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Nederlog

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Crisis: Idiocracy, Mother Jones, Modern Republicans, The USA's Goals, Capitalist Crisis



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Introduction

1. Summary
2. Crisis Files
    A. Selections from August 2, 2017 

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, August 2, 2017.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last four years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I probably will continue with it, but on the moment I have several problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible and with my health.

As I explained, the crisis files will have a different format from July 1, 2017: I will now list the items I selected as I did before (title + link) but I add one selection from the selected item to give my readers a bit of a taste of the item linked.

So the new format is as follows:

      Link to an item with its orginal title, followed by
      One selection from that item (indented)
      Possibly followed by a brief comment by me (not indented).

This is illustrated below, in selections A.


2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from August 2, 2017

The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. The Triumph of the Idiocracy: How Narcissism, Stupidity and the Internet Got Us Donald Trump, an Accidental President

This article is by Chauncey DeVega on Alternet and originally on Salon. This starts as follows:

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election represents the triumph of the idiocracy. Trump is America’s fool-king, proudly ignorant and a living example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Trump’s supporters appear to be in love with him. They worship him as though he were their personal road to salvation and happiness. Trump’s voters were seduced by "fake news" and all too easily manipulated by Russian agents operating on the internet.

Quite so, or as I have formulated it very many times:

Ordinary Americans, indeed like ordinary men everywhere, are too stupid and too ignorant for most things, including looking rationally after their own interests: They are much more prone to believe the lies and propaganda of those they trust as their leaders than to take their computers and try some alternative information, and the reason for this is thay most ordinary men - left, right and center - are deeply totalitarian at heart.

It's basically as simple as that, and indeed I have been saying so for forty years - and got forty years of frightful discriminations as reward, in Holland, which has been the Colombia of Europe for illegal drugs because its politicians wanted it to be that. (They could have legalized all illegal drugs by 1988, but they chose differently, it seems to me because they had very much to gain by that choice.)

Then there is this:

This points to a broader phenomenon. In America, today’s conservatives (as a group and an ideological movement) hold science, empirical reality, intelligence, education and expertise in disdain. Writing at the Harvard Business Review, Joan Williams highlights how this manifests in the form of a deep hostility toward “experts” and “professionals” (...)

Yes indeed, and this trend I've also seen for forty years now: Ordinary men, including ordinary academics, do not like anybody who knows more than they do, and therefore will strongly tend to discriminate them, which indeed also is quite easy (for there are few truly intelligent men).

There is this on "American voters":

Unfortunately, the idiocracy (and kakistocracy) that has won over the American right reflects a broader failing. American voters are largely unsophisticated, ignorant about matters of public policy, politically disengaged and often hold incorrect beliefs about basic facts across a range of important topics.

I think the last sentence is quite correct, except that it ought to start with "Most".

And that is the basic problem in the USA and elsewhere, for the voters in other countries are about as deceived, as stupid, as ignorant, as totalitarian, and as hateful of "experts" as are the Americans.

From here on, DeVega interviews Tom Nichols, who is a professor of national security affairs, and the writer of "The Death of Expertise". The following quotations as from Tom Nichols.

First, here is how the average American voter seems to make up his or her mind:

Donald Trump surfed (..) said, “There are people out there that are screwing you out of having the golden toilets that I have. And I’m going to get even with those people, because I know what they’re up to, and I’m going to screw them over and get yours for you.” People are dumb enough to believe it because they don’t understand how the economy works, they don’t understand how society works, they don’t understand the basics about the relationship between education and jobs, none of it. It’s basically they look up from the television, or their phone, and they say “Where’s my money?” And that’s how we got here.

This I don't know since I am not living in the USA, but it does look quite plausible.
There is also this:

It is one thing to say “I know Alex Jones is full of crap!” But to know how full of crap he is you’re going to have to sit down and you’re going to have to read a newspaper. You’re going to have to make a decision about what you’re looking at. You’re going to have to turn the TV off for a minute and think about whether or not what you just heard makes sense to you as a human being, and people just won’t do it. I don’t know how to make them do it. This is where I become a kind of annoying elitist. I think in a lot of those cases where people are just aggressively, willfully stupid, there is no way to break through that, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I agree, except that I want to prefix "most" to "people just won’t do it".

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

The way we surf the internet is, in fact, reordering the neurons in our brain. Children are now learning not to read, they’re learning to search and scan and take visual cues off a screen. It makes their tolerance for reading lower and lower and lower. I’ve taught at a half a dozen universities, and the one thing I’ve noticed is that the students’ capacity for sustained reading has been dropping, practically in a straight line.

Again I do not know this, but I have been protesting in Holland for forty years about the halving (or more) of everybody's education. All I got in thanks was discrimination  and sick and highly immoral lies that I was "a dirty fascist" for saying so, for in Holland most men and certainly most academics "know" that

"Everybody knows that truth does not exist",

which I "learned" in 1978, in the "University" of Amsterdam.

In any case, this is a good article, and it is recommended reading.


2. Scholars Say Mother Jones Distorted Their Research for Anti-Homeless Article

This article is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

An article published on July 14 by Mother Jones produced widespread anger. The piece, written by Kevin Drum, began by discussing newly published research from two political science professors on public perceptions of homeless people. Drum addressed the seemingly contradictory findings that people generally support aid to the homeless but also favor banning panhandling and sleeping in public.

Drum’s controversial passage came when he attempted to reconcile these views with this reasoning (emphasis in original):

The researchers solved their conundrum by suggesting that most people are disgusted by the homeless. No kidding. About half the homeless suffer from a mental illness and a third abuse either alcohol or drugs. You’d be crazy not to have a reflexive disgust of a population like that. Is that really so hard to get?

Drum hastened to say that “none of this means we can’t or shouldn’t have empathy for the homeless,” adding, “of course we should, if we want to call ourselves decent human beings.” But he again reiterated his view that disgust for homeless people is natural and sane: “There’s just no need to deny that these reflexes are both innate and perfectly understandable.”

O Lord! This time Glenn Greenwald is writing and behaving as if he is a politically correct quasi-leftist who loves seeing that others speak precisely as he thinks they should speak (also in very brief articles).

I am sorry, but I did not see anything wrong with Drum's statements. Greenwald, in contrast, seems to have seen The Enemy:

Worse, the reasoning in the Mother Jones article implies that people are naturally and justifiably disgusted by those who lose their homes, struggle with addiction, or have mental health afflictions. Who still thinks this way? It’s as if a caricature of some 1950s retrograde moralizer was reincarnated as a 21st-century columnist for a magazine named after a fiery pro-labor revolutionary.

Sorry, but this is false, and it takes its liberties from the verb "implies" (after which you can assert anything, for who or what implies in which sense is totally lost). Also, speaking of "some 1950s retrograde moralizer": I think at least half of the ignorant American electorate is still on that level.

I am sorry, but I find this quite disappointing.


3. Why Do Republicans Have So Little Dignity?

This article is by Mike Lofgren (<-Wikipedia) on AlterNet and originally on BillMoyers.com. This starts as follows:

Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is considered one of the great political novels of the last century, but it is also very puzzling. Why does Rubashov, the loyal old Bolshevik, confess to capital crimes he did not commit? He is not tortured; he knows (as do his interrogators) that the charges are absurd.

I agree with Lofgren and I disagree with Koestler, for I read "Darkness at Noon" when I was 17 or 18, in 1967 or 1968, when I still regarded myself as a Marxist, while I had - very brave - communist parents, who had survived WW II in the Resistance, like few Dutchmen: Even so, I could not convince myself that a man like Rubashov would not be tortured in the Soviet Union, and I had also concluded the same earlier, around 1966, from my readings of Stalin's trials of 1937, that my communist father owned: Although the word "torture" occurs nowhere, I could not believe former communist leaders could have said the utter nonsense they did say, without being tortured. (And I was quite right.)

But this is a bit of an aside, although it is relevant when considering this bit:

The GOP in the age of Trump also worships power, but power reduced to its most primitive, elemental form, and personalized in the figure of the omnipotent tribal leader. Just as a 12-year old boy worships power in the form he understands it — a pro linebacker, a tough guy, a bully — so the new GOP worships power in the form of Donald Trump because his bizarre displays of dominance (which strike the rest of us as pathetic overcompensation for insecurity) scratch some obscure psychological itch for them.

To return to the Darkness at Noon analogy, among some of Trump’s base, as well as the more fervent of his employees, the adoration approaches Stalin’s cult of personality. Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, has said his boss has “superhuman” health and “perfect genes.” It would seem only a short distance from Mnuchin’s slavering to the mental framework that prevailed at the height of the Stalin cult, when the Soviet Academy of Sciences seriously considered renaming the moon that orbits the earth we live on for their fearless leader.

I do know quite a bit about the Soviet Union, and this seems a bit exaggerated: Stalin's cult of personality was developed in a quite totalitarian climate, in which virtually anyone who mouthed any criticism of The Beloved Leader or The Excellent Communist System risked betrayal and torture by the KGB (or whatever the secret services were named in the 1930ies in the Soviet Union).

It is not as far as that in the USA, and it will take considerable time to impose these totalitarian conditions.

The article ends as follows:

How and why this neurosis of power worship breaks out in societies, and particularly in a notionally secular, representative republic, is not something we fully understand. It is long past time for enterprising historians, sociologists, and abnormal psychologists to find out.

In fact, I listed my main explanations for power worship when reviewing item 1 above: Bad education, native stupidity, ignorance, being ordinary men, and the deep longing most ordinary men have for totalitarianism and for power worshipping (since long before the 21st century) all seem quite prominent in such an explanation.


4. Tillerson's State Department Drops Stated Mission to Promote Democracy

This article is by Julia Conley on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

In keeping with a recent trend of abandoning key tenets of its stated mission, State Department is rewriting its statement of purpose without any mention of promoting "justice" and "democracy."

According to internal State Department emails obtained by the Washington Post, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has ordered the department to redefine its stated mission. A draft that was circulated within the department on Friday read, "We promote the security, prosperity, and interests of the American people globally" and said the department will strive to "lead America's foreign policy through global advocacy, action and assistance to shape a safer, more prosperous world."

This contrasts with the department's mission statement from 2016, which defined its purpose as shaping and sustaining "a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster[ing] conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere."

I say. Well... the propaganda is definitely not an improvement, but it does accord much better with the - neofascistic - present president of the USA. And incidentally, since I am not an American, I do not see any reason why "the American people" have anything much to say outside the USA (though I agree essentially this is a bit of government propaganda).


5. Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

This article is by C.J. Polychroniou on Truth-out.

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their "business as usual" approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Yes indeed - and those most responsible for the extraordinarily crazy bank bailout plan where Bill Clinton (who meanwhile was rewarded with some 150 million dollars) and Robert Rubin (who anyway made ten to thirty million dollars a year at Goldman Sachs), together with Alan Greenspan. (These are three of the greatest thiefs there ever were.)

Next, this is for background information:

Polychroniou interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Here is the first of two quotations by David Kotz:

David M. Kotz: The severe phase of the economic and financial crisis ended in the summer of 2009. By then the banks had been bailed out and the Great Recession ended, as production stopped falling and began to rise in North America and Europe. As you say, since then profits have recovered quite well. However, normal capitalist economic expansion has not resumed, but instead, global capitalism has been stuck in stagnation.

Stagnation means no economic growth or very slow economic growth. Stagnation has afflicted most of the developed countries since 2010, with some countries, such as Greece, still in a severe depression.
I think this is correct, and the main reason is simply that the 1% of the rich (who got some 300% richer the last twenty years or so) enrich themselves by systematically taking from the 90% of the non-rich (whose incomes essentially remain the same, corrected for inflation, since 1980). And this happens and happened mostly through deregulations.

And there is also this:
David M. Kotz: Not only has capitalism failed to bring economic progress in this century, it has brought worsening conditions for the majority. The reason for this is rooted in the transformation of capitalism around 1980, when the post-World War II "regulated capitalism" was rapidly replaced by "neoliberal capitalism." Regulated capitalism arose mainly because of the serious challenge to capitalism from socialist and communist movements around the world and from the Communist Party-ruled states after World War II. The new regulated capitalism was based on capital-labor compromise. It led to the construction of welfare states, state regulation of business, and trade union-led rising wages and more stable jobs for working people.

In the 1970s, regulated capitalism entered a period of economic crisis indicated by a long decline in the rate of profit in the US and Western Europe. The capitalist classes of the developed countries responded by abandoning the capital-labor compromise, attacking the trade union movement, lifting state regulation of business and banking, and making drastic cuts in the welfare state and in the various forms of social provision. This gave us the neoliberal form of capitalism.
Yes indeed - and I noted the same, already a long time ago, though not in the present terms: What Kotz calls "regulated capitalism" I called "capitalism with a human face", and what Kotz calls "neoliberal capitalism" I called "capitalism without a human face" [1].

And I think Kotz should have mentioned John Maynard Keynes, who designed most of what Kotz calls "regulated capitalism", if only because without Keynes the coming of a regulated capitalism would have been far less probable.

But the rest seems more or less correct, and this is a recommended article, with considerably more than quoted here.

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

Note

[1] In fact, I was parrotting Alexander Dubcek's (failed) attempt of trying to change socialism in Czechoslovakia in 1968, for he did use the phrase "socialism with a human face" then.


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