Monday, September 4, 2017

Crisis: On Despair, Hurricane Harvey, Trump, The Top X Percent, Reagan & Nuclear Arms

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Summary
2. Crisis Files
    A. Selections from September 4, 2017 


This is a Nederlog of Monday, September 4, 2017.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last four years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I probably will continue with it, but on the moment I have several problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health.

As I explained, the crisis files will have a different format from July 1, 2017: I will now list the items I selected as I did before (title + link) but I add one selection from the selected item to give my readers a bit of a taste of the item linked.

So the new format is as follows:

      Link to an item with its orginal title, followed by
      One selection (usually) from that item (indented)
      Possibly followed by a brief comment by me (not indented).

This is illustrated below, in selections A.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from September 4, 2017

The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

The opioid crisis, the frequent mass shootings, the rising rates of suicide, especially among middle-aged white males, the morbid obesity, the obsession with gambling, the investment of our emotional and intellectual life in tawdry spectacles and the allure of magical thinking, from the absurd promises of the Christian right to the belief that reality is never an impediment to our desires, are the pathologies of a diseased culture. They have risen from a decayed world where opportunity, which confers status, self-esteem and dignity, has dried up for most Americans. They are expressions of acute desperation and morbidity.

I don´t know, although I agree that Western culture (Westen Europe and the USA) is both (relatively to most of the rest of the world) quite rich and that it seems also in various senses ¨diseased¨, of which the above may be some examples.

But that declaration of ¨a diseased culture¨ also is metaphorical: Individuals may (really and provably) get ill, but cultures and civilizations are not individuals, and to say that they are ill generally seems to mean that one disagrees with some of their dominant values, rather than that one has definite proofs of genuine illness.

And  - being (genuinely, physically) ill myself for nearly forty years, and being a psychologist and a philosopher - I think it makes considerably more sense to articulate in what way a culture seems to serve one´s values (about which one can be quite negative, but this is, if it is put in these terms, indeed a question about values [2]) than to articulate it in quasi-objective terms that the culture in which one lives is ¨ill¨ or ¨healthy¨ or somewhere in between. (I don´t deny they may be, in some sense, but I insist that the sense - whatever it is - is usually metaphorical and is always based on values.)

Besides, rather than speculating about possible senses in which whole cultures or civilizations may be judged ¨ill¨ or ¨healthy¨, I think there are considerably better
and much more realistic and factual ways to judge the quality of cultures and civilizations, and that is predominantly by the amounts of education that the people who are living in it receive. For human beings are the most intelligent of the animals, and our intelligence, while there is a strong, individual and native component (some simply are more clever than others), is mostly a matter of explicit education, and explicit learning.

And it is in these terms that I do complain about the enormous scope that stupidity and ignorance lately have, indeed in considerable part because (i) everybody has the vote, while 50% has an IQ below 100, and (ii) percentually very few persons do get a first-class education between ages 12 and 25: this seems limited to 1 to 5% at most - which means that 99% to 95% is being educated less, and often far less, than they could have been, and that generally because they were not born among the richest 1% (so that their parents simply lacked the money to buy them a first class education, and indeed usually also a first class anything).

We turn back to Chris Hedges´ text:

Hannah Arendt said the rise of radical evil is caused by collective “thoughtlessness.”

No, I don´t think so: The right and the religious think as well as the left and the irreligious, though indeed not according to the same values, and also not - quite or at all - according to the same facts.

But it is not “thoughtlessness” I accuse people of, as it is thinking with little intelligence and little education, that is, thinking more stupidly and more ignorantly than they would have had they been more intelligent or more knowledgeable (with real knowledge, not propaganda).

And there is this, that is - alas - also a bit too vague:

The demagogue is the public face of collective stupidity. Voegelin defined stupidity as a “loss of reality.” This loss of reality meant people could not “rightly orient his [or her] action in the world, in which he [or she] lives.”

First, according to the Wikipedia a demagogue is ¨a leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so.¨

So I more or less agree, although I would again say that the basic forces that help demagogues are the ignorance and/or the stupidity he (or she) faces, and indeed while I agree prejudice also is important, I think it is mostly derived from the former two.

Second, I do not think (not at all) that stupidity is well defined as a “loss of reality”. For me stupidity is a ¨marked lack of intelligence or marked presence of unconscious ignorance¨, while intelligence is ¨the ability to learn, understand, explain, imitate and solve problems¨ (and there is a considerable difference in native intelligence [3])

And since ignorance and stupidity clearly do lead to many false decisions more knowledgeable or more intelligent people would avoid, I agree that the ignorant and the stupid (which to this academically educated son of very poor but quite intelligent proletarians covers more than 50% of any considerable population, simply judged by IQs) are bound to make more ¨misorientations¨ in the world than better educated people make, though not quite for the quoted reason.

Here is more by Chris Hedges:

The deep alienation experienced by most Americans, the loss of self-esteem and hope, has engendered what Durkheim referred to as a collective state of anomie. Anomie is a psychological imbalance that leads to prolonged despair, lethargy and yearnings for self-annihilation. It is caused by a collapse of societal norms, ideals, values and standards. It is, in short, a loss of faith in the structures and beliefs that define a functioning democracy. The result is an obliteration of purpose and direction. It leads to what Friedrich Nietzsche called an aggressive despiritualized nihilism.

Hm. I am somewhat sympathetic to this, but I am also quite aware that both alienation and anomie are rather difficult and not well-known ideas.

First, here is alienation according to the Wikipedia (its beginning):

Karl Marx's theory of alienation describes the estrangement (Ger. Entfremdung) of people from aspects of their Gattungswesen ("species-essence") as a consequence of living in a society of stratified
social classes. The alienation from the self is a consequence of being a mechanistic part of a social class, the condition of which estranges a person from their humanity.

The theoretic basis of alienation, within the capitalist mode of production, is that the worker invariably loses the ability to determine life and destiny, when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of themselves as the director of their own actions; to determine the character of said actions; to define relationships with other people; and to own those items of value from goods and services, produced by their own labour. Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realized human being, as an economic entity, this worker is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production (...)
In fact, I more or less agree with this - and the fundament is that (i) the many who are not rich are denied most of the human developments, including (a good) education, that the rich enjoy as a matter of course, while also (ii) the many who are not rich have far less effective personal, social, or monetary power than the few rich.

Second, here is anomie according to the Wikipedia (its beginning):
Anomie (..) is a "condition in which society provides little moral
guidance to individuals". It is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community, e.g., under unruly scenarios resulting in fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values.
There is also something to be said for this, although I must immediately qualify by noting that there also may be anomie with much ¨moral guidance¨ to individuals, on condition that the ¨moral guidance¨ is (rather obviously) bullshit, as with ¨greed is good¨, ¨everybody can become rich by hard work¨, or ¨only the well-conformed have
strong personalities¨ (all of which have been widely believed).

I will leave the rest to your interests, and turn to the last paragraph that I´l review:

We will not bring those who have fled a reality-based world back into our fold through argument. We will not coerce them into submission. We will not find salvation for them or ourselves by supporting the Democratic Party. Whole segments of American society are bent on self-immolation. They despise this world and what it has done to them. Their personal and political behavior is willfully suicidal. They seek to destroy, even if destruction leads to death. We must organize our communities to create a new socialist order and overthrow the corporate state through sustained acts of mass civil disobedience. We must achieve full employment, guaranteed minimum incomes, health insurance, free education at all levels, robust protection of the natural world and an end to militarism and imperialism. We must create the possibility for a life of dignity, purpose and self-esteem. If we do not, the idiotes will ensure our obliteration.

I more or less agree - and no, the stupid and the ignorant will not be converted by the knowledgeable and the intelligent (other than very incidentally).

And this is a recommended article.

2. Texans Face Soaring Levels of Toxic Pollution After Harvey

This article is by Emma Niles on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Houston residents are facing colossal levels of pollution as a result of the damage done by Hurricane Harvey. Oil refineries and petrochemical plants are reporting the release of more than 2,700 tons of extra pollution into the atmosphere, causing ozone levels in southwest Houston to soar to nearly triple the national standard.

“According to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity, a cocktail of nearly 1m pounds of particularly harmful substances such as benzene, hexane, sulfur dioxide, butadiene and xylene have been emitted by more than 60 petroleum industry plants operated by ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and other businesses since the hurricane,” The Guardian reports. “Residents living near the sprawling industrial facilities that dominate Houston’s ship channel said they have experienced pungent smells and respiratory issues in the wake of the hurricane.”

I have tried to follow the events that unfurled as hurricane Harvey hit Texas a little bit, but this is probably the last bit I review about it.

It will take a great amount of money to undo the effects Harvey caused, and indeed more than Trump reserved for updating the U.S.´s nuclear arsenal, while the repairs may also soon be undone by the next major hurricane in the next years, but Trump cares more for an updated nuclear arsenal than about most Texans, and indeed he also seems to care more for the number of Texans who visited his latest rally there than he is interested in the great losses many Texans suffered because of Harvey - but then that is Trump.

And there is a chance that I may return to Harvey and Texas, namely if it turns out that the major amounts of chemical poisons that have been released because of Harvey will turn out to be dangerous - but then Trump does not believe in science nor in climate changes, and therefore the recording of the effects of Harvey also have been minimized (which happens to clear or at least does not blacken the reputation of these major polluters).


3. GOP Consultants Are Worried Trump Is 'In A Terrible Downward Spiral’ Ruining the Party

This article is by Tom Boggioni on AlterNet and originally on Raw Story. This starts as follows:

President Donald Trump’s recent actions—from siding with white nationalists in Charlottesville to pardoning controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio—have some GOP consultants clutching their pearls over fears that he is destroying the GOP before the 2018 midterms — and that Trump doesn’t give a damn.

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s antics are playing well with his rabid base but even Fox News viewers are beginning to recoil from the president.

“Trump’s job-approval numbers remain mired in the 30s in most polls, and several new findings last week gave Republicans interested in expanding the party’s appeal fresh reason to worry,” the Post reports. “A Fox News survey, for example, found that majorities of voters think that Trump is ‘tearing the country apart’ and does not respect racial minorities.”

While Trump confidantes believe that the president will right a ship that is sinking due to record low poll number, those outside the president’s immediate orbit aren’t so sure.

I think this is all more or less correct and I also think that Boggioni may be quite correct in his inferences that there are ¨some GOP consultants¨ that fear ¨that [Trump] is destroying the GOP before the 2018 midterms¨, but - so far, at least - I don´t think that is very important.

There is also this in the article:

According to a Gallup daily tracking poll, Trump’s job approval rating has dipped to 34 percent — his lowest mark for the year. Another poll showed “the number of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who disapprove of Trump’s performance rising from 19 percent in June to 25 percent in August.”

Yes, but at least two relevant facts have not been mentioned: (i) there are but two major parties in the USA (which itself is a major shortcoming in my eyes, but let that be) and in presidential elections they both tend to get around 50% of the votes, ± around 5%, that (usually) determines who the winner is, while also (ii) the Democratic Party, that used to be the opponents of the Republican Party, these days (and in fact since 1991), seem for the most part to be sold to the same rich men that most Republicans are sold to, and to want mostly the same as the Republicans do, with few and not very relevant differences.

And while I agree that the 2018 elections will be important, I do not think that the facts mentioned in this article will be important.

4. Enough With the Top 1 Percent: The Top 20 Percent, the Upper Middle Class, Is Hoarding the American Dream

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. This is from near the beginning:

Trump’s plan mostly would benefit the biggest corporations and the wealthiest individuals. But Schumer’s Occupy-Wall-Street-like whack at the top 1 percent and defense of the so-called middle class is muddled in a different way. That’s because it isn't the super rich, but the upper middle class—representing the top 20 percent, or households making at least $117,000 a year—that disproportionately have been doing better than the rest of Americans, the bottom 80 percent. Their tax breaks are one reason why. 

“The upper middle class, the top fifth, broadly, and above, not only maintain their position very nicely, but perpetuate it over generations more effectively than in the United Kingdom,” said Richard Reeves, a Brookings Institution scholar and author of Dream Hoarders: How The American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What to Do About It. “And yet, that that’s not so widely known or seen as a problem, because of the kind of myth of classlessness that has developed in the U.S.”

Ahem. I have been reading quite a lot of articles since 2013 that argued (often rather aggressively) who are the ones to blame or to hold responsible for the lack of a decent income that characterizes at least 50% of the present American society (roughly, since Reagan).

I have read those responsible are: the 1%, the 0.1%, the 0.01%, the 5%, the 10%, and now, in this article, it are the 20%.

But it is rarely or never said what those who are deemed responsible are responsible for, and indeed the discussions tend to be limited to gross economical facts and usually completely avoid political dimensions, although there often tend to be mentionings of ¨classes¨, and even ¨class struggle¨, although I have never seen a clear definition of what they mean by ¨classes¨ (other than belonging to a certain income group, that is).

This seems to be yet another such article, especially when the title is considered. There is also another problem, that can be seen from this bit:

The biggest picture statistic he cites to frame the problem of improperly dissecting the economy’s real winners and losers is pre-tax income growth between 1979 and 2013. The bottom 80 percent saw their incomes grow by $3 trillion, while the top 20 percent saw their incomes grow by $4 trillion. When you put this on a graph, the bottom four quintiles, or 20 percent sections, slope upward slightly. But not so with the upper middle class; people making roughly $120,000 a year or more.

Quite possibly so - but I have not seen such figures before, and I have seen different figures. Then again, it is possible that the top 20% of incomes may be seen as either the very rich, the rich, or the well-to-do nearly all of whom will support the very rich,
(i) I also think more is necessary (e.g. about politics) than is stated here, while also (ii) only a small percentage of these 20%, that will nearly all belong to the very rich, will have much influence on governmental policies, as persons.

Here are the economical reasons Reeves singles out to make it appear that the top 20% of incomes are mostly pro rich, while the remaining 80% is mostly powerless and without riches:

Thirty-seven percent of those born into the top 20 percent also stay there, he said, a slightly bigger number than the poorest 20 percent of Americans. “Wealth is even stickier than income. Forty-four percent of the wealth of the upper 20 percent remains there.”

Why is this happening? It comes down to hoarding the best opportunities in education, housing, careers and government tax policies that reinforce that status.

Well...yes, and I agree the best incomes do try to guarantee that their children, and mostly or only their children, do get access to ¨the best opportunities in education, housing, careers and government tax policies¨, and these in turn create adults with the best incomes.

But the present article is mostly economical, and considerably more is involved.

5. Echoes of Reagan: Another Nuclear Buildup

This article is by Mel Gurtov on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
Thirty years ago Americans endured an absurd expansion of the US nuclear-weapon force under President Reagan.  The announced weapons modernization program was accompanied by a huge increase in the military budget, the President’s warning to the Soviet Union that he was willing to spend it into oblivion, and crazy talk from some of his advisers about the potential to fight and win a nuclear war.  So here we are evidently back to the future as the Trump administration forges ahead with nuclear “modernization,” without a set strategy for the weapons but with billions of dollars to burn.
Yes indeed: Reagan did considerably extend the US nuclear arsenal, while in fact there was no objective reason for it (that is: other than the desires for huge profits for the makers of these weapons), and Trump did the same, indeed after Obama also did the same.

Then again, neither Obama nor Trump had the reason Reagan had, namely the existence of the (supposedly) ¨socialist¨ states that were mostly ruled by the Soviet Union, and that stood, world-wide, and bith politically and economically, as the opponents of the USA.

Since 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, as did the republics it mostly controlled, and all of these countries went thoroughly capitalistic, indeed much helped and supported by the United States - but even so, these days capitalist Russia is presented as a very dangerous enemy to the USA.

This seems nonsense to me, but then indeed I have neither a vote nor a profit-motive in advising the president.

Here is a brief outline of the facts about nuclear weapons:
Right now, the US has about 6,800 total nuclear weapons—roughly 1,400 strategic weapons deployed in ground-, air-, and sea-based missiles, and the rest stockpiled or retired. (The Russians’ arsenal is approximately the same in total.)  From any rational point of view, these weapons are far more than are necessary to deter an adversary.  Submarine-launched ballistic missiles alone—920 of which are fixed on 230 invulnerable submarines, each missile having destructive power equivalent to many Hiroshimas—are sufficient to destroy an entire country and bring on nuclear winter.  There simply is no legitimate basis for believing that the nuclear arsenal needs to be larger, more invulnerable, or more accurate and reliable.
Yes indeed - and let me add that no one (to my knowledge) has made any realistic estimates of how livable (for humans) the world would be if - say - 20 or 30 American or Russian major cities are blown up by the present nuclear bombs, with attending long times of major radioactive radiation, that may also upset or partially destroy much of nature.

And here it is from the point of view of the very few very rich men who earn so much making nuclear bombs (in the USA):
The nuclear weapons lobby is surely delighted with Trump’s decision. The lobby was downcast when it seemed that President Obama was headed toward bringing nuclear weapons numbers down to some minimum figure.  But he reversed course late in his second administration and agreed to new investments in them, apparently in order to ensure Senate approval of the “New Start” agreement with Russia in 2010.  Now, the weapons manufacturers that will be responsible for Trump’s program—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman—are assured of many more years of multibillion dollar activity.
I wonder how much Obama was offered for that decision (to make considerable increases and renewals in the existing US nuclear arsenal). But in any case, that decision was made, and it was made mostly by those who expected to profit in major ways by extending the nuclear arsenal (who may have bought Obama, although this probably, if it happened, will never be known).

And here is the final complicatory factor: Donald Trump:
The other consideration is global security while nuclear weapons are under the command of Donald Trump.  In the May-June 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs, Philip Gordon offers three crisis scenarios—with China, Iran, and North Korea—that Trump might well mishandle and involve the US in war.  Each potential crisis might lead a president known for recklessness, unpreparedness, and predilection for making threats to consider use of nuclear weapons. So the issue here is squarely about national security for us and for all.
Yes indeed. And as my regular readers know, I think - as a psychologist - that Donald Trump is a madman (as do at least 53,000 other psychologists), and - as a philosopher with considerable knowledge of fascism - that he is in fact a neofascist, in my sense:
Neofascism is a. A social system that is marked by a government with a centralized powerful authority, where the opposition is propagandized and suppressed or censored, that propounds an ethics which has profit as its main norm, and that has a politics that is rightwing, nationalistic, pro-capitalist, anti-liberal, anti-equality, and anti-leftist, and that has a corporative organization of the economy in which multi-national corporations are stronger than a national government or stateb. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a social system.
I also think Trump seems to be preparing for war. So from my point of view, the sooner he is removed as president, the better.

And this is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 1 1/2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

[2] This does not mean that one does not consider facts as facts, but it does mean that their judgements are based on values. Thus, the few rich may want to own nearly everything (because - they think, for example - they are the natural elite that is morally and intellectually better than the mass of mankind, and should take most decisions, and get most riches, which they deserve as elite), while the many poor may want a society´s riches divided equally over everyone (because - they think, for example - that is fair and honest, or are against giving rich individuals billions of times more power than poor individuals), and in these judgements it is quite important how the riches are, in fact, divided. But the rich and the poor may agree (mostly or totally) about the facts on income distributions (say) while disagreeing completely about whether these distributions are good or bad.

[3] Thus, on today´s - September 4, 2017 - radio news it was said that 2.7 million Dutchmen from 17 million in all, that lived for at least 50 years in considerable welfare, and more so than in most other countries) cannot read. This means that something like 1 in 5 Dutchmen, in 2017, cannot read... (but they all have the vote).
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