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Nederlog

Friday, Mar 31, 2017

Crisis: Exit Privacy, Lying & Groupthinking, Healthcare & War, Michael Hudson


Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. In Trump’s America, Your Privacy Is for Sale
2.
Can the Science of Lying Explain Trump’s Support?
3. Duping Americans on Healthcare and War
4. Michael Hudson: The Democracy Collaborative
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday
, March 31, 2017.

Summary: This is an ordinary
crisis log with four items and four dotted links: Item 1 is about the fact that in the USA privacy (for computers and cellphones) has been totally destroyed; item 2 is about Trump's lies but misses that Trump's supporters don't think he lies and also misses the whole idea of groupthinking; item 3 is about a quite interesting article about healthcare and war in the USA, which is too long to properly excerpt; and for item 4 something similar holds: it is a fine interview with Michael Hudson, but this again is too long to properly excerpt in Nederlog.
March 31: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today; and even the Dutch site was on time! I say! For the second day in succession! Nearly unheard of in the last 15 months!

But I still have to add that where my site on xs4all.nl stuck for others I have NO idea AT ALL: It may be December 31, 2015. (Xs4all wants  immediate payment if you are a week behind. Xs4all.nl has been destroying my site now for over a year. I completely distrust them, but I also do not know whether they are doing it or some secret service is.)

1. In Trump’s America, Your Privacy Is for Sale

The first article today is by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Unless you’re reading this column in a good old newspaper, odds are your internet service provider (ISP) knows what you’re up to. ISPs are the on-ramp to the internet; it is through these gatekeepers that we all access the internet. They set the price and the speed of your connection, but were legally prevented from sharing or selling details about your personal internet usage without your permission - until now. Through a resolution that narrowly passed both the House and the Senate on partisan lines, internet privacy protections implemented by the Obama administration will be entirely eliminated.

Yes indeed. Here is more:

Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon now can sift through your personal information, your web browsing history, where and when you access the internet and what you do while online, and peddle that
private data to whomever is willing to pay.

Precisely so. This is one of the signs of neofascism, as I understand and define it: Ordinary people without money are being changed from individuals-with-rights to rightless sub-humans who can be exploited at will. And now your ISP can steal all your private information and sell it to the highest bidder, who then can inundate you with sick and degenerate "personal advertisements".

And here is why this is so very much morally degraded and cruel:

“Americans absolutely need internet connectivity in today’s modern era,” Moy continued. “You need to go online to search for a job. You need to go online to complete your education. You need to go online often to communicate with your health care provider or conduct your banking.” All of this communication, all of this internet use, can be conducted from the privacy of your home. But don’t think it is going to remain private. Your ISP can vacuum up your searches, your interests, what movies you watch online, your age, weight, Social Security number, medical conditions, financial troubles ... if you start searching online for a bankruptcy lawyer or for treatment for addiction, your ISP will add that to your profile.

“We want people to use the internet, to view it as a safe space to communicate with others, to express their political viewpoints, to carry out these vitally important everyday activities, and to do so without fear that the information that they share with their internet service provider will be used to harm them in some way,” Laura Moy concluded. That was the hope.

That hope has been cruelly murdered. In Donald Trump's neofascist USA these are now the rules:

In Donald Trump’s America, the information isn’t stolen by hackers in the dark of night. It is taken with the government’s blessing. Unless people organize and fight back, the promises of the open internet will fade away.

I am sorry, but "people" will not organize and fight back other than in small minorities, and these will be defeated by the rich. Open internet is dead, at least in the USA. It lived - more or less - from 1995 till 2016. It has been replaced by advertising, propaganda and a gigantic theft of private information of all Americans.

And this is a recommended article.

2. Can the Science of Lying Explain Trump’s Support?

The second article is by Jeremy Adam Smith on AlterNet and originally on the Greater Good:

This starts as follows:

Donald Trump tells lies.

Don’t take my word for it: The Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization PolitiFact rates half of Trump’s disputed public statements to be completely false, as of this writing, with most of the rest assessed as “mostly false” or “half true.” PolitiFact deems only four percent to be simply “true.” By contrast, they have rated as false a mere 14 percent of President Obama’s claims since 2007.

“Trump tells more untruths than any previous president,” says George Edwards, a Texas A&M political scientist who edits the Presidential Studies Quarterly. “There is no one that is a close second.”

But Trump’s political path presents a paradox. Far from slowing his momentum, his deceit seemed only to strengthen his support through the primary and national election.
I know for a long time that Trump is a liar, but OK: It can be said once more. Then again, Trump's popularity is diminishing now. But this might change again, and there is a good question hidden here: Why did an obvious gross liar get to be president of the USA?

Here is Smith's statement of the problem:
How can he tell so many lies and still win support from millions of Americans?

Journalists and researchers have suggested many answers, from simple ignorance to an aging electorate addicted to fear-mongering cable news. But there is another explanation that no one seems to have entertained: It is that Trump is telling “blue” lies—a psychologist’s term for falsehoods, told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen the bonds among the members of that group.

I am a psychologist, but this is the first time I read the term "blue lies". It does seem to have some currency. Then again, there is a much better for it than "blue lies", and that term is decades old and is groupthinking. Here is my definition (that goes back to the 1980ies, in my case):

Groupthinking: The kind of thinking, feeling, valueing and desiring that keeps human social groups together.

Much of the thinking that goes into groupthinking is totalitarian in principle, and is made up of principles based on wishful thinking of the following kind:

Usually the members of groups are hardly aware that their membership is to a large extent emotionally and intellectually based on principles such as the above, even though it is very easy to see these principles at work in the mental make-up or the behavior of members of other groups - political parties, religious organizations, soccer supporters, but also firms, schools, universities etc., for one way the human animal is social is by actively belonging to groups and by supporting the ideas, ideals, morals and practices that constitute, regulate or support these groups.

Also, it is noteworthy that the above principles involved in most group-thinking are relatively innocuous, and that most groups also practice such principles as

  • Whoever does not belong to Our Group is less good (perfect, humane, religiously or racially proper) than whoever does
  • Whoever opposes Our Group, Our Leaders, Our Ideologyor Our Faith is, therefore and thereby, morally or humanly or intellectually inferior
  • Whoever does not conform to the practices and principles current in Our Group is immoral or insane

Most groupthinking involves prejudice of all kinds, and the best excuse for this seems to be that, since human beings are social animals, there is an instinctual motivation to wish to belong to and to support a human group.

So I reject the - anyway silly - suggestion that "there is another explanation that no one seems to have entertained", for (i) this is clearly what is meant by "blue lies", and also (ii) groupthinking is well-known among psychologists.

And here is the beginning of the lemma Groupthink on Wikipedia (minus a note number):

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the "ingroup" produces an "illusion of invulnerability" (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the "ingroup" significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the "outgroup"). Furthermore, groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions against the "outgroup".
(...)
Groupthink is a construct of social psychology but has an extensive reach and influences literature in the fields of communication studies, political science, management, and organizational theory, as well as important aspects of deviant religious cult behaviour.

Besides, groupthinking is not the only explanation for Trump's success: stupidity and ignorance are two important other reasons.

Back to Smith's article:

From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency. It serves to bind his supporters together and strengthen his political base—even as it infuriates and confuses most everyone else. In the process, he is revealing some complicated truths about the psychology of our very social species.

Hm. I don't think Smith has answered his own question and indeed I think it is also false that "lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency": His supporters do not think he is a liar, and quite possibly Trump himself does not think he is a liar either. (For an explanation of this last feature see here.)

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

This research—and those stories—highlight a difficult truth about our species: We are intensely social creatures, but we’re prone to divide ourselves into competitive groups, largely for the purpose of allocating resources. People can be “prosocial”—compassionate, empathic, generous, honest—in their groups, and aggressively antisocial toward outside groups. When we divide people into groups, we open the door to competition, dehumanization, violence—and socially sanctioned deceit.

Yes, this is more or less correct. But as I have explained, groupthinking is well-known among psychologists, and since decades, and it also is a better term than "blue lies".

And Trump's popularity and appeal does not come from his lying, though Smith may
be correct that a considerable part of his attraction is that he is the leader of the rightist groupthinkers.

3. Duping Americans on Healthcare and War

The third article is by Nicholas J.S. Davies on Consortiumnews:

This has a subtitle:

The American people have been sold a deadly bill of goods both for their lousy healthcare system and for their perpetual war machine – and there’s no end in sight, as Nicolas J S Davies explains.

It starts as follows:

President Trump and his wealthy friends have just discovered how complicated healthcare is in this country — for the rest of us that is. They will soon find out that U.S. militarism is just as complicated, and for many of the same reasons.

Healthcare is uniquely complicated in the United States because the U.S. is the only wealthy country in the world where for-profit corporate interests have carved out such a dominant role in the sickness and health of its people. The lucrative role of for-profit insurance companies is unique in the entire world; prescription drugs cost many times more than in other countries; and for-profit corporations have taken over 21 percent of U.S. hospitals since 1965.

Yes, I think that is quite correct. Here is more, that is also correct:

Outside the U.S., it’s inconceivable that a rich country would really allow tens of thousands of people to die prematurely every year for lack of access to healthcare, or that the public lacks the political power to prevent this from happening.

In fact, simply because all of this is - rather easily also - preventable, it would seem to me that making insurances too expensive to pay for the non-rich does seem to be rather a lot like - indirect, bureaucratic/political - murder of the poor who lack the money to pay the excessive prices the American insurances require. (But I care more
for people than for profits, although this seems to have become a sick notion among those who make most of the important decisions in the USA.)

Here is how this is related to neoliberalism (which is - indeed in this way - narrowly and intimately related to neofascism, as I defined that):

A central element in this neoliberal counter-revolution is the expansion of the corporate for-profit sector into areas of life otherwise rooted in the public sector, like health, education, utilities, transportation and criminal justice.

Despite huge imbalances in market power between ordinary people and large corporations, the quasi-religious belief in “markets” as the most efficient mechanism for managing all aspects of society requires that even public services like healthcare and education be privatized and submitted to the “magic of the market.”
And here is the relation to U.S. militarism:
Like the privatized U.S. healthcare system, U.S. militarism is also uniquely complicated, in ways that the world is barely coming to grips with after 18 years of U.S.-led wars that have killed about two million people and left half a dozen countries in ruins.
Note what this says: Since 2000, the U.S. have killed two million persons, nearly all civilians also, and has ruined half a dozen of countries. And this is true to the best of my knowledge.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article (which is quite good but also quite long):
Our dysfunctional medical industry and our murderous war machine are by far the most expensive “healthcare” and “defense” systems in the world. Both are hugely profitable, but neither provides value for money in the form of a healthier or a safer society, the stated missions that justify their existence and their endlessly-expanding demands on our resources.

There is considerably more in the article, which is recommended.

4. Michael Hudson: The Democracy Collaborative

The fourth article today is by Adam Simpson:
In fact, this is another good and long interview that is too long to be properly excerpted (in Nederlog, to be sure: I can only do so much on any given day). I will quote some bits, but if these interest you, you are recommended to read all of the article.

This is from near the beginning:
Adam Simpson: Your book seems to me to be about challenging and clarifying the Orwellian language that’s deployed by mainstream economists. If I ask you “what does mainstream economics obscure,” in a certain sense I’m asking you “what does your book say,”—which is a bit absurd. But what are the key concepts that mainstream economics obscures?
Here is part of Michael Hudson's answer:
Michael Hudson: (...) People talk about the economists who “forecast the crisis of 2008.” The Financial Times cited me as one of the 12 economists, as if there were only 12 people in the world who knew that there was going to be a crisis (and only 3 with actual economic models, including my own). But the fact is, everybody on Wall Street knew. All the bankers knew. If you look at any of the newspapers from that time, they talked about “junk mortgages.” They talked about NINJA borrowers: No Income, No Job, No Assets. The FBI warned in 2004 that they saw the largest wave of financial fraud and banking fraud that ever occurred. So everybody knew it was fraudulent. But they thought they could get out in time.
(...)
Everybody knew the system had to end. But you never know just when it will end. Usually the trigger is discovery of a big fraud, or a bank making a bad loan or bet. In 2007 I published a lead article in Harper’s forecasting this, showing a chart on why the Bubble Economy couldn’t go on for more than a year. And it didn’t. It ended just as everybody thought it would. If you look at the growth of debt compared to the growth in the ability to pay it, you see that many economies already have passed the point of intersection. At the point where debts can no longer be paid, you have a break in the chain of payments. That’s what causes a crash. In the 19th century nobody talked about business cycles, but about sudden crashes and slow recoveries.
I say. Then again, Wall Street bankers may have studied economics, but they are not academic economists normally, and I think it is fair to say that few academic economists predicted the crisis, indeed in considerable part because the vast majority of them use a theory of economy that is far from the real facts it is supposed to explain (as Hudson agrees).

Here is Hudson on the lack of realism of most economic models:
Michael Hudson: There are two ways of thinking about the economy. The school textbooks only talk about producing goods and services for wages and profits. They don’t talk about rent or unearned income. That’s what I mean by “unreal” – not grounded in production. And they don’t talk about interest either, or the framework of debt and property rights.
(...)
All that seemed to make sense, but the economy of production is different from financial and property wealth. Who owns the assets, and who owes debts to whom? If you look at the economic framework in terms of assets and debt, you find that the 1% makes its money by holding the 99% in debt. Or at least, you could say that the 5% make its money by holding the 95% in debt.
And here is more:
The economy’s been turned inside out, yet people don’t really realize it because the vocabulary they use has been turned into a kind of euphemism. You said Orwellian and it’s really Doublethink, using words to mean the opposite of what they used to mean. I wrote J is for Junk Economics largely to discuss misleading terminology. If you look underneath the vocabulary, you realize what’s really happening instead of accepting euphemisms like “earnings” instead of unearned rent. You can build up a different, less unrealistic picture of the economy.
The last bit I quote is about Friedrich Hayek, whom I indeed do not like for reasons that Hudson mentions:

Michael Hudson: Hayek turned classical economics on its head. Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the other classical economists who are supposed to be icons of the free market meant a market free from land rent, monopoly rent and financial interest. But for Hayek, a free market meant one free for these rentiers. Free for landlords, bankers and monopolists. That’s why his group, the Von Misians in Austria, spent their time fighting against public spending and the “threat” of socialism. He said that socialism leads to fascism. But actually it’s his Chicago school that does this. It’s the “free market” Chicago Boys who led to fascism in Chile by overthrowing the government.

So Hayek called freedom fascism, and he called fascism freedom. The first thing that the Chicago boys did in Chile was to close every economics department. Because they realized that you can’t have a Hayek-style free market unless you’re willing to kill everybody who disagrees with you.
There is a whole lot more in the interview, which is quite good. And this is a recommended article, that I think people with an interest in economy should read.

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