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Nederlog

Aug 12, 2016

Crisis: FEC, Ivanka Trump, John Paulson, Marijuana, Universities
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Introduction

1.
FEC Commissioner, Citing The Intercept, Calls for Ban
     on Foreign Money in Politics

2. An Open Letter to Ivanka Trump From Michael Moore:
     ‘Your Dad Is Not Well’

3. Donald Trump Economic Adviser John Paulson Took
     Billions in Auto Industry Bailout

4. 'Politics Above Science': Obama Administration Keeps
     Marijuana Restrictions

5. Holding On to What Makes Us Human
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday, August 12, 2016.

There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about something an FEC commissioner did, but I think it is unlikely to succeed; item 2 is about an open letter Michael Moore wrote to Ivanka Trump (and I think Moore forgot family loyalties); item 3 is about how John Paulson made 5 billion dollars: by fraud (but he wasn't punished, of course); item 4 is about marijuana, which is kept in the hardest and most forbidden drugs classification in the USA (I think - but I have a lot of experience - because this is in the interests of the secret services); and item 5 is, in effect, about the destruction of the universities, which has happened (in Holland at least: "students" learn less than half of what I learned, in less than half the time, for fifty to a hundred times more money).

And perhaps I should add that in items 4 and 5 I rely on my own extensive experiences, but then again you can skip everything you don't like. (I think it is interesting, but indeed I agree it is not what the ordinary papers write - that in Holland at least, almost completely avoid writing about marijuana or the universities, since many years, also).

1.
FEC Commissioner, Citing The Intercept, Calls for Ban on Foreign Money in Politics

The first item today is by Jon Schwartz and Lee Fang on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Federal Election Commission member Ann Ravel on Tuesday proposed a ban on political contributions by domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

Ravel’s proposal cites The Intercept series last week reporting that American Pacific International Capital, a California corporation owned by two Chinese nationals, donated $1.3 million to Right to Rise USA, the main Super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s presidential run.

Ravel wrote that as a result of Citizens United and subsequent Supreme Court decisions, “our campaign finance system is vulnerable to influence from foreign nationals and foreign corporations through Domestic subsidiaries and affiliates in ways unimaginable a decade ago.”

The 2010 Citizens United decision struck down the prohibition on corporations spending their own money on “independent expenditures,” thereby opening the possibility that foreign money could flow into elections that way.

Ravel, noting The Intercept’s stories, wrote that this was no longer “a hypothetical concern.”

I have copied this, and I also agree with Ann Ravel, but I doubt very much that this will help, indeed precisely because "the Citizens United decision
struck down the prohibition on corporations spending their own money on “independent expenditures”.

That is: I agree the Citizens United decision was extremely bad, and I also agree it should be rescinded, but it hasn't been, and that is the U.S. law.

Besides:

Rescinding the advisory opinion would not eliminate the loophole that makes foreign owned U.S. corporations legally American. And since FEC enforcement is so notably lax these days, due to a persistent 3-3 deadlock, it’s not entirely clear how dramatic an effect it would have.

The proposal is set to be on the FEC’s agenda for its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16.

So I don't expect anything from this. But we will see, I suppose.

2. An Open Letter to Ivanka Trump From Michael Moore: ‘Your Dad Is Not Well’

The second item is by Michael Moore on Truthdig and originally on AlterNet:
This is indeed (or so it seems) an open letter by Michael Moore (<- Wikipedia) to Ivanka Trump (<-Wikipedia). I doubt this was a good idea (see below) but it starts as follows:

Dear Ivanka:

I’m writing to you because your dad is not well.

Every day he continues his spiral downward—and after his call for gun owners to commit acts of violence against Mrs. Clinton, it is clear he needs help, serious help. His comments and behavior have become more and more bizarre and detached from reality. He is in need of an intervention. And I believe only you can conduct it.

I agree Donald Trump "is not well", but I very much doubt that asking Ivanka Trump (<- Wikipedia) to interfere will help. I do not know Ivanka Trump at all, but neither does Michael Moore.

From what I read in the Wikipedia, I very much doubt she is mad (as I think her father is) but she is not much of an intellectual (she is a fashion model with a B.S. in economics - which is not bad, but also not brilliant).

I take it she is a fairly intelligent normal person, but it is precisely this that makes me doubt Michael Moore's letter, simply because I also would have rejected people I don't know and who don't know my father to advice me about my father's state of mental health.

Family loyalties usually outrank all other loyalties, and Michael Moore seems to have forgotten this (and no, I am not saying this is reasonable: I am saying it is a fact).

Moore argues as follows in his open letter:

He trusts you. He believes in you. Although I don’t know you personally, you seem to be a very smart and together woman. I think he will listen to you. He must because he is now not simply a danger to himself, he has put the next president of the United States in harm’s way. He has encouraged and given permission to the unhinged and the deranged to essentially assassinate Hillary Clinton. Her life is now in worse danger than it already was—and should anything happen, that will not only be on his head but also on those closest to him if they stand by and do nothing.

I say this with the utmost kindness, care and concern for you, and I know you will do the right thing. Bring him in, off the road, away from the crowds. Now. Tonight.

I don't think this works. First, while I agree Ivanka Trump is probably "together", I don't think she is "very smart" (but I also don't think it is very relevant how smart she is). Second, Moore should not have called Clinton "the next president of the United States" simply because she isn't, yet. Third, I don't think an attributed responsibility of "those closest to him" will make a real difference. (Family loyalties, again.)

Also, I don't think Ivanka Trump will believe in Moore's "utmost kindness, care and concern for you", and Moore certainly doesn't "know you will do the right thing".

After this, there follow twelve paragraphs of italic text that purport to show how Ivanka should talk to her father. I'll skip them, but you can read them by clicking on the last dotted link.

Moore ends his open letter as follows:

Ivanka, I have faith in you that you can do this. I know I’ve called your dad crazy before, but I was speaking politically, not clinically. This has gone beyond crazy. The entire nation—in fact, the entire world—needs you to step forward and do the courageous thing history will praise you for: the loving act of a brilliant daughter who also loved her beleaguered country enough to say her father wasn’t well and needed help.

Thank you, Ivanka.

Yours,
Michael Moore

As I said, I don't think this will work.

3. Donald Trump Economic Adviser John Paulson Took Billions in Auto Industry Bailout

The third item is by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:

This starts as follows (and seems based on an item of the Real News Network):

Hedge fund manager and Donald Trump adviser John Paulson made billions in the mortgage market collapse of 2007 and by holding the auto industry hostage for taxpayer money, investigative reporter Greg Palast told The Real News Network.

Paulson “is the guy who made more money than anyone on the planet in a single year, $5 billion,” Palast said. “They say he got that $5 billion by betting against the mortgage market when the mortgage market collapsed. That’s really the wrong way of putting it. He kicked the mortgage market over the cliff and bet that it would crash when it hit the bottom.”

“Most people thought he was going to end up in prison… but now I guess he’s Donald Trump’s economic advisor.”

“And the Times of London,” Palast continued, “hardly a Marxist rag — it’s owned by Murdoch and very right-wing — the Times of London said that JP, John Paulson, should be paraded through the streets of London naked while people throw rotten fruit at him for what he’s done. Just in England. And that was nothing compared to what he’s done in the U.S."

I say. Also, I admit I picked this item because I guessed John Paulson (<- Wikipedia) either is the same as Hank Paulson (one of those responsible for the banking crisis of 2008, who was also nominated by George Bush Jr. to solve it) or else is a brother - but according to Wikipedia their parents are different.

So I guessed wrongly, but both Paulsons are extremely rich and John Paulson's ways of becoming a billionaire - in 2014 he owned over 13 billion dollars - are quite interesting. Here is Greg Palast:

GREG PALAST: (...)

In fact, if you look at his whole list, they have one big thing in common: except for one guy on the whole list, none of them are economists, whereas—I’m not a big Hillary Clinton fan—but she did speak to dozens of economists, Nobel Prize winners including Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and many others, who’ve never given her a dime for her campaigns. In fact, some opposed her election.

There’s no economists on Trump’s whole group. And the rest of them are all his donors. So if you pay enough money you get to run the U.S. economy. That’s a good deal. And you get to set the policy to determine how much you will pay in taxes, et cetera.

So Paulson is the guy who crashed the mortgage market in the U.S., he brought the Royal Bank of Scotland to its knees, where it went bankrupt.
According to Wikipedia, John Paulson got - excellent - degrees in finance and business administration. I'd say that while this is not quite the same as economics, it is related.

Then again, I agree that Hillary Clinton has quite a few supporters who have degrees in economics, including several Nobel laureates. But since I don't think economics is a real science (for if it were, many more economics would have predicted the 2008 crisis), I don't care much for the academic differences between business administation and finance, and economics.

Next, here is an interesting question by Paul Jay, with an interesting answer, that supports the idea that there are non-academic differences between the two kinds of persons that support the two presidential candidates:

JAY: Greg, this kind of parasitical finance, and most finance sector is parasitical, and there’s plenty of hedge fund guys on Hillary Clinton’s side, as well. Is there a reason why a certain sector of these hedge fund guys, these parasites, if you will, gravitate towards Trump, and other sections seem to gravitate towards Clinton?

PALAST: Well actually, what you have with Clinton is really the commercial banks, like you have JP Morgan, you have CitiBank people like Robert Rubin, Jamie Dimon, who was Chase, the biggest bank in America. Because there’s actually a war between the hedge funds and the commercial banks. For example, the hedge fund guys are trying to destroy our allies like Argentina. They just, you know, they buy old bonds and then they try to bankrupt these guys, and they attack all the attempts to try to work out deals for Greece or other nations in trouble.

This also harms the banks. So there’s, right now, there’s kind of a rumble. It’s kind of like the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story, except it’s commercial versus hedge fund. So the guys who are more invested in commercial banks and straight — and straight investments and bonds, like, for example, Soros, Warren Buffett, a Jamie Dimon, a [Robert] — go with Hillary Clinton. And they’re under attack by the hedge fund billionaires, and those are the guys who are tending now towards Donald Trump.

I say. I did not know that: there is an opposition beteween the commercial banks (that is, the rich billionaires who support these) and the hedge funds (that is, the rich billionaires who support these).

And I agree with Paul Jay that both types of billionaires are parasites. Indeed here is what John Paulson did (according to Palast, to be sure):

PALAST: (...) Paulson, Trump’s guy, moved every single job, every single union job, every one, to China. And out of the U.S. He shut every single union plant in the United States. Paulson moved them to China. And now he’s running Trump’s economic advisory council. Not just his big funder. But he’s the guy who’s going to advise Donald Trump, the guy who says he’s going to stand up to the guys who are going to stop sending jobs overseas. These are the guys that sent the jobs overseas. These are the ones. They are his council of economic advisors.

And he made 4 or 5 billlion dollars doing that. And destroyed the jobs of God knows how many millions of Americans. And now he is the economic advisor of Donald Trump. I say.

4. 'Politics Above Science': Obama Administration Keeps Marijuana Restrictions

The fourth item is by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

The Obama administration has rejected efforts to reschedule marijuana to a less restrictive drug category, keeping it classified as a Schedule 1 substance—illegal for any purpose.

That means states that allow marijuana for medical or recreational use will remain in violation of federal law.

The decision, announced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Thursday, follows efforts by lawmakers and activists to reschedule marijuana to a category in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that would loosen restrictions on its use.
I give three reasons why I selected this item:

First, Obama himself smoked a lot of marijuana: He surely knows it is not heroine or cocaine, although his goverment insists that it is as dangerous as these drugs.

Second, Obama and his government should have known (and very probably do know) that in Amsterdam (and in Holland) marijuana and hashish were easily available at several places since 1967 or so, and have been extremely widely available - in hundreds of coffeeshops, just in Amsterdam alone, and then all through Holland - since 1988, and that in these almost fifty years (!!) there were no deaths nor any serious harm done to or by smokers of marijuana and hashish (due to either drug, that is).

Third, a point also made by Noam Chomsky: There is a very strong association between illegal recreational drugs (like marijuana and hashish, and also like cocaine and heroine and more) and the actions of secret services, that is in part explained by the fact that selling
illegal recreational drugs in great quantities realizes enormous amounts of money and enormous amounts of profits (which then can be used in part by secret services to finance political operations of many kinds).

The Washington Post explains the impacts of the decision:

The current federal status of marijuana makes it impossible for state-legal marijuana businesses to take the same tax deductions
afforded to other business, with some marijuana operations complaining that their effective tax rates are in the range of 60 percent to 90 percent, according to a Denver accountant who works with such businesses, Jordan Cornelius. Federal restrictions also make banks reluctant to work with marijuana businesses, leading many of them to become all-cash operations — with all the risks that entails.

Legalization advocates were disappointed by the ruling, but saw a minor victory in the DEA's decision that it would end its monopoly on marijuana research, which Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said would remove some obstacles.

I look differently upon this, because of my experiences:

I have been kept out of sleep for nearly four years by illegal drugsdealers who had gotten personal permission of mayor Ed van Thijn of Amsterdam to deal illegal (!!) drugs from the bottom floor in the house where I lived, simply because absolutely every bureaucrat and every politician who worked for the City of Amsterdam protected these illegal drugsdealers, also after they had tried to gas me, and nearly succeeded, and also after they were arrested with several kiloos of cocaine and heroine: I was denied the right of complaining.

I was treated as if I was a subhuman fascist, or asked things from people who did not really differ from subhuman fascists, for I was constantly lied to for nearly four years by absolutely every Amsterdam bureaucrat and every Amsterdam policeman, and also by both the Amsterdam ombudsman, and by the national ombudsman: All evidently thought that my human rights and my civil rights counted as nought compared to "the rights" of the illegal drugs dealers to make as much money as they could, and meanwhile destroy my health.

And indeed they made enormous amounts of money, and they destroyed my health ever since 1991, which is meanwhile 27 years of pain, tiredness and lack of energy. But nobody official in Amsterdam cared one whit for my fate, an nobody official in Amsterdam even answered my letters and my mails - in which I said every time I was ill, I could not sleep, and had been very credibly threatened with murder by the illegal dealers, and also had been gassed by them: All of this was allowed in Amsterdam, for four years; all of this was defended by Amsterdam bureaucrats and Amsterdam mayors and Amsterdam aldermen and Amsterdam district attorneys, none of whom did anything for me, ever.

So here is how I look upon this:

Clearly, an illegal business in Holland that makes 25 to 50 billion dollars a year by selling illegal drugs (which they do, according to the Parliamentary Van Traa Report of 1996) is so important to Dutch politicians and the Dutch secret services that they will do anything to keep these businesses working and profitable. (They did so in my case, for four years, and have been doing this since 1988, since when thousands of coffeeshops got "permission" by mayors to deal in illegal soft drugs.)

The Dutch bureaucracies and the Dutch politicians have defended the dealing of illegal drugs (for all recreational drugs except alcohol are forbidden in Holland since 1965) for something like 50 years now, I take it because they partake in part of the enormous profits (but I have no proof, and it is also not my duty to produce one).

The amount of money the Dutch politicians and bureaucrats could count on differs between 225 million dollars (at 1 promille) to 50 times as much (at 5 percent), which is over 10 billion dollars, both over a period of 25 years. (And both are easily paid by the buyers of drugs.)

And I also think that the secret services want to keep this source of enormous amounts of secret money in tact, which means that they will insist on keeping illegal drugs illegal, also if they know - as they do, in the case of marijuana and hashish - that these are much less dangerous than alcohol.

For this is also what happened in Holland, where there are excellent empirical reasons for several tens of years (!!) that marijuana and hashish are not dangerous at all. And - I take it - the same holds for the USA:

Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed.

"The DEA's refusal to remove marijuana from Schedule I is, quite frankly, mind-boggling," he said Thursday. "It is intellectually dishonest and completely indefensible. Not everyone agrees marijuana should be legal, but few will deny that it is less harmful than alcohol and many prescription drugs. It is less toxic, less addictive, and less damaging to the body."

"We are pleased the DEA is finally going to end NIDA's monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes," he continued. "Removing barriers to research is a step forward, but the decision does not go nearly far enough. Marijuana should be completely removed from the CSA drug schedules and regulated similarly to alcohol."

Clearly, I agree with Tvert that marijuana is "less harmful than alcohol and many prescription drugs. It is less toxic, less addictive, and less damaging to the body." And I also agree - in part, at least - because I know enormous amounts of (illegal) marijuana and hashish have been sold in Amsterdam and Holland without doing any harm over the course of the last fifty years.

But I think the reasons for keeping it illegal are different, and are mostly connected to the needs of the various secret services to have quick and easy access to enormous amounts of uncontrolled money.

This makes it quite unlikely - in my opinion, to be sure - that marijuana and hashish will be legalized in the USA, indeed for the same reasons as
marijuana and hashish have not been legalized in Holland, in spite of 50 years of evidence that they are far more harmless than alcohol.

But we will see what happens.

5. Holding On to What Makes Us Human

The fifth and last item today is by L.D. Burnett on The Chronicle of Higher Education:
This starts as follows:
A few years after I graduated from college, short on cash, short on space, and short on hope that I might ever again spend at least part of my days reading and writing and thinking, I made a decision that I have wished many times I could take back: I sold almost all of my textbooks.
I take it that I am at least thirty years older than L.D. Burnett. In any case, I started buying books when I was 15, mostly second hand, and over 50 years later I still do, and I never sold any book I bought (except for a few real bad ones), and indeed never felt I had to, although I probably earned less in my life than any other Dutchman of my age. (Never more than the dole paid me, which is less than the legal income. Since I never got more than the dole, I am one of the poorest Dutchmen there is.)

The experiences of L.D. Burnett in university also are quite different from mine:
For many reasons, college was a revelation. I had never bought books of my own before I went. Nor did I know that people wrote in the margins of any books other than their well-studied Bibles. In college, I proudly bought Norton critical editions and anthologies of fiction and poetry, Penguin Classics and mass-market paperbacks, and I wrote in them all. When pressed to choose between buying my books and, say, eating more than one meal a day for a few weeks, I chose the books.
I grew up in Amsterdam (where I also was born), which explains in part why it was easy for me to buy - good and cheap - second hand books since I was 15, but I knew people wrote in the margins of books much earlier than she did (for my father did), and indeed that was one of the main reasons for buying books that I had: To be able to see later what I had underlined and annotated.

Then again, she and I are similar in preferences: I even starved to get some books I wanted very much (like Bertrand Russell's, for example).

She is also similar in another respect:
In the face of our inevitable annihilation, what do we do?

That question, that problem, has been much on my mind lately, particularly as it relates to the fate and future of the university as an institution or even as an idea. Policy makers and the public view the purpose of college as purely vocational, and see humanistic inquiry — the study of literature, the arts, history, anthropology, philosophy — as a waste of time and money.

In these circumstances, what do we do? Does it even matter?

That is: I agree with her on the purpose and ends of a university education - to
help making intelligent persons make as much as possible of their talents and their possibilities and to develop intellectual curiosities of many kinds, joined to a well-trained intellect - but I also strongly believe that (i) such ideals about what a real university is and should do belong to the past, because (ii) the real universities have been killed, and have been replaced by vocational schools for the teachings of skills that are useful in businesses of various kinds.

At the same time, the "universities" now are much more expensive than they ever were; they are open to far more people (around half of the population can now finish a university); they have far less ambitious ends (hardly anyone who arrives there wants to know: almost everyone wants an easy degree that will make them earn more); and indeed they are no longer real universi- ties, but are rather a kind of somewhat extended high schools.

And I have seen this happening from the time I started in university, which was in 1977: Since then, the universities I have known (which were good till the Sixties) have been completely killed, although the name "university" still exists, as do quite a few of their pretenses, mostly - it seems - to help them make more money. (A year of studying medicine now costs over 30.000 dollars to pay the courses. When I started, this was around 30 dollars, for one relevant difference. And no, in my time the universities weren't richer, although they did get more tax money.)

Next, here is some more by L.D. Burnett:
Let us resist perishing. But if we must perish, let us perish resisting. This should be our credo as humanists in the 21st century. We must not concede to the actuarial ethos of the corporatized university that reduces all discussions of value to questions of profit and loss. Economic arguments for the value of a humanistic education will not save the humanities, and we should stop making them. The value of the humanities as the heart of a university education does not lie primarily in "transferrable skills" nor in the "critical thinking" that employers presumably want. Instead, a core education in the humanities gives students the intellectual space to grapple with questions of enduring importance. The value of knowing how humankind has tackled those questions and taking part in that endeavor can never be measured in dollars and cents alone.
I agree on the ends of a university education: This is - or rather: this was to acquire "the intellectual space" - in terms of the appropriate knowledge and the right skills to work with this - "to grapple with questions of enduring importance".

But this has been given up a long time, at least in my experience:

I argued the same in the early 1980ies to all the students of the University of Amsterdam, and indeed I also was heard, but even then there was about 1 in 20 who felt likewise, while 19 in 20 wanted the easiest road there was to give them what they wanted: An M.A. that would increase their earnings, regardless of its contents, which indeed is what most of them got.

Since then, matters only got worse, and worse, and worse, while the prices for the "education" on offer (which was much worse than the foregoing) went up, and up, and up.

Here is the last bit by L.D. Burnett that I'll quote:

But the value of what we study, of what we teach and what we learn, is that such learning can help keep the human spirit alive — alive and alert to possibilities that lie beyond our present horizons. That may not be what employers or state budget committees want to hear — and that is precisely why we need to deliver such a message. We must insist on the importance of sustaining other values besides the purely pecuniary. That is the ground upon which we must stand to defend the place of the humanities in higher education, to defend the opportunity for our students to grapple with ideas and questions of enduring value. If that ground at the very heart of the university is lost, whatever still remains will hardly be worth keeping, whether or not we ourselves are by some miracle still standing.

I agree with her sentiments, but I have seen for more than twenty years how a genuine university education was strangled in Holland, and I think, for those reasons (which are far better than those of most: I really was involved, and I saw much more than most because I was ill, which also lengthened my stay in the university - or rather: the "university") that "the very heart of the university is lost", and indeed was lost in Holland back in the previous century.

So for me the universities are dead. What are called "universities" these days consists mostly of an extended high school education, which is severely limited by the very high costs to the students, by the courses on offer, by the time available for studies (no more than 4 years, for most studies) and also by the extremely easy access (most "studies" now can be done quite easily by most people with an IQ over 100: all you need is money, for brains are no longer really necessary).

And as I found out myself in the 1980ies, most "students" these days agree with what's on offer for them: All they want is the easiest road to an M.A., which will allow them to earn more money, which is their ideal in life.

Finally: Will the real universities ever return? My own answer is this: Not in my life, and probably also not until after a very major economical crisis, that - for those who survive it - will allow to do most things in different ways than they are done now.

But that is the uncertain future.
For now, the "universities" have been mostly killed.

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