May 7, 2018

Crisis: Leadership Cults, ´Bloody Gina´, Illiberal Britain, Monopolization, On Marx


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from May 7, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Monday, May 7, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from May 7, 2018
1. The Danger of Leadership Cults
2. Trump's Shameful Choice of 'Bloody Gina'
3. Letter from Britain: Increasingly Illiberal Establishment and the
     Challenge of Jeremy Corbyn

4. The Monopolization of America
5. What Karl Marx Got Right -- And One Big Thing He Got Wrong
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. The Danger of Leadership Cults

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
No leader, no matter how talented and visionary, effectively defies power without a disciplined organizational foundation. The civil rights movement was no more embodied in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. than the socialist movement was embodied in Eugene V. Debs. As the civil rights leader Ella Baker understood, the civil rights movement made King; King did not make the civil rights movement. We must focus on building new, radical movements that do not depend on foundation grants, a media platform or the Democratic Party or revolve around the cult of leadership. Otherwise, we will remain powerless. No leader, no matter how charismatic or courageous, will save us. We must save ourselves.
Yes and no - and the problem is not Chris Hedges (nor myself), but the average qualities of people. At least that is what I think, although I agree with Hedges that ¨the civil rights movement made King; King did not make the civil rights movement¨. Then again, while I tend to distrust leaders, I grant that they are usually more gifted and more informed that the majorities of their followers.

And that is indeed - I think - a major problem, in that a few are leaders (good, bad or indifferent); many are followers; and only a few think for themselves and do not behave as conformists but as individual persons who think for themselves.

Then there is this by Chris Hedges:

All of our radical and populist organizations, including unions and the press, are decimated or destroyed. If we are to successfully pit power against power we must reject the cult of the self, the deadly I-consciousness that seduces many, including those on the left, to construct little monuments to themselves. We must understand that it is not about us. It is about our neighbor. We must not be crippled by despair. Our job is to name and confront evil. All great crusades for justice outlast us. We are measured not by what we achieve but by how passionately and honestly we fight. Only then do we have a chance to thwart corporate power and protect a rapidly degrading ecosystem.

Again yes and no, but this time mostly no. I agree with Hedges that ¨I-consciousness (...) seduces many, including those on the left¨, but I think that cannot be helped, just as ¨we¨ cannot ¨reject the cult of the self¨ until the selves have been changed by some revolution.

What I agree with is that people who lack power can only oppose power by organizing themselves into groups, with clear ends and with clear norms. (But leaders are still needed, if only because most people are not leaders but followers.)

Then there is this:
One of the most important aspects of organizing is grass-roots educational programs that teach people, by engaging them in dialogue, about the structures of corporate power and the nature of oppression. One cannot fight what one does not understand. Effective political change, as Baker knew, is not primarily politically motivated. It is grounded in human solidarity, mutual trust and consciousness.
Well... one problem with ¨grass-roots educational programs¨ is that while one can try to teach people ¨about the structures of corporate power and the nature of oppression¨ in real fact there
are more ideas about these things than most people are willing to read about, and also that most people simply are not very intelligent.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
The mass mobilizations, such as the Women’s March, have little impact unless they are part of a campaign centered around a specific goal. The goal—in the case of SNCC, voter registration—becomes the organizing tool for greater political consciousness and eventually a broader challenge to established power. People need to be organized around issues they care about, Moses said. They need to formulate their own strategy. If strategy is dictated to them, then the movement will fail.
And again yes and no, and this time I will only say what I disagree about: It is not true that people ¨need to formulate their own strategy¨ (for they are not merely individual atoms, trying to do what they want).

In the end, people get organized by joining - small or big - groups, and organize themselves by agreeing to cooperate to further the ends of the group. And this is a recommended article.

2. Trump's Shameful Choice of 'Bloody Gina'

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Leave it to Donald Trump, besieged by denunciations of his torturous behavior toward women, to have nominated a female torturer to head the Central Intelligence Agency. It was a move clearly designed to prove that a woman can be as crudely barbaric as this deeply misogynistic president. When it comes to bullying, Gina Haspel, whose confirmation hearing begins Wednesday, is the real deal, and The Donald is a pussycat by comparison. Whom has he ever waterboarded? Haspel has done that and a lot worse.

They call her “Bloody Gina,” and for some of her buddies in the torture wing of the CIA and their supporters in Congress, that is meant as a compliment. For a decade after the 9/11 attacks, Haspel served as chief of staff, running the vast network of secret rendition torture prisons around the globe. As a definitive Senate Intelligence Committee report established, torture is not legal, according to U.S. law and international covenants signed by President Ronald Reagan, nor does it produce any actionable information in preventing acts of terror.

I agree with most of that, but I also disagree with one point: I do not believe that torture does not ¨produce any actionable information in preventing acts of terror¨, for the simple reason that extremely few can withstand having their nails pulled or getting electrodes on their genitals.

Then again, I completely agree that ¨
torture is not legal¨ and should remain so, and not because it may not work, but because it is inhumanly cruel to torture a person.

Here is more by Robert Scheer:

After the public revelation of the vast extent of the torture program horrified the world, Haspel deliberately destroyed 92 videotapes depicting the barbaric practice, violating a Justice Department order that the tapes be preserved, and thus clearly obstructing a criminal investigation. Yet in March, Trump chose to nominate Bloody Gina to be the new head of our super-spy agency.

Give Trump credit for consistency: He did campaign on the theme that torture—or “enhanced interrogation,” as his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, justified it—is only wrong when nations other than our own do it. And by nominating Haspel to head the CIA, Trump is clearly seeking to take torture out of the covert dark side, as former Vice President Dick Cheney termed his revival of the medieval dungeon art; Trump has branded it as a legitimate, made-in-America weapon, wielded by a woman, no less.
Yes indeed - to the best of my knowledge all of this is correct. And Trump is simply either totally wrong or totally lying when he ¨branded it as a legitimate¨: It is illegitimate, and is so by very wide international agreement.

Here is the final bit that I quote from this article:
But even some Democrats may support Haspel’s nomination given that members of their party have been complicit in excusing the heinous practice of torture. After all, it was Democratic President Barack Obama who decided not to prosecute anyone for ordering or committing the torture that is one of the great stains on American history. In fact, Obama prosecuted former CIA agent John Kiriakou after he revealed the torture program’s existence to a journalist.

Yes indeed. And this is a recommended article.

3. Letter from Britain: Increasingly Illiberal Establishment and the Challenge of Jeremy Corbyn

This article is by Alexander Mercouris on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
Britain is often considered an exemplar liberal state, prizing its tradition of tolerance, fairness and willingness to entertain dissent.

The British in their own self conception are the great pioneers of the rule of law and of human rights.

Nor has this view of Britain always been wrong. The British were genuinely horrified by the McCarthyite campaigns in the US in the 1950s, and British public opinion supported the civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s. The Britain I first saw in the 1960s was a genuinely tolerant, law abiding and liberal place.

The events of the last couple of weeks should however dispose of any notion that Britain really is the paradigm liberal state that it claims to be.

Political news in Britain over the last few weeks has been dominated by three concurrent scandals.

Well... I do not know whether I agree that Britain ¨in the 1960s was a genuinely tolerant, law abiding and liberal place¨ but I do agree it was more tolerant and more liberal than it is now.

Then again, it also has been slowly collapsing further and further into several kinds of authori- tarianism, notably the authoritarianism of Thatcher and Blair (¨my genuine successor¨ according to Thatcher), and this means that, while I more or less agree with Marcouris, I think it certainly is not a matter of ¨the last few weeks¨, and indeed not of the last few years.

Marcouris treats several examples from the last few weeks, which I will leave to your own interests, except for this bit:
The ‘Anti-Semitism’ Exaggeration

This scandal has developed concurrently with a parallel one of alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party, which is quite clearly targeted at the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

It is based on claims that Corbyn—who has a well-established record of outspoken support for the Palestinian people’s struggle for their rights—has tolerated or even fostered a culture of anti-semitism within the Labour Party. There are even occasional insinuations that he is an anti-semite himself.

It should be said clearly that the insinuation that Corbyn is an anti-semite is malicious and absurd. Corbyn has an outstanding record of anti-racism, and this has included a history of strong opposition to anti-semitism.

As for the allegations of anti-semitism by some members of the Labour Party, some of these allegations have substance but some appear to be legitimately contested, whilst all of the individuals involved have been marginal figures who carry little weight in the Labour Party. Their number has been tiny. Corbyn himself has moreover strongly condemned manifestations of anti-semitism within the party, and those who have been accused of engaging in it have been subjected to disciplinary action, and where the allegation has been proved, have been expelled.

Nonetheless the anti-semitism campaign against Corbyn has been waged relentlessly for weeks, gaining huge publicity in the media, with Corbyn himself being the primary target of the attacks.
Yes, I think all of this is correct. Also, I insist all of the above should be analyzed using Orwell´s and my conception of totalitarianism, but lately the Wikipedia seems to have fallen in the hands of rightists, who pretend to be objectivists, and - among quite a few other things - totally revised the concept of totalitarianism, that now means what the neofascist Brzezinski wanted it to mean, which means that only states, and never persons, never political parties, never plans, never religions, never policies, never desires and never values of anyone who does not live in the Soviet Union, Hitler´s Germany or China can be totalitarian.

This is a stinking falsification and has led me to give up Wikipedia. (I will use it ocassionally, but will never trust it anymore).

Back to the article:
The Change in Britain

The reality is that today’s Britain has become a profoundly illiberal place.

Very much like the contemporary U.S., the media and political establishment in Britain is today relentlessly hostile to anyone who challenges the established orthodoxies of (1) unqualified support for finance capital (concentrated in Britain in the City of London); (2) support for “liberal interventionism” i.e., the U.S.’s regime change wars; and (3) pathological hostility to Russia.

Even an issue like Brexit is often framed around these orthodoxies, with establishment opponents of Brexit blaming Russia—absurdly—for the result of the Brexit referendum, and opposing Brexit because it supposedly serves the interests of Russia.
I think this well may be correct. But I do not know for certain, and one reason is that the only British journalism I follow these days (and the last five years or so) is The Guardian.

Then again, the following seems correct to me:
The reality is that since 2015, when Corbyn was elected Labour’s leader against the strong opposition of the leadership of his own party, Labour has electorally consistently outperformed expectations, most spectacularly in the general election last year. The breakdown of the local council vote suggests that if a general election were held this year Labour would beat the Conservatives and would emerge as Britain’s largest party.

Needless to say this is not how the British media is reporting the local council election results. On the contrary, all the talk is of how the local election results were supposedly “disappointing” for Corbyn because he did not achieve the impossibly high targets the media had set for him.

In light of the establishment’s hostility to him, and how his successes routinely get called failures, that should surprise no-one.

In reality the local election results reinforce the view that electorally speaking the British establishment is living on borrowed time.
I think this is probably correct, and I hope the last statement is correct (but do not know). And this is a recommended article.

4. The Monopolization of America

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

Not long ago I visited some farmers in Missouri whose profits are disappearing. Why? Monsanto alone owns the key genetic traits to more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted by farmers in the United States, and 80 percent of the corn. Which means Monsanto can charge farmers much higher prices. 

Farmers are getting squeezed from the other side, too, because the food processors they sell their produce to are also consolidating into mega companies that have so much market power they can cut the prices they pay to farmers. 

This doesn’t mean lower food prices to you. It means more profits to the monopolists.

Yes, quite so, though it is also true that there have been monopolies, or at least oligopolies, for quite a long time now. Then again, Reich is correct, I think, in insisting that monopolies and oligopolies have lately acquired a lot more power than they had before.

Here is some on why monopolies got a lot more power lately:

Monopolies All Around 

America used to have antitrust laws that stopped corporations from monopolizing markets, and often broke up the biggest culprits. No longer. It’s a hidden upward redistribution of money and power from the majority of Americans to corporate executives and wealthy shareholders.

You may think you have lots of choices, but take a closer look:

1. The four largest food companies control 82 percent of beef packing, 85 percent of soybean processing, 63 percent of pork packing, and 53 percent of chicken processing. 

2. There are many brands of toothpaste, but 70 percent of all of it comes from just two companies.
6. What about your pharmaceuticals? Yes, you can get low-cost generic versions. But drug companies are in effect paying the makers of generic drugs to delay cheaper versions. Such “pay for delay” agreements are illegal in other advanced economies, but antitrust enforcement hasn’t laid a finger on them in America. They cost you and me an estimated $3.5 billion a year.

7. You think your health insurance will cover the costs? Health insurers are consolidating, too. Which is one reason your health insurance premiums, copayments, and deductibles are soaring.

There are in fact considerably more points in Reich´s article than I quoted. And the above is correct, as is the following explanation:

Why the Monopolization of America is a Huge Problem

The problem with all this consolidation into a handful of giant firms is they don’t have to compete. Which means they can – and do – jack up your prices.

Such consolidation keeps down wages. Workers with less choice of whom to work for have a harder time getting a raise. When local labor markets are dominated by one major big box retailer, or one grocery chain, for example, those firms essentially set wage rates for the area. 

These massive corporations also have a lot of political clout. That’s one reason they’re consolidating: Power. 

Antitrust laws were supposed to stop what’s been going on. But today, they’re almost a dead letter. This hurts you.

Precisely. And indeed antitrust laws protected the ordinary people in the 1950ies and 1960ies, but they have been mostly destroyed, successively, under Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Here is more:

We haven’t seen concentration on this scale ever before.

Google and Facebook are now the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Meanwhile, Amazon is now the first stop for more than a half of American consumers seeking to buy anything. Talk about power.

Contrary to the conventional view of an American economy bubbling with innovative small companies, the reality is quite different. The rate at which new businesses have formed in the United States has slowed markedly since the late 1970s. 

Big Tech’s sweeping patents, standard platforms, fleets of lawyers to litigate against potential rivals, and armies of lobbyists have created formidable barriers to new entrants. Google’s search engine is so dominant, “Google” has become a verb.

Yes indeed. And here is Reich´s ending:

It’s Time to Revive Antitrust

Economic and political power cannot be separated because dominant corporations gain political influence over how markets are organized, maintained, and enforced – which enlarges their economic power further. 

One of the original goals of the antitrust laws was to prevent this.

Big Tech — along with the drug, insurance, agriculture, and financial giants — is coming to dominate both our economy and our politics.

There’s only one answer: It is time to revive antitrust.

I completely agree (but it will be very difficult with the present Republican majorities, that is also coupled to major corruption on the side of many Democrats). And this is a recommended article.

5. What Karl Marx Got Right -- And One Big Thing He Got Wrong

This article is by Robert Kuttner on Huffpost. This starts as follows:

When I was first studying economics, Marx looked to me like an idiot. In postwar America and in much of the West, the proletariat was making steady gains. Far from turning revolutionary, workers were joining unions and supporting mainstream center-left political parties. 

Far from containing the seeds of its own destruction, capitalism in Europe and America had at last been harnessed in the broad public interest. The welfare state was spreading the good life. The bourgeoisie was doing well, but it was mostly well-behaved. Nobody was being “immiserated.”

Meanwhile, nations that invoked Marx’s name were both economic failures and political hellholes. Far from Marx’s benign “dictatorship of the proletariat,” communist countries were ordinary despotisms, and corrupt as hell to boot.

Well, what a difference a generation makes. Today, Marxian concepts that once sounded far-fetched or silly are pretty good descriptions of reality.

This weekend marked the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, who was born in the German city of Trier on May 5, 1818. With more and more workers pushed aside by global capitalism and more and more of the economic gains going to the top, it’s a good time to inquire if perhaps Marx might have been right after all.

There is indeed a global reserve army of the unemployed, and it drags down wages generally. More and more working people are being dumped into a “lumpenproletariat” made up of would-be workers without regular jobs.

In fact, this - more or less - continues the four bits I published yesterday on Karl Marx, that were written because he was born two centuries ago, on May 5, 1818. And the present article is reviewed mostly because it is a bit better than the ones I reviewed yesterday.

Also, while the above is more or less correct (and especially the last paragraph) I want to make two general remarks.

First about Kuttner, mostly. He is seven years older than I am, and very probably studied economics in the early 1960ies. I think this mostly explains Kuttner´s attitudes to Marx of the early 1960ies:

Firstly, nearly all American economists were against Marx; secondly Keynesianism was thriving, which did substantially increase the incomes of the lower and middle classes in the West (also in Holland and in Western Europe generally); and thirdly, Kuttner is right that the supposed followers of Marx, the so-called ¨socialist¨ countries led by the Soviet Union (which I never believed were socialist, but that is only remarked in passing) were doing much more poorly economically while also being much more repressive politically than ẗhe West.

And second about Marx. I think that Kuttner is right that Marx is getting re-evaluated by some economists, and also by non-economists, and for more political reasons, but I think he is mistaken in suggesting that ¨
it’s a good time to inquire if perhaps Marx might have been right after all¨.

My reasons are probably not quite what you think, but I was raised as a Marxist, by Marxist parents, which means i.a. that I have read quite a bit of Marx (and Engels, and Lenin and Stalin, etc.) And it is especially this reading that informs my judgement:

The Marx-Engels-Gesamt-Ausgabe of the writings by Marx and Engels at present (around 2017) stand at 65 - solid - volumes, and will when completed cover 114 volumes. Also, there is an English translation of some of this, and that numbers 50 volumes.

Having read more of that than most I´ve met, but by no means all or most of it (not by far), my contentions are that (i) Marx and Engels were both real intellectuals, who did write very much as intellectuals, and (ii) there is not one Marx or one Engels to be found in their complete works: there are quite a few Marxs and Engels.

I do not mean that they were inconsistent (although they were on some points), nor that they were dishonest: I mean that there is too much material they wrote to reduce that to a singular set of propositions that either or both might have agreed to.

And I don´t think that is a shame either. But it does mean that there very probably is not a single consistent interpretation of Marx.

Back to the article, which sketches the present of the USA:

Well, today the state has been pretty well captured by the Koch brothers and company. Goldman Sachs has provided five of the last six secretaries of the Treasury, under Democrats and Republicans alike. That sounds a lot more like “executive committee” than “countervailing power.”

The postwar boom, rather than being a permanent refutation of Marx, was more like a fortunate historical blip — when the stars were aligned to regulate capitalism in a broad public interest. But one bad decade, the 1970s, was sufficient to restore both capitalists and the ideology of raw, free-market capitalism to their usual power — despite the verdict of history that raw capitalism keeps generating needless economic catastrophe.

The greatest of the 20th century economists, John Maynard Keynes, demonstrated that this did not have to be so. With the right policy interventions, a basically capitalist economy could indeed be harnessed to serve the broad working public.

The postwar boom seemed to prove Keynes right. But one of Keynes’ lesser-known colleagues, the Polish-born economist Michal Kalecki, who located himself somewhere between Keynes and Marx, offered the following rebuttal: Even if it were possible as a matter of economics to harness a basically capitalist system to serve the broad mass of people, as a matter of politics the capitalist class would never let policymakers do it.

I more or less agree, and I agree completely that Keynes´s program, that did more or less guide the West from 1946 till 1980, was a combination of policies and laws, and of the economy itself.

Then again, when the elected politicians were rightwing neo-conservatives, which happened from Thatcher and Reagan onwards, the policies and laws were - quite radically, also - changed, which in turn altered the economy in the sense that - once again - a much larger proportion of the profits went to the rich.

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

This is not to say that Marx was entirely correct, however. He got one big thing wrong. Touchingly, he imagined that as capitalism became more and more destructive, the workers of the world would unite.

Frustrated workers, whether in Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Britain, France or the U.S., are not joining hands with their brothers and sisters in other lands. They are turning to neo-fascists at home. Poor Marx left out the appeal of ultranationalism.

No, what Marx (and Engels, and Stalin, and Lenin, and many more) got wrong was historical materialism: It just is not true that all of society is determined by the economy or by economical relations, and it also just is not true that ¨class solidarity¨ will inspire the workers (or the repressed, or the exploited) to unite with workers (or etc.) from other countries and to resist - for example - fighting for their own capitalists. (As happened in both WW I and WW II.)

But this is a considerably better article about Marx than I found yesterday, and that is the main reason it was reviewed today. And it is recommended.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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