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Nederlog

 Dec 23, 2016

Crisis: Tyranny, Italy, Blaming Russia, Freedom, Participatory Economics
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1.
Trump Has All the Classic Markers of a Tyrant
2. The Italian Banking Crisis: No Free Lunch—or Is There?
3. Blaming Russia Is Irresistible to the Democrats
4. Trump’s Attack on the Freedom of the Press
5.
What Is Participatory Economics? An Interview With
     Michael Albert
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday, December 23, 2016.

A.
This is a crisis log with 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the classic markers of a tyrant that Trump is supposed to have; item 2 is about the - quite serious - problems in Italian banking; item 3 is about how the Democrats keep blaming Russia for stealing the elections - which is clearly propaganda without any known factual basis; item 4 is about Reich on the freedom of the press: It seems rather odd to me that he drops two of the criterions he claimed at the end of November (and both about the critical media); and item 5 is about participatory economics, about which I learned just yesterday, so my present
reaction is not very informed.

-- 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 20.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. Trump Has All the Classic Markers of a Tyrant

The first item today is by Matthew Sharpe on AlterNet and originally on The Conversation:

This starts as follows:

No one said Trump would win the Republican nomination. He did.

No one said he’d win the Presidency. He has.

Many commentators have fears that Trump will become a tyrant. Will he?

And how will we tell, as events look set to unfold after his inauguration next January?

Hm... I read 36 sites every day to assemble my own Nederlogs, but I do not recall very many "commentators" who feared that "Trump will become a tyrant". But I have read some, and Robert Reich is a prominent one.

And in any case, Trump may or may try. Matthew Sharpe teaches philosophy and looked into some philosophers, notably Aristotle and Plato, and comes up with some parallels, and I copy and comment a bit, though without any pretension of completeness: there is considerably more in the article than appears in this review (and there is much more in many philosophers: See
e.g. my political texts).

First, this sets the scene:

According to Aristotle, tyranny inherits the worst features of other types of government: from oligarchy the love of money; from democracy the hostility to the established governing classes; and from monarchy, the contempt of the people.

“Tyranny,” like its 20th century legatee “totalitarianism,” does double duty as both a description and a pejorative–or triple duty, as a caution or a warning.

Here then are four or five features the tradition of political philosophy suggests that we might bring to our assessments of the incipient administration, and the fears of its critics.

Yes. Tyranny and totalitarianism don't quite coincide, but are rather similar, and there also are kinds of totalitarianism, while in these days, when anonymous secret service members downloaded everything they could get from anybody, there are far wider and extremely worrying new possibilities for totalitarianism
and tyrrany.

Also, I selected four features and only quote a few small bits or nothing. First, there is this on classical tyrants:

1. Government by One Man, in His Own (or His Family and Friends’) Interests

“Nor again did the tyrants of the Hellenic cities extend their thoughts beyond their own interest, that is, the security of their persons, and the aggrandisement of themselves and their families,” says Thucydides, speaking of the generations of tyrants that arose in Greece and its Italian tributaries in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.H

Yes, indeed - and Trump seems to be busy on trying to realize most of that e.g. by giving his children and their partners (none of whom is elected) access to his talks with government leaders as if that is normal.

And more generally, this is a hallmark of tyrants: They only - really - care for themselves and their families.

I did not select anything form the second point Sharpe gives, and will only quote it, and then immediately turn to the third point:

2. Cutting Down the Best Wheat (or Draining the Swamp)
(...)
3. Wartime Leader, a State of Fear

“The first thing he’ll do is stir up a war so he can present himself as the defender of the people. This will also enforce his tyranny, because in war, things need to be done quickly and decisively. And things can only be done quickly and decisively if one or a very few lead from the top down,” so says Socrates to his group of young friends in the Republic.

I agree, but we will have to see. But yes, Trump may well try to create more wars to strengthen his own leadership and holds on power.

There is also this, and while the quote is good it is unsourced in the original:

The tyrannical regime is one of for-us-and-against-us, simplified political logic and language:

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected.

Also, I should remark that the above is not an example of a "simplified political logic and language" but an example of how shifts in values may be correlated to shifts of language.

But this is quoted because this probably will happen under Trump. Here is a final example of what is happening with Trump, even before he is president:

4. Keep a Bodyguard

One of the features of a tyrant in the ancient world was his need to keep a personal bodyguard. The state of fear he visits upon his citizens is mirrored back to its progenitor, in reality or in his imagination.

Tyrants will hence tend to keep a paramilitary guard, loyal only to him, like the SA before 1934, and the SS thereafter in Hitler’s Germany.

As is, Trump does not have an SA or an SS (and this is in fact a major difference with Nazism) but he does have his own personal bodyguard, which
he also insists on retaining. (I do not know how to explain this, for there are quite a few different possible explanations.)

Here is the last bit I'll quote with its title, from the ending:

A Closing Historical Exhortative

Of course, none of this is prediction, although some of it is fear. These few pointers might provide standards to judge things, in case some commentators fall into line with the new regime, and we all lose sight of the bigger picture in the flurry of events that look set to unfold come January 2017-and because it is truly so difficult to imagine the home of the free as an unfree society.

OK, although I think that the USA presented as "the home of the free" these days - of universal surveillance and legal gag orders - seems much more like propaganda than fact.

Then again, the present bad situation may within a few months seem like an ideal. I do not know, and the least the present article is, is a warning about a realistic possibility: Trump's government may very rapidly grow tyrranical, and
indeed may do so in a legal fashion, what with majorities for Trump in the Senate and the House.

2. The Italian Banking Crisis: No Free Lunch—or Is There?

The second item is by Ellen Brown (<-Wikipedia) on Truthdig and originally on the Web of Debt:

This starts as follows:

On December 4, 2016, Italian voters rejected a referendum to amend their constitution to give the government more power, and the Italian prime minister resigned. The resulting chaos has pushed Italy’s already-troubled banks into bankruptcy. First on the chopping block is the 500 year old Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA (BMP), the oldest surviving bank in the world and the third largest bank in Italy. The concern is that its loss could trigger the collapse of other banks and even of the eurozone itself.

There seems little doubt that BMP and other insolvent banks will be rescued. The biggest banks are always rescued, no matter how negligent or corrupt, because in our existing system, banks create the money we use in trade. Virtually the entire money supply is now created by banks when they make loans, as the Bank of England has acknowledged. When the banks collapse, economies collapse, because bank-created money is the grease that oils the wheels of production.

I accept what Ellen Brown says in the second paragraph, mostly because she is a financial expert and I am not, and because I've read quite a few of her analyses that I like.

Next, here is one possible solution for the present crisis

Buying bank debt with money generated by the central bank would rescue the banks without cost to the taxpayers, the bondholders or the government. So why hasn’t this option been pursued?

Perhaps it is because banks that know they will be rescued from their bad loans will keep making bad loans.

Or alternatively: Why not take it from the many non-rich tax payers since these have been deregulated out of any defenses against the banks' predations? I merely throw up the possibility.

Ellen Brown sees another possibility:

Werner and other observers suspect that saving the economies of the peripheral eurozone countries is not the real goal of ECB policy. Rather, the ECB and the European Commission are working to force a political union on the eurozone countries, one controlled by unelected bureaucrats in the service of a few very large corporations and banks. Werner quotes David Shipley on Bloomberg:

Central bank officials may be hoping that by keeping the threat of financial Armageddon alive, they can coerce the region’s people and governments into moving toward the deeper union that the euro’s creators envisioned.

And she may very well be right. This ends with Ellen Brown's general solution:

For a long-term solution, the money that is now created by banks in pursuit of their own profit either needs to be issued by governments (as has been done quite successfully in the past, going back to the American colonies) or it needs to be created by banks that are required to serve the public interest. And for that to happen, the banks need to be made public utilities.

I agree, but this is not realistic now (as Ellen Brown undoubtedly knows). And this is a recommended article.

3. Blaming Russia Is Irresistible to the Democrats

The third item is b
y Paul Street on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

It has been remarkable to behold masses of American liberals and progressives become convinced—or claim to be convinced—that Russian hackers under the command of Vladimir Putin attacked “our great democracy” to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and hand it to Donald Trump. This extraordinary, supposedly CIA- and New York Times-certified claim has garnered wide currency in liberal and Democratic Party circles despite the lack of smoking-gun substantiation on Putin’s involvement, not to mention the election’s outcome.

Did the probably Russian “Guccifer 2.0” and Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks obtain and advance embarrassing hacked emails and other documents showing the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee’s underhanded machinations against Bernie Sanders, including corrupt dealings with the corporate media? Sure.

Did this happen on orders from the Kremlin? None of the Times-citing liberals who have spoken or written as if that is the case know it to be conclusively true. The proof has not been given, and they seem to have an almost childish faith in the notion that the CIA must know more than it can publicly say.

Yes indeed.

In fact, the best argument I've read about the claim "that Russian hackers under the command of Vladimir Putin attacked “our great democracy” to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and hand it to Donald Trump" is from December 13 and was reviewed by me the next day: William Binney, Ray McGovern and Other Intel Experts Call Russian Hacking Allegations ‘Baseless’ - and I note that Binney and McGovern are real experts.

Also there is this "
our great democracy":

Last but not least, there’s the brazen falsehood of the widespread belief that the U.S. is a “great democracy” in the first place, to be subverted by Russia (or anyone else). Over the past three-plus decades, leading academic researchers Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern), both establishment, liberal political scientists, have concluded, the U.S. political system has functioned as “an oligarchy,” ruled by the few wealthy elites and their corporations. Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which major party holds the White House and/or Congress.

I have reviewed that and agree with it, but in fact there is much more that undermines the idea that the present USA is a "great democracy": Universal
secret surveillance
; the disappearance of the free press that is dedicated to investigating and establishing truth in the mainstream media; the dominant
power of the very rich
and the lack of power of the non-rich, and more that has been outlined in the crisis series in the last eight years.

Here is some more on Obama and his government:

What followed under Obama (as under his Democratic presidential and neoliberal-era predecessors Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) was the by-now standard corporate-neoliberal manipulations of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the usual big-money bankrollers and global empire—to capitalism and its evil twin, imperialism, with underlying white supremacism and sexism essentially unchallenged. There were some mild repairs, at best, as “the rightward direction of society” continued unabated. The Wall Street takeover of Washington and the related aggressive military and imperial agenda of the Pentagon was advanced more effectively and extensively by the nation’s first black president than they could have been by stiff and wealthy white Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney.

I agree (and for my reasons check the crisis index), but this means that the choice for the voters is effectively from two kinds of major frauds - and I agree that is indeed what it comes down to.

And here is a sum up:

If Russia “stole the election,” shouldn’t President Obama consult with Congress, the Supreme Court, Homeland Security and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then go on national television to explain that a new national election would take place ? That’s not going to happen, of course.
(...)
It is more proof—as if we needed it—that we cannot expect much from elite Democrats when it comes to building a serious resistance movement against the coming racist, sexist, militarist, nativist, arch-plutocratic, quasi-fascist and ecocidal Trump administration.

I mostly agree, for the first paragraph does describe what Obama should do if the Democrats were right that Russia stole the elections. Then again, Obama knows as well this is mere propaganda without any proof, but he doesn't say so
for this is the propaganda of his own party.

4. Trump’s Attack on the Freedom of the Press

The fourth item today is by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:
Historically, tyrants have tried to control the press using 4 techniques that, worryingly, Donald Trump is already using.
In fact, Reich said so before: On November 27 he stated 7 techniques. That reference has disappeared, but I reviewed it on November 28, here: Trump’s Seven Techniques to Control the Media and therefore I can compare the two sets.

Here are first the present four (quoted without texts):

1. Berate the media and turn the public against it.
2. Limit media access.
3. Threaten the media.
4. Bypass the media and communicate with the public
     directly.

What's missing? If I compare the previous seven, I see first that two of the seven are combined into the above item 1, while what is missing in the present list are these two:
Blacklist critical media
Condemn satirical or critical comments.
Why these are missing I really don't know, for to the best of my knowledge Trump doesn't like criticism or satire at all. Is it because of "critical" perhaps?
I really have no idea, though I will have a guess at the end.


This ends as follows:

Historically, these 4 techniques have been used by demagogues to erode the freedom and independence of the press. Donald Trump seems intent on doing exactly this.
Then again, on November 27 the ending was this:
Historically, these seven techniques have been used by demagogues to erode the freedom and independence of the press. Even before he’s sworn in, Trump seems intent on doing exactly this. 
I say. These are rather big changes, but they are wholly unmotivated, and the main reason for the changes are that on November 27 Reich was quite certain he had to include "critical media" and "critical comments", which now - less than 4 weeks later - seem to have disappeared completely.

And I do not think this is an improvement, while I also think that Trump has to change the laws to become a real tyrant. I think he probably will try to do so, but then it is really because he wants to get rid of the critical media that write
satirical or critical comments about him.

So I don't think the present change is a good one for it effectively denies the distinction between the mainstream media and the non-mainstream media, which I think is both real and important.

5. What Is Participatory Economics? An Interview With Michael Albert

The fifth item today is by C.J. Polychroniou on Truthout:

This needs a brief introduction.

As I have indicated at various places on my - very large - site, I am the eldest son of two communists, both of whom were members of the Dutch Communist Party for 45 years, while I am the grandson of a communist and two anarchists.

That is a fairly rare background, but I should add that (i) I completely gave up Marxism and communism when I was 20 (before reaching my legal adulthood) for quite good reasons, while (ii) I kept agreeing with what my parents had told me about the society in which we lived:

It is an unfair, unjust society, in which a small minority of rich people have most to say; in which the large majority only had their labor power to sell, which they normally had to do for a small salary; and in which there was very much lying and posturing about very many things.

I thought my parents were right in this (which is an ethical position, and one that also is independent from Marxism and communism) and I still think
so. [1]

Next, while I disagreed with Marx (at 20) for quite good reasons, that economi- cally had a lot to do with Sraffa's criticisms (that I only became aware of in 1976/77, when I was 26/27 [2]) and while I did keep reading economists I did not find economical, political and social ideas and ideals to create a new kind of society that convinced me.

Finally, to end this introduction: I did find something yesterday (as it happens) that has some positive interest for me, and it goes by the name "participatory economics" (<- Wikipedia) and seems to have been developed by Michael Albert (<-Wikipedia) (who is interviewed in this article) and Robin Hahnel (<-Wikipedia), both of whom know Marx and related thinkers and are leftists. (In fact, I think - from the little I have read about participatory economics - that Hahnel is more interesting than Albert, but this is just a personal remark.)

This is the introduction I wanted to give. This article starts as follows:

Participatory economics has long been proposed as an alternative to capitalism and centralized planning. It remains, nonetheless, a misunderstood concept and continues to find opposition among both capitalists and anticapitalists. So, what exactly is "participatory economics" and how does it fit with the socialist vision of a classless society? In this interview, Michael Albert, founder of Z Magazine and one of the leading advocates of the movement toward a "participatory society" addresses key questions about capitalism, socialism and the implications of a participatory economy.
OK - and in fact I will give just two more quotes. The first is about capitalism:

Michael Albert: Capitalism is an economic system in which people own workplaces and resources, employ workers for wages to produce outputs and overwhelmingly employ market allocation to mediate how the outputs are dispersed. Typically also, and I would say inevitably if it has the first two features, it will also have what I call a corporate division of labor in which about 80 percent of the workforce does overwhelmingly rote, obedient and mainly disempowering tasks, and the other 20 percent monopolizes empowering tasks. Income will be a function of property and bargaining power.

In my view, there are, therefore, three main classes in capitalism: a working class doing the disempowering work [whose members] have low income and nearly no influence; a capitalist class that employs workers, sells their product and tries to reap profits, and which, due to those profits, enjoys tremendous wealth and dominant power; and a coordinator class situated between the other two, doing the empowering work, and, due to that, having the power to accrue high income and substantial influence.

I think that is mostly right (though "classes" are far more abstract than groups and the distinctions between the classes may be drawn in several ways [3]).

Finally, here is an explanation by Michael Albert of participatory economics:

Participatory economics proposes just a few key institutions for a new way of conducting economics. It starts with worker- and consumer-councils as decision-making bodies and elevates the idea that each participant in economic life should have a say over outcomes in proportion as they are affected by them -- which it calls "self-management."

It then proposes a new way to define jobs to generate a new division of labor, which is called "balanced job complexes." This combines tasks into jobs so that each person working in the economy does a mix of tasks in their daily labors such that the "empowerment effect" of each worker's situation is equal to that of every other worker's situation, which eliminates the basis for a coordinator-class/working-class division.

Next, participatory economics proposes a new equitable basis for earning income. Instead of our incomes being determined by property ownership, bargaining power or even the value of our product, it should derive only from how hard we work, how long we work and the onerousness of the conditions under which we work at socially useful production.

And finally, participatory economics utilizes participatory planning instead of markets or central planning.
I say. I have three remarks on this (but I do know that I know less about participatory economics than I would like to):

First, I am not happy with councils, "self-management" and the preoccupation with (somehow) seeing to it that "
each worker's situation is equal to that of every other worker's situation": I dislike councils a lot [4]; I think "self- management" is quite difficult given the considerable differences in intelligence and in talents [5]; and I think universal equality is impossible to guarantee and also not very desirable, except in regards of the law and of incomes. [6]

Second, while I agree that "
how hard we work, how long we work and the onerousness of the conditions under which we work" are important, I think
these are very difficult to agree about.

Third, I do not know what "participatory planning" is (and I fear it is too much
connected with councils, and too little informed about inequalities between people).

This just a brief reaction. And by and large it is based on my beliefs that either
this is about a pretty far future that is difficult to see or is rather utopian, while
I believe that my notions about socialism are both a lot simpler and a lot easier to practice (and allow the arisal of "participatory economics", I think).

But as I said: I do not know enough about participatory economy and may return to it later.

Meanwhile, this is a recommended article.

--------------------------
Notes
[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).

[1] In fact, my parents taught me a (radical) Leftist outlook and I still mainly agree with that, though I disagree with their Marxism, and do so for 46 years now.

Also, it is important to realize that in the end all positions people take to society and how it ought to be directed and for what ends are ethical, while there is no proof of any kind that the present economical and social system is in any way necessary: It is not, just as its laws are not necessary but conventional.

Indeed, a considerable part of the present problem is that the rich insist, quite falsely, that there is no other economy possible than the one we have, while at the same time they have deregulated nearly all protections of anyone who is not rich, that is of something like 80% or 90% of everyone.

What keeps the economy we have are the powers of the government and the laws it upkeeps: Change the government or change the laws and the economy will change with it.

[2] My original economical criticisms of
Marx in 1970 (when I was 20, and did know rather a lot of Marx, but much less of other economists) were of his historical materialism, his labour theory of value, and of the transformation problem. I did see quite deeply, but learned only in 1976 that I had seen this quite clearly, and the two references here are to Piero Sraffa's "Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities" and Ian Steedman's "Marx after Sraffa". (Both need some mathematics.)

[3] In fact, I think Marx was also mistaken about classes: They exist, rather as do the rich and the non-rich, but they exist in another sense than the real empirical foundation of societies, which are many specific groups, nearly all of which also have their own kinds of groupthinking.

But I say this mostly to explain my differences with Marx, which I can phrase in this respect as: People live in groups (families, friends, collaborators, and many other kinds) much rather than classes, and to predict people you have to learn something about their personal characters and about the groups to which they belong.

[4] In part, this is personal: I am an intelligent intellectual who is a very good speaker, and I attended - in the second half of the Sixties, mostly - very many councils, which taught me three things: (i) the vast majority is not intelligent (ii) the vast majority is not well informed and (iii) the vast majority (in Holland at least: it probably is less so elsewhere) are extremely lousy speakers.

And in part this is also a systematic objection: There simply are pretty large differences between people as regards their intelligence and their (relevant) knowledge, and besides councils are a very slow and usually quite imprecise medium to reach any decision.

[5] I have excellent academic degrees in psychology and philosophy, and this makes it (for me, at least) a simple fact that there are large differences in intelligence and talents.

[6] As a matter of fact I think that (1) any real universal equality is impossible to guarantee (without much force) and quite undesirable because people simply are not equals, while I also think that (2) an approximate equality in law and in incomes can be guaranteed, in principle, by outlawing all differences in incomes and wealth that make it possible for one man to earn or own more than 20 times as much as anyone else (and by making everyone - as is formally the case now - equals in law, by guaranteeing - what does not work well now - that everybody has the same rights and the same duties (apart from real incapacities).

There is more on this in my On Socialism, and two arguments for it are that these are ethical changes that can be made in law, while the proposed change, which would make the present incomes in Holland vary between $15,000 and $300,000 would not mean any set-back for 95%-99% of all people.


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