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Nederlog

Aug 16, 2016

Crisis: Con vs. con, On Lewis Powell Jr., CIA Censorship, Clinton Turning Right (?)
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Introduction

1.
Con vs. Con
2. The Right-Wing Legacy of Justice Lewis Powell, and
     What It Means for the Supreme Court Today

3. Documents Confirm CIA Censorship of Guantánamo
     Trials

4.
With Trump Sure to Lose, Forget About a Progressive
     Clinton
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, August 16, 2016.

There are 4 items with 4 dotted links today: Item 1 is by Chris Hedges and is a repeat of June 20, with a repeat of my review of it from that day; item 2 is a fine article on Lewis Powell Jr. who must be seen as the main organizer of the rich right, that mostly triumphed from Reagan onwards, also with help by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; item 3 is a fine article that shows that "the courts" in Guantánamo (at least) are fed and denied information by the CIA, and are not independent at all (as they should be, in a real state of law); and item 4 is about some consequences of Trump's attributed loss of the elections, which I think are a little too pessimistic (!).
 
1.
Con vs. Con

The first item today is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

As I've noticed last week, Chris Hedges is on holiday, and while he is, Truthdig publishes every week an article that Hedges has published before.

Since I like Hedges, indeed without agreeing with him relatively often [0], and since I normally have commented on his weekly articles
in Truthdig, I can repeat my reviews, and indeed do so. This review was first published on June 20 in Nederlog, and I repeat it today between two "-----"s:

-----

This starts as follows:

During the presidential election cycle, liberals display their gutlessness. Liberal organizations, such as MoveOn.org, become cloyingly subservient to the Democratic Party. Liberal media, epitomized by MSNBC, ruthlessly purge those who challenge the Democratic Party establishment. Liberal pundits, such as Paul Krugman, lambaste critics of the political theater, charging them with enabling the Republican nominee. Liberals chant, in a disregard for the facts, not to be like Ralph Nader, the “spoiler” who gave us George W. Bush.

The liberal class refuses to fight for the values it purports to care about. It is paralyzed and trapped by the induced panic manufactured by the systems of corporate propaganda. The only pressure within the political system comes from corporate power. With no counterweight, with no will on the part of the liberal class to defy the status quo, we slide deeper and deeper into corporate despotism. The repeated argument of the necessity of supporting the “least worse” makes things worse.

To start with, I mostly agree with the title: The choice of the Americans for their next president is between two persons who are both fairly described as cons - deceivers, liars, dishonest people trying to convince others of their excellencies and plans by what is fundamentally propaganda and deception.

Then again, I don't agree with the title if the suggestion is that one con is as good or bad as the other con. I think it is true both are fundamentally cons, but I also think that one of them is not only a con but also is mad, and I refer
to Donald Trump. More of that below.

And I have three points about the quoted two paragraphs:

First, I really don't understand what Chris Hedges means by "liberals". In part, the difficulty is that I am European, and the term "liberal" - which in any case is quite ambiguous - is used rather differently in Europe than in the USA, but I think it is in part also due to vagueness by Chris Hedges.

In any case, I will suppose he understands by "liberals" (in this article) "educated persons" - with a B.A. or higher - "who favor the Democratic Party". This is also not very precise, but it is a bit less vague than "liberals" while it does seem to correspond fairly well to Hedges' use of "liberal". (I am not saying it is quite accurate, but then I am a European.)

Second, on the basis of that understanding, I more or less agree with Chris Hedges, while I quite agree with his saying that "[t]he only pressure within the political system comes from corporate power": This is organized; it has been organized better and better since the 1970ies; it has lots of money; it has very specific interests (those of the rich); and in fact it pays both candidates. (Trump says he doesn't need payment, but he is a part of the corporate powers.)

But third, I don't agree with "the repeated argument of the necessity of supporting the “least worse” makes things worse". Here are my reasons:

As stated - "
the necessity of supporting the “least worse”" - this is simply a very widely accepted principle of rational choice: A rational choice (from a subject's point of view) is the choice of either the best possibility there is (in the eyes of the subject) or failing that (there are no good choices) is the choice of the least bad possibility there is (in the eyes of the subject). [1]

But Chris Hedges doesn't mean that principle, in general terms: He means something far more specific, namely that the choice of Clinton and the choice
of Trump is not between two bad candidates, of which the one (Trump) is a lot worse than the other (Clinton, although Clinton is also bad): it is between two candidates which are both equally rotten.

I have several times insisted that in my valuation of the candidates for the presidency, Sanders is a lot better than Clinton, and Clinton is a lot better than Trump, and I will not argue that again, but merely observe that most to the left of the GOP seem to agree with me, especially as Sanders fell out of the race, and as Trump seems a lunatic.

So I simply conclude that most who think there is something to choose, and who stand to the left of Trump and the GOP, will agree with me that the choice
should be for Clinton, simply because a choice for Trump is for an ignorant braggart, who is a xenophobe, a racist, and who is far too temperamental and  far too much of a grandiose narcissist to be given the presidency.

Next, there is this:

The rise of a demagogue like Donald Trump is a direct result of the Democratic Party’s decision to embrace neoliberalism, become a handmaiden of American imperialism and sell us out for corporate money. There would be no Trump if Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party had not betrayed working men and women with the North American Free Trade Agreement, destroyed the welfare system, nearly doubled the prison population, slashed social service programs, turned the airwaves over to a handful of corporations by deregulating the Federal Communications Commission, ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks that led to a global financial crash and prolonged recession, and begun a war on our civil liberties that has left us the most monitored, eavesdropped, photographed and profiled population in human history. There would be no Trump if the Clintons and the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, had not decided to prostitute themselves for corporate pimps.

First of all, I agree with Chris Hedges on his list of sins of Bill Clinton (that runs from "had not betrayed" to "in human history").

But I think that the argument that leads from Bill Clinton's sins to Donald Trump is far more complicated than the one sketched by Hedges (which also is counterfactual: "if X would not have done p, then Y could not have done q", which are both imaginary - in fact, something else happened - and are hard to evaluate).

And I will not sketch a counter argument, but merely observe that Trump has been publicly known since the 1980ies, and might have arisen in quite different circumstances than he did rise in. (Also a counterfactual, but easier
to justify.)


Then there is this:

The character traits of the Clintons are as despicable as those that define Trump. The Clintons have amply illustrated that they are as misogynistic and as financially corrupt as Trump. Trump is a less polished version of the Clintons.

No. I dislike the Clintons, but there are (at least) two or three major differences between them and Trump: (1) there are considerable differences between the plans and policies of the Clintons and of Trump: The Clintons are rightist or centrist Democrats; Trump is a rightist rightist. (2) The Clintons are far better political planners than Trump is and know a lot more of politics in the U.S. And (3) neither of the Clintons is mad, whereas Trump
is. [2]

There is this on "liberals" which I translate as
"educated persons" - with a B.A. or higher - "who favor the Democratic Party":

Liberals are employed by corporate elites in universities, the media, systems of entertainment and advertising agencies to perpetuate corporate power. Many are highly paid. They have a financial stake in corporate dominance. The educated elites in the liberal class are capitalism’s useful idiots.

I mostly agree. My experiences are quite different from those of Chris Hedges,
but I think I have more experiences with Dutch academics than he has with American academics, simply because I functioned for about twenty years in
and around the University of Amsterdam, where I tried to make academics see
reason, and found that at least 95% decide in the end by their own - very good - incomes, while most of them pretend to do so for moral reasons. [3]

They are the academic intellectuals of the system we live in; they are paid very well; and they will choose 19 out of 20 times to serve those who pay and protect them.

Finally, this is the last bit I comment on:
Clinton and Trump, in this world of political make-believe, will say whatever their listeners want to hear. They will furiously compete for “undecided” voters, essentially the apolitical segment of the population. And once the election is over, one of them will go to Washington, where corporations, rich donors and lobbyists—who they represent—will continue with the business of governing.
Yes and no.

I agree Hillary Clinton "
will say whatever [her] listeners want to hear", if only it is somehow compatible with her general pretensions. This also means that you can not count on any promises she makes before she is elected.

And I partially agree with thesis that "
corporations, rich donors and lobbyists" are in fact determining most a government's choices these days, although I
think the governors and the government also are important.

But I disagree with the (repeated) suggestion that Clinton and Trump are convertible or equally bad: The plans and policies of Clinton are more detailed, more informed and more sensible than those of Trump, and besides Hillary
Clinton may be bad but she is not mad, while Trump is. [4]

And this is a recommended article: I don't agree with the thesis that both cons are equally bad (which I also think few agree with) but there also are a number of good points.


-----


Back to August 16, 2016: The above was written on June 20, 2016 and is repeated here, in part because I think the argument still is good and in part because Hedges' article was repeated today.

2. The Right-Wing Legacy of Justice Lewis Powell, and What It Means for the Supreme Court Today

The second item is by Bill Blum on Truthdig:

This starts as follows - and I like it, because it is about Lewis Powell Jr. (<- Wikipedia), who started the organization of the rich right that has taken most of the powers in the USA since 1980 (nine years after Powell's memorandum), indeed also with considerable support from the Democrats (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama).

Here is some more on Lewis Powell Jr. as a person:

Chances are if you were asked to name the most influential conservative Supreme Court justice of the last 60 years, you’d nominate the late Antonin Scalia. And you’d have any number of compelling reasons to do so.

Whether you liked him or loathed him, Scalia was a jurisprudential giant, pioneer of the “originalist” theory of constitutional interpretation, consistent backer of business interests, and the author of the 2008 landmark majority decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized an individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. His death in February left a vacancy that has become a hot-button issue in the runup to the November election.

But for all of Scalia’s impact—and notwithstanding the political shivers and convulsions his demise has sparked—I have another contender, or at least a close runner-up, in mind: the late Lewis F. Powell Jr.

Yes, indeed. Here is some more on what Powell did, in 1971:

On Aug. 23, 1971, Powell penned a confidential 6,400-word memorandum and sent it off to his friend and Richmond, Va., neighbor, Eugene Sydnor Jr., then-chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce education committee and head of the now-defunct Southern Department Stores chain.

The memo, titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” was breathtaking in its scope and ambition, and far more right-wing than anything Scalia ever wrote. It was, as writer Steven Higgs noted in a 2012 article published by CounterPunch, “A Call to Arms for Class War: From the Top Down.”

Yes, indeed - and both above links (memo and 2012 article) are well worth reading and downloading (especially the first).

Here are some small parts from that memo:

“No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack,” Powell began his analysis. “There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism).”

“But now what concerns us,” he continued, “is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.”

Note this was written in 1971 (and see below). Here is more from then:

The first step, he reasoned, was “for businessmen to confront this problem [the threat to the system] as a primary responsibility of corporate management.” In addition, resources and unity would be required.

“Strength,” Powell wrote, “lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and the political power available only through united action and national organizations.” 

Deepening his call to action, Powell urged the Chamber of Commerce and other business entities to redouble their lobbying efforts and to “recruit” lawyers of “the greatest skill” to represent business interests before the Supreme Court, which under the stewardship of Chief Justice Earl Warren had moved steadily leftward. Powell wrote: “Under our constitutional system … the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.”

He was right in saying that "the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change" and indeed his call to the rich for "organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and the political power available only through united action and national organizations" seems to have been very effective and very well heeded.

Indeed, here are some of Powell's successes:

He was especially instrumental in helping to orchestrate the court’s pro-corporate reconstruction of the First Amendment in the area of campaign finance law, which culminated years later in the 2010 Citizens United decision. He joined the court’s seminal 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, which equated money, in the form of campaign expenditures, with political speech. And he was the author of the 1978 majority opinion in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, which held that corporations have a First Amendment right to support state ballot initiatives.

But it is the secret memo that has proved to be Powell’s most important and lasting legacy.
Yes indeed, and the present article is a good introduction to Powell and is strongly recommended.

O and by the way, mostly because I was reading this yesterday, and indeed remembered a lot of what is said in it: The  Wikipedia lemma
"Counterculture of the 1960s" seems quite good and does give a decent background to Powell's 1971 article (especially for those who did not live through the Sixties and Seventies).

3. Documents Confirm CIA Censorship of Guantánamo Trials

The third item is by Mattathias Schwartz on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

In January 2013, during the military trial of five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, a defense lawyer was discussing a motion relating to the CIA’s black-site program, when a mysterious entity cut the audio feed to the gallery. A red light began to glow and spin. Someone had triggered the courtroom’s censorship system.

The system was believed to be under the control of the judge, Col. James Pohl. In this case, it wasn’t.

“The 40-second delay was initiated, not by me,” Pohl said. He was referring to the delayed audio feed, which normally broadcasts to the press and other observers seated in the gallery. The gallery is cut off from the courtroom by three layers of soundproof Plexiglas. “I’m curious as to why. … If some external body is turning the commission off under their own view of what things ought to be, with no reasonable explanation, then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off.”

Later, Pohl said the censorship was the work of an “OCA,” short for “Original Classification Authority.” In the future, he said, no external body would be permitted to unilaterally censor what was happening in his courtroom.

I say! This seems to me rather like the Soviets did their court cases, that were effectively often run by the KGB, in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties of the previous century.

The above shows that similar things happen in the present-day's USA, where the courts are simply switched off by the secret services, especially if the court is hearing matters the CIA thinks it should not hear.

And indeed it is the CIA that secretly interferes in court cases - which shows the courts are not anymore one of the three independent powers in the state (parliament, government, judiciary) but function (at least in cases of terrorism and quite a few others) more like parts of the CIA then as independent objective courts, simply because it is the CIA that decides what is evidence; it is the CIA that prepares most of the evidence; while it is also the CIA that decides what the court, the jury, the judges and the public should and should not hear:

Many have speculated that Pohl’s “OCA” is in fact the CIA. That speculation is now confirmed with the release of three new documents by The Intercept. The documents show the evolution of secret rules governing what is and is not allowed to be discussed before the military court at Guantánamo.

Note that secret services with "secret rules governing what is and is not allowed to be discussed before the military court at Guantánamo" make the "justice" that is administered by such overseen courts CIA-justice much rather than real justice.

Here is more on what the CIA does to make it impossible for the courts and the public to get independent and true evidence:

What appears to be a 2015 version of a similar CIA guidance document was released by OpenTheGovernment.org last year. Unlike the older guidance documents released by The Intercept today, the sections addressing the CIA’s black-site and rendition programs are completely redacted.

The CIA calls its classification rules “guidelines … to be applied throughout the legal process.” They are intended to provide the Pentagon-employed court security officers with “general direction about when national security information may be at issue, … triggering the need for protection.”

Much of what the CIA sought to keep out of open court effectively constrained the detainees’ ability to give an account of their own torture at the hands of the CIA and officials from other countries where they were held.

That "the sections addressing the CIA’s black-site and rendition programs" are "completely redacted" I take to mean that all the text has been replaced by blacked out lines (as may be familiar to people who have read some of Snowden's revelations).

This means that the USA's secret services decide what the court and the public should and should not know. And in fact it also does this:

“In effect, the government was making the chilling and breathtaking assertion that it owned and controlled detainees’ memories of torture, whether true or false,” said Ashley Gorski, a staff attorney with the ACLU, who reviewed the newly released guidance documents.

And this happens while both the American government and the American secret services are responsible for the illegal tortures.

As I said: These are the means of the KGB in the former Soviet Union. This has nothing to do with real justice, for the very least that real justice involves is a full disclosure of all evidence that is available, and not merely that evidence that the torturers of the government and the CIA decide might be seen by the courts.

4. With Trump Sure to Lose, Forget About a Progressive Clinton

The fourth and last item today is by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

With the nominating convention over and the struggle with Bernie Sanders behind her, Hillary Clinton is triangulating sharply to the right, “scooping up the dollars” and the endorsements of elites “shaken loose in the great Republican wreck,” writes Thomas Frank at The Guardian.

Yes, that may well be right. Here is some more:

She is reaching out to the foreign policy establishment and the neocons. She is reaching out to Republican office-holders. She is reaching out to Silicon Valley. And, of course, she is reaching out to Wall Street. In her big speech in Michigan on Thursday she cast herself as the candidate who could bring bickering groups together and win policy victories through really comprehensive convenings.

Things will change between now and November, of course. But what seems most plausible from the current standpoint is a landslide for Clinton, and with it the triumph of complacent neoliberal orthodoxy.
I certainly do not believe in "a landslide for Clinton" on November 8 while it is August 16, which means that there still are nearly three months to go. It may be that Hillary Clinton has that belief, but if she does I think she is mistaken, simply because many things may happen in three months that she did not foresee (and that no one can foresee, also).

There is this on Trump, which also seems based on the conviction that he will loose the presidential elections:
In this ironic and roundabout way, Trump may prove to be a disaster for the reform politics he has never really believed in. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a leader who could discredit populism more thoroughly than this compassion-free billionaire.
I don't know that Trump will loose, and I think his major weakness is not his lack of compassion but his continuously making up "facts", his very many lies,
and his obvious very strong temperament that cannot bear any slight or any criticism.

This article ends as follows:
This is the real potential disaster of 2016: That legitimate economic discontent is going to be dismissed as bigotry and xenophobia for years to come.

My guess is that this is false, mostly because most people (if not strong Trumpian Republicans) will be able to see that what Trump offers indeed are
"
bigotry and xenophobia", and that this is not at all what people like Sanders offered and offers, and indeed also not what Hillary Clinton offers.

I may be mistaken, but I hope not.

---------------
Notes

[0] I do, and the main reason for this note is that it seems to me far too many people are - in fact, often also without understanding it - far more totalitarian than they should be, and notably in only supporting people that they agree with almost completely.

I am not a totalitarian (indeed that was one important reason for me to give up on communism in 1970, although my parents, whom I admired, were communists for a long time then, and would remain so the rest of their lives) and I like people who are informed, intelligent and capable of writing well, and
it is for these reasons that I generally like people like Chris Hedges and Bill Maher:

I may disagree with them, but not about their being informed, intelligent and capable of writing well, and these are characteristics which themselves are far too rare these days, and which makes me like them also if I disagree.

[1] Note that this principle is stated for subjects: What the one thinks best may be quite different (indeed sometimes the opposite) of what another thinks best, but even so, a rational choice of each of them is one that prefers their best or least bad choice from the alternatives they see and they evaluate.

[2] I have explained several times that in my psychologist's opinions Trump is mad. In case you don't agree, watch this:

This compares Trump with other candidates, and gives some choice moments from his speeches.

[3] This refers to the times between 1977 and 1997, roughly, but I should also point out that I stopped studying at least 4 times in those years, and probably more, in each case motivated by my illness, except when I was denied the right of taking my M.A. in philosophy (which more or less forced me - I wanted at least an M.A. - to take one in psychology). Incidentally, I
think I am the only person in Holland who was denied the right to take an M.A. (that I perfectly well could do, and also very well) since World War II.
Why? Because I had spoken and written the truth about Dutch academics.

[4] See note 2.

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