February 27, 2018

Crisis: Castro's Cuba, Koch Brothers, From Russia, U.S.-Iran Hostilities, A Moral Movement


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 27, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, February 27, 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 27, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Goodbye Castros, Hello Communist Party
2. Billionaire Koch Brothers Have Extracted “Laundry List” of Victories
     from Trump Admin

3. From Russia, With Absurdity
4. Growing Risk of U.S.-Iran Hostilities Based on False Pretexts, Intel Vets

5. The Moral Movement Against Violence
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. Goodbye Castros, Hello Communist Party

This article is by Javier Corrales and James Loxton on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

For the first time in six decades, Cuba is poised to have a non-Castro as leader. On March 11, Cuba will hold elections for the National Assembly, which in turn will select the country’s next president on April 19. President Raúl Castro, brother of the late Fidel Castro, will not run for re-election. In 2012, he introduced term limits and seems willing to honor them. The National Assembly is widely expected to choose a successor from outside the Castro family.

What are we to make of this succession? One optimistic reading is that this could be the first step toward democracy. A more realistic reading is that Cuba is heading for more of the same: undemocratic one-party rule.

This is more or less correct - and I review this article at least in part for personal reasons, for I know some more about Cuba than most people seem to do.

Then again, the next bit I quote seems pure fantasy to me:

If the Cuban Communist Party — the only party allowed to participate in elections under the one-party regime — were smart, it would try to get out while the getting is good. By transitioning to democracy on its own terms, the party could reap benefits.

Newly configured institutions and laws (for example, electoral laws) could be tailor-made to its advantage. The party could take advantage of this new freedom from the Castros to produce new freedoms for Cubans, thus generating good will that could translate into votes.

After all, in many new democracies, the old authoritarian ruling parties (or parties formed by former authoritarians) remain prominent actors.
Yes, after more than two generations of rule by the Castros... and besides, I also have no idea whatsoever about what The New York Times means by "democracy". Perhaps they mean that great system that produced the madman Trump as president of the USA?!

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article. This is less fantastical:

Unfortunately for the Cuban people, there are few signs that this option is being considered. Instead, most signs point to a continuation of the status quo — a succession to a non-Castro, yes, but not a transition to a freer regime. The Cuban regime remains fairly protected from domestic pressures to become more democratic, even if it is ultimately in the Cuban Communist Party’s long-term interests to do so.

Most obviously, while Mr. Castro will step down as president, he will not retire fully. He will remain head of the Communist Party and the unofficial head of the military, the country’s two most important institutions. When former authoritarian rulers retain control of key parts of the state, they are able to veto any potential democratic openings.

I more or less agree, and I also point out that Raul Castro is 86, while his brother Fidel Castro died at 90 in 2016. 

2. Billionaire Koch Brothers Have Extracted “Laundry List” of Victories from Trump Admin

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments today in a key case that could deal a massive blow to unions nationwide. The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, deals with whether workers who are covered by union-negotiated contracts are required to pay a portion of union dues even if they are not members of the union. This case is among a slew of conservative causes that right-wing donors have poured money into in recent years—among them, the Koch brothers, who recently boasted they’ve won a “laundry list” of victories from the Trump administration. For more, we speak with Lee Fang, investigative reporter for The Intercept. His recent piece is entitled “Koch Document Reveals a Laundry List of Policy Victories Extracted from the Trump Administration.”
I have not read that article, but this introduction is quite correct, and here is more:
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lee, speaking of marketing efforts, I wanted to ask you about another big marketing effort. The Koch brothers art talking about spending somewhere between $400 and $500 million on the upcoming midterm elections. Could you talk about their network, the Seminar Network, that you’ve looked into, and what the impact of such huge spending could be on these upcoming elections?

LEE FANG: Well, look, the Koch brothers, for over a decade now, have organized other Republican donors—these are billionaires, very wealthy donors—to attend secret gatherings with the Koch brothers to pledge money to the Koch network. And this Koch network money goes to a range of groups, different think tanks, university efforts, but also the campaign advertisements and grassroots efforts to get out the vote. The Seminar Network is an effort to institutionalize this fundraising network. They meet twice a year. There was a recent meeting at Indian Wells, where about 500 different donors came to listen to the Koch brothers and update them about their strategy.

And, you know, the big priority for the Koch brothers this year, in this midterm election, is to preserve the Republican majorities in Congress and to continue to elect Republicans on the state level. And there’s kind of two big efforts that are going on right now. They’re very worried about the upcoming census, that will redraw the political maps in every single state just in two years. So, whoever controls the legislatures after this midterm elections will draw the maps over the next decade.

I think this is a good analysis. Here is some on what the Koch brothers achieved in 2017:

LEE FANG: (..) You know, in the backdrop of a very chaotic first year, Donald Trump has actually helped achieve much of what the Koch brothers have lobbied for for a very long time, in really rapid succession. You know, in three primary areas that we talk about in the piece, the Republicans in Congress and Trump enacted tax cuts that the Koch brothers have fought very hard for. And these are tax cuts weighted to the top. There was a recent estimate that said that each Koch brother, David and Charles Koch, will receive $500 million per year—that’s an estimate—just from the tax bill alone.

I take it that they recovered their outlay with profit, but I do not know. And here is what the Koch brothers hope for in the case of the present trial before the Supreme Court:

LEE FANG: This Janus case could be the most devastating blow to progressive politics since the Citizens United decision. Simply put, if this case goes through—and it’s looking very likely, with Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, that they will decide in favor of the plaintiffs—it will allow, as you mentioned, right-to-work rules for public sector employees nationwide. That means that even for members or nonmembers of unions, members can—unions can no longer withdraw what’s called agency fees. That’s the kind of money that’s deducted from a paycheck to represent a worker under contract. And when unions can no longer collect those fees, as we’ve seen on the private sector side, many unions kind of enter a death spiral.

Quite so. And this is why this case is very important. This is a recommended article, in which there is considerably more.

3. From Russia, With Absurdity

This article is by Eleanor Goldfield on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Before I get into the absurdities of “Russiagate” and McCarthyism 2.0, let me point out that I do, in fact, dislike Donald Trump and the Republican Party establishment. I also dislike Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment. Those feelings are not mutually exclusive.

For some reason, our country’s political discourse is like a single-throw switch. You can only either be Republican or Democrat. Leaving aside the fact that in 2016, Independents accounted for almost 40 percent of registered voters, more than Democrats (32 percent) and Republicans (23 percent), the idea that we can only exist in one extreme or the other is the kind of absurd paradigm that both civil wars and sandbox tiffs are made of.

Yes indeed: I completely agree (and in fact this is a quite good article, in my opinion).

Also, I should add that one of my reasons to completely agree is that I am not American but Dutch, and the Dutch - of which there are a bit more than 17 million, in all - have a political system in which some 15 political parties compete for votes, and normally the Dutch government is made up of 4 to 6 political parties, in some sort of compromise.

I have known that Dutch system all my life, and while I cannot say I am happy with it, the reasons for my unhappiness is not at all with the number of parties, but with the average intelligence and knowledge of its voters, and with the moral and intellectual level of most political candidates.

And I also should add that the American system, where there are but two parties that may win presidential elections, does seem to me to be less democratic than the Dutch system (and like somewhat similar other European systems), for the simple reason that you cannot fairly distinguish between policies if all the policies you can vote for are one of two.

Here is more from Goldfield:

It is also what Russiagate is made of. On our two-dimensional political stage, all cameras are focused on a blurry, nebulous mass labeled “Russia did it.” The political theater involved with turning this heap of fallacies and conjecture into something that rivals Pearl Harbor and 9/11 is as impressive as it is terrifying. The entire media machine is exhausting itself running anti-Russia stories nonstop, as if the entire world has set aside all its differences, crises and disasters just so we would have nothing else to report on. On four separate occasions at four different airports, I found myself bombarded with televisions blaring, “Russia meddled in our elections and stole the crown from Hillary” on repeat.

I think this sounds quite correct. You may ask what is the evidence that Russia is rivalling Pearl Harbor (?!?!). Well... this is it (about Facebook, that seems to be Russia's main client for spreading false information):

Last October, Facebook’s newsroom reported that 10 million people in the U.S. saw the ads. The report also states that only 44 percent of the ad impressions occurred before the election, meaning that the majority happened after. Furthermore, roughly 25 percent of the ads were never shown to anyone. Later that month, Facebook told Congress that 126 million Americans had seen “divisive content” posted by “Russian agents.” Ads are not specified, nor do we know what is specifically meant by “divisive.” Still, even on the high side, by Facebook’s own admission, the IRA posts were equivalent to 1 in 23,000 of Facebook’s posts.

As former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein pointed out in a recent MSNBC interview, the fact that her campaign got a mention or two in these Russian ads “compared to trillions of ads on Facebook” just doesn’t even “pass the laugh test.”
I agree with Jill Stein on this, though this doesn't mean that the propaganda that "Russia did it" isn't very strong in the USA.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this fine article, which is again about Facebook:
Furthermore, Facebook’s own algorithm is structured to show you things that you already agree with. Known as “filter bubbles,” Facebook builds an online experience that coddles your bias and keeps you away from opposing perspectives, even if they feature a rather sharp-looking graphic of Satan and Jesus.
That is, Facebook steals all your privacy and "rewards" you by sending you advertisements "for free" that may save you a few pennies; its owner meanwhile has assembled $70 billions from its 2 billion members ($35 dollar per member); and it works by flattering its 2 billlion morons, and sucking up to them by selecting the stuff that already satisfies their prejudices...

...anyway, this is a good article about the horrors of Facebook, that is recommended.

4. Growing Risk of U.S.-Iran Hostilities Based on False Pretexts, Intel Vets Warn

This article is by the VIPS on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:

MEMORANDUM FOR:  The President

FROM:  Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT:  War With Iran


In our December 21st Memorandum to you, we cautioned that the claim that Iran is currently the world’s top sponsor of terrorism is unsupported by hard evidence. Meanwhile, other false accusations against Iran have intensified. Thus, we feel obliged to alert you to the virtually inevitable consequences of war with Iran, just as we warned President George W. Bush six weeks before the U.S. attack on Iraq 15 years ago.

In our first Memorandum in this genre we told then-President Bush that we saw “no compelling reason” to attack Iraq, and warned “the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.” The consequences will be far worse, should the U.S. become drawn into war with Iran. We fear that you are not getting the straight story on this from your intelligence and national security officials.

After choosing “War With Iran” for the subject-line of this Memo, we were reminded that we had used it before, namely, for a Memorandum to President Obama on August 3, 2010 in similar circumstances.
Yes indeed - and please note that the VIPS are made up of more than twenty former prominent members of the NSA, the CIA or the FBI: These are not naive people at all, for they all know a great amount about the spying that the USA does these days (on anyone anywhere).

And I think this memo is quite good, but I will only select two bits to review. The first is this:

We believe that the recent reporting regarding possible conflict with nuclear-armed North Korea has somewhat obscured consideration of the significantly higher probability that Israel or even Saudi Arabia will take steps that will lead to a war with Iran that will inevitably draw the United States in. Israel is particularly inclined to move aggressively, with potentially serious consequences for the U.S., in the wake of the recent incident involving an alleged Iranian drone and the shooting down of an Israeli aircraft.

There is also considerable anti-Iran rhetoric in U.S. media, which might well facilitate a transition from a cold war-type situation to a hot war involving U.S. forces.
I think this is all factually correct. And here is the second bit that I quote, which is from the ending:

In sum, we see a growing risk that the U.S. will become drawn into hostilities on pretexts fabricated by Israel and Saudi Arabia for their actual common objective (“regime change” in Iran). A confluence of factors and misconceptions about what is at stake and how such a conflict is likely to develop, coming from both inside and outside the Administration have, unfortunately, made such an outcome increasingly likely.

We have seen this picture before, just 15 years ago in Iraq, which should serve as a warning. The prevailing perception of threat that the Mullahs of Iran allegedly pose directly against the security of the U.S. is largely contrived. Even if all the allegations were true, they would not justify an Iraq-style “preventive war” violating national as well as international law. An ill-considered U.S. intervention in Iran is surely not worth the horrific humanitarian, military, economic, and political cost to be paid if Washington allows itself to become part of an armed attack.

I agree with all of this, and repeat that each and all of the 21 signatures does know a great amount about the security and the spying of the USA. Incidentally, while Iraq had around 37 million inhabitants, Iran has around 80 million inhabitants. And this is a recommended article.

5. The Moral Movement Against Violence

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:
Join the Ku Klux Klan and get 10 percent off on your next Fed Ex shipment!
This is the first statement of this article, and I selected it because I want to make a comment on it:

I do not think the above statement has been used, but it does correspond to the style of Facebook, which is a neofascist institution led by Mark Zuckerberg. It has presently over 2 billion members (of which I suspect about 1% are capable of writing their own site in html), and it does work on the above sort of schema:

If you, as a member of Facebook, sign away all your rights on any kind of privacy (which seems to happen mostly automatically, but which I do not know because I detest an despise Facebook, and I am certainly not going to read their legalisms), then you are "rewarded" with being sent free advertisements that will allow you to save a few pennies.

Since I hate, detest and despise all advertisements, all propaganda, and all lies that are spread around society as if they are its lifeblood, since almost sixty years now, I hate, detest and despise Facebook, with the addition that I very much fear absolutely anyone who does read my e-mails, which I regard as a very great crime.

And I do so not because my e-mails contain illegal materials (they do not) but because I regard each and every institution - like Facebook, like Google, like the NSA, like probably all the spies from anywhere - that reads my e-mails as a thoroughly neofascist institution that is out to kill democracy and replace it with an authoritarian autocratic system that is run by and for the very few rich.

Here is more by Robert Reich:

At last week’s CPAC conference, NRA president Wayne LaPierre cloaked his pro-gun address in paranoia about a “tidal wave” of “European-style socialists bearing down upon us,” telling his audience “you should be frightened.”

Most Americans know this kind of talk is bonkers. Not incidentally, most Americans also want gun controls. Ninety-seven percent support universal background checks and 70 percent favor registering all guns with the police.
Yes, that is correct to the best of my knowledge, but it also is correct to the best of my knowledge that what the majority of all Americans think has become rather irrelevant in the USA: What is relevant are the very rich, who can lay down millions to buy Members of Congress so as to make the decisions the very rich want - and see item 2 for an outline of how this works and how this is rewarded: If you are in a position to lay out millions, you are in the position to have your desires satisfied and to get many more millions than you laid out - and that seems to be the only way in the present American system in which you can be fairly certain that you can get what you wish.

Here is some more by Robert Reich:

Harvey Weinstein and his ilk aren’t killers but they are accused of assaulting and even raping women whose careers depended on them.

For years, these women didn’t dare raise their voices. They were told this was the way the system worked, much as we’ve been told for years there’s no way to take on the NRA.

Would the #MeToo movement have erupted without the abuser-in-chief in the Oval Office? Maybe. But Trump’s personal history – 19 women have accused him of sexual misconduct – has helped fuel it.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement predated Trump, but our racist-in-chief – who criticizes black athletes for protesting police violence – has given it new meaning and urgency as well.
I more or less agree, although I have to admit that I am less optimistic than Reich seems to be.

My reason is simple: I like the
#MeToo and the #BlackLivesMatter movements (more than not, at least), but I do not know whether they will survive more than a half year - at least as somewhat prominent forces - in the present USA, especially if the support by the press wanes, as it almost certainly will.

This is from the ending of the article:

In order to survive, people need several things – food, water, a roof over our heads. But the most basic of all is safety. That’s why governments were created in the first place.

If Americans can’t be secure from someone packing an assault rifle, or from the predatory behavior of powerful men, or from the police, we do not live in a functioning society.

Make no mistake. This is all about power – a powerful political lobby that has bullied America for too long, powerful men who haven’t been held accountable for their behavior, police who for too long have been unconstrained.

A moral movement is growing against the violence perpetrated by all of them, making it necessary for both government and business to take action. 

I have three remarks on this.

First, it would seem to me as if the American stopped being "
a functioning society" by 2002 at the latest, simply because (to select only one reason from quite a few more) "powerful men", who are always the rich men in the USA, have very much more power than at least 90 and probably than 99% of all Americans.

Second, Reich is quite right that the few powerful men who "
bullied America for too long" indeed have not "been held accountable for their behavior" for decades at least.

And therefore third, I am not convinced (at all) that the "
moral movement" which Reich sees "growing" will succeed. I hope it will, but in the 55 years I have been following politics, I have learned that the rich and the powerful are mostly the same, and that they mostly win.

But I do hope they will loose this time, 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 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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