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Nederlog

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Crisis: On (Soft) Drugs, US Taxes, On Corbyn & Labour, Zero Poverty, On World War III


Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
    A. Selections from September 28, 2017 

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, September 28, 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 28, 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:

1. Brazil’s Latest Outbreak of Drug Gang Violence Highlights the Real Culprit: the War on Drugs

This article is by Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

On July 1, 2001, Portugal enacted a law to decriminalize all drugs. Under that law, nobody who is found possessing or using narcotics is arrested in Portugal, nor are they turned into a criminal. Indeed, neither drug use nor possession is considered a crime at all. Instead, those found doing it are sent to speak with a panel of drug counsellors and therapists, where they are offered treatment options.

Seven years after the law was enacted, in 2008, we traveled to Lisbon to study the effects of that law for one of the first comprehensive reports on this policy, the findings of which were published in a report for the Cato Institute. The results were clear and stunning: This radical change in drug laws was a fundamental and undeniable success.

While Portugal throughout the 1990s was (like most Western countries) drowning in drug overdoses along with drug-related violence and diseases, the country rose to the top of the charts in virtually all categories after it stopped prosecuting drug users and treating them like criminals. This stood in stark contrast to countries that continued to follow a harsh criminalization approach: the more they arrested addicts and waged a “war on drugs,” the more their drug problems worsened.

With all the money that had been wasted in Portugal to prosecute and imprison drug users now freed up for treatment programs, and the government viewed with trust rather than fear, previously hopeless addicts transformed into success stories of stability and health, and the government’s anti-drug messages were heeded. The predicted rise in drug usage rates never happened; in some key demographic categories, usage actually declined. As the 2009 study concluded: “The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success.”

Yes indeed. This is all true - to the best of my knowledge - and one of the main questions this inspires is this: Why did no other country (since 2001, or indeed earlier) take the same road? For in fact all of the above also was true in the Seventies, the Eighties and the Nineties.

I think there are three underlying reasons: (i) ¨The War on Drugs¨ (<-Wikipedia) that has been going on for a long time, and that has locked up very many Americans, often for many years for possessinng one joint; (ii) the enormous amounts of propaganda connected to ¨The War on Drugs¨ that the mainstream media have been spreading ever since Nixon started the ¨War on Drugs¨ in the early 1970ies; and also (iii) there is an extremely tight connection between various secret services like the CIA, that has financed quite a few of its operations by drugsmoney, and illegal drugsdealers. [2]

Here is one bit from the War on Drugs lemma on Wikipedia:

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
John Ehrlichman, to Dan Baum for Harper's Magazine in 1994, about President Richard Nixon's war on drugs, declared in 1971.

And one expression is the mock ¨toleration¨ of soft drugs the Dutch engage in: These are still completely forbidden in Holland, while the Dutch politicians have since the 1980ies pretended to liberalize the sales, while keeping it illegal, which enormously increases the profits on drugs.

The Dutch have - according to their own (one and only) parliamentary report on drugs, the Van Traa Report that dates from 1997 - in the last 30 years turned over 300 billion euros worth of - just - soft drugs (and much more if the hard drugs are also counted), and my own very strongly based impression is that the Dutch politicians, the Dutch secret services, and the softdrugs dealers made a - secret - deal, already in the 1980ies, that profits all of these groups, and that is paid by those who use drugs.

Indeed, otherwise I cannot explain why I had to live for three and half years above illegal softdrugs dealers that threatened to murder me and kept me out of sleep, that were defended by absolutely everyone who worked for the City of Amsterdam or the Dutch government, all the time also, who also said that I was lying,  and that still are doing so, for I now have been waiting for 29 years on any reply why I have been gassed by these dealers and threatened with murder by them (which went on and on for 3 1/2 years, when I at long last succeeded in escaping from thence, and as I said, the softdrugs dealers are still there, nearly 30 years later).


Here is some more (still from the beginning of this article):

Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, writing from Lisbon, re-visited this data, now even more ample and conclusive than it was back in 2009. His conclusions were even more stark than the Cato report of eight years ago: namely, Portugal has definitively won the argument on how ineffective, irrational, and counterproductive drug prohibition is.

The basis for this conclusion: Portugal’s clear success with decriminalization, compared to the tragic failures of countries, such as the U.S. (and Brazil), which continue to treat addiction as a criminal and moral problem rather than a health problem. Kristof writes:

After more than 15 years, it’s clear which approach worked better. The United States drug policy failed spectacularly, with about as many Americans dying last year of overdoses — around 64,000 — as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.

I say! And mind that the 64,000 that die from overdoses in the USA are dying in just one year (and not in nearly fifty years in American wars).

Here is some more on Portugal:

Kristof succinctly identified one key reason for this success: “It’s incomparably cheaper to treat people than to jail them.” But there are other vital reasons, including the key fact that when it comes to efforts to persuade addicts to obtain counseling, “decriminalization makes all this easier, because people no longer fear arrest.”

Perhaps the most compelling evidence highlighting Portugal’s success is not the empirical data but the political reality: Whereas the law was quite controversial when first enacted 16 years ago, there are now no significant political factions agitating for its repeal or for a return to drug prohibition.

Yes indeed. (Holland is a country, in contrast, where it is very probable that recreational drugs will be the last to be legalized in Europe, simply because - I think that - the Dutch politicians and bureaucrats are profiting enormously, in secret, from the illegal situation they have maintained for 30 years now.)

Here is the last bit that I´ll quote from this fine article:

The key cause of all drug-related pathologies — particularly gang violence of the type now suffocating Rocinha — is not drugs themselves, but rather the policy of criminalizing drugs and the war waged in its name.

Quite so. And there is a lot more in this strongly recommended article about the drugs situation in Brazil.  


2. Trump Tax Plan Benefits Wealthy, Including Trump

This article is by Benyamin Appelbaum on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

The tax plan that the Trump administration outlined on Wednesday is a potentially huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans. It would not directly benefit the bottom third of the population. As for the middle class, the benefits appear to be modest.The administration and its congressional allies are proposing to sharply reduce taxation of business income, primarily benefiting the small share of the population that owns the vast majority of corporate equity.

This seems to be quite true, although I should add immediately that ¨the tax plan¨ is not so much a plan as - at best - the outline of a plan, for the details have not been published.

Here is some more:

The plan would also benefit Mr. Trump and other affluent Americans by eliminating the estate tax, which affects just a few thousand uber-wealthy families each year, and the alternative minimum tax, a safety net designed to prevent tax avoidance.

These two measures are in ¨the plan¨, and would benefit the richest of the rich, like Donald Trump.

The rest is quite uncertain, as Benyamin Appelbaum explains, because Trump´s government provided no data:

Mr. Trump has also pledged repeatedly that the plan would reduce the taxes paid by middle-class families, but he has not provided enough details to evaluate that claim. While some households would probably get tax cuts, others could end up paying more.

The plan would not benefit lower-income households that do not pay federal income taxes. The president is not proposing measures like a reduction in payroll taxes, which are paid by a much larger share of workers, nor an increase in the earned-income tax credit, which would expand wage support for the working poor.

Indeed, to call the plan “tax reform” seems like a stretch — Mr. Trump himself told conservative and evangelical leaders on Monday that it was more apt to refer to his plan as “tax cuts.” Mr. Trump’s proposal echoes the large tax cuts that President Ronald Reagan, in 1981, and President George W. Bush, in 2001, passed in the first year of their terms, not the 1986 overhaul of the tax code that he often cites. Like his Republican predecessors, Mr. Trump says cutting taxes will increase economic growth.

So in fact this ¨plan¨ seems to be directed at increasing the wealth of the top 20% of incomes, and to do absolutely nothing for the bottom 35% of the poor - or so it seems to me.

There is more in the article, that ends as follows:

“I don’t think there’s any way to justify this as a progressive proposal,” said Lily Batchelder, a law professor at New York University who served as deputy director of Mr. Obama’s National Economic Council. “In broad brush strokes, they’re doing nothing for the bottom 35 percent, they’re doing very little and possibly raising taxes on the middle class, and they’ve specified tax cuts for the wealthy.”

Yes indeed: What is known of the plan is that it significantly will add to the riches of the very rich, which - of course - comes with the utterly false promise that ¨this will trickle down¨. Otherwise little is known, except that the 35% of the poorest will get no relief whatsoever.

This is a recommended article.


3. Shredding 'Failed Dogmas of Neoliberalism,' Corbyn Charts Bold New Vision for UK

This article is by Jake Johnson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

In a rousing speech at the Labour Party's annual conference in Brighton, England on Wednesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took aim at the "callous and calculating" austerity agenda of Prime Minister Theresa May, slammed the "failed dogmas of neoliberalism" that produced the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, and argued that his party—bolstered by its ambitious "for the many, not the few" manifesto—is now at the "threshold of power."

"We are now the political mainstream," Corbyn declared to a packed auditorium. "Our manifesto and our policies are popular because that is what most people in our country actually want, not what they're told they should want."

I like Jeremy Corbyn, especially when compared to Blair or May, but this seems to me to be a bit too positive, although I can imagine why he said so.

There is also this:

Corbyn shocked the world in June when he far surpassed expectations in the snap election called by May, who believed—along with much of the U.K. media and political class—that she would win in a landslide. But Labour's fortunes shifted when the party unvieled its explicitly left-wing "manifesto for a better, fairer Britain," which was enormously popular
with the British public.

Now, Corbyn is attempting to ride the wave of enthusiasm sparked by the election, in which his campaign won "the largest increase in the Labour vote since 1945 and achieved Labour's best vote for a generation."

"Yes, we didn't do quite well enough and we remain in opposition for now, but we have become a government-in-waiting," Corbyn said on Wednesday.  "And our message to the country could not be clearer—Labour is ready."

Incidentally, it is ¨unveiled¨, but OK. Again I think this is a little enthusiastic, but I say OK to that as well, because I do hope that Labour wins the next British elections. And here is my reason why:
"Ten years after the global financial crash the Tories still believe in the same dogmatic mantra—deregulate, privatize, cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken rights at work, delivering profits for a few, and debt for the many. Nothing has changed."
(...)
The only way forward, Corbyn argued, is to replace this failed status quo with a "new consensus" that seeks not merely to "redistribute within a system that isn't delivering for most people, but to transform that system."
I agree, but until Labour really has won the elections, these words will remain just words.

4. Muhammad Yunus on Achieving a World with Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment & Zero Emissions

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

As a series of destructive hurricanes hit the United States, devastating floods in South Asia have killed more than 1,300 people. "[Bangladesh] is the most densely populated country in the world. … It’s becoming a situation where we will have have hundreds of thousands of climate refugees," says Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. His new book is titled "A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions."

I say! Well... I would very much like to see a new economics with zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero carbon emmissions, but I see no factual basis for it of any kind.

Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: This book comes out at a time, what—Oxfam came out with that report, the eight richest men in the world own more wealth than half the world’s population, more than three-and-a-half billion people. But talk about zero net carbon emissions, zero poverty.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: All this, we have to achieve. There is no option for us. And I just lay down that this is something. But the system which we have been practicing, the capitalist system—I said capitalist system is not working towards it. It’s a system which, as you mentioned, eight people owning more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the people. It’s a system which is like a machine which is sucking up wealth from the bottom and transporting it to the top. So the top is becoming a big mushroom of wealth. And then, 99 percent of the people is like the stem from the mushroom hanging there. And that stem is becoming thinner and thinner. The portion of the wealth devoted to bottom 99—or, the 99 percent—we don’t say "bottom" anymore—becoming smaller and, regrettably, the top becoming bigger and bigger.

So this is a ticking time bomb. Anytime it can explode—politically, socially, economically and so on. We are not paying attention to it. Wealth concentration was going on ever since we introduced capitalist system, but this was not very visible. Today, it’s becoming worse and worse.
I agree with Mohammed Yunus that Bangla Desh - very probably - has to achieve these most of these things if most of its inhabitants are to survive. And I agree (I think) with his criticism of capitalism. But I also still see no factual basis for changes of the kind that Yumus proposes, that - I agree - would do much for Bangla Desh.

Here is the last bit that I´ll quote from this paper:
When concentration of wealth takes place, it’s also the concentration of power. Wealth and power go together. So you control the government, you control the politics, you control the media, you control businesses, everything. So that’s the kind of situation coming.

I agree, and I also add that ¨we¨ do live in a world were wealth and power are more concentrated than ever. But unfortunately I have seen no factual basis for changes of the kind that Yumus proposes, and I also could not find Part 2 of the interview.


5. Can a War of Words Become a World of War?

This article is by Bill Moyers (<-Wikipedia) and Andrew Bacevich
(<-Wikipedia) on Common Dreams and originally on BillMoyers.com.

This is from near the beginning:

Bill Moyers: The rhetoric between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un gets hotter and more belligerent — it’s incendiary and personal. When’s the last time you heard this kind of vitriolic, threatening rhetoric between a US president and a head of another country?

Andrew Bacevich: I don’t believe that we’ve ever had a president who has used this kind of language. Certainly not in my lifetime. One of the things that strikes me about President Trump is that his capacity to use the English language is so stunted. He simply has no ability to adapt the language he uses to a particular circumstance. In the past when presidents are out campaigning, they use one kind of language, a different kind of language when they’re speaking to a joint session of Congress, [and] a different kind of language when they’re meeting with a foreign dignitary. But [with] Trump, it’s all the same. It’s all crude. It’s all unsophisticated. And with regard to our current standoff with North Korea, it’s that crudeness that makes it so dangerous.

Yes, I agree. Here is more on the risks Trump poses for North Korea:

Moyers: Given the nature of his rhetoric, given his known temperament, does North Korea have to worry that Trump just might order an attack for whatever reason?

Bacevich: If I were a North Korean who was advising Kim Jong Un — I’d be counseling my boss that we’re dealing with somebody who could easily fly off the handle and make an impulsive decision. Kim Jong Un might say to me, “Well, why do you think that?” and I’d say, well, let’s consider the attack on Syria that followed the allegations, probably true allegations, of Syrians using chemical weapons. That was a decision made off the cuff, impulsively, with no particular connection to larger policy purposes. From a North Korean perspective, I would take that episode quite seriously.

I more or less agree, but I should add that my own estimate of Trump is that of a psychologist who currently finds himself in accord with at least 53,000 other psychologists and also quite a few psychiatrists: Trump is insane (and this is a link to something I wrote in the end of 2016 - and no: I would wish myself that I could see it differently, but I can´t).

Here is some more by Andrew Bacevich:

I’m in the camp that believes we cannot know for certain how the North Koreans think, and we cannot know for certain what their purposes are. But I’m in the camp that believes that as vicious, as oppressive as that regime is, nonetheless there is a rational basis for the things that they do, and that Kim Jong Un’s ultimate objective is to maintain his regime, and by extension, to maintain himself. I also believe that they are likely to appreciate that they are in a position of extraordinary weakness relative to us, relative to almost any other nation in the world. Weak economically, weak militarily, weak in terms of their capacity to innovate, to adjust, to improve their situation. And it makes sense from that perspective to see nuclear weapons, particularly nuclear weapons along with some kind of a long-range ballistic missile capability as a lifeline.

I mostly agree, but I have no fact-based ideas about Kim Jong Un´s sanity.

Here is more about the chances on a nuclear war:

Moyers: As dreadful as it is to even ask it, what might lead either Trump or Kim Jong Un over the tipping point — to start a war?

Bacevich: If one side takes the other side’s rhetoric as literally true. If on either side, the central figures get up in the morning and say, “We believe that the other side is going to attack within the next 24 hours,” that can then lead to a decision, “Well, I guess then we should pre-empt.” I think that’s the great danger. Meaning not so much war by calculation, but war by miscalculation and misunderstanding.

I agree. Here is more by Bacevich on the language Trump indulged in:

That language is so over the top that it seemed to suggest that at that moment, either he didn’t have any understanding of what the use of nuclear weapons would produce or simply didn’t care. I think that’s why so many of us were taken aback by that kind of language. And the way you asked the question, does he understand — even if it is possible to make an argument that a fairly precise nuclear attack could eliminate the regime in Pyongyang — does he have any understanding of the secondary implications? Does he understand that we would have once more taken the nuclear genie out of the bottle and reintroduced it as an actual instrument of international politics? Does he have any understanding of the effects on neighboring countries — including our ally South Korea, and China, which is somewhere between trading partner and adversary, but certainly a country of enormous importance to our own well-being and to the well-being of the world? You don’t get a sense that he’s able to think through the subsequent effects and that’s disturbing.

Again I agree - and I would also be rather amazed if Trump does have ¨any understanding of the secondary implications¨ of using nuclear arms (and yes, that is disquieting).

Here is the last bit that I quote from this fine article:

Moyers: Little attention is paid to it by the press or by the public, right?

Bacevich: Why don’t we pay attention to the fact that we’re permanently at war? Well, at the present moment, US casualties are down because we’ve learned to use contractors and proxies and rely on airpower. The amount of money that we are spending, and I think wasting, gets little attention. I recall a speech by President Eisenhower — I think it was in 1953 or 1954, when he was making the point about opportunity costs. He said in effect, every dollar we spend on our military means one less dollar that goes to education, that goes to health care, that goes to other things that the country needs. There’s no awareness of opportunity costs today with regard to our military spending. (...) There’s no accountability. There’s no scrutiny. There’s no serious debate. I think it’s one more indicator of how bankrupt our politics have become. These are things that aren’t even considered worth discussing.

I completely agree, and this is a strongly recommended article. 

------------------------------
  Notes

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl 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] In fact, an article by Noam Chomsky attended me to this fact. 
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