November 5, 2018

Crisis: American Elections, Reich On Voting, On Kant, American Billionairs, On Julian Assange


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 5, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Monday, November 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 November 5, 2018:
1. America at the crossroads
2. Why We Must Vote Every Republican Out of Office
3. Kantīs Three Questions
4. Mouthy Moguls: Our Latest Disappearing Species
5. How Did Julian Assange Become a Political Prisoner of Our Time?
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. America at the crossroads

This article is by Andrew O'Hehir on Salon. It starts as follows:

America, we need to talk. Somehow or other this nation has arrived at a historic crossroads, in a moment that seems quantifiably ordinary and with an election that honestly shouldn’t matter much. As historians and political scientists will tell you, midterm elections follow a cyclical and highly predictable pattern: After the first two years of a new president’s term, his party is highly likely to lose seats in Congress, as the opposition regroups and enthusiasm for the party in power begins to fade.

For all the epoch-shaping significance being attached to the 2018 midterms, that is almost certain to be the outcome this time too. Democrats will surely win some congressional seats, probably more than enough for a modest majority in the House of Representatives, although in the most Republican-friendly scenarios they could fall just short. As for the Senate, that will almost certainly end up within a seat or two of the current 51-49 Republican majority, in one direction or the other.
Yes, I guess this is correct (though neither you nor I will know until November 7).

Then there is this, which is a brief analysis of the present situation:
Whatever is wrong is cultural or psychological or perhaps spiritual; maybe all three. It is not new, and it stretches from the top of our society down to the bottom. It expresses itself not in the most blatant and obvious signs of social disorder, but in apparently unrelated phenomena: Extraordinary levels of economic inequality; disturbingly high rates of suicide and drug overdoses; the poisonous universe of the internet, which was supposed to bring people together and maximize the spread of information but has instead done precisely the opposite, driving us into separate caves where we dance around tribal bonfires and worship false idols.
It is not very important, but I am a scientific atheist (with a long-standing interest in mysticism) and I do not like spirituality, simply because is both anti-science and religious.

Then again, I agree specifically with "
the poisonous universe of the internet, which was supposed to bring people together and maximize the spread of information but has instead done precisely the opposite", though with the addition that the spread of utterly private information from more than 4 billion private persons to their national security system (maintained by anonymous servants of their government) has been tremendous, and the same for Facebook, Google and Apple, while there has been no spread of information in the other direction.

Besides, I think myself that the internet was explicitly designed to impose fascism on everyone who uses it, although the term "fascism" was never used for this end. Instead, it was called "a new technotronic society" in the late 1960ies (!!!) by Zbigniew Brzezinski, although he already then wanted to have everyone's private information in his secret database, and predicted this would enable the security forces to arrest people before they had done anything.

Back to the article:
It’s important for the Democrats to win because, as a friend of mine once put it, they are the only car in the driveway that will actually start. Like it or not (and I pretty much don't), they are the only vaguely normal political party this country has at the moment. To be direct, they are the only party standing in the way of a slow-metastasizing and especially mendacious form of fascism.

I have steered away from that word in pondering the Trump phenomenon; it usually feels lazy. But after the shocking events of the last two weeks, and after the ever-darker tone of last-minute Republican propaganda, no other word will do.

Yes, I agree. I dislike the Democrats as well, but regard the Republicans as horrors, and indeed also regard many of the Republicans as neofascists.

Then again, I probably disagree on fascism and neofascism, quite probably because I - whose grandfather was murdered by the Nazis, and whose father spent more than 3 years and 9 months in four different German concentration camps as a "political terrorist" - did not "feel lazy" and at least read this bit on Wikipedia, because this gives a rather good list of no less than 21 different definitions (mostly not proper definitions, but purported ones) of the term fascism, and I wrote an article on it that is very well worth reading: On Fascism and Neofascism: Definitions

I have to admit that I still have to read - after ten years of reading - the first journalist who seems to have read that Wikipedia article (Definitions of fascism) Besides, knowing that there are at least 21 definitions of the term, I am completely without a cue why O'Hehir now feels that "no other word" than fascism "will do", while I also have set up a definition of neofascism that is closer to Trump's political plans.

Anyway...  here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

It’s imperative for Democrats to win this election because the decades-long process of moral and intellectual rot in the Republican Party has finally ended in a virulent and dangerous form of madness. Republicans have almost entirely ditched traditional “conservative” politics in favor of a radical agenda to “define democracy downward” and remain in power indefinitely at the helm of a pseudo-democratic state built on racial and economic apartheid. A fascist state, in other words, whatever term it might apply to itself.

I more or less agree, although I object as a psychologist to calling the - neofascist - plans of the Republican party "madness", and I do not know what O'Hehir means by "a fascist state". But this is a recommended article.

2. Why We Must Vote Every Republican Out of Office

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

My friends, this may well be the most important election in our lifetimes.  Two years ago many of us didn’t know how low Trump and his enablers would bring this nation. Now we do. Although we cannot at this point vote Trump out of office, we can repudiate him and all he stands for by voting every Republican out of office. 

Trump has made this election into a referendum on him. He is an historic anomaly – a president who lies incessantly; who generates fear and fuels hatefulness; who viciously attacks the free press, political opponents, all who disagree with him; who uses his office for personal gain; and who cozies up to dictators while abandoning America’s historic friends. For the sake of our democracy and our future, we must send a clear signal that we find Trumpism repugnant.

Yes, although the plan (?) to vote "every Republican out of office" is of course impossible. But Reich is correct about Trump and about the election.

Here is more:

Every branch of the federal government is now under the control of the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is under the control of Trump. Unless constrained, he and they will be emboldened – to eliminate what’s left of the Affordable Care Act, to cut Medicare and Medicaid, to eviscerate Social Security, to give more tax cuts to the rich and large corporations. 

The Republican Party has lost its right to govern. It once stood for a set of ideas that, while not always appropriate to America’s needs, at least gave the party some reason for being – states’ rights, free trade, and fiscal prudence. Now it stands for nothing but Trumpism.

I think that is also correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

It is time to renounce the hatemongering and race-baiting that has engulfed this nation. It is time to affirm that we are a tolerant and courageous people – not the bigots and fearful cowards Trump and the Republicans have made us out to be. It is time to lead the world again, not pretend we can isolate ourselves from it. Our greatness isn’t found in the color of our skin or the uniformity of our ethnicity. It is found in our dedication to democracy, equality of opportunity, tolerance of others, and freedom.

Vote Tuesday as if your life and the lives of those you love depend on it. They do.

Well... yes and no. I agree with the second quoted paragraph, but the first is - I think - misleadingly optimistic.

First, "we" (?!) are not "a tolerant and courageous people", for the simple reason that some are and some are not, and if we go by the last presidential election, those who are and those who are not are about 50:50.

Second, I don't think that "it
is time to lead the world again" for the USA, and indeed not for any one country.

And third, "our dedication to democracy, equality of opportunity, tolerance of others, and freedom" seems to hold for at most 50 to 60% of all adult Americans.

But OK, possibly some optimism seemed required (to Reich), and this is a recommended article. 

3. Kantīs Three Questions

This article is by Robert Paul Wolff on his blog. It starts as follows:
We are now a bit more than eighty-two hours before the first returns are reported, so it is time to draw some conclusions about the election.  Conclusions?  Am I not getting ahead of myself?  I think not.  It is certainly too early to say who won, but it is not too early to say what we have learned.

First, it is no longer possible even for the most determined both-sides commentator to hide from the truth about Trump.  He is a flat-out unapologetic racist and a wannabe fascist dictator.  Most of us knew that, of course, but it is always useful in the public arena to have manifest truths confirmed and acknowledged.
Well... I agree Trump is a racist but as I outlined above "fascism" has at least 21 different definitions, and therefore, while I more or less agree that Trump is a neofascist, I do not know what Wolff means by "fascism". (See my On Fascism and Neofascism: Definitions for more, if you are interested in saying what you mean.)

Here is more:
Second, there are roughly 230 million or so Americans eighteen or over, and at least sixty or seventy million of them are flat out racist lovers of fascism.  I say this because at this point, it is not possible to support Trump strongly and not be a racist who yearns for fascism.
Again I have to qualify:

First, I guess that Wolff's estimate that about one third of the adult Americans are racists may well be more or less correct. (And my own basic explanation, that I have been repeating for at least 10 years, that this must be mainly due to the fact that the vast majority of these are stupid or ignorant are still totally ignored or overseen by every journalist -  very many - that I've read.)

Second, "lovers of fascism" is a quite unclear phrase: See above.

Third, I think I disagree that "
it is not possible to support Trump strongly and not be a racist who yearns for fascism" and my reason here is not the extremely unclear and twentyonefold ambiguity of "fascism", but the fact (I think it is) that so many American voters are stupid or ignorant.

Here is more by Wolff:
Third, there is a sizeable cadre of supporters of progressive policies, some of whom are even comfortable calling themselves socialists, whatever that means to them.  How many?  It is difficult to say.  As a percentage of the population, fewer than there were when my grandfather was young, to be sure, but they exist, and their numbers may actually be growing.
Yes indeed - and I notice that Wolff does - quite correctly - add to "calling themselves socialists" the phrase "whatever that means". I think that is correct, but the same should have been done with the term "fascism".

Here is more:
Fourth, the Democratic Party is threatened with a significant progressive transformation, one that the leaders of the party will resist as strongly as they can get away with.  It is at this point quite unclear how that struggle will come out, although I am pretty sure that our cause has been helped by Trump.  Does this mean socialism has a chance?  I am afraid not.  Socialism is bad for business.  Enough said.
I agree, although would have said that the basic capitalist objection to socialism - indeed "whatever that means", precisely - is that socialism is bad for profits by capitalists.

And this from the ending, and - sort of - answers the title of the article:

Kant posed three questions:  What can I know?  What ought I to do?  What may I hope for?

I can know that I live in a country founded on racism, nurtured on inequality, and committed to as much in the way of world domination as it can manage.

I ought to do what I can to make this country a little less unequal, a little less racist, a little less imperialistic.

I may hope that before I die, I see Donald Trump humiliated, impoverished, and ignored.
I don't quite agree on the first point (knowledge) but this is a recommended article.
4. Mouthy Moguls: Our Latest Disappearing Species

This article is by Sam Pizzigati on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Can American democracy survive the grand — and growing — personal fortunes of America’s billionaires? A just-released Institute for Policy Studies report, Billionaire Bonanza 2018, offers ample cause for worry. The families of America’s top billionaires, the study shows, are becoming multi-generational dynasties. The 15 wealthiest of these dynasties hold fortunes worth a combined $618 billion.

These dynasties have the wherewithal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on politics and still end the year wealthier than when they began it. A number of these dynastic families, the new report adds, are indeed doing that spending. They’re using “their considerable wealth and power to rig the rules of the economy to protect and expand their wealth and power.”

But many Americans of modest means — including many who consider themselves advocates for progressive social change — don’t seem especially alarmed.
I completely agree. Here is more:

[A] trio of researchers — Benjamin Page, Jason Seawright, and Matthew Lacombe — has just completed a systematic study of America’s 100 richest billionaires. Their core question: Do we have “a sort of Madisonian pluralism among billionaires,” a wide variety of political viewpoints, or does the “billionaire class” as a whole consistently put its thumb on the scale in any particular direction?

And what did the researchers find? Those billionaires with public-spirited and even progressive orientations, they note, turn out to be “not at all typical.” Most of America’s richest billionaires “more closely resemble Charles Koch.”

Like Koch, America’s billionaires as a group turn out to be “extremely conservative on economic issues, “obsessed with cutting taxes, especially estate taxes,” and “opposed to government regulation of the environment or big banks.” They also show little enthusiasm for “government programs to help with jobs, incomes, healthcare, or retirement pensions” and favor shrinking government “by cutting or privatizing guaranteed Social Security benefits.”

I also completely agree with the above quotation, although this is quite as I expected.

Here is more:

On issues around Social Security, for instance, 97 percent of our wealthiest billionaires “have said nothing at all” about America’s most important social program, no public comments whatsoever on benefit levels, privatization, or any other hot-button Social Security policy concern.

Yet in that same period most of these same silent billionaires have, far from the media spotlight, “made substantial financial contributions” to conservative candidates and officials “who favor the very unpopular step of cutting rather than expanding Social Security benefits.”

These billionaires, the Northwestern researchers posit, are “deliberately” practicing what amounts to a “stealth politics.”
Again I agree, although I did not quite know the above (which does not amaze me at all).

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

All this, the Northwestern political scientists agree, should deeply trouble us. Politics by stealth, they believe, will always be “harmful to democracy.”

To avoid that harm, we need than a few more open-minded billionaires. We need America to become billionaire-free.

I again agree, although I think I should add that the only way for "America to become billionaire-free" is to become socialist. And see my Crisis: On Socialism. This is a recommended article.

5. How Did Julian Assange Become a Political Prisoner of Our Time?

This article is by Nozomi Hayase on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Over 7 months have passed since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was deprived of his ability to communicate with the outside world in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was granted asylum with the risk of extradition to the US, relating to his organization’s publications. Recently, after UN Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression and Refugees visited the country, it appeared that Ecuador would finally end this isolation of its refugee and own citizen, which Human Rights Watch general counsel described as being similar to solitary confinement.

Yet, injustice on Assange continues. President Lenin Moreno who was said to partially restore Assange’s communication, now with a special protocol, imposes prison-like surveillance and restriction on his free speech. Under the new rules, Assange is banned from expressing opinions that are considered political or could interfere with Ecuador’s relationship with other nations. Journalists, lawyers and anyone else who seek to visit Assange are required to disclose their private details including email accounts and links to their social media, which then will be shared with UK authorities.

Quite so, although I did not know that "lawyers and anyone else who seek to visit Assange are required to disclose their private details including email accounts and links to their social media, which then will be shared with UK authorities", which I regard as extremely unreasonable.

Here is more:

On Monday, a judge in Ecuador ruled against the suit filed by WikiLeaks lawyer, the former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon who argued that this Ecuadorian government’s inhumane treatment of Assange violates his basic human rights.

Garzon was right, but then this was rejected by "a judge in Ecuador". Here is more:

Assange has become a high profile Western dissident. He has been arbitrarily detained for 6 years without charge, deprived of fresh air, sunshine and an access to a proper medical care. What made him be considered dangerous by the most powerful government in the world? WikiLeaks has published material that exposed the crimes and corruptions of governments and institutions. Their disclosure of secret documents challenged those in power.

Yes indeed. Here is more:

Assange saw potential in cryptography to offer a way for common people to non-violently resist the domination of powerful states. He once articulated the potent revolutionary force inherent in cryptography:

“Cryptography can protect not just the civil liberties and rights of individuals, but the sovereignty and independence of whole countries, solidarity between groups with common cause, and the project of global emancipation. It can be used to fight not just the tyranny of the state over the individual but the tyranny of the empire over smaller states.”

Specifically, with creative application of cryptography, Assange enabled a free speech right in a form that is resilient to government censorship and restriction.
Yes, I think that is quite correct - and an internet that would not have been designed to steal everyone's privacy and all that someone has on a computer connected to the internet would have been based on encrypted texts instead of unencrypted texts (as was quite clear from the late Sixties onwards - and no, I do not trust Tim Berners-Lee).

Here is more:

With the creation of WikiLeaks, Assange made an investigative journalism into a platform for pursuit of truth. He firmly believed that for justice to prevail, people ought to have an accurate knowledge about how the world works. He once noted, “If we are to produce a civilized society, a more just society, it has to be based upon the truth.”

In his engagement of people in this search for truth, Assange recognized how the media has become not a purveyor of truth, but of lies, actively promoting and defending the force that violates and destroys truth.
WikiLeaks, with its method of transparency steadily upheld a doctrine of satyagraha. Through scientific journalism, Assange found a way to resist governments’ perversion of truth by truthful means. Full archives of the original source material countered media propaganda that works to distort truth through censorship, omission and manipulation of information.
Yes, though I should add in connection with "a doctrine of satyagraha" that the writer of this article sees connections to Gandhi that I do not see, and have mostly not copied, simply because I do not see that connection, and I don't like Gandhi. (You can read the whole article by clicking on its above title.)

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

Assange is a revolutionary of our times. He sacrificed his liberty in order to give civilization a chance. He now has become a world-renowned political prisoner. Just as his forerunners who fought for emancipation were attacked by the empire states, he has been subjected to a political persecution at a scale that has never been seen before. In a tiny room of an embassy under heightened security, he now quietly suffers in solitude, fighting against character assassination that is now slowly turning into a real murder.

I think this may be a bit strong, but it is mostly correct and this is a recommended article.


[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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