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Nederlog

October 10, 2015
Crisis: Stalinism, Wikileaks, Taliban, Hillary Clinton, Reich for Sanders
 "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















Prev- crisis -Next

Sections
Introduction

1.
Svetlana Alexievich: 'Stalin and the Gulag are not history'
2. Wikileaks release of TPP deal text stokes 'freedom of
     expression' fears

3. The day I met the other victims of extremism: boys
     brainwashed to kill

4. Go Ahead, Back Hillary Clinton and Forget All About Her
     Record

5. Hillary, Bernie and the Banks


This is a Nederlog of Saturday, October 10, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 blogs with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is by the latest Nobel Prize winner of literature, who reflects on Stalinism and how that may return (I mostly agree); item 2 is about Wikileaks on The Guardian, but - it is a Thielman article - misses the link to Wikileaks; item 3 is by an Australian journalist, about the boys recruited by the Taliban; item 4 is by Robert Scheer and - deservedly - takes down Hillary Clinton; and item 5 is by Robert Reich, who explains why he is for Bernie Sanders on the banks, and not for Hillary Clinton on the same subject.

There probably will be another Nederlog today, to commemorate the 1000th article in the
crisis series, but I do not yet know how long this will be, because
I don't know how energetic I will be. In any case, there will be more tomorrow
on the same subject.

1. Svetlana Alexievich: 'Stalin and the Gulag are not history'

The first item today is an article by Svetlana Alexievich (<- Wikipedia) on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:
Not long ago we were Romantics. We sat in our kitchens, sang songs by Okudzhava and the other Soviet “bards” of the 60s and 70s and dreamed of freedom, but no one had any idea what freedom was. And no one knew what the people wanted. Did they really want freedom, or did they just want to be better off? With a Schengen visa, a secondhand foreign car and holidays in Egypt, by the Red Sea. And 20 different kinds of sausage and cheese. And that’s what they’d call freedom.

The last 20 years have sobered us up. We naive heralds of perestroika now understand that the road to freedom is a long one, that we all need as much courage as during the days of communism – or perhaps still more, since those in power today are more concerned with their wealth than with ideas. And that ancient predatory instinct is a powerful force.
Yes, indeed, though I do have a qualification. But first, although Svetlana Alexievich is two years older than I am, I had to wait until her very recent assignment of the Nobel Prize, which incidentally was also said to be the first
time this prize goes to a journalist, to learn of her existence.

Second, my qualification is that around 1990 there was a minority of Russians who did know, in a sense, what real freedom is, namely those who had read Orwell and Sacharov and who also knew something about the real history of the West. But I agree that this was a quite small minority, and also that they did not know freedom in their own personal lives. 

Andrei Sannikov is one of those who has challenged the new authoritarian system. A former candidate for the presidency of Belarus. For which he was thrown in jail, where he went through all the circles of hell. Which makes him an invaluable witness. My Story, an account of his experiences in the 2010 election and then as a prisoner of conscience, has come at the right time. Page after page will make you realise, with horror, that Stalin and the Gulag are not history – or rather, not only history. Nothing has been forgotten. Stalin’s machine can be started up again at only a moment’s notice: the same informers, the same denunciations, the same tortures. The same universal, all-devouring terror.
Yes, I mostly agree. The reason why I write "mostly" is that, if it happens again, as indeed may happen, it will take some time. The reasons why I agree are mostly that I do not see any necessary moral force in human history (that moves from worse to better, or indeed from better to worse), while I know that both governments and the few rich anywhere are generally neither the intellectual best nor the moral best, but are usually the opposite: the intellectually mediocre and morally not existing persons, who are great at lying and deceiving, and are willing to do virtually anything to advance themselves or increase their own incomes.

Next, there is this:
We see before us an entire, easily recognisable gallery of executioners. Each of them, just as 50 – or rather 70 – years ago, makes his own choice: to remain, or not to remain, a human being. Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” is still only too relevant: there is no such thing as chemically pure evil. Instead, evil is scattered everywhere, dispersed throughout our lives. The executioner and someone who appears to be a human being live together in a single body: “You must understand … I have children”; “Yes, I voted for you, but please sign this statement”; “It’s my job and I have to do it.” Side by side with the executioners we travel by metro, sit in cafes, stand in supermarket queues … An ordinary human being … Ordinary people … And it’s so easy to make that slip, to slide down and join them.
I mostly agree, but I need to make a remark about Arendt's phrase the “banality of evil”.

To start with, the following is quoted from the Wikipedia article on "Eichmann in Jerusalem" (which is where "banality of evil" links to):

Arendt suggests that this [Eichmann's - supposed - normalcy: MM] most strikingly discredits the idea that the Nazi criminals were manifestly psychopathic and different from "normal" people. From this document, many concluded that situations such as the Holocaust can make even the most ordinary of people commit horrendous crimes with the proper incentives, but Arendt adamantly disagreed with this interpretation, as Eichmann was voluntarily following the Führerprinzip. Arendt insists that moral choice remains even under totalitarianism, and that this choice has political consequences even when the chooser is politically powerless:

[U]nder conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that "it could happen" in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.

First, the phrase "banality of evil" means "the ordinariness of evil" - which indeed is hard to deny for anyone who has seen films of hundreds of thousands very happy Germans enthusiastically admiring and greeting Hitler around 1937, when there were concentration camps, where anyone with known leftist opinions risked being locked up in, and when the German state also was and had been totalitarian since 1933, when the public bookburnings - of Jewish and leftist books - also started.

Second, I strongly disagree with Arendt's disagreement with the thesis that "
the most ordinary of people commit horrendous crimes with the proper incentives":

That is precisely what did happen, as outlined e.g. by Christopher Browning in his
"Ordinary Men" [1], and as is also clear from WW II: Most Germans of the time were both quite ordinary men and women and supported Hitler, at least until 1944. The reasons varied: Some were Nazis, others collaborators, yet others survivors, but most ordinary German men and women did support Hitler, Goebbels and their government. Also, they had good reasons to do so: they risked the concentration camp when they did object to Hitler's totalitarian regime.

Third and last, I know that "u
nder conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not" since my parents and grandparents had the great courage to go into the - real, communist - resistance against the Nazis - but I disagree with the romantic optimism that "no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation".

Of course more can be reasonably asked - and with rational courageous men and women being as scarce as they factually are, at present, it seems an open question whether "
this planet" will "remain a place fit for human habitation".

I am very sorry to have to conclude this, but as far as I can see, the majority
is only interested in their own survival, and that of their families and friends, and also doesn't know much of history, or science, or philosophy, or indeed what men and women are like, especially during war or repression.

2. Wikileaks release of TPP deal text stokes 'freedom of expression' fears

The next article today is by Sam Thielman on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

Wikileaks has released what it claims is the full intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the controversial agreement between 12 countries that was signed off on Monday.

TPP was negotiated in secret and details have yet to be published. But critics including Democrat presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, unions and privacy activists have lined up to attack what they have seen of it. Wikileaks’ latest disclosures are unlikely to reassure them.

I do not see why there is no link to Wikileaks - but then this article is by Sam Thielman, whom I don't trust. Here is the link:

Incidentally, if you read the links, read the pdf links: The html links seem to be fucked up.

Here is the end of the law, as it was once practised - which makes me classify the TPP and the TTIP as neo-fascist proposals, where by "fascism" I mean what the American Heritage Dictionary defined to mean:

"A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."

I think this is mostly true of the present United States, where the government and the business leadership have effectively merged, and which is driven, in part, by a belligerent nationalism.

One chapter appears to give the signatory countries (referred to as “parties”) greater power to stop embarrassing information going public. The treaty would give signatories the ability to curtail legal proceedings if the theft of information is “detrimental to a party’s economic interests, international relations, or national defense or national security” – in other words, presumably, if a trial would cause the information to spread.

So the exercise of the law can simply be terminated if the facts are too unpleasant for big business: Sorry, but this again sounds like neo-fascism to me.

Then there is this complete craziness:

The rules also state that every country has the authority to immediately give the name and address of anyone importing detained goods to whoever owns the intellectual property.

That information can be very broad, too: “Such information may include information regarding any person involved in any aspect of the infringement or alleged infringement,” the document continues, “and regarding the means of production or the channels of distribution of the infringing or allegedly infringing goods or services, including the identification of third persons alleged to be involved in the production and distribution of such goods or services and of their channels of distribution.”
This means - among other things - that if some site is accused of breaking some copyright, for that reason alone, without any court case, the name of the owner of the site, and the names of anyone who is a provider, and the names of anyone else who may be involved in "allegedly infringing goods or services" go to the owner of the copyright: That is most unreasonable, and again seems to me much like what neo-fascists would want.

Michael Wessel was one of the advisers who was asked by the US government to review what he said were woefully inadequate portions of the document. Wessel said the thrust of the TPP does nothing for Americans. “This is about increasing the ability of global corporations to source wherever they can at the lowest cost,” he said.

“It is not about enhancing or promoting production in the United States,” Wessel said. “We aren’t enforcing today’s trade agreements adequately. Look at China and Korea. Now we’re not only expanding trade to a far larger set of countries under a new set of rules that have yet to be tested but we’re preparing to expand that to many more countries. It would be easier to accept if we were enforcing today’s rules.”

There is more in the article, but since this is an article by Sam Thielman I rather wait until I find better comments.

I am afraid, though, that this is what the TTP and the TTIP are: Neo-fascistic laws, meant to repress almost everyone under the weight, the money and the legal authority of all-powerful big business, that in fact also governs.

3. The day I met the other victims of extremism: boys brainwashed to kill

The next article today is by Stan Grant (<- Wikipedia) on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

In the mountains of Pakistan I met young men who would have killed me. They would have slit my throat, put a bullet in my brain, caved in my skull with a rock. After I was dead they would have severed my head from my body and displayed it as a warning to all.

These same men would have strapped explosives to their bodies and walked into crowded market places to blow everyone – old women, mothers and children – to pieces. They would have happily died to kill. In fact they would have welcomed it with praise to God.

These young men – more accurately boys – were primed for death. They had been programmed for it. Their heads were full of hate.

They weren’t born for this.

I say. This is an article of an Australian journalist and it is here because it gives some background to who the Taliban (or Isis or Al Qaeda) recruits.

This continues as follows:

Each of these boys had a similar tale. They had been kidnapped and abused. The Pakistani Taliban – an extension of the militant Afghan insurgency but even more vicious – had grabbed them and spirited them into their camps in the hills.

They had been sexually abused. They were kept awake for days on end. They were forced to recite the Qur’an – Islam’s holy text – over and over. Hour after hour they would rock back and forth chanting the verses until in a trance.

Broken down, the boys would then be poisoned against the west. Every sin proclaimed in the Qur’an was ascribed to the Americans. In their eyes this is what we were, all of us infidels, we were Americans.

This is how the Taliban created suicide bombers.

I do not know how accurate this is, but Stan Grant was there, and seems to have spoken with some. Here is one point he makes:

The overwhelming number of victims of terrorism are Muslims.

More than 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks since 9/11. Muslims lose their children, their husbands, mothers and sisters to terrorism. And still they are told they don’t do enough.

I think that is correct (though I don't know the evidence for the numbers):
"
The overwhelming number of victims of terrorism are Muslims."

The article ends as follows (in part):

We use terms like suicide bomber of terrorist: this is the language we have but it falls short. The boys I met were not suicide bombers, they were walking bombs. They were part of the apparatus. They are the pin in the grenade. They are the trigger on a gun.

By the stage they are ready to kill they no longer function as free-thinking people. Others may disagree, but this is what I saw.

The first eight words are not proper English, but are in The Guardian. I take it Grant means that the terms "suicide bomber" and "terrorist" are not fit for the boys he met. I don't see why not, although I tend to agree that mere boys are
considerably less responsible for their acts than adults.

Then again, most of the adults who made them into "walking bombs" - if that is the better term - probably do not know much more than the boys do, and are also
seriously misled by a combination of religion and ignorance.

4. Go Ahead, Back Hillary Clinton and Forget All About Her Record

The next article today is by Robert Scheer (<-Wikipedia) on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

Go ahead and support Hillary Clinton, those of you for whom having the first female president is the top priority. She is by far preferable to Carly Fiorina, though of course no match for likely Green Party candidate Jill Stein (I know: You want to win). Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a principled and electable person, is not available, and political integrity be damned.

Just admit that you will be voting for someone to be president of the world’s most powerful nation who has not only been profoundly wrong on the two most pressing issues of our time—economic injustice and the ravages of unbridled militarism—but, what is more significant, seems hopelessly incapable of learning from her dangerous errors in judgment.

Like her husband, she is certainly smart enough to avoid advocating what President Obama has aptly termed “stupid stuff.” However, the good intentions of the Clintons are trumped by opportunism every time.

Well... I agree with most this says, except that I have never been convinced of "the good intentions of the Clintons".

Here is some more about Hillary:

For confirmation of the Margaret Thatcher hawkish side of Clinton, simply refer to her book “Hard Choices,” which clearly is biased against choosing the more peaceful course and instead betrays a bellicose posturing that seems to harken back to the Goldwater Girl days that reflected her earliest political instincts.

What one finds is a litany of macho bleating in defense of bombing nations into freedom, leaving them fatally torn—Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria.
It is true that Hillary Clinton started out as a Republican. Then again, I think both Clintons, also long before Bill won the presidency, had found that what worked best for them was pleasing the public by saying what the public desired to hear, and that is what they did, simply because that is what got them the most votes.

They probably do have opinions about the American economy and American politics, for they are not stupid at all, but I think very little of their real opinions gets known, because they do not want to be bound in speaking as their public - which I grant mostly consists of Democrats, so in that sense they are bound, but only in that sense - desires to hear, and quite regardless of the real facts, the real possibilities, or the Clintons' real opinions.

Here is some information about Bill Clinton:

But the reality is that Ronald Reagan presided over the savings-and-loan scandal and as a result was compelled to tighten banking regulations rather than obliterate them. It remained for President Clinton, in his patented zeal to obfuscate meaningful political debate with triangulation, to enshrine into federal law that primitive pro-Wall Street ideology.

One key piece of that betrayal was the reversal of the New Deal wall between commercial and consumer banking, codified in the Glass-Steagall Act, which Franklin Roosevelt had signed into law. When Bill Clinton betrayed the legacy of FDR by signing the so-called Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, he handed the pen used in the signing to a beaming Sandy Weill, whose Citigroup had breached that wall and commingled the savings of ordinary folks with the assets of private hustlers—a swindle made legal by Clinton’s approval of the legislation.

Quite so. And finally, there is this on Bill Clinton:

Brooksley Born, a head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in Clinton’s second term, made a heroic effort to regulate the nefarious marketing of dubious mortgage debt securities until Bill Clinton betrayed her by signing off on legislation that explicitly banned any regulation of those suspect mortgage derivatives, involving many trillions of dollars.

It was that president’s parting gift to the banks but also to his wife, whose Senate career would come to be lavishly supported by Wall Street’s mega-rich leaders. They are now quite happy to back a woman for president, as long as it’s not someone like Brooksley Born or Elizabeth Warren who is serious in her concern for the millions of women whose lives were impoverished by Hillary Clinton’s banking buddies.

Yes, indeed. In brief: Do not vote for Hillary.

5. Hillary, Bernie and the Banks

The final article today is by Robert Reich on his site (and elsewhere):
This starts as follows:

Giant Wall Street banks continue to threaten the wellbeing of millions of Americans, but what to do?

Bernie Sanders says break them up and resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated investment from commercial banking.

Hillary Clinton says charge them a bit more and oversee them more carefully.

Most Republicans say don’t worry.

Clearly, I agree with Bernie Sanders - but it is interesting that Robert Reich, who knows the Clintons for at least 25 years and is (or was) friends with them, also agrees with Bernie Sanders.

First, here is why most Republicans are wrong:

Clearly, there’s reason to worry. Back in 2000, before they almost ruined the economy and had to be bailed out, the five biggest banks on Wall Street held 25 percent of the nation’s banking assets. Now they hold more than 45 percent.

Their huge size fuels further growth because they’ll be bailed out if they get into trouble again.

This hidden federal guarantee against failure is estimated be worth over $80 billion a year to the big banks. In effect, it’s a subsidy from the rest of us to the bankers.

And they’ll almost certainly get into trouble again if nothing dramatic is done to stop them.
I agree. Next, here is why Hillary Clinton is wrong:

But, if you hadn’t noticed, Wall Street’s investment bankers, key traders, top executives, and hedge-fund and private-equity managers wield extraordinary power. 

They’re major sources of campaign contributions to both parties.

In addition, a lucrative revolving door connects the Street to Washington. Treasury secretaries and their staffs move nimbly from and to the Street, regardless of who’s in the Oval Office.

Key members of Congress, especially those involved with enacting financial laws or overseeing financial regulators, have fat paychecks waiting for them on Wall Street when they retire.

In brief, the politicians and the government are both deeply corrupt and extremely powerful. (I agree.)

Therefore:

Given all this, Hillary Clinton’s proposals would only invite more dilution and finagle.

The only way to contain the Street’s excesses is with reforms so big, bold, and public they can’t be watered down – busting up the biggest banks and resurrecting Glass-Steagall. 

That is: Bernie Sanders is correct, according to Robert Reich (and I agree).

---------------------------------------------
Notes

[1] Incidentally, "Ordinary Men" is reviewed on Wikipedia, but not very well. For one thing, for some completely unexplainable reason the title of the book, which was well considered and is striking, is deleted as if it was wrong: The whole reference disappears - I think intentionally - into the sub-title of the book: "
Reserve Police Battalion 101". Yet it is clear (from the book) that these were quite ordinary men, who each also on average killed 166 persons who hadn't done them anything, but simply because they were Jews and the ordinary men from the "Reserve Police Battalion 101" had been ordered to kill them. And so they did.

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