October 28, 2018

Crisis: Nuclear War, U.S. Corporations, Eco Crisis, About Wikileaks, A Tragedy


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from October 28, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, October 28, 2018. Incidentally, there are today fewer comments by me than is usual, because I had problems loading files in Firefox.

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 28, 2018:
1. What Trump and John Bolton Don’t Understand About Nuclear War
2. U.S. Corporations Steal $180 Billion From the Rest of the World Every

3. Eco Crises: Doom & Gloom, Truth & Consequences
4. WikiLeaks ‘ Legacy of Exposing US-UK Complicity
5. A Tragedy in Three Parts: Corporations, Coups, and Crazies
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. What Trump and John Bolton Don’t Understand About Nuclear War

This article is by Jon Schwarz on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

President Donald Trump’s announcement on October 20 that he intends to pull the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was, if nothing else, appropriately timed. On that date exactly 56 years before, President John F. Kennedy abruptly cut short a midterm campaign trip to Illinois because, the White House said, he had a cold. In fact, Kennedy was returning to Washington to address the Cuban missile crisis — the closest humanity has ever come to obliterating itself with a nuclear war.

The INF treaty was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. It required both countries to forgo any land-based missiles, nuclear or otherwise, with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

In concrete terms, the treaty was a huge success. The U.S. destroyed almost 1,000 of its own missiles, and the Soviets destroyed almost 2,000 of theirs.

Yes indeed. Here is more:

The long negotiation of the INF treaty, and the post-signing environment it helped create, was part of an extraordinary collapse of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the 1980s. When Reagan took office, the Soviets genuinely believed that the U.S. might engage in a nuclear first strike against them. This, in turn, led to two separate moments in 1983 in which the two countries came terrifyingly close to accidental nuclear war — closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis.

Instead, the INF treaty was part of an era of good feelings that contributed to one of the most remarkable events of the past 100 years: the largely peaceful implosion of the Soviet Empire. Empires generally do not go quietly, and the dynamics of imperial collapse often contribute to huge conflagrations. Think of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and World War I; or the British Empire and World War II. The Soviet fall was an incredible piece of good fortune for the world; if it had happened in the early 1980s, instead of a few years later, it plausibly would have been catastrophic.

Possibly so, indeed because there was no INF treaty then. Here is more:

The hard reality is that our species almost committed suicide on October 27, the most dangerous moment of the Cuban missile crisis, later dubbed Black Saturday by the Kennedy administration. Even with comparative doves in charge of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, we came close to ending human civilization, thanks to mutual incomprehension. And we avoided it, as then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later said, not by talent or wisdom, but pure luck.

Yes, I think McNamara was right. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

So in the end, we’re not here to think about the 56th anniversary of Black Saturday because of our overweening military might, or because we forced our adversaries to bend to our will. It’s just the opposite, plus an extraordinary run of serendipitous flukes.

But what we can be sure of is that if people like Trump and Bolton had been in charge in 1962, then today there would be no discussion of the INF treaty — because there would be no treaty and no one to discuss it. It’s also certain that on our current trajectory, the day will come when the world will face a similar crisis. That time we won’t get the same roll of the dice. The hard reality of the Cuban missile crisis is that, as Blight and Lang put it, “either we put an end to nuclear weapons, or they will put an end to us.”

Yes, I fear that is right and this is a strongly recommended article. 

2. U.S. Corporations Steal $180 Billion From the Rest of the World Every Year

This article is by Jon Schwarz on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Are tax havens an enraging but tangential subject? Or do they have a powerful effect on how the U.S. economy functions and should therefore be a part of every political debate?

The startling findings of a new academic study indicate that it’s the latter. Titled “The Exorbitant Tax Privilege,” the paper is co-written by Thomas Wright and University of California, Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, one of the world’s top authorities on tax havens and author of the best layperson’s introduction to the subject, “The Hidden Wealth of Nations.”

Tax havens — the most significant include Ireland, Singapore, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, and Bermuda — serve two purposes.

The first is tax evasion by individuals, which is illegal. Think of Russian or Nigerian plutocrats transferring their assets to small Caribbean nations with strict banking secrecy laws, freeing them from the dreary necessity of paying taxes in their home countries.

The second is tax avoidance by huge multinational corporations, which — as long as the lawyers are doing their jobs — is perfectly legal. Here imagine Apple using various forms of accounting chicanery to claim that tens of billions of its profits generated in countries with normal corporate tax rates were actually all made in Ireland, where Apple had negotiated a special 2 percent tax rate for itself. (Apple has on occasion gone even further, asserting that some of its profits were made, for the purposes of taxation, in no country at all.)

Quite so (and I disliked Apple and Jobs since the later 1980ies, but that is just me).

Here is how the extremely rich get a lot richer still:

Zucman conservatively estimated in his book that tax avoidance and evasion translate into hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid taxes every year — money that, for the most part, ends up in the pockets of the world’s wealthiest people.

The Zucman and Wright paper addresses the multinational corporation part of the equation. Among their conclusions:

• As of 1970, American multinationals claimed that under 10 percent of their profits were generated in tax havens; that number is now, preposterously enough, almost 50 percent.
That indeed - ¨preposterously enough¨ - is both true and a big shame. In fact, here is a contrast with Europe:

By contrast, European multinationals generally say under 20 percent of their profits were made in tax havens. U.S. multinationals engage in this white shoe, three-card monte for obvious reasons: They pay effective tax rates of 27 percent on profits generated in non-tax havens, the paper finds, and 7 percent in tax havens.

• The sheer fraudulence of tax havens has reached breathtaking levels.
Yes, I think that is true. Here is more:

• For decades, thanks in part to tax havens, both the statutory and effective tax rates for multinationals have been steadily ratcheted down around the world. Since the early 1990s, the rate paid by U.S. non-oil multinationals on foreign profits has fallen from 35 percent to 20 percent.

• Similarly, the tax rate paid by U.S. oil companies to foreign governments plummeted from an average of 70 percent before the 1991 Gulf War to 45 percent since (...)
I say. Here is the last bit of this article that I quote:
Zucman and Wright estimate that almost half of the difference between U.S. returns and foreign returns can be attributed to abnormally low tax rates for U.S. multinationals, which in turn are thanks to U.S. power and tax havens. If their conclusions are correct, this exorbitant tax privilege translates into about $180 billion per year, or almost 1 percent of U.S. GDP. (If 1 percent doesn’t sound like a lot to you, remember that for the past decade the U.S. economy has usually grown between just 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent per year.) In a fairer world economy, this money would largely be collected by non-tax haven foreign governments in taxes. Instead, it flows to U.S. multinationals and their shareholders.

Quite so, and this is a strongly recommended article. 

3. Eco Crises: Doom & Gloom, Truth & Consequences

This article is by Kristine Mattis on Common Dreams. This is from near its beginning:

In 1972, the Club of Rome, a consortium of scientists, economists, politicians, diplomats, and industrialists, produced a lengthy scientific report entitled Limits to Growth. Their work predicted a collapse of the human population due to our unchecked economic growth and resource depletion. While their estimates were condemned as alarmist and overreaching, independent researchers have updated the report for the 50th anniversary of the club’s inception, and have largely found that the conclusions from the original still hold.

Yes indeed. Incidentally, I was woken up - so to speak - in 1972 by th Report of the Club of Rome, and the article in Nature - the updated the report - which is not long is well worth reading, indeed perhaps especially for people like me, who 46 years ago also read quite a few purported ¨refutations¨ of the original report.

Anyway... it is still mostly correct, and here is more about recent news:

Then came the most recent report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which, more than any of their other previous papers, finally conveyed the true immediacy and urgency of the climate crisis. It largely validated Wallace-Wells’ assessment of impeding large-scale catastrophe to all of humanity if we do not act promptly. For some of the more muted voices who study, work on, or otherwise follow the many environmental crises concurrently embroiling (and broiling) our planet, the IPCC report was surprising, not because of how drastically it portrayed the severity of the predicament we are in, but because of how it no longer pulled any punches about our dire circumstance.

Incidentally, the ¨Wallace-Wells’ assessment¨ is treated in the article, but was skipped by me.

Here is more:

On first glance, it would seem that the science communication scholars are correct: the devastatingly huge nature of the problem leads to despair and inaction. But is that really what we are seeing? Are we seeing despair - or denial? I don’t mean the sort of denial that claims climate change is not occurring at all or that it is a natural phenomenon. I am talking about denial in the form of not willing to admit that you, personally, have a role to play in the problem and in the solution – that in addition to so many changes necessary on large-scale political, economic, industrial, occupational, and social levels, every one of us also needs to change our way of life in innumerable ways, and none more so than the wealthy.

I am sorry, but I mostly disagree and I do so for at least two reasons.

First, I don´t think that the despair vs. denial is a useful discussion, simply because nobody really knows what other people are feeling.

And second, Mattis may believe that ¨every one of us also needs to change our way of life in innumerable ways¨ and I may agree to the fact, but I also - still, and since 46 years - think that relatively few are willing to change much in their ways of life.

Besides, I don´t think people with a low income (of which there are very many) have much room for making changes in their own ways of life - and I know, for I have been ill for forty years now, and probably had the lowest income any Dutchman received the last 50 years, excluding those who went to prison for quite a few years.

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

Our way out is to dramatically alter much of our way of life. It is to prioritize ecological concerns and do our best to conduct every aspect of our lives sustainably, rather than just pay lip service to our belief that climate change is real or that plastic pollution is a problem or that fossil fuel use is unsustainable. In many, if not most ways, we just simply need to stop. Our way of life is incompatible with the continuance of life.

As I have said already: If we depend on a ¨dramatical alteration of much of our way of life¨ I am sorry, but it still will not happen.

4. WikiLeaks ‘ Legacy of Exposing US-UK Complicity

This article is by Mark Curtis on Consortium News. It starts as follows:
Twelve years ago this month, WikiLeaks began publishing government secrets that the world public might otherwise never have known. What it has revealed about state duplicity, human rights abuses and corruption goes beyond anything published in the world’s “mainstream” media.

After over six months of being cut off from outside world, on 14 October Ecuador has partly restored Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world from its London embassy where the founder has been living for over six years. (Assange, however, later rejected Ecuador’s restrictions imposed on him.)

The treatment – real and threatened – meted out to Assange by the U.S. and UK governments contrasts sharply with the service Wikileaks has done their publics in revealing the nature of elite power, as shown in the following snapshot of Wikileaks’ revelations about British foreign policy in the Middle East.
Yes, I quite agree, although ¨the service Wikileaks has done¨ (and I agree) will look quite different in the eyes of the present English and American government.

Here is more:
The Wikileaks cables are rife with examples of British government duplicity of the kind I’ve extensively come across in my own research on UK declassified files. In advance of the British-NATO bombing campaign in Libya in March 2011, for example, the British government pretended that its aim was to prevent Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s attacks on civilians and not to overthrow him.

However, Wikileaks files released in 2016 as part of its Hillary Clinton archive show William Burns, then the U.S. deputy secretary of state, having talked with now Foreign Secretary Hague about a “post-Qaddafi” Libya. This was more than three weeks before military operations began. The intention was clearly to overthrow Gaddafi, and the UN resolution about protecting civilians was simply window dressing.
I did not know this, but it seems quite likely. Here is more:
Britain’s GCHQ is also revealed to have spied on Wikileaks itself – and its readers. One classified GCHQ document from 2012 shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly collect the IP addresses of visitors to the Wikileaks site in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines such as Google.
Again something I did not know, but that I do believe. Here is the last bit from this article:
The British government is punishing Assange for the service that Wikileaks has performed. It is ignoring a UN ruling that he is being held in “arbitrary detention” at the Ecuadorian embassy, while failing, illegally, to ensure his health needs are met. Whitehall is also refusing to offer diplomatic assurances that Assange will not be extradited to the US – the only reason he remains in the embassy.

Smear campaigns have portrayed Assange as a sexual predator or a Russian agent, often in the same media that have benefitted from covering Wikileaks’ releases.
I completely agree and this is a strongly recommended article.
5. A Tragedy in Three Parts: Corporations, Coups, and Crazies

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

The silent coup and the roots of corporate tyranny

Nearly 40 years ago, in his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” 

Republicans and increasingly neoliberal Democrats agreed and told us the market was the source of solutions, and they worked assiduously to shrink government in size and power. 

But as it turns out, government was the solution, and the market was the problem.

But the whole shrink the government routine was part of a sophisticated strategy launched by a few rich families and corporations in what amounted to a silent coup. Casting government as the cause of our ills was simply a pretext to shrink and weaken it so that corporations and the ultra-rich could get more economic and political power.

Yes indeed: I think this is basically correct. Here is more:

At first, things went smoothly for the plutocrats. With Democrats – and much of the rest of the world – essentially joining with Republicans by embracing neoliberalism, the trend in global politics was to endorse the same small government, market uber alles, deregulatory dogma as the Republicans, and the results for the ultra-rich and corporations were and are impressive.  For example:

I think all of this is quite correct. Here is more:

But it hasn’t simply paid off in terms of money and wealth, it has given corporations and the rich unprecedented power, both politically, and in terms of economic influence.  Again, a few examples:

  • A comprehensive study of voter preferences vs. those of interest groups by Gilens and Page revealed that the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy (emphasis added);

  • In 2017, there were more than 11,500 registered federal lobbyists in the US, spending nearly $3.4 billion, both representing an increase over the previous years and reversing a long term trend of fewer lobbyists that had been happening since 2007, despite Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp.

Precisely - and this strongly supports my thesis that power = wealth, except if that identity is controlled by law, which these days it isn´t.

Here is more:

Two studies show how effective this lobbying has been for corporations and the wealthy:

  • One, (appearing in the Journal of Law and Politics 25, no. 401 (2009): 401–57 by Alexander, Myer and Schultz) found that for every dollar spent on lobbying, corporations and others got back $220 in tax benefits; 

  • The other states that “After examining 14 million records, including data on campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, federal budget allocations and spending, we found that, on average, for every dollar spent on influencing politics, the nation’s most politically active corporations received $760 from the government,” adding up to a total of $4.4 trillion in federal business and support.

Finally, as deregulation proceeded, companies engaged in an orgy of consolidation, until today, consumers (aka citizens) are at the mercy of monopolies in virtually all aspects of commerce.  This wholesale consolidation keeps wages low, diminishes service and quality, allows for what amounts to price fixing, and it gives corporations yet more political power.

I cannot control the two points in the above quote, but I think they are correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Now, there is one final ingredient to add to this tragedy: the complicity of the Democratic Party.  Had they championed an effective government; had they embraced New Deal policies that constrained corporations and fat-cats; had they run on a commitment to values, then the poor and middle-class people getting screwed would have had a champion they could go to.  But they didn’t.

Quite so, and this is a strongly 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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