March 8, 2018

Crisis: Gary Cohn, Businesses = People, Blowback, US Infrastructure, ¨Russia-gate¨


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 8, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Thursday, March 8, 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 March 8, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Gary Cohn: Mission Accomplished 
2. How Businesses Became People
3. A Planet Boiling With Unintended Consequences
4. Democrats Infrastructure Plan Would Roll Back GOP Tax Cuts for Rich,

5. Russiagate and the New Blacklist
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. Gary Cohn: Mission Accomplished

This article is by Gary Rivlin on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, is leaving the White House after just 14 months — but not before delivering a number of gifts to Wall Street and his old firm, Goldman Sachs.

That list starts with a 40 percent cut in corporate income tax that Cohn, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (another former Goldman Sachs exec), championed.

The sweeping tax overhaul finalized by Congress late last year cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. For Goldman, that translates into a tax savings of around $1 billion a year.

JPMorgan Chase, which paid more than $11 billion in income tax last year, could save closer to $4 billion a year. Wells Fargo will save roughly $2 billion a year, based on its 2017 earnings.

Cohn, who served as president of Goldman Sachs for 10 years before leaving to work in the Trump White House, delivered other generous tax gifts to corporate America during his brief tenure, including a tax break for the U.S. companies that have parked nearly $3 trillion in profits in Grand Cayman, Bermuda, or other tax havens.

Quite so - and incidentally: The taxes on the rich under the Republican Eisenhower, in the blooming 1950ies (in the United States) were between 60 and 70 percent. And in fact I have tried to give some graphical evidence of this, but Ubuntu 16.04 - which is about as horrible as Ubuntu 12.04 was excellent - refuses to show most (!!) jpegs. God may know the cause, but I don´t. I am sorry: I tried. [2]

Anyway... here is more:

The same bill that slashed taxes on corporations and the very wealthy allows these firms to bring that cash back to the United States without incurring huge tax bills. Companies bringing that money home won’t have to pay the 35 percent tax rate in place when that money was earned, or even the reduced 21 percent rate, but a steeply discounted 15.5 percent — a huge gift for tech firms such as Cisco, Qualcomm, and Apple.

Apple had $252 billion in cash abroad as of the end of last year — and is now poised to save nearly $50 billion as it brings that money home.

Precisely. And here is a sum up of what Cohn did for the rich, including himself:

Cohn delivered bigly for Goldman Sachs in other ways. Under Cohn, the administration eased the rules on initial public offerings — a step Goldman has long sought, as a firm that handles major public offerings, and one that is potentially worth hundreds of millions in additional fees to the firm each year. There could be more good tidings for Goldman and the other big banks in the $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan Trump unveiled at the start of the year. It places Wall Street firms at the center of partnerships between governments and private industry — welcome news for Goldman’s Public Sector and Infrastructure group, which arranges financing on large-scale public-sector deals. Goldman and other big investment banks are also in the business of debt-financing: a booming business as the federal government goes deeper into debt in the wake of Trump’s tax bill.

Yes indeed. There is more in the original, that is recommended, but this is what Cohn´s serving the public came down to: Riches for the rich; misery and pain for the rest.

2. How Businesses Became People

This article is by Zephyr Teachout on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

Around 300 B.C., the Romans invented a new way for a group of people to buy property and enter into contracts. Instead of making deals with a partner or set of partners, people could use a legal fiction that they were an entity, a societas publicanorum. This new institution was owned and controlled by investors, but legally separate from them. The privilege to act as a societas publicanorum was rare, and required a decree by the Roman Senate or the emperor.

Nearly 2,000 years later, versions of this legal innovation came to be used by English businesses, churches, guilds and cities, and by the investors behind the Virginia Company in colonial America. They were known as corporations. Like the societas publicanorum, corporations required a special charter from the king, giving its owners powerful but limited rights: the right to collectively hold property, form contracts and have access to the courts. Corporations were quasi-public, and each corporate charter was unique, comprising highly detailed rules including how much the corporation could charge for its products. Eventually, corporate investors gained a special prize: the privilege of limited liability, which allowed them to avoid personal legal responsibility for the corporation’s actions.

Yes indeed. Here are three background remarks on the above.

First, the whole article is the review of a recent book, ¨We The Corporation - How American Business Won Their Civil Rights¨, that was written by Adam Winkler. I have not read it.

Second, I definitely agree with the end of the above quotation:

¨Eventually, corporate investors gained a special prize: the privilege of limited liability, which allowed them to avoid personal legal responsibility for the corporation’s actions.¨

Then again, that was the point already in 300 BC, when the ¨societas publicanorum¨ was first formed, quite explicitly as ¨controlled by investors, but legally separate from them¨.

Third, the basic reason for creating corporations is very plain: It is a legal association between living persons that share their profits among themselves while ducking their personal responsibilities for any losses they make.

And this has been clear for a long time. One of the best essays I have ever read on corporations is by William Hazlitt. It is called ¨On Corporate Bodies¨ and dates to 1820. It starts as follows and outlines the essence of any economical corporation:

Corporate bodies have no soul.

Corporate bodies are more corrupt and profligate than individuals, because they have more power to do mischief, and are less amenable to disgrace or punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude, nor goodwill. The principle of private or natural conscience is extinguished in each individual (we have no moral sense in the breasts of others), and nothing is considered but how the united efforts of the whole (released from idle scruples) may be best directed to the obtaining of political advantages and privileges to be shared as common spoil. Each member reaps the benefit, and lays the blame, if there is any, upon the rest. The esprit de corps becomes the ruling passion of every corporate body, compared with which the motives of delicacy or decorum towards others are looked upon as being both impertinent and improper.

The refinements of private judgment are referred to and negatived in a committee of the whole body, while the projects and interests of the Corporation meet with a secret but powerful support in the self-love of the different members.

This essay is on my site: I strongly recommend you to read all of it.

Here is more by Teachout, that explains very roughly but rather adequately how corporations worked from the beginning, and what they aimed for:

Since the early days of the Republic, corporations have invested substantial capital in some of the country’s most talented and charismatic lawyers, pushed risky lawsuits and been on the “cutting edge” of rights-making. They have not been passive recipients of legal change but, rather, among its most significant architects.
While the corporation of early America was an “artificial person” — Blackstone’s term — for purposes of property ownership, contracts and lawsuits alone, Winkler shows how “today corporations have nearly all the same rights as individuals: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, religious liberty, due process, equal protection, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to counsel, the right against double jeopardy and the right to trial by jury.”

In fact, I have read some writers who have asserted that presently and since 2010 (roughly) American corporations have more personal rights than living American individuals. I do not know whether that is correct, but I do know that legal abstractions that were created from the beginning to gain the profits for living persons while avoiding the losses should not have legal rights as if they are living persons, indeed in part because the living abstractions that are deemed to be persons (and carry most of the losses, eventually) serve the better to shift responsibility for any losses to others than those who made them.

But indeed since 2010 the Supreme Court of the USA disagrees with me (and indeed with many legal scholars): In Citizens United - to quote Wikipedia - the Supreme Court decided this:

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a landmark U.S. constitutional law, campaign finance, and corporate law case dealing with regulation of political campaign spending by organizations. The United States Supreme Court held (5–4) on January 21, 2010 that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.

I am not a lawyer but I read some law, both Dutch and American, and this certainly is the sickest, most corrupt and most fraudulent motivation for a law that I ever read. It goes roughly as follows: (i) Free speech = money; (ii) therefore: whoever has more money has more free speech; therefore (iii) corporations (etc. etc.) are free to spend what they can - millions, billions - to get what they want.

In case you think this is insane: I quite agree. But it now is the law in the USA.

There is considerably more about the book in the article, and there also is some criticism:

However, there is one somewhat shocking lacuna. He fails to consider the revolution in monopoly law in the last 40 years. Beginning in the 1970s, a group of activist lawyers associated with the University of Chicago persuaded courts to gut well-established principles designed to protect open markets and decentralized power, and to replace them with an ideology of efficiency that has contributed to our current crisis of monopoly capitalism and inequality. Winkler mentions the Chicago school in passing, but he doesn’t address the post-1980 antitrust cases (..)

I certainly agree with the criticism, but I did not read the book. In any case, this article is recommended.

3. A Planet Boiling With Unintended Consequences

This article is by Tom Engelhardt on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch. This is from near the beginning:
I want to take a moment to remember Mr. Blowback himself.

And what a guy he was!  Here’s how he described himself in the last piece he wrote for TomDispatch just months before his death in November 2010: “My own role these past 20 years has been that of Cassandra, whom the gods gave the gift of foreseeing the future, but also cursed because no one believed her.”

He wasn’t being immodest.  He had, in many ways, seen the shape of things to come for what he never hesitated to call “the American empire,” including — in that 2010 piece — its decline.  As he wrote then, “Thirty-five years from now, America’s official century of being top dog (1945-2045) will have come to an end; its time may, in fact, be running out right now. We are likely to begin to look ever more like a giant version of England at the end of its imperial run, as we come face to face with, if not necessarily to terms with, our aging infrastructure, declining international clout, and sagging economy.”
I’m talking about Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.

The man who wrote that was Chalmers Johnson, a former CIA consultant and an eminent scholar of modern Asian history, who would in that work characterize himself in his former life as a “spear-carrier for empire.”

In fact, I do not know much about Chalmers Johnson but the last link gives both some personal information about him and also about Blowback and two later books in the same series. I agree he seems to have been a decent man.

Here is how Johnson meant the term ¨blowback¨ to be understood:

“The term ‘blowback,’ which officials of the Central Intelligence Agency first invented for their own internal use,” he wrote, “refers to the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people.  What the daily press reports as the malign acts of ‘terrorists’ or ‘drug lords’ or ‘rogue states’ or ‘illegal arms merchants’ often turn out to be blowback from earlier American operations.”

Yes, I think that is quite correct - and the main point is that it refers to (bolding added) ¨policies that were kept secret from the American people¨.

Here is some more on the last 15 to 17 years:

The early months of 2003, when they were preparing to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, may have been their ultimate hubristic moment, in which imagining anything other than success of a historic sort, not just in that country but far beyond it, was inconceivable.

Until then, never — except in Hollywood movies when the bad guy rubbed his hands with glee and cackled that the world was his — had any power truly dreamed of taking it all, of ruling, or at least directing, the planet itself.  Even for a globalizing great power without rivals and wealthy almost beyond compare that would prove the ultimate in conceptual overstretch. Looking back, it’s easy enough to see that almost 17 years of ceaseless war and conflict across the Greater Middle East, Africa, and even parts of Asia, of massive destruction, of multiplying failed states, of burgeoning terror outfits, and of blowback of every sort, have given the old phrase, “biting off more than you can chew,” new geopolitical meaning.

Yes, I agree with this as well - and I still have my strong suspicions about 9/11: I do not know who engineered it, but the official story seems evident bullshit to me and - much more importantly - to many architects.

Then again, I merely remark this here and pass on to the next bit that explains that in the same 15 to 17 years the USA was fundamentally transformed:

In those years, while the distant wars went on and on (and terrors of every imaginable sort grew in this country), the United States was transformed in a remarkable, if not yet fully graspable, fashion.  The national security state now reigns supreme in Washington; generals (or retired generals) are perched (however precariously) atop key parts of the civilian government; a right-wing populist, who rose to power in part on the fear of immigrants, refugees, and Islamic extremists, has his giant golden letters emblazoned on the White House (and a hotel just down Pennsylvania Avenue that no diplomat or lobbyist with any sense would dare not patronize); the police have been militarized; borders have been further fortified; spy drones have been dispatched to American skies; and the surveillance of the citizenry and its communications have been made the order of the day.

Again I agree, and for me it is especially ¨the surveillance of the citizenry¨ that is extremely frightening, for it gives all the powers to the secret services, indeed including the utterly sick follow up of the Declaration of Human Rights.

The last link is to the original source from 1948; the next link is to the fraud they made out of it, the neofascist European ¨Convention on Human Rights¨ that outline in fact mostly the rights of the secret services to rape all other laws. (You will NOT find a decent explanation on Wikipedia. The basic sadistic trick it indulges in is that whereas human rights were secured by denying states and governments rights to interfere with human rights, the new quasi-human rights are based on the supposition that states and specifically their secret services are positively obliged to destroy all privacy so that the secret services can maintain ¨human rights¨ by knowing everything about everyone.)

I will leave that to your own interests, and quote the last bit from this article, which is about the mostly very successful attempts of the corporations to manipulate the news and information about climate change that reaches the public:

(...) the heads of some of the most influential and wealthiest corporations on Earth they began to invest striking sums in the fostering of a universe of think tanks, lobbyists, and politicians devoted to what became known as climate-change denial.  Between 1998 and 2014, for instance, Exxon would pump $30 million into just such think tanks and similar groups, while donating $1.87 million directly to congressional climate-change deniers.

It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that, from its inception, this was the functional definition of the worst crime in history.  In the name of record profits and the comfortable life (as well as corporate sustainability in an unendingly fossil-fuelized world), their CEOs had no hesitation about potentially dooming the human future to a hell on Earth of rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and ever more extreme weather; they gave, that is, a new, all-encompassing meaning to the term genocide.  They were prepared, if necessary, to take out the human species.

Actually, I do not think this was ¨the worst crime in history¨. I think the worst crime in history was the - very intentional, very much planned - handing over of all the privacies of anyone to the anonymous creeps of the secret services. Then again, you may disagree with me and agree with Johnson. In any case, this is a strongly recommended article.

4. Democrats Infrastructure Plan Would Roll Back GOP Tax Cuts for Rich, Corporations

This article is by Jake Johnson on Commion Dreams. It starts as follows:
Offering an ambitious alternative to President Donald Trump's "climate-wrecking" infrastructure plan—which would be paid for by enacting deep budget cuts and dumping most of the costs onto state and local governments—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure blueprint that would be funded by rolling back the GOP's tax cuts for the rich and closing loopholes exploited by Wall Street billionaires.

"Unfortunately, the Trump plan is a sham. It is a fraud," Sanders said in a statement. "The fact of the matter is that the American people understand, whether they are Republican, Democrat, progressive, or conservative, that in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, we are now falling further and further behind many other countries. Now is the time to rebuild America."

In contrast to Trump's proposal, which is built on the hope that just $200 billion in federal funds will spur $1.3 trillion in "investments" from states and private companies, the Democrats' blueprint (pdf) proposes using federal funds to rebuild roads, bridges, schools, and water infrastructure—then offsetting the costs by hiking the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, restoring the top marginal rate of 39.6 percent, and closing the carried interest loophole.
Yes indeed. And in fact I do not think that this infrastructure plan, that sounds quite reasonable to me, will ever be adopted. But then that is one of the basic problems in American politics since Reagan: Reasonable plans that threaten to diminish the enormous profits of the corporations are shut down in Congress or the Senate by majorities of bought frauds, or so it seems to me.

In any case, here is an outline of the plan:

"Under the Democrats' plan, Wall Street billionaires will be asked to help pay for improving our nation's roads, bridges, and tunnels, instead of lining their pockets through privatized Trump Tolls, as they would under the president's ill-conceived and underfunded infrastructure scheme," Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, said in a statement endorsing the blueprint on Wednesday. "Making the rich and corporations pay their fair share means we will be able to rebuild our communities from the ground up."

Specifically, the Democrats' blueprint calls for:

  • $140 billion for roads and bridges;
  • $115 billion to "modernize America's water and sewer systems";
  • $115 billion to repair public transportation;
  • $50 billion to "modernize America's rail infrastructure";
  • $62 billion to expand public housing; and
  • $50 billion to repair public schools.
As I said: it seems a reasonable plan, but it will not be adopted because it does not benefit the rich, or that is what I think. And this is a recommended article.

5. Russiagate and the New Blacklist

This article is by Matt Taibbi on Common Dreams and originally on Rolling Stone. It starts as follows:

Putin loves you; therefore, you love Putin. The enemy re-tweets you, therefore, you're in league with the enemy. We're at war with them, therefore we're at war with you.

One of the first rules of a shunning campaign is that it doesn't have to make sense. It just has to be what everyone's saying.
Nearly two years into the #Russiagate scandal, accusing people of being in league with Putin has become an almost daily feature of news coverage.

"Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House Intel Committee on the Republican side?" MSNBC anchor John Heilmann posited not long ago, referring to California congressman Devin Nunes.

All of the above are evident examples of totalitarianism, according to myself, according to George Orwell, according to many of the best minds I have read, and according to many tens of books (at the very least) that I have read on the subject - but none of this is true according to the neofascist or the complete idiot who rewrote ¨totalitarianism¨ on the Wikipedia, and changed its definition so that the USA, England, and Western Europe are not totalitarian, and no persons, no beliefs, no political parties, no policies, no plans can ever be totalitarian because - in brief - only states may be ¨totalitarian¨.

Either Orwell, myself and many of the best minds I have been reading in the last 50+ years are total idiots, or else the Wikipedia is lying. And I think Orwell was not lying, and therefore Wikipedia is. [3]

Here is more by Matt Taibbi:
This Russians-are-in-our-precious-bodily-fluids insanity has progressed to the point where an anti-Russian documentary won the Oscar and host Jimmy Kimmel proudly declared, "At least we know Putin isn't rigging this competition!"

If you don't think that the endgame to all of this lunacy is a world where every America-critical movement from Black Lives Matter to Our Revolution to the Green Party is ultimately swept up in the collusion narrative along with Donald Trump and his alt-right minions, you haven't been paying attention. That's because #Russiagate, from the start, was framed as an indictment not just of one potentially traitorous Trump, but all alternative politics in general.
I have two remarks on this bit.

The first remark is that ¨
our-precious-bodily-fluids¨ in fact is a reference to ¨Dr. Strangelove¨ in which General Jack D. Ripper has gone insane and thinks what is quoted above (and will eventually indirectly succeed in blowing up the whole world).

And the second remark is that I agree with the second paragraph, indeed especially because this is totalitarianism, in my sense. (This is again quite impossible in the sense given by Wikipedia to that term: That implies that nothing an American does can be totalitarian (in their sense)).

Here is more on the same totalitarian theme (in my sense):
By an extraordinary coincidence, virtually all the "anti-system" movements and candidates that so terrified the political establishment two years ago have since been identified as covert or overt Russian destabilization initiatives, puppeteered from afar by the diabolical anti-Western dictator, Vladimir von Putin-Evil.

Since Trump's election, we've been told Putin was all or partly behind the lot of it: the Catalan independence movement, the Sanders campaign, Brexit, Jill Stein's Green Party run, Black Lives Matter, the resignations of intra-party Trump critics Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, Sean Hannity's broadcasts, and, of course, the election of Trump himself.
Yes, I agree although I have not verified all the references Taibbi gives.

And here is one important subject:

A major target of this idiocy has been Sanders, who is already being pitched to the public as the Kremlin's next Manchurian Candidate. "When Russia interferes with the 2020 election on behalf of Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders," the Washington Post unironically asked last November, "how will liberals respond?"

Unless you really believe that Bernie Sanders is a Russian agent, it's incredibly suspicious that a major consequence of the #Russiagate mania has been the disappearance of progressive voices from traditionally blue-state media.

I just say: Yes indeed. And here is the end of this article:

Parts of the Russiagate story may be real. Sleazeballs like Paul Manafort and Trump are, like Putin himself, capable of anything. We'll find out soon what exactly they all got up to together, if anything. But we should already be able to admit that others – like the millions of Americans on both sides of the aisle who voted against status quo politicians two years ago – aren't, and weren't ever, traitors. And any campaign to label them as such is potentially more dangerous than anything, even a Trump presidency.

And I basically agree, with two remarks.

The first remark is that I never denied that ¨parts of the Russiagate story may be real¨. What I have denied from the start and still do are two things: (i) that there is evidence that this was a major operation, and (ii) that there is evidence that the Russians invested a lot in this. (Then again, the Russians obviously do what - it seems - all governments do: spying.)

And the second remark is that I do agree with the last remarks, and do so for the explicit reason that this is totalitarianism in my sense. But you can´t even say or write it if you accept the anonymous neofascist baloney Wikipedia offers.


[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 (!!).

[2] Yes indeed. I am quite sorry, and I will try to find something that is better than this very rotten version from Ubuntu, but I am also ill (and I certainly refuse to use Windows or Apple).

[3] Here is the neofascistic lie that is propounded by Wikipedia (minus note numbers):

Totalitarianism is a political concept where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Totalitarian regimes
stay in political power through rule by one leader and an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror. A distinctive feature of totalitarian governments is an "elaborate ideology, a set of ideas that gives meaning and direction to the whole society." 

This is defended in the main text only by references to fascists and communists, and to Brzezinski, of all people (except in a falsifying appendix). It implies no person, no party, no policy, no plan, no set of ideas, no set of values, and in fact nothing whatsoever (and certainly nothing in the USA) can be called totalitarian, except if it is part of a totalitarian state.

In fact, this is the less important half of the real meaning of totalitarianism which is not only a ¨political concept¨ (?!?!) but also a psychological and sociological concept.

Here is Hannah Arendt (also a liar, I suppose, according to Wikipedia):

¨The very existence of totalitarian movements in the non-totalitarian world¨,

-  that is totally denied by the above false redefinition of the term ¨totalitarianism¨ -

¨that is the appeal totalitarianism exerts on those who have all the information¨

- that is totally denied by the above false redefinition of the term ¨totalitarianism¨ -

¨and are being warned day-in and day-out, bear eloquent witness to the breakdown of the whole structure of morality, the whole body of commands and prohibitions which traditionally translated and embodied the fundamental ideas of freedom and justice into terms of social relationships and political institutions.¨

I am - I admit - getting extremely sick of Wikipedias intentional neofascistic lies.

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