December 12, 2018

Crisis: Google & China, ¨Moral Capitalism¨, The Democrats, A New Political Party, China Tariffs


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 12, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, December 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 three 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 December 12, 2018:
1. Google CEO Hammered by Members of Congress on China Censorship
2. Joe Kennedy and the Precarious Promise of "Moral Capitalism"

3. The Democrats’ Best Response to Republican Power Grabs
4. Can a New Political Party Save America From Itself?
5. China Tariffs are a Regressive Tax on Americans, and Risk a Recession
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. Google CEO Hammered by Members of Congress on China Censorship Plan

This article is by Ryan Gallagher on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai came under fire from lawmakers on Tuesday over the company’s secretive plan to launch a censored search engine in China.

During a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee, Pichai faced sustained questions over the China plan, known as Dragonfly, which would blacklist broad categories of information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

The hearing began with an opening statement from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who said launching a censored search engine in China would “strengthen China’s system of surveillance and repression.” McCarthy questioned whether it was the role of American companies to be “instruments of freedom or instruments of control.”

Pichai read prepared remarks, stating “even as we expand into new markets, we never forget our American roots.” He added: “I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”

Well... I´d say Kevin McCarthy is - evidently - more or less right, although he does not mention the fact that the Americans as well are all surveilled by their (secretive) ¨national security¨ agency (and also by Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft), where Pichai is - evidently, again - lying.

Also, my own opinions on Pichai and Google (both of which are very secretive) are that (i) the ¨
core principles¨ and ¨business interests¨ are not democracy, or freedom, or human rights, but profits for Google and profits for Pichai, and that (ii) Pichai´s main problem is to weather Google through the present mini-storm, and then to start making money on China, by helping the Chinese Communist Party round up anyone who disagrees with it on any Chinese computer.

At least, that is what I expect. Here is some more:

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., told Pichai that the Dragonfly plan seemed to be “completely inconsistent” with Google’s recently launched artificial intelligence principles, which state that the company will not “design or deploy” technologies whose purpose “contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”

“It’s hard to imagine you could operate in the Chinese market under the current government framework and maintain a commitment to universal values, such as freedom of expression and personal privacy,” Cicilline said.

Pichai repeatedly insisted that Dragonfly was an “internal effort” and that Google currently had “no plans to launch a search service in China.” Asked to confirm that the company would not launch “a tool for surveillance and censorship in China,” Pichai declined to answer, instead saying that he was committed to “providing users with information, and so we always — we think it’s ideal to explore possibilities. … We’ll be very thoughtful, and we will engage widely as we make progress.”

Again I say ¨well¨, and here are my reasons:

As to Pichai: Obviously he is lying, and indeed I think myself that all of Google´s supposed principles are merely propaganda: it is profit that moves Google, and always has moved Google, and other principles are merely adopted in public because they help making a profit.

As to Cicilline: He is right that (in effect) Dragonfly is a totalitarian instrument that will help the Chinese Communist Party to impose totalitarianism all over China. But - I think - he is wrong in believing that the moral principles Google sports in public are anything other than propaganda for Google.

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

Pichai’s claim that the company does not have a plan to launch the search engine in China contradicted a leaked transcript from a private meeting inside the company. In the transcript, the company’s search chief Ben Gomes discussed an aim to roll out the service between January and April 2019. For Pichai’s statement to Congress to be truthful, there is only one possibility: that the company has put the brakes on Dragonfly since The Intercept first exposed the project in August.

Yes indeed and I say: Pichai was and is lying. And this is a recommended article.

2. Joe Kennedy and the Precarious Promise of "Moral Capitalism"

This article is by Michael Winship on Common Dreams. This starts as follows:

We are a nation that was founded in opposition to hereditary rule. The founders rejected the notion of a king and embraced the principle that there were to be no royal families who generation after generation governed on the assumption of divine right.

In recent decades, we have made two notable exceptions to this democratic disdain of dynasties.
I more or less agree with the first paragraph, although I also think it ought to be supplemented by a statement that says that while there is no legal nobility and no royalty in the USA (which I agree both are good), it has been replaced by the rule of the rich.

And indeed the second paragraph points to the Bush family, which has been ruling in diverse forms since three generations, and the Kennedy family, that has been ruling, also in diverse forms, for four generations at least (and in fact longer).

There is more on both families in the article, which I mostly skip, but there is this on ¨
Joseph Kennedy III, 38, grandson of Bobby¨:

Prime among the Kennedy cousins and siblings these days—and touted as a potential White House candidate—is Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, 38, grandson of Bobby, representing the Massachusetts Fourth District and just elected to his fourth term in the House.

He says he’s not a candidate for the presidency in 2020, but he’s sure talking like one. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, Joe Kennedy spoke to the New England Council, which describes itself as “the nation’s oldest regional business organization.”

Kennedy echoed the words of his grandfather Bobby, who spoke out against “the other America” of poverty and despair, and even those of highborn President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the so-called “class traitor” who famously declared that he welcomed the hatred of the business and financial cabals, and warned that “government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.” FDR knew that without capitalist reforms, revolution might be inevitable.

This seems mostly correct, and I have to admit that so far I had not been aware of Joe Kennedy III, which may be explained either by my not living in the USA or by my getting old. (I think it is mostly the first - and no, I have never been interested in rich families.)

Here is more:

Joe Kennedy’s speech was about what he called “moral capitalism,” and while he may not quite have reached the height of FDR’s or his Kennedy forebears’ rhetoric, it was an impressive and eloquent shout out against the vast income inequality and greed that threaten the republic, “this deep sense of unease that Americans are working harder and harder for less and less.”

...They live in cities and towns more likely to be medically underserved, educationally ostracized from today’s job market, plagued by inadequate infrastructure, burdened by crumbling housing or homes no one can afford.

They disproportionately shoulder the hard words that make life hurt—eviction, addiction, bankruptcy, violence.

They hail from the places where polling locations suddenly disappear; where the biggest economic engine is a payday lender; where lead poisons children’s water; where injustice and insufficiency fester for generations before government thinks to step in.

I say, but I don´t believe it. First of all, this was and is all in the very long Kennedy tradition of speaking for the Democrats, and indeed Joe Kennedy III did. But second, while I may believe that he believes it (more than not) himself, I - who am not rich - I don´t believe it mostly for two reasons:

First, the inequalities between the few rich and the many poor have become much more pronounced since Reagan, and second in effect the few rich (who may be pro Democrats or pro Republican, but who first of all are rich) anyway have the power in the USA, and now they also have the way to remain in force indefinitely, by surveilling everybody (anywhere, and in the USA).

And this happens in China - see item 1 - and it is happening and will happen in the USA, although I grant it is not as far in the USA (yet) as it is in China.

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

The top 1 percent owns 40 percent of our country’s wealth, Kennedy noted. “The average CEO makes 361 times what their average worker makes. Payouts to shareholders after the GOP tax bill will hit $1.3 trillion this year while wages still hover at the lowest they’ve been in over half a century.”

Kennedy told the assembled businessmen and businesswomen of the New England Council that unlike many, he still believes in capitalism but that it needs to be rebuilt, the current system stripped “to the studs.” And he called for bipartisanship.

Good luck, Joe, with both those capitalist and bipartisan things. God help us if the gulf between the super rich and the rest of us gets any wider. Unless big business and the wealthy follow Kennedy’s lead and start to rethink their covetousness, any promise of “moral capitalism” could prove as empty and oxymoronic as George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”
Well... I agree with Winship that ¨moral capitalism¨ sounds to me like ¨cold heat¨ (an oxymoron). I don´t believe in it, and in fact my main reason is the fact that the few rich (either in government or in Facebook, Google, Amazone, Apple etc.) may know everything of everyone these days.

That is far too much power (much more - tenthousands times more, at least - than the KGB or the Gestapo could ever have), while I think that ¨all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely¨. And this is a recommended article. 

3. The Democrats’ Best Response to Republican Power Grabs

This article is by Jacob T. Levy on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

In Michigan and Wisconsin, lame duck Republican-majority legislatures are enacting laws to limit the powers of incoming Democratic governors. Two years ago in North Carolina, the same happened. These moves are particularly striking examples of recent aggressive Republican procedural hardball. Whatever the right rules are for the separation of powers, they should apply to both parties and not be changed opportunistically.

Democrats are exploring the possibility of legal challenges to those maneuvers. But party leaders face a more difficult, and perhaps more consequential, problem: Should they go tit-for-tat and escalate procedural shenanigans, rules-stretching and rules-breaking? Or should they strive, leading by good example, to maintain a system of norms that have provided political stability in the hopes that a more moderate, reasonable Republican Party will re-emerge?

Well... the first quoted paragraph seems mostly correct, but the second paragraph is based on a false opposition, for the simple reason that the Democrats also have been playing dirty to help Democrats being elected. It is possible this went a little less far than the Republicans, but otherwise they are mostly the same, at least on the basis of my information.

Here is more:

The midterm election results showed that its scandals and disgrace have already focused voters’ attention. That’s not the time for retaliation and escalation. It’s the time offer prescriptions for rebuilding the rules that accompany a diagnosis that helps voters make sense of how badly wrong things have gone. Democrats can try to punish Republicans at the ballot box by trying to strengthen rather than weaken democratic norms.

No: ¨rebuilding the rules that accompany a diagnosis that helps voters make sense of how badly wrong things have gone¨ seems both senseless and too late, for indeed things have gone very ¨badly wrong¨ since a long time, namely since Reagan and for almost forty years.

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

This is also the best approach for Democrats in the short term because they’re not in a strong position to retaliate even if an angry activist base wants them to. Despite some losses last month, Republicans remain in control of more governor’s seats and more state legislatures. More important, making things worse right now really is the wrong thing to do.

As I said, this is utterly empty.

4. Can a New Political Party Save America From Itself?

This article is by Paul Street on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
When it comes to criticizing the Democratic Party, nothing speaks like experience within the belly of the beast. Ralph Nader is living proof. After years of effectively pressuring congressional Democrats to protect consumers and the environment against corporate greed, he watched firsthand as the party bowed to the demands of Big Business during the Jimmy Carter administration.
Yes indeed - and this happened over forty years ago, and has been growing in strength in the Democratic party (that it bowed and bowes ¨to the demands of Big Business¨) ever since.

Besides, I think myself, as a European, that having just two parties (that make any chance of winning any major election) is itself quite undemocratic. Then again, Street is giving an argument why he thinks having just two parties
(that make any chance of winning any major election) doesn´t work in a democratic way.

I think that is correct. Here is more - and ¨he¨ is Nick Brana, who is presently trying to get a Movement for a People´s Party off the ground, after having run into trouble in the Democratic Party:

Now he thinks of the Democrats and the Republicans as “two subsidiaries of a single corporation.” While the Republicans make no serious pretense of being anything but an oligarchic organization, Brana says, the Democrats play a more “insidious” and disingenuous part. Their “counter-revolutionary” role is to masquerade as the people’s voice and function as a great “black hole for progressive energies and passions.” In his estimation, the Democratic Party is a nefarious shock-absorber for the ruling class.

While commuting to and from his job for McAuliffe, Brana began listening to left-wing podcasts featuring iconic author and dissident Noam Chomsky, whose description of the U.S. as  “a one-party state with two right-wing parties” (Brana’s words) resonated with his own experience.

Well... I agree with this in principle, but then again such an agreement does not make a third (etc.) party (that makes any chance of winning any major election) any more likely.

Here is more on Brana:

This experience dispelled Brana once and for all of the notion that he could make the world a better place through the Democratic Party. The party, he determined, was not a political entity at all but a privately owned business under the command of “a committee of corporations.” Thinking that the organization’s “oligarchic” nature could be undone by “some magic bullet” candidate, Brana told me, “is like believing that a single drop of clean water could purify a bucket of toxic sludge.”

“You don’t take the Democratic Party over,” Brana says. “It takes over you.”

Possibly so, but then again many disagree. Then there is this:

Were it not for the fixing of the primaries and the Democratic National Convention by the Clintonite “committee of the corporations” that owned the Democratic National Committee, Sanders might well be sitting in the White House right now. Trump would be back in his Manhattan tower, his political life relegated to the Twittersphere.

Yes, but this did not happen. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Proving the axiom that the Democratic Party resents the progressive left more than it does an increasingly dangerous right, establishment Democrats accused Sanders of nasty things like “voodoo economics,” “unicorn politics” and unrealistic “pie-in-the sky” prescriptions. Bill Clinton himself stooped to accusing Sanders of stealing voter data and calling his supporters “sexists” who smeared anyone who “disagreed with them as part of the establishment.”

Well... firstly, you can´t prove axioms (normally). And second, I agree Sanders was mistreated and abused by leading Democrats. But third, I also do not see a third party (that makes any chance of winning any major election) arise in the USA, though I agree that would be desirable.

5. China Tariffs are a Regressive Tax on Americans, and Risk a Recession

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

“I am a Tariff Man,” Trump tweeted last week. “When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so…. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN.”

I’m sorry, Mr President, but you got this wrong. Tariffs are paid by American consumers. About half the $200bn worth of goods you’ve already put tariffs on come almost exclusively from China, which means American consumers are taking a hit this holiday season.

These tariffs function exactly like taxes. By imposing them, you have in effect raised taxes on most Americans. You have made Americans poorer.

Yes indeed. Also, Trump was - as usual - clearly lying:

I needn’t remind you that your Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed last year, slashed taxes on big corporations and the rich by about $150 billion annually. You claimed it would cause companies to invest more in America and thereby create more American jobs. They didn’t. (See General Motors.)

They spent most of their tax savings buying back their own shares of stock. This gave the stock market a steroidal boost. Not surprisingly, the boost was temporary. Last week the stock market erased all its gains for 2018, and worse may be in store. The whole American economy is slowing.

Your tariffs could put us into a recession. The world’s other big economies are slowing, too.
Yes indeed again.

Besides, I have been ill for forty years now (with ME/CFS that, after a mere 39 years of waiting, was declared to be ¨a serious chronic disease¨ in Holland in March of 2018), which also kept me very poor (which I would not have been if I had been healthy, for I do have extremely good academic degrees), and this in turn enables me to say that for people as poor as I am the crisis of 2008 is still continuing (and may get a lot worse soon).

Back to the article. Here is the last bit that I quote from it, which is a Reichian proposal:

John Bolton, your national security adviser, has said the real issue is “a question of power”, and the theft of intellectual property has “a major impact on China’s economic capacity and therefore on its military capacity”. Bolton advises you, right?

But if this is your real motive – and, quite frankly, I can’t come up with another reasonable one – might I suggest a better way to protect national security?

You have the authority to stop foreign corporations from buying any American corporation whose technology is critical to national security. So why not prohibit American corporations that possess such critical technology from sharing it with China, even if that’s the price of gaining access to China’s lucrative market?

Yes, I agree (and this would also solve Google´s problem - see item 1 - or so it seems to me), although I think this Reichian proposal is very unlikely to be followed by Trump.

[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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