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Nederlog

February 9, 2018

Crisis:  The Western "Left", Drug Prices, Dow Jones Drops, Trump's Wars, Buybacks



Sections
Introduction   

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 9, 2018.

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday, February 9, 2018.

1. Summary

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

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) 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 more than 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 I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from February 9, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. The World is Burning, while Western Left is Quarreling
2. Senate Republicans Kept Provision to Fight High Drug Prices Out of
     Spending Bill, Democrats Say

3. Dow Drops Another 1,000 Points as Selling Spreads
4. Is the Pentagon Endorsing Trump’s War on Democratic Institutions?
5. Trump’s Big Buyback Bamboozle
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. The World is Burning, while Western Left is Quarreling

This article is by Andre Vitchek on the Off-Guardian. It starts as follows:

It really is a shame, and it is tiring, but it is actually nothing new: there is now total disarray amongst those countless ‘progressive’ and ‘semi-left’ Western intellectuals, publications, movements and political parties.

Cowardice, bloated egos, lack of discipline and intellectual pettiness are often to blame, but that is not all.

It is now absolutely clear that the Western left lost patently and shamelessly. It has almost no power, it has no courage to fight or to take risks, and it counts on no real political following in Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand. ‘The masses’, those proverbial ‘oppressed masses’, have lately been electing and voting in various semi-fascist populists, unapologetic right-wing demagogues, and mainstream pro-business brutes.

Entire Marxist ‘theoretical certainties’ have been collapsing in front of our eyes. Or at least they have been in the West.

Yes and no, simply because I've seen "the Western left" lying for over forty years now.

My experiences started 41 years ago this year, in the "University" of Amsterdam, that had been turned semi-Marxist after the minister of education had effectively given the Dutch universities to the Dutch students in 1971.

He did this by altering the authoritarian structures that had been in place from 1865 to 1965 in Holland, and did so by:

(1) imposing a parliamentary structure on all Dutch universities, where
(2) a yearly elected "University parliament" had the formal legal power in any Dutch university,
and
(3) each faculty also had a parliamentary structure with the "faculty parliament" having the local power (so far, all was very much like the Dutch country plus the Dutch cities), while
(4) both kinds of parliaments would be elected each year, and
(5) the voting was by the 1 man = 1 vote principle among everyone who worked for or in the university or was a student there.

And since the students were in the absolute majority in effect the students, or rather the student parties were - by far - the most powerful in each university, so in effect the student parties got most of the formal powers in the Dutch universities, between 1971 and 1995, for in 1995 the whole system was completely undone by the (new) minister of education, and all the Dutch "universities" were handed back to the few powerful figures from what had been "the universities' governments" between 1971 and 1995. This was the Board of Directors.

Meanwhile, between 1971 and 1995 the formal powers were "in the hands of the students" (to whom it probably was given in 1971 to avoid problems with the students as in Paris in 1968 and in Amsterdam in 1969, that led to occupations of the universities), but at least in Amsterdam, Groningen, Nijmegen and Tilburg (all of which had universities) in fact the power was in the hands of small leftist organized groups that were organzied mostly by students who also were members of the Dutch Communist Party.

In Amsterdam that was the ASVA, and therefore the ASVA was the most powerful group in the "University" of Amsterdam. And while I knew little of how it did what it was supposed to do between 1971 and 1976, I know a lot about how and what it was between 1977 and 1995:

It was in fact a completely sick, completely corrupt quite small group of members of the Dutch Communist Party until 1983/1984, and then turned into an even more corrupt equally small group of postmodernists (who may or may not have kept their membership in the Dutch CP, that radically changed between 1978 en 1983).

Anyway... there is much more (in Dutch, alas) in ME in Amsterdam. [2] Here is more by Vitchek:

To a great extent, what is now happening is absolutely natural. The European left betrayed as early as in the 1980’s, by becoming too soft, too undisciplined, too cautious and too self-centered. It put pragmatism above the ideals. It rapidly adopted the lexicon of the liberal ideological establishment, complete with Western perceptions of human rights, democratic principles and political correctness. It ceased to be revolutionary; it essentially stopped all revolutionary activities, and it abandoned the core element of any true left-wing identity – internationalism.

Without at least some basic internationalist principles, the left is now essentially reduced to some sort of local trade union level: “Let us fight for better labor conditions and health care at home, and to hell with all that neo-colonialist plunder of the world which is expected to pay for almost all of our benefits. As long as we eat well and have long vacations, why should we rebel, why should we fight?”

I more or less agree, though not on the internationalism.

In fact, (bolding added) "any true left-wing identity" does not depend on whether one practices internationalism, but on whether what one practices is oriented towards (democratic) socialism, that is towards another kind of economic system, that fundamentally dffers from capitalism.

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

Things went much further, still: these days, in the West, most ‘progressives’ go ‘by the issues’, refusing to commit to anything greater, full-heartedly. This position is increasingly in vogue, and it essentially shouts: ‘I have my own philosophy. I don’t need any ideology at all.’

No revolution has ever been won like this. But in the West, there is no desire for true revolution. Belonging to left is mainly just a pose, with a social media account and a selfie. It is not serious, and it is not intended to be.

I tend to agree. And incidentally, those who shout "I have my own philosophy. I don’t need any ideology at all." do not even know what a philosophy is, nor how it relates to ideologies: They are wholly without any sound ideas, and only practice their own personal interests.


2. Senate Republicans Kept Provision to Fight High Drug Prices Out of Spending Bill, Democrats Say

This article is by David Dayen on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Senate Republican leaders tossed out a provision slated for the bipartisan budget package that would have increased competition in the prescription drug market, according to the leading Democrat in the chamber.

The Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act, known as the CREATES Act and co-sponsored by members of both parties, was rumored to be a part of budget negotiations until the final days. It would have given generic drug companies the tools to end a practice whereby brand-name manufacturers unnecessarily delay the ability of rivals to bring their products to market.

According to the office of lead sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Congressional Budget Office scores the provision as a $3.8 billion savings over 10 years, because it would increase generic drug production and lower government costs through Medicare and Medicaid. That money could have paid for more than a year of funding for state grants and prevention programs to combat the opioid epidemic, funding that made it into the final agreement. Savings to individual consumers, both inside and outside of federal programs, would have been far higher.

I say! I mean: What is the point of having something like a pariliament in the USA, if that is divided by members of just two parties, most of whom have been and are being vastly corrupted by the rich, and where it now even has degraded to the level that one party can simply remove what it likes for a "bipartisan budget"?!

But that seems to be the case (with the proviso that few know what really happened, so far at least).

Here is more:

It’s unclear what exactly happened with the bipartisan measure, which appeared primed for inclusion in the spending bill. But Matt House, communications director for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, blamed the opposing party. “Republicans wouldn’t put it in,” he wrote in an email. Other Senate staffers indicated that drug company executives have been pouring into Washington on private jets over the past week to push for blocking the CREATES Act from the budget agreement.

To me it seems as if the Republicans and the drug company executives (!!) can do whatever they like to keep up the anyway enormous profits of the drug corporations.

Here is what it meant for the drug corporations' executives:

Dodging the CREATES Act saves drug companies billions of dollars by allowing them to continue schemes of delaying affordable generic competition. The main tactic the CREATES Act targeted involves drug companies denying generic rivals samples of their product. These samples are used in testing so the generic manufacturer can prove that their products are equivalent to the brand-name alternative, as required by the Food and Drug Administration. The bill would have given generic manufacturers the ability to file an injunction in federal court to prevent the deliberate delay tactic.

Turing Pharmaceuticals, the notorious company founded by “pharma bro” and convicted securities fraudster Martin Shkreli, famously used this very tactic to limit distribution so that competitors would be unable to obtain the requisite samples. A former Turing employee testified that this was an “integral part” of their strategy.

And in the formerly democratic USA now the drug corporations' executives can and do determine their own levels of payment, albeit with the help of the Republicans - or so it seems from the above.

Here is more:

The CREATES Act would also have stopped drug companies from refusing to allow generic competitors to participate in a shared safety protocol required for some medications. The FDA would instead have been able to approve alternative safety protocols for generics.

But instead the the drug corporations' executives can and do determine their own levels of payment.

And then it ends as follows:

In fact, patients could experience far higher drug costs this year, because of a change to how drug plans accommodate payment coupons given out by pharmaceutical companies to make their more expensive treatments affordable. The value of the coupons will no longer be applied to a patient’s deductible, meaning patients will likely have higher out-of-pocket costs. In the long run, it may limit the use of coupons, which drive up costs throughout the system. In the short run, it’ll create sticker shock for patients.

I think this is a correct expectation, and this is a recommended article.


3. Dow Drops Another 1,000 Points as Selling Spreads

This article is by Marley Jay on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:
Stocks plunged again Thursday, and for the second time in four days the Dow Jones industrial average sank more than 1,000 points.

The two best-known stock market indexes, the Dow and the Standard & Poor’s 500, have dropped 10 percent from their all-time highs, set Jan. 26. That means they are in what is known on Wall Street as a “correction,” their first in almost two years.

Stocks fell further and further as the day wore on and suffered their fifth loss in the last six days. Many of the companies that led the market’s gains over the last year have struggled badly in the last week. Those included technology companies, banks, and retailers and travel companies and homebuilders.

After huge gains in the first weeks of this year, stocks started to tumble last Friday after the Labor Department said workers’ wages grew at a fast rate in January. That’s good for the economy, but investors worried it will hurt corporate profits and that rising wages are a sign of faster inflation. It could prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates at a faster pace, which would act as a brake on the economy.

I am merely reporting this, and this is also the only bit from this article that I quote.

And I have to admit that by now about the only chance I see for a radical change in the economy is a great crisis, but I have no ideas about whether this is it: We'll have to wait and see.


4. Is the Pentagon Endorsing Trump’s War on Democratic Institutions?

This article is by Jefferson Morley on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

President Trump’s proposed military parade is the final test for the proverbial "adults in the room." So far, they are flunking.

Those who continue to hope that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior military officers might check the delusional decision-making of President Trump can only read the reporting of the Washington Post, with a pang of disillusion.

President Trump wants a military parade in Washington, and the uniformed officer corps wants to give it to him. The emperor who has no moral clothes wants a ceremony to celebrate the military—and his nakedness. The generals, it seems, will oblige. Your new clothes look splendid, sir.

I am not amazed Trump wants a military parade, indeed in part because I think Trump will turn into a dictator if he sees a chance, but I never thought that present-day "senior military officers might check the delusional decision-making of President Trump".

My main reason for my belief is that Nixon terminated the draft in 1972, which means that most of the present-day army of the USA is composed of persons who freely chose to murder for their country - and while I agree there must be soldiers in the present world, I think soldiers ought to be drafted from the complete population, instead of being volunteers.

Here is more on the latest decision by Trump + his generals:

The Washington Post reports:

Surrounded by the military’s highest-ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Trump’s seemingly abstract desire for a parade was suddenly heard as a presidential directive, the officials said.

“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military."

Cue the photos of Trump beaming at France’s pomp and circumstance last July, and photos of dispiriting dictatorial displays in communist Moscow and Nazi Germany.

I say. And here is some more:

Are Mattis and Dunford implicitly joining, celebrating and promoting Trump’s ongoing war of attrition against American democratic institutions such as the free press and the rule of law? Both Mattis and Dunford know that Trump has threatened to lock up his critics—and there are hundreds of thousands of good soldiers who did not vote for the president in the armed forces.

Trump has threatened to shut down critical news organizations, whose freedom of speech the military is pledged to defend.

Trump has bragged about violating sexual assault laws, laws that are essential to military camaraderie and discipline.

Well... I do not think "the free press" in the USA at present is much of a real free press:

There are some exceptions, all of which do not belong to the mainstream media, but the mainstream media mostly do not write for those who buy the paper, but for those with big money, whose interests the editors mostly serve.

It is similar with "the rule of law" in a country whose Supreme Court handed virtually all the powers to the few rich, by effectively deciding that money = votes in 2010.

Anyway... this is a recommended article.

5. Trump’s Big Buyback Bamboozle

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

Trump’s promise that corporations will use his giant new tax cut to make new investments and raise workers’ wages is proving to be about as truthful as his promise to release his tax returns.

The results are coming in, and guess what? Almost all the extra money is going into stock buybacks. Since the tax cut became law, buy-backs have surged to $88.6 billion. That’s more than double the amount of buybacks in the same period last year, according to data provided by Birinyi Associates.

Compare this to the paltry $2.5 billion of employee bonuses corporations say they’ll dispense in response to the tax law, and you see the bonuses for what they are – a small fig leaf to disguise the big buybacks.

If you have been reading Nederlog, you know I normally agree far more with Robert Reich than with Donald Trump. In fact, this is also the case now, but I pay some more attention to this article because it is about stock buybacks:

Stock buybacks are corporate purchases of their own shares of stock. Corporations do this to artificially prop up their share prices.

Buybacks are the corporate equivalent of steroids. They may make shareholders feel better than otherwise, but nothing really changes.

Money spent on buybacks isn’t reinvested in new equipment, research, or factories. Buybacks don’t add jobs or raise wages. They don’t increase productivity. They don’t grow the American economy.

Yet CEOs love buybacks because most CEO pay is now in shares of stock and stock options rather than cash. So when share prices go up, executives reap a bonanza.

That is: Stock buybacks keep the shares high (which interests shareholders, but few other people - and 90% of the Americans has no shares of very few shares), and there for also keeps the CEOs pay high, because the CEOs pay is now predominantly in terms of shares of stock.

And nobody else profits, but this is enough for it to happen on a very large scale.

Here is more on buybacks:

Big investors also love buybacks because they increase the value of their stock portfolios. Now that the richest 10 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all shares of stock (up from 77 percent at the turn of the century), this means even more wealth at the top.

Buybacks used to be illegal. The Securities and Exchange considered them unlawful means of manipulating stock prices, in violation of the Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934.

In those days, the typical corporation put about half its profits into research and development, plant and equipment, worker retraining, additional jobs, and higher wages.

But under Ronald Reagan, who rhapsodized about the “magic of the market,” the SEC legalized buybacks.

After that, buybacks took off.
And buybacks were quite illegal from 1933 till 1981 i.e. for around fifty years, as seems also very fair to me.

Here is how much was paid on buybacks in 2017:

Last year, big American corporations spent a record $780 billion buying back their shares of stock.

And that was before the new tax law.

Put another way, the new tax law is giving America’s wealthy not one but two big windfalls: They stand to gain the most from the tax cuts for individuals, and  they’re the big winners from the tax cuts for corporations. 

This isn’t just unfair. It’s also bad for the economy as a whole.
I completely agree. Here is Reich's conclusion:

Which also means that as long as public policies are tilted to the benefit of those at the top – as is Trump’s tax cut, along with Reagan’s legalization of stock buybacks – we’re not going to see much economic growth. 

We’re just going to have more buybacks and more inequality.

I quite agree. And this is a recommended article.

Notes

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] Incidentally: I am sorry if you do not believe this. All I can say is this:

It is all true to the best of my quite extensive knowledge; I am the only one of the Dutch (former) "leftists" who never - not in 50 years - was paid a single cent because of my political opinions; and the Dutch media have almost completely ceased to write about the Dutch universities since the last 40 years.


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