Friday, September 15, 2017

Crisis: Roger Waters, On Climate Denial, On The USA, Trumpian Tax Cuts, Stock Buybacks

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Summary
Crisis Files
    A. Selections from September 15, 2017 


This is a Nederlog of Friday, September 15, 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 will continue with it.

On the moment I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and will continue.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from September 15, 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 Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

Today we spend the hour with the world-famous British musician Roger Waters, founding member of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. In recent years, he has become one of the most prominent musicians supporting BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Waters is scheduled to play Friday and Saturday in Long Island, despite attempts by Nassau County officials to shut down the concerts citing a local anti-BDS bill. Despite this, Roger Waters has continued to speak out. Last week, he wrote a piece in The New York Times titled "Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates." In the op-ed, he criticized a bill being considered in the Senate to silence supporters of BDS. Roger Waters joined us in the studio on Wednesday.

I like Pink Floyd since the late 1960ies, when they also began, but that is indeed because of the music and it dates back almost 50 years. Then again, I also agree now, in 2017, with Roger Waters on the BDS movement.

Here is some more on the BDS movement:

Waters is scheduled to play on Friday and Saturday nights in Long Island, despite attempts by Nassau County officials to shut down the concerts, which will take place at the county-owned Nassau Coliseum. The reason? Water’s outspoken support for BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Nassau County officials had claimed the concerts would violate a local law which prohibits the county from doing business with any company participating in the economic boycott of Israel.

Waters has also been met by protests on many other stops on the tour. Ahead of his concert in Miami, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation took out a full-page ad in the Miami Herald with the headline "Anti-Semitism and Hatred Are Not Welcome in Miami."

And this just plain nonsense: Waters is not an anti-semite, while "Israel" is definitely (and since 50 years) anti-Palestinian on basically religious grounds, that also have grown very much stronger under Nethanyahu (whom I think is a disastrously bad prime minister).

Here is Roger Waters on the proposed U.S. bill that would make any protest against Netanyahu's government an anti-semitic protest - which I agree is total nonsense:

ROGER WATERS: Well, the first thing that leaps out of that statement is the notion that I might be in some way anti-Semitic or against Jewish people or against the Jewish religion or against anything that has Jewishness attached to it, because I’m not. I’m clearly not. You know, they comb through my past, and they find it very difficult to substantiate that accusation. But they use that accusation as they do with anybody who supports BDS or anybody who criticizes Israeli foreign policy or the occupation. That is their standard go-to response, is to call you an anti-Semite, to start calling you names, and, hopefully, to discredit you.
So, guys, I don’t know where you are, but I’m really sorry that you didn’t bring this out into the open, because it bears discussion that they’re attempting to take away the First Amendment rights of American citizens and others.

Yes, I agree with this. Here is some more:
ROGER WATERS: Well, yeah. As I read it—I haven’t read the complete draft, but—and I know it sounds ludicrous, but it’s true. There is a bill before Congress, S 720, which seeks to criminalize support for Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions, which is a nonviolent international protest movement to protest the occupation of Palestinian land that’s been going on for 50 years. And they want to make it a felony to support BDS, as far as I understand it, with criminal penalties that are, in my view, absurd. Somebody like me, for instance, if the bill was passed in its current drafting, would be subject to a fine of between $250,000 and $1 million and a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years—for peaceful, nonviolent political protest on behalf of basic human rights for beleaguered people, which is absurd, clearly.
I agree and I also think that this is a typically totalitarian policy by - I suppose - the American followers of Nethanyahu. You may or may not agree with the BDS, but in any case Waters is quite right in saying that (i) the BDS is a "peaceful, nonviolent political protest on behalf of basic human rights for beleaguered people" (viz. the Palestinians), and that (ii) introducing punishments for supporting the BDS that amont to a financial punishment and an insane term of imprisonment (bolding added) of "between $250,000 and $1 million and a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years" is completely anti- democratic and (in my opinion) very totalitarian.

There is considerably more in the interview that also is continued on Democracy Now! with a second part, and this is a recommended article.

2. Ensuring Catastrophe: Climate Denial's Price

This article is by Amy Goodman on Truthdig. This starts as follows:

On Sept. 6, 2017, as Houston was reeling from Hurricane Harvey and millions in Florida and the Caribbean were bracing for Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean, President Donald Trump traveled to Mandan, North Dakota, where he stood in front of an oil refinery and touted his administration’s role in slashing environmental protections and promoting the fossil fuel industry. He hailed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL, and boasted about withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.

So as climate-change-fueled disasters ravaged the U.S., Trump — the man who called climate change a Chinese hoax — was doing all he could to ensure future catastrophes.

I think that is correct, and indeed I mostly agree with Amy Goodman on climate change and its major importance.

Here is some more:

On Jan. 24, 2017, four days after assuming the presidency, Donald Trump signed executive orders to accelerate completion and operation of DAPL, as well as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which President Barack Obama had blocked after being confronted for years by mass protest and civil disobedience. By June 1, ETP claimed in a press release that the pipeline was “operational,” presumably meaning oil was flowing through it.

Several days earlier, The Intercept news website reported on 1,100 pages of documents it obtained, detailing how a military/intelligence mercenary group called TigerSwan had been advising ETP and North Dakota law enforcement for months. The Intercept reported, “TigerSwan discusses protesters as ‘terrorists,’ their direct actions as ‘attacks,’ and the camps as a ‘battlefield,’ reveals how the protesters’ dissent was not only criminalized but treated as a national security threat.”

Yes indeed, and this also seems to be a quite general policy:

Groups that are financed by the American government or  by the rich or by the major corporations seem to have the common policy of accusing the groups they are opposed to - that are often peaceful and normally quite legal - of being "terrorists" (with very little or no foundations). It seems they do this in order to prosecute or persecute the - generally peaceful and legal - groups they are opposed to, with their own kinds of - non-peaceful, often non-legal - terrorism.

Here is an example:

Last month, Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace International, Earth First! and other environmental groups, accusing them of inciting “eco-terrorism” against the pipeline’s construction. Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace, countered that the lawsuit is an attempt “to taint constitutionally protected, science-based free speech advocacy. They’re trying to criminalize healthy, righteous protest.”

The price: the planet.

Yes, I basically agree, although the reasons for my agreements are complex and variegated. There is more in the article, that is recommended.

3. America’s Fragile Future

This article is by Gilbert Doctorow on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:

Does the United States have a future as a great power?

Twenty years ago posing this question would have seemed absurd. The United States was fully self- confident about its position as the sole surviving superpower in the world. It faced virtually no obstacles or objections to its performance on behalf of the “public good,” a process that supposedly brought order to the world either through the liberal international institutions that it helped to create after World War Two and dominated, or through unilateral action when necessary via “coalitions of the willing” aimed at bringing down one or another disruptive malefactor on a regional stage.

Ahem, for I don't quite agree. First, the initial question is far too vague to be properly answered ("a future": when? "great power": is what?). And second, it is simply not true that the United States twenty years ago "faced virtually no obstacles or objections to its performance on behalf of the “public good”" (for this seems to be based on the exclusion of all non-mainstream news, twenty years ago).

Then there is this:

Fourteen years ago, when America prepared for its ill-conceived invasion of Iraq and encountered loud resistance from France and Germany, backed up by Russia, it became possible to wonder whether U.S. global hegemony could last. The disaster that the Iraqi adventure quickly became within a year of George W. Bush declaring “mission accomplished” rolled on and progressively diminished the enthusiasm of allies and others hitherto on the U.S. bandwagon for each new project to re-engineer troublesome nations, to overthrow autocrats and usher in an age of “liberal democracy” across the globe.

No, I am sorry: Again "it became possible to wonder whether U.S. global hegemony could last" is very much too vague.

Then there is this (and I am still in the very beginning of this article):

What has happened over the past couple of years is that doubts about the competence of the United States to lead the world have been compounded by doubts about the ability of the United States to govern itself. The dysfunction of the federal government has come out of the closet as an issue and is talked about fairly regularly even by commentators and publications that are quintessentially representative of the Establishment.

In this connection, it is remarkable to note that the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine carries an essay entitled “Kleptocracy in America” by Sarah Chayes. This takes us entirely away from the personality peculiarities of the 45th President into the broader and more important realm of the systemic flaws of governance, namely the extraordinary political power wielded by the very wealthy and the self-serving policies that they succeed in enacting, all at the expense of the general public that has stagnated economically for decades now, setting the stage for the voter revolt that brought Trump to power.

I - more or less - agree that there is some "dysfunction of the federal government", but then again this is, once again, very vague. And while I agree that "the extraordinary political power wielded by the very wealthy and the self-serving policies that they succeed in enacting" are quite problematic, and I also agree that "the general public (..) has stagnated economically for decades now", I know both things for a very long time now, as - I guess - do almost all of my readers.

There are a few good things in the article, but its general thrust is simply too vague - which incidentally also gets supported by the last title that Doctorow published ("Does Russia Have a Future?") and the next title that Doctorow will publish (
"Does the United States Have a Future?").

4. Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about the Trump-Republican Tax Plan

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

Have you noticed that there’s no Trump tax plan and no Republican tax plan? All they’ve come up with so far is a bunch of platitudes about how nice it would be to cut taxes, simplify the tax code, and spur economic growth. 

Who doesn’t support these nice goals?

The reason there’s no tax plan is congressional Republicans are hopelessly divided on it.

Right-wing Republicans (the “Freedom Caucus” along with what’s left of the Tea Party) are most interested in reducing the size of the government and shrinking the federal deficit and debt.

Corporate and Wall Street Republicans – along with Donald Trump – are most interested in cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy. They have the backing the GOP’s big business donors who stand to make a bundle off tax cuts.

Here’s the problem. You can’t have a giant tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, and at the same time shrink the federal deficit and debt – unless you make gigantic cuts in government spending on things the American public wants and needs.

Hm. I agree that the last quoted paragraph holds for real democrats, real progressives and real liberals, but I much doubt that it holds for most of the Republicans:

They think it is quite possible to reduce taxes on the wealthy, and to shrink the federal deficit and debt, simply because they are willing to "make gigantic cuts in government spending on things the American public wants and needs".

Here is more on Trump's proposed tax cuts for the very wealthy and the wealthy:

According to the Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation, Trump’s proposed corporate tax cuts alone would reduce federal revenue by $2 trillion over 10 years.

Cuts of this size inevitably have to come out of the federal government’s three biggest expenditures, together accounting for over two-thirds of total government spending – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and defense.

Yes indeed. Here is more:

These numbers put corporate and Trump Republicans into a bind.

The only way out of it is to pretend that big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will grow the economy so fast that they’ll pay for themselves, and the benefits will trickle down to everyone else.

But if you believe this I have several past Republican budgets to sell you, extending all the way back to Ronald Reagan’s magic asterisks.

Trickle-down economics is one of the few economic theories to have been tested in real life, and guess what? It failed miserably.
Yes I agree - but then again these fact-based rational arguments (that are both mostly correct and the rational way of arguing something) have failed and failed again to appeal to or to convert the large mass of the stupid and the ignorant in the USA.

And that is a quite serious problem, for it shows that the large mass of the people in the USA are not much open to either rational arguments or to fact-based evidence (as - I remark it parenthetically, and with reference to The Century of the Self - has been quite obvious for a very long time amongst advertisers and propagandists (that sell themselves as "public relations")).

But I do belong to the minority that likes rational argument and factual evidence, so I agree to this:
The most meaningful measure is taxes paid as a percentage of GDP. On this score, we’re hardly overtaxed. The United States has the 4th lowest taxes of any major economy. (Only South Korea, Chile, and Mexico ranking lower.) 

The wealthiest 1 percent in the U.S. pay the lowest taxes as a percent of their income and total wealth of the top 1 percent in any major country – and far lower than they paid in the U.S. during the first three decades after World War II.

Yes indeed. And the rich were already quite rich in the fifties and the sixties. This is a recommended article.

5. Destructive Stock Buybacks—That You Pay For

This article is by Ralph Nader on Common Dreams and originally on his site. It starts as follows:

The monster of economic waste—over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations—started with a little noticed change in 1982 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under President Ronald Reagan. That was when SEC Chairman John Shad, a former Wall Street CEO, redefined unlawful ‘stock manipulation’ to exclude stock buybacks.

Then after Clinton pushed through congress a $1 million cap on CEO pay that could be deductible, CEO compensation consultants wanted much of CEO pay to reflect the price of the company’s stock. The stock buyback mania was unleashed. Its core was not to benefit shareholders (other than perhaps hedge fund speculators) by improving the earnings per share ratio. Its real motivation was to increase CEO pay no matter how badly such burning out of shareholder dollars hurt the company, its workers and the overall pace of economic growth. In a massive conflict of interest between greedy top corporate executives and their own company, CEO-driven stock buybacks extract capital from corporations instead of contributing capital for corporate needs, as the capitalist theory would dictate.

I say! First note that this involved no less than dollars, and next note that these dollars were spend on what was until 1982 unlawful ‘stock mani- pulation’.

And indeed I agree with Nader that the real goals were (i) "to increase CEO pay no matter how badly such burning out of shareholder dollars hurt the company, its workers and the overall pace of economic growth", and (ii) to give the CEOs not only far more money for themselves but also far more power for themselves over the companies they are CEOs for.

Here is more Nader (with some bolding by me):

Yes, due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgement” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval.

What could competent management have done with this treasure trove of shareholder money which came originally from consumer purchases? They could have invested more in research and development, in productive plant and equipment, in raising worker pay (and thereby consumer demand), in shoring up shaky pension fund reserves, or increasing dividends to shareholders.

But instead they wanted to increase their own wealth, and they were allowed to do so by what until 1982 was unlawful ‘stock manipulation’.

Here is one of its consequences spelled out:

The leading expert on this subject—economics professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts—wrote a widely read article in 2013 in the Harvard Business Review titled “Profits Without Prosperity” documenting the intricate ways CEOs use buybacks to escalate their pay up to 300 to 500 times (averaging over $10,000 an hour plus lavish benefits) the average pay of their workers. This compared to only 30 times the average pay gap in 1978. This has led to increasing inequality and stagnant middle class wages.

That is: The CEOs and only the CEOs got enormously rich (and incidentally they awarded themselves per hour what I get in a whole year in income).

Here is Nader's explanation - that in fact also cover 37 years of exploitations that almost only benefitted the CEOs and the very rich:

Presently, hordes of corporate lobbyists are descending on Washington to demand deregulation and tax cuts. Why, you ask them? In order to conserve corporate money for investing in economic growth, they assert. Really?! Why, then, are they turning around and wasting far more money on stock buybacks, which produce no tangible value? The answer is clear: uncontrolled executive greed!

By now you may be asking, why don’t the corporate bosses simply give more dividends to shareholders instead of buybacks, since a steady high dividend yield usually protects the price of the shares? Because these executives have far more of their compensation package in manipulated stock options and incentive payments than they own in stock.

Yes indeed. 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 (!!).

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