Monday, Apr 24, 2017

Crisis: Macron vs Le Pen, Surveillance, Occult Bullshit, 100 Days, On Marxism

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen Advance in French

In Time for the Reform Debate, New Documents Shed Light on
     the Government’s Surveillance of Americans

3. Believe It or Not: The New Age and Occult Underpinnings of
     Trump and Bannon's Ideology

First 100 Days: Trump and the Degradation of the Presidency
5. A Sunday Morning Cri de Coeur

This is a Nederlog of Monday
, April 24, 2017.

Summary: This is an ordinary
crisis log with five items and five links: Item 1 is about the outcome of the first round of the French presidential elections; item 2 is about the  surveillance of Americans, that I think will continue; item 3 is about the - apparent? - fact that Bannon, Trump and Hillary Clinton all dabbled in the occult; item 4 is about Reich's appraisal of Trump's first 100 days in office; and item 5 is about Marxism by
a Marxist, and a bit interesting because this Marxist seems to reject - important parts of - historical materialism.
April 24: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today; as was the Dutch site, but I guess by now my site at "xs4all.nl" gets uploaded once a week. (They did it from 1996 till 2015 within minutes at most. I think this is to limit the readings of my site.) These horrors happen now for the 16th month in succession. And they happen on purpose. (If you want these horrors, then sign in with "xs4all.nl"; if not, avoid them.)

And I have to add that about 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. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen Advance in French Election

The first article today is
by Alissa J. Rubin on The New York Times [1]:

This starts as follows:

In France’s most consequential election in recent history, voters on Sunday chose Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen to go to a runoff to determine the next president, official returns showed. One is a political novice, the other a far-right firebrand — both outsiders, but with starkly different visions for the country.

The result was a full-throated rebuke of France’s traditional mainstream parties, setting the country on an uncertain path in an election that could also decide the future of the European Union.

It is the first time in the nearly 59-year history of France’s Fifth Republic that both of the final candidates are from outside the traditional left-right party structure. Together, they drew less than half the total votes cast in a highly fractured election.

Even before the official tallies were announced, the political establishment was rallying behind Mr. Macron, warning of the dangers of a victory by Ms. Le Pen’s far-right National Front, though few analysts give her much of a chance of winning the May 7 runoff.

And this is also all I am going to quote from this article (in which there is a lot more).

This is the outcome, and the final choice will be between a rightist and an extreme rightist.

2. In Time for the Reform Debate, New Documents Shed Light on the Government’s Surveillance of Americans

The second article is by Ashley Gorski on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows - and Ashley Gorski is a lawyer who works for the ACLU:

The ACLU on Friday released more than a dozen new documents concerning the government’s warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans. They were obtained from several intelligence agencies in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and relate to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law that the government relies on to conduct its PRISM and Upstream spying programs.

Section 702 is a deeply controversial law that recently made headlines
around the world again thanks to President Trump’s wiretapping claims. Under Section 702, the government examines the contents of Americans’ international emails, web-browsing activities, internet chats, and phone calls — all without ever getting a warrant.

Yes indeed. I wrote a lot about this, especially since June 10, 2013, and my main reason to do so is that I regard this as the basis for a neofascist kind of state terrorism
that will mean the end of most freedoms, most rights, and most equalities that most
people have gained in the 20th Century (in the West), and that will give all power to the very few who know everything about anyone.

It probably will give birth to a new kind of feodalism, that may be maintained indefinitely for and by the very few very rich, simply because they know everything.

Here is some more on the present documents:
The documents released today shed some light on two particularly problematic aspects of Section 702: the scope of “incidental” collection and what is known as the “backdoor search” loophole.The new documents underscore many of our concerns with surveillance conducted under this law, which violates our core constitutional rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. Section 702 is set to expire at the end of this year, and Congress has the opportunity to rein in warrantless spying by enacting significant reforms to the law.
Yes indeed, but because the USA's secret services now have been illegally allowed to plunder everyone of everything (for that is what it practically seems to come down to) since 2001 I believe that it is far more probable this will continue, especially with the present House and the present Senate.

Perhaps it makes sense - once again - to show the two articles from the Constitution that now have been systematically and deliberately raped by all American secret services, and also by most other secret services since 2001:

The First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
And the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Given their importance, I think it is fair to say that, after 16 years of systematically raping these Amendments, they might as well not have been written or have been totally withdrawn in 2001.

There is a lot more in this article, but I will quote only one more bit:

If the government seeks to spy on Americans’ private phone calls or emails, the Fourth Amendment generally requires it to first obtain a warrant. But under Section 702, the government — without any kind of warrant — collects and stores hundreds of millions of communications in NSA, CIA, and FBI databases each year, on the theory that its spying is directed at foreigners. After these communications are collected, agency analysts compound the constitutional problem by relying on what’s known as the “backdoor search” loophole: They search through their databases using Americans’ names and other identifying information, in order to locate Americans’ private, constitutionally protected communications.

And meanwhile the American ISPs have Trump's consent to their selling all the personal information they hold on anyone, to anyone with the money to buy it. This is not dealt
with in the present article, but also is a - recent - fact.

This is a recommended article, with a lot more information.

3. Believe It or Not: The New Age and Occult Underpinnings of Trump and Bannon's Ideology

The third article is by Mitch Horowitz on AlterNet and originally on Salon:

This starts as follows, and is here mostly because of Stephen Bannon (<-Wikipedia)) for personally I have no taste or a strong distaste for "New Age" and "Occult" bullshit:
When my book “Occult America,” a history of supernatural religions in the U.S., appeared in 2009, I was surprised to receive an admiring phone call from a conservative documentarian and financier. He professed deep interest in the book’s themes, and encouraged me in my next work, “One Simple Idea,” an exploration of positive-mind metaphysics in American life. His name was Stephen K. Bannon.
I say. I did not know this, though indeed I am not amazed. (And incidentally: What are "the natural religions", given that the occult religions are called "supernatural" here? I am asking, for this looks a bit strange to me.)

And there is this on Trump, whose family fell for the baloney of Peale:

President Trump himself has admiringly recalled his lessons in the mystic art of “positive thinking” from the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, the Trump family’s longtime pastor, who popularized metaphysical mind-power themes in his 1952 mega-seller “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

What in the cosmos is going on? New Age and alternative spirituality are supposed to be the domain of patchouli-scented aisles of health food stores and bookshops that sell candles and pendulums, right? Well, not exactly.
Again I did not know this, and again I am not amazed. And as to the second paragraph, there is this:
Conservative presidencies have not cornered the market on the otherworldly. During the 2016 campaign, I was surprised that no one revisited an episode from Bill Clinton’s first term, when then first lady Hillary Clinton was accused of holding “sťances” in the White House—a term misapplied to her visioning sessions with New Age teacher Jean Houston, a pioneer of the human-potential movement. Houston, whom I’ve published, didn’t quite know how to explain to reporters that when she guided the first lady in dialogues with her political hero Eleanor Roosevelt, they were not summoning spirits but rather conducting creativity and value-defining exercises.

O Lord (in whom I don't believe)! And Hillary Clinton also dabbles in this total bullshit! Incidentally, the baloney in the last sentence really is trashy baloney, for Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962, and if Hillary was "dialogueing" with her in the Nineties, she
was "dialogueing" with her spirit.

Anyway - enough bullshit, but it is interesting that Bannon, Trump and Hillary Clinton all seem to believe in it (more than not).

4. First 100 Days: Trump and the Degradation of the Presidency

The fourth article is by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

Trump’s failure to accomplish little or any of his agenda during his first 100 days is striking. But we should not forget the vast harm he has done in this comparatively short time – especially his degradation of the presidency.

From early in the Republic, we have looked at the office of the president as a focal point for the nation’s values. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and his Teddy’s fifth cousin, Franklin, are studied by school children as both exemplars of what it means to be president and of the moral authority of the office. It is not merely what these men accomplished, but how they did it; not just their policies but their positive effects on the institutions of democratic governance.
I'd say that Trump did accomplish a few things, notably the nomination of Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court (where he also may remain the next forty years, if these are granted to us), but I agree he did Given their importance, I think it is fair to say that, after 16 years of systematically raping these Amendments, they might as well not have been written or have been totally withdrawn in 2001. accomplish a lot, at least so far.

And I'd also say that the presidential examples Reich selected are all among the best presidents, but indeed Reich is allowed to make that selection.

Then there is this, in which Reich is partially right:

But not until Trump has the moral authority of the office disappeared.

I’m old enough to recall when John F. Kennedy invited the world’s great artists, writers, and philosophers to dine at the White House. The nation felt ennobled. Donald Trump invites Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent, who once called President Obama a “mongrel,” and we feel sullied.

Reich is partially right (i) because I do not think Richard Nixon had much or any moral authority for most progressives and liberals either, while (ii) one should not forget that
approximately half of all Americans that vote, vote for a Republican, and most of the rest a Democrat, and Reich's opinion, which I happen to share, is a Democratic but not a Republican opinion.

Here is more on Trump:

There have also been Trump’s lies – blatant, continuous, and unsubstantiated even after the lack of evidence has been pointed out repeatedly. They are not just any lies, but lies that deepen Americans’ suspicion of one another and undermine our confidence in our system of government – such as his repeated contention that “three to five million” people voted illegally in the last election, or that Obama spied on him during the campaign.

Prior presidents have embellished the truth and on occasion have lied about a particular important thing, such as the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But before Trump we have never had a president who chronically lies, whose lies have become an integral part of his presidency even in the first 100 days.

Yes, I agree - but what is so difficult in inferring that from the facts summarized in the last paragraph that it probably follows that Trump is not sane? Is this merely the lack of a degree in psychology? What other major delusions must Trump manifest before non-psychologists and non-psychiatrists conclude he is crazy?

There is also this:

We have had divisive elections before. But after them, other presidents have sought to heal the wounds. Even after the horrors of the Civil War, Lincoln famously asked us to come together without malice. Trump, by contrast, encourages warring camps – calling his opponents “enemies” and suggesting that they are plotting against his administration, and staging rallies to encourage and fuel his bedrock supporters.

I agree Trump should not do this. Here is the last bit I'll quote, which is about Trump personally:

Finally, there is Donald Trump himself – who in the first 100 days as president has shown himself to be narcissistic, xenophobic, paranoid, vindictive, and thin-skinned; who takes credit for the work of others and blames others for his own failings; who lashes out at the press and journalists when they criticize him, and who demonizes judges who disagree with him.  

We have before had presidents such as Richard Nixon whose personality defects harmed their presidencies and tainted the office of the president. But Donald Trump is in a different league altogether. He exhibits the opposite of every civic virtue ever encouraged in our school rooms, town halls, and churches.

I mostly agree - but I repeat my question: What other characteristics must a president of the USA show, next to: narcissism, xenophobia, paranoia, vindictiveness, extreme personal sensitivity, stealing others' work, blaming others for his own failures, lashing out at the press as liars, and demonizing judges, before you conclude Trump is not sane?

Must he be photographed dancing nakedly with foam on his mouth on the presidential desk before he is removed?

Anyway... this is a recommended article, for Reich is right that Trump degraded the presidency a lot.

5. A Sunday Morning Cri de Coeur

The fifth and last article today is by Robert Paul Wolff (<-Wikipedia) on his site:
As you can see in the link to Robert Paul Wolff, he is presently 83, but he is still rather active on his site, where he describes himself as follows:
As I observed in one of my books, in politics I am an anarchist, in religion I am an atheist, and in economics I am a Marxist. I am also, rather more importantly, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a violist.
It so happens that I am probably some kind of anarchist (but there are very many kinds of anarchism, and I certainly disagree with many, albeit for various reasons [2]); I definitely am an atheist; but I am defnitely not a Marxist.

Then again, both of my parents were - intelligent, sincere - Marxists for 45 years (and quite courageous in WW II, unlike most Dutchmen); my grandfather died a Marxist in a German concentration camp; and both of my mother's parents were anarchists, so I think I have some things in common with Wolff (besides being a philosopher who was illegally denied the right to take the M.A. because he dared to criticize his incompetent teachers for their incompetence, and a psychologist, mostly because that was the alternative after I was removed from philosophy, but not from any real conviction, for I think psychology is for the most part not a real science [3]).

In fact, I do not know how I found Wolff's site, although it probably was in response to a query I did with "Marxism". And I do follow him - at least - since June 2013: His site is one of the 35 sites I check every morning to write Nederlogs.

He doesn't occur often in Nederlog, but this is mostly because his positions are too specific or too technical. I also often do not quite agree with him, but I keep reading him because he is at least interesting, which is more than I can say for Paul Krugman, whom I followed for three years without learning anything of interest, and whom I therefore stopped following (also because he gets very much blown up by the "left" without me seeing any reason for that). [4]

And I do quote and review the present article, because Wolff asks some quite fundamental questions about Marxism.

The article starts as follows:
I am not a happy warrior.  I am not one of those admirable people who enjoys the fight.  I do not wade into a struggle for economic justice or gender equality or environmental protection with a laugh on my lips, reinvigorated by each defeat to ever greater efforts.  I much prefer to sit quietly and contemplate my circles, as Archimedes did when Syracuse was attacked [or so Kierkegaard says.]  But the sheer awfulness of contemporary America, both before Trump and after, compels me to pay attention.  In these brief remarks, I shall try to come to terms in some way with what Karl Marx got right about capitalist society and what he got wrong.  I do this because I need to understand why the behavior of my fellow Americans so dramatically diverges from what I would have expected.
As I outlined, I have a very Marxist and anarchist background, but I am similar to Wolff in this respect, that is, I am much more of a theoretician than a practician. This was different for my parents, but I think two good reasons are that there was not enough money nor any grants for them to study at a university (which both very easily could have managed intellectually), and - especially - because they saw the rise of Nazism and the occupation of Holland by the Nazis.

Here is Wolff's judgement on Marxism (about which I agree there is much more to say, but this is a clear brief statement):
Standing off a bit from the detail of his theories [including the Labor Theory of Value, about which I have, after all, written an entire book and several highly technical journal articles], what I can see is that Marx told us about three related but different things:  First, the fundamental exploitative structure of capitalism; Second, the probable direction in which capitalism would develop as its institutions matured; and Third, how men and women would respond to that underlying exploitation and that development.

Looking at things a century and a half after Marx published Capital [less one year], I believe that what I see is this:  Marx was dead right on the first point, more right than wrong on the second point, and utterly wrong on the third point. 
As I have explained on my site, one of my disagreements with Marx - that started for me in 1969 - is about his Labor Theory of Value, but the topic is complicated and mathematical, and I also will not treat it.

Here is Wolff one exploitation:
First things first:  Capitalism is indeed built on exploitation, it thrives on exploitation, it requires exploitation to survive, the exploitation is structural, and has nothing in particular to do with the character or feelings of those who control the capital, and capitalism will therefore continue to exploit workers for as long as it exists, regardless of the ameliorations and accommodations it may be forced on occasion to concede.  To demonstrate this was an enormous accomplishment for Marx, and all by itself establishes his claim as the greatest social scientist who has ever lived.
I think this is more or less right. There is much that could be said about this, and I don't quite agree with Marx [5], but I turn to the next point:
What he got wrong, as I have argued elsewhere, was the persistence of a pyramidal structure of jobs and wages in the ranks of the working class, broadly defined.  This was an important failure on his part, though he can hardly be blamed for it, I think.  A century and a half later, the stark opposition of capital and labor has been not replaced but it has been overlain with the conflicts of interest between well-paid and poorly-paid members of the working class.  Technically speaking, they are all exploited – the minimum wage workers and the lavishly paid members of the upper middle classes – but the political, social, ideological, and human consequences of that exploitation are utterly different for the two groups.
I think Marx can be blamed for this, and indeed this point and the next are closely related: Marx believed in a class structure of society, in which there are two classes,
the capitalists and the proletariat, that were fundamentally opposed, because the capitalists exploit the proletariat, and the proletariat gets exploited.

And I think since I was 20 (in 1970) that the class structure analysis of society is fundamentally mistaken, for real people live in real groups (the members - family, friends, colleagues - they personally know) and not in classes, and these groups are divided and distinguished in far more complicated ways than "a class analysis" allows (and indeed most groups maintain their identities by groupthinking).

Wolff is right - I think - in saying that (from a very abstract point of view) the well- educated laborers (doctors, lawyers, managers, academics) are exploited like the badly educated laborers, but in practice most of the well-educated side with the rich, rather than with the poor, and he is also right in saying that "
the political, social, ideological, and human consequences of that exploitation are utterly different for the two groups".

We arrive at the third point:
The third thing, the likely response of men and women to the devolution of capitalism, Marx got totally wrong, so far as I can see.  Now do not misunderstand me:  I think Marx was the world’s greatest theorist of mystification, of false consciousness, of ideology [and I have written a book and many articles about this as well.]  But Marx was convinced that over time, as the centralization of capitalism continued, and even though members of the ruling and exploiting class would more firmly clasp to their collective bosom the self-justifying rationalizations offered for their unrelenting exploitation by priests, political theorists, and economists, workers would be led to unite, throw off their acceptance of those rationalizations, and develop ever sharper and more energized consciousness of their condition, inspiring them to cast about for ways to overthrow the exploiters and take collective ownership of their own collective product:  Capital.
As I said, this is quite similar to the second point, and my analysis of the second point also applies here: It are the loyalties, the ideologies, the beliefs of groups (most of which are quite mistaken, and many of which are mythological or deluded, most of which engage in groupthinking of very many kinds) much rather than of classes that play the fundamental role in helping people make their political and moral choices.

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:
Now, I know all about the biases of the media, about epistemic bubbles, about the well-funded efforts to deny the plain facts of climate change, of economic misery, of plain straight-up kleptocracy, but why do scores of millions, more than scores of millions, buy into that nonsense?  I mean, we know it is nonsense, and we do not have access to any sources of information that are denied to our fellow citizens.  The information is all there, free, available simply by picking up a TV remote and changing the station, or Googling with a mouse.  Fox News draws vastly more people than Lawrence O’Donnell, but there is no legislative limit on the number of people allowed to tune him in.  Never mind Trump.  Why on earth do people all over America elect and re-elect politicians whose whole aim in life is to screw them?
My answer to Wolff's last question - "Why on earth do people all over America elect and re-elect politicians whose whole aim in life is to screw them?" - is rather simple:

The vast majority is ignorant; everybody gets propagandized with all kinds of lies and deceptions; few get a decent education; the vast majority is not intelligent, nor learned, nor scientific, nor rational, nor reasonable; and nearly everybody pretends, plays roles, deceives, and is far more egoistic than altruistic, and far more inclined to personally profit than to share.

In brief, because the vast majority is stupid, ignorant and egoistic, and also was never educated to be anything else.


[1] I rejected some other articles, mainly because I am opponent of the stupid and egoistic Tweets: Journalistic articles that include more than three Tweets in one article will very probably not be reviewed in Nederlog. (I am sorry, but I detest Tweets.)

This is also how the present article got selected, namely after discarding two others.

[2] In fact, while it very probably is true that I am some sort of anarchist, in the end especially because I am for personal liberty, against all kinds of exploitation, and in favor of incomes that are not higher than 20 times the lowest income, and on that lowest income one should also have a decent life, but there are so many kinds of anarchism that I never found out which I like best. (I do like Emma Goldman a lot, and especially her autobiography, but this is probably more personal than intellectual.)

[3] In case you want to know more about this, try "Is Psychology A Science" by Paul Lutus, who knows a lot about philosophy of science. In fact, so do I, and this is one reason why I gave up on psychology as a science in 1980 - yes: 37 years ago - indeed for rather similar reasons as Lutus explains. (I got an M.A. in psychology only after I was - illegally - denied the right to take an M.A. in philosophy, and I did so because I had studied it together with philosophy, both as main studies.)

[4] Incidentally, there have emerged (over the years that I am writing Nederlog, which started in 2004, in Dutch) several reasons for me not to review papers or persons anymore:

Papers are no more reviewed by me in case they made copying impossible: I think that is both quite sick and very immoral, and while I can undo it (with some problems), I prefer simply not to review them at all.

Also, I dislike Tweets so much - how idiotic must one be to prefer an instrument of "communication" that limits one to 140 letters?!?! - that I decided to stop the horrible outcroppings of long lists of Tweets in journalistic articles by deciding that three is the maximum I allow in any one article.

And persons are no more reviewed by me in case I have convinced myself they are rather worthless. And indeed Krugman is one of these. There are a few more (but not many).

[5] I agree with Wolff that Marx certainly made the deepest economical analysis of capitalism (of his days), but I don't quite agree him that Marx demonstrated that capitalism requires exploitation, and for several reasons.

First, Marx demonstration - if such it was - was not quite correct (as Wolff himself admits, though probably not for reasons I agree with, though I don't know, and I like it that Wolff is mathematically capable).

Second, even if it is quite correct that capitalism requires exploitation, there are many different rates of exploitation, and the positions and incomes of the American and English working people in - say - the 1960ies was quite different from the positions and incomes of their great grandfathers in the 1860ies.

And third, my own position about exploitation is not
Marxistic, for it is in the end ethical: I think people are - often mercilessly, often cruelly - exploited not for any real objective reasons, but because the exploiters made the ethical judgements that their rights and their welfare come first, and that those who have either money or power therewith have the means and the justification to exploit those without either.

In the end, we are all animals, and some human animals are and feel very capable of exploiting anyone they can, as much as they please. This does not hold for all men, but it does seem to hold for a majority, and it certainly holds for most of the few who own a whole lot of money or a whole lot of power.

       home - index - summaries - mail