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Nederlog

November 12, 2018

Crisis: Large Corporations, U.S. Billionaires, Brennan & Clapper, Net Neutrality, Masked Money


Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 12, 2018

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, November 12, 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 November 12, 2018:
1. Be Afraid of Economic ‘Bigness.’ Be Very Afraid.
2. This Country Is on Track to Be Run by Billionaires' Kids
3. Brennan and Clapper Should Not Escape Prosecution
4. The Fight for Net Neutrality Heats Up as Democrats Take the House
5. Millions in Masked Money Was Funneled Into the 2018 Elections
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. Be Afraid of Economic ‘Bigness.’ Be Very Afraid.

This article is by Tim Wu on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

In the aftermath of the Second World War, an urgent question presented itself: How can we prevent the rise of fascism from happening again? If over the years that question became one of mostly historical interest, it has again become pressing, with the growing success of populist, nationalist and even neofascist movements all around the world.

Common answers to the question stress the importance of a free press, the rule of law, stable government, robust civic institutions and common decency. But as undoubtedly important as these factors are, we too often overlook something else: the threat to democracy posed by monopoly and excessive corporate concentration — what the Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis called the “curse of bigness.” We must not forget the economic origins of fascism, lest we risk repeating the most calamitous error of the 20th century.

Yes indeed.

I think I should also add on a personal note - having a father and a grandfather who were sent to German concentration camps in 1941 for resisting the Nazis - that in fact, while I am interested in fascism and neofascism, I have not seen much debate on the "urgent question [that] presented itself: How can we prevent the rise of fascism from happening again?", but I grant that this debate may have been held in academic circles that I did not read. Then again: Definitely not in the Dutch mainstream/corporatist media.

Here is more:

Postwar observers like Senator Harley M. Kilgore of West Virginia argued that the German economic structure, which was dominated by monopolies and cartels, was essential to Hitler’s consolidation of power. Germany at the time, Mr. Kilgore explained, “built up a great series of industrial monopolies in steel, rubber, coal and other materials. The monopolies soon got control of Germany, brought Hitler to power and forced virtually the whole world into war.”

To suggest that any one cause accounted for the rise of fascism goes too far, for the Great Depression, anti-Semitism, the fear of communism and weak political institutions were also to blame. But as writers like Diarmuid Jeffreys and Daniel Crane have detailed, extreme economic concentration does create conditions ripe for dictatorship.

Yes, I agree again - and make the same qualification as I made under the previous quotation.

Here is more:

It is a story that should sound uncomfortably familiar: An economic crisis yields widespread economic suffering, feeding an appetite for a nationalistic and extremist leader. The leader rides to power promising a return to national greatness, deliverance from economic suffering and the defeat of enemies foreign and domestic (including big business). Yet in reality, the leader seeks alliances with large enterprises and the great monopolies, so long as they obey him, for each has something the other wants: He gets their loyalty, and they avoid democratic accountability.

There are many differences between the situation in 1930s and our predicament today. But given what we know, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are conducting a dangerous economic and political experiment: We have chosen to weaken the laws — the antitrust laws — that are meant to resist the concentration of economic power in the United States and around the world.

I completely agree, and I also think this is an important point.

Here is more:

In recent years, we have allowed unhealthy consolidations of hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry; accepted an extraordinarily concentrated banking industry, despite its repeated misfeasance; failed to prevent firms like Facebook from buying up their most effective competitors; allowed AT&T to reconsolidate after a well-deserved breakup in the 1980s; and the list goes on. Over the last two decades, more than 75 percent of United States industries have experienced an increase in concentration, while United States public markets have lost almost 50 percent of their publicly traded firms.

There is a direct link between concentration and the distortion of democratic process. As any undergraduate political science major could tell you, the more concentrated an industry — the fewer members it has — the easier it is to cooperate to achieve its political goals.

Yes indeed. And this is a strongly recommended article.


2. This Country Is on Track to Be Run by Billionaires' Kids

This article is by Josh Hoxie on Truthdig and originally on OtherWords. It starts as follows:

This year’s stock market saw high returns for month after month, as retirees and stock runners alike saw their portfolios rise. Then one day this fall, the market took a turn, and all of the increases of the past several months vanished.

That’s how it goes for the market. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.

For the three wealthiest families in the country, however, the market only ever shoots skyward. The Waltons of Wal-Mart, the Kochs of Koch Industries, and the Mars of Mars chocolate own a combined $348.7 billion. Since 1982, their wealth has skyrocketed nearly 6,000 percent.

None of the living members of these families founded the companies from which their fortunes come — all were started by earlier generations.

In fact, more than a third of the Forbes 400 inherited the businesses that generated their wealth. These modern wealth dynasties exercise significant economic power in our current gilded age of extreme inequality.

Yes indeed (and remember that Reagan became president in 1980).

And I think I should add a personal note, which is more extensively explained in my Crisis: On Socialism, that my own remedy against 2500 years of profiting by the few from the many, which agrees with George Orwell's definition of socialism, is to legally prevent anyone from owning or earning more than 20 times as much (Orwell: 10 times) as the poorest in society, who also should have a decent life.

I am also quite aware this is a radical proposal, but it has never been tried, while almost every other aspect of human behavior has been - somehow - subjected to laws, and I think at least this one socialist proposal should be tried, after 2500 years of profiting by the few from the many.

Back to the article:

A new report I co-authored with my colleague Chuck Collins at the Institute for Policy Studies, Billionaire Bonanza 2018, looks at the rise of these wealth dynasties. The Forbes 400 combined own $2.89 trillion, we found. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 64 percent of the United States.

The median family in the United States owns just over $80,000 in household wealth. The richest person in the United States (and the world), Jeff Bezos, has accumulated a fortune nearly 2 million times that amount.

Quite so - which is (in my eyes, at least) not only very dangerous (because Bezos is one person with extremely much more power than almost anybody else only because of his wealth) but also quite ridiculous: Absolutely no one, however talented, is 2 million times as much talented as anybody else.

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

Wealth is concentrating into fewer and fewer hands while the rest of the country struggles to get by. One in five families has zero or negative wealth. Two in five Americans couldn’t come up with $400 if they needed it in an emergency.

Previous generations tried to warn us about economic inequality. Former President Teddy Roosevelt said in 1913, “Of all forms of tyranny, the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy.”

A generation later, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned in 1941, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Quite so - and again: 1 in 5 families has zero wealth or debts, while 2 in 5 Americans "couldn’t come up with $400 if they needed it in an emergency" is again due to the fact that personal wealth can grow to any extent - which means that the very few with lots of wealth have at least as much more power than the very many with no or hardly any wealth.

Also, I completely agree with Roosevelt and Brandeis, and especially Brandeis is quite relevant to my own proposal (see above) simply because I think Brandeis wrote the truth. And this is a strongly recommended article.


3. Brennan and Clapper Should Not Escape Prosecution

This article is by John Kiriakou on Consortium News (that has now a new horrible font). It starts as follows:
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longtime chairman of the Judiciary Committee, made a dramatic announcement Nov. 1 that should lead to jail time for both former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

As reported, but widely overlooked amid the media focus on the midterm elections, Brennan ordered CIA hackers to intercept the emails of all potential or possible intelligence community whistleblowers who may have been trying to contact the congressional oversight committees, specifically to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hacking the Senate’s computer system constitutes illegal use of a government computer, illegal espionage and wire fraud.

Brennan and Clapper, in 2014, ostensibly notified congressional overseers about this, but in a way that either tied senators’ hands or kept them in the dark. They classified the notifications.

As a result, Grassley knew of the hacking but couldn’t say anything while senators on neither the Intelligence or Judiciary Committees didn’t know.

It’s a felony to classify a crime. It’s also a felony to classify something solely for the purpose of preventing embarrassment to the CIA.

For all of this—for the hacking in the first place, and then the classification of that criminal deed—both men belong in prison.
I completely agree. Here is more:
Grassley began trying to get these two notifications declassified four years ago. The Iowa senator said that during the last two years of the Obama administration the Intelligence Community Inspector General—a monitoring entity established in 2010—repeatedly ignored his requests to release the information.

This time, after the exit of the Obama people, the request was approved.

There is hyper-partisan sensitivity around Brennan, who has publicly denounced Trump and is widely understood to be a leading source in the spy community pressing the idea that the Trump colluded with the Russians’ interference in 2016 the elections.

Partisan passions, however, should have no place in all this.

What should matter is the law and the efforts by these two men to place themselves above it.
Again I completely agree. And here is the ending of this article:
Brennan and Clapper think the law doesn’t apply to them. But it does. Without the rule of law, we have chaos. The law has to apply equally to all Americans. Brennan and Clapper need to learn that lesson the hard way. They broke the law. They ought to be prosecuted for it.
Precisely. And this is a strongly recommended article.

4. The Fight for Net Neutrality Heats Up as Democrats Take the House

This article is by Mike Ludwig on Truthout. It starts as follows:
The fight to restore net neutrality is heating up in the wake of the midterm elections.

Every Democrat in the House of Representatives who supports reversing the Trump administration’s decision to repeal popular net neutrality rules has held on to their seat. House Democrats also secured a majority in the lower chamber, setting the stage for a potential showdown between Congress, the White House and the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over how the government should regulate powerful internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Cox and Comcast.

Democratic state attorneys general, who have been united in challenging the Trump administration’s effort to end net neutrality in federal court, now hold a majority of state seats nationwide.
Yes, I think this is all correct, but I think I should warn you that while "the Democrats" now have the majority in the House, nearly all of "the Democrats" are also paid by rich corporations, which in turn means that their votes may not be what one would think Democrats should vote.

Here is more (and here is a bit on Phil Weiser):

“The FCC’s action — undermining 14 years of protecting an open Internet — is arbitrary, capricious, and cannot be justified on a reasoned basis,” Weiser told Truthout in an email. “I look forward to joining with other state attorneys general to fighting for an open Internet, leveraging my expertise in this area and my long history of support for net neutrality, including working with President Obama on this important issue.”

This sounds fine (in my ears). Here is an explanation of net neutrality:
Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs should not block users from accessing legal content, or favor loading speeds for some apps and websites over others in order to extract lucrative fees and stifle competition. The FCC established strong net neutrality protections under the Obama administration. In response, internet service providers went on the offensive, lobbying lawmakers and launching a legal challenge, which finally faltered last week after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal to a lower court ruling upholding the protections.
This also seems good to me. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

“The opportunity for or five years ago to put something out that is called net neutrality but is not really net neutrality…it’s not the same, it’s a lot harder to sneak something through on this then it was in 2010 or 2014,” Aaron said.

Aaron is not expecting a divided Congress to pass many bills next year, but he said there are plenty of opportunities for net neutrality advocates in the House. Democrats will gain the power to investigate the Republican-led FCC and “make life a lot harder” for decision makers like Pai by calling them to testify before congressional committees.

“We are going to push the House to pass actual good legislation, even if it runs into a wall into the Senate, to be clear about what are the big policies, and what are the things that need to be done,” Aaron said.

And this also sounds good to me, although I do not expect that net neutrality will be guaranteed until after Trump ceased to be president (and it may well fail if he is reelected). This is a recommended article.


5. Millions in Masked Money Was Funneled Into the 2018 Elections

This article is by Anna Massoglia on Truthout and originally on opensecrets.org. It starts as follows:
The 2018 election cycle has attracted record spending by partially-disclosing groups that give the appearance of reporting at least some of their donors but, in reality, are little if any more transparent than other ‘dark money’ groups.

Voters may not be left totally in the dark about these groups’ spending but, in many cases, the identities of funders behind the spending ultimately remain hidden. By deploying novel tactics to mask their financial activities, these groups have been able to keep donors secret while giving some illusion of more transparency.

Partially-disclosing groups have already reported $405 million in 2018 election spending, according to federal election records analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

This is the third consecutive election cycle that the portion of outside spending made up by partially-disclosed groups has more than doubled. Making up more than 31 percent of all outside spending, spending by partially disclosing groups this election cycle is up from 12.5 percent in 2016 and 6.1 percent in 2014. The 2018 election cycle is even on track to amass around $100 million more in spending by partially disclosing groups than the previous record of $306.9 million in the 2012 election cycle.

I did know some of this but I had no idea that "partially disclosing groups" (I think "mostly closed" seems a better name, but that is an aside) did spend more than 30% on the last elections, and indeed spent more than $400 million.

Here is more:

Partially-disclosing groups have accounted for over 42 percent of TV ads during the 2018 election cycle, the Wesleyan Media Project’s research in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics found.

More than half of the group-sponsored ads for GOP House candidates are from partially-disclosing groups and nearly half of the outside group ads backing Senate Democrats come from partially-disclosing sources.

That was for 2018. This is how much the "partially-disclosing groups" spent since 2010 (and indeed see the Citizens United decision of 2010):

‘Dark money’ groups have reported spending more than $750 million on independent expenditures since 2010 — the year the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision came down — and even more on political activities framed as “issue” advocacy that may not be reported to the FEC.

The number of ‘dark money’ television ads has hit a four-cycle high, with around a quarter million ads in the 2018 election cycle as of October 25, 2018.
I say: (bolding added) "a quarter million ads in the 2018 election cycle"! In case you consider this strange: In Holland these kinds of advertisements are forbidden.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Democrats were later to jump on the dark money bandwagon, but quickly ramped up momentum in recent years — a trend that has only escalated during the 2018 election cycle.
    (...)
Democratic ‘dark money’ groups also make up a larger portion of outside spending backing candidates than Republicans in House and Senate races, with 41 percent of outside group ads for Democrats in House races paid for by ‘dark money’ groups compared to 28 percent for Republican candidates. ‘Dark money’ has accounted for 43 percent of outside group ad spending on Democratic candidates running for the Senate, slightly higher than the 39 percent of ads for Republican candidates that have been funded by ‘dark money.’
    (...)
Overall, more than 38 percent of TV ads during the 2018 election cycle have come from ‘dark money’ groups, the report found.
    (...)
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, donors to most of the ‘dark money’ groups and partially disclosing groups that mask their funding sources remain hidden from voters.
I say, again. And there is considerably more in the article, that is strongly recommended.

Note

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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