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Nederlog

Oct 22, 2016

Crisis: Freedoms, CETA Dead?, Torture Unlawful, Neo-Fascism, Capitalism
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Introduction

1.
UN Expert Decries Global Assault on Freedom of
     Expression

2. 'Final Death Blow' to CETA as Delegates Hold Firm
     Against Pro-Corporate Deal

3. Major New Court Ruling Says “Even The President”
     Can’t Declare Torture Lawful

4. Carl Bernstein Warns of a ‘Neo-Fascist’ Movement and
     Media Empire if Trump Loses

5. Capitalism Is Doomed — Without Alternatives, So Are
     We

Introduction: 

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, October 22, 2016.

A. This is a crisis log with 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a report by someone in the UN on freedom of expression: While I agree in principle, I also missed some things; item 2 is on a report that says the CETA has received the "final death blow": I am considerably more skeptical; item 3 is about a court ruling which says "torture is not lawful", with which I agree, but I would have liked to see more; item 4 is about Carl Bernstein, who fears Trump may start a "neo-fascist movement" (Bernstein's words): I do not say 'No'; and item 5 is about capitalism which - according to the writer - "is doomed".


-- Constant part, for the moment --

B. In case you visit my Dutch site: I do not know, but it may be you need to click/reload twice or more to see any changes I have made. This certainly held for me, but it is possible this was caused by the fact that I am also writing it from my computer.

In any case, I am now (again) updating the opening of my site with the last day it was updated. (And I am very sorry if you have to click/reload several times to see the last update: It is not what I wish, nor how it was. [1]

C. In case you visit my Danish site: It now works again (!), but I do not know how long it will keep working. The Dutch site still is a mess.

I am very sorry, and none of it is due to me. I am simply doing the same things as I did for 20 or for 12 years, that also went well for 20 or for 12 years.


I will keep this introduction until I get three successive days (!!!) in which both providers work correctly. I have not seen that for many months now.

---

1. UN Expert Decries Global Assault on Freedom of Expression

The first item today is by Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

"Governments are treating words as weapons," a United Nations expert has warned, previewing a report on the global attack on the freedom of expression.

The report, based on communications with governments stemming from allegations of human rights law violations — reveal "sobering" trends of threats worldwide and "how policies and laws against terrorism and other criminal activity risk unnecessarily undermining the media, critical voices, and activists."

The expert, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, is presenting his report on the sometimes "abusive" practices by governments to the UN General Assembly on Friday.

The "tools of repression" used by governments worldwide in their assault include internet shut-downs and over-classification of documents in the name of national security. The tactics may also include criminalization of criticism of the state, which may lead to detention and other punitive measures against political and human rights activists—and even journalists.

Yes, indeed: This is all true.

But I also miss two points that I think are mostly behind this trend for governments to repress the news they don't like:

(i) Governments have always tried to repress much of the news they don't like, simply out of self-interest (of their leaders), and
(ii) governments now have it very much easier to repress the news: Internet is far more centralized and therefore in principle far easier to control than was the much more diverse and much less centralized paper press.

I think these two points are also rather evidently true, but they are not mentioned in this article and I do not know whether they are mentioned in the report.

There is also this:

The report states that "attacks on journalism are fundamentally at odds with protection of freedom of expression and access to information and, as such, they should be highlighted independently of any other rationale for restriction."

The United States isn't spared criticism in the report, with Kaye noting that it "enforces its Espionage Act in ways that ensure that national security whistleblowers lack the ability to defend themselves on the merits of grounds of public interest." That's the same argument that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who faces charges under the act, has made.

This is also true, but again I say "attacks on journalism" are now far easier than they were in the day of the printing press:

Not only can the government switch off internet providers that provide news it doesn't like (which - on the moment - is less likely to happen in Europe or the USA) but it can also follow, track, trace and spy on almost anything (most) journalists do to gather information. (And this seems already to have stopped most journalists from working as they did "in paper days".)

Here is the last bit that I will quote from this article:

The report concludes that the justifications governments give for limiting freedom of opinion and expression "are often unsustainable."

Some of the limitations involve assertions of a legitimate objective—typically national security or public order—without the barest demonstration of legality or necessity and proportionality. Other limitations are based on objectives that are not legitimate under international human rights law. Old tools remain in use, while others are expanding, as States exploit society’s pervasive need to access the internet. The targets of restrictions include journalists and bloggers, critics of government, dissenters from conventional life, provocateurs, and minorities of all sorts. Our communications have revealed allegations relating to all of these issues, and reporting from civil society suggests that the problems are more pervasive and extensive than even our communications illuminate.

"Censorship in all its forms reflects official fear of ideas and information," Kaye said in a statement released Thursday.

Again I agree, though I must say that I know the last statement for more than 50 years.

And also - but I admit I say this without having read the UN report - it seems to me that the UN makes this too much a matter of "being against censorship" (which I agree with, but this is an ethical norm) and doesn't seem to see that as a matter of fact governments nearly always try to censor information that displeases them and, again as a matter of fact, they have it far easier in principle with the internet to stop information they don't like, indeed also long before it is published, namely by spying on journalists.

I would have liked to read more about these facts.

2. 'Final Death Blow' to CETA as Delegates Hold Firm Against Pro-Corporate Deal

The second item is by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Dealing what campaigners say is the final "death blow" to the pro-corporate Canada-European Union trade deal, negotiations collapsed on Friday after representatives from the Belgian region of Wallonia refused to agree to a deal that continues ignore democracy in favor of multi-national corporations.

Canada's International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland reportedly walked out of talks with the Wallonia delegation, which had ruled to maintain their veto against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) after the parties reached a stalemate over the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system.

Yes, I have heard the same news on the Dutch radio. Then again, I am skeptical: I don't think any of the TTP, TTIP, TISA or CETA is going away until they are definitely totally killed, and they are not, now.

The reason these four secret trade deals are so extremely popular is that they will give all powers to the multi-national corporations, and that these powers will be taken from national governments, national parliaments, national judiciaries and the inhabitants of nations.

It will be the legal arrival of neofascism [2], arranged by the lawyers of the multi-national corporations, and put forward by vastly corrupted politicians.

Here is one of them:

Friday's talks were held as a last-ditch effort to save the trade deal. After they fell apart, an emotional Freeland told reporters, "I've worked very, very hard, but I think it's impossible," referring to the impasse. "It's become evident for me, for Canada, that the European Union isn't capable now to have an international treaty even with a country that has very European values like Canada."

Ms Freedland was posturing and bullshitting: "European values" are baloney without specification, and if Canada wants to take away the powers from national governments, national parliaments, national judiciaries and the inhabitants of nations, and thus found neofascism [2] it should say so clearly:

"We want to take away all national powers, and replace them by the powers of the ISDSs that only look at the profits of the multi-national corporations. We Canadians are proponents of neofascism. How dare you Europeans oppose that?!"

At least, that's what I think Ms Freedland ought to have said. (And yes, I perfectly understand why, instead, she bullshitted about "European values".)

Here is some about some of her opponents:

Campaigners who have led the fight against CETA and its sister trade deals—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—rejoiced over the news, saying the planned October 27 signing ceremony now looks "improbable."

"Canada's trade minister may be 'very, very sad', but there are millions of people in Europe who will be very, very happy," said Mark Dearn, senior trade campaigner with the UK-based War on Want.

Yes, but the signing of the CETA only looks "improbable" - and neofascism [2] is a very, very big prize for the multi-national CEOs, their lawyers and their politicians.

There is more in the article, that seems too optimistic to me.

3. Major New Court Ruling Says “Even The President” Can’t Declare Torture Lawful

The third item is by Alex Emmons on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

In a robust ruling in favor of Abu Ghraib detainees, an appellate court ruled Friday that torture is such a clear violation of the law that it is “beyond the power of even the president to declare such conduct lawful.”

The ruling from a unanimous panel of judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates a lawsuit against a military contractor for its role in the torture of four men at the notorious prison in Iraq.

Last June, a district court ruled that a “cloud of ambiguity” surrounds the definition of torture, and that despite anti-torture laws, the decision to torture was a “political question” that could not be judged by courts.

That ruling echoed the widely discredited legal theories of the Bush administration, which argued that the war on terror gave the president the inherent authority to indefinitely detain and torture terror suspects, and conduct mass surveillance on Americans’ international communications.

But the Fourth Circuit soundly rejected that theory, saying that the United States has clear laws against torturing detainees that apply to the executive branch.

Hm. I agree with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Bush Jr. and his team did not, and started torturing people, on presidential orders, and with (apparent) legal justifications.

I think Bush Jr. was legally mistaken, but Bush Jr. did not, and his rulings held the day as long as he was president.

There is also this in the article:

“While executive officers can declare the military reasonableness of conduct amounting to torture, it is beyond the power of even the president to declare such conduct lawful,” wrote appellate Judge Barbara Keenan, writing for the unanimous panel.

The case in question revolves around contractors from CACI Premier Technologies who participated in the interrogations of the four men in 2004, subjecting them to extreme temperatures, electric shocks, broken bones, death threats, and sexual abuse.

The Center for Constitutional Rights originally filed suit against CACI on behalf of the detainees in 2008. The company has been seeking to dismiss the lawsuit ever since, and this is the fourth time it reached the appeals court.

I would have liked to know what are the foundations of Judge Barbare Keenan to write that "it is beyond the power of even the president to declare [torture] lawful".

The reason is not that I disagree with her: the reason is that the previous president and his staff disagreed with her, and also confused the issues by avoiding the term "torture".

I think there are international laws that the USA signed that do forbid torture, but if that was the reason, or part of the reason, I would have liked to know it.

Finally, there is this in the article:

The plaintiffs and advocates at the Center for Constitutional Rights celebrated the decision.

“Torture is illegal and can never be a ‘policy choice,'” said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “As the court made clear, neither the military nor the president — let alone a government lawyer — has the power to declare torture legal.”

I agree that the Center for Constitutional Rights had some reasons for celebrations, but I do like to insist that while I agree with their ethical opinions, it is a matter of fact that torture has been legal a very long time, also in Europe; that it often was a policy choice; and that the lawyers of the previous president of the USA insisted it was legal.

4. Carl Bernstein Warns of a ‘Neo-Fascist’ Movement and Media Empire if Trump Loses

The fourth item is by Elizabeth Preza on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

Famed journalist Carl Bernstein signed on to rumors that Donald Trump is planning on launching a media empire of his own should he lose the November election, adding he fears “a real neo-fascist movement and media empire.”

“I think the most interesting thing going on right now is Trump saying that he may not go along with the results of this election,” Bernstein said in an interview with CNN Thursday. “What does it really mean? It means, I think, he is setting himself up—again, I’m going to go back to that neo-fascist term—of a real neo-fascist movement and media empire.”

Yes, I agree with Bernstein (<-Wikipedia), and I like it that he used the term neo-fascism [2], for I think that is the best designation of Trump's policies and plans.

There is also this:

Bernstein noted that the billionaire’s businesses have taken a hit as a result of this election, and suggested a media empire is next in store for the Republican candidate.

“[Are] there going to be remnants of a neo-fascist movement that he leads in this country after this election?” Bernstein asked.

“It’s a dangerous thing,” he added. “We’re in a dangerous place.”

I don't know, but I agree with Bernstein that the USA is "a dangerous place", especially with Trump, while it is also true that even if Trump himself were to disappear, there still are many millions who supported his ideas and values.

5. Capitalism Is Doomed — Without Alternatives, So Are We

The fifth and last item is by Jake Johnson on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

In 1946, George Orwell pondered the fragility of the capitalist order.

Reviewing the work of the influential theorist James Burnham, Orwell presaged several concepts that would later form the groundwork for his best-known novel, 1984.

In his book The Managerial Revolution, Burnham envisioned, as Orwell put it, "a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production."

"The real question," Orwell adds, "is not whether the people who wipe their boots on us during the next fifty years are to be called managers, bureaucrats, or politicians: the question is whether capitalism, now obviously doomed, is to give way to oligarchy or to true democracy."

While Orwell was wary of Burnham's worldview and of his more specific predictions, he agreed that the relationship between capitalism and democracy has always been, and always will be, a precarious one.

"For quite fifty years past," Orwell noted, "the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy."

I very much like Orwell, and he saw this quite correctly and quite deeply - and in case you are interested: He reviewed Burnham's ideas in Volumes 3 and 4 of his "The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell", that I own in Penguin.

Here are two points I want to make:

First, I think Burnham and (especially) Orwell saw quite deeply: The new rulers are not the owners of the means of production (mostly stock owners) but (especially) the CEOs of the rich multi-nationals, simply because they command very great amounts of money and power, and they are trying to organize society in an oligarchic way, with them at the helm.

I think that much is and was correct (though I also think - and I have read all of Orwell - that Burnham was mostly quite incorrect in other things).

Second, when Orwell wrote "For quite fifty years past, the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy" he was quite right - and he spoke of the fifty years that had passed in 1946 since 1896, in which laborers were paid very little, and women only got the vote around 1920.

Meanwhile some 35 years of Keynesianism have passed, between 1946 and 1980, which produced considerably better incomes for the poor, while in the 35 years since 1980, everyone who did NOT belong to the 1% again have NOT made any progress in incomes, while the few rich gained enormous riches.

And I think that is the fundamental opposition: Between the rich few who have always tried to organize things so that they remained on top, both in incomes and in power, and have done so for the last 2500 years, and the non-rich many, who did not have much power or money ever.

Then there is this on capitalism:

Recent events, and the material circumstances of much of the world's population, have prompted serious examinations of the same questions Orwell was considering seven decades ago. And though it appears as if rumors of capitalism's imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated, there is good reason to believe that its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of frequent (self-induced) shocks has reached a breaking point.

I have no strong opinions on "capitalism's demise". I do believe there are quite a few other social models than capitalism to run a society, and therefore I definitely disagree with those who insist capitalism is the only economical model for a viable society. [3]

And while I do not know when capitalism will end, I think one of the main reasons for its end is the enormous rise in the human population: In the time
I have lived, the human population increased from 2 billion to well over 7 billion (more than 3 times as many, in 60 years).

Then again, the rich few stick to their riches and their power as much as they can - and since Thatcher and Reagan took over power around 1980 in fact gained both a lot of power and a lot of money:

Far from loosening the leash, elites have consolidated power to an unprecedented extent, and they have used their influence to undercut democratic movements and hijack public institutions.

Here is how much the few own (which is more than at any time in human history, I think):

According to Oxfam, the global 1 percent now owns as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent. CEO pay has continued to soar. And though post-crisis reforms have carried soaring promises of stability, the financial sector is still far too large, and many of the banks harmed by the crash they created are back and nearly as powerful as ever.

Yes. Incidentally, while I really have no strong opinions on the demise of capitalism, I think one strong possible reason for an enormous economical collapse is the financial sector, that mostly seems to enrich itself by refusing any control, and who can refuse most control because they are so powerful and so rich.

Then there is "the sociologist Peter Frase":

"To the extent that the rich are able to maintain their power," Frase writes, "we will live in a world where they enjoy the benefits of automated production, while the rest of us pay the costs of ecological destruction—if we can survive at all." And, "To the extent that we can move toward a world of greater equality, then the future will be characterized by some combination of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity, depending on where we are on the other, ecological dimension."

It comes down, in short, to who wins the class struggle. "I am a very old-fashioned Marxist in that way," Frase remarked in a recent interview.

Hm. I have three remarks.

First, I think 7 billion people is too much. You may disagree, but there still are about 1 billion who do not have enough to eat, and I think "a global society" where 1 in 7 do not have enough to eat, while 1% owns 99% of the wealth, simply is too unfair and too exploitative to keep existing for a long time.

Second, I think the few rich also think there are too many people, and it seems they have decided that those who cannot pay their own survival have to die. (This is probably also behind the termination of social security in the USA: The rich think the many poor have no right to survive, not even on the minimum that social security gives them.)

But third, since I was raised by two Marxists, with Marxist and Anarchist grand- parents, and since I know Marx very well, I think "class struggle" is a fundamental confusion: There are the rich and the non-rich, and their interests are fundamentally opposed, simply because the rich are rich because they took their riches - somehow - from the non-rich, but "classes" are an additional abstraction that mostly confuse the issues. [4]

The article ends as follows:

The future is necessarily disobedient; it rarely conforms to even the most meticulous theoretical anticipations, to say nothing of our deepest desires or fears.

But one thing is clear: The future of capitalism and the future of the planet are intertwined. The health of the latter depends on our ability to dismantle the former, and on our ability to construct an alternative that radically alters our course, which is at present leading us toward catastrophe.

I agree, except that I may be more pessimistic:

I think "the health of the planet" is much worse than it could have been, and this is mostly due to actions of the rich few since 1950 and especially since 1980; I think undoing global warming will take centuries (at least); I think nature is still being ruined very rapidly; and as I said, I also think 7 billion people is too much for the present capacities of the earth. [5]

And this is a recommended article.

---------------
Notes
[1] Alas, this is precisely as I said it does, and it goes on for months now. I do not know who does it, and I refuse to call the liars of "xs4all" (really: the KPN), simply because these have been lying to me from 2002-2009, and I do not trust anything they say I cannot control myself: They have treated me for seven years as a liar because "you complain about things other people do not complain about" (which is the perfect excuse never to do anything whatsoever for anyone).

[2]
Which I define as follows - and see October 19 and later:
Neofascism is a. A social system that is marked by a government with a centralized powerful authority, where the opposition is propagandized and suppressed or censored, that propounds an ethics which has profit as its main norm, and that has a politics that is rightwing, nationalistic, pro-capitalist, anti-liberal, anti-equality, and anti-leftist, and that has a corporative organization of the economy in which multi-national corporations are stronger than a national government or stateb. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a social system.
[3] I disagree with those who believe capitalism (whatever that means precisely) is the only possible economical system for two basic reasons: (1) There have been other economical systems, while also (2) I hold that the ends of society are mostly determined by two forces: (i) what mankind may do,
practically, using the technologies it has discovered, and (ii) what mankind desires to to do, given the values it has, which is in the end an ethical decision.

I also think both points are rather evidently true, but I want to warn that the ethical decisions may well be taken by a small - rich, powerful - group, that may only consider its own interests.

[4] There are several reasons why I tend to disbelieve in classes, and I will give here two. (There are more.)

First, I believe Marx started to believe in classes mostly through Friedrich Engels' book (that he wrote by himself, between 1842 and 1844, and published originally in German)
The Condition of the Working Class in England (<-Wkipedia).

In fact, this was mostly a study of the - awful - conditions that ruled in Manchester, in the 1840ies, and the term "class" may well have been merely a term to indicate the local rich (to which Engels in fact belonged).

But once you have an abstract term like "class" it becomes quite easy to oppose "the working class" and "the capitalist class", which is what Marx and Engels did (already in
The Communist Manifesto of 1848) and they stuck to it (and thus transcended - so to speak - both groups and nations).

Second, what Marx and Engels missed - it seemed to me, from 1970 onwards - is that people live in three forms, as it were:

First, they are individual persons. Second, they are family members. And third they are members of quite a few wider groups than their own families.

They do not live as classes, nor do they experience classes: They live as persons, and do so mostly in various groups, which they do experience, and which in fact condition many of their attitudes and values. (I agree their incomes are quite decisive as to their possibilities, but that does not oppose any of the former distinctions.)

None of this proves there are no classes, and indeed there may be classes in some ways. But what people live in are
groups rather than classes, and groups are much smaller than classes, and everyone knows quite a large number of the several groups to which he or she belongs ("my family", "my friends", "the people I work with", "the people I went to school with",
"the bosses", "the regulars in my café", "the people of my church", "the people in my party" etc. etc.)

Classes seem to me to be more on the level of "blond" or "brown eyed", "left handed" or "right handed", or perhaps "male" and "female": They do apply to very large collections of groups of people, but the real distinctions between people tend to be far more specific and also far more determining of the type of person one is: That depends on one's groups and family far more than on one's class.

[5] One of the reasons I am pessimistic is that I know these things now for about 50 years, and have seen very few changes, and no adequate ones, while in my life there grew to be more than three times as many people as there were when I was born.

I will not say more on this, except about one thing:

While I grant it is ideally possible to properly feed 7 billion people, this has never happened, and it will never happen in the present conditions of production and consumption: With these, at least 1 in 6 is entitled to very little, and must be prepared to starve for part of his or her life.

I don't think that is fair, and therefore I say that there are now too many people to feed properly,
in the present conditions of production and consumption.

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