October 15, 2018

Crisis: ¨Progressive Democrats¨, A Miracle, Trump & NAFTA, Trump & Taxes, Ralph Nader


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from October 15, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Monday, October 15, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

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.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from October 15, 2018:
1. Nearly Every Member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Still
     Takes Corporate PAC Money

2. We Can Feed the World and Halve Emissions—but There's a Catch
3. Does Trump's NAFTA Correct the Damage Clinton Did to Workers?
4. Trump Is Just One Player in a Much, Much Larger Tax Story
5. Ralph Nader: Democrats are still weak and corrupt, “could blow it
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. Nearly Every Member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Still Takes Corporate PAC Money

This article is by Rachel Cohen and Ryan Grim on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

In April, the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced that it was going to be drawing a line: Its political action committee would no longer accept corporate campaign donations.

“If we are going to end the influence of corporations and special interests in government, we have to start by not relying on their support,” said caucus co-chair Mark Pocan, D-Wis. “Only by being fully independent of their financial influence can we prioritize people over corporations.”

The development was largely ignored by the press, but for those who heard about it, the move raised an immediate question: Wait, the Congressional Progressive Caucus was taking corporate money?

Yes, it was. And not only did the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC accept corporate contributions until recently, but also, almost all of its 78 members — including Pocan — still take corporate money individually, even as their caucus shuns it. Just four caucus members who will be returning to the House next session have pledged to decline corporate funds: Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; and David Cicilline, D-R.I.

I say, for I only partially knew some of this.

And in fact, I agree with Mark Pocan, who said that “If we are going to end the influence of corporations and special interests in government, we have to start by not relying on their support.” And: “Only by being fully independent of their financial influence can we prioritize people over corporations.”

What I knew is that the Democrats did start to accept big money from big corporations in the 1990s, and have been doing so ever since, with - it seems rather convincingly, though indeed not only through Democrats - the consequence that the big corporations got a whole lot of what they wanted in the last twenty to thirty years.

There are of course Democrats who insist that although the corporatists may give them a whole lot of money this has no influence on Democratic voting:

The new push to go cold turkey on corporate cash is creating tension within the caucus, as progressive members take offense at the implication that their votes might be influenced by big money. “People feel like you’re saying that they are bought and sold — and some are, but many aren’t,” Jayapal told The Intercept. “It’s not like everybody who takes corporate PAC money is bad or only does what the corporations want. … But that’s not what this is about. It’s about re-establishing trust with voters, changing the system, working from multiple angles.”

I am sorry (and I do not know this) but I´d reverse Jayapal´s statment to ¨many are¨ bought  and sold ¨but some are not¨. As I indicated, I lack evidence for this - except that I think I am almost as much moved to believe in Father Christmas, simply because the corporations did get most of what they wanted since the 1990s.

Then there is this (and the CPC = the Congressional Progressive Caucus):

An analysis by The Intercept of the 2017-18 campaign cycle reveals that the vast majority of CPC members are similarly vulnerable, taking not just money from union and advocacy group PACs,  but significant sums of corporate PAC cash as well. Not coincidentally, given the reliance on big money, hardly any members of the CPC rely on small individual donors

And this is followed by - two rather impressive - graphics plus a lot more text. In fact, I leave both to your interests, because while I liked the graphics, I found the rest of the text pretty hard to follow.

In any case, I think I can restate the conclusion of this article as follows:

Nearly every member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - still - receives big money from corporations, and hardly anyone relies on small donors.

In fact, this is the case since the 1990ies, and my own translation of the implication is ¨ergo, corruption¨ but you may disagree. This article is recommended because of its beginning.

2. We Can Feed the World and Halve Emissions—but There's a Catch

This article is by Alex Kirby on Truthdig and originally on Climate News Network. It starts like this - and I started to review this article because of its quite implausible title:

The hopeful news is that by mid-century a well-fed world may be able to feed everyone alive, while halving the gases causing global warming. There’s just one snag: for most of us it would mean an almost meatless diet.

On 8 October global scientists said the world must make “rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society” to keep global warming from reaching unacceptably dangerous levels.  They included the food we eat as one sector demanding radical change.

Bang on cue, a report by a separate group of scientists says the 10 billion people expected to be living by 2050 could enjoy sustainable food supplies – while emissions of the greenhouse gases that are warming the Earth fall by more than 50%.

I am sorry, but without decent evidence I believe neither the title nor this first quote, and I do not get any solid evidence in the rest of this article, that I think is bulllshit - and please note the last two paragraphs:

The first warns that in order ¨to keep global warming from reaching unacceptably dangerous levels¨ society must make rapid and far-reaching changes un all aspects of society; the second simply announces (without any evidence) that we can feed everybody - all 10 billion - who is alive by 2050 (which would be the first time ever) simply by having everyone eat considerably less meat.

I am sorry but this sounds as if it is fraudulent.

3. Does Trump's NAFTA Correct the Damage Clinton Did to Workers?

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

During the second presidential debate of 1992, business magnate and independent candidate Ross Perot warned we’d hear a “giant sucking sound” of American jobs leaving the country if the U.S. enacted the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Perot was largely dismissed at the time, perhaps because he himself was so eminently dismissible, but you can draw a straight line from NAFTA to the election of Donald Trump 24 years later.

Championed by Ronald Reagan and ultimately enacted by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the pact has hollowed out the manufacturing industry, leaving millions of Americans destitute and resentful. Enter Trump, who campaigned across the Upper Midwest on the message that NAFTA was “the worst trade deal in the history of the country” and that our partners were taking advantage of us. As director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade and a 25-year veteran of congressional trade battles, Lori Wallach reveals in the latest episode of “Scheer Intelligence” that he got it half-right, hyperbole notwithstanding.

I say, and I do so because I trust Scheer and because it seems as if Trump may have done something good. In fact, I wrote quite a lot in the crisis series about the TPP some years ago, (see e.g. 2014) but mostly stopped with this.

Here is more:

Which brings us to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement reached earlier this month and currently headed to Congress for approval. Wallach believes that, much to her astonishment, it may actually represent an improvement on NAFTA, despite extending “more extreme, new rights and privileges to big pharmaceutical companies.” Among its improvements, Robert Scheer points out, are a $16-per-hour wage requirement in a range of industries and the abandonment of corporate-controlled courts that damage the environment and run roughshod over labor. Even Trump’s trade wars, which spooked the stock market this week, could conceivably have long-term benefits for American workers.

I say, again. Even leaving out the trade wars, these two changes - more money for workers and ¨the abandonment of corporate-controlled courts¨ - are indeed considerable.

Here is more by Lori Wallach, who calls ¨the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement¨ NAFTA 2.0:

Lori Wallach: There are some elements of the NAFTA 2.0, as you started out by saying, that are better than NAFTA, and that are better than the TPP—the TPP negotiated by a democrat. And I say “better” from a progressive perspective. Some of the corporate power-grabs, though there are plenty of them in NAFTA 2.0, but some of the most extreme ones that were included in the TPP by the Obama folks, have been whacked in the NAFTA.

And there is this by the same:

LW: (...) The reason, when this agreement came out, I was very, as much as I really dislike Donald Trump and almost everything he says or does, credit was due in the NAFTA 2.0 for really reining in the threats posed by what is called technically the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system, ISDS for short. This is a regime that empowers multinational companies to sue governments in front of tribunals of three corporate attorneys. The corporate attorneys can rotate between acting as so-called judges and suing governments. And these tribunals are empowered to order taxpayers to reward the corporations with unlimited sums, including for their claimed expected future profits, for any violation of a set of extraordinary rights and privileges the trade agreements grant them.
And those provisions in NAFTA, for the first time, as compared to their continual expansion, including in the TPP, have been whacked back seriously. So with a three-year phase-in, if this agreement gets approved and goes into effect, three years after it goes into effect the ISDS system is altogether terminated between the U.S. and Canada. And that is a big honking deal.

I agree with this. There is a lot more in the article, but I must say I found much of Wallach´s text hard to follow. But this is a recommended article because of what I quoted above. 
4. Trump Is Just One Player in a Much, Much Larger Tax Story

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

When New York Times reporters David Barstow, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner published their exhaustive, gazillion-word expose on the Trump family tax practices last week, there was only one word for it.

“Tax bombshell,” blared Yahoo!

By my count, this was roughly the 4,790th “bombshell” of the Trump presidency, but one of the few to deserve the title. The Times story is an extraordinary piece of investigative reporting and a monument to the kind of work we all should be doing.

The parts I found most interesting were less about the rapaciousness of the Trump family per se than the myriad opportunities for gaming the system one presumes is available to everyone of this income level.
Well... I did download the New York Times article linked above, but I admit I did not read it. And of course Taibbi is right in saying that he is most interested in ¨the myriad opportunities for gaming the system one presumes is available to everyone of [Trump´s] income level¨ simply because Trump is not one of the few but one of the many rich individuals and rich corporations that avoid paying any or most taxes on them.

Here is more on that:

The timidity that enforcement officials show toward the very wealthy is also a running theme in the story. When the Trump family claimed a $17.9 million building had fallen to $2.9 million, supposedly losing 83 percent of its value in just 18 days, the IRS auditor who caught it made them push the value back up by just $100,000.

The infamous $3.35 million casino chip scheme — an illegal multi-million-dollar loan under New Jersey law — inspired just a $65,000 fine.

Clearly, both were quite improper frauds or corruptions - but no one registered them, or those registering them ¨punished¨ them with a $100,000 fine.

Here is yet more:

There is a lot in here that’s educational about how the wealthy are able to pass riches back and forth without being taxed the way you or I would be. The Times
couldn’t find any paperwork explaining how Daddy Trump transferred 1,032 apartments to his children without incurring tax penalties. Tax records only showed that the “mini empire” had “shifted at some point from Fred Trump to his children.”

Where was this kind of hardcore investigative firepower into the brazen tax avoidance of the rich before?

There have been a few dedicated journalists like David Cay Johnston who, long before Trump, tried to evangelize for real tax collection from the super-wealthy. Johnston detailed horrific and brazen avoidance schemes and won critical acclaim, but not the same kind of attention.

I would describe Johnston’s explanation of how 61 percent of American corporations paid no taxes at all over a five-year period between 1996 and 2000 as a “bombshell,” but most of the journalism world did not agree.

I agree with Taibbi and like David Cay Johnston.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, that gives a sum-up and draws a lesson:

Trump is a person with a lot of money, but compared to tax-renouncing firms like Microsoft, Bank of America and Facebook — and even the executives running them — he’s a nobody, a putz. It’s great that we’re unmasking at least one person from that world. But please, let’s let it be just a start.

I completely agree and this is a strongly recommended article.

5. Ralph Nader: Democrats are still weak and corrupt, “could blow it again”

This article is by Andrew O´Hehir on Salon. It starts as follows:

Ralph Nader knows how you feel about the 2000 election and the presidency of George W. Bush, all these years later. He would like you know that none of that was his fault.

Toward the end of a Salon Talks interview last week with the legendary consumer advocate and democracy gadfly — who is now 84 years old, but quotes dates, names, laws, vote totals and page numbers without hesitation — I asked Nader the inevitable question about 2000, which he may have heard 2,000 times by now. You know, I told him, that many people still blame you for how that election turned out, and everything that happened afterwards.

He chuckled, or perhaps cackled. Nader is an amusing, upbeat guy in person, which you don’t necessarily expect from someone obsessed with the fine-grained details of consumer safety regulation and democratic reforms. “Yeah, everybody but Al Gore,” he said.

Well... let me first briefly settle the 2000 presidential elections:

I think Nader had a complete right to enter these elections, and I also think he has very little or nothing to do with the fact that Bush Jr. ¨won¨ them, for the simple reason that Bush Jr.´s winning was due to the Supreme Court´s decision to assign the elections to Bush Jr. on the - probably false - argument that Gore lost Florida to Bush Jr.

There is a lot more on the 2000 presidential elections, but I leave it at that. Here is more on Nader since 2000:

To a significant extent, Nader’s post-2000 career — including his non-Green Party presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008 — has been devoted to an extended argument that he was right to do what he did, right about the weakness and corruption of the Democratic Party, and right to try to rattle the American people into seizing control of their supposed democracy. His new book, a piecemeal collection of essays and letters written over the last four or five years, makes this explicit right in the unwieldy title: “To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course.”

I think Nader was right over these three things (entering the elections, the weakness and corruption of the Democrats since the 1990s, and the disappearance of much of democracy).

Here is more:

While Nader is often portrayed as a hapless idealist, perhaps because his own forays into electoral politics have been quixotic failures, in conversation he comes off as sharply and even ruthlessly analytical. His mid-1960s campaigns against the auto industry, in which a small crew of activists, lawyers and engineers shamed Congress and the Big Three automakers into all sorts of safety reforms they originally resisted, were masterfully calculated — and by a conservative estimate, saved many millions of lives. Nader’s principal criticism of the 2016 Sanders campaign is that he thinks Bernie played too nice, and could have won the Democratic nomination if he’d consistently attacked Hillary Clinton over the email scandal, the Clinton Foundation and her cozy relationship with Wall Street.

In our conversation, Nader was more gracious about Sanders, saying that the Vermont senator had made a "great contribution" by proving that an inspiring politician "could raise $240 million in small contributions averaging 27 bucks. Do you think the Democratic Party, entrenched in the Democratic National Committee, the old guard, would have learned that? They're still dialing for Goldman Sachs, they're still dialing for Walmart, they're still dialing for Amazon."
I think Nader is probably right here as well. Here is more on Nader:
I think a fairer way to describe Ralph Nader’s problem is that he keeps on hoping or believing that American citizens will embrace the responsibilities of democracy and take control of their own destiny, while the two political parties he despises (one only slightly less than the other) long ago accepted that they won’t, and that the path to power involves telling people the right kind of bedtime story at the right time. Nonetheless there are many reasons to listen to Ralph Nader, who has been right more often than wrong (...) He’s right that both political parties and both preceding presidents have collaborated in creating the fiasco of Donald Trump’s America. He’s right that the political and economic playing field has been tilted so far toward corporations and the rich that most Americans now accept that as normal, and that that will surely kill off what remains of democracy if it is not reversed.
I think O´Hehir has this right as well. Here is O´Hehir´s summary judgement on Nader:
Whether you see Nader as a prophet without honor or a vainglorious failure, here are the facts: Few living Americans are responsible for saving so many lives; few living Americans have spoken truth to power so consistently and for so long. No other living Americans have done both.
I agree, and this is followed by an interview with Nader that I leave to your interests. 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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