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Nederlog

 Dec 27, 2016

Crisis: Bernie Sanders, US Censorship, On Economists, Trump's Tweets
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1.
Bernie Sanders: The Democracy Now! Interview
2. Just Before Christmas, Obama Establishes
     Anti-Propaganda Agency

3. Economists versus the Economy
4. Take @realDonaldTrump seriously: Don’t dismiss
     Trump’s Twitter madness as “just tweets”
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, December 27, 2016.

A.
This is a crisis log with 4 items and 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about a long interview that Bernie Sanders had with Amy Goodman; item 2 is about an American governmental "anti-propaganda agency" (that will almost certainly in fact serve as a censorship agency); item 3 is about "the economy" by a well- known political economist who is (like I am) far from impressed by most economists; and item 4 is about Trump's tweets (but misses analyzing the "madness" attributed to Trump).

-- 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 25.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), but not on 25.xii: Then it moved back to 2015 (!!).

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. Bernie Sanders: The Democracy Now! Interview

The first item today is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

This starts with the following introduction:

In a Democracy Now! special, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sat down with Amy Goodman at the Free Library of Philadelphia in late November in his most extensive broadcast interview since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton just weeks earlier.

It is correct that this interview was published on December 26, nearly a month later. I don't mind, but this is the case. Also, I will pick a few quotes I like and comment on these. There is a lot more in the original and the speaker is always Sanders, except once, and that is indicated.

Here is the present political scene in the USA as seen by Bernie Sanders:

Right now in the United States, as you know, Mr. Trump will be inaugurated. Right now, the Republicans control the U.S. Senate. Democrats, I had hoped—we thought we had a better than even chance of gaining control. We did not. We’ll end up with 49 seats. Democrats picked up a few seats in the House, but the Republicans will continue to control the House. Not only that, in about two-thirds of the states in this country, there are Republican governors. And in the last eight or so years, Democrats have lost some 900 legislative seats in state capitols all over this country. So I think any independent assessment, without casting any blame, says the current approach has failed.

Yes indeed - and not only has "the current approach", which was fundamentally Hillary Clinton's approach, "failed": By the above statement it has failed extremely miserably. And I think that is quite correct.

Next, here is Sanders on the people who voted for Donald Trump:

There are some people who think that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a racist, a sexist or a homophobe or a xenophobe. I don’t believe that. Are those people in his camp? Absolutely. But it would be a tragic mistake to believe that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a "deplorable." They’re not. These are people who are disgusted, and they are angry at the establishment.

No, I am sorry but I think this is misleading:

I never thought "everybody who voted for Trump" is "a racist, a sexist or a homophobe or a xenophobe", and I never thought "everybody who voted for Trump" is a "deplorable", and I know that many of them are "disgusted" and "angry", but it does seem to me that many of the 60 millions or so who voted for Trump are characterized by three other characteristics that almost everybody who talks about politics (for money) very carefully systematically avoids mentioning at all: Stupidity and ignorance, coupled to a great and quite sick arrogance, that takes pride in being stupid and ignorant.

And while I can understand why an elected politician like Sanders avoids this theme, I fail to understand why extremely many journalists systematically fail to mention it, or only refer to it in terms like "people who watch Fox News live in an artificial bubble". Yes they do - but you fail to discuss the reasons why so many watch Fox News.

Here is Amy Goodman, who makes a very good point:

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, who heard you were the people in that room, in each place. You were having the largest rallies of anyone, including Donald Trump, certainly far surpassing Hillary Clinton. But what Donald Trump had that you didn’t was the media. And, you know, that was repeated over and over by those that owned the media. You know, "He is good for us." So, it wasn’t just Fox. It was all of the networks that were Trump TV.

Yes indeed: Quite so. And especially now that I've seen a lot of lies and propaganda in the mainstream media that these days lie that they were against Trump, that is - if true at all - only true of some of them, and that mostly only in the last few months.

Before that most of the mainstream media supported Trump, and did so very actively, by giving him extremely much free time on TV. And this was defended by Les Moonves, the head of CBS, on the ground that (and I quote Moonves) "It may not be good for America, but it’s good for us.
" And Moonves meant: financially good. So what he said is that he sold the American people a liar and a fraud because his "news" organization made many millions doing so.

And here is Sanders on the amount of TV-attention he got during his rallies as a presidential candidate:
Turns out that from January 1st, 2015, I think, through November 2015, ABC Evening News had us on for 20 seconds.
I say. And while this may be - I don't know - an underestimate, Bernie Sanders did get extremely little time from all the mainstream media.

Here is Bernie Sanders on Hillary Clinton's email problems:
What I said—and sometimes it got taken out of context—is that there was an investigation going on and that I wanted to spend—that history, 10 years from now, trust me, no one will remember these damn emails. What they will worry about is people not having healthcare. They’ll worry about climate change. They’ll worry about poverty. They’ll worry about infrastructure. And my point was—and the media often doesn’t play that whole statement—I said, you know, "I’m sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails, because that’s what the whole campaign is about. Why don’t we talk about, A, the collapse of the middle class, income and wealth inequality, healthcare, education, how we move the country forward?" And that was the thrust of my point
Yes and no, though mostly yes: Sanders is quite right that Hillary's email problems were not a real political issue and were used (intentionally, I am quite sure) not to talk about the real political issues Sanders stood for. Then again, this also was a dirty trick that mostly worked, and such tricks are important.

Here is Sanders on the Carrier corporation:
And we’re going to go to the Carrier plant, where you have a situation where Carrier is—you all remember air-conditioners—they make furnaces in Indiana, actually. And they decided—they announced last year they’re going to shut down two plants in Indiana, throw 2,100 workers out on the street. This is a company that pays top dollar to its CEOs, head guy makes $14 million. Couple of years ago they had a severance package for a former CEO. You know what the guy got as a golden parachute? $171 million. And now what they want to do is shut the plants down and move to Mexico and hire people in Monterrey for three bucks an hour. So it becomes symbolic of a disastrous trade policy.
I agree these are very obscene amounts of money, that incidentally also show how much the rich have gained since Reagan: obscenely much.

Here is the last statement by Sanders that I am going to quote. I think it is quite interesting, and for background see my Nederlog of December 25:
Crisis: Donald Trump is a megalomaniac neofascist (I think):
No, but I did mention in my remarks that that was a—you know, this is—we can go back and look at all of the totally absurd and nonfactual statements that Trump made. You know, and I am not a guy in politics who really likes to attack viciously my opponents. It’s not my style. But I felt obliged during the campaign to say something that was just patently true, and that is that Trump is a pathological liar. And, you know, I mean, he was saying—and the danger is, it may be—you know, everybody lies. You know you’re lying. But I fear very much that he may be not even knowing that he lies, that he believes that he saw—the only person in the world who saw in New Jersey Muslims on a rooftop celebrating the destruction of the twin towers, the only person in America who saw it, and he’s utterly convinced that he saw it. And he may well be convinced of that. It may not be a lie; he may believe that he saw that.
I mostly agree, in the sense that I both believe that Trump is "a pathological liar" and also that he very often "may be not even knowing that he lies". And while I agree that is hardly a consistent set of statements, I am a psychologist who thinks Trump is a megalomaniac, and that his megalomania explains many of his tweets and his opinions: Trump lies, but because many of his lies are based on his mad assumption that He Is The Greatest, for him his - fantastical and false - assumptions far outshine the falsity of his sayings. (He must be right "because He Is The Greatest".)

And as you can see here I am not - and not by far - the only one who thinks so: many psychologists and psychiatrists think the same.

This is a recommended article.

2. Just Before Christmas, Obama Establishes Anti-Propaganda Agency

The second item is by Lauren McCauley on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

In the final hours before the Christmas holiday weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday quietly signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law—and buried within the $619 billion military budget (pdf) is a controversial provision that establishes a national anti-propaganda center that critics warn could be dangerous for press freedoms.

The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, establishes the Global Engagement Center under the State Department which coordinates efforts to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests.”

Further, the law authorizes grants to non-governmental agencies to help “collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda” directed at the U.S. and its allies, as well as “counter efforts by foreign entities to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability” of the U.S. and allied nations.

I think the "critics" are quite right that this "could be dangerous for press freedoms" for the two simple reasons that (i) nearly everything that issues from the US government is propaganda, so that (ii) setting up a governmental "national anti-propaganda center" seems to entail directly that the US government does not propagandize, and probably also that anybody who denies anything that the US government says is doing propaganda against it.

And that is very dangerous, for this seems to be a totalitarian attempt to provide the government with a means of censoring as propaganda everything that goes against the governments' public statements.

The head of the center will be appointed by the president, which likely means the first director will be chosen by President-elect Donald Trump.

The new law comes weeks before the New York billionaire assumes the presidency, amid national outrage over the spread of fake news and what many say is foreign interference in the election, both which are accused of enabling Trump’s victory.

Those combined forces have already contributed to the overt policing of media critical of U.S. foreign policy, such as the problematic “fake news blacklist” recently disseminated by The Washington Post.

This may all be true, but I think it is less important. What is important is that the US government is now setting up its own governmental anti-propaganda institution, that will almost certainly work by stigmatizing most honest criticisms of the US government as propaganda.

That is very dangerous, especially because governmental institutions have the full force of the law.

This is a recommended article.

3. Economists versus the Economy

The third item is by Robert Skidelsky (<-Wikipedia) on Project-Syndicate:

This is here mostly because of its author, who is an emeritus professor of political economy and who wrote the biography of Keynes in three volumes, which I happen to have read most of. [1]

Given that Skidelsky knows a great amount about Keynes and is an economist and a historian himself, and also used to be an English Conservative, I think the following judgement is quite interesting:

Let’s be honest: no one knows what is happening in the world economy today. Recovery from the collapse of 2008 has been unexpectedly slow. Are we on the road to full health or mired in “secular stagnation”? Is globalization coming or going?

Policymakers don’t know what to do. They press the usual (and unusual) levers and nothing happens. Quantitative easing was supposed to bring inflation “back to target.” It didn’t. Fiscal contraction was supposed to restore confidence. It didn’t. Earlier this month, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, delivered a speech called “The Specter of Monetarism.” Of course, monetarism was supposed to save us from the specter of Keynesianism!

Yes indeed. And apart from these failures, the (non-economical) reader should know that there are quite a few schools of thought in economy. How many there are depends on your definitions, but in the Wikipedia article Schools of economics no less than 19 different schools are distinguished (all with professors of economy, either at various universities, or across universities), that in turn may be divided into 5 or 6 major schools of economical thought.

Here is Skidelsky's basic explanation for the failures of economical science (or "science" [2]):

Before 2008, the experts thought they had things under control. Yes, there was a bubble in the housing market, but it was no worse, current Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in 2005, than a “good-sized bump in the road.”

So why did they miss the storm? This was exactly the question Queen Elizabeth of Britain asked a group of economists in 2008. Most of them wrung their hands. It was “a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people,” they explained.

But some economists supported a dissenting – and much more damning – verdict, one that focused on the failure of economics education. Most economics students are not required to study psychology, philosophy, history, or politics. They are spoon-fed models of the economy, based on unreal assumptions, and tested on their competence in solving mathematical equations. They are never given the mental tools to grasp the whole picture.

First about Queen Elizabeth's good and fair question: Why did hardly any economist, of any school also, predict the massive crisis of 2008? That is indeed a fact, and the "reply" that the economists gave was bullshit: If hardly any economist (from any school also) did predict the massive crisis of 2008, the reason is that most economy is false, because it is based on false premisses.

And second, about Skidelsky's diagnosis: Economists "are spoon-fed models of the economy, based on unreal assumptions, and tested on their competence in solving mathematical equations. They are never given the mental tools to grasp the whole picture." I think that is basically correct.

Here is some more:

What unites the great economists, and many other good ones, is a broad education and outlook. This gives them access to many different ways of understanding the economy. The giants of earlier generations knew a lot of things besides economics. Keynes graduated in mathematics, but was steeped in the classics (and studied economics for less than a year before starting to teach it). Schumpeter got his PhD in law; Hayek’s were in law and political science, and he also studied philosophy, psychology, and brain anatomy.

Today’s professional economists, by contrast, have studied almost nothing but economics. They don’t even read the classics of their own discipline. Economic history comes, if at all, from data sets. Philosophy, which could teach them about the limits of the economic method, is a closed book. Mathematics, demanding and seductive, has monopolized their mental horizons. The economists are the idiots savants of our time.

These are broad judgements, that do not do justice to all economists, but that seem basically correct, at least to this psychologist and philosopher, who also read a lot of mathematics and of economy. [3]

Then again, I do have three rather important additions:

First, nearly all economists are first and foremost ideologists for their own particular school of economical thought, and Skidelsky seems right to me in maintaining these particular schools of economical thought are at least in part characterized as being intellectually very limited, namely exclusively to "economics" - and that mostly of their own school - and to mathematics.

Second, some of these schools of economical thought are paid a lot more attention (also in terms of money) than others, and the main reason is not empirical truth or theoretical plausibility (for then many more economists would have been able to predict the crisis of 2008) but ideological support for political positions.

And third [4] most of the terms that appear in economical graphics and mathematics tend to be far less well-defined than they are presented; are often difficult to measure well; tend to have at best vague and quite indirect connections with the reality they are about, because they often depend on quite a lot of assumptions (some or many of which tend to be denied by economists from other schools); and also many of the equations and graphics that occur in economics are supposed to be functional (which they often are not, really) and
are between two or three extremely general terms that are supposed to reflect what millions do and think (with often extremely little real empirical support).

But the brief version of this is what I've said quite a few times: Economics is mostly not a real science. This doesn't mean it should be avoided, but it does mean that one should be rather or quite skeptical about most arguments of most economists - which is in fact what most economists are, and namely about the arguments of economists that belong to another school.

And this is a recommended article.

4. Take @realDonaldTrump seriously: Don’t dismiss Trump’s Twitter madness as “just tweets”

The fourth and last item today is by Simon Maloy on Salon:

This starts as follows:

As someone who spends a frankly unhealthy amount of my day on Twitter, I have to say that it concerns me how much time President-elect Donald Trump spends on Twitter. That particular social-media platform is many things, few of them good: a miserable time suck, a forever-grinding outrage machine, a vehicle for harassment. It actively encourages you to discard nuance and blast out your worst, most troll-like thoughts. It’s a great way to follow the news, and it’s an equally great way to get snookered by fake news. The fact that it’s a medium of choice for the next president is … unsettling.

I say. Personally, I spend zero time on Twitter and never will spend any time on it, simply because I agreed from the very start that Twitter "actively encourages you to discard nuance and blast out your worst, most troll-like thoughts", and since I thought so immediately, I also immediately refused to use such a stupid and stupifying medium, and still do, and always will.

Also, I do not believe in "social media": They are completely asocial tools of a couple of extremely rich guys to spy out everything they can from their naive users, and sell the results to other rich guys, who use them to advertise those on the asocial media.

So for me it is both "unsettling" that Trump tweets a lot, and also to know that Mr Maloy tweets a lot, but doesn't like it that Trump does - which I think is a bit different from my position, for I don't do Twitter, indeed in part for the above reason and also in part because I think that Twitter seems to be designed for morons to hide their stupidity and ignorance (and make their names famous: If I read a Tweet in journalist's report, much of the Tweet goes to mentioning the Tweeters name).

Here is the ending of the article:

The clear intent of Trump’s team is to muddy up what their boss said to the point that it becomes meaningless. But they are not the final word on the matter. Trump is. And for as long as he allows that tweet and its message to remain unaltered, it stands as his statement on nuclear policy.

We can’t allow ourselves to slip into the habit of disregarding what Trump says on Twitter because it’s “just a tweet.” He lost “just a tweet” privileges the moment the networks called the 2016 election for him. The words of the president always carry the weight of the office, regardless of how they’re delivered and irrespective of whether the president tweeting those words understands that the message outweighs the medium.

I mostly disagree. I think tweets are fit for stupid and ignorant fools, and if there are 4 billion fools who use it (I don't know [5]), then that is too bad, but quite inkeeping with measurements of IQs. I understand why Trump tweets (he is a fool) and that is the main reason why I don't tweet: I am neither stupid nor ignorant, and I think one does violence to oneself - if one is intelligent or informed - in trying to force everything one says within 140 characters: That amounts - for intelligent people - to intentional stupification.

Finally, while I agree Trump's words are the words of someone who soon will be president of the USA, and while I also agree that many of Trump's tweets are accurately described as both false and as (I quote) "madness", I do have a reason, as a psychologist, why Trump indulges in this (I quote again) "madness": He is very probably not quite sane, which makes his presidency extremely dangerous for everyone. (For more, see here.)

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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] Indeed, I have not read all of Skidelsky's biography, for it is in three quite thick volumes. I did read about two-thirds of them. (It is interesting, but only if you are interested in Keynes or in economy: if you are not much interested in either, the biography is simply too thick and too detailed.)


[2] As I have said several time in Nederlog, I am mostly a philosopher, and specifically a philosopher of science. (I did not take my M.A. because this was - illegally - denied to me.) And I will be using some of my knowledge of that in what follows.

[3]
I have academic degrees in philosophy and in psychology, and not in economics, but I have read quite a bit of economics, and notably of Marx, Sraffa, Keynes and Samuelson, and quite a few more. (Of Keynes I also read more than economics, namely his "A Treatise on Probability" and his "The Economical Consequences of the Peace". And I've read most but not all of Keynes' "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money".)

[4]
In this paragraph my being a philosopher of science is relevant.

[5] I have no adequate ideas about how many people tweet, and 4 billion is certainly too many, but in terms of IQs many of those who do tweet may be presumed to have an IQ of maximally 100. Again, I don't know how correct that is - and no: I do not think everybody who tweets is stupid or ignorant, and indeed there are some clever and knowledgeable people who do. But my basic argument against tweets remains as it was: You cannot decently express any but the briefest of arguments in 140 characters, and there is no human reason why you should, since you have email.

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