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Nederlog

Aug 3, 2016

Crisis: U.S. Wars, Pope Francis, Economy, Exponential Growth, Trump Is Mad
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Introduction

1.
The Never-Ending War: U.S. Announces New Front
     Against ISIS in Libya

2. Pope Francis: Capitalism is 'Terrorism Against All of
     Humanity'

3. These Are 4 of the Biggest Problems Facing Our
     Corporate-Dominated Economy

4. “You Can’t Handle the Truth!”
5. 10 Political and Psychological Observers Who Think
     Trump May Have Gone Off the Deep End

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, August 3, 2016.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about yet another factually illegal war by the U.S.; item 2 is about Pope Francis, who indeed is considerably more radical than previous popes (which I like); item 3 is about some of the biggest economical problems of capitalism; item 4 is about a quite important and very good article that is mostly about exponential functions, but is quite well written (and without any mathematics); and item 5 is about 10 psychologists and other persons who agree that Donald Trump is mad, and should never be president of the USA.

1.
The Never-Ending War: U.S. Announces New Front Against ISIS in Libya

The first item today is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now!:

This starts as follows:
The U.S. military carried out two airstrikes in Libya against ISIS fighters on Monday in the latest escalation of the U.S. war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The strikes took place in the city of Sirte. Pentagon officials said the campaign would continue until ISIS has been driven from the city, which it took over last year. Libya has been engulfed in fighting after a U.S.-backed military intervention ousted longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The Pentagon said Libya’s Western-backed unity government requested the airstrikes. The so-called unity government is one of three competing governments that claim legitimacy in the country. We speak to Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s author of "Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror."
Yes, indeed. But the situation is - it seems at least to me - more serious than war alone, as Phyllis Bennis explains:
PHYLLIS BENNIS: (...) This is a significant escalation. The airstrikes in Libya were aimed at the ISIS forces that remain in the city of Sirte. But the city of Sirte is a city of now about 80,000 people. We’ve had no reports of who else might have been injured or killed in those strikes, what’s happened to the civilian population. It’s as if there’s no one there but the few hundred ISIS fighters that the U.S. says are there. Libya has been in chaos since the U.S.-NATO attack, the regime change attack in 2011 that led to the ouster and then the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and the overthrow of his regime. There has been absolute military chaos. The weapons of the Gaddafi regime have spread throughout region, making all of the situations there much, much worse.
(...)
So, there are numerous problems with this. One of the key ones is that this action was taken without authorization. President Obama made the decision a few days ago to authorize these military strikes without any authorization from Congress. Congress has refused to debate and discuss the possibility of a new authorization. And the Obama administration maintains its position that while it would like a new authorization specific to ISIS, it doesn’t believe it needs one, and it therefore continues to rely on the 2001 authorization, which called for military force to be used against the forces who had carried out the attacks of September 11. Now, ISIS, as we know, did not even exist until five years later. ISIS had no connection to the attacks of 9/11.
This is more serious than war alone, because this is a war that is faught by the Pentagon + the U.S. government that has none of the justifications that are necessary for conducting a war according to U.S. law:
  • It's wholly unauthorized by Congress;
  • The government relies on "an authorization" that is 15 years old, five years before Isis even existed, that may have authorized (then) fighting "against the forces who had carried out the attacks of September 11" but not against Isis, 15 years later.
But - it seems to me - this is (i) how the Pentagon and the U.S. government want to conduct the wars they want to conduct: without almost any say and without any authorization by Congress (which is illegal) and (ii) how the Pentagon and the U.S. government can conduct the wars they want to conduct.

For me, it is completely illegal, simply because wars need to be authorized by Congress. But this is the way the Pentagon and the U.S. government are and have
been allowed to conduct illegal wars.

And this also is the way the majority of Congress allows them to conduct illegal wars.

2. Pope Francis: Capitalism is 'Terrorism Against All of Humanity'

The second item is by Nika Knight on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:
Pope Francis surprised reporters on a flight from Krakow to the Vatican late Sunday when he blamed the "god of money" for extremist violence in Europe and the Middle East, saying that a ruthless global economy leads disenfranchised people to violence.

"Terrorism grows when there is no other option, and as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person," the pope told reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. "This is fundamental terrorism, against all humanity."

I say! And indeed I agree with Nika Knight that the pope, although he seems not to have called capitalism by name, did address capitalism when he said that "the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person".

Then again, he is - it seems to me, at least - not quite right that "
the god of money" does not serve "the person": The god of money does serve a small amount of persons as persons, namely the few rich, but he is right that everybody else does neither get treated nor is regarded as a real person, with real rights.

Also - it seems to me, again  - that the pope did lay the primary blame for the existence of terrorism on
the "god of money", and if so (it is not quite clear to me)
he was correct.

Here is some more:

The pope said that no religion has a monopoly on violence, the Wall Street Journal notes:

His own experience in interreligious dialogue had thatshown him that Muslims seek "peace and encounter," he said. "It is not right and it is not just to say that Islam is terroristic." And he said no religion had a monopoly on violent members.

"If I speak of Islamic violence, I should speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent," Pope Francis said, dismissing Islamic State as a "small fundamentalist group" not representative of Islam as a whole.

"In almost all religions there is always a small group of fundamentalists," even in the Catholic Church, the pope said, though not necessarily physically violent. "One can kill with the tongue as well as the knife."

The remarks followed similar comments made last Wednesday, when Pope Francis argued that the current Middle East conflicts are wars over economic and political interests—not religion or so-called "Islamic terrorism."

I agree with the pope that "the current Middle East conflicts are wars over economic and political interests—not religion or so-called "Islamic terrorism"", although (I think) he is here more speaking of the causes of the conflicts than of the religious ideologies. (But he is right that the religious ideologies would find very little support if the Middle East was richer and was peaceful.)

Finally, I think he also is mistaken when he says this:

"There is war for money," he said on Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. "There is war for natural resources. There is war for the domination of peoples. Some might think I am speaking of religious war. No. All religions want peace; it is other people who want war."

For while it may be true that "[a]ll religions want peace", it is also true that the peace they desire is their own peace, on their own terms, while if they do not get that peace, many religions, including the Christian ones, have turned to war.

Even so, this is a quite radical pope, simply because he is saying things that few recent popes would have said.

3. These Are 4 of the Biggest Problems Facing Our Corporate- Dominated Economy

The third item is by Paul Buchheit on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

Corporations are viewed as untouchable by big business media giants like the Wall Street Journal, which blurts out inanities like "Income inequality is simply not a significant problem" and "Middle-class Americans have more buying power than ever before."

In the real world, inequality is destroying the middle class. The following four issues, all part of the cancer of corporatocracy, have grown in intensity and destructiveness in just the last few years.

Buchheit is quite right and distinguishes four important problems with corporations. I give his arguments in a somewhat more reduced and edited form than is normal for me:

1. Monopolies: Increasing prices, cutting jobs. (...)
2. Finance: Now costing us more than the military. A Roosevelt Institute study estimates that "the financial system will impose an excess cost of as much as $22.7 trillion between 1990 and 2023. That comes to about $660 billion per year, more than the discretionary military budget. That's over $5,000 per U.S. household in excess financial costs. (...)

3. Medicine: Pampering the rich more than ever before. (..)
The pharmaceutical industry gouges us twice: 1) Our tax dollars go to Medicare and Medicaid, which have to pay up to 600 times the manufacturing cost of drugs, as with the notorious hepatitis drug Sovaldi, which costs $10 in Egypt and $1,000 in the U.S.; and 2) most Medicare patients still face out-of-pocket costs of $7,000 or more a year.

4. Corporate Taxes: Little change with Clinton, disastrous tax cuts with Trump. Corporations constantly gripe about their taxes, even though the corporate tax rate has dropped precipitously in recent decades, and even though they are reaping almost all the benefits of one of the most prosperous times in history.

There is considerably more in the original, that is recommended. Buchheit ends as follows:

Progressives have long been fighting injustices like the corporate takeaways in free trade deals, and the declining corporate tax rate, and the massive amounts of corporate subsidies. But the battles are getting fiercer and more numerous. Corporations keep finding new ways to race unfettered toward the takeover of our democracy, and they have staunch allies in Congress and the business media.

Yes, indeed.

4. “You Can’t Handle the Truth!”

The fourth item today is by Richard Heinberg on Common Dreams:

This is from near the beginning:
The basic outlines of that crisis were traced over 40 years ago in a book titled The Limits to Growth. Today we are hitting the limits of net energy, environmental pollution, and debt, and the experience is uncomfortable for just about everyone. The solution that’s being proposed by our political leaders? Find someone to blame.
I am one of those who bought "The Limits to Growth" when it appeared in 1972.
The last link is to Wikipedia, that contains a reasonable discussion of its proponents and opponents, from which I quote just one bit (minus note numbers):
In 2008, Graham Turner from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) published "A comparison of The Limits to Growth with thirty years of reality".Turner found that the observed historical data from 1970 to 2000 closely matches the simulated results of the "standard run" limits of growth model for almost all the outputs reported. "The comparison is well within uncertainty bounds of nearly all the data in terms of both magnitude and the trends over time." (...)
In 2014, The Guardian published an article about a new Graham Turner review - 40 years later of "The Limits to Growth" according to which the actual data and the 1972 forecasts still match.
I think this is a correct estimate, and I also note that the negative reviews in the article all date back to the early seventies. There were later criticisms, but it is hard to dispute the fact that the authors of the report have examined the available facts for forty years after its publication, and have found broad agreement with the facts all the time.

Next, here is a fairly long quotation, including graphics that I think should convince many that the world is more and more rapidly moving towards an abyss. I will start this with a quotation that is not in the article, but which is apt:

The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to emotionally comprehend the exponential function.

-- Edward Teller

In fact, I think it is more serious than Teller said: The vast majority of the presently living population has no idea of exponential functions (<-Wikipedia: check it out to see what you know).

And that leads to this:

But here’s the real deal: a few generations ago we started using fossil fuels for energy; the result was an explosion of production and consumption, which (as a byproduct) enabled enormous and rapid increase in human population. Burning all that coal, oil, and natural gas made a few people very rich and enabled a lot more people to enjoy middle-class lifestyles. But it also polluted air, water, and soil, and released so much carbon dioxide that the planet’s climate is now going haywire. Due to large-scale industrial agriculture, topsoil is disappearing at a rate of 25 billion tons a year; at the same time, expanded population and land use is driving thousands, maybe millions of species of plants and animals to extinction.

We extracted non-renewable fossil fuels using the low-hanging fruit principle, so that just about all the affordable petroleum (which is the basis for nearly all transport) has already been found and most of it has already been burned. Since we can’t afford most of the oil that’s left (either in terms of the required financial investment or the energy required to extract and refine it), the petroleum industry is in the process of going bankrupt. There are alternative energy sources, but transitioning to them will require not just building an enormous number of wind turbines and solar panels, but replacing most of the world’s energy-using infrastructure.

We have overshot human population levels that are supportable long-term. Yet we have come to rely on continual expansion of population and consumption in order to generate economic growth—which we see as the solution to all problems. Our medicine is our poison.

And most recently, as a way of keeping the party roaring, we have run up history’s biggest debt bubble—and we doubled down on it in response to the 2008 global financial crisis.

All past civilizations have gone through similar patterns of over-growth and decline. But ours is the first global, fossil-fueled civilization, and its collapse will therefore correspondingly be more devastating (the bigger the boom, the bigger the bust).

All of this constitutes a fairly simple and obvious truth. But evidently our leaders believe that most people simply can’t handle this truth. Either that or our leaders are, themselves, clueless. (I’m not sure which is worse.)

I will only comment on three aspects of this long and fine quotation.

First, consider the graphics: They all illustrate what exponential growth amounts to, and they all start in 1900 and end between 2012 and 2015 - and please note that exponential growth keeps growing faster and faster as long as it exists.

Second, consider the last but one paragraph:

All past civilizations have gone through similar patterns of over-growth and decline. But ours is the first global, fossil-fueled civilization, and its collapse will therefore correspondingly be more devastating (the bigger the boom, the bigger the bust).

I think this is by far the best expectation of what will happen, although if the above is true (as I think it is) what will happen is an enormous collapse, far greater than any previous collapse.

Third, consider the last paragraph:

All of this constitutes a fairly simple and obvious truth. But evidently our leaders believe that most people simply can’t handle this truth. Either that or our leaders are, themselves, clueless. (I’m not sure which is worse.)

I agree this is "a fairly simple and obvious truth". As to the political leaders: I suppose it will differ rather a lot with whom you consider, and with what his or her political beliefs are.

But in fact I don't much care about a politician's reasons "not to know" or "not to understand" many things that rational and reasonable people do know and do understand: Things simply cannot grow and grow exponentially as they have done since 1900.

This must somehow stop, and if politicians do not try to stop it, it means that they are responsible for the horrible consequences anybody can predict simply from the above graphics: The earth is finite and there are too many people on it.

And I think this is a very good article that is strongly recommended.

5. 10 Political and Psychological Observers Who Think Trump May Have Gone Off the Deep End

The fifth and last item today is
by Janet Allon on AlterNet:
This article also has a subtitle that is relevant (bold in the original):
Recent unhinged rants have raised questions about the candidate's mental state.
The article starts as follows:
Donald Trump has triggered more than one anxiety attack in the American electorate, and new speculation about his mental stability is not likely to help. But at the risk of stoking more sleepless nights, an increasing number of politicians, psychologists and political observers are questioning not just the mental fitness of Republican presidential nominee, but his mental health.
I don't think "anxiety attack"s and "sleepless nights" are any reason not to inquire into the mental state of a person who is one of the two who will get to be the most powerful person on earth.

And I am, at least, both a political observer and a psychologist, and it seems to me - for quite a while also - that Donald Trump is mad. Alternatively, he is insane and a loony, and for these reasons he is completely unacceptable as president of the USA.

Here is some more by Jane Allon (who did not study psychology):
But while it is sometimes tempting to laugh at Trump's over-the-top behavior and rhetoric, it’s also becoming more and more of a nervous titter. Maybe there is something deeply wrong with the egomaniac is inching nearer the presidency—something beyond his bigotry, ignorance and extreme self-regard. But don't take it from us. Observers from all over the political spectrum are speculating on the soundness of Trump's psyche.
I am not "speculating": I am saying, and what I am saying is that you should not allow a clueless temperamental fraud, who clearly has a narcissistic personality disorder, to become the most powerful person in the world.

And I am saying this because I have an excellent academic degree in psychology, and because it seems quite obvious to me, as it also seem quite obvious to me
that Donald Trump (i) is unlike any other presidential candidate, because (ii) he
is not sane.

Here is a selection of some who say similar things:

1. Mike Bloomberg: New York’s former Republican billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg landed a number of blows in his DNC speech about Trump's business acumen and honesty ("I'm a New Yorker and I know a con when I see it"). He also raised the specter of Trump's madness when he endorsed Hillary Clinton and said, “Let’s elect a sane, competent person.”

2. Mark Cuban: Hillary got another billionaire's endorsement on Saturday, when Mark Cuban admitted that he too is a bit frightened about what the Republican nominee might do. "Trump scares me," Cuban said after speaking on behalf of Clinton and her vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine. "Donald, initially, I really hoped he would be something different, that as a businessperson, I thought there was an opportunity there. But then he went off the reservation and went batsh*t crazy."

Neither of these two is a psychologist, but both are - real - billionaires, and I think both are right about Trump.

The same holds for the following person (skipping three, that you can find in the original), who has the merits of having written "The Art of the Deal" and of knowing Trump quite well:

6. Tony Schwartz: Also not a psychologist, but arguably a man who knows Trump very well, Schwartz ghost-wrote Trump's The Art of the Deal and recently went public with his grave concerns about the man. He talked about Trump’s pathologically short attention span, impulsiveness, extreme narcissism, and strange inability to reflect meaningfully about himself, his childhood or his life. He also described Trump as a sociopath.

Again I think Schwartz is quite right - and see my review here, from which I will quote one bit because it does give my diagnosis of Trump:

As I have said before (and as quite a few others have said): Trump is a grandiose narcissist, and grandiose narcissists have only one theme, their own superhuman size, superhuman character, superhuman intelligence, superhuman wealth, superhuman looks, superhuman potency etc. etc. for they are really fascinated by their own thoughts about their own superhumanity, and not really by anything else - and indeed why would they, seeing that they excel all in everything (that matters)?

Clearly, I think that Donald Trump is the greatest narcissist I have ever seen, who does not have any greatness apart from that. And I think that is a dominant reason for voting against a madman like he is.

Finally, here are two psychologists who agree:

8. Dan McAdams: McAdams, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, has never treated Donald Trump, but he wrote a lengthy and detailed personality assessment of Trump for the Atlantic, in which he concluded that Trump is off the charts when it comes to narcissism.

“Putting his name on everything, talking about himself all the time: this is beyond the pale,” McAdams recently told the Toronto Star

He also said, “I don’t want to argue that it’s a clinical condition, but if there’s a continuum, in terms of narcissistic personality characteristics within a relatively normal population, he’s really way off on the extreme end.”

9. Howard Gardner: The esteemed Harvard professor has described Trump's narcissism as “textbook” and extremely dangerous.

Both are right, although I disagree with McAdams's "I don’t want to argue that it’s a clinical condition", simply because narcissism or megalomania (<- Wikipedia) have been clinical conditions for many years, although I agree few have been treated clinically, for the simple reason that most narcissists don't agree that they are mad: You are, in their opinions, if you cannot see their incredible superiority to anyone in everything.

Incidentally, what is my guess about the proportion of psychologists who will agree with McAdams, Gardner or other psychologists who said similar things?

I am quite sorry, but I have learned - as a student of psychology - that the vast majority of academic psychologists is far more interested in keeping their own considerable incomes than in speaking the truth they can clearly see, if speaking
that truth might hurt their financial well-being.

And while I hope I am mistaken, I fear I am not: There will be more psychologists who agree that Trump is not sane, but my guess is that most will have reached their pensions: Those who didn't will probably not risk a quarrel with a person who may soon be the most powerful person on earth.

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