Monthly Archives: May 2015

My collected reader’s comments to NYT articles

Follows a collection of commentaries I’ve made in the New York Times Reader’s Comments section on different articles (mostly for me keeping track of them myself). They’ll be accessible as long as NYT keeps the links alive, I suppose.

31 January 2015. A comment on the vaccine debate that followed the recent outbreak of measles in U.S.:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/us/as-measles-spreads-in-us-so-does-anxiety.html?comments#permid=13989276
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25 March 2015. On signs of increasing poverty albeit growing wealth in the society (Sweden) as a whole:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/25/opinion/how-poor-are-the-poor.html?comments#permid=14521337
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30 March 2015. On the horrific number of deaths in China during the Mao era, which we constantly are reminded of, compared to the even larger mortality caused by capitalism in India – which we very seldom hear of:

http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/30/cambodian-historians-call-for-china-to-confront-its-own-past/?comments#permid=14562852:14581199
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3 April 2015. Another complete imbalance in our fields of interest: our laser-like scrutiny of terrorism carried out by others, compared to the forbearance with our own, much graver and deadlier terrorist activities:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/03/world/africa/garissa-university-college-shooting-in-kenya.html?comments#permid=14598017:14604023
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9 May 2015. This article appeared simultaneously in NYT and Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), not surprisingly. It’s that kind of text our propaganda model loves: a Russian author who more or less regrets that his country defeated Nazi Germany in WWII. He just thinks that one oppression was replaces by another, obviously unaware of the Nazi’s Generalplan Ost which aimed at exterminating most people in Russia and enslaving the rest. This was not some high-flying Nazi plan or empty threat, it was implemented from day one of the German invasion. The existence of the special Sonderkommando with the explicit task to exterminate Jews, Communists and other unwanted humans was the terrible evidence of that reality.

One could have hoped that NYT and DN had been kind enough to save the poor ignorant (or just propagandistic) author from his embarrassment, but the temptation to publish his sentimental excesses was maybe to overwhelming. As some Readers’ Comments point out, the article was also a slap in the face on Putin and Russia, on the very day, sacred for Russians, of commemorating the death of 27 million people which Russia had to sacrifice to defeat the most atrocious and inhuman ideology in all history: Nazism.

An interesting difference: Dagens Nyheter didn’t open its comment section on this article, as opposed to New York Times. This is one reflection on the difference in effective freedom of expression which is taken much more seriously in the U.S. than in Europe. My comment, like some other critical ones, was listed as “NYT Pick” by the editor, another sign of openness for critique. But on the other hand: the propaganda gain was taken home by the printed article. (I suppose that the reader’s comments are mostly read by the commentators themselves.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/09/opinion/mikhail-shishkin-how-russians-lost-the-war.html?comments#permid=14915384
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11 May 2015. A comment on one of Paul Krugman’s many enlightened columns in NYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/opinion/paul-krugman-wall-street-vampires.html#permid=14932711
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17 May 2015. An article on the prospects for western economy after the last collapse, with discussions about singularities, neglecting the overall picture.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/upshot/dont-be-so-sure-the-economy-will-return-to-normal.html?comments#permid=14975427

“Mortality among the opposition” in Ukraine “is high”!

The murder of Boris Nemtsov right outside the Kremlin walls in Moscow was rightfully a very well covered story in Swedish media. Dagens Nyheter reported extensively and continuously for weeks, culminating during the large manifestations in connection with the funeral.

DN didn’t make too much effort to prevent readers from believing that Vladimir Putin had something to do with the killing. In a key editorial the paper declared that Putin’s name forever would be tied to this murder, even if any hard evidence for his involvement never may appear.

One should perhaps expect that DN’s moral outrage had something to do with the abomination of political assassinations as such, but not so, evidently. The important thing was neither the victim nor the principle; it just had to do with the alleged perpetrator, or at best, the immoral atmosphere created by the dictatorial leadership in Russia.

Evidence to that came with the political assassinations in Ukraine, not one but ten (so far), some of them possibly disguised as suicides. Among the victims are former prominent politicians in the opposition against the Kiev government: three PMs, a governor, a prosecutor, a police chief, a mayor, a journalist etc. In seven of the cases the police quickly stated that the deaths were suicides (even one where the victim was shot in the head – from behind).

It took some months for DN to even notice these deaths of unwanted political figures at all, in sharp contrast to the Nemtsov case. If there hadn’t been so many alternative media today covering the events, DN had most likely chosen to forget them altogether. But now they had to make some noise.

As to indicate its low interest DN didn’t appoint any of their own reporters to the job but just copy/pasted a short text from the news agency TT (as much biased as the rest of the media). The first sentence reads: “Mortality among the opposition to the new government in Ukraine is extremely high” (a jaunty remark, of course unthinkable in the case of the Nemtsov murder). Ukraine’s president is quoted as saying that it’s all “a deliberate action which plays into the hands of our enemies”, obviously pointing at Russia.

A foreign policy analyst in the Swedish Defense Research Institute just follows up on Poroshenko by referring to Ukrainian experts, “speculating that Russia lies behind the murders, aiming at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine before a possible upcoming military offensive in the east…” What the “expert” should have done to earn his salary would have been a plausibility test on that claim. It’s true that the Nemtsov murder had a destabilizing effect in that it deepened the critical attention on the already vilified Russian leadership. But there is no equivalence to that in the Ukrainian case.

The very idea that Russia would send agents to Ukraine to murder their own friends there, just to discredit the Ukrainian Nazis, is indeed far-fetched beyond the improbable. These Nazis have already discredited themselves to the extreme by killing innocent fellow citizens in Donbas, in the most unscrupulous and cruel way, without western media reacting significantly. Russia knew, as well as everybody else with eyes and a brain, that this apparent western cover-up would not change a bit by a few more Nazi murders.

Another Swedish “expert” prefers the suicide hypothesis, according to TT. The victims were namely facing criminal charges of different kinds, probably politically motivated in accordance with recent Ukrainian principles. This expert thus thinks that sane people, threatened with prison sentences, would desire to kill themselves instead of simply move to Russia with their families, where they would have been taken well care of. It seems as if the brains of these experts stop functioning normally as soon as the issues involve Russia. They are civil servants, paid by the public, engaged in what amounts to outright political propaganda, not research.

Not that I’m surprised. Nor disillusioned. I had no illusions to start with.

The Soviet Union – mainly Russia – defeated the Nazis

It’s a token of our superior western propaganda model that Russia’s role in WWII now is more or less marginalized in our media, and increasingly in people’s minds. That is: Russia’s positive role is diminished. For the rest of it the red hoards are put on rather equal terms with Nazi Germany, first of all by pointing at the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, leading to the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland and the Baltic states.

In this remolding of history the realpolitik of the 1930s is conveniently obscured. Among other things the main geopolitical goal for the Nazis, which was to conquer the land of the Slavs and make the entire Slavic region a service area for the Aryans in the future Germania. For that you didn’t have to read (the unreadable) Mein Kampf, it was reiterated in numerous speeches and texts by the Nazi leaders. So every sober observer realized that the pact between Soviet and Germany was just a tactical move and only temporary.

To understand Russia’s motives in that game is not really hard. The western countries, formerly great colonial powers, had declared war on Germany but were completely impotent militarily. They had been reluctant to form alliances with the Soviet Union who stood alone before the coming attack by the German war machine, the most impressive in history up till then. When the strike hit and an alliance could be formed, Russia still had to fight more than 200 elite German divisions for three years before the other members of the alliance were able to do at least some noticeable military effort against (significantly smaller) German units. (In the much hyped battles in North Africa Germany had three [3] divisions engaged.)

Immediately after the war everyone, Churchill, Eisenhower and the rest, admitted the obvious: Russia had overwhelmingly taken the blow and was the main victor. In Europe it was also a widespread feeling that the ordinary working people were the frontrunners. Soviet Union was still considered some kind of workers’ state (an illusion, at that time yet to be disclosed), and the partisans fighting the Nazis in many countries filled their ranks with ordinary citizens, many of them communists, anarchists or social democrats. In Greece, Yugoslavia and Italy the partisans played a crucial role in defeating the Nazis and liberating their countries.

In Sweden the labor movements, mainly the Trade Unions and the Social Democrats, came out strong after the war, captured the political leadership for many years to come and began building a solid welfare state. Hard to believe today is that a serious discussion of transforming Sweden into a centrally planned economy indeed took place. Business leaders realized that real democratic forces had been strengthened by the outcome of the war, and were compelled to make important concessions to at least avoid that. An era of consensus and compromise was solidified, lasting some 40 years, until neoliberalism started to wear down both those gains and a number of others.

To deprive Russia the honor of being the main victor in defeating the horrible and despicable Nazi regime in Germany is sickening in its stupidity (though Hillary Clinton claiming that USA defeated the Nazis is just ordinary and expected ignorance). And to do so as part of propaganda efforts regarding the situation in Ukraine is merely demagogic. As John Mearsheimer (and many others) thoroughly have demonstrated, the crisis in Ukraine has been meticulously prepared by the West for 25 years and, according to Victoria Nuland, with §5 billion invested. That these so called democratic countries then let pure neo-Nazis take the lead in the violent overthrow of an elected president is just simply shameful.

Sweden has a particular role in this process through a man named Carl Bildt, at times Prime Minster and Foreign Minister during this period. He has contributed greatly to undermine Russian security by working for the western area of influence moving closer, and sometimes up to, the Russian border. He will claim that he has been promoting “democracy”, but it’s easy to show that he in numerous cases has preferred highly undemocratic regimes, so far that they secure western superiority, which is his de facto main interest.
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These days it would be appropriate for us to celebrate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany which laid the ground for truly democratic progress in many parts of the world. Russia itself eventually were to reform its authoritarian system 25 years later, only to undergo total break-down caused by capitalist “reforms” which killed 10 million people, a Harmagedon which a man named Putin started to raise his country from some 15 years ago. Since Russia has made progress with Putin at the helm, we obviously think that we have to intervene to stop him in any possible way. That’s us!

An American pundit reviewed from Sweden

Writer and columnist David Brooks is an archetypal pundit designed for mainstream media in (what we call) a free society. He masters the English language eloquently, has the right opinions on every issue and embeds the reader into a safe and coherent environment with his well chosen words. Everything with Brooks is what we over here call typically bourgeoisie.

Once I was susceptible for the soft confidence and protection from inconvenient truths that these kinds of texts offered. The few things I read before age 20 was of that sober character. Then came the 1960s and with it a flood of enlightened books and papers which opened my eyes to a world of new information and appalling truths about our own societies and the conditions for mankind. And once you have seen the reality in bright light you cannot make it unseen again.

Last month Brooks wrote a much read and linked column in NYT that raised some eyebrows here and there. It seemed as if he suddenly had experienced some light. Under the rubric The Moral Bucket List he described a number of virtues he obviously hoped to acquire before the end of his days. These virtues included things like humility, mature temperament, do good and be good, pursue empathetic understanding, defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception.

Among exemplary models he named Dorothy Day and Frances Perkins, two individuals that represent something completely contradictory to the republican ideology that Brooks normally is bathing in. Nevertheless his last sentence reads: “Those are the people we want to be.”

The Readers Comments in NYT were more at the point than the column itself. The most recommended comment (>2500) just listed a number of policy issues that the author thought Brooks should confront to reach the higher moral level he obviously craved:

Speak out against the nasty right, the tea party conservatives, the chicken hawks, the anti-regulators, the union busters, the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd who stomp on the rights of women, the oligarchy, the 1%, the bankers who never went to jail after causing the fiscal disaster of 2008, the Christians who bash gays, the rich who refuse to raise the minimum wage, the overwhelming incarceration of blacks, the NRA thugs who won’t allow us to regulate at all even after children are massacred, Citizens United, the disaster of global warming, the voter suppression of minorities by the right, the lack of equal pay for equal work for women, the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Start here and maybe this will make you into the person you want to be.

The mystery is how right-wing pundits can be so blind to the immoral consequences of their ideology and policy. Presumably they don’t see themselves as lacking empathy or compassion. Maybe some of the inconsistency comes from the widespread misreading of Adam Smith, saying that everyone serves the common good best by being an egoist. If the baker just bakes and maximizes his profit, and everybody else does their job in the same way, the invisible hand sees to it that the entire community benefits optimally. (But for those who have read the whole book - Wealth of Nations - it’s completely clear that Adam Smith wasn’t that naïve at all.)

It soon turned out that David Brooks wasn’t really converted. In his recent column it sounded like he more or less blamed the young blacks for being killed by police. Freddie Gray lived in a neighborhood where Baltimore authorities had invested huge resources to improve living standards, but Gray “was not on the path to upward mobility” and “his mother was a heroin addict who… couldn’t read”. “He was arrested more than a dozen times.”

So, more money to alleviate poverty is not the solution. Instead Brooks hopes for some diffuse changes in society to do the trick. But the overall feeling one gets from reading the column is that Freddie Gray and young men like him should pull themselves together, as a way to avoid being killed by the police.