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Nederlog

Wednesday, December 27, 2017.

Crisis: Legal Battles, Tax War, The Arctic, Totalitarian Thinkers, Snowden's New App
 
Sections                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 27, 2017.
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday
, December 27, 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 and since two years (!!!!) 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.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from December 27, 2017
1. Six Major Legal Battles of 2017 Will Persist in 2018
2. Trump Just Kicked off a Global Tax War
3. The Arctic Will Never Be Frozen Again
4. Che, Stalin, Mussolini and the Thinkers Who Loved Them
5. Edward Snowden’s new app helps ward off computer hijackers
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. Six Major Legal Battles of 2017 Will Persist in 2018

This article is by Bill Blum on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Every American president influences the course of our law and legal institutions through Supreme Court appointments or by pushing legislation and executive orders. But few have had as much impact in one year as the current occupant of the White House, Donald J. Trump.

An intemperate, burgeoning autocrat swept into office by a hypermasculine nativist revival and backed by the most rapacious elements of the corporate oligarchy, Trump has had a hand in shaping all of the year’s biggest legal stories.

At the same time, he has engendered a dogged resistance in the courts that has slowed and in some instances blunted his agenda.

The struggles promise to continue into 2018 and beyond.

I think this is correct. Here is a preview of the themes Bill Blum treats:

Although it would be impossible in a single column to catalog all of the legal fault lines Trump has opened, here are six that should make any list:

More precisely, I give the titles of the six major battles Blum mentions, but I suppress all of the text: You can read all of it by clicking on item 1:

Neil Gorsuch and the Supreme Court
Scapegoating Immigrants
Deconstruction of the Administrative State
The #MeToo Movement
#FakeNews, the First Amendment and Net Neutrality
The Mueller Investigation, Presidential Pardons and the Specter
     of Impeachment

Then again, here is one bit from what I think is the most important of the above six items, namely from the Deconstruction of the Administrative State:

The president may be short on intellectual candlepower, but Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, isn’t. At a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Bannon explained that one of his—and the president’s—central goals was “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

What Bannon meant by the catch phrase was nothing less than the dismantling of the social safety net and the regulatory framework instituted since the New Deal to protect the public from the most predatory aspects of the free market.

Although Bannon left the White House in August, his influence was felt early in Trump’s first year and lives on. One of Trump’s first executive orders, signed Jan. 30, required that executive departments slash two regulations for every new regulation they create.

In addition, Trump has stacked his administration with Cabinet members and directors dedicated to undermining the statutory goals and objectives of the agencies they have been appointed to lead.
Yes indeed. There is considerably more in this interesting article, that is recommended.

2. Trump Just Kicked off a Global Tax War

This article is by James S. Henry on AlterNet and originally on DC Report. It starts as follows:

Before Trump even signed the new tax law, there were troubling signs that it is the first shot in a global tax war that threatens working people and the public pension plans that sustain them in old age.

The Trump bill, which reads like a wish list for Goldman Sachs and its clients, has already triggered an aggressive “race to the bottom” in international corporate tax rates, rules and regulations. It is the exact opposite of his campaign promise to help the middle class.

Indeed, and I agree. Incidentally, the reason that this will cost the middle class a lot is that the state needs taxes, and if the rich and the corporations pay less taxes either the middle classes have to pay more taxes to get the same services or else they have to give up on the services, such as support for the poor, infra-structure, education etc. etc.

Here are some of the effects Trump has unleashed outside the USA:

What the mainstream American news has failed to notice are the global responses, including:

South Korea, Mexico and Chile are also actively considering corporate tax cuts, in response to the U.S. measure, my interviews with key global tax analysts around the planet reveal.

I say! I do not quite understand all the reasons for these changes, but two important ones are that (1) this will keep the rich and the corporations outside the USA competitive with those inside the USA, and besides (2) most of the rich and most of the corporations want to pay as little taxes as possible: They hate to contribute to anyone but themselves or their own shareholders and their corporate executives.

And here is one of the aims of the rich and the corporations in the USA:

In Washington, Congressional Republicans have tried for years to weaken Social Security and undermine its finances in the hopes they can kill the most popular social support program in the country. They are expected to step up their efforts to weaken Social Security, arguing that with the tax cut legislation there just isn’t enough money to sustain the social safety net.

More precisely: The rich and the corporations want all advantages for themselves, and aim at destroying all or most of the help the non-rich get from the government.

There is more in this article, that is recommended. 


3. The Arctic Will Never Be Frozen Again

This article is by Eric Holthaus on Mother Jones. It starts as follows:

Last week, at a New Orleans conference center that once doubled as a storm shelter for thousands during Hurricane Katrina, a group of polar scientists made a startling declaration: The Arctic as we once knew it is no more.

The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system.

In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health—titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades”—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.

I say, which I do because I did not - quite - know this. Incidentally, here are two remarks on the above quotation:

First, there still is ice in the Arctic: This is about its (bolding added) "trending toward an ice-free state". But this does seem to be a major difference, that also is of worldwide significance.

Second, I think Holthaus is correct in saying that "on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system". In fact, I also think this gamble has been going on since the 1950ies - see e.g. Aldous Huxley being interviewed by Mike Wallace on May 18, 1958 - and I agree it seems to come to this:
Either "civilization" wins, and effectively we are all dead, or else "
the planet’s life-support system" wins, and there is a chance of human survival.

Here is more on the state of the Arctic:

Until roughly a decade or so ago, the region was holding up relatively well, despite warming at roughly twice the rate of the planet as a whole. But in recent years, it’s undergone an abrupt change, which now defines it. The Arctic is our glimpse of an Earth in flux, transforming into something that’s radically different from today.

At a press conference announcing the new assessment, acting NOAA Administrator Timothy Gallaudet emphasizes the “huge impact” these changes were having on everything from tourism to fisheries to worldwide weather patterns.

Here are again two remarks on the above quotation:

First, I have been interested in "the environment" since 1972, when I first read "The Limits to Growth", and in fact I have been expecting these rather sudden changes ever since, mostly because changes such as these involve enormously many feedback cycles that keep things going more or less as they were as long as they are maintained, but may cause many radical and unexpected changes once they are disturbed, which now is the case (if the polar scientists are correct, which I think they very probably are).

And second, I quite agree with Timothy Gallaudet, and add that my own guess is that there will be many radical and unexpected changes in the next couple of decades.

This is from the ending of the article:

That the Arctic is now a relic of a time gone by—the first major part of the planet on a countdown clock—should shock us. It’s one of those facts that those of us who closely follow climate change knew was coming. And with its arrival, it is devastating in its totality.

The loss of the Old Arctic is as close as humanity has come so far to irreversibly transforming its planet into something fundamentally different than what has given rise to civilization over the past 10,000 years. This is a terrifying transition, and one worth mourning. But it’s also a reminder that our path as individuals and as a society is not fixed.

Yes, I agree. And there is more in this article, that is recommended.


4. Che, Stalin, Mussolini and the Thinkers Who Loved Them

This article is by Aram Bakshian Jr. on NationalInterest.org. This is from near the beginning:

Paul Hollander, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard, is well qualified to examine the impact and origins of the twentieth- and twenty-first-century love affair between many members of the Western intelligentsia and some of the most ruthless, bloody dictators and political systems of the age. As he explains in his preface:

“This book continues to explore several of my long-standing and converging interests. They include totalitarianism, communist systems, intellectuals and politics, the relationship between the personal and political, between political ideals and practices, the spiritual problems of modernity, and the apparently limitless capacity of idealistic human beings, notably intellectuals, to engage in wishful thinking and substantial political misjudgments.”

I quite agree with Hollander, but I have three remarks:

First, "totalitarianism" as it is currently defined on the Wikipedia, is utter baloney: A correct definition of it is here. I suppose Hollander will agree with me, but I do not know it, and therefore I remarked on it.

Second, what I especially agree with is this:

"the apparently limitless capacity of idealistic human beings, notably intellectuals, to engage in wishful thinking and substantial political misjudgments"
Then again, I do not know from which background Hollander wrote his book, nor do I know the background of NationalInterest.org, although I suspect the latter may be conservative (which doesn't matter to me as long as it is intelligent and informed).

Third, an important reason for me to be interested in the many intellectuals who were quite mistaken is that both of my parents were communists for 45 years, which is a position they acquired in the 1930ies and first half of the 1940ies, when my father, my mother and my father's father were all in the communist resistance against the Nazis.

This also caused my father's and my grandfather's arrest in June of 1941, and their being convicted as "political terrorists" to German concentration camps, that my father survived, but by grandfather did not.

And this also caused my own communist education, which was somewhat special in that I am the only one with my - quite thorough - communist background who gave it all up when I was 20 (before being an adult), and I gave it all up mostly because I had been reading Marx and Engels quite seriously since I was 15 or 16, and found them intellectually mistaken.

As I said, I was the only one with my background who gave it up at 20: Everybody else I know of with a similar background remained a member of the Dutch CP until the early or the middle 1980ies.

Here is a bit on Plato (from much more):

PERHAPS WE should blame it all on Plato. Ever since he introduced his concept of the “philosopher king,” countless intellectuals have been besotted by the notion of finding and working hand in hand with the ideal Big Brother, often with lethal results. “Let there be one man who has a city obedient to his will, and he might bring into existence the ideal polity about which the world is so incredulous,” wrote the founding philosopher in his Republic. Plato named the ideal polity of his dreams “Kallipolis” (Greek for “beautiful city”). The search for an earthly Kallipolis, and a ruler with “a love of knowledge, intelligence, reliability and a willingness to live a simple life”—and, better yet, the opportunity to mold him with their own hands and then wield power through his—has tempted intellectuals forever after. Unfortunately, on the few occasions when the dream seemed to come true, results tended more to the tragic and absurd than to the productive and uplifting.

Since I am a philosopher, I know we should not "blame it all on Plato", although I do not like Plato. In fact, I think Hollander was right when he wrote that some of the main reasons that so many intellectuals did support totalitarians (as I define them) are wishful thinking plus substantial political (ethical, intellectual, philosophical, scientific) misjudgments.

Indeed, it seems to me to be especially wishful thinking that was at fault, which I defined as follows:

Wishful thinking: The inference of conclusions that conform to one's desires because they conform to one's desires: "It is so, because I desire it to be so; it is not so, because I desire it not to be so."

Inference Scheme of Wishful Thinking: I desire it were true, therefore it is true.

This is also the schema that - for example, together with thousands of other proud academics - Sartre followed.

Here is some more:

Through it all runs a theme admirably encapsulated by a valued old acquaintance of mine, the late Robert Conquest. Hollander quotes Bob’s description of George Orwell. Orwell’s main concern, he wrote, “was the gullibility of the intelligentsia. How could so many educated minds believe all that fantasy and falsification?” It is, Hollander adds with admirable understatement, “an interest I share.”

I like Robert Conquest, who also started out as a communist, and especially his "The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties", but I do not agree with him politically and indeed I am not and never was a conservative. [2]

This is from the ending of the article:

To paraphrase Erasmus by way of Cecil Rhodes: So much folly, so little time. Hollander is a superb cicerone to what amounts to an intellectual freak show, a gallery of great minds entranced by even greater villainy. He has produced a devastating catalogue of the delusional propensities that led so many modern intellectuals to embrace so many dictators of varying degrees of infamy.

Yes. And as I said: It was not a matter of intelligence, as such, though it was a matter of intellectual self-discipline, and many intellectuals failed that test, and instead indulged in years or indeed decades of wishful thinking.

And this is a recommended article.


5. Edward Snowden’s new app helps ward off computer hijackers

This article is by Nicole Karlis on Salon. It starts as follows:

The world’s most famous whistleblower is turning his focus to personal computer security. In partnership with the Freedom of the Press Foundation and a developer collective known as The Guardian Project, Edward Snowden has announced a new open source app that can turn your Android phone into a digital watchman to guard your laptop, computer, or any other device or object that can be tampered with when you're not looking.

“Haven turns any spare Android phone into a safe room that fits in your pocket,” Snowden says in the app’s launch video. “Haven does more than watch your back, it gives you peace of mind.”

I say, for I did not know this. And while I should add that I much doubt this is for me, because I decided that I will not use any cellphone, and only use Firefox and Thunderbird to access the internet, while I also am not quite certain this might work on Linux, which I use as an OS, this certainly is interesting news for most computer users.

Here is some more:

While the app can’t physically stop intrusions — it's not a robot butler, after all — it can give the victim documentation of said intrusion. 

"If you’re the secret police making people disappear, Haven changes the calculus of risk you have to go through," Snowden told Wired. "You have to worry that every possible cell phone might be a witness."

The app is meant to be used on an old Android "burner" phone — a term used to refer to pay-as-you phones that can be easily bought or disposed of without a formal contract.

It all sounds quite well, though the article makes it clear there remain some things that need to be done to Haven.

This certainly is an interesting app
for everyone who dislikes that his privacy is stolen. And this is a 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 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, it is a bit difficult to say where I stand politically. What seems to be the best indication is that I am, indeed consciously so since I was 21 in 1971, a philosophical anarchist, and that mainly for two reasons: I like individual anarchism, but I also think anarchism is very difficult or impossible to realize as long as human beings remain on average as they are. 
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