Thursday, Feb 9, 2017

Crisis: Catharsis (?!); ACLU; Deregulations; Democracy And Ethics; Neoliberal Capitalism As Myth

Sections                                                                     crisis index

The Myth of Catharsis
2. ACLU: We're in a Dangerous Situation as Gov't Claims That
     Courts Have No Role Reviewing Muslim Ban

Suit Filed to Halt Trump’s Pro-Corporate Deregulation Scheme
4. A Malignant Attack on American Values
5. Exposing the Myths of Neoliberal Capitalism: An Interview With
     Ha-Joon Chang

This is a Nederlog of Thur
sday, February 9, 2017.

Summary: This is a crisis log with 5 files and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a myth than many "leftists" and leftists embrace now: That Trump's presidency will start the rise of the left (and I agree with Lofgren: no, not necessarily so at all); item 2 is about  a court case of the ACLU against Trump's bullshit that the courts must follow
the president; item 3 is about another suit against Trump's - utterly crazy deregulating - rule that every new law should be accompanied by two deregulated old laws; item 4 is about the relation between democracy and ethics and points out that
Trump's lies are no basis for a real democracy; and item 5 is about the myths of "neoliberal capitalism", and is quite good.
As for today (February 9, 2017): I have changed my site on February 1, 2017 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 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 it may be shown as December 31, 2015 (and often was!!!); and indeed I am sick of being systematically made unreadable and therefore changed the site to allow most readers to find it more easily.

For more explanations, see
here - and no: with two different sites in two different countries with two different providers, where this has been happening for a year (and not for over 20 and over 12 years before) now I'm absolutely certain that this happens and that it's not due to me.
1. The Myth of Catharsis

The first item today is by Mike Lofgren (<-Wikipedia) on his site and on the Washington Monthly:
This starts as follows:
One frequently heard sentiment among those appalled by the presidency of Donald Trump is the notion that he will make things so bad that the American people will awake from their trance-like state, take some unspecified action, and put America back on track. Further to the Left, this notion is expressed in Marxist jargon: Trump will “heighten the contradictions” of late capitalism; this will lead to a “catharsis” that will, depending on the medical metaphor employed, “purge” the system of its rottenness or “rip the Band-Aid off” society’s wounds. Susan Sarandon represented a kind of reductio ad absurdum of this position, saying “Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in then things will really, you know, explode.”
Yes indeed - and I know this supposed "lesson from history" quite well from Marxists, "leftists" [1] and leftists, and have been hearing it in various forms and with somewhat varying backgrounds for over 50 years now.

And I agree with Lofgren that the most common backgrounds to this kind of argument are the Marxist philosophy of history (historical materialism, that supposedly proves that the proletariat must win from the capitalists [2]) or else simply some form of wishful thinking (which codifies "we wish it were true, therefore we believe it is true").

In fact, I think both are forms of
wishful thinking. Then there is this on democracies:
Democracies, and perhaps especially flawed ones like ours, are inherently fragile, and mindlessly destabilizing them will make things worse, not better. Shaking a crying infant is unlikely to improve matters. Stable democracy, as opposed to mobocracy, is a system of written law, but these laws are not self-enforcing. The qualities necessary for democracies to function, such as civility, precedence, and restraint, are only slowly established, are unwritten and unenforceable, and require self-control on the part of participants.
I don't quite agree with this, and my reason is that unwritten norms like "civility, precedence, and restraint" seem to appear in most political systems, democratic or not, that last a reasonable time and that are fairly stable.

Then again, I agree Trump is breaking the unwritten norms, and he is also doing this on purpose:
Trump has broken all the unwritten rules about how public officials are supposed to behave, including releasing his income tax forms and credible information about his health. We can assume these norms will be dead letter from now on. His over-the-top tastelessness and vulgarity appall many, but are part of his appeal to his followers. The excitement this causes is like the high that comes from drugs, an escape from the inhibitions of society and its expectations. Civility, a cousin of tolerance, is like sobriety: it is unexciting, it must be maintained when one does not feel like it, and it holds a civilized society together.
Yes and no: I agree unwritten norms are important, but I disagree that they hold "a civilized society together": A society is kept together by the combination of its laws plus the - usually tacit - consent of the majority of its inhabitants to its laws (that indeed rarely or never coincides with a proper understanding of a society's laws).

The last quotation I quote is this, which is a form of my complaints that large parts of the American voters are ignorant of both history and of political knowledge:

Another problem with letting things go to hell in order to wake up the people is that most Americans have little in the way of historical consciousness, that is, the ability to correctly place events in time, and to understand the chain of cause and effect of those events. Survey after survey shows how frequently people place the Civil War in the wrong century, or cannot give a coherent account of epochal events like World War II, or similar errors. It is like confronting a dyslexic with a page of text: they’re just jumbled letters.

Under those circumstances, a Reality TV-trained huckster can simply tell them a sonorous fairy tale with heroes (himself) and scapegoats (a changing menagerie of bogeymen according to the needs of the moment). Since they can’t accurately compare the past with the Trump-saturated present, what happens is that the abnormal becomes normalized. A careful reading of the histories of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or other tyrannies, demonstrates that people rapidly acculturate themselves to the new regime and assume its features are the norm.
Yes, I certainly agree on the massive ignorance of most American voters and on its deleterious effects, although I also insist that it is not so much the fact "that people rapidly acculturate themselves to the new regime and assume its features are the norm" which made Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia into dictatorships, but the combined power of the laws (written and unwrittem) with the secret services like the Gestapo and the KGB.

Finally, two of the things that make me very pessimistic are that (i) the NSA and other American secret services know millions of times more about all Americans and everybody else than either the Gestapo or the KGB did, and (ii) all secret powers of governments tend to be used for the interests of the governments (i.e. a couple of tens of persons).

Until the knowledge that the NSA has about every Americam is completely destroyed, my strong and factual expectation is that it will be abused, and will be abused to vastly extend the powers of government and to destroy all democracy and all fairness.

For this is what happened in Germany and Russia as well, and "all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely", as Lord Acton (<-Wikipedia) said.

2. ACLU: We're in a Dangerous Situation as Gov't Claims That Courts Have No Role Reviewing Muslim Ban

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

This starts with the following introduction:

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday on whether to restore President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the United States. The case was brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota. The emergency hearing came just days after a judge in Seattle imposed a nationwide temporary restraining order on the ban. Justice Department lawyer August Flentje questioned the court’s authority to review Trump’s executive order, while the state of Washington argued the court must provide a check on the executive branch. We air excerpts of the oral arguments and speak to ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who presented the first challenge to Trump’s executive order on immigration. His argument resulted in a nationwide injunction.

To start with, what Trump's government has been doing in this case is to insist that Trump's government is above the law, which it does on the ground that Trump is president - which is rather like argueing in a German court in the middle Thirties of the previous century that Our Leader is permitted to do anything because he is Our Leader.

Indeed, there is this:

AMY GOODMAN: During his argument, the Justice Department lawyer, August Flentje, questioned the role of the court in reviewing the president’s actions.

AUGUST FLENTJE: The reason we sought immediate relief and a stay is because of the court’s—the district court’s decision overrides the president’s national security judgment about the level of risk. And we’ve been talking about the level of risk that is acceptable. As soon as we are having that discussion, it should be acknowledged that the president is the official that is charged with making those judgments. I’d also like to talk briefly—

JUDGE MICHELLE FRIEDLAND: So, are we back to—I mean, are you arguing then that the president’s decision in that regard is unreviewable?

AUGUST FLENTJE: The—uh, yes.

Which is an affirmation of what I said. Then again, this was - quite correctly - objected to by the solicitor general of the state of Washington, who in effect pointed out that the difference between a president whose words are law and the control of the laws and the courts amounts to the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy:

AMY GOODMAN: Noah Purcell, the solicitor general for the state of Washington, said it was the court’s role to serve as a check on the executive branch.

SOLICITOR GENERAL NOAH PURCELL: It has always been the judicial branch’s role to say what the law is and to serve as a check on abuses by the executive branch. That judicial role has never been more important in recent memory than it is today. But the president is asking this court to abdicate that role here, to reinstate the executive order without meaningful judicial review and to throw this country back into chaos.

And this is affirmed by ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt:
LEE GELERNT: Right. And so, that they can review what the president did. There’s no question that the president and Congress are entitled to some deference when they act in this area. But the U.S. government is coming dangerously close to saying, "If the president says it’s OK, then it’s OK." And I think what you’ve seen from the panel last night, but also from all the courts around the country, is, no, no, no, no, the courts have the final word on what the Constitution means, and the Constitution is ultimately paramount.

There is considerably more in the original, and this is a recommended article.

3. Suit Filed to Halt Trump’s Pro-Corporate Deregulation Scheme

The third 
item is by Nadia Prupis on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows and concerns one of the extremely crazy schemes that Donald Trump indulges in, which are the essence of his desires for deregulation (all laws that protect the non-rich have to go) and his desires to break down most of the US government:

A coalition of progressive groups filed suit on Wednesday to block President Donald Trump’s executive order instructing federal agencies to roll back two regulations for every new one implemented.

The plaintiffs, including Public Citizen, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), are asking the U.S. District Court for D.C. to issue a declaration that the order—which requires a $0 net cost for new rules this fiscal year—is not lawful and bar the agencies from putting it into effect.

“No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment, and the economy would ever adopt the Trump executive order approach—unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on big business,” Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said. “If implemented, the order would result in lasting damage to our government’s ability to save lives, protect our environment, police Wall Street, keep consumers safe, and fight discrimination.”

Yes, I completely agree with Robert Weissman. Here is part of his argument:

The lawsuit names Trump, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the chiefs of more than a dozen executive departments as defendants. It charges that the agencies cannot lawfully implement the order because it violates the Administrative Procedure Act—which governs how they operate internally and interact with the public—among other statutes.

Trump’s mandate “will block or force the repeal of regulations needed to protect health, safety, and the environment, across a broad range of topics—from automobile safety, to occupational health, to air pollution, to endangered species,” the lawsuit states.

The order also instructs federal departments to look only at the cost of regulations and ignore their benefits, which will “force agencies to take regulatory actions that harm the people of this nation,” the lawsuit continues.

“By irrationally directing agencies to consider costs but not benefits of new rules, it would fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits,” Weissman said.

Precisely. But this indeed is what Trump's government is about: To "fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits" and indeed nothing else. (And once again see my definition of neofascism, which - I think - codifies what Trump is.)

4. A Malignant Attack on American Values

The fourth
item is by Adil A. Shamoo and Bonnie Bricker on Common Dreams:

This starts  as follows:

Lies. Conflicts of interest. Refusals to share tax returns. Nepotism.

The country is reeling from an ethical cancer that is overtaking the new administration, its cronies, and supporters who are willing to forgo standards of ethics in order to win victories on a slate of issues. This lapse in ethical standards may lead to far greater changes than just a policy platform. The road to a modern-day form of fascism starts with manipulating the media and dismissing election results—just as President Donald Trump has done.

The ethical lapses are everywhere. A recent headline read “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting with Lawmakers.” Trump claimed 3-5 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton. He lied repeatedly about the size of the crowd attending his inauguration ceremony. When the media exposed these lies, the Trump administration responded by calling the media “liars” and the “opposition party.”

Yes indeed. I quite agree, except that I call Trump's system neofascism. Here is more on the relations between democracy and ethics [3]:

In a society based on laws and democratic principles, citizens choose to obey not just laws but also many ethical norms, codes, rules, and traditions. These norms bring us together, cementing our responsibilities towards our fellow citizens, in a sphere much larger than that proscribed by our legal code. Implicit in these standards are honesty, integrity, virtue, duty, compassion, and honor. Many groups and professional organizations have codes of ethics to advance these norms. Some of these norms have been enshrined in laws as the basis of our civilization from the time of the Hippocratic Oath.

Ethical norms that are not enshrined in law are left for the voluntary compliance of citizens, including our government officials. When this voluntary adherence is threatened, so are our civil liberties. If government officials and society at-large attend only to laws and nothing else, we will have anarchy. Our civilized society will cease to exist, replaced only by individuals fighting for their own basic interests.

I more or less agree, although I also like to point out some restrictions. First, not all laws are ethical, and many of the ethical rules that considerable numbers of people try to live by are not laws (and indeed quite a few cannot be [4]). Second, while I agree on the importance of "honesty, integrity, virtue, duty, compassion, and honor" these principles differ in some important respects from other ethical principles like justice and fairness.

And third, it would seem to me that one of the really fundamental principles that are both legal and ethical, namely honesty, is what distinguishes Trump's government from all other governments: Trump lies as a matter of course and does not seem to have any respect for any objective facts that contradict his fantasies nor does he have any respect for any real science - like biology - that contradicts his desired policies.

Then there is this:

Insisting on ethical standards in every arena will help to minimize the impact of the administration’s actions. The media must not legitimize, and we must never accept, the promulgation of the administration’s lies. Nor must we accept diminished standards of integrity from top officials.
This is a bit ambiguous, were it only because much of ethics is not law. But I completely agree that "the media" and the people should never accept "the administration’s lies". I also agree on the "integrity from top officials", but this is
again a bit vaguer than refusing to accept obvious lies.

This article ends as follows:

Trump’s actions to date have introduced a powerful malignancy into our American way of life, sickening our democracy and our values. The institutional acceptance of such a change by our citizens changes us forever. Before irreparable harm is done to our country, we must act quickly to save ourselves and the America that we leave to our children.
Yes, but I think that the "powerful malignancy" Trump introduced is especially due to his very strong temptation to accept his own fantasies much rather than real facts and his strong tendency to lie whenever this seems convenient to further his interests, while it is not clear to me how "we" should act to "quickly (..) save ourselves and the America that we leave to our children".

But this is a recommended article.

5. Exposing the Myths of Neoliberal Capitalism: An Interview With Ha-Joon Chang

The fifth and last
item today is by C.J. Polychroniou on Truthout:
This starts as follows:

For the part 40 years or so, neoliberalism has reigned supreme over much of the western capitalist world, producing unparalleled wealth accumulation levels for a handful of individuals and global corporations while the rest of society has been asked to swallow austerity, stagnating incomes and a shrinking welfare state. But just when we all thought that the contradictions of neoliberal capitalism had reached their penultimate point, culminating in mass discontent and opposition to global neoliberalism, the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election brought to power a megalomaniac individual who subscribes to neoliberal capitalist economics while opposing much of its global dimension.

What exactly then is neoliberalism? What does it stand for? And what should we make of Donald Trump's economic pronouncements?
Yes indeed, and "neoliberalism" [5] became the dominant ideology of governments and of both the Republicans and the Democrats with the arrival of Reagan, and what "neoliberalism" achieved since 1980 was an enormous increase in the riches of the rich, which increases were scored by an enormous decrease in the few possessions of the non-rich, indeed mostly due to many deregulations that allowed the rich to transport their industries from the USA to India and China, were wages are very much lower than in the USA.

Here is the first question in the article:

C. J. Polychroniou: For the past 40 or so years, the ideology and policies of "free-market" capitalism have reigned supreme in much of the advanced industrialized world. Yet, much of what passes as "free-market" capitalism are actually measures designed and promoted by the capitalist state on behalf of the dominant factions of capital. What other myths and lies about "actually existing capitalism" are worth pointing out?

Ha-Joon Chang: Gore Vidal, the American writer, once famously said that the American economic system is "free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich." I think this statement very well sums up what has passed for 'free-market capitalism' in the last few decades, especially but not only in the US. In the last few decades, the rich have been increasingly protected from the market forces, while the poor have been more and more exposed to them.

Yes - and let me note in which respects "neoliberalism" and "free market capitalism" were based on lies: What these - anyway falsely named [6] - ideologies produced were massive increases in the riches of the very few based on massive losses by the 90% of the non-rich. That is what has happened in the name of "freedom" c.q. "liberalism" and "free markets": Incredible increases in the riches of the few, matched by incredible losses in both the wealth and the legal rights of the many.

This is how it worked for the rich (after massive deregulations by Reagan and Clinton):

For the rich, the last few decades have been "heads I win, tails you lose." Top managers, especially in the US, sign on pay packages that give them hundreds of millions of dollars for failing -- and many times more for doing a decent job.

Yes indeed. And this applies to the main managers for the rich, who themselves are extremely rich, namely the CEOs of the big banks:

After every financial crisis, ranging from the 1982 Chilean banking crisis through the Asian financial crisis of 1997 to the 2008 global financial crisis, banks have been bailed out with hundreds of trillions of dollars of taxpayers' money and few top bankers have gone to prison. In the last decade, the asset-owning classes in the rich countries have also been kept afloat by historically low rates of interests.

In contrast, poor people have been increasingly subject to market forces.

Precisely (and I get no interest on the money I have in the bank, though I am very poor, and the interest I do not get again goes to the few rich).

Then there is this, which I agree to but would have put differently:

As for the other myths and lies about capitalism, the most important in my view is the myth that there is an objective domain of the economy into which political logic should not intrude. Once you accept the existence of this exclusive domain of the economy, as most people have done, you get to accept the authority of the economic experts, as interlocutors of some scientific truths about the economy, who will then dictate the way your economy is run.

However, there is no objective way to determine the boundary of the economy because the market itself is a political construct, as shown by the fact that it is illegal today in the rich countries to buy and sell a lot of things that used to be freely bought and sold -- such as slaves and the labor service of children.

What I would have said instead is that (i) economy is - for the most part - not a real science, while (ii) all of society is based on ethical notions of individuals and groups, and (iii) all ethical notions, including those of private property and the present rules and regulations that massively help contribute to the riches of the rich few, are completely revisable in principle (though the extent and manner in which they can be changed depend much on politics). [7]

Finally, there is this on "austerity" [8]:

A lot of people -- Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Mark Blyth and Yanis Varoufakis, to name some prominent names -- have written that austerity does not work, especially in the middle of an economic downturn (as it was practised in many developing countries under the World Bank-IMF Structural Adjustment Programs in the 1980s and the 1990s and more recently in Greece, Spain and other Eurozone countries).

Many of those who push for austerity do so because they genuinely (albeit mistakenly) believe that it works, but those who are smart enough to know that it doesn't still would use it because it is a very good way of shrinking the state (and thus giving more power to the corporate sector, including the foreign one) and changing the nature of state activities into a pro-corporate one (e.g., it is almost always welfare spending that goes first).

In other words, austerity is a very good way of pushing through a regressive political agenda without appearing to do so.
Yes indeed - which shows "austerity", like "neoliberalism" and "free markets", is in fact
a propaganda-term used to mislead the many by the few.

[1] I put quotes around "leftists" to indicate that I do not consider them real leftists. Also I know very well what real leftists are (or were, indeed), for both of my parents were - real and intelligent, though not well educated - communists for 45 years (while I left communism and the Communist Party aged 20), and I insist that most of supposed leftists I saw in the last 47 years (since I left communism) were not really leftists. This applies especially - in my opinion, but then that opinion is based on a lot
of knowledge and activities - to the politically correct, the gender feminists, and all of "social democracy" that is Blairite or Third Way.

Also, there still are - at least - a few real socialists and real anarchists, but what makes them real is their commitment to both the possibility and the desirability of massive changes in the existing laws and regulations, that these days only serve the rich. (And no, this doesn't mean they will succeed - this only serves to distinguish real socialists and real anarchists from non-real ones.)

[2] My parents believed this, and indeed this was one of the strong reasons that kept them Marxists. I did not believe this from age 18 onwards, and did not mostly because I from then on rejected the Marxist analysis into classes, because this analysis was much too broad and too general, and implicitly denied that in real fact people belong to various groups - such as families, friends, colleagues, members of the same party etc. etc. - much rather than to a class. (The class analysis works as well, but is not the only one, nor is it usually the most important one.)

[3] I agree that there are fairly deep relations between democracy and ethics, but I also think these are more complicated than is presented in this article.

[4] The reason that many ethical principles people do - more or less - live by are not laws is that the ethical principles that people do live by are often political, and more political than could be enshrined in law.

[5] "Neoliberalism" is and always was a propaganda term that abuses the term "liberalism" to advocate the freedom of the few rich to exploit the many non-rich in any way, and unconstrained by laws.

[6] I criticized the propaganda term "neoliberalism" in the previous note, while "free market capitalism" is baloney because there is no free market without explicit
codifications by law (in almost any case). And those who insist on "free markets" do so for the same reason as "neoliberalism" is insisted upon: T
o advocate the freedom of the few rich to exploit the many non-rich in any way, and unconstrained by laws.

[7] In other words, I insist that all societies - of whatever kind, if the society is complex in any way - are based on a mixture of ethical considerations and legal principles, in which the ethical considerations are both fundamental and revisable.

There is no natural necessity for either private property or the laws that most people seem to accept: Both are in the end dependent on the ethical choices of the majority or of some powerful minority.

[8] Which again is a propaganda term for neofascism (in my sense), or so I would argue i.a. because "it is a very good way of shrinking the state (and thus giving more power to the corporate sector, including the foreign one) and changing the nature of state activities into a pro-corporate one".

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