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Nederlog

April 13, 2015
Crisis: Hedges on Nader, China, Iran, American Exceptionalism, Psychiatry
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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Sections
Introduction

1. For Nader, Defiance Is a Way of Life
2. China Is Said to Use Powerful New Weapon to Censor
     Internet

3. 
The Iranian Ascendancy
4.
American Exceptionalism in the New Gilded Age
5. Minds in Tumult


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, April 13, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a quite good article of Chris Hedges on Ralph Nader; item 2 is about a new program of the Chinese, that does what the NSA also does; item 3 is about a longish but good article by Peter Van Buren about Iran and the Middle East; item 4 is about an article about "American exceptionalism" which I found quite good; and item 5 is about a review of a recently published book about the history of madness.

1. For Nader, Defiance Is a Way of Life

The first item today is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:
There was a time in Washington when a letter from Ralph Nader to the president or a Cabinet official might evoke not only a response but a press conference, news reports and action. Nader, with his armies of lawyers and citizen action committees behind him, could mobilize formidable forces, inside and outside government, on behalf of citizens. But with the rise of the corporate puppet Ronald Reagan, and once Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party sold out to corporate power in exchange for corporate money, electoral politics became farce, legislation and laws were turned over to lobbyists and corporate attorneys, and the citizen, whom Nader has spent his life defending, became irrelevant.
And I quite agree - and indeed there were/are two corporate puppets: Reagan and Clinton, and Clinton (and Blair) became one through the - quite fraudulent, very false, very misleading, and very much bullshitting - Third Way. Here is Bill Black's characteristic of this movement to give careerists power by lying and deceiving:
William K. Black said that "Third Way is this group that pretends sometimes to be center-left but is actually completely a creation of Wall Street--it's run by Wall Street for Wall Street with this false flag operation as if it were a center-left group. It's nothing of the sort."
Precisely. Here is the second and part of the third paragraph of Chris Hedges' article:
Nader still writes letters to the powerful, pounded out on his 50-year-old manual Underwood typewriter, but they are rarely answered. That he writes them, that he refuses to surrender and doggedly struggles against all odds for a restoration of American democracy and the rule of law, makes Nader one of the moral and intellectual giants of our age.

Nader’s newest book, “Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015,” a collection of letters to Barack Obama and George W. Bush (whom Nader once called “a corporation running for the presidency masquerading as a human being”), was inspired, he said, by the letters between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and between Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Harold Laski. In Nader’s letters the path to ruin built by corporate and imperial power is laid bare and the vision of a future freed from environmental catastrophe, corporate totalitarianism and financial exploitation and collapse is spelled out with quixotic clarity.
Yes, I agree - and there are several excellent letters that are quoted this article.

Here is a part of Nader's own justification to write his letters (on a 50 year old Underwood typewriter):
“Correspondence with presidents or politically elected people is the only way a citizen can connect with an elected representative, and deliver a fact,” Nader said last week when he spoke at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Union Square in New York. “If you try to do it through the press, it’ll either be blacked out, censored, filtered, ignored. If you try to do it at a fundraiser, there are no deliberative dialogues at fundraisers. If you try to do it at a rally, where the attendees are preselected, you put your hand up and ask a pointed question they’ll escort you out of the auditorium. The only way you can try to connect with your political rulers, whether it’s legislators, governors, presidents, whatever, the only way you can connect is through correspondence. And that is being shut down at an accelerated rate, especially since the onset of the Internet. It’s as if the politicians said, ‘You don’t have to write us letters, you can always tweet us, or you can always send us an email.’ Well, the White House shut down its fax machine, and has an email restriction to 2,500 characters.”
Yes. Here and now I merely say I have been writing letters to authorities from 1980 - 2007, in which time I have been terrorized for three years by a sadist who was declared insane: Nobody helped, nobody answered; I had to go to trial, won the case - and again was never answered by the University of Amsterdam (that I defeated: I rented from them); I have been removed, as the only person since WW II, from the right of taking my M.A. in philosophy in the University of Amsterdam with the extremely offensive totally false declaration that I was "a fascist" and "a terrorist"; I then made an M.A. with extremely high marks in psychology, and needed 10 euros a week to get my house clean (as someone who was then invalid for 30 years): No one answered anything, not even letters by professors who helped me (and wanted to promote me to Ph.D.); I have spend 4 years above illegal drugs-dealers in both hard and soft drugs in Amsterdam who threatened me with murder and tried to gas me: the Amsterdam police, all the Amsterdam bureaucrats and Amsterdam's mayors and district attorneys refused to answer any of my letters and mails ... so yes: I have over 25 years of experience of being stonewalled, stonewalled and stonewalled by moral degenerates who ruled Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam.

For the moment (and since 2008) I have given up on it, also because real journalism is quite dead in Holland, and because I am genuinely ill since 1.1.1979
- which is another thing that is never admitted and never discussed.


But yes, I like and admire Ralph Nader, and he wrote some very good letters to holders of power, who also did not answer him, for many years also.

Ah well...

2.
China Is Said to Use Powerful New Weapon to Censor Internet

The next item is an article by Nicole Perlroth on the New York Times:

This starts as follows:
Late last month, China began flooding American websites with a barrage of Internet traffic in an apparent effort to take out services that allow China’s Internet users to view websites otherwise blocked in the country.

Initial security reports suggested that China had crippled the services by exploiting its own Internet filter — known as the Great Firewall — to redirect overwhelming amounts of traffic to its targets. Now, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Toronto say China did not use the Great Firewall after all, but rather a powerful new weapon that they are calling the Great Cannon.

The Great Cannon, the researchers said in a report published on Friday, allows China to intercept foreign web traffic as it flows to Chinese websites, inject malicious code and repurpose the traffic as Beijing sees fit.

Quite like the NSA, I would say, though it also is my guess that - so far - the NSA knows more and steals more than its Chinese counterpart does. In fact, there is this in the article:

China’s new Internet weapon, the report says, is similar to one developed and used by the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, a system outlined in classified documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, the former United States intelligence contractor. The American system, according to the documents, which were published by The Intercept, can deploy a system of programs that can intercept web traffic on a mass scale and redirect it to a site of their choosing. The N.S.A. and its partners appear to use the programs for targeted surveillance, whereas China appears to use the Great Cannon for an aggressive form of censorship.

The similarities of the programs may put American officials on awkward footing, the researchers argue in their report. “This precedent will make it difficult for Western governments to credibly complain about others utilizing similar techniques,” they write.

I agree on the "similarities", and draw your attention to the repeated "appear"s: There is in fact extremely little that "the public" knows or is allowed to know, and this also is the same in China and the U.S.A.

There is considerably more in the article, that is good, and that ends as follows:

Ultimately, researchers say, the only way for Internet users and companies to protect themselves will be to encrypt their Internet traffic so that it cannot be intercepted and diverted as it travels to its intended target.

“Put bluntly,” the researchers said, “unprotected traffic is not just an opportunity for espionage but a potential attack vector.”

Yes, indeed. (Though "potential" may be deleted: it is "an attack vector".)

3. The Iranian Ascendancy 

The next item is an article by Peter Van Buren (<- Wikipedia) on TomDispatch:

This also has an interesting introduction by Tom Engelhardt, and starts as follows:

The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you'd expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

Yes, indeed: it is "a classic tale of unintended consequences". And I note that Peter Van Buren does know a lot more about Iraq and Iran than most, for he spent a year in Iraq, working then for the U.S. government.

Also, this is a long(ish) article by a specialist. I recommend you read if you want to know more about the current situation in the Middle East. I select only two of the most general bits. The first is on the recent agreement between the U.S. and Iran:

Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran's status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington's part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

And the second is about Iran itself:

Iran is well positioned to ascend. Geopolitically, alone in the region it is a nation that has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically stable and religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, Iran has seen evolving democratic electoral transitions at the secular level. Politically, history is on Iran's side. If you set aside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and put the U.S.-backed Shah in power for a quarter of a century, Iran has sorted out its governance on its own for some time.

Somehow, despite decades of sanctions, Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, has managed to hold its economy together, selling what oil it can primarily to Asia. It is ready to sell more oil as soon as sanctions lift. It has a decent conventional military by local standards. Its young reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. Unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran's leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one -- 36 years ago.

For a lot more click the last dotted link.

4American Exceptionalism in the New Gilded Age

The next item is an article by Paul Street (<- Wikipedia) on CounterPunch:
This starts as follows:

At one point last year, United States President Barack Obama declared that he “believe[d] in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” It was hardly a surprising or remarkable thing to hear. In US political culture, faith in “American exceptionalism” has long been doctrinally mandatory for top politicians, policymakers, and other elites. For those persons and others, stating one’s allegiance to “American exceptionalism” is hardly more controversial than standing up for the National Anthem or a US “commander in chief” saying “God Bless America” at the end of a major national speech.

(Just to be clear, the more accurate term would be “United States exceptionalism,” for “American exceptionalism” really refers to the US, not “America,” which technically includes Canada, Central America, the Caribbean islands and nations, and South America.)

I also quoted the correction (in brackets), simply because I like it. As to "American exceptionalism": I don't believe at all that Obama necessarily believes what he says he believes, and if he believes in "American exceptionalism" (which I very much doubt) all he subscribes to is in fact a very crude assertion of American nationalism (which is, in the words of Dr. Samuel Johnson, "the first refuge of the scoundrel").

And while I do believe the American president should put his country first, and should further American interests, I do not believe myself he really believes in "American exceptionalism", though I do believe that he believes that saying he does will improve his standing (in which he is very probably right).

This article is a fairly long study of what may be meant by "American except- ionalism". I like it a lot, and recommend you read all of it, but I will give three quotes from it that set the scene, and leave it to your interests to find out what
is the real truth that this kind of - very crude - ideological nationalism hides.

Here is the first quote, that describes the first sense of "American exceptionalism":

The first such connotation holds that the United States is unique among world history’s great powers in the fundamentally benevolent, democratic, humanitarian, and non- and even anti-imperial intention and nature of its foreign policies – of its actions abroad.

“The United States is good,” Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright explained in 1999. “We try to do our best everywhere.” Three years before, Clinton explained that the U.S. was “the world’s greatest force for peace and freedom, for democracy and security and prosperity.”

There is  considerably more in the article. Here is the second sense:

The second meaning of “American exceptionalism” holds that the domestic United States “homeland” is a uniquely excellent and unmatched global role model of political and societal democracy, freedom, and opportunity. This is what US politicians mean when they customarily refer to the US as “the envy of the world” (a phrase Obama has used more than once), the “greatest nation on Earth,” the “leader of the free world,” and the like. It’s what Republican US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) meant when she called the US “the beacon to the world of the way life should be” – this during a speech given on the floor of the US Senate in support of Congress authorizing George W. Bush to invade Iraq if he wanted to.

Again there is considerably more in the article. Finally, here is how the two senses interact and reinforce each other:

The two basic meanings of “American exceptionalism” complement and reinforce each other, of course. The US is so good and excellent abroad because it is so good and excellent at home. Its wonderfulness around the world only furthers its wonderfulness at home. The planet has everything to learn from the shining exemplar that is “America” (the US). The exemplar has nothing to learn from the rest of humanity: what could other nations and people possibly have to teach the “beacon to the world of the way life should be”? And who would seriously think that such a grand model of brilliance superiority, and benevolence could commit base and imperial crimes abroad?

That was the ideology. If you want to know the facts that lay behind it - with some excellent quotations by Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King Jr. then you should click the last dotted link.

And this is a really good article.

5. Minds in Tumult

The last item is an article by Daniel Pick (<- Wikipedia) on the Literary Review:

This is a review of a recent history of madness: "Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine", by Andrew Scull. The reviewer is a British psychoanalyst.

I selected it because I am a philosopher and a psychologist, who also thinks current psychiatry, and especially the DSM-based American kind, is in crisis (though one would not say so if one reads the triumphalist bullshit its American frontmen love to utter, in oder to sell even more of the latest patented expensive psychiatric drugs, that will make them even richer).

Here is a general description of the book:

Scull ranges widely, taking in such life stories, along with a plethora of theories and mythologies of madness, culled from literature, religion, philosophy and medicine across the ages. This rich work is also well illustrated with paintings, photos and film stills. There are forays into the treatment and understanding of the insane in China, India and the Middle East, before the author zeroes in upon those modern European and American visions of the mind (and brain) that eventually came close to gaining global hegemony. He asks how and why a set of diagnostic and statistical manuals produced in the United States and known as DSM I, II, III and so on, became a kind of secular bible in our times, first port of call for psychiatrists on every continent, despite various questionable assumptions, prejudices and even sheer absurdities.

I haven't read the book, but I like the last part: The DSMs not only are based on "various questionable assumptions, prejudices and even sheer absurdities" - they are totally false and mistaken. (You may doubt this, but I am a philosopher and a psychologist, and published an extensive criticism of it. See my: DSM-5: Question 1 of "The six most essential questions in psychiatric diagnosis"
And incidentally: I do believe madness exists, but not as the DSMs describe it.)

Also, there is this bit:

Scull's greatest indignation seems reserved for such relatively recent practices, though the preindustrial past was hardly a golden age for most of the mad. He scrupulously documents the poignant, horrible fact that many thousands of people had their brains sliced in the name of such dubious scientific advance after the Second World War

The name of the sadist and psychiatrist Ewen Cameron does not occur in the review, for which reason there is a link here. (He was both the head of the American and the World psychiatrists in the 1950ies, so he should be in the book.)

There is a considerable amount more in this review, and possibly this is a decent
introduction to psychiatry (which is - still - not a science, in any plausible sense in which physics and medicine are sciences, I am quite certain, though indeed people do go mad and need help if they do).
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