December 12, 2015
Crisis: Russia, Big Merger, Ex-Cep-Tio-Nal-Ism, Oligarchy, Germany
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This is a Nederlog of Saturday, December 12, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a fairly bad article by one Alastair Crooke (not: Alistair Cooke, in case you remember him); item 2 is about a planned merger of Dupont and Dow Chemical on Common Dreams, who got it right; item 3 is nominally about a network CEO, but is taken by me as information on what does make Americans so Ex-Cep-Tio-Nal; item 4 is about Paul Krugman's review of Robert Reich's most recent book; and item 5 is about a disappointing article on Spiegel International (that sounds just like a "personalized" NYRB-article, which is a style I detested the last 50 years).

1. Cornering Russia, Risking World War III

The first item is by Alastair Crooke [1] on Consortiumnews:
  • Cornering Russia, Risking World War III

This starts as follows:

We all know the narrative in which we (the West) are seized. It is the narrative of the Cold War: America versus the “Evil Empire.” And, as Professor Ira Chernus has written, since we are “human” and somehow they (the USSR or, now, ISIS) plainly are not, we must be their polar opposite in every way.

“If they are absolute evil, we must be the absolute opposite. It’s the old apocalyptic tale: God’s people versus Satan’s. It ensures that we never have to admit to any meaningful connection with the enemy.” It is the basis to America’s and Europe’s claim to exceptionalism and leadership., not really.

Firstly, I do not "know" "the narrative in which we (the West) are seized", and indeed I do not believe in "narratives". These are nearly always fairytales, often spinned by "journalists", mostly directed at the stupid and uneducated halves of their audiences, and while I may be said to know the fairytales of Pinnochio and the Fox and the Sour Grapes, I do not "know" any of an arbitrary number of evident lies that have been cooked up as apparently truthful explanations for the stupid or the uninformed.

Secondly, Ira Chernus is just one professor, and while I have read his article I did not review it precisely because it struck me as fairly hysterical, indeed quite as depicted in these first two paragraphs, which just are plain rot, intellectually speaking.

Thirdly, I much dislike the automatic extension of the WASP's latest ideology of American Superhumanism (Übermenschen, in good German) aka Exceptionalism ("We Are Just Better Than Anybody Else And If You Don't Believe It We Will Bomb The Hell Out Of You") to Europe and Europeans: I don't believe it and strongly reject it, for nationalism is not at all a good basis for assigning human excellencies, which are always individual and not of groups, races, faiths, or nations.

Then there is this:

Westerners may generally think ourselves to be rationalist and (mostly) secular, but Christian modes of conceptualizing the world still permeate contemporary foreign policy.

It is this Cold War narrative of the Reagan era, with its correlates that America simply stared down the Soviet Empire through military and – as importantly – financial “pressures,” whilst making no concessions to the enemy.

Sorry, but this is also plain nonsense.

Firstly, clearly, the West is still mostly Christian, and has been so since about a 1000 years, though indeed parts of the strengths of the faith - especially among those who discarded it or most of it - have much diminished.

Secondly, Reagan is dead. The Soviet Union is dead. What is the relevance of "the Reagan era" and "the Soviet empire" that died nearly 25 years ago or more? It is not explained, it is merely asserted.

There is also this:

These two narratives, the Cold War narrative, and the neocons’ subsequent “spin” on it: i.e. Bill Kristol’s formulation (in 2002) that precisely because of its Cold War “victory,” America could, and must, become the “benevolent global hegemon,” guaranteeing and sustaining the new American-authored global order – an “omelette that cannot be made without breaking eggs” – converge and conflate in Syria, in the persons of President Assad and President Putin.

President Obama is no neocon, but he is constrained by the global hegemon legacy, which he must either sustain, or be labeled as the arch facilitator of America’s decline.
But Bill Kristol is again just one commentator on TV. Why are his opinions of 13 years ago relevant today? And yes, while I agree something like what Kristol said 13 years ago articulated something like what many in the GOP seem to believe in 2015, this is all just too vague.

The second paragraph also seems to be mostly composed of wishful thinking, again delivered without a shred of evidence.

The end of the article is this:

Russia’s call to co-operate with Western states against the scourge of ISIS; its low-key and carefully crafted responses to such provocations as the ambush of its SU-24 bomber in Syria; and President Putin’s calm rhetoric, are all being used by Washington and London to paint Russia as a “paper tiger,” whom no one needs fear.

In short, Russia is being offered only the binary choice: to acquiesce to the “benevolent” hegemon, or to prepare for war.

Well... OK, but none of the foregoing justified this conclusion or made it even plausible. And while I was no great admirer of Alistair Cooke, I listened fairly often to his Letters from America, because they were mostly sensible and were stated in decent and clear English. I do not think Alastair Crooke is of the same level, unfortunately.

2. The DuPont and Dow Chemical Merger: Bad Deal for People and the Planet

The second item is by Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:
  • The DuPont and Dow Chemical Merger: Bad Deal for People and the Planet
This starts as follows:

Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm after two of the oldest and largest corporations in the United States—DuPont and Dow Chemical—announced Friday plans to merge into a $130 billion giant, thereby establishing the world's biggest seed and pesticide conglomerate.

The new behemoth, named DowDuPont, would then be split into "three independent, publicly traded companies through tax-free spin-offs," according to a joint corporate statement marking one of the the largest deals of 2015.

These companies would focus on agriculture, material science, and "technology and innovation-driven Specialty Products company," the statement continues. Together, they would form the second-largest chemical company world-wide.

The merger, if it goes through, is expected to slash numerous jobs.

And it would expand the influence of two Big Ag players, with the combined venture retaining control over "17 percent of global pesticide sales and about 40 percent of America’s corn-seed and soybean markets," according to the calculations of Washington Post analysts.

This is quite bad news, though it fits well with the enormous winnings and financial gains for the very rich and their multi-national corporations that were effected the last 35 years.

Here is some more:

"Just a handful of large chemical companies including Dow and DuPont already control most of the seed supply used to grow crops like corn and soybeans, as well as the herbicides that genetically engineered seeds are designed to be grown with," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, in a statement released Friday.

"Any merger that consolidates this market into fewer hands will give farmers fewer choices and put them at even more economic disadvantage," Hauter continued. "And it will make it harder for agriculture to get off the GMO-chemical treadmill that just keeps increasing in speed. The Department of Justice needs to block this merger to prevent the further corporate control of the basic building blocks of the food supply."

Yes, indeed.

3. Listen to This Network CEO Revel in the Amazing Profits of Presidential Candidates

The third item is by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

  • Listen to This Network CEO Revel in the Amazing Profits of Presidential Candidates

This starts as follows, which I take also as a realistic account of American Ex-Cep-Tio-Na-Lism:

Even as large swaths of the population call for media outlets to do their part in stemming the "dangerous tide of hatred, violence, and suspicion" taking hold in the United States, corporate media—which stands to benefit nicely from the $5 billion 2016 presidential election—is egging on that same divisive rhetoric.

"Go Donald! Keep getting out there!" CBS Corporation chief executive Les Moonves reportedly said during an investor presentation Monday.

Trumpeting the advertising dollars already flowing CBS's way as a result of the crowded 2016 GOP presidential primary, Moonves said: "We love having all 16 Republicans candidates throwing crap at each other — it's great. The more they spend, the better it is for us."

"And, you know, this is fun, watching this, let them spend money on us, and we love having them in there," he declared. "We're looking forward to a very exciting political year in '16."

Here is why I consider the above a realistic account of American Ex-Cep-Tio-
Na-Lism: I think this is mostly founded on people like Les Moonves, who are
willing to sell out everything that they morally, intellectually or politically stand for, simply for getting more money themselves. (It is very normal, I agree.)

That is also what
American Ex-Cep-Tio-Na-Lism seems to be: The faith of the most stupid, least educated Americans, that also is fanned by the richest liars,
in order to manipulate it in their direction.

4. Challenging the Oligarchy

The fourth item is by Paul Krugman on The New York Review of Books:

  • Challenging the Oligarchy

This is a review by Krugman of Robert Reich's latest book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. It starts as follows:
Back in 1991, in what now seems like a far more innocent time, Robert Reich published an influential book titled The Work of Nations, which among other things helped land him a cabinet post in the Clinton administration. It was a good book for its time—but time has moved on. And the gap between that relatively sunny take and Reich’s latest, Saving Capitalism, is itself an indicator of the unpleasant ways America has changed.

The Work of Nations was in some ways a groundbreaking work, because it focused squarely on the issue of rising inequality—an issue some economists, myself included, were already taking seriously, but that was not yet central to political discourse. Reich’s book saw inequality largely as a technical problem, with a technocratic, win-win solution. That was then. These days, Reich offers a much darker vision, and what is in effect a call for class war—or if you like, for an uprising of workers against the quiet class war that America’s oligarchy has been waging for decades.
Well...yes, or mostly so, although (i) I am myself not much interested in The Work of Nations, and especially (ii) it seems to me too late to "call for class war" or indeed for "an uprising of workers against the quiet class war that America’s oligarchy has been waging for decades", if only (apart from more theoretical objections) because the "workers" - at least if these are understood to be blue collar workers rather than white collar workers - are mostly dead or white collar, because their jobs are now done by Chinese or Indians, who are much cheaper.

Indeed Krugman is aware of that (though it started earlier):
Something else began happening after 2000: labor in general began losing ground relative to capital. After decades of stability, the share of national income going to employee compensation began dropping fairly fast.
Then there is this, which shows some of the fairly crazy inhibitions academic economists work under:
Economists struggling to make sense of economic polarization are, increasingly, talking not about technology but about power. This may sound like straying off the reservation—aren’t economists supposed to focus only on the invisible hand of the market?—but there is actually a long tradition of economic concern about “market power,” aka the effect of monopoly. True, such concerns were deemphasized for several generations, but they’re making a comeback—and one way to read Robert Reich’s new book is in part as a popularization of the new view, just as The Work of Nations was (...)
The reason to call this a "fairly crazy inhibition" is simply that power is fundamental both in politics and in economics. Then again, Paul Krugman needs evidence:
There’s growing evidence that market power does indeed have large implications for economic behavior—and that the failure to pursue antitrust regulation vigorously has been a major reason for the disturbing trends in the economy.
I say. But then that has been obvious to me for 45 years:

Of course
both political power and market power are fundamental for much that is happening in the economy. And I am not saying that this was obvious to me 45 years ago to stress or insist that I was an original: This was obvious to many who seriously considered either economics or politics, even though it was not what academic economists paid much attention to.

Then there is this:
Robert Reich has never shied away from big ambitions. The title of The Work of Nations deliberately alluded to Adam Smith; Reich clearly hoped that readers would see his work not simply as a useful guide but as a foundational text. Saving Capitalism is, if anything, even more ambitious despite its compact length. Reich attempts to cast his new discussion of inequality as a fundamental rethinking of market economics. He is not, he insists, calling for policies that will limit and soften the functioning of markets; rather, he says that the very definition of free markets is a political decision, and that we could run things very differently. “Government doesn’t ‘intrude’ on the ‘free market.’ It creates the market.”
I generally like Robert Reich, but I do not think he is a new Adam Smith or indeed a new Marx or new Keynes (and I read several books of each of the last three).

This is also part of the reason I did not read The Work of Nations, though indeed (i) 1991 was also the most horrible year I lived through, and (ii) I was not yet aware of the neoconservative policy of deregulation (started under Reagan in the US, continued by Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama), while (iii) I was around 1990 still considerably more interested in philosophy and psychology (in which I still thought I might make a career, since I was evidently very good at "the academic game") than I was in politics or economics. [2]

There is this on the decline of trade unions in the USA, which I think is quite correct, and also needs saying:
Meanwhile, forms of market power that benefit large numbers of workers as opposed to small numbers of plutocrats have declined, again thanks in large part to political decisions. We tend to think of the drastic decline in unions as an inevitable consequence of technological change and globalization, but one need look no further than Canada to see that this isn’t true. Once upon a time, around a third of workers in both the US and Canada were union members; today, US unionization is down to 11 percent, while it’s still 27 percent north of the border. The difference was politics: US policy turned hostile toward unions in the 1980s, while Canadian policy didn’t follow suit.
Indeed: It was policy; it was made by politicians; much of it started under Reagan; and indeed the policies were made into law, and indeed only in the USA and not in Canada, though that borders on the USA and is rather a lot like it, again for political reasons, mostly.

Then there is this, that also seems correct and is in need of being said:
But why has politics gone in this direction? Like a number of other commentators, Reich argues that there’s a feedback loop between political and market power. Rising wealth at the top buys growing political influence, via campaign contributions, lobbying, and the rewards of the revolving door. Political influence in turn is used to rewrite the rules of the game—antitrust laws, deregulation, changes in contract law, union-busting—in a way that reinforces income concentration. The result is a sort of spiral, a vicious circle of oligarchy. That, Reich suggests, is the story of America over the past generation. And I’m afraid that he’s right.
Yes, indeed - and here it were politics and the law that drove economy, which happened mostly through deregulations, which are neoconservative politics translated into laws. Also, this was clearly seen by the neoconservatives (and hardly or not at all by ordinary "leftists", who were mainly confused by Clinton's and later also Blair's - utterly false and fraudulent - "Third Way", and indeed for the most part ceased to be real leftists, real progressives or real liberals).

This is Krugman's ending:

In the meantime, Saving Capitalism is a very good guide to the state we’re in.
I suppose this is strong support for Robert Reich. I will later return to Saving Capitalism, but have no time for it today.

5. Fear, Anger and Hatred: The Rise of Germany's New Right

The fifth item is by Spiegel Staff on Spiegel International:
  • Fear, Anger and Hatred: The Rise of Germany's New Right
This has a summary (bold in the original):
For years, a sense of disillusionment has been growing on the right. Now, the refugee crisis has magnified that frustration. Increasingly, people from the very center of society are identifying with the movement -- even as political debate coarsens and violence increases. By SPIEGEL Staff
I do not think this is a good piece, but I will reproduce a few points from it, while abstaining from reproducing the many odd "personalized bits" of various named Germans, which do not interest me at all (and which sound to me just like a New York Review of Books review since the 1960ies that tend to proceed in precisely the same mock "personalized" style: I am not interested in personal trivia). [3]

The subject is Germany. Here is one of the points:
It is still just a radical minority that is responsible for much of the xenophobia and violence. The tens of thousands of volunteers who offer their assistance in refugee shelters every day still predominate. But at the same time, a new right-wing movement is growing -- and it is much more adroit and, to many, appealing than any of its predecessors.
In fact, it seems to me that this is in part due to Clinton's (and later also Blair's) remaking of "leftism" into what is and was in effect neoconservatism, but the whole "Third Way", which was how this was popularized, is not mentioned in the article.

Then there is this:
The New Right comes out of the bourgeois center of society and includes intellectuals with conservative values, devout Christians and those angry at the political class. The new movement also attracts people that might otherwise be described as leftist: Putin admirers, for example, anti-globalization activists and radical pacifists. Movements are growing together that have never before been part of the same camp.
"Putin admirers" as "leftists"? I say. There is also this:
The state and its organs, such as the government and parliament, have become the object of a kind of derision not seen since the founding of postwar Germany. Once again, political representatives are being denounced as "traitors to their people," the parliament as a "chatter chamber" and mainstream newspapers as "systemically conformist."
Really? Did the writers consider or know much about the late 60ies and early 70ies? I am asking, for I don't know. Besides, there is considerable truth in the convictions that the leading politicians have betrayed the people, and that mainstream newspapers are "systematically conformist", though indeed I am not much interested in the uninformed ideas of the many, even if they happen to be  right.

Then there is this:

The 1 million refugees who have arrived in Germany in 2015 are now acting as a catalyst for this new right-wing movement. The fear of foreigners, of being "swamped" by them, is bonding the New Right together and drawing more "concerned citizens" into their ranks every day.
There were in 2014 around 81 million Germans, so 1 million refugees amount to slightly over 1% of the total population. It seems a bit crazy to say that slightly more than 1% can "swamp" Germans, but then ordinary people are not often very rational or very informed.

Finally, I quote this (from much more):
The Otto Brenner Stiftung, a foundation with ties to German labor unions, published a study of right-wing populism in Germany over the summer. The organization found that supporters of the New Right no longer clearly identify themselves as right-wing. "The division between traditionally leftist and traditionally rightist attitudes is disappearing," the study says.
Perhaps. But again I do not know what is meant by "traditionally leftist and traditionally rightist attitudes", and indeed in considerable part because of the Third Way (see above).

Anyway -
that was the Spiegel (and there is much more in the article).

[1] Not - I say it for those who are old enough to remember him - Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004 aged 95, quite briefly after having ended his 58 years lasting Letters from America for the BBC.

Then again, this is also from the much sweeter times when I could get the BBC WS on radio, and thus get some fairly decent news...

[2] I am not saying I was right, nor indeed that I was wrong: I am only saying that at that time, in 1991, I still did not have my M.A.; I was ill since 1.1.1979; and also I did not believe (and do not believe) that being more politically active would have made much difference to almost anyone. And in fact I still think I was right to try to get an M.A. and some academic position before doing other things. Well, I got my M.A. but by 1992 my health had been totally destroyed for the next 25 years by mayor Van Thijn and the illegal drugsdealers Van Thijn protected.

[3] The article starts as follows (precisely as if it were a New York Review of Books article, since the 1960ies or before):
Martin Bahrmann, a local politician in the Saxon town of Meissen, was just preparing to speak in a council debate on refugee shelters when a ball-point pen ricoched off the back of his head. It was a cheap, plastic writing utensil -- blue with white writing.
I am sorry, but I am not interested in the experiences or the opinions of this 27-year old, who works in politics "without being paid for it".

This is a type of personalized baloney (there is a lot more in the article) that I just find very distasteful and completely irrelevant.

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