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Nederlog

May 14, 2018

Crisis: On Gaza, Billionaires & Doomsday, The GOP, Idiocy, ¨Making American Great Again¨


Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from May 14, 2018
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, May 14, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from May 14, 2018
1. Killing Gaza
2. Here's the Real Reason Tech Billionaires are Prepping for Doomsday
3. Republican Insider Explains How Religion Destroyed the GOP
4. Ready, Fire, Aim: Idiocy in Action
5. "Making America Great Again" Assumes That It Once Was
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. Killing Gaza

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Israel’s blockade of Gaza—where trapped Palestinians for the past seven weeks have held nonviolent protests along the border fence with Israel, resulting in more than 50 killed and 700 wounded by Israeli troops—is one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. Yet the horror that is Gaza, where 2 million people live under an Israeli siege without adequate food, housing, work, water and electricity, where the Israeli military routinely uses indiscriminate and disproportionate violence to wound and murder, and where almost no one can escape, is rarely documented. Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen’s powerful new film, “Killing Gaza,” offers an unflinching and moving portrait of a people largely abandoned by the outside world, struggling to endure.

“Killing Gaza” will be released Tuesday, to coincide with what Palestinians call Nakba Day—“nakba” means catastrophe in Arabic—commemorating the 70th anniversary of the forced removal of some 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 by the Haganah, Jewish paramilitary forces, from their homes in modern-day Israel. The release of the documentary also coincides with the Trump administration’s opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
Yes, I think all of this is correct - which I say because I know, more or less, most of the facts that Chris Hedges mentions, but he certainly knows them a lot better than I do, because he has been a war correspondent in the region for many years.

Also, I think it is worth saying (as a Dutchman, althoug I agree this is an entirely different subject) that I know that Max Blumenthal is correct when he says (as reported on Wikipedia) that
¨Blumenthal referred to Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a "Somali-born author and anti-Islam activist" with "a history of fraud".
And yes, I also know this has little or nothing to do with Gaza, but he is quite right: she is a fraud and a major liar, and little else (as most Dutchmen know, but few Americans do).

Back to the article:

The film begins in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood, reduced to mounds of rubble by the Israelis. The wanton destruction of whole neighborhoods was, as documented by the film, accompanied by the shooting of unarmed civilians by Israeli snipers and other soldiers of that nation.

“Much of the destruction took place in the course of a few hours on July 23,” Blumenthal, who narrates the film, says as destroyed buildings appear on the screen, block after block. “The invading Israeli forces found themselves under ferocious fire from local resistance forces, enduring unexpectedly high casualties. As the Israeli infantry fled in full retreat, they called in an artillery and air assault, killing at least 120 Palestinian civilians and obliterated thousands of homes.”

I take it this is quite true, and indeed generalize it by saying that this seems to be the present system of war (in many countries, and indeed also in a major way in Gaza):

Those who are being killed by the military are not anymore the military of the opposing party - as tended to be the case until Vietnam - but the civilians of the opposing party.

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

Israel intentionally targeted power plants, schools, medical clinics, apartment complexes, whole villages. Robert Piper, the United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, said in 2017 that Gaza had “a long time ago” passed the “unlivability threshold.” Youth unemployment is at 60 percent. Suicide is epidemic. Traditional social structures and mores are fracturing, with divorce rising from 2 percent to 40 percent and girls and women increasingly being prostituted, something once seen only rarely in Gaza. Seventy percent of the 2 million Gazans survive on humanitarian aid packages of sugar, rice, milk and cooking oil. The U.N. estimates that 97 percent of Gaza’s water is contaminated.

That is what I just meant by saying that in modern war in the last 50 or 60 years it are mostly civilians who are being killed by the military of the opposing party (which incidentally also happened in WW II). And this is a recommended article.

2. Here's the Real Reason Tech Billionaires are Prepping for Doomsday

This article is by Jason Rhode on AlterNet and originally on Salon. It starts as follows:

If you pay attention to what Silicon Valley’s best and brightest are up to, you know about tech survivalism. The digital elite are preparing for the Apocalypse, and have been for a while.

As Evan Osnos wrote in his New Yorker feature, “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich,”

Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

I think this is correct. Also, I think there are several reasons for this, and I happen to agree (more than not) with one set of reasons, that say - more or less, and I am summarizing this briefly - that it is likely that civilization will collapse in the none too far future, and quite possibly soon, because of overpopulation and global warming.

Then again, although these reasons may play a role, they are less important than the following set of reasons:

The Guardian noted that the end-of-days obsession could be traced back to a single source, a sort of ur-text of rich-guy panic: a 1999 book called "The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive during the Collapse of the Welfare State." It was written by James Dale Davidson, a private investment advisor, and Lord Rees-Moog, a British newspaper editor.

You can probably already guess at what the book says. More or less, it’s a pastiche of extolling the virtues of how the rich are superior, persecuted by the state, and how digital realms can and will liberate them and make them sovereign individuals. It’s a familiar trope: Ayn Rand had John Galt spew the same list of self-serving ideas sixty years ago in “Atlas Shrugged.”

That an elite caste of people would find inspiration in these kinds of ideas is unsurprising. But there’s a more obvious reason that rich people are doomsday preppers: because that ideology mirrors their politics and their sociological views of people.

Aristocracy is the faith that a few individuals are better than the herd. Aristocracy justifies great wealth. Aristocracy says that most humans are inherently evil and will turn on each other. The mob needs strong rulers to stay sane. If authority breaks down, the rabid animals will run wild.

I have not read the book, but this may very well be quite correct.

Then again, I should add that while I am not an aristocrat in the above sense, I am also certainly not a democrat who believes (or pretends to believe, in public, and often it is mere pretension) that ¨all people are equal¨.

Indeed, if this were literally true, there would be just one person (or two twins, perhaps). I think there are pretty large differences between people on many relevant dimensions:

A few are considerably more beautiful than most others; a few are taller than others; a few are stronger and more athletic than others; a few are more intelligent than others; a few are much better chess players or mathematicians or actors, and so on.

And while these are quite true in my opinion (and I am taller and more intelligent than the vast majority, indeed by rather objective criterions (my length and the marks I got in my academic studies: I scored only As, while being ill all the time)), I do not believe that being better in some widely liked respects than most others is any reason for being more wealthy, nor is it any reason to be against legal equality of all people, nor is it any reason to insist upon unlimited wealth for a few and poverty for the vast majority. These are all fallacies.

Back to the article. This is from its ending:

What are the tech-preppers really worried about? Not death by fire, quake, or ice. Not the rising seas, or the zombie plague, not the return of Christ or rogue comets. Seen clearly, the calamity that the wealthy fear is democracy returning to the United States. Every tall tale they tell involves the specter of the mob.

The tech-preppers understand, at a deep level, that their ill-gotten gains are predicated on an unjust system. Deep in the brain, where reptile impulses live, tech-bros know hoarding is wrong. Human beings — even very wealthy human beings — have a bone-deep sense of injustice. We know a free-loader.

Well... I certainly would not put it as Rhode does, but I agree (more or less) that many of the aristocrats-in-the-tradition-of-Ayn-Rand, to put it that way, whose presumed aristocracy mostly depends on their wealth, are such aristocrats because such aristocracy enables them to believe
that they belong to the few who deserve their wealth, and not to the many who deserve to be poor (or non-rich).

And I agree with Rohde that this is a major fallacy, that is adopted mostly because of wishful thinking by the wealthy. This is a recommended article.


3. Republican Insider Explains How Religion Destroyed the GOP

This article is by Mike Lofgren on AlterNet and originally on Viking Press. It starts as follows:

Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war

The following exceprt is reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from "The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted," by Mike Lofgren. Copyright © 2012 by Mike Lofgren.

I like Mike Lofgren and wrote so on January 12, 2017:
Two of the reasons I like Mike Lofgren (whom I don't know at all) are that (i) he had quite a few ideas like I have, and indeed some better than I had, i.a. because he is much closer to USA institutions than I am, and (ii) he has a strong Republican background, which I like because this means he is quite informed, while having to think through his background (which is mostly against his own conclusions).

Also, I think it should have been added below this article - which does mention Mike Lofgren's book from 2013 - that he also published a later book, "The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government", in January of 2016.
In fact, I think that was the first time I heard about him, and the reason was his book from 2016, not the one mentioned and excerpted in the present article. Then again, Lofgren´s earlier book is interesting as well, and I will quote three bits from it. This is the first:
Some liberal writers have opined that the socioeconomic gulf separating the business wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no basic disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far it should go. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age; the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. If anything, the two groups are increasingly beginning to resemble each other. Many televangelists have espoused what has come to be known as the prosperity gospel—the health-and- wealth/name-it-and-claim-it gospel of economic entitlement. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! This rationale may explain why some poor voters will defend the prerogatives of billionaires.
Yes indeed: I basically agree, and especially with ¨If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad!¨ (and see item 2 above).

Also, there is a far wide theme below what Lofgren says in the above paragraph, that I introduce here and now by reference to a fine essay that dates back to 1970: ¨The Irrational in Politics¨ by ¨Maurice Brinton¨ (in fact: Chris Pallis, who was a prominent neurologist and a socialist), that I find quite interesting, and plan to have on my site with my extensive notes.

The version I linked to is on marxists.org. There are quite a few other versions of the text elsewhere: I selected this one simply because it is a fine edition (from 1975).

Two of its theses I will summarize as follows: (1) Very much of ¨politics¨ - in theory and in practice - is quite irrational (when measured with sensible factual or scientific criterions), in considerable part because (2) very many in ¨politics¨
- in theory and in practice - are quite irrational and very often reach their conclusions by wishful thinking and ignorance (also if they are quite intelligent).

These are my formulations, and I put scarequotes around ¨politics¨ because I am talking in fact about hundreds of millions of individuals, and hundreds of political systems, ideas, slogans, proposals, values etc. of the last hundred and fifty years or so.

Back to the article:
The Tea Party, which initially described itself as wholly concerned with debt, deficit, and federal overreach, gradually unmasked itself as being almost as theocratic as the activists from the religious right that Armey had denounced only a few years before. If anything, they were even slightly more disposed than the rest of the Republican Party to inject religious issues into the political realm. According to an academic study of the Tea Party, “[T]hey seek ‘deeply religious’ elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates.” The Tea Party faithful are not so much libertarian as authoritarian, the furthest thing from a “live free or die” constitutionalist.
Yes, I think that is correct as well - and in fact, talking again with reference to ¨The Irrational in Politics¨, one major reasson is that religion is quite like politics - as most religionists consent to my thesis, provided one excepts their own religion. (And yes, I am an atheist.)

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which is about Ayn Rand:
Ayn Rand, an occasional darling of the Tea Party, has become a cult figure within the GOP in recent years. It is easy enough to see how her tough-guy, every-man-for-himself posturing would be a natural fit with the Wall Street bankers and the right-wing politicians they fund—notwithstanding the bankers’ fondness for government bailouts. But Rand’s philosophy found most of its adherents in the libertarian wing of the party, a group that overlaps with, but is certainly not identical to, the “business conservatives” who fund the bulk of the GOP’s activities. (...) The problem is that Rand proclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity as a religion of weaklings possessing a slave mentality.
Yes indeed - and Lofgren is logically speaking quite correct. For me the basic reason a militant atheist like Rand (who could not even write a decent book - and yes, I did read ¨Atlas Shrugged¨ in the early 70ies, and was appalled by both the horrible style and the awful values and ideas) is popular in the GOP is again ¨The Irrational in Politics¨. And this is a recommended article.

4. Ready, Fire, Aim: Idiocy in Action

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Trying to parse Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran agreement shows why “balanced news” may end up destroying the world.  We’ll examine why in a moment, but first, let’s summarize Trump’s reasoning – or what passes for reasoning in his addled, emotionally adolescent, ADHD brain.

He says it was a “bad deal; a terrible deal.”  As Tony Schwartz, the actual author of The Art of the Deal notes, Trump—who barely read the book—has come to believe he was the author of The Art of the Deal, and making deals has become, in his mind, his greatest forte.  So naturally, any deal struck by someone else—especially Obama—is second rate and something he could improve upon.

Yes, I agree and the reference to Tony Schwartz is worth reading if you don´t know already about the real write of The Art of the Deal.

Also, I explain “balanced news” as follows. News (and political ideas, and religious ideas, and nowadays also scientific ideas) is ¨balanced¨ about some issue if (i) the issue is presented as difference of opinion between - usually - two sides, often presented as pro and con, and (ii) the two sides are presented as more or less equal (on the surface, at least), while (iiii) the reporter - as is the case with news - takes no (explicit) position: ¨He merely presents opinions¨.

Clearly, there are some theses that may be treated fairly in this way, but not almost any political or religious subject or thesis. To take two examples from mathematics (because this is clear): You can treat the idea that a fairly tossed coin will fall heads this way, but you cannot treat the idea that 2+2=22 that way (if you are minimally rational and know how to count).

And in fact, news is presented as ¨balanced¨ because it keeps the beliefs and values of the journalist (in the case of news) out of the picture, while pretending he or she is ¨objective¨ because he or she presents both sides ¨in a fair way¨ (say: discrimination, or higher taxes, or global warming etc.)

For most political and religious ideas, this simply is false, and mostly amounts to lying or at least pretending, and not to honest reporting.

Back to the article:

The point is, Trump’s objections have no foundation, and his actions actually exacerbate the very issues he raises.  Essentially, what he’s done is to increase the likelihood of a nuclear conflict in the Mideast, in the name of preventing one.  And he had no alternative plan. Ready, fire aim.  Just as he and his Republican cronies did with their attempt to repeal Obamacare.

Look, let’s not mince words.  This is idiotic, and it is extremely dangerous.  Yes, there were flaws in the agreement.  But it did stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons for more than fifteen years.  To scuttle this achievement without any alternative plan or any consideration of some of the unintended consequences (an increase in Russian influence, and undermining moderates in Iran just when they were gaining momentum, for example) is simply madness. 

But across the “liberal” media, you’ll find stories representing both “sides.”  From NPR to the New York Times to the Washington Post, articles presenting the rational for Trump’s act of idiocy abound.
I think this is quite true and is explained in my previous comment. Here is the last bit I quote from this article:

One of the concerns people raised as Trump began his presidency by appointing an obscene list of foxes to guard our collective national chicken coup, while breaking campaign promises at a rate that was grotesque even by the standards of politicians, was that we not let Trump’s irrational, infantile, plutocratic, mendacious behavior become the new normal.

But by treating what is manifestly one of the stupidest, least thought out and dangerous decisions in modern history as if it were something with “sides” the media has done exactly that, and that effectively gives him license to continue his destruction of the national and international commons.

Yes, I agree - but then most of the ¨news¨ is being presented in a (quasi) balanced way on the mainstream media, and I think this will remain the same. There - still - is journalism about politics (and religion and news, etc.) that is more or less decent journalism, but you will not find much on the ¨balanced¨ ¨each side may be true, and we leave it to you to decide¨ presentations in the mainstream media.

I agree this is a major danger for rational thinking and arguing, for while few things are certain, most political, religious and other theses are not 50/50, and also cannot be fairly discussed without people taking positions. And this is a recommended article.

5. "Making America Great Again" Assumes That It Once Was

This article is by Mark Karlin on Truthout. It starts as follows:
The United States is exceptional in believing that it is exceptional. It dominates the world with its military but falls behind many other nations in standards that define quality of life. "Only in the United States can you have endless discussions of the legality of war without ever mentioning that war is illegal," says author and activist David Swanson in this interview.
Precisely, and in fact this is a fine article from which I will select three bits. This is the first:

Mark Karlin: What is your working definition of the sense of United States exceptionalism?

David Swanson: What I describe in the book is a collection of beliefs or attitudes, whether or not articulated, that hold the US government, military and nation to be central to one's identity and to be superior to and not even to be judged on the same plane with anyone else. This is a way of thinking that is not dependent on any empirical facts, but is itself observable in opinion polls and in uniquely US phenomena, such as debates over whether or not to bomb another country, or discussions of history or of public policy that assume the rest of the world does not exist.
     (..)
Last week, US Sen. Tim Kaine spoke here in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia about war powers. He claimed that Trump sending 100 missiles into Damascus could have been legal if only Trump had gotten approval from Congress. I brought up something that went unmentioned through the whole event and asked him if the UN Charter was not the supreme law of the land under Article VI, and he admitted as much but shrugged it off. Only in the United States can you have endless discussions of the legality of war without ever mentioning that war is illegal.
I completely agree (and because I generally do take positions - see item 4 - here is my position on Kaine: as long as Kaine (and others) are prominent in the Democratic Party, I don´t believe it is any better than the Republican Party, and besides, it seems to me - who is not American - that most American politicians have been corrupted).

Here is more from the article:

You spend a good portion of your book comparing the United States to other nations. How does the US fare?

Miserably. The United States leads the world in everything from military spending to war-making to incarceration to various measures of environmental destruction, and various other undesirable categories. The United States trails behind all other wealthy countries, managing only to surpass poor countries in all kinds of measures of well-being, such as life-expectancy, health, education and happiness. And this poor showing is not balanced out by something else. Even in every conceivable measure of "freedom" and "democracy," even those measuring the viciousness of capitalism, the United States fails to rise to the top. "We're Number 1!" taken as a factual and positive claim is simply false.

Again precisely so. And this is the last bit I selected:

What is the damage the notion of American exceptionalism does?

It's hard to fit into a book, much less an interview, but this attitude damages everyone it touches. It deprives people of identifying with 96 percent of humanity and most of human history and prehistory. It deprives the people of the United States of emergency aid, of global cooperation, of everything good and decent that a military budget could have bought, of all the world's innovations in environmental sustainability, education, crime reduction, health coverage, democracy, etc. And, of course, it is central to the propaganda that launches murderous wars and justifies all cruel foreign policies.

And precisely so. This is a strongly recommended article.


Note

[1]I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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