April 8, 2016

Crisis: Rights, Panama Papers, Marijuana, Holland, Wall Street, Economy, Progress
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Pregnant, on Medicaid, and Being Watched
2. More Names Surface in Panama Papers Leak, but Still No
     High-Profile Americans

Potential Game-Changing Federal Ruling on Marijuana
     Classification Coming Within Weeks

4. Dutch Voters Reject Ukraine Deal
5. Wall Street Should Pay a Sales Tax, Too
6. 19 Facts That Prove Things In America Are Worse Than
     They Were Six Months Ago

7. Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward


This is a Nederlog of Friday, April 8, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 7 items with 7 dotted links. There is today just one Panama Papers item, and it turned out that the other items I selected are mostly background (completely unplanned). I think I'll try to be a bit briefer today, also in view of the 7 items:

Item 1 is about the fact that uninsured or underinsured pregnant women in the USA are now asked so many private things (that also have nothing to do with their pregnancies) that they have hardly any privacy left: I think this is the future for many more (unless Bernie Sanders is the next US president); item 2 is about possible failures in the Panama Papers, though I think it is too early; item 3 is about the possibility that marijuana gets reclassified in the USA as a drug that is less dangerous than heroin (!!): I am strongly pro (and indeed pro legalization of all mind-altering drugs, but not for the same reasons as I am pro marijuana); item 4 is about the Dutch rejection of the Ukraine deal: I am Dutch, and far less optimistic than the writer of the article; item 5 is about an excellent plan by Bernie Sanders: Wall Street should pay sales tax, like everyone else; item 6 is about 19 facts that are supposed to prove the situation in the USA is now worse than it was six months ago; and item 7 is about a fairly long list of "progressive ideas" that need discussion, which has the merit of being quite undogmaticallly listed.

1. Pregnant, on Medicaid, and Being Watched

The first item is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

IF YOU’RE RELYING on the public health care system, you’re living your life under surveillance, says Khiara Bridges, a law professor and anthropology researcher at the Boston University School of Law.

All sorts of incredibly invasive details about your life, including sexual experience, eating habits, and job history, are stored in databases that are accessible not only to your caregivers, but potentially to law enforcement, too, she says.

This is here because I have been expecting this for a long time, which I do because I think ordinary men and women - especially when bureaucrats - are considerably more totalitarian, and considerably more inclined towards totalitarianism, than they liked to make public in the foregoing decades. (You may disagree, but this is what I think, since a long time, also.)

Then again, for now this is about a specific group of women, namely those women who are uninsured or underinsured. But these have hardly any privacy left, it seems in large part because they are assumed to be dishonest by the bureaucrats "serving" them:
These women were enrolled in the Prenatal Care Assistance Program, which serves uninsured and underinsured women, including undocumented immigrant women.

The women start by going through what she calls “information canvassing” in order to enroll — answering questions on topics “from sexual abuse, to intimate partner violence, to how often they ate, what they ate, how they make their money, how their partner makes their money.”

They are then required by law to speak with nurses, health educators, HIV counselors, social workers, financial officers, and others.

“Their lives are just so open to observation and regulation,” Bridges says in a phone interview.

These “case management services” are officially there to provide help in “gaining access to needed medical, social, educational, and other services.”

But Bridges argues that the questions sometimes stray into the unnecessary, invasive, and non-medical territory. She calls it “a gross and substantial intrusion by the government into poor, pregnant women’s private lives.”

Yes, indeed: I do not see any reason why women who want to take proper care of their as yet unborn children are supposed to or should answer any questions about topics like "sexual abuse, to intimate partner violence, to how often they ate, what they ate, how they make their money, how their partner makes their money".

But I guess they have little choice, which again makes it totalitarian. And this item is here mostly to warn anyone (in the USA, to start with) that this system of totalitarian abuse will probably be much extended, quite possibly to everyone who has to live on a salary (except perhaps if Bernie Sanders manages to become president).

2. More Names Surface in Panama Papers Leak, but Still No High-Profile Americans

The second item is
by Emma Niles on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Although many public figures across the world have been implicated in the leaked Panama Papers, few Western elites have been named in the media coverage.

The list of non-Westerners tied to tax havens in Panama continues to grow: first, parts of Putin’s inner circle. Then, regime leaders in Syria. And now, wealthy Chinese citizens.

Yes, indeed, although with a few qualifications:

The Panama Papers are known now for 5 days; so far nobody except journalists has seen all or much of them; and it has been pointed out that it is a lot easier to disappear or hide one's money in the USA than elsewhere. And both the Icelandic prime minister and the British idem have been criticized (while the Icelandic one also resigned).

Here is some more:

As Truthdig has reported, Western corporate media is the main vehicle for exposure of law firm Mossack Fonseca’s documents. A USA Today piece examining which Americans are named in the leak mostly identifies people who have already been convicted of financial crimes—less shocking than the revelations spreading across other countries.

Technicalities behind the analysis may be to blame.
Yes, and there are some other reasons that may apply as well: see above.

It is still early days, though the ending of this article is more or less reasonable:

The Panama Papers have yielded significant information, but considering the influence of corporate interests over mainstream media, is it possible that certain people will be excluded from coverage? Unless the documents are released in full to the public, the world will have to rely on the integrity of the journalists involved.
Put otherwise: I do not need to see all documents (and certainly I can't read all of them: there are reported to be over 11 million), but I'd like to see some.

Then again, I am willing to be patient, at least now.
3. Potential Game-Changing Federal Ruling on Marijuana Classification Coming Within Weeks

The third item is
by Jen Hayden on AlterNet, and originally on Daily Kos:

This starts as follows:

This is potentially great news for the millions of Americans who smoke pot and use cannabis oil products and the hundreds or thousands of new marijuana dispensaries across several states. The DEA may soon be rescheduling marijuana:

In a memo to lawmakers this week, the DEA announced plans to decide “in the first half of 2016” whether or not it will reschedule marijuana, according to The Washington Post. Cannabis is now listed under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug, a categorization it shares with other drugs, such as heroin and LSD, which the U.S. government defines as “the most dangerous drugs” that have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

It so happens that I have known about marijuana since 1967 (49 years ago),
in part because I lived then in Amsterdam, where I have lived 60 years now.

But before going on here is another bit from the article, that compares heroin and marijuana:
Of course, it is nothing short of absurd that it is in the same category with heroin, which caused more than 11,000 deaths last year in the United States.
Yes, indeed - and for comparison:

I have in nearly 50 years of knowing about very extensive use of marijuana and hashish in Amsterdam (where there are since the middle or late 1980ies hundreds of coffeeshops where one can buy marijuana or hashish apparently without any difficulty [1]) known about precisely one mortal accident in which marijuana or hashish may have been involved. [2]

Based on these nearly 50 years I say marijuana is by far the least dangerous
"mind-altering drug" that I know of: It is considerably less dangerous than alcohol, for one example (which does kill very many in traffic), and far less
dangerous than heroin, cocaine etc. and it also is non-addictive.

Therefore I am pro legalizing marijuana and hashish since 1969, that was then mostly based on the Wootton Report (<- Wikipedia), being myself then (as now) completely convinced that the dangers of marijuana and hashish are negligible, and indeed also that it is a socially much less dangerous drugs (when used on a wide scale) than alcohol.

I have since extended this proposal of legalizing mind-altering drugs to all drugs, but the reasons for that choice are quite different from those for my choice to legalize marijuana:

I think it is very unwise to use heroin or cocaine (for example) because these are both addictive and expensive, but I also think people who are addicted need medical and social help, and the provision of decent help is nearly impossible as long as it is quite criminal to use these drugs.

This also seems to work in Portugal, where drug laws have been very much liberalized, with the general consequence that all drugs-related problems rapidly grew much less.

There is more in the article, that is recommended.

4. Dutch Voters Reject Ukraine Deal

The fourth item i
by Gilbert Doctorow on Consortiumnews:

This starts as follows:

On this overcast Thursday morning in Brussels, the political capital of Europe, rays of bright sunshine are breaking through from the east as the latest results of vote counting in neighboring Netherlands suggest that Wednesday’s referendum against the European Union’s Association Agreement with Ukraine won two out of every three votes and passed the 30 percent participation requirement of all eligible voters to be considered valid.

If those results are confirmed by the official results – to be released on April 12 – this referendum marks a resounding defeat for the Brussels-led conspiracy to pursue Russia-bashing policies of sanctions and information warfare without consulting public opinion at home.

I am Dutch and I don't think so. Also, I did not vote, but then I did not vote in any Dutch election since 1971, because I don't like voting for liars and careerists (but this is not very relevant for various reasons, such as that 2 out of 3 Dutchmen didn't vote in these elections).

The facts summarized in the first quote are correct, and the referendum will very probably be approved. But I am very doubtful it will change anything:

Holland is a small country; most politicians didn't agree with the referendum and don't agree with the outcome; and besides, the referendum itself was brought about by a fairly small media-group called "Geen Peil", that is supported by money and journalists from the Dutch rightist paper "De Telegraaf", while the site of "Geen Peil", that I did visit regularly, though not anymore [3], seems to be filled mostly with Dutch bigmouths with little education, many of whom are pro-Wilders (though less so than some years
ago, it seems).

In other words, the outcome is much more related to Dutch politics than to international politics, and I believe it will hardly influence international politics.

Gilbert Doctorow sounds much more enthousiastic:

To change metaphors and speak in terms of Dutch folklore, it is the first crack in the dam that many of us have been waiting for, the opportunity for common sense to prevail over the illogic, hubris and plain pigheadedness of those who control the E.U. institutions in Brussels, and afar from Berlin and Washington.

While the referendum was formally just “advisory,” both the public statements of parliamentarians and the acknowledgements of the Dutch government ahead of the voting indicated that it will force a new vote in parliament on ratification and likely send Prime Minister Mark Rutte to Brussels, hat in hand, requesting a renegotiation of the Association Agreement.

I don't think so at all, but we shall see.

5. Wall Street Should Pay a Sales Tax, Too

The fifth item i
by Sarah Anderson on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

In case there was any doubt, the presidential election fight has confirmed that blasting Wall Street, even eight years after the financial crisis, is still a vote-getter.

Hillary Clinton has said she’d like to jail more bankers. Donald Trump has skewered the hedge fund managers who are “getting away with murder.” And Bernie Sanders has made Wall Street accountability a centerpiece of his campaign.

Of course, financial industry lobbyists aren’t about to take this lying down. In recent weeks, they’ve turned up the heat on lawmakers to block one particular measure that Sanders has mentioned in nearly every stump speech: taxing Wall Street speculation.

Americans are used to paying sales taxes on basic goods and services, like a spring jacket, a gallon of gas, or a restaurant meal. But when a Wall Street trader buys millions of dollars’ worth of stocks or derivatives, there’s no tax at all.

Sanders has introduced a bill called the Inclusive Prosperity Act, which would correct that imbalance by placing a small tax of just a fraction of a percent on all financial trades. It wouldn’t apply to ordinary consumer transactions such as ATM withdrawals or wire transfers.

In fact, this seems a very good idea - and no, I see no reason whatsoever why
the rich traders should not pay any tax on their vast transactions if everybody else has to pay tax on everything one buys.

Here is some more detail:

Under the Sanders plan, the tax rate would range from 0.005 percent to 0.5 percent, depending on the financial instrument. By contrast, ordinary sales taxes currently average 8.4 percent.

In addition to discouraging dangerous speculation, such taxes would also raise money that could be spent on urgent needs, like making college affordable and fixing our crumbling roads and bridges.

Since it’s hard to know how traders will react, it’s difficult to calculate exactly how much money we’re talking. Robert Pollin, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, predicts the Inclusive Prosperity Act could generate around $300 billion per year in new federal tax dollars. The Tax Policy Center estimates that a financial transaction tax with a slightly lower rate could raise up to $541 billion over 10 years.

More than 30 countries already have forms of speculation taxes that raise billions of dollars per year.
As I said: This seems an excellent idea. And this is a recommended article.

19 Facts That Prove Things In America Are Worse Than They Were Six Months Ago

The sixth item is by Michael Snyder on Washington's Blog and originally on the Economic Collapse Blog:
This starts as follows:
Has the U.S. economy gotten better over the past six months or has it gotten worse?  In this article, you will find solid proof that the U.S. economy has continued to get worse over the past six months.  Unfortunately, most people seem to think that since the stock market has rebounded significantly in recent weeks that everything must be okay, but of course that is not true at all.  If you look at a chart of the Dow, a very ominous head and shoulders pattern is forming, and all of the economic fundamentals are screaming that big trouble is ahead. (...) We are already seeing lots of things happen that never take place outside of a recession, and the U.S. economy has already been sliding downhill fairly rapidly over the past several months.  With all that being said, the following are 19 facts that prove things in America are worse than they were six months ago…
I do not live in the USA, but I think Michael Snyder is probably correct.

Here are the first five of his 19 facts:

#1 U.S. factory orders have now declined on a year over year basis for 16 months in a row.  As Zero Hedge has noted, in the post-World War II era this has never happened outside of a recession…

In 60 years, the US economy has not suffered a 16-month continuous YoY drop in Factory orders without being in recession. Moments ago the Department of Commerce confirmed that this is precisely what the US economy did, when factory orders not only dropped for the 16th consecutive month Y/Y, after declining 1.7% from last month

#2 Factory orders have now reached the lowest level that we have seen since the summer of 2011.

#3 It is being projected that corporate earnings will be down 8.5 percent for the first quarter of 2016 compared to one year ago.  This will be the fourth quarter in a row that we have seen year over year declines, and the last time that happened was during the last recession.

#4 Total business sales have fallen 5 percent since the peak in mid-2014.

#5 S&P 500 earnings have now fallen a total of 18.5 percent
from their peak in late 2014.

There are 14 more in the article, which is recommended.

Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward

The seventh and last item today i
by 9 writers, including Noam Chomsky, and is on Truthout:

This starts as follows:

Around the world powerful and diverse possibilities are in struggle. We the signers of "Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward" think one high priority for progress is activists developing, discussing and settling on priorities around which to organize multi-issue activism in coming months and years. We hope this document can help inspire more conversations within groups and movements that, over time, come to a synthesis. We do this in the spirit of self-organization -- and as a rejection of preformed inflexible programs and agendas imposed on activists from above. We believe only program that is fully understood and owned by grassroots participants can win lasting change.

To try to help, we have assembled some familiar programmatic ideas rooted in diverse movements and projects. We signers do not each individually necessarily support every single programmatic suggestion given here. Indeed, perhaps none of us supports every single suggestion much less all the specific wording. Instead, we all support having a widespread discussion of these worthy ideas and of other ideas that emerge from the process, to arrive at widely supported program for left activists.

That was only the introduction. There is considerably more in the article, and
the article is quite non-dogmatic, which I found a considerable relief.

In case you are interested in developing progressive ideas (of quite a few kinds)
this is well worth reading, and therefore recommended.
[1] Buying marijuana and hashish in one of the several hundreds of  "coffeeshops" in Amsterdam is indeed completely unproblematic for ordinary customers.

There are two buts, but neither applies to ordinary customers: (1) marijuana and hashish still are illegal (and have been so from 1964 or 1965, I think): For Americans and other tourists it all looks as if it is quite legal, but it is not, and it hasn't been for over 50 years), and (2) people living next to or above a soft drugs selling "coffeeshop" - as I was forced to do from 1988-1992 - will find they have no rights whatsoever: The police and the city's bureaucrats refuse to do anything against any dealer or coffeeshop (except if the initiative is by the mayor, on whose "personal permission" the coffeeshopsn may sell soft drugs): sellers of soft drugs (with a permit by the mayor) may do whatever they want:

They may threaten you with murder, they may keep you for years out of your sleep, they may try to gas you, they may deal in hard drugs - whatever you complain about (and I complained about all these things, for all these things happened), the answer the police will give you is always "we do not do anything for you", and the same for any other Amsterdam bureaucrat: The laws just do not apply anymore, just as they did not apply in my case from 1988-1992.

The interests of the soft drugs dealers to make their profits in any way they want goes before any of the rights you do have on paper:

None of the Amsterdam officials lifted one finger for me from 1988 till 1992. Every official covered and served the soft drugs dealers (who had a personally signed personal permission from the mayor to deal soft drugs, from the house where I lived, without the mayor ever asking or informing me or the other neighbors, or indeed ever acknowledging even the receipt (!!) of one - of the many - letters and mails I wrote in protest: See ME in Amsterdam: As far as the mayor was concerned, I was dead.

I never got any reply.

[2] This is factually quite correct and is about the years from 1967-2016:

I hardly know of any accident or any problem involving merely marijuana or hashish (which indeed tends to make one peaceful) in all these years, while really tremendous quantities of
marijuana and hashish have been consumed in these years. (And in the one case I do know about, which was a mortal accident, there also was alcohol involved, and possibly other drugs.)

None of the very many horror stories about marijuana or hashish that I have heard these nearly 50 years had the slightest truth.

[3] My main reason not to look at "Geen Peil" anymore is especially the level of most reactions of other readers. (I don't mind strong terms or major disagreements, but I much dislike stupidity and ignorance.)
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