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Thursday, Feb 2, 2017

Crisis: Trump's USA, On Reality, Bannon, Reuters, Creepy Trump, Philosophers

Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1.
‘On Contact’: Trump’s American Empire
2. After the Apocalypse: Trying to Describe Reality in Unreal
     Times

3.
President Bannon?: Racist, Islamophobic Breitbart Leader
     Consolidates Power in Trump White House

4.
Reuters Instructs Reporters to Cover Trump Like Any Other
     Authoritarian

5. Worse Than We Imagined: Trump’s Mission Creep Takes Giant
     Leap Forward

6. Whatever happened to the public intellectual?
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thurs
day, February 2, 2017.

Summary: This is a crisis log with 6 files and 7 dotted links: Item 1 is about a very fine video by Chris Hedges who interviews Allan Nairn; item 2 is about an interesting article by Sarah Jaffe, except that the uses terms to describe the media ("objective press" is one of them) I haven't seen in the media in 30 years or so; item 3 is about an article and interview by Amy Goodman on Stephen Bannon; item 4 is about an interesting small article by the chief editor of Reuters on how to cover Trump and his government; item 5 is about a very fine article by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship; and item 6 is an article about "public intellectuals", though it is in fact mostly about British philosophers, and I don't quite agree with it
(and this last item also is not a crisis item).
As for today (February 2, 2017): I have changed my site yesterday to make it easier that it might be read, because it now happened for most of last year that both of my sites are not uploaded properly:

On xs4all.nl it may be days, weeks or months behind to show the proper last date and the proper last files (in the last 4 years always on the date it was that day); on one.com it may be shown as December 31, 2015 (and often was!!!); and I am sick of being systematically made unreadable and therefor changed the site.

For more explanations, see
here.
1. ‘On Contact’: Trump’s American Empire

The first item today is a video by Chris Hedges (<-Wikipedia) who is interviewing investigative reporter Allan Nairn (<-Wikipedia):
This comes with the comment:
On this week’s episode of On Contact, host Chris Hedges examines the future of the American empire under the Trump Administration with investigative journalist Allan Nairn. RT Correspondent Anya Parampil looks at the global reach of the American military.
The video takes slightly over 28 and a half minutes, and was published om January 28, 2017.

I think it is very good: It is strongly recommended.


2. After the Apocalypse: Trying to Describe Reality in Unreal Times

The second item is by Sarah Jaffe on Common Dreams:

This is from near the beginning:

This election in particular was marked by debates about media, its biases and “fake”-ness, and even allegations of foreign propaganda. From the primaries to the cabinet selections, debates over the appropriate amount and tone of coverage raged and rage on.

The rise of “fake news” has led many to return to the idea of objectivity, blaming partisanship rather than sloppiness (or malice) for the spread of disinformation. Yet it has seemed many times since Trump’s election that the norms and practices of objective media are uniquely unsuited to covering the news in unreal times.

Well... yes, but (i) while I am reading 35 magazines and papers every day and since over 3 1/2 years, I have hardly seen any of the "debates over the appropriate amount and tone of coverage" that are said to have "raged and rage on" all of the last 3 1/2 years (and I am not denying they probably occur: I simply haven't seen them), and also (ii) what are the "objective media"?

The last question again is about a term - "objective media" - I have not read in any context for very many years: I may have last read it in the 1980ies, but not later.

I do suppose Sarah Jaffe has more or less clear meanings in her head, but the terms she uses are completely unfamiliar to me. The same is true of the next bit:

The partisan press has a long history in the United States—in fact, much longer than what we think of as the “objective” media. Its rise once again, as the institutions of the objective press break down, is not particularly surprising, but the internet—particularly social media—seem to have created a perfect storm of incentives for websites to stretch, distort or plain make up stories in order to gain clicks by telling people what they want to hear.

What is the "partisan press"? What are - and note the quotes which are not mine - "the “objective” media"? What is "the objective press"?! I have really hardly any idea (and to speak about an "objective press" in the USA seems simply false, at least since the 1980ies or 1990ies, and it also sounds quite misleading).

In any case, I have read many discussions about the US media, and the distinctions I allow are between the mainstream media, which covers the big papers and nearly everything on American TV, and the non-mainstream media, which covers magazines like Truthdig, AlterNet, Common Dreams and shows like Democracy Now! and more, which are much poorer than the mainstream media, and also are much more honest, and that - unlike the mainstream media - still seem to be trying to cover the news as well as they can (and normally from their perspectives, which I don't mind [1]).

I also don't necessarily agree with anything the non-mainstream media write, but they do seem (to me, at least, and I have read a lot of journalism the last 55 years or so, and am a real intellectual) usually decent, indeed also if I disagree with what they are saying.

There is this on the - enormous - declines in standards, norms, practices and products of the mainstream media (and I am sorry to use my distinctions, but I simply do not know what "the objective press" is supposed to mean these days):

As advertising dollars shifted away from journalism and diffused across the internet, the news media’s revenue sources collapsed, with leading websites and even legacy news organizations coming to rely less on expensive and time-consuming original reporting. Instead, they hired a stable of bloggers and freelancers to aggregate, comment upon and argue over the news of the day. There are fewer factcheckers, and more people whose job it is to come up with the most clickable headline, in order to maximize eyeballs for advertisers.

Yes, this is quite correct, though most of this happened around 2005 (or a bit earlier), which is twelve years ago.

Taking advantage of Facebook in particular, which presents all news stories in a similar format and deemphasizes the name of the outlet or blog, a variety of less-than-scrupulous actors have flooded the scene.

Facebook is for me a neofascist organization (and I use "neofascism" in my sense: check it out if you did not). If you trust that, you trust absolutely anything. I never visited it since 2011, and visited then only because I was slandered and offended by someone who only wrote there.

Then there is this:

The distrust that many have for the existing “objective” media is grounded in reality: The norms of “balance” that for-profit media have relied on to avoid offending news consumers have been flawed for decades and seem utterly useless under an administration that considers lies simply “alternative facts.” The groundwork for that declaration was laid with decades of he-said, she-said, you-decide reporting, and deference to authority figures no matter how untruthful they be.

I mostly agree, and suppose this is about the mainstream media, though I like to add that - indeed - they "have been flawed for decades and seem utterly useless" since quite a long time (and indeed already - in my experience, but I did try to follow it then - in the Gulf War, from 1990-1991, for this was not properly covered at all by the mainstream media).

Then there is this on the current American president:

Added to this challenge is that of handling the world’s first Twitter troll president. When we’ve elected someone with a tendency to pick fights with the less-powerful on Twitter (and at this point, nearly everyone is less powerful), what is the role of news outlets in covering such utterances?

I have given my opinion about him here and here and elsewhere - and I am a real intellectual (unlike most journalists) and a psychologist (unlike most journalists).

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

Of course, we as journalists bear responsibility for what we put out in the world. Relying on readers to navigate the maze of buzzwords, jargon and heavy-handed conventions is simply unfair, not to mention unrealistic.

In considering the news crisis in Trumplandia, I have found myself returning over and over again to George Orwell’s  Politics and the English Language.”
I agree and indeed I do want journalists who say "this is what I think, and this is my real evidence". Also, I like the reference and the link to George Orwell's excellent essay - which still is not properly quotable in Great Britain and the USA because of totally insane copyright reasons.

And this is a recommended article, though I would have like it better if the press had been described in terms I recognize, instead of as "objective press" etc. which really is the first time I have met these terms in three decades (and I read more of the press than the vast majority does).

3. President Bannon?: Racist, Islamophobic Breitbart Leader Consolidates Power in Trump White House

The third item is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

This starts with the following introduction:

President Trump took the unprecedented step of giving Bannon a full seat on the "principals committee" of the National Security Council last week. Bannon has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in the White House. On Tuesday, The New York Times ran an editorial posing the question "President Bannon?" The Times wrote, "We’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon—nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence." For more, we speak with Josh Harkinson, senior reporter at Mother Jones. His recent article is headlined "The Dark History of the White House Aides Who Crafted Trump’s 'Muslim Ban.'"

The introduction on Democracy Now! is normally copied by me in my reviews, simply because it usually gives a good introduction of the interviews in it.

There is this about Bannon:

AMY GOODMAN: (...) Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, a site that’s been described as online haven for white nationalists. He left the job in August to run Trump’s campaign. Last week, Trump took the unprecedented step of giving Bannon a full seat on the principals committee of the National Security Council.

And Trump deleted the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from regular attendance to the National Security Council (which is quite odd).

Here is Harkinson on Bannon:

JOSH HARKINSON: Well, I think, at heart, Stephen Bannon is a nationalist who—you know, he turned Breitbart News into an empire that is really one of the preeminent platforms for the alt-right, as he told us back this last summer. And, you know, he is deeply opposed to Islam, on many levels. But, you know, he is basically a demagogue in the mold of those from past eras. And I, you know, think he’s risen to power within the Trump administration based on his ability to inflame racial fears and xenophobia.

Quite possibly so, but I don't know enough about Stephen Bannon (<-Wikipedia).
Here is more about Bannon:

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you about this most recent information that has come out, that he has been made a principal on the National Security Council, what exactly this means, this man who came out of Goldman Sachs, who was the head of Breitbart News, a news haven for white supremacists and nationalists. What is he doing on the National Security Council? (..)

JOSH HARKINSON: Right. This is really unprecedented. You know, David Axelrod, Obama’s political adviser, sometimes sat in on these meetings, but he had nothing close to a permanent position. And Bannon’s elevation, while these other officials are demoted, really tells us that he’s going to be playing a key role here on this council, which should be deeply disturbing, not just because of his radical ideology, you know, his views on Islam, but also because he’s a political operative, and his MO has always been to use policy as an arm of politics, his arm of winning over his adversaries. And so, it’s scary. I mean, he could start a war just for political gain.

Again I say: quite possibly so. Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to comments Bannon also made about the media in that interview last week with The New York Times, where he said, "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while." Bannon added, "I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States." Very quickly, Josh?

JOSH HARKINSON: Yeah, so this war against the media is, you know, a classic authoritarian tactic, discrediting the people who tell you what’s going on in the world, questioning their authority to give you the facts, which causes basically the people to not know what’s up and what’s down, to question, you know. And so, then that allows him to do whatever he wants, with impunity, ultimately.

I agree with that and this is a recommended article. 

4. Reuters Instructs Reporters to Cover Trump Like Any Other Authoritarian

The fourth item is by Kali Holloway on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:
Reuters editor-in-chief Steve Adler sent a letter to staff Wednesday with recommendations on how to cover the Trump administration. The message suggests that the news organization’s journalists should report on Trump’s actions the same as they do other authoritarian regimes around the world.
I say! I did not know this, and since Reuters is a large and international news organization, I think this is also rather interesting. Here is a link to Steve Adler's
article:
This is from the beginning:
The first 12 days of the Trump presidency (yes, that’s all it’s been!) have been memorable for all – and especially challenging for us in the news business. It’s not every day that a U.S. president calls journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” or that his chief strategist dubs the media “the opposition party.” It’s hardly surprising that the air is thick with questions and theories about how to cover the new Administration.
I take it that is simply all true. And this is from the ending of the article:

Don’ts:

--Never be intimidated, but:

--Don’t pick unnecessary fights or make the story about us. We may care about the inside baseball but the public generally doesn’t and might not be on our side even if it did.

--Don’t vent publicly about what might be understandable day-to-day frustration. In countless other countries, we keep our own counsel so we can do our reporting without being suspected of personal animus. We need to do that in the U.S., too.

--Don’t take too dark a view of the reporting environment: It’s an opportunity for us to practice the skills we’ve learned in much tougher places around the world and to lead by example – and therefore to provide the freshest, most useful, and most illuminating information and insight of any news organization anywhere.

This is our mission, in the U.S. and everywhere. We make a difference in the world because we practice professional journalism that is both intrepid and unbiased. When we make mistakes, which we do, we correct them quickly and fully. When we don’t know something, we say so. When we hear rumors, we track them down and report them only when we are confident that they are factual. We value speed but not haste: When something needs more checking, we take the time to check it.

I like all of that, though I cannot say how well these fairly obvious rules have been obeyed, and also Reuters mostly - to the best of my knowledge - provides basic factual news, but the interpretative articles (if that is the right name) are generally not written by journalists from Reuter, again to the best of my knowledge.

The last of the above two last dotted links is recommended, simply because it is by the chief-editor of Reuters and because it makes sense.

5. Worse Than We Imagined: Trump’s Mission Creep Takes Giant Leap Forward


The fifth item today is by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

The smell of a coup hung over the White House this past weekend, like the odor of gunpowder after fireworks on the Fourth of July.

In these first few days of the Trump administration we have witnessed a series of executive orders and other pronouncements that fly in the face of the republic’s most fundamental values. But Friday’s misbegotten announcement of a ban on refugees from Syria and a 120-day ban on refugees from seven Muslim nations defies reason, pandering to a segment of the population festering with paranoia and rage.

Yes, I mostly agree. And there is this on president Trump - and he is the president of the USA, but I will not write a big "P" for reasons partially indicated here:

The president’s decree on immigration is the act of a self-assumed Caesar — a Peronista strongman, wielding power like a blunt instrument with no regard for the short- or long-term consequences on fellow human beings or other nations. The courts have countered him for the moment on some provisions, but the stay is temporary. And Trump will soon be replacing more than 100 federal judges, all in his image, no doubt, like mannequins in a store window.

I agree Trump is much like "a self-assumed Caesar", with the addition that he lacks all intellectual talents that Julius Caesar did have (and Trump is not stupid, though he is mad, according to three professors of psychiatry, myself, and many other psychologists and psychiatrists).

Then there is this:

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus got it right: “You don’t have to disagree with Trump’s policies to be rattled to the core by his unhinged behavior. Many congressional Republicans privately express concerns that range from apprehension to outright dread.” Which raises another question: Why do GOP lawmakers remain so publicly cowed? Is it because they cherish their party’s power more than they do America’s principles?

I agree Marcus had it more or less right, and my own answer to the last question is an emphatic yes for most "GOP lawmakers", though I agree this might change a bit if more come to see that Trump is not sane. (Same reference as above.)

And there is this on Stephen Bannon:

Now the new president has placed his spooky senior counselor Steve Bannon on the National Security Council. This is a man so far to the right he called William Buckley’s National Review and William Kristol’s The Weekly Standardboth left-wing magazines.” During his reign as chief of Breitbart News he tolerated racist and sexist attitudes, and announced to a real journalist, “I am a Leninist.” He went on to explain: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

I don't know Kristol's magazine, but someone who says William Buckley (<- Wikipedia) was a leftist or that the National Review was a "leftwing magazine" either is in the crazy far right or is bullshitting (or both).

Then there is this:

With all this instability, it’s not surprising that not only progressives but also thoughtful conservatives already have had it with the president. Here’s neo-con Eliot Cohen in The Atlantic: “Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings, how many people listened to him on the Mall and enemies. He will do much more damage before he departs the scene, to become a subject of horrified wonder in our grandchildren’s history books.”

As it happens, I completely agree with Eliot Cohen, though I am not at all a neo-con. Then again, I do not know how many "thoughtful conservatives" there are.

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

Ladies and gentlemen, we are already in the midst of a national emergency. The radical right — both religious and political — have been crusading for 40 years to take over the government and in Trump they have found their rabble-rouser and enabler. They intend to hallow the free market as infallible, outlaw abortion, Christianize public institutions by further leveling the “wall” between church and state, channel public funds to religious schools, build walls to keep out brown people and put “America first” on the road to what Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has called “God’s Kingdom.”

You can see in the chaos a pattern: the political, religious and financial right collaborating to move America further from the norms of democracy with the triumph of one-party, one-man rule. There’s never been anything like it in our history.

Yes indeed: I quite agree. And this is a strongly recommended article.

6. Whatever happened to the public intellectual?

The sixth and last item today is by David Herman on the New Statesman:

This starts as follows (and I do not know who David Herman is, for he is not among the four listed in Wikipedia, but he is probably a British philosopher):
Philosophy used to be a staple of television and the newspapers. Not any longer. So where did all the philosophers go?

The Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit died on New Year’s Day. He was one of the leading thinkers of his generation, yet his death was not widely reported outside the obituary pages of the broadsheets. The contrast with the response to John Berger’s death the following day is striking. Soon after Berger died, a number of pieces appeared on the Guardian and New Statesman websites, and there were tributes on the BBC’s News at Ten, Newsnight and Today programmes.

Parfit was an outstanding philosopher. However, few people outside academic philosophy could name one of his books. Perhaps more telling, how many could name any British academic philosopher?

Hm. I have been very seriously following philosophy since the late 1960ies, indeed mostly in Great Britain and the USA, and that because I am a scientific realist with strong tastes in analytical philosophy and logic. And while I agree that there was considerably more philosophy in the newspapers and on TV in (especially) the 1970ies, it seems to me to be an exaggeration to speak of it as "a staple" - but
OK, people do use words differently.

Then there is this:

Has academic philosophy lost its place in mainstream British culture? If so, who is to blame? Is it the fault of academic philosophers themselves, or the media, or are there other changes going on in British culture?

Not so long ago philosophers such as Berlin, A J “Freddie” Ayer, Bernard Williams and Anthony Quinton were well-known public figures and received due recognition. Berlin was knighted in 1957, Ayer in 1970, Williams in 1999. The dates are significant. These years, from the 1950s to the 1990s, mark a golden age of British academic philosophy in mainstream culture.

I don't quite agree (and have no personal financial interest in British or in any other philosophy, quite unlike all academically employed philosophers) but I am a genuine philosopher, who studied it for 50 years, and who was refused (illegally) his M.A. in philosophy in 1988 because I was not a Marxist, because I was pro science, and because I had created a student-party that opposed Marxism and anti-science that were both current and very much leading in the University of Amsterdam from 1971 till 1995, both politically and intellectually. [2]

As to academic philosophy "in mainstream British culture": I am sorry but philosophy is not even a science; most British philosophers are not scientists; and I do not see what they could bring that was of much rational interest anyway (and I have read most leading British philosophers of the 20th Century, and for me almost only Bertrand Russell and Frank Ramsey had first-class minds and indeed also knew a lot about science).

Then there is this:

From the 1960s onwards, it was television that brought leading philosophers into our living rooms. In 1978 the BBC broadcast 15 hour-long interviews with leading philosophers called Men of Ideas. Bryan Magee interviewed the likes of Berlin, Ayer and Noam Chomsky.

Yes, and I saw most of the Men of Ideas (<-Wikipedia), though much later, namely in 2009, when I first had fast internet. They were not bad, although the format they were served in was quite ugly. I also saw most of a similar series by Bryan Magee (<-Wikipedia) in 1987, called The Great Philosophers (<-Wikipedia). [3]

Then there is this:

Today this seems like something from a bygone age. According to David Edmonds, the editor of the recently published essay collection Philosophers Take on the World (Oxford University Press): “The idea that you would now commission someone to interview Freddie Ayer in an armchair for 45 minutes with no sound effects, no cutaways, is almost inconceivable.”

Perhaps an interview of 45 minutes with a leading intellectual is at present "almost inconceivable" (although I don't see why, except that TV must be addressed at folks
with an IQ that is a bit below 100, so as to please the majority), but the two series that Magee made were the only programs about serious academic philosophy between 1970 and 2010 that I am aware of. (So the "
bygone age" seems more similar to the present age than it does to Herman - but then again, I agree that I never had a TV since 1970, since I felt I had better things to do than being bored by that, so I may have missed some that Herman didn't miss.)

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

John Gray is more critical. “No intelligent general reader follows academic philosophy today,” he argues. He points to the huge changes that have transformed the subject’s status. First, he says, there was the Second World War. “As a result of the war, philosophers like Berlin, Hampshire and H L A Hart had a much larger experience of the world that involved making difficult choices and gave them what Berlin called ‘a sense of reality’.” Hampshire had interrogated Nazi war criminals and Hart worked at Bletchley Park. “They were brought close to moral and political realities in a way that subsequent generations were not.”

Second, Gray says, there has been a shift in “the social position of academics, especially academic philosophers. A previous generation had contact with leading ­figures in the worlds of culture and politics . . . That’s gone today. Academics have become marginal.”

I mostly agree with John Gray (<-Wikipedia) about this. And no, I also don't think that "the modern viewers" miss much by not seeing academic philosophers for - once again - most are not scientists, and most know little of real science.

---------------------------------

P.S. Feb 3, 2017: I forgot yesterday to include the Notes. Here they are:

Notes
[1] I don't mind different perspectives in different papers, indeed als if I don't agree with them, simply because toleration of most perspective is one of the bases of
a legal democracy. Also, getting a different perspective may sharpen one's own.

[2]
Once again: The Dutch universities were in an absolutely unique position in the whole world in that they had been formally given to the students in 1971 by a parliamentary decision (the so-called Veringa-law). This was probably motivated by fear that else similar things might have happened in Holland as did in Paris three years before, but I don't know.

In practice, this meant that all the Dutch universities were governed like the Dutch state: By "a government" that usually consisted from professional politicians who also were academics (and in the University of Amsterdam always from the "Social Democrats" aka PvdA), that was formally ruled by a parliament on the university-level that in Amsterdam was between 1971 and 1995 always ruled by the ASVA, that from 1972 till 1983 was again always ruled by "communist" students, who were members from the communist party (but not and never real communists like my parents were), and who strongly, corruptly and deviously collaborated with "the government" of the University of Amsterdam, and indeed this pattern was repeated for all the faculties of all of the universities: There too were governed by "a parliament" and by "a government" that usually consisted of professors and lecturers.

There were every year votes for everybody who worked for the university, and for both levels: That of the university and that of the faculties, and these votes were organized by the rule that (i) everyone who worked in the university - toilet cleaners, secretaries, lecturers, and professors all got one vote, and (ii) every student got one vote.

This meant that the students, who vastly outnumbered the staff, always had the absolute majority, which meant in the University of Amsterdam that in fact the Dutch Communist Party mostly ruled the University from 1972 till 1983 (as has been admitted also by various former members of it, in a booklet published in 1991 - "Alles Moest Anders", in Duch - after the collapse of the Soviet Unions, and after the collapse of the Dutch Commumist Party).

And this was the structure of all the Dutch universities from 1971 till 1995, when another parliamentary act (of the real national Dutch parliament) completely destroyed the structure, and gave all the power to "the government", which meant in the case of the University of Amsterdam to the three or so members of the "Social Democrats" and their bureaucracy.

[3] And in fact I also saw these first in 2009 and 2010. Then again, while I do not know who the author of the article - David Herman - is, I do know some about Bryan Magee, and indeed read two books by him, and these make it quite clear that Magee was an outsider in British philosophy, both in terms of his own philosophical choices and in terms of his career: He quite consciously worked for the BBC because this paid appreciably better than professors were paid. And since Magee's two series with interviews with living philosophers are the only ones I know and the only ones Herman mentions, I infer that either series was much more due to Magee's choice of career
- that was quite abnormal - than that it was "a staple" on British television.


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