangest attitude toward the Congress. Our national legislature spends nearly a quarter of our income and affects us one way or another every day of the year. Yet too many people withdraw in disgust instead of making Congress accountable to them. Warren Buffett once said, “It’s time for 535 of America’s citizens to remember what they owe to the 318 million who employ them.”

People have a low regard for Capitol Hill. Polls show less than 20% of people approve of what Congress does and does not do. In April a poll registered a 14% approval rate.  People know that Congress takes a lot of days off – all with pay. Senators and Representatives work over 100 fewer days than average Americans do. Specifically, members were in session 157 days in 2015 and 135 in 2014. This year the House is scheduled to be in session for only 111 days, with the August recess alone stretching nearly six weeks.

I agree with Ralph Nader, although I can explain that "strangest attitude toward the Congress" to some extent, namely by noting that only a relatively small minority of Americans are well educated, and indeed also that it seems
to be a fact that no less than 60% of Americans believe in the literal truth of the Biblical Ark of Noah story - which means that 6 out of 10 of the presently living Americans believe the same things as Americans did in the 1600s.

Given that (which I take to be facts) it is considerably less strange to see what most Americans make of their Congress, which indeed also applies to the very low approval rate (which I think is justified, though very probably not for the reasons most Americans have in mind).

Here is some more on Congress:

People also know that these politicians feather their own nests. At a minimum, members of Congress receive a $174,000 annual salary, plus a great pension, health and life insurance, assorted deductions and expenses. These are benefits that many Americans can only dream of getting.

Even when Senators and Representatives are in Washington, Congressional leaders expect them to spend about 20 to 30 hours per week dialing for campaign dollars – for their re-election and for their Party’s coffers. Asking for money in or from their office is illegal, so members of Congress trot out daily, on your nickel, to “call centers” in nearby office buildings.

I do know that Senators and Representatives are supposed to spend "20 to 30 hours per week dialing for campaign dollars", though I also find it rather hard to believe that most spend a considerable amount of the time they are awake on phonecalls that amount to "Hey, as you know I am a political whore. How much can you invest in me now, for later repayment by me?".

Then again, it does seem as if many do, and it even seems that they do these kinds of things "honestly", that is, from another bulding than their own office buildings (and that is also all the honesty they invest, I suspect).

So here is a proposal that a naive reader would think would be embraced by the vast majority of Congress members:

This is why Congressman Jolly introduced the “Stop Act,” which would ban all federally-elected officials from directly soliciting donations. Members of Congress can attend fund-raisers but others would have to ask for the money. No more direct telephone calls to the “fat cats” for checks. So far he only has nine co-sponsors for his bill.

Congressman Jolly says this is not “campaign finance reform,” it is “Congressional reform,” adding “members of Congress spend too much time raising money and not enough time doing their job. Get back to work. And do your job.”

It turns out that Jolly "only has nine co-sponsors for his bill". I say. Do you know any better evidence that the average Congressman is corrupt and desires to be corrupt?

3. Why Is the Pentagon Hiding the Number of Troops in Iraq and Syria?

The third item is by Sarah Lazare on Naked Capitalism and originally on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

It has been more than two years and 14,000 coalition bombings since President Barack Obama launched his open-ended war against ISIL under the dubious authority of a 15-year-old law authorizing military attacks. As the mission creeps to Libya, where military officials say there is “no end point” in sight, the Pentagon is refusing to disclose how many U.S. troops are currently deployed to Iraq and Syria.

The military does reveal the “force management level,” or full-time troops deployed to Iraq and Syria. According to a June 2016 statement from the White House, “The Force Management Level for U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq currently is 4,087. The Force Management Level for U.S. Armed Forces in Syria is 300.”

Yet, journalist Kristina Wong reported Thursday for the Hill that a Central Command spokesman acknowledged “that some troops that temporarily deploy aren’t counted”—and this number could be far higher.

There are two points I want to make about this.

First, Obama's "justification" for conducting his war without any agreement by Congress indeed is based on a 15-year-old law, that in fact is totally out of date. But then again, almost nothing that relates to the many wars the USA is conducting does go according to the US laws that are in force.

And second, for some strong evidence why the US laws are not applied, see item 5, below.

Next, there is this:

Any final tally of U.S. forces would have to include the droves of U.S. contractors in Iraq and Syria, exact number unknown. The Pentagon revealed in late July that Six3 Intelligence Solutions—which is now owned by CACI International—won a windfall $10 million no-bid contract from the Army for “intelligence services” in Syria. As Kate Brannen noted in the Daily Beast, “details are scant,” with the military refusing to disclose the most basic information about how many contractors will be deployed and what they will do.

CACI International faced global condemnation for its role in torturing and dehumanizing people held captive at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

According to Wong’s calculations, “the total amount of troops and Defense Department personnel involved in the [ISIL] fight could be anywhere from to 8,252 to 10,152.” This is well above the “FML” estimates officially provided by military officials.

Again I make two points on this bit:

First, Abu Ghraib (<-Wikipedia, well worth reading) happened in 2003, and got known in 2004. CACI International is still being paid tens of millions 12 years after it became known it helped to commit "physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder
".

And second, in fact Wong's calculations of "
the total amount of troops and Defense Department personnel" is not merely "well above" the estimates that military officials publish: It is about three times as high (though it is quite possible that "military officials" just neither count nor see "Defense Department personnel" that are not military themselves - and I am guessing).

Here is a last bit:
The Obama administration is refusing to disclose other key information about the military campaign, including the numbers of civilians who are dying at the hands of U.S.-led forces. The Pentagon’s public estimates of civilians killed and wounded in its attacks fall well below the calculations of witnesses and journalists. According to the journalistic organization Air Wars, which monitors international bombings, a minimum of 1,568 civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition’s war on ISIL.
Yes indeed. And again, independent jpurnalists and organizations count at least four times (or more) killed civilians than the American army reports.

Incidentally, the last of the above links seems a good survey of what is really happening.

4. Losing Trust: Frustrations Grow Over German Response to Terror

The fourth item is by Spiegel Staff (a mere eight journalists, this time [4]) on Spiegel International:

This has a subtitle that's worth quoting (bold in the original):
In the wake of recent attacks, Germany's conservative Christian Democrats over tripping over themselves with proposals for tightening anti-terror laws. Instead of calming the people, they are simply confusing them.
(I don't think this is proper English but let that be: The first "over" probably should be replaced by "are".) This starts as follows:

Stay levelheaded. Keep calm. That was German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière's message after a mass shooting and two terrorist attacks jolted the country last month. Do not overreact. Make no rash decisions. First wait for the investigations to be completed in Würzburg, Ansbach and Munich.

Two and a half weeks later, de Maizière is back in the same place, on the ground floor of his ministry in Berlin. Behind him is the German eagle, black on a dark blue wall. De Maizière is about to present a raft of proposals that he and his colleagues consider necessary to combat terrorism. "Measures to increase security in Germany," he calls them.

I clearly agree with the messages that Germans should "Stay levelheaded. Keep calm." - but then I am doubtful about what Spiegel thinks about this, for reasons that follow.

First, here is a summary of Maizières plans and what went on before them:
Before de Maizière's much-heralded public statement, a so-called "Berlin Declaration," made the rounds among conservative state interior ministers belonging to de Maizière's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). It was originally supposed to be published next Thursday. The six-page paper begins with a turgid quote from Prussian philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt: "Without security, there is no freedom." This is followed by a list of 27 proposals. More police. More powers for Germany's Bundeswehr armed forces to be deployed domestically. More data retention. A ban on burqas. Sanctions against new arrivals who refuse to integrate, "up to the point of expulsion."
Actually, this looks rather like Geert Wilders' (<-Wikipedia) plans for Holland. Why? According to the committee that wrote the Spiegel article, this is the reason:
The conservative interior ministers' proposals highlight to what extent fear has become a driving political force in Germany. Citizens fear terrorism and violence, while politicians fear the will of voters.
I take it that - if this is correct, which I shall assume - the same holds for most journalism, including the journalists of the Spiegel: You reflect the fears
of the population, and you do not - for one example - point out that the chances of being killed or harmed by a terrorist still are far smaller than the chances of being killed or harmed in an accident.

Not everyone follows the many:
The cacophony of voices around the issue of security is also upsetting some within conservative circles. Sources within the Christian Democrats say that if the goal had been to provide a show of strength in the run-up to elections in Berlin and the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, then the party has failed. "First a packet of anti-terror laws, then a nine-point plan, now a 'Berlin Statement,' and then de Maizière on top of it all -- this is not exactly how you create more security," the source says.
But this Spiegel article ends as follows:
Domestic security has always been one of the conservatives' key issues. But now it could be said: Fear eats the soul.
Which leads me to ask: Does Spiegel really want to counter the excessive fear that haunts large parts of the German population, or are they also hoping to cash in on it? (You answer.)

5.
The Pentagon Money Pit

The fifth and last item is by Dave Lindorf on Counterpunch:

This starts as follows:

What if the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services were to report that $6.5 billion in spending by that federal agency was unaccounted for and untraceable? You can imagine the headlines, right? What if it was $65 billion? The headlines would be as big as for the first moon landing or for troops landing on Omaha Beach in World War II.

But how about a report by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General saying that the US Army had $6.5 trillion in unaccountable expenditures for which there is simply no paper trail? That is 6,500 billion dollars! Have you heard about that? Probably not. That damning report was issued back on July 26 — two whole weeks ago — but as of today it has not even been reported anywhere in the corporate media.

I say! Incidentally 6,500 billion dollars = 6,500,000 million dollars, which again equals a mere 6,500,000,000,000 dollars - so yes: These are huge sums of money.

And Dave Lindorf does present the evidence (which I skip: it is under the last dotted link) and then says this (with boldings added):

This dense bureaucrateze doesn’t mean that $6.5 trillion has been stolen, or that this is money in addition to the $600 billion that the Pentagon spent in fiscal 2015. It means that for years — and $6.5 trillion represents at about 15 years’ worth of US military spending — the Department of Defense (sic) has not been tracking or recording or auditing all of the taxpayer money allocated by Congress — what it was spent on, how well it was spent, or where the money actually ended up. There are enough opportunities here for corruption, bribery, secret funding of “black ops” and illegal activities, and of course for simple waste to march a very large army, navy and air force through. And by the way, things aren’t any better at the Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Incredibly, no mainstream reporter or editor in the US has seen this as a story worth reporting to the American public.

So, to put this in perspective: The $6.5 trillion has not been stolen and also doesn't refer to this or the previous year. It results from an extremely shoddy financial administration in the Pentagon - which also can be seen from the following, that shows the very special position the Pentagon has, compared to the other agencies of the American government:

All the other agencies that are responsible for those other outlays, like the Dept. of Education, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, etc., have been required by Congress since 1996 to file reports on annual audits of their budgets. The Pentagon was subject to that same act of Congress too, but for 20 years and running it has failed to do so. It has simply stonewalled, and so far has gotten away with it.

Nobody in Congress seems to care about this contempt of Congress. Neither of the two mainstream political candidates for president, Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton, seems to care either. Neither one has mentioned this epic scandal.
(...)
And yet the military doesn’t have to account for any of its trillions of dollars of spending on manpower and weapons — even though Congress fully a generation ago passed a law requiring such accountability.

In brief, the main reason for 20 years (!!) of successive extremely shoddy financial administration in the Pentagon is simply that those who are supposed to hold them accountable and see to it that they spend their money responsibly - Congress - did not.

I take it this will continue, but I agree I am not an optimist.

---------------
Notes
[1] Most lying in politics and related subjects is passive lying, that is, the people who know what the facts are, but choose not to report them because doing so might affect their livelihoods - rather like most people could give quite a bit of criticism of their own employers, but don't because this would probably cause financial and other trouble for them.

I think it is just the same in politics, although precisely there it should be different: Most politicians lie a great amount, but indeed the largest amount of that is staying silent about things they were paid for to criticize, and know to be in bad condition.

And the reason for this massive political silence - and see also items 2, and 3 and 5 - is somewhat like those of ordinary people: Usually money has been found that helps them to shut up about the things they were voted in for to speak out about.

Of course, this political corruption is considerably worse than the somewhat similar corruption of ordinary people (since the latter are not paid to expose problems).

[2] In case you disagree: I did make an excellent M.A. in psychology, without following any lectures because I was ill; I protested a lot as a student, and created a student party for that reason; I found in the end that in the whole University of Amsterdam in the 1980ies I could find only two professors (in three fulltime studies I did) whom I could regard as intellectually intelligent and morally decent; and all the rest, like 19 out of 20 students, were there really not out of interest in science or knowledge, but were there out of interest in easy well-paid jobs with high status, which indeed all arrived academics did have and do have.

And as to the high status, which academics do have: The secret behind that is in fact - and for the last 50 years also - that extremely little is reported about the goings on in universities, and what is reported tends to serve and defend the very high academic status most academics have.

You may disagree, but you very probably do not have my proletarian background, do not have real communist parents; did not study in Holland between 1971 amd 1995 (when the universities were in fact in the students' hands - who made a corrupt mess of it); did not create a student party; was not removed - ill also - from the faculty of philosophy briefly before taking an - excellent - M.A. there; did not tell your mostly incompetent, lazy parasites who "taught" you that they were incompetent and lazy; did not spend his own life among the poorest in the country; and also did not get an M.A. with very high marks.

I did all of that (and more), and these are part of the reasons I insist on my opinions: I met hardly one honest lecturer or professor in the University of Amsterdam between 1977 and 2005. (They were there. But in a small minority. And I "merely" studied three fulltime academic studies there.)

Oh, as to the fucking: None of "philosophers" who "taught" me and removed me when I said - completely truly - that they were incompetent and dishonest published anything in 30 years (because, they said, "we are not vain"), while all of them (if male) did fuck Connie Palmen (a writing Dutch woman, who studied philosophy) according to her own testimony, that never was contradicted.

So that is what "the philosophers" employed by the University of Amsterdam did for thirty years: Absolutely nothing except giving extremely bad education, a few hours a week, while the only noteworthy thing they did besides in these thirty years was fucking Connie Palmen (all of them, also). I say...

[3] Here it may be that the Dutch situation (which I know far the best)  differs from the situation elsewhere.

In any case, in Holland it was the case, until well into the 2000s, and for many decades, that everyone who got an academic position, thereby became a bureaucrat of either the City or the State, which also meant that (i) such a person was almost impossible to dismiss and (ii) all such persons got luxurious benefits and pensions, and (iii) all professors and lecturers earned an income as high as the highest 5% (until 2000 or so, to be sure).

It is this that also moved me - already in 1972 - to conclude that, in Holland at least, being an academic corresponded quite well to being a member of the nobility (in the 1800s): One guy I knew survived very well for many years by "working" from August till December for an excellent income; then getting into payments for people without work that paid him 85% of his salary to do nothing; and repeating this the next year etc. etc. (I knew him quite well, and there were quite a few like him. He still did this 20 years later, and always was well-paid.)

And given that these highly paid bureaucrats are (or were at least, for over 40 years also) nearly impossible to dismiss; did earn a lot; were hardly criticized or mentioned in the ordinary press; and did get luxurious benefits of many kinds, it ought to be quite clear that they could do and say almost anything they wanted (apart from criticizing the University or its personnel, of course), which some of them also did.

[4] I am mentioning this because (i) I don't much believe in writings - good writings, real writings - by committees, and (ii) because I found that the present-day Spiegel is rather different from the one I recall (from well before 2000, to be sure).

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