22, 2014
Crisis: Values vs prices, welfare, manhood (black), Clinton, taxes, inequality
   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next

1. Can you put a price on the beauty of the natural world?
2. Welfare cuts drive UK's poorest families deeper into
     poverty, says Oxfam
3. Obama’s and David Brooks’ Manhood Problem
4. Clinton’s Advisory Team Pressed for Wall Street
     Deregulation, Documents Show

5. Raising Taxes on Corporations that Pay Their CEOs
     Royally and Treat Their Workers Like Serfs

6. Level of Inequality

About ME/CFS


This is the Nederlog of April 22. It is a crisis issue.

There are six items today, and I could have selected some more, and also some less, but what's there is interesting enough, and indeed covers eight dotted links.

Here are the subjects: Monbiot asks a question about values (rather than prices) in the first item, and indeed so does Reich, in the fifth, and Washington's Blog in the sixth; Oxfam points out that Cameron's government's policies have now  increased the poverty of 1.75 million households; there is an item about the NYT sadistic freak Brooks (who this time diagnoses "a manhood problem" in Obama); and there also is a bit on Clinton's deregulations.

1.  Can you put a price on the beauty of the natural world?

The first article today is by
George Monbiot on The Guardian, who asks a perfectly natural question, of a kind that deserves more asking:
This starts as follows:

George Orwell warned that "the logical end of mechanical progress is to reduce the human being to something resembling a brain in a bottle". This is a story of how it happens.

On the outskirts of Sheffield there is a wood which, some 800 years ago, was used by the monks of Kirkstead Abbey to produce charcoal for smelting iron. For local people, Smithy Wood is freighted with stories. Among the trees you can imagine your way into another world. The application to plant a motorway service station in the middle of it, wiping out half the wood and fragmenting the rest, might have been unthinkable a few months ago. No longer.

When the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, first began talking about biodiversity offsetting – replacing habitats you trash with new ones created elsewhere – his officials made it clear that it would not apply to ancient woodland. But in January Paterson said he was prepared to drop this restriction as long as more trees were planted than destroyed.

His officials quickly explained that such a trade-off would be "highly unlikely" and was "very hypothetical". But the company that wants to build the service station wasn't slow to see the possibilities. It is offering to replace Smithy Wood with "60,000 trees ... planted on 16 hectares of local land close to the site". Who cares whether a tree is a hunched and fissured coppiced oak, worked by people for centuries, or a sapling planted beside a slip-road with a rabbit guard around it?

There is a rather a lot more there, and it will not make you happier, although I fear it is all quite true.

One reason it is listed here is that it shows that the English conservatives and lib dems pretend to be able to calculate everything and anything, while actually most of their calculations are intentional bullshit, that arises out of arbitrarily excluding or pricing things that in fact have no price, or a very much higher one - and are a value rather than a price - than is entered, that is also in large part not economical, at least not of the kind that only considers profits and losses on a yearly basis.

This you can read for yourself.

Another and related reason is that it seems to me that the whole reckoning schemes that are now popular with many governments and many corporations, on which everything has some economical price, that is usually related to annual profitability, and only reckoned in one or five year terms, are grundfalsch, as the Germans say it: utterly wrong, false from the ground up.

The main reason is that everything in those scheme is subject to "the economy", which itself is mostly an illusory abstraction, and that everything is considered as if it can be valued only in terms of monetary profit, that again only is considered for brief periods.

Both of these assumptions are flat out wrong, false, mistaken, and immoral:

There is very much more in a society than "the economy" (which anyway tends to be misunderstood), or "economical values and prices", and in fact short-term profitability is only dominant for marketing types who want to make a fast buck without considering any consequences.

Anyway... here is my answer to the question in the title: If you think you can, you are out of your mind, and if you think that what has no "economical price" "therefore" is without value, you must be dangerously insane.

But OK - that is the type of rulers we have: they have outvalued all values, and reduced everything to short term economic monetary profits. It is true that this makes policy-making a lot simpler, and the few rich a lot richer, and it is also true that it makes policies surreal, and completely out of touch with anything of social value.

2.  Welfare cuts drive UK's poorest families deeper into poverty, says Oxfam  

The next item is an article by Katie Allen on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

The coalition's welfare cuts have pushed 1.75 million of the UK's poorest households deeper into poverty, leaving more families struggling to cover food and energy bills, according to a report.

The report by Oxfam and the New Policy Institute highlights a drop in the overall value of benefits, which rose by less than inflation, as well as changes to housing benefit and council tax support that have forced some families into paying housing costs they were previously deemed too poor to pay.

It finds that together those changes mean about 1.75 million of the poorest families have seen an absolute cut in their income in the past three years.

The report warns that the shape of welfare support has changed dramatically just as people have struggled with rising living costs, and that many jobseekers, carers, single parents and those with disabilities unable to work have become worse off.

I guess this will cause great glee in the Clubs of Cameron and Clegg: "Cut the proles to fund the rich", is their policy, although indeed they put it not that way, but tend to do so in terms of "freedom" and "the need for austerity", for those who are the poorest anyway, to be sure, though that is hardly ever added.

Here are the last two paragraphs:

The report found that 300,000 households have experienced a cut in housing benefit, 920,000 a reduction in council tax support and 480,000 a cut in both.

In the past year 400,000 households have been pushed further into poverty by cuts to housing benefit or council tax support and households affected by both of those cuts typically lose about 18 per week.

Vote Cameron! Vote Clegg! They will force you to the foodbanks! In your own interests! Really!

3.  Obama’s and David Brooks’ Manhood Problem 

The next item is an article by Juan Cole that I found on Truth Dig but that originates on Cole's webpage. Recall David Brooks? 

I think he may be fairly characterized as a sadist (and yes, I am a psychologist). Part of the reason is his - totally ignorant - stance on Snowden, and part of it is this report:

David Brooks attacked President Obama on Sunday, saying: 

“Basically since Yalta we’ve had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders, and once that comes into question, if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world … all bets are off . . .”

… “And let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a — I’ll say it crudely — but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he’s not tough enough.”

Brooks is an intellectual bully who likes bullies.

Yes, indeed. He also is a coward, by smuggling in phrases like "whether deservedly or not" and "I think a lot of the rap is unfair" and "in the Middle East there is an assumption" - but "basically" Obama is not a man, and he has no balls (and besides he is black), in David Brooks' world.

Anyway, that is the kind of man that is David Brooks - and Juan Cole also links to a The Young Turks video on Brooks, which is nice, but the clip is from 2008. Here are The Young Turks from yesterday, on David Brooks saying Obama has "a manhood problem":

4.  Clinton’s Advisory Team Pressed for Wall Street Deregulation, Documents Show

The next item is an article by Donald Kaufman on Truth Dig: 

This is here mostly because I said so before, and this gives some evidence:

Newly released documents from the Bill Clinton presidential library show two separate attempts by advisers, in 1995 and 1997, to hurry the president into supporting a repeal of Wall Street regulation. Clinton responded to the pressure with the Financial Services Modernization Act in 1999. The legislation, which tore down the Depression-era Glass-Steagall banking rules, has been blamed with helping to bring about the near-collapse of the banking industry in 2008 and creating the subsequent economic trouble that has cost taxpayers billions.

The memos show that Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, his deputy Bo Cutter and senior advisers, including John Podesta, gave Clinton three days to decide whether to back a repeal of Glass-Steagall. Little discussion of the risks of deregulation appear in the notes. Rubin, who is credited with spearheading the changes, benefited handsomely from the new rules when he joined the board of Citigroup the same year the rules were initiated.
Also, since indeed the main reason this item is here is to provide evidence, here is an article by Dan Roberts on The Guardian:
There is considerably more evidence in this article.

5. Raising Taxes on Corporations that Pay Their CEOs Royally and Treat Their Workers Like Serfs

The next item is an article by Robert Reich on his site:
This starts as follows:

Until the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was paid. Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to 280 times the pay of a typical worker; in big companies, to 354 times.

Meanwhile, over the same thirty-year time span the median American worker has seen no pay increase at all, adjusted for inflation. Even though the pay of male workers continues to outpace that of females, the typical male worker between the ages of 25 and 44 peaked in 1973 and has been dropping ever since. Since 2000, wages of the median male worker across all age brackets has dropped 10 percent, after inflation.

This growing divergence between CEO pay and that of the typical American worker isn’t just wildly unfair. It’s also bad for the economy. It means most workers these days lack the purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing — contributing to the slowest recovery on record. Meanwhile, CEOs and other top executives use their fortunes to fuel speculative booms followed by busts.

Yes, indeed - and Reich is right that these are fundamental social, economic and moral problems, and they are problems of moral or ethical values much rather than "economical" problems of "profit": What society do you want to live in? One were the highest paid get 30 times of what the lowest paid have, say, or one were the - very few - highest paid get 350 times of what the lowest paid have?

That indeed is the question, but it is also true that the richest have so much money these days that they can propagandize and bullshit quite a few of the poorest into supporting the rich.

There is considerably more in the article.

Level of Inequality

The last item today is an article by Washington's Blog, that has a title of three lines, which is too long for me, but which is about the following topic:
This starts as follows:

Inequality in the U.S. is now the highest ever recorded in the country.

Inequality in America today is twice as bad as in ancient Rome, worse than it was in Tsarist Russia, Gilded Age America, modern Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, many banana republics in Latin America, and worse than experienced by slaves in 1774 colonial America.

Economist and inequality expert Thomas Piketty notes that – according to an important measure – inequality in America today is the worst in world history:

For those who work for a living, the level of inequality in the U.S. – writes Piketty – is “… probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world …”

In other words, there might have been some squalid country in the distant past where the disparity between people without any job and the king was higher than between a jobless American and the top fatcat in the U.S.

But the spread between the minimum wage American worker and the American oligarch is the greatest in world history.

Actually, I am not quite convinced, for I have read about the working poor in England in the 1840ies, about the starving poor in Ireland in the 1850ies, and indeed also about the rich and the poor in Roman times, circa 100 AD.

Then again, I have not yet read Piketty's book (which I may never read: I think 700 pages is a lot of economy, and I did get the main message, and do not have much health or much money), and also I do not really care whether an income difference of 350 : 1 for the rich incomes : poor incomes is "
higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world".

My main reason is that I find that difference obscene, unjustified and immoral  anyway - and see the previous item.

Finally, I should also say something about this passage:
Indeed, inequality in America has become so extreme that the “99% versus the 1%” meme is grossly inaccurate … because it’s really the .01% versus the 99.99%.
No. That is merely quasi-mathematical wishful thinking.

First, the 1% versus the 99% is a mere slogan, that correctly, albeit implicitly, draws attention to the few rich and the many poor. As a slogan it is a correct one, because there is such a difference, namely between the few rich and the many poor, and this is a fairly striking way of referring to it.

Second, nobody knows what is the social difference - and not all the rich are conservatives, nor are all the poor leftist leaning, although it again is fair to say that the rich, whoever they are, precisely, live in a somewhat different world than the non-rich, simply because they have much more money.

Third, to whittle this down 1/100th of 1% - 1% of 1% - is to make a whole lot of implicit judgments that just cannot be made with that mathematical precision.

Fourth, it is both quasi-mathematics and wishful thinking: Surely, the rich, whoever they are, have more than 1 in 10,000 defenders in the US, for example.

So no: "the 1%" is a good and adequate slogan, but anything more precise is just bullshitting yourself and others, and pretending a degree of preciseness that just cannot be attained when speaking about societies. Besides, it vastly underrates the support the rich have.

[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

       home - index - summaries - mail