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Nederlog

November 22, 2018

Crisis: On Facebook etc., Costs of War, Ellsberg & the Cold War, Nader on Congress, On Working


Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 22, 2018
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, November 22, 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 22, 2018:
1. Break Up Facebook (and, While We’re At It, Google, Apple, and
     Amazon)

2. Costs of War: 17 Years After 9/11, Nearly Half a Million People Have Died
3. Daniel Ellsberg: The Cold War Was Based on a Lie
4. If It Takes the Rats to Wake Up Us and Congress, Bring Them On!
5. Looking Busy
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. Break Up Facebook (and, While We’re At It, Google, Apple, and Amazon)

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

The New York Times revealed last week that Facebook executives withheld evidence of Russian activity on the Facebook platform far longer than previously disclosed. They also employed a political opposition research firm to discredit critics.

There’s a larger story here.

America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century began with a raft of innovations — railroads, steel production, oil extraction — but culminated in mammoth trusts owned by “robber barons” who used their wealth and power to drive out competitors and corrupt American politics.

We’re now in a second Gilded Age — ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet — that has spawned a handful of giant high-tech companies.

Yes indeed - and I really like the title of this article, although I also think this is unlikely under capitalism. It is possible (I think) but it will be very difficult, precisely because Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are very big, very rich, very powerful, and in fact also hardly controlled.

Here is more:

Facebook and Google dominate advertising. They’re the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Apple dominates smartphones and laptop computers. Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.

This consolidation at the heart of the American economy creates two big problems.

First, it stifles innovation. Contrary to the conventional view of a U.S. economy bubbling with inventive small companies, the rate at which new job-creating businesses have formed in the United States has been halved since 2004, according to the census.

A major culprit: Big tech’s sweeping patents, data, growing networks, and dominant platforms have become formidable barriers to new entrants.

The second problem is political. These enormous concentrations of economic power generate political clout that’s easily abused, as the New York Times investigation of Facebook reveals.
Yes, indeed. I completely agree, but then - unlike Reich - I never published a book or an article that had the title (as one of Reich's latest books) "Saving Capitalism" (no, I did not read it) and indeed I am an opponent of capitalism, basically because it is very unfair and very destructive, and is essentially based on the greed of the few rich, and the stupidity, the ignorance or the helplessness of the many non-rich. (Besides, even if men are greedy, stupid or ignorant in majority, there are other and better systems than capitalism, which anyway will probably collapse because of the greed on which it is based.)

Back to the article:

It is time to use antitrust again. We should break up the high-tech behemoths, or at least require that they make their proprietary technology and data publicly available and share their platforms with smaller competitors.

There would be little cost to the economy, because these giant firms rely on innovation rather than economies of scale — and, as noted, they’re likely to be impeding innovation overall.

Is this politically feasible? Unlike the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans, Trump and his enablers in Congress have shown little appetite for antitrust enforcement.

But Democrats have shown no greater appetite — especially when it comes to Big Tech.

As I said, I am an opponent of capitalism, but I also do not think that socialism is easy, nor indeed that a social system that may follow capitalism will be necessarily better than capitalism.

Then again, as long as we live in a capitalist economy, I agree with Reich: Antitrust is very important. But one major problem with it (in the USA) is that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are in favor of it - which means it will not happen (as long as this is the case).

Here is some more:

Maybe the Democrats are reluctant to attack Big Tech because the industry has directed so much political funding to Democrats. In the 2018 midterms, the largest recipient of Big Tech’s largesse, ActBlue, a fundraising platform for progressive candidates, collected nearly $1 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Well... I do not think there is a "maybe" about it, and to me (and quite a few others) it seems as if most Democrats have been - quite literally - corrupted by money from the few rich.

Here is more:

As the Times investigation of Facebook makes clear, political power can’t be separated from economic power. Both are prone to abuse.

One of the original goals of antitrust law was to prevent such abuses.

As I have put it, wealth = power, at least if the wealth is big enough. And in fact that is one of my arguments against capitalism: As long as there is a human society, there will be relations of power (dominance and submission, for good or for bad reasons), but it seems a major mistake to me to have a society in which the few rich almost automatically have nearly all the power - which has been the case almost everywhere the last 2500 years (which indeed were not only capitalist).

Back to the article, which ends thus:

Antitrust law was viewed as a means of preventing giant corporations from undermining democracy.

“If we will not endure a king as a political power,” thundered Ohio Sen. John Sherman, the sponsor of the nation’s first antitrust law in 1890, “we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale” of what the nation produced.

We are now in a second Gilded Age, similar to the first when Congress enacted Sherman’s law. As then, giant firms at the center of the American economy are distorting the market and our politics.

We must resurrect antitrust.

As I said, as long as we live under capitalism, I agree with Reich, though it seems we disagree about the value of capitalism. And this is a strongly recommended article.


2. Costs of War: 17 Years After 9/11, Nearly Half a Million People Have Died

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
Nearly half a million people have died from violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” in the wake of 9/11, according to a major new report from Brown University’s Costs of War Project. More than 17 years later, the war in Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history. Costs of War reports that more than 480,000 people have died from violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—including soldiers, militants, police, contractors, journalists, humanitarian workers and civilians. Several times as many people have died indirectly because of water loss, sewage and other infrastructural problems, and war-related disease. The wars have uprooted 21 million Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani and Syrian people who are now refugees of war or internally displaced. The cost of the global so-called war on terror will soon surpass $6 trillion. We speak with Neta Crawford, director of the Costs of War Project. She is a professor and department chair of political science at Boston University.
I think all of the above is (approximately) true, and I only want to make one point that is not quite made in this introduction: In actual fact, while "more than 480,000 people have died from violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan" I do think it is fair to say that in fact the "war on terror" (which should have replaced the "n" in "on" by an "f") has had several millions killed indirectly, but as a result of the war ("of terror").

Here is more:

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about why you did this report, and the astronomical costs, most importantly, human lives, but also the financial costs?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, we wanted to highlight both the cost to Americans in terms of U.S. soldiers and sailors who have lost their lives—about 7,000 people—but, in addition, remind us all that contractors—more contractors, in fact, have died because of their involvement in these wars than soldiers and sailors—and that, of course, many thousands of civilians have been killed, wounded and displaced. Many millions have been killed, wounded and displaced.

Yes, and note that "Many millions have been killed, wounded and displaced" by the war "of terror".

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

NETA CRAWFORD: Yeah, these wars are actually leaving the war zones in rubble. And you haven’t mentioned Pakistan yet, but the United States has also been, through drone strikes and other action, fighting in Pakistan since 2002 in order to chase and defeat Taliban, al-Qaeda and now ISIS. So, the war zones are actually expanded from what we thought they would be in 2001, 2002, 2003. Now the U.S. forces are operating between 80 to 90 countries all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And the relation between war and climate change? You say the Pentagon is the single largest user of petroleum?

NETA CRAWFORD: That’s right. Between 2010 and 2015, the Pentagon used about 105 billion barrels of oil, on average, each year. They’ve tried to economize, because, obviously, that’s expensive, but it is the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the United States and abroad.

I say, which I do because I did not know all of the above. And this is a strongly recommended article.


3. Daniel Ellsberg: The Cold War Was Based on a Lie

This article is by Paul Jay on The Real News Network. It starts as follows (and is originally a video):

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay. We’re continuing our discussion with Daniel Ellsberg.

Daniel, in 1959, 1960, there is a race because we understand, we the population understood, that there was a missile gap. We were told. That the Russians had something between 40 and 60 intercontinental ballistic missiles which they could either first strike or second strike the United States. There had to be a great race to create more and more ICBMs here. The possibility, the discussions inside the military, the strategic planning is all based on a potential, really, first strike, because most people believe this number of, the numbers of ICBMs that Russia, the Soviet Union had that was such a threat. And you made a rather alarming discovery.

I like and admire Daniel Ellsberg, and he has a pretty amazing bit of information that relates to the missile gap. We'll come to that, and meanwhile the above is quite correct.

Here is more:

DANIEL ELLSBERG: (...) Now, if you look back and say, how could I have been working on plans of this nature? It wasn’t to carry out a nuclear war. I thought that would be catastrophic in any case. I was shocked when I learned that the Joint Chiefs understood how catastrophic it would be; hundreds of millions. But I did believe that it would be catastrophic, and that the way to deter a Soviet surprise attack was by presenting them with the assured capability of destroying a large part of their society. For deterrence. That nothing else would do. That was because my colleagues and I accepted, and certainly the intelligence communities, perceived and projected the image of Stalin’s Russia and then his successors as Hitler with nuclear weapons, and that they would bend no effort- they would bend every effort to achieve the ability to destroy us, or at least to blackmail us into submission.
    (..)
It was taken for granted by my colleagues that we were greatly outnumbered; the so-called missile gap. And Eisenhower actually didn’t accept that, but he was regarded as a doddering old man who was playing golf all the time, and simply not with it.

Yes. In fact, this was the MAD-doctrine ("MAD" = "Mutually Assured Destruction") that was perpetuated (among others) in the 1960ies by Herman Kahn, and it was based on assumptions like the above ones, which again were framed not as assumptions but as facts.

As to Eisenhower: It is true he did not accept it, and he also did something quite important at the end of his presidency, namely warn the American population against what he called the military-industrial complex. I think he was quite right in this, but his warning did not work out at all, at least not on the level of the policy makers.

Here is more by Ellsberg and Kahn:

DANIEL ELLSBERG: The Army and Navy were doing this. Now, in late- just after the estimate of 1000 in August, in September we finally got full coverage of the ICBM possible sites in Russia with our satellites, which were a very secret program, which my colleagues at Rand were not privy to at Top Secret level.
(...)

PAUL JAY: And why were you? Why did you have access?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: I didn’t. I was in the Pentagon. I didn’t have a clearance. But people made a security lapse, in a way. I was there, and saw a new estimate. And was told in a security breach, in a way, which was almost unprecedented. I never- not before or after people told me something that I didn’t have the clearance for. And I couldn’t share it with Rand, because we would all have lost our access had I spread this around. But the news was this: that what the Soviets had at that time was four ICBMs.

PAUL JAY: Four.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Not 40, not 160, not 1000, but 4.

And that is Ellsberg's revelation, which I think is true, indeed mostly because it is Ellsberg who makes it.

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

PAUL JAY: So how does that fit with the narrative? The Russians are coming, the Soviet threat. They’re going to take over the world.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: It should have led to a whole reconsideration of the framework here, because it wasn’t just that they couldn’t afford to. they clearly hadn’t felt that was high priority to have that capability. The notion that they were aching to take over Western Europe at the earliest possibility, or to destroy the U.S. as their main rival, was clearly something wrong with it. And it was actually wrong.

Yes indeed: The Russians were not coming; they were not going to take over the world; and if there was a Soviet threat its danger was less than 1/10th, 1/40th or 1/250th of the level of threat that the Americans and the West generally adopted from the 1960ies onwards. And this is a strongly recommended artice, with a lot more than I quoted.


4. If It Takes the Rats to Wake Up Us and Congress, Bring Them On!

This article is by Ralph Nader on Common Dreams. This is from near the beginning - and it is about a new book of Nader, "How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress":
For decades, I’ve argued that it is easier than we think to change what comes out of Congress – the smallest yet most powerful branch of government under our Constitution.

Our history demonstrates that if one percent or less of citizens, reflecting majority public opinion, roll up their sleeves and focus together on their two Senators and Representatives, they can prevail. I and other consumer and environmental advocates did just that years ago with far less than one percent of the people actually engaged in moving our agenda (which is about two and a half million adults). Together we championed laws that reigned in the auto industry, the corporate polluters and other industries to save lives and prevent injuries and illnesses. Because, majority public opinion supported us.

I like and admire Ralph Nader, and he is certainly correct about what he achieved in the 1960ies, and he may be correct about the numbers of ordinary citizens that are required to - fundamentally - force Congress to do the reasonable thing, which was in Nader's example the adoption of laws that made cars much more safer than they had been until the 1960ies.

Here is more:

I’ve given numerous examples of these citizen endeavors in my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think. It still can happen, even though the news media hardly covers conventional civic activity anymore and great shows like Donahue’s are no longer on the air. We shouldn’t be discouraged, however; we just have to shift strategies and find new ways to get more Americans revved up to feel and focus their own sovereign power exclusively rooted in the Constitution. “Corporations” and “companies” aren’t even mentioned in that storied document.

I more or less agree: Yes, it still can be done (but it will be quite difficult) and - although it is an aside - indeed “corporations” and “companies” are not even mentioned in the Constitution (and should never have been classified as persons, although SCOTUS did so, while also money is not
the same as or indeed comparable with votes, although SCOTUS said so, both in 2010).

Here are Nader's motives or a selection from them:

Enough of not paying hard-working impoverished workers a livable wage, enough of people being denied health insurance, and ripped off by the credit sharks, enough of our children being directly assailed with junk food and violent advertising bypassing parental authority, enough of trillions of our tax dollars not coming back to us for superior public services in our crumbling communities but instead going to corporate welfare (crony capitalism), and the infernal, very profitable corporate war machine in addition to more tax escapes for the wealthy.

Enough of the fossil-fuel industry poisoning our soil, our water, and disrupting our climate. Enough of the corporate bosses and their indentured politicians; enough of the big time crooks and their dirty elections. Enough, enough already!

I agree, and while I may be more pessimistic than Nader is, I do agree that without the activities of millions of Americans, the USA and the rest of the world are essentially fucked, by the above list of capitalist facts, and by the environment or by a nuclear war. And this is a strongly recommended article.


5. Looking Busy

This article is by Michael Robbins on The Nation. It is the review of a book, and it starts as follows:
Let’s just get this out of the way: All jobs are bullshit jobs. Even if you’re a public defender or work for Médecins Sans Frontičres, insofar as your labor is determined by a system of abstract compulsion—insofar, that is, as it exists within capitalism—it’s bullshit. You know this.

In his new book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, David Graeber is interested in a particular variety of bullshit and work. In 2013, the anthropologist and anarchist (he hates to be called “the anarchist anthropologist”) published an essay slamming the proliferation of “pointless jobs” that seem to exist “just for the sake of keeping us all working.” The response was tremendous: It turns out that many people have jobs that they believe require them to do nothing of value (or to do nothing whatsoever while trying to appear to be doing something).
Yes indeed, and this fact (more below) made me choose this article, although indeed it only rather indirectly is related to the crisis.

In any case: I started working at 17, basically because I much disliked both the school and the education I got, and thought I could do better working. I also accepted a fulltime job in a bank and had very little idea about what fulltime jobs, especially in offices, were like. I left that job after 9 months, and after that mostly worked in manpower-like jobs, which means I was paid
by those who employed me who in turn got money from where I worked, always or nearly always on a temporary basis. (I worked mostly as a commercial translator.)

I also did some other work, outside offices, but I worked in many offices in many jobs for something like six years, and what I found there was essentially what was said above: Hardly any job seemed necessary; nearly all the work was extremely boring and quite senseless; and the same did not only apply to my diverse jobs (which I did tolerably well, incidentally) but to most jobs in nearly all of the many offices I worked.

Here is more:

Graeber sifted through the responses and solicited additional input on Twitter in a quest to categorize the “five basic types of bullshit jobs” and document the absurdist travails of those who hold them. From such data, he constructed a working definition of the subject at hand:

[A] bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.

Graeber distinguishes these bullshit jobs from “shit jobs,” which serve a purpose but suck. Which is not to say that bullshit jobs don’t suck as well, but they suck precisely because they don’t serve a purpose.
    (..)
And as Graeber notes, this sense of purposelessness is widespread: To give just two examples, 37 percent of the UK respondents to a poll on the subject, and 40 percent of the Dutch ones, insisted that their work is utterly useless.
I am Dutch, and although the office jobs I had were between 1967 and 1975, it was quite the same then as it seems to be now. Then again, I do like to amend the definition of a bullshit job - and while I like it this term is defined, the definition seems a bit strict to me.

I would define a bullshit job as follows:
A bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is mostly pointless, mostly unnecessary or mostly pernicious.
This is a bit weaker than the proposed definition, but it does satisfy what I found: Even if in some sense the jobs I held (usually as a translater of business posts to English, German or French) were "necessary" (within the offices I worked) only a small part of the work I did was not pointless, and especially in the way it was done.

Next, there is this:
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by the end of the century, technology would have become so far advanced that developed economies would have a 15-hour workweek. So how did we get to our current state, almost two decades into the 21st century? It turns out that Keynes was only half right—technology has advanced spectacularly, but we are far from a 15-hour workweek. Keynes thought that the developed economies would adjust to a growth in productivity by decreasing workers’ hours. Instead, capital absorbed those gains but did not free up the now-superfluous human labor—a tendency that Karl Marx noticed long ago.
In fact, Keynes's opinion was rather widespread and was still current in the 1960ies, and indeed it was also sensible from a technological point of view, which essentially held that the better technology is used, the more productive the workers are.

But nowadays it seems as if - for the non-rich, to be sure - in any family both adults have to work most of the time to make the money to raise their children (mostly by others). This is too complicated to explain fully here and now, but I do want to make two assumptions that go a considerable way:

First, while Marx's theory of labor value is mistaken, his view of exploitation, which is essentially that the workers get paid less than they produce (and the difference is the basis of the capitalists' profits) may well be correct.

And second, the capitalists do not care for the interests of non-capitalists: All they want is profit, and basically as large a profit as is compatible with the prevailing laws.

This goes a considerably way towards explaining why people at present have to work more than in the 1960ies: Because this is profitable to the few rich.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Bullshit jobs are only one idiotic facet of this larger decoupling of work from meaningful activity. If the problem were managers and bureaucracy, then we would simply need to eliminate them. But if the problem is capitalism, then we need to change the world. The familiar slogan of Occupy Wall Street and the global justice movement of the early 2000s, both of which Graeber was involved in, was “Another world is possible.” We’re told this is idealistic and naive. But it’s not bullshit.
I agree and this is a strongly recommended article (especially if you think your work is mostly useless).

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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