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Nederlog

Aug 19, 2016

Crisis: Illusion Of Freedom, Private Prisons, Sanders On Inequality
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Introduction

1.
The Illusion of Freedom
2. What You Need to Know About the DOJ's Claim It Is
     Ending Private Prisons

3. Sanders Condemns Obscene Levels of Inequality
     Documented in New CBO Report
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday, August 19, 2016.

There are 3 items with 3 dotted links today: Item 1 is (again) a repeat of an article by Chris Hedges, with a repeat of my review (and it's a good article); item 2 is about "the ending of private prisons" in the USA, which turns out to be much less than advertised; and item 3 is about poverty in the USA, which seems to this very poor person (in Dutch circumstances) considerably worse than it is - so far - in Holland.

And I did check everything as I do normally: I just couldn't find more that I think is fit to be reviewed by me.

1. The Illusion of Freedom

The first item today is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
As I have said before, Chris Hedges is on holiday, and Truthdig meanwhile prints some older articles Hedges published. Since I like Hedges (also when I disagree [0]) I have followed him and reviewed most of his articles in Truthdig, and the present article is no exception: It is "The Illusion of Freedom" that was first published on December 27, 2015 and that was reviewed by me the next day.

Here is my review from that day. I reprint it unaltered and between two occurences of "---":

----

This starts as follows:
The seizure of political and economic power by corporations is unassailable. Who funds and manages our elections? Who writes our legislation and laws? Who determines our defense policies and vast military expenditures? Who is in charge of the Department of the Interior? The Department of Homeland Security? Our intelligence agencies? The Department of Agriculture? The Food and Drug Administration? The Department of Labor? The Federal Reserve? The mass media? Our systems of entertainment? Our prisons and schools? Who determines our trade and environmental policies? Who imposes austerity on the public while enabling the looting of the U.S. Treasury and the tax boycott by Wall Street? Who criminalizes dissent?
These are good questions and they are all answered at the beginning: Political and economic power have been seized by the multi-national corporations.

The seizing of power took them 35 or 45 years [1] but the US government and the multi-national corporations, including banks and their managers, have confluenced both in persons and in policies, for the people designing and implementing policies are often former bank managers who will again be bank managers after their stints in government.

And as I've said before (repeatedly) these are the facts: All important US policies are policies that further the financial interests of the multi-national corporations and their managers, at the cost of the interests of everybody else (who is not very rich)>.

And Chris Hedges is quite right this takeover of power isn't happening, anymore: it has happened, and the powers that protesters - who want democracy, higher wages, good and payable education for everyone, clean air, clean waters, and less influence of the mega-rich - face a far greater and considerably militarized power that is indeed "unassailable" in most ways.

Here is the result for everybody who is not a rich CEO, his or her lawyers, or a prominent politician:
Our rights and opinions do not matter. We have surrendered to our own form of wehrwirtschaft. We do not count within the political process.

This truth, emotionally difficult to accept, violates our conception of ourselves as a free, democratic people. It shatters our vision of ourselves as a nation embodying superior virtues and endowed with the responsibility to serve as a beacon of light to the world. It takes from us the “right” to impose our fictitious virtues on others by violence.
I agree also with the second paragraph, though I add that I never believed in this myth of the USA as "a free, democratic people" (etc.) simply because it seemed to me that most Americans did not and do not know enough about politics, power, and economics to have the reasonably informed opinions that would make them a real democracy (if they are free to say what they think, and free to organize themselves, and are able to be truly informed about society and reality).

Then again "a free, democratic people" always is a matter of degree, and by now the USA is less free and less democratic than it has ever been, and is also continueing to be even less free and less democratic.

Here are Chris Hedges' expectations for the future of the USA
:
No vote we cast will alter the configurations of the corporate state. The wars will go on. Our national resources will continue to be diverted to militarism. The corporate fleecing of the country will get worse. Poor people of color will still be gunned down by militarized police in our streets. The eradication of our civil liberties will accelerate. The economic misery inflicted on over half the population will expand. Our environment will be ruthlessly exploited by fossil fuel and animal agriculture corporations and we will careen toward ecological collapse. We are “free” only as long as we play our assigned parts. Once we call out power for what it is, once we assert our rights and resist, the chimera of freedom will vanish.
I think this is all quite correct, and it all follows from the fact that the rich few have succeeded in getting the powers they wanted, and are using these powers only to further the interests of the (Western) very rich: Clearly they are unwilling to do anything for the poor or the middle class.

Then there is this on totalitarian propaganda:

The essential component of totalitarian propaganda is artifice. The ruling elites, like celebrities, use propaganda to create false personae and a false sense of intimacy with the public.

The emotional power of this narrative is paramount. Issues do not matter. Competency and honesty do not matter. Past political stances or positions do not matter. What is important is how we are made to feel. Those who are skilled at deception succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of deception become “unreal.” Politics in totalitarian societies are entertainment.
Incidentally, an "artifice" is, according to Merriam-Webster: "dishonest or insincere behavior or speech that is meant to deceive someone". And I'd say all propaganda (not just totalitarian propaganda) uses artifices, for all propaganda is deception to some extent.

But Chris Hedges is quite right that what is most important in propaganda is "how we are made to feel", indeed in part because our feelings are very important parts in our decisions, and because feelings are very easily manipulated by those who desire to do so (and very much easier than facts). [2]

There is also this:

The more communities break down and poverty expands, the more anxious and frightened people will retreat into self-delusion. Those who speak the truth—whether about climate change or our system of inverted totalitarianism—will be branded as seditious and unpatriotic. They will be hated for destroying the illusion.
Yes, and this is (also) how it went under fascism and nazism. And here are several additions to what the paragraph said. First, it is not just self-delusion people retreat into, but also apathy. Second, it is not just those who speak the truth who will be said aside or persecuted, but anybody who opposes the government or the multi-national corporations. Third, those who are marked as "seditious and unpatriotic" are not - I guess - "hated for destroying the illusion" but much more simply because they do not belong to "We".

Incidentally, the link to
inverted totalitarianism is very well worth clicking, especially if you never heard of Sheldon Wolin.

The article ends as follows:

History may not repeat itself. But it echoes itself. Human nature, after all, is constant. We will react no differently from those who went before us. This should not dissuade us from resisting, but the struggle will be long and difficult. Before it is over there will be blood in the streets.

Yes, I agree that human nature is constant, and that Chris Hedges is quite right in insisting that we should try to resist, and that "the struggle will be long long and difficult".

This is a fine article, and you are recommended to read all of it. It will not make you feel happier, but this is in good part because Hedges speaks the truth, and the truth is pretty awful.

----


I still agree - on August 19, 2016 - with my review, and only add four links to the late Sheldon Wolin (<-Wikipedia) who was well interviewed by Hedges in 2014. Here are the relevant links to my reviews in Nederlog, all with links to the originals: here, here, here and here while the last one is here.

All of these are very readable and are recommended. And incidentally, one of the articles by Wolin that I liked and saw, and then was hard to find again, still is here, from July 2003: "A Kind of Fascism Is Replacing Our Democracy".

2.
What You Need to Know About the DOJ's Claim It Is Ending Private Prisons

The second item is by Sarah Lazare on AlterNet:
This starts as follows:

The U.S. Justice Department issued a memo, first reported Thursday by Matt Zapotosky and Chico Harlan of the Washington Post, in which the federal agency claims that it will end the use of private prisons.

"I am eager to enlist your help in beginning the process of reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. “As you know, all of the Bureau's existing contracts with private prison companies are term-limited and subject to renewal or termination. I am directing that, as each contract reaches the end of its term, the Bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the Bureau's inmate population.”

The declaration has been met with considerable fanfare among a public weary of mass incarceration. In a country that comprises just 5 percent of the global population, the U.S. is responsible for locking up 20 percent of the world’s prison population.

Yes, indeed. And I selected the present article from several alternatives because it avoids the fanfare. First, here is a clarification of how many prisoners are effected:

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, professor at the City University of New York and expert in race, prisons and capitalism, pointed out in an article published last February, “Private prisons hold about 8 percent of the prison population and a barely measurable number (5 percent) of those in jails. Overall, about 5 percent of the people locked up are doing time in private prisons.”

In fact, according to the reporting of Zapotosky and Harlan, the directive is “limited to the 13 privately run facilities, housing a little more than 22,000 inmates, in the federal Bureau of Prisons system.”

Hence this is considerably less than Sally Yates suggested. It is something, but not much, indeed also not because the following prisoners are not covered:

Because the memo only applies to Bureau of Prison facilities, it will not impact notorious immigrant detention centers—the fastest growing area of the U.S. private prison industry. As of last year, 62 percent all beds in ICE immigrant detention centers were operated by for-profit companies—a significant jump from 49 percent in 2009.

For-profit immigrant detention centers, some of which house mothers with their children, have been rocked by repeated protests and hunger strikes against inhumane conditions.

But as I said, these for-profit prisons will simply continue. The article ends as follows, indeed after noting that Sally Yates announcement is not nothing, but also not much:

Others warn that it is dangerous to overstate the accomplishment. “This is another example of a more symbolic prison reform, which is what the prison reforms of the last few years have been,” Dan Berger, the author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, told AlterNet. “It makes a difference to some people’s lives, but it is nowhere near the sweeping and realizable changes that are needed.”

I think that is correct.

3. Sanders Condemns Obscene Levels of Inequality Documented in New CBO Report

The third and last item today is by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This has a subtitle which sums up some of the background:
'Unacceptable' wealth inequality keeps growing in the U.S., with the top 10 percent of families owning three-quarters of total wealth
This starts as follows:

Yet another report, this one from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), highlights what many American families already know: The rich keep getting richer, while everyone else keeps struggling to get by.

The CBO report, released Thursday and prepared at the request of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), examines trends in family wealth from 1989 to 2013. 

It found, unsurprisingly, that the distribution of wealth—assets including home equity, other real estate holdings, financial securities, and defined contribution pension accounts—among the nation's families "was more unequal in 2013 than it had been in 1989."

Meanwhile, the report reads: "Compared with families in the top half of the distribution, families in the bottom half experienced disproportionately slower growth in wealth between 1989 and 2007, and they had a disproportionately larger decline in wealth after the recession of 2007 to 2009."

I don't think this will amaze any regular reader of Nederlog, but this doesn't mean it isn't relevant.  And here is a more precise summary of the - rather awful - facts about incomes and wealth in the USA:

As of 2013, the top 10 percent of families owned a full 76 percent of total family wealth in the U.S., while those in the bottom half of the distribution held just one percent. The average wealth of the top 10 percent was $4 million, while families in the bottom 25 percent were $13,000 in debt on average.

Responding on Twitter and in a statement, Sanders seized on the findings to reiterate several themes of his presidential primary campaign. 

"The reality, as this report makes clear, is that since the 1980s there has been an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the wealthiest people in this country," he said. "There is something profoundly wrong when the rich keep getting richer and virtually everyone else gets poorer. That is unacceptable, and that has got to change."

That is: 10% of the Americans own 75% of all wealth, and have on average $4 million; 25% of the Americans own $13,000 in debts, on average. I say. [3] And I fully agree with Sanders that these facts are quite obscene (more polite: "profoundly wrong").

The article ends as follows:

Just last week, an analysis from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Corporation for Enterprise Development explained how reforming the U.S. tax code could help low-income Americans build wealth and savings while reducing wealth concentration at the top.

"Federal policymakers have a clear choice to make," said Chuck Collins of IPS at the time. "They can allow this pattern to continue and set our country on a road to economic devastation, or they can stop facilitating the wealth divide and start expanding opportunities to boost wealth for all families."

I agree, but I am far from optimistic, simply because the greedy, the egoistic and the rich do almost anything to keep their riches, and have acquired enormous powers to do so.

---------------
Notes
[0] I add it again because I see so many who only approve what they nearly totally agree with: I do not think "everyone is of equal value", and I also never thought so and never will.

[1]
Namely, depending on where you start from: (Nearly) 45 years ago, judge Lewis Powell sent around a memo that called on the rich to organize themselves, and around 35 years ago Thatcher and Reagan were elected.

Personally, I strongly tend to: 35 years ago, for that also coincides with the beginning of the fact that remained so ever since: In real terms, all wages other than the wages of the rich managers and their lawyers were flat or declining for 35 years, whereas the wages of the rich managers and their lawyers went up by enormous amounts (and this without considering the much less taxes the rich have to pay)
.

For more see Robert Reich's
Inequality for All which you also find reviewed here.

[2] In fact, this is almost the only thing psychiatry has done that was true: That it is - for people who are paid to deceive so as to sell more products with their deceptions - much easier to manipulate people by manipulating their feelings about themselves and others ("It will make you feel better!" "Your neighbors want it as well!") than it is to manipulate the facts ("It is much better than other products!" "It will save you money!").

For more, see the nephew of Freud, Edward Bernays, and his book Propaganda (on my site).


[3] Incidentally: I am Dutch, and am probably the poorest person of my age in Holland, since I am 66 and I absolutely never in my life earned as much as the minimal income in Holland. The main reasons for this are that I am ill since I am 28; that the illness is not recognized for 37 years now (although doctors agree that I am and have been ill all these years); and that I have been very much discriminated in the University of Amsterdam and by the City of Amsterdam simply because I disagreed with their grossly illegal policies (both as regards the selling of illegal drugs since 1985 as if they are legal, and as regards the awfully bad education the University of Amsterdam offered almost anyone who studied there between 1971 and 1995 - since when it only got worse, for the studies have been halved while the prices have been made fourfold at the very least).

But even so, I must say that I have no debts whatsoever; have saved several thousands of euroos; and can pay everything I have to pay. Then again, I also have one of the best M.A. degrees ever awarded in Holland; I have a lot of forced training to survive on a minimal budget; I don't drink at all; and I never go out simply because I am ill.

I infer that the situation for the very poor - which is what I am, in Holland - is considerably better than it is for the same in the USA, if only because I certainly would be worse of than I am if there were any legal possibility, for I have much offended the Amsterdam mayors who protected the illegal drugs-dealers while letting me be terrorized by them for over three years:

They allowed me to be gassed by them; to be threatened with murder by them; and to be kept out of sleep for three years, while the drugsdealers meanwhile made fortunes, while my letters and mails were not even acknowledged receipt by any of these mayors.

Then again, almost no Dutchman cared that these things happened to me, and no police report was made about any of my complaints: all were refused, even when the drugsdealers who had threatened to murder me "if you do anything that displeases us" were arrested with several kiloos of cocaine and heroine in 1991.

That was Dutch justice: It was much better for this brilliant son of heroes of the Dutch resistance against Nazism to be killed by the illegal drugsdealers - who already had me gassed once, which I barely survived - that his mayor loved to protect, than that his human and civil rights were ever as much as considered: Profit always comes first in Holland, and the profits on illegal drugs are enormous.


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