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Nederlog

July 5, 2018

Crisis: Democracy Dies, On Conservatism, On Trump, On Corporate Rule, On The U.S. Voters


Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from July 5, 2018
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, July 5, 2018. 
1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

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 mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from July 5, 2018:
1. Democracy Dies in the Blinding Light of Day
2. What Trump Doesn’t Get About Conservatism
3. How to Make Trump’s Tax Returns Public
4. America Celebrates Lateral Move From Monarchy To Corporate Rule
5. Listen Up Voters – If You Want Change, You Can't Keep Voting for the
     People Resisting Change

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. Democracy Dies in the Blinding Light of Day

This article is by Murtaza Hussain on The Intercept. It starts as follows:
Despite being one of the United States’s founding statesmen and its second president after independence from Britain, John Adams was quite skeptical of democracy. “Democracy never lasts long,” Adams reflected in an 1814 letter. “It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.”
The United States that existed when Adams wrote the letter was not very worthy of being described as a democracy in any case. Millions of African-Americans held in slavery were denied the most basic human rights, while women were denied any meaningful participation in civic life. Not until the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage in the 20th century could the United States start to be considered a full-fledged democracy, despite the country’s founding under the false flag of democracy in 1776. American democracy, in any meaningful sense of the term, is then less than a century old.
Yes, I agree with the second paragraph, but I think Hussain would have been more correct if he had at least mentioned Aristotle, who had the same opinion, and lived 2000 years before John Adams.

Besides, he could have mentioned then that the situation in Athens, 2000 years ago, was at least formally similar to that of the USA around 1800: There were many slaves while "
women were denied any meaningful participation in civic life".

And in fact neither system was "a democracy" in the sense in which that term has been understood in the last 100 years or so (which was when women got the vote: around 1920).

Then again, according to Hussain, democracy, as understood in the last 100 years, is collapsing, although he seems to be more optimistic than I am:
Recent events suggest that, even now, American democracy may be starting to enter a decrepit late-middle age. While many people assume that our current political turbulence is an aberration, long-term trends suggest that undemocratic illiberalism may one day become the norm in the United States and elsewhere. Democracy is eroding and may no longer be a plausible means of governance. Technological change, decaying institutions, and populist demagoguery may well make genuine democracy effectively impossible, validating Adams’s prediction that a democratic system could never really endure.
In fact, I think that "undemocratic illiberalism" has become the basic norm, and the basic reasons are, in Hussain's words "[t]echnological change (..) and populist demagoguery", which I would precisify by saying that in effect computers are the tools of neofascism because they made absolutely everyone totally controllable by a very small handful of men (that is the case now, also when you don't believe it), while the nominal voters mostly engage in "populist demagoguery" because they are too stupid or too ignorant or too conformistic or are almost completely wishful thinkers rather than rational and informed thinkers.

In fact, one of Hussain's main sources is David Runciman, who is summarized to the following effect:
Runciman cites a number of gradual “coups” that could kill or cripple a democracy without us clearly noticing what’s taken place. Among the more subtle types of power grabs available in mature democracies is executive aggrandizement by a sitting government, whereby elected leaders, once in power, begin to attack democratic institutions like the press and civil society groups, bullying them into submission and slowly hollowing out democracy from the inside. Another possible tactic is strategic election manipulation, whereby elections are never outright tampered with to the degree that they can be described as “stolen,” but are creatively manipulated just enough that they are never truly free and fair either.
Both of the things Runciman mentions are happening, but I think - once again - that these things (and very many others) would have been impossible without the combination of stupidity, ignorance, conformism and wishful thinking that moves the large majority (that these days all have a Facebook account, and normally are totally anonymous).

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Today, massive amounts of personal data harvested by companies like Google and Facebook are already raising the possibility that democracy could become superfluous, with powerful algorithms potentially able to make more “rational” political choices than any of us with our own limited consciousness. Seemingly innocuous social networking platforms and search engines have revealed themselves to be able to rewire our brains, transforming our politics and potentially ending our liberal societies as we know them.
Well... yes and no. I don't know about "rewiring our brains", while I think "powerful algorithms" should make no human choices whatsoever, but I do believe that the main reasons for the collapse of democracy and the rise of neofascism are the combination of stupidity, ignorance, conformism and wishful thinking that moves the large majority (which together - stupidity, ignorance etc. - are a decent non-religious definition of sinning).

And no, I don't think that can be cured in the next 50 years. This is a recommended article.

2. What Trump Doesn’t Get About Conservatism

This article is by Roger Scruton on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

I have devoted a substantial part of my intellectual life to defining and defending conservatism, as a social philosophy and a political program. Each time I think I have hit the nail on the head, the nail slips to one side and the hammer blow falls on my fingers.

Like many others, both conservative and liberal, I did not foresee the political career of Donald Trump, nor did I imagine that such a man could occupy the highest office of state, in the name of a party that specifically makes appeal to conservative voters. Is this simply an aberration, or are there some deep links that tie the president to the great tradition of thought that I describe in my recent book, “Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition”?

In fact, I selected the present article because it was written by Roger Scruton, who is an English philosopher (a bit outside the English academic traditions for philosophy), and a conservative. I also read two books by him, which didn't much impress me (but that is the case with nearly all philosophy I read).

And I think it is a fair admission when Scruton says (speaking as a conservative) that "[e]ach time I think I have hit the nail on the head, the nail slips to one side and the hammer blow falls on my fingers", and that he also did not see Donald Trump becoming president of the USA.

Then again, in effect cutting my comments short: Two of the major differences between a man like Scruton and a man like Trump are that Scruton is intelligent and civilized, while Trump simply is not (although he may be clever in the way Mafia-bosses tend to be clever).

And in fact Scruton says this:

In Mr. Trump we encounter a politician who uses social media to bypass the realm of ideas entirely, addressing the sentiments of his followers without a filter of educated argument and with only a marginal interest in what anyone with a mind might have said.


I agree, although I would formulate it differently: Trump may be clever but he is neither intelligent nor civilized, while Trump's followers (which amount to something that approximates half of the USA, although this is probably also in part due to the fact that there are but two effective political parties in the USA) tend to be stupid, ignorant, conformistic wishful thinkers, who also got the possibilities to publish by the billions, which they mostly due anonymously (for everyone but Facebook, Google and the NSA).

Here is some more by Scruton:

Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage and the family. Such spheres of social endeavor arise not through buying and selling but through cherishing what cannot be bought and sold: things like love, loyalty, art and knowledge, which are not means to an end but ends in themselves.

Well... I agree with Scruton (apart from religion, which is why I delete it) that "education, culture, (..) marriage and the family" are all of prime importance and indeed "arise not through buying and selling but through cherishing what cannot be bought and sold: things like love, loyalty, art and knowledge" - while each and all of these are either denied or poisoned by the profit-oriented values of the market. (O, and "the free market" is an ideological construct with little factual reality.)

Here is Scruton's judgement of Trump:

[Trump] is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.

I more or less agree, but like to remind you of the fact that the vast majority of the over two billion members of Facebook (each of whom seems to have a - secret - personal dossier of about 660 MB attached to them, which makes them wholly known and totally manipulable by the owners of Facebook) also do not have any realistic notion of a civilization, and have replaced that by their own fond desires that are driven by their wishful thinking and anonymous irresponsibilities. And this is a recommended article, although I am not a conservative.


3. How to Make Trump’s Tax Returns Public

This article is by David Cay Johnston on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

On June 14, the New York State attorney general, Barbara Underwood, filed a civil complaint against President Trump and his three oldest children, accusing them of “persistently illegal conduct” in using the Donald J. Trump Foundation as “little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.”

Ms. Underwood believes there is abundant evidence to bring criminal charges against Mr. Trump as well.
In fact, I chose this article for a similar reason as I chose the last: I know something about its author, and what I know about Johnston is that he is a well-known writer on economics and tax issues, who knows a great amount about Donald Trump's dealings (going back to the early 80ies).

And I agree with Barbara Underwood, in the sense that I also think Trump is and has been indulging in
“persistently illegal conduct” of various kinds.

Ms. Underwood sent those letters, at the same time she filed the civil complaint, because New York state law does not grant her automatic authority to initiate criminal investigations. Her criminal referral to Washington noted that it would be a crime for the president to interfere in such an investigation. However, given Mr. Trump’s assertion that he has the power to halt any criminal inquiry and to pardon himself for federal crimes, a criminal investigation by any part of the federal executive branch seems highly unlikely.

The attorney general could, however, easily gain that authority. All that’s needed is for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Police or the state Department of Taxation and Finance to make a request, and the authority would be granted to her.
I am somewhat astounded by Johnston's assertion that "[Underwood's] criminal referral to Washington noted that it would be a crime for the president to interfere in such an investigation. However, given Mr. Trump’s assertion that he has the power to halt any criminal inquiry and to pardon himself for federal crimes, a criminal investigation by any part of the federal executive branch seems highly unlikely" - and the reason that I am is that this means that Trump's illegal opinions on his powers currently seem to be the (non-legal) norm.

Then again, Johnston may well be right. Then again, he ends his article as follows:

I believe that we, as citizens, own our government and that we should act like owners. The owners of New York State’s government should remind the governor, the Manhattan district attorney, the State Police and state tax authorities that they have a duty to initiate a thorough criminal investigation of Mr. Trump’s state and city tax returns and, if appropriate, to prosecute.

Mr. Trump asserts that he is no crook despite abundant indications to the contrary. Let’s find out the truth.

I completely agree with this and this is a recommended article. 
4. America Celebrates Lateral Move From Monarchy To Corporate Rule

This article is by Caitlin Johnstone on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
Today America celebrates its liberation from the shackles of the British Crown and the beginning of its transition into corporatist oligarchy, which is a lot like celebrating your lateral promotion from housekeeping to laundry staff. Fireworks will be set off, hot dogs will be consumed, and a strange yellow concoction known as Mountain Dew will be imbibed by patriotic high-fiving Yankees eager to celebrate their hard-fought freedom to funnel their taxes into corporate welfare instead of to the King.

Spark up a bottle rocket for me, America! In trouncing King George’s red-coated goon squad, you made it possible for the donor class to slowly buy up more and more control of your shiny new government, allowing for a system of rule determined not by royal bloodlines, but by wealth bloodlines. Now instead of your national affairs being determined by some gilded schmuck across the pond, they are determined by the billionaire owners of multinational corporations and banks. These oligarchs have shored up their rule to such an extent that congressional candidates who outspend their opponents are almost certain to win, and a 2014 Princeton study found that ordinary Americans have no influence whatsoever over the behavior of their government while the will of the wealthy has a direct influence on US policy and legislation.
Well... in fact I don't think the Americans of 1776 had much to do with the present American "transition into corporatist oligarchy", although I agree the latter is the case (and it also is one of the marks of neofascism, as defined by me).

But I do agree that the present-day oligarchs currently (thanks to the Supreme Court) "
have shored up their rule to such an extent that congressional candidates who outspend their opponents are almost certain to win, and (...) that ordinary Americans have no influence whatsoever over the behavior of their government while the will of the wealthy has a direct influence on US policy and legislation" - and "the wealthy" are the 1% or so.

Here is some more by Johnstone:
The elite class secured its stance as British Rule 2.0 by throwing their money behind politicians who they knew would advance their interests, whether those interests are in ensuring that the arms and munitions they manufacture get used frequently, the expansion of predatory trade policies, keeping tax loopholes open and keeping taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy very low, deregulating corporations and banks, or enabling underhanded Wall Street practices which hurt the many for the benefit of the few. The existence of legalized bribery and corporate lobbying as illustrated in the video above have enabled the plutocrats to buy up the Legislative and Executive branches of the US government, and with these in their pockets they were eventually able to get the Judicial branch as well since justices are appointed and approved by the other two. Now having secured all three branches in a system of checks and balances theoretically designed to prevent totalitarian rule, the billionaire class has successfully secured totalitarian rule.
Yes, I mostly agree with this - but I would like to point out (once again) that Johnstone cannot possibly be correct according to Wikipedia, that fairly recently has redefined "totalitarianism" so that it means exclusively what Brzezinski meant by it, which is in effect a fascist or socialist state, and nothing else: All personal characteristics, all party characteristics, all ideas, all values, and the possibility that one may very well be a totalitarian in a non-totalitarian country are totally excluded - so that Orwell must have been massively wrong if he wasn't completely insane, according to the implications of Wikipedia.

Of course, Wikipedia is massively falsifying things, but one important problem is that relatively few people have decent ideas about totalitarianism, and such persons - as is the case with ME/CFS and some other topics - are simply excluded from Wikipedia.

And this is a recommended article.

5. Listen Up Voters – If You Want Change, You Can't Keep Voting for the People Resisting Change

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. This is from near its beginning:

[R]egardless of political affiliation, the one belief most Americans share is that government no longer represents them.

The people are right, of course. Credible studies like the one conducted by Gilens and Page show that democracy is dead in the US and the country is effectively an oligarchy. And the oligarchs have used this power to give themselves a huge pay raise— The top 1 percent now have twice as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, a level of inequality not seen since the gilded age. 

No wonder people are angry.

But here’s the thing—“we the people” keep sending the very same politicians who created these problems back to Congress.  In 2014, 95 percent of incumbent Senators were reelected, and 96 percent of House members were.
This is a bipartisan problem.

I agree with everything in the above, but I would not say that it is "a bipartisan problem" but it is a human problem. And the human problem consists basically of two facts: Only a minority of the American population (and indeed of any non-selected large human set of persons) has the intelligence, the knowledge, the individuality and the rationality to make intelligent, informed individual choices; while the very small minority of the extremely wealthy have used these shortcomings to redesign almost everything in the USA, namely so that the extremely wealthy can do and earn as they please (including determining who gets voted in).

Here is some more:

As we move into the midterms, polls show that the most important issues to voters are:

  • Health care costs with a majority favoring preserving the ACA or adopting single payer;
  • The economy, particularly jobs paying a living wage, a higher minimum wage and more equitable tax policies;
  • Stricter gun control laws;
  • Fairer immigration laws; and
  • Getting the money out of politics

But the politicians in Washington have been moving in the opposite direction for decades, and it’s gotten worse under Trump and the current Congress.

Well... I completely agree, but if it is true (as it is) thjat "the politicians in Washington have been moving in the opposite direction for decades" the reasons must be that the majorities of those who can vote lack the intelligence, the knowledge, the individuality and the rationality to make intelligent, informed individual choices, and because of that, the very few that comprise the wealthy (less than 1% of the population) succeeded in not only getting the vast majority of the wealth, but also the vast majority of the power.

Here is what resulted, according to Atcheson:

Instead of strengthening health care or pushing for a single payer system, they’re dismantling what limited health care protections the ACA afforded.

Instead of making our economy more equitable and just, they passed a giant tax give-away benefiting the ultra rich and corporations, refused to increase the minimum wage, and rolled back regulations protecting people’s health, their foods, and their environment at the behest of corporate America, while eviscerating the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Instead of common sense gun control, they’ve acted as mouthpieces for the NRA and offered “thoughts and prayers.”

Instead of more humane immigration policies, they’ve continued to demonize, blame and otherwise use immigrants as scapegoats in an attempt to keep people distracted from the fact that corporations and their political cronies are stealing them blind.

Instead of getting the money out of politics, neither party has embraced campaign reform, empowering the oligarchy at your expense, although individual progressive candidates have made reform a winning issue against incumbents.

In short, incumbents have been ignoring the will of the people for decades now, and if we the people continue to vote for the same politicians who created these problems they will continue to ignore us in the future and vote against the issues we say are most important to us.

I completely agree - but then again I insist that the majorities of those who can vote lack the intelligence, the knowledge, the individuality and the rationality to make intelligent, informed individual choices.

In fact, I am not certain whether Atcheson agrees, but here is his ending:

Don’t like politics and politicians who are bought and paid for?  Vote the bastards out.  And vote candidates who promise to get the money out of politics in.

But if you won’t do that, don’t complain, and don’t bother celebrating the 4th of July, because you really don’t live in a free country any longer. And realize we won’t achieve the country we want by voting for the usual suspects. It's not that we're getting what we deserve, but it's very clear that we're getting exactly what too many of us keep voting for.

I agree, and my own conclusion (having lived through at least 40 years of the same) is that it will continue as it did the last 40 years, except if there is a major economical crisis, during which people have to vote, rather like the early 1930ies. And this is a recommended article.


Note

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl 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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