Dec 11, 2016

Crisis: Evidence, Media & Morality, Americans, Michael Hudson on Economy
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s
     Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence

2. Media, Morality and the Neighbor’s Cow
3. No, America, It Wasn’t Russia: You Did This to Yourself
4. Michael Hudson: Economists’ Deadly but
     Innocuous-Seeming Proclamations


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, December 11, 2016.

This is a crisis log with 4 items and 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about another article by Glenn Greenwald on "fake news" and publishing utter bullshit without
any evidence as if it were true; item 2 is about an article by Neal Gabler that reflects on the rises of post-truth and egoism (I don't agree with all, but recommend it nevertheless); item 3 is about an article by Juan Cole who says that the Americans elected Trump (rather than the Russians, by unproven manipulations): I think he may be right, but is a bit strong; and item 4 is about an interview with Michael Hudson that is quite sensible.

I did not draw up a list of articles about electing Trump as president today, in part because I wrote two Nederlogs today. The first of these two Nederlogs is here, but it is mostly in Dutch and is about myself between age 17 and age 20,
i.e. about the time between 1967 and 1970. This will probably not interest many, also because the two clubs I discuss (Kreatie 3 and the OPSJ), which were rather important to me between 1964 and 1970, seem to be wholly unknown today on the internet.

-- Constant part, for the moment --
B. In case you visit my Dutch site: It keeps being horrible most days and was so on most days in November 2016. But on 2.xii and 3.xii it was correct. Since then it mostly wasn't (until and
including 10.xii).

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. [0]

C. In case you visit my Danish site: This was so-so till 18.xi and was correct since then (most or all days).

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. Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence

The first item today is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.

If that is true (and it very probably is) then the Washington Post should not have published this "explosive story" at all, for it seems to be pure fantasy that is not backed up by any evidence whatsoever.

Here is some more on this total bullshit (that is very convenient to Hillary Clinton):

These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed.

It is total bullshit because (i) no actual evidence of any kind is given and because (ii) even "the CIA’s “secret assessment”" remains a secret.

There is this on the background and the probable reasons for this total bullshit:

Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome.

Again, the point is that "the Democrats" have no proof whatsoever: All they have is wishful thinking:

Given the obvious significance of this story — it is certain to shape how people understand the 2016 election and probably foreign policy debates for months if not years to come — it is critical to keep in mind some basic facts about what is known and, more importantly, what is not known:

(1) Nobody has ever opposed investigations to determine if Russia hacked these emails, nor has anyone ever denied the possibility that Russia did that. The source of contention has been quite simple: No accusations should be accepted until there is actual convincing evidence to substantiate those accusations.

There is still no such evidence for any of these claims. What we have instead are assertions, disseminated by anonymous people, completely unaccompanied by any evidence, let alone proof. As a result, none of the purported evidence — still — can be publicly seen, reviewed, or discussed. Anonymous claims leaked to newspapers about what the CIA believes do not constitute proof, and certainly do not constitute reliable evidence that substitutes for actual evidence that can be reviewed. Have we really not learned this lesson yet?

Perhaps Glenn Greenwald is quite right that this story - which for all I know has no evidence whatsoever - "is certain to shape how people understand the 2016 election and probably foreign policy debates for months if not years to come".

If so, it means that wishful thinking, fantasies, lies and bullshit have totally replaced real news in the mainstream media in the USA.

There is a lot more in the article, which is recommended, but that seems to me to be the main lesson.

2. Media, Morality and the Neighbor’s Cow

The second item is by Neal Gabler (<- Wikipedia) on Moyers & Company:
This starts as follows:
If you have any doubts that the phenomenon of Donald Trump was a long time a’coming, you have only to read a piece that Gore Vidal wrote for Esquire magazine in July 1961, when the conservative movement was just beginning and even Barry Goldwater was hardly a glint in Republicans’ eyes.

Vidal’s target was Paul Ryan’s idol, and the idol of so many modern conservatives: the trash novelist and crackpot philosopher Ayn Rand, whom Vidal quotes thusly:

It was the morality of altruism that undercut America and is now destroying her.

Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom… or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.

To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.

The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral…

In most quarters, in 1961, this stuff would have been regarded as nearly sociopathic nonsense, but, as Vidal noted, Rand was already gaining adherents: “She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who hate the ‘welfare state,’ who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts.”
I like Gore Vidal (<- Wikipedia) (see - for example - here, and there are more files about him in August 2012 [1]) and I also totally agree that Ayn Rand (<- Wikipedia) was a "trash novelist and crackpot philosopher". I did read two of her books between 1971 and 1974, and that was precisely the sort of conclusion I drew then: She cannot write novels at all, and her philosophy is uninformed baloney. I still think so, and found no reason to read more of her.

The above quotation of Rand (which is also bullshit) may very well have "enlightened" Milton Friedman (<- Wikipedia), for he insisted for many years that CEOs have and ought to have just one norm: Profit, and the more the better.

There is also this, which is in part due to Ayn Rand's influence:

The Republican Party has been the party of selfishness and the party of punishment for decades now, trashing the basic precepts not only of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also of humanity generally.

Vidal again: “That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea that has figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race.” It is, one could argue, what makes us human. The opposing idea, Rand’s idea, that the less fortunate should be left to suffer, is what endangers our humanity now. I have previously written in this space how conservatism dismantled the concept of truth so it could fill the void with untruth. I called it an epistemological revolution. But conservatism also has dismantled traditional morality so it could fill that void. I call that a moral revolution.

I agree with the first of the above two quoted paragraphs.

As to the two revolutions Neal Gabler identified, I'm a bit more skeptical, indeed in part because Neal Gabler is a journalist and a film critic (while I am academically a philosopher and a psychologist).

First about the "epistemological revolution". I don't disagree that "the concept of truth" has been "dismantled", and that this was done, in part at least, to "fill the void with untruth", but in fact I have seen this first happen in 1978, when the academic year in the University of Amsterdam was officially opened by a public speech by professor Brandt who claimed literally (in translation) the utter lie and contradiction (for to know something = to believe something that is true) that

Everybody knows that truth does not exist.

But that is meanwhile more than 38 years ago. [2] It was followed in the middle 1980ies by postmodernism, that got quite popular among many academics, that insisted that there is no truth and no reality: all there is are texts and interpretations (and see here, for a good example of somebody who was too intelligent to accept that bullshit).

That got contradicted by several competent people (especially after 1996, when Alan Sokal launched his beautiful hoax of the postmodernists), that seems to have undone rather a lot of postmodernism, though not all, in the next 5 to 10 years.

And now - in the end of 2016, again 20 years after the Sokal affair, I am reading, in fact only since quite recently, that "we are in the age of post-truth" ("post-truth" als was The Oxford Dictionaries' "word of the year" of 2016), that in fact does not seem to have much to do with serious or even quasi- serious discussions of truth but mostly with the rather evident desires in the mainstream media to lie and to propagandize (mostly because this is both a lot easier and quite well-paid by the rich).

I think all of this is true (!), but I do not know to which of these diverse attacks
on truth Neal Gabler refers.

Next about the "moral revolution". In fact, I don't know that "conservatism also has dismantled traditional morality". What I agree with (if this is what is meant) is that in ordinary morality there is a shift towards indifference and egoism, but I don't know this is a "moral revolution", indeed in part because morality is less well-defined than truth or science, and in part because much of morality (since a very long time also: you could be burned for ages for not being a Christian, for example) is filled with various kinds and styles of hypocrisy. [3]

I agree the rises of indifference and egoism are unsympathetic, but at least part of it may very well be due to a decrease of hypocrisy, which I think in good part because I have seen extremely little solidarity, concern or help for people who are genuinely ill, for nearly 38 years now (like me, with M.E.)

This is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:

But what happens when those extremists who advocate a bizarre morality that elevates selfishness and deplores altruism commandeer one of our two major political parties? What do you do then?

We know the answer. You do nothing.

No, not quite. For one thing, it depends on who "You" are taken to be. (And it is false for quite a number of "leftist public intellectuals", like Reich and Chomsky.)

For another thing:  What should one do and what can one do, if one is not "a public intellecual"? It seems to me that most of the prominent folks of the Republican Party - who tend to agree selfishness and greed are good, while altruism is bad, and indeed also tend to agree with Ayn Rand - cannot even be reached by almost all ordinary people (which is in fact quite like the prominent
folks of the Democratic Party).

In brief, it is my guess that - by and large - most ordinary American people are not much concerned with the bizarre morality that may rule the top of the Republican Party: They simply don't care.

But this is an interesting article, though I don't agree with everything in it, and it is recommended.

3. No, America, It Wasn’t Russia: You Did This to Yourself

The third item is b
y Juan Cole on Truthdig and originally on Informed Comment:

This starts as follows:

The headlines scream, “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House” and “Obama orders review of Russian Hacking during Presidential campaign.”

I don’t doubt that the Russian Federation employs hackers and PR people to influence public opinion and even election outcomes in other countries. So does the United States of America. But I am skeptical that anything the Russians did caused Donald Trump to be president.

For more on this see item 1. Incidentally, Cole's view is not quite like Greenwald's view, for Greenwald says there is no evidence (and he is right) whereas Cole says that he is skeptical that "the Russians" "caused Donald
Trump to be president". Cole may well be right, but I do not think he has much evidence for his particular form of skepticism.

Here is Cole's view:

Trump was in plain view. He had all along been in plain view. His hatred for uppity or “nasty” women, his racism, his prickliness, his narcissism, his rich white boy arrogance and entitlement (apparently even to strange women and other men’s wives), his cronyism and his fundamental dishonesty were on display 24/7 during some 18 months of the campaign, and it wasn’t as though he were an unknown quantity before that.

Americans voted for him anyway.

That is, it is Cole's view that the Americans did decide, in majority also, at least in the Electoral College if not in number of votes (for these were won by Clinton), that they preferred Trump over Clinton.

As I said, Cole may be right, but I am a little more skeptical: I agree with Greenwald - see item 1 - that there is no evidence either way, and I agree with several others (also quoted in Nederlogs of this year) that it is rather easy to manipulate many of the computers that are used in the USA in elections.

But there does not seem to be any (good) evidence they were.

4. Michael Hudson: Economists’ Deadly but Innocuous-Seeming Proclamations

The fourth and last item today is by Rosh Ashcroft on Naked Capitalism and originally on Meet the Renegades:

This is the text from an interview Rosh Ashcroft had with the economist Michael Hudson who happens to believe (as I do) that most of economics is not a real science (but much more of an ideology than a science), and also (as I argued completely by myself, in 2009) that the way to solve the crisis (in which Hudson also believes) is by writing down the debts.

We will come to that, and start with the crisis (and there is much more in the interview than I selected):

RA: You make a distinction between the real economy and Wall Street or the financialized economy and when you say that the debt has built up since World War II, year on year. Are you’re saying that when the real economy can no longer service that debt, we have a financial crisis?

MH: That’s when you have a crisis.

RA: So it isn’t a black swan as such?

MH: It is inevitable. The magic of compound interest means that interest grows and the debt accumulates. When you add in new money creation, debts grow faster than the economy at large. So the situation that existed in 2008 remains the case today: Debt in almost every country is equal to the entire GDP, the entire national income.
Incidentally "a black swan" refers (metaphorically) to an unexpected but real counter-example (in the metaphor: To the generalization that "all swans are white", on the discovery of black swans in Australia).

And what Michael Hudson is saying: No, the crisis is not due to an unexpected but real counter-example to economic theories; it is due to a completely mistaken economy and politics, both of which are now mainly driven by lousy analyses and wishful thinking.

I agree, and I also agree (if that is Hudson's idea, which I think it is) that the
crisis is much deeper than merely economical: It is also ethical and political, and indeed - in my opinion - also scientific, for universities are by now both much worse and much more expensive than they were in the Seventies and Eighties.

Here is some on one background of the American economics, which ends with
a fine and quite true point about "free markets" (that I have made many times before):

RA: So just let’s define the Great Moderation. Which years would you put the great moderation between?
MH: About 1995 to 2008. As Alan Greenspan explained it, he said that it was moderate because labour didn’t complain. Productivity was soaring and wage rates did not go up in the American economy. He explained this before the Senate committee, as what has been called the “Traumatized Worker Effect.” He said that workers are so deeply in debt that they’re afraid to strike. They’re afraid to complain about working conditions, because they could be walked out the door, and if they are fired, if they don’t have a job, then suddenly the interest rates they pay on their credit cards go up to 29 percent. They’re one month away from insolvency, one month away from homelessness.” So Greenspan said, in effect, “We’ve hooked them. We’ve got them.”

RA:  And his view is that’s the optimum state for workers, why?

MH: Because that’s what he calls a “free market.” It’s a free market where the 1% get to smash the 99% without any ability of the 99% to fight back.
The "Great Moderation" is new to me, but the fact that real salaries have hardly risen since Reagan (in 1980) is well-known to me, and the "Great Moderation" seems to be part of that tendency (that lasts now 36 years, and has incredibly profited the few rich, at the costs of the many poor [4]).

Hudson seems quite correct to me when he says that - in effect, without really saying it - Greenspan (<-Wikipedia) said "We've hooked [the workers]. We've got them." And Greenspan was strongly in favor of that, for Greenspan was strongly in favor of maximum profits for the rich (which nearly always come from exploiting the non-rich more: higher prices or lower wages).

Also, Hudson is quite right when he says that the utter helplessness of the workers is what Greenspan and his kind of economists call a "
free market":
A situation where the rich 1% can do as they please to the non-rich 99%.

Here is Hudson on what happened to economical thinking and to most economists:
The right wing, the monetarists, the Libertarians and neoliberals, especially through the Chicago school – they have taken over the economic journals, and will not let any alternative analysis or views be pushed.

That’s the genius of Chicago free-market economics. It’s the Pinochet principle: You cannot have a Chicago-style free-market unless you’re willing to kill or eliminate everybody who disagrees with you. Free-market economics Chicago-style must be totalitarian. There must be no alternative. This is what is happening. This is how economic education in the United States is. It’s the Pinochet model without the machine guns.

Incidentally, "the Chicago school" = Milton Friedman's (<- Wikipedia) kind of economics, which again got quite (in)famous for supporting the economy of Chili's dictator Pinochet.

And I do not know whether Hudson is right about "
free-market economics Chicago-style", for I do not know enough about what's happening inside the economists' departments in American universities, but I do know that so-called
"free-market economics" is ideological crap and propaganda, and has little or
nothing to do with real science.

Here is Hudson's prediction for the (near) future:

RA: If we take it to its logical conclusion, where does it end? Totalitarianism?

MH: It ends with economic planning shifting out of the hands of democratic government into the hands of the central bankers and the Treasury. They will do to Europe what they’ve done to Greece. They will do to the United States what they’ve done to the Baltics, who celebrate austerity and mass immigration and demographic collapse as if it is a miracle instead of economic disaster and suicide.

I do not know whether Hudson is right in this, but he may well be. Also, he is right in the sense that the economy in Europe, at least, now is in "the hands of the central bankers and the Treasury".

And while I doubt that "the central bankers" can do to Europe what they did do in Greece, and not because I think that "the central bankers" will not want to do
that, but because I think Europe will be destroyed economically before it gets reduced as far as Greece has been, I may be mistaken.

Here is, as the last bit that I'll quote from this article, Michael Hudson on what he thinks should be done to get out of the current crisis:

MH: In the end there’s only one way of solving the problem. That’s to write down the debts. There is no way today’s debts can be paid. The only way to free the economy from these payments for debt service is to write down the debts. That’s what finally happened in Rome.

I agree, and had the same idea as Hudson in 2008/9 - but then Obama nominated Timothy Geithner (<-Wikipedia), and Geithner arranged it so that everybody lost except the rich bankers, who got a whole lot richer.

And this is a recommended article.

[0] 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).

Incidentally, from June 2012 till the end of 2015 my eyes were quite sore (and the more so in August 2012). Since the end of 2015 they got rather a lot better, but I still need to drip them every day, and I also still need an adjusted computer.

And this means that either Gabler's use of the term "revolution" is a bit odd (a revolution that lasts now 38 years?!) or else that I do not know what he is talking about. More evidence follows in the text.

[3] Here is also a relevant quotation of Chamfort (<- Wkipedia) (who died in 1793):
"Les hommes sont si pervers que le seul espoir et même le seul désir de les corriger, de les voir raisonnables et honnêtes, est un absurdité, une idée romanesque qui ne se pardonne qu'à la simplicité de la première jeunesse."
I meanwhile translated this quite a few times, so leave this out now.

[4] Incidentally, that is also one of the two main points one should understand about "our economy":

One. There are two kinds of people, the rich and the non-rich, and most of the power and most of the wealth belongs to the few - basically, at most 1% of the people - who are rich or very rich.

Two. There is no natural necessity whatsoever involved in these large differences in wealth and in power between the few and the many: It all could be changed quite radically by legal changes (and corresponding ethical changes) in times of crisis (but probably not before: Then the few rich are too strong).

For one or several sets of such changes, see my On socialism.

       home - index - summaries - mail