December 29, 2018

Crisis: On The Cold War, On Trump's Shutdown, Chris Hedges, Green New Deal, Mock Democracy


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 29, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, December 29, 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 three 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 December 29, 2018:
1. The 'Highest Danger' of the Cold War Isn’t Behind Us
2. Trump goes all-in on the shutdown: Here's why it's a losing bet

3. The 10 Best Chris Hedges Columns of 2018

4. Progressives Slam Pelosi for Pushing 'Weak' Climate Panel

5. The Mock Democracy
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 'Highest Danger' of the Cold War Isn’t Behind Us

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

The odds were stacked against the two authors of “The Kremlinologist: Llewellyn E. Thompson, America’s Man in Cold War Moscow” when it came to treating their subject with anything resembling journalistic precision or objectivity. That’s primarily because they resembled their subject a little too closely—in addition to being the book’s co-writers, Jenny and Sherry Thompson are also Llewelyn Thompson’s daughters.
Jenny and Sherry Thompson tell Scheer that their shared impulse in taking on the project was part intellectual and part emotional. The senior Thompson, who was stationed in Moscow as the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union during two crucial stretches of the Cold War, died more than four decades ago, so the sisters were invested in his memory as well as his legacy. “We started this whole project for our families … we wanted to discover who he was,” Sherry says. “It really needed to be a proper book.”

That it is, and then some. According to Scheer, who notes the book’s positive reception in the diplomatic community, “The Kreminologist” ranges far beyond a professional profile of Thompson himself. In fact, Scheer says, it’s “the indispensable book to understanding the trajectory of the Cold War.” Most important, it capably debunks the lingering “fundamental fallacy” about a conflict that remains dismayingly relevant to this day.

I say, which I do because I lived more than 68 years and cannot recall ever hearing about Llewellyn E. Thompson - so this was a (fairly minimalistic) link.

And here is the "fundamental fallacy" Scheer asserts Jenny and Sherry Thompson uncovered:

[T]he thing that made me suspicious of this book at first, it happens to be written by his daughters, who also were there, Jenny Thompson and Sherry Thompson. And my first response was, OK, they’re going to have very nice things to say about their father. And, boy, was I wrong. This is the indispensable book to understanding the trajectory of the Cold War: what was it really all about? And in particular, about a fundamental fallacy in the Cold War.
That we could be virtuous at the same time as we were conniving.

That is, that is one aspect of the fallacy. In fact, I more or less agree. Here is more:

RS: (..) [I]t seems to me the basic issue raised by your father was that the whole construction of the Cold War was built on a fallacy. I don’t know that he would use that word, because he was witnessing it as it evolved. But was communism nationalist or internationalist? And speaking primarily about its fountainhead, the Soviet Union. And the assumption of the Cold War was there was this ideology of communism; the Soviet Union had adopted it, and this led inevitably to a universalist, expansionist position. But as the book moves along, we find that the Soviet Union was largely a nationalist phenomenon (..)

In fact, it seems to me that Scheer is saying that most Americans in government, in the Pentagon and in the secret services at the time of Krushchev, misjudged the Soviet government, and did so by believing in the ideology that government projected, while not considering the real underlying facts.

That is one part of Scheer's argument, and I think it probably is basically correct.

There also is another part, that says that the present American government, and the previous American  governments since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 (very soon followed by the collapse of most Western communist parties), made the serious mistake of under- standing Russia as if it is still committed to the ends and values the Soviet Union had till 1991.

I think that is also mostly correct, but while I believe the first fallacy was - probably - mostly due to a combination of real fallacies and lack of relevant knowledge, the second fallacy is probably mostly - American - propaganda. I do so for the simple reason that the Americans were strongly involved in making the former Soviet Union capitalist, and must have known they succeeded for the most part.

But they also wanted an enemy. Here is one of the Thompson sisters:

JT: (..) I think, as you mentioned, Russia today, I think people don’t really realize that Russia today is not the Soviet Union. It doesn’t profess an ideology. Obviously it has nationalist interests. And because of the sort of Cold War mindset, it’s easy to whip up anti-Russian sentiment, simply because we’re ready to accept that. We were accepting, you know, we were anti-Soviet during the Cold War. I think what we need to do now is be very careful, because we’re getting into a position of another arms race with Russia today, and also the possibility of rising rhetoric and making the tensions higher will, could possibly lead to even nuclear war.

Yes, I think that warning is quite correct. Here is Scheer on two of Thompson's conclusions (the father):

RS: (..) And he came to two conclusions. One–and this was a very important observation in your book, I think–he understood about the Soviet Union, that there was an enormous contradiction between their appearance, their illusions, what they presented themselves as, and what they really were. And (..) it was quite clear at the end of the book that he was shocked that there’s that same kind of genre of deception, self-deception, on the part of the elites of both of these societies.

Yes, I think that is probably correct, and it may be rephrased as two propositions: (i) the Soviet Union was in actual fact quite different from the ideology it projected - which I think is correct, at least from Krushcev onwards, and (ii) both the leaders of the Soviet Untion and those of the USA were mostly guided in their actions to each other by the ideologies that the other projected, much rather than the real facts - which I think is also correct.

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

JT: (..) I think this is, this is a major lesson that we learned from the book: you have to try to understand the other, and to anticipate what the consequences might be of any particular action that you contemplate. Long-term consequences are really overlooked these days; everybody goes for the short-term gain, and they don’t look at the long, long picture.

I quite agree and this is a recommended article.

2. Trump goes all-in on the shutdown: Here's why it's a losing bet

This article is by Amanda Marcotte on Salon. It starts as follows:

Despite portraying himself as a great dealmaker, it's become sadly clear that Donald Trump, overgrown manchild, only knows how to bellow threats and blackmail his opponents. Which is why we're now six days into a government shutdown over Trump's demands for border wall funding — money that is largely symbolic, as it falls billions of dollars short of what building the president's ludicrous and unnecessary wall would actually cost. The entire shutdown makes no sense, except as amateur dramatics from a man who wants to look like a wheeler and dealer but has no real negotiation skills.

Unfortunately, real people are getting hurt to placate the reality TV president's need to have drama for drama's sake. Nearly 400,000 federal workers are furloughed and another 400,000 or more are being made to work without pay. The result is that important government work isn't getting done, causing trash cans to overflow and threatening to slow down access to food assistance and other necessary services.

I agree with the second paragraph which I think would be impossible in Holland and in Western Europe: You can't force - no less than 400,000 - government workers to work without pay. But indeed that is Europe and not the USA.

I do not quite agree with the first paragraph, because it paints Trump as if he is quite crazy - which I in fact agree he is, but as a psychologist, and not in Marcotte's terms, as an "
overgrown manchild, [who] only knows how to bellow threats and blackmail his opponents".

Here is some more:

As many others have observed, Trump does not see himself as the president of all Americans. He only sees himself as the president of his own followers. As I noted earlier this month, the supposed reason for the shutdown — border wall funding — is largely a pretext.  Shutting down the government is increasingly viewed by the Fox News crowd as a way to stick it to the liberals, and therefore a good thing in and of itself.

Well... mostly not, I'd say. First, Trump sees himself sometimes as the president of his followers and sometimes as the president of all Americans, and his reasons for the one and for the other are probably both confused. Second, perhaps the border wall funding is a pretext (and Trump has been promising for 2 years that the Mexicans would pay it), but I don't know. And third, shutting down the government is a bad idea, regardless of what Fox New says.

Here is some more:

While Republicans faithfully adhere to Trump's party line and blame Democrats for the shutdown, most other Americans correctly realize that Trump is to blame. Morning Consult reports that Trump's approval rating has sunk to 39 percent,
which is where it fell after he made excuses for the white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017.

Government shutdowns, in other words, appear to be about as popular as neo-Nazis: More popular than you'd hope, unfortunately, but still strongly disliked by the majority of Americans.

Again mostly no, for I see the above two paragraphs as a very easy but invalid confusion of a few American neo-Nazis and Trump's government.

Then there is this:

Trump is best dealt with on the emotional level where he lives -- that of a toddler throwing tantrums. That means letting him cry it out until he's tired, instead of giving him what he wants. As with a toddler, giving into tantrums only reinforces the idea that tantrums work, which only means the toddler will ramp it up the next time. Same story with Trump: If he gets his symbolic border wall money, that will just encourage him to keep shutting down the government. The only thing that will scare him off this tactic in the future is a major defeat

And yet again mostly no: Who should treat Trump as "a toddler throwing tantrums"?! Not Marcotte's readers, for none or almost none can deal with Trump on a personal level - and besides, as a psychologist I agree that Trump is insane, but this does not mean that he is (like) "a toddler throwing tantrums".

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

[T]he plan seems to be that the House will pass a funding bill, without wall money, as soon as Nancy Pelosi takes the speaker's gavel in January. Democrats are betting that Trump will be tired of seeing his approval ratings fall and will just give in. He already has a long history of trying to save face by falsely claiming that the wall is already being built, so there's little doubt he'll revert to that once he's bored with this particular drama.

Possibly so. But I do not think this is a recommended article, for if I do read psychological or psychiatric treatments of Trump, I think it is reasonable to require that these are written by people who are knowledgeable about psychology or psychiatry, rather than justifying any sort personal judgement by a journalist of what he or she thinks his madness is.

3. The 10 Best Chris Hedges Columns of 2018

This article is by Anonynous (no name given) on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

If only Chris Hedges weren’t so right all the time. The Truthdig columnist’s frequent displays of prescience have bordered on out-and-out clairvoyance at times, as he has spotted developments such as the rise of hard-right populism (to name just one example) so far in advance.

While that capacity makes him an especially capable and vital writer, one who not only registers shifts but also shapes the cultural conversations around them, it frequently means that readers had better strap in before taking in his latest essay.

Clearly, Truthdig readers were there for it all over the last year, tuning in weekly for the reality checks Hedges was uniquely able to provide in his pieces. He fixed his sights on what many others in the media treated as the most glaring problem with which the U.S., if not the international community, was faced: President Donald Trump. But for Hedges, the current occupant of the Oval Office didn’t serve as a catch-all for the country’s political woes, nor did Trump’s considerable presence obstruct Hedges’ view of many other critical issues calling out for attention.

Below is an incomplete list of what we consider to be Hedges’ most exemplary work in 2018.

And that is all you get from this article, unless you click on the above link to it, where you will find 10 fine articles by Chris Hedges, which I can all strongly recommend.

4. Progressives Slam Pelosi for Pushing 'Weak' Climate Panel

This article is by Jake Johnson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Following presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) official announcement on Friday that Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) will chair the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, progressives accused the Democratic leadership of moving ahead with a "weak" congressional panel instead of listening to grassroots demands for a more bold and visionary Green New Deal Select Committee.

Justice Democrats—an advocacy group that helped organize recent mobilizations in support of a Green New Deal—declared in a statement that the Democratic leadership appears dead-set on taking the "path of least resistance" when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.

"Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership seem to be pushing forward a weak Select Committee that has no subpoena power, that allows participation from members of Congress who take donations from the fossil fuel industry, and that has no explicit goals regarding the mass economic mobilization needed to match the [United Nations'] recommendations on scale and timeline," Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid said in a statement.

Yes, I think all of that is quite correct - and as I said or implied quite a few times before, I am one of those who distrusts all Democrats who rely on fundings of the rich, for the simple reason that funding of politicians by the rich is so little different from corruption that I do not see the difference. (And the same applies to the Republicans.)

Here is more:

As Common Dreams reported last week, green groups and youth climate leaders warned that the Democratic leadership is working to undermine the surging demand for a Green New Deal Select Committee by reviving an old climate panel that could have even less authority than its previous iteration, which had subpoena power.

Without this power, critics argue, the committee will be unable to compel fossil fuel executives to testify and turn over key documents.

"It's extremely disappointing that the current proposal may be even weaker than Pelosi's previous Select Committee on climate in 2007," Shahid said on Friday. "Democratic leadership still has time to create a Select Committee on a Green New Deal and support a serious proposal that holds fossil fuel billionaires accountable and is based on what science demands."

Precisely - and this is one of my (many) reasons why I think Pelosi should go. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Thanks to a groundswell of organizing and protests at the offices of key congressional leaders like Pelosi and incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), nearly 40 House Democrats have expressed support for a Green New Deal Select Committee.

"By developing a plan for a Green New Deal, we have an opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs, virtually eliminate poverty in the United States, and invest in a just transition for communities that have been left behind by racism and corporate greed," Prakash said.

But in an interview with E&E News last week, Castor said that while Green New Deal proponents "have some terrific ideas," the bold proposal supported by 81 percent of Americans will not be the "sole focus" of the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

In response, Justice Democrats asked, "Your sole focus won't be to propose solutions that match the urgency and scale recommended by the U.N.'s IPCC climate report?"

Well... 40 Democrats seems to be still 1 in 6. (I am not exact because it is now difficult to find the correct number on the Wikipedia, amidst scores and scores and scores of Democrats' photographs, which soon sickened me: I don't think an encyclopedia exists to propagandize people.)

Also, I suppose the true answer to the question in the last quoted paragraph is that your sole focus will be on how you keep being paid by the few rich so as not to do your job for the many poor, but I agree that is my interpretation. And this is a recommended article.

5. The Mock Democracy

This article is by Rainer Mausfeld on The Off-Guardian. It starts as follows:
Democracy and freedom. Two words that are charged with unheard-of social promises and that can release tremendous energies of change to achieve them. Today, hardly more than a shadow remains of the hopes originally associated with them. What happened? Never before have two words, to which such passionate hopes were attached, been emptied of their original meaning in such a socially far-reaching way. They have been falsified, abused, and turned against those whose thoughts and actions are inspired by them.

Democracy today really means an elected oligarchy of economic and political elites, in which central areas of society, especially the economy, are fundamentally removed from any democratic control and accountability; at the same time, large parts of the social organization of our own life lie outside the democratic sphere. And freedom today means above all the freedom of the economically powerful.

Well... yes and no. I agree more or less with Mausfeld - who is a German psychologist of my age - on what "democracy" and "freedom" may mean today in fact, but I also think that the larger part of the adults in our present societies still tend to think of them more or less as they did 50 years ago (which I can recall very well, for I was 18 at the time).

Here is more on Mausfeld's ideas:

Democracy, which was originally associated with great hopes for political self-determination and a safeguarding of internal and external peace, is left only as a formal shell in the real structure of society. Democracy has been reduced to a staged spectacle of periodical elections, where the population can choose from a given «elite spectrum». Real democracy has been replaced by the illusion of democracy; free public debate has been replaced by opinion- and outrage- management. The guiding principle of the responsible citizen has been replaced by the neoliberal ideal of the politically apathetic consumer.

Yes and no, but mostly no, for I think this was also the case - in Holland and elsewhere in Western Europe - 50 years ago, indeed apart from "the neoliberal ideal". In fact, this is what moved me 50 years ago to the decision to never vote, which I almost wholly kept, namely except from 1971 or 1972, when I was legally forced to, but not since. (I don't think I have ever lived in a real and functional democracy, but only in partial democracies at best.)

Here is more by Mausfeld:

International law has also today largely developed into an instrument of undisguised power politics. The self-declared ‘Western community of values’ has openly reverted to its almost religious belief in the effectiveness of violence, the wholesomeness of bombs and destruction, drone killings and torture, support for terrorist groups, economic strangulation, and other forms of violence that serve their purposes. This is a political fetishization of violence, whose effects can be seen all over the globe.

Well... I would have preferred examples instead of words, and indeed one good example would have been the European Convention of Human Rights, which is a total falsification of the original 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which you also find here.

I do not have the time to review the European Convention, but I will illustrate its utter rottenness by quoting first Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is about privacy:

Article 12.

    • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
That is the original article of 1948, that forbids "arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence".

Here is Article 8 of the European Convention that replaces it:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

That is to say: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence" has been replaced by mere respect (which is legal bullshit): "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence", and instead of article 12 that forbids interference, in Europe now all interference is justified "in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others" which means effectively that no European has any right of any privacy if that happens to be inconvenient to the secret services, the military, the police, or the rest of the government.

That is the new LAW on privacy - which is utterly opposed to the Universal Declaration; completely undemocratic, and extremely dangerous. But it is the LAW in Europe.

Back to Mausfeld:

The social transformation process associated with these things is similar to the effects of a «revolution from above», i.e. a revolution that represents a project of the economic elites and serves to expand and consolidate their interests. The transformation process that accompanies this revolution essentially rests on two pillars.

The first pillar of this transformation process is that the organizational forms of power are designed more abstractly and with a purposeful diffusion of social responsibility, so that the unease, indignation or anger of those ruled can find no concrete, i.e. politically effective, targets. Thus a will for change in the population can no longer find expression among the actual decision-makers.

I am sorry, but I find little sense in these two paragraphs. Here is more by Mausfeld:

The second pillar is the development of sophisticated and highly effective techniques that can in a targeted way manipulate the consciousness of the ruled. Ideally, those who are ruled should not even know that there are centers of power behind the political surface, presented by the media, of seemingly democratically controlled power. The most important goal is to neutralize any social will to change in the population or divert their attention to politically insignificant goals.

To achieve this in the most robust and consistent way possible, manipulation techniques aim for much more than just political opinions. They aim at a purposeful shaping of all aspects that affect our political, social and cultural life as well as our individual ways of life. They aim, as it were, at the creation of a «new human being» whose social life is absorbed in the role of the politically apathetic consumer.

Again I find little sense in these two paragraphs. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

In this sense, they are totalitarian, so that the great democracy theorist Sheldon Wolin rightly speaks of an «inverted totalitarianism», a new form of totalitarianism, which is not perceived by the population as totalitarianism. The techniques for this have been and are being developed for about a hundred years, at great expense and with substantial involvement from the social sciences, whose importance in society is closely linked to the provision of methods of social control.

Well... I agree that "the social sciences, [have an] importance in society [that] is closely linked to the provision of methods of social control" but I did not find Mausfeld's article much good: To me, it are mostly only words, without any clear examples.

[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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