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Nederlog

December 27, 2018

Crisis: Trump & The Planet, Megalomania, On Economics, Removing Trump, Financial Panic



Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 27, 2018
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, December 27, 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 27, 2018:
1. Trump Imperils the Planet
2. The Megalomaniac and the Stock Market

3. Richard Wolff: We Need a More Humane Economic System

4. Could This Be Our Best Hope of Removing Trump From Office?

5. Is the Trump Administration Triggering a Financial Panic?
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. Trump Imperils the Planet

This article is by The Editorial Board of The New York Times. It has a subtitle, that explains the title, to an extent:

Endangered species, climate change — the administration is taking the country, and the world, backwards.

And it starts as follows:

It’s hard to believe but it was only three years ago this month — just after 7 p.m., Paris time, Dec. 12, to be precise — that delegates from more than 190 nations, clapping and cheering, whooping and weeping, rose to celebrate the Paris Agreement — the first genuinely collective response to the mounting threat of global warming. It was a largely aspirational document, without strong legal teeth and achieved only after contentious and exhausting negotiations. But for the first time in climate talks stretching back to 1992, it set forth specific, numerical pledges from each country to reduce emissions so that together they could keep atmospheric temperatures from barreling past a point of no return.

Well... there you have an important difference between myself (and quite a few others) and The New York Times: I agree "climate change" (quote marks because I think it is a bit of a misnomer, though the facts it refers to are quite real) is one of the most important things going on in the world, but I do not believe in the Paris Agreement nor in the previous Kyoto Protocol, and my reasons not to believe in them are probably that I have been following "the climate" aka "the environment" since 1972 (and have read i.a. Aldous Huxley's "The Human Situation" and Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring", both of which are strongly recommended, and a lot more).

You may disagree, but I do know a decent amount about "the environment". Here is more from The New York Times:

But otherwise it was a hugely dispiriting event and a fitting coda to one of the most discouraging years in recent memory for anyone who cares about the health of the planet — a year marked by President Trump’s destructive, retrograde policies, by backsliding among big nations, by fresh data showing that carbon dioxide emissions are still going up, by ever more ominous signs (devastating wildfires and floods, frightening scientific reports) of what a future of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions is likely to bring.

Yes, I entirely agree with the above quotation. Here is more from the article:

Wells Griffith, Mr. Trump’s international energy and climate adviser, managed in one quote to summarize the dismissiveness of the American delegation and its fealty to the president’s apparently unshakable conviction that anything that helps the environment must inevitably hurt the economy. “The United States has an abundance of natural resources and is not going to keep them in the ground,” he said. “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice their economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.” The administration is full of zero-sum philosophers like Mr. Griffith. The idea that sustainability may be a necessary condition of future economic growth appears never to have crossed their minds.

No, I think the above is misleading: Part of what seems to drive Trump and Griffith is - I am rather sure - not an "unshakable conviction that anything that helps the environment must inevitably hurt the economy" but (rather) the two proposition that (i) Trump and Griffits (and neoliberals and neoconservatives) strongly believe in profits, especially short term profits, and (ii) they believe that repairing the environment is less profitable than not repairing the environment.

I think both of these propositions are rational although they are not reasonable.

Here is some more from The New York Times:

The numbers are not great. The goal in Paris was to keep warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, and if possible to hold the line at 1.5 degrees, thresholds that scientists deemed unacceptably risky. Delegates knew that even if every country managed to fulfill its individual pledges, the world would be on pace for 3 degrees of warming in this century. So they agreed to tighten the targets as time went on, but instead they’ve slid backward.

Quite so - and I said I do not believe in the Paris Agreement, and this is one of many reasons.

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

The bottom line, according to the Global Carbon Project, is that after three years in which emissions remained largely flat, global levels of carbon dioxide increased by 1.6 percent in 2017 and are on pace to jump by 2.7 percent this year. Some scientists have likened the increase in emissions to a “speeding freight train.” That has a lot to do with economic growth. 

And with profits for the rich, but let that be for the moment: The above means that the Paris Agreement is falling apart or has fallen apart in my opinion. That is, it is neither remotely enough, nor does it work (now). This is a recommended article.

2. The Megalomaniac and the Stock Market

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

Trump doesn’t want the public to think the stock market has tanked because of Trump’s government shutdown, his trade war with China, and the $1.9 trillion increase in the nation’s debt caused by his tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. (Actually, these are the major reasons for the market’s drop.)

So he’s blaming the Fed and its chair, Jerome Powell, for raising interest rates. And he’s ordered his staff to find a legal rationale for removing Powell. (It’s highly unlikely Trump has legal authority to do this, but like every other illegal thing Trump has tried, it may end up in the federal courts.)

Which is rattling investors even more, because they worry Trump is trying to turn the Fed into his own political tool.

Yes, I think this is quite correct. Here is some more:

All modern economies depend on public confidence that politicians can’t lower interest rates to serve their own purposes – such as getting short-term growth at the expense of long-term inflation and instability. (Which is exactly what Trump wants to do.)

Yes indeed. Here is the ending of this article:

Bottom line: Trump’s ego and his economic team’s incompetence not only threaten the stock market, but could tank the whole economy.

Quite so, and see the next article below. This is a recommended article - and I agree with Reich's styling of Trump as a megalomaniac, in part because I oppose the taking over of the Wikipedia by psychiatrists, who also seem to have caused the disappearance of megalomania - proper English since 1895 - from the the Wikipedia.
3. Richard Wolff: We Need a More Humane Economic System

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

The partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government is entering its fifth day after a political impasse over President Donald Trump’s contentious demand for border wall funding. Funding for about a quarter of all federal programs expired at midnight on Friday, including the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. On Christmas Day, Trump said the shutdown will last until Democrats agree to fund his $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall, despite previously repeatedly claiming Mexico would pay for the wall. The shutdown is occurring as concern grows over the U.S. economy. U.S. stock markets are on pace to suffer their worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression. In response, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held an emergency meeting with top financial regulators and also convened a separate call with top executives of six major banks. We speak to economist and professor Richard Wolff.

Quite so - and in case you were to wonder why I do not have more Richard Wolff in Nederlog, my answer is that he is a fairly conventional academic Marxist, which is a position I totally left in the 1970ies, and that I don't think his explanations are very clear. But in the present article he makes sense, I think.

Here is more:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government is entering its fifth day after a political impasse with Congress over President Donald Trump’s contentious demand for border wall funding. Funding for about a quarter of all federal programs expired at midnight on Friday, including the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. On Christmas Day, Trump said the shutdown will last until Democrats agree to fund his $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall, despite his previously repeated claims that Mexico would pay for the wall.

The shutdown is occurring as concern grows over the U.S. economy. U.S. stock markets are on pace to suffer their worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression. In response, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held an emergency meeting with top financial regulators and also convened a separate call with top executives of six major banks.

I say, for I did not know that "U.S. stock markets are on pace to suffer their worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression". One important question is whether this will persist and cause a real crisis, like that of 2008 or indeed that of 1929.

Here is more, this time by Wolff:

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, we’ve had an economy that never really escaped the crash of 2008. In a way, the last 10 years have been an economy on life support: vast amounts of money pumped into the economy; record drops in interest rates, inviting everybody—business, individuals, governments—to borrow money—a debt-sustained situation. And after a while, you can’t mount up the debt on the basis of an economy that hasn’t really gotten going. And we’re seeing the eventual break.

You know, the capitalist system has a downturn every four to seven years. It’s had that for centuries. And the last big downturn was 2008 and '09. So, if you do four and seven, and you add it to nine, we're due for one. And every major stock market observer, bank and so on predicts that we’re having a downturn.

I agree with Wolff that the "economy" - also in Europe, where I live - "never really escaped the crash of 2008", that is, for those who do not belong to the 5% or maximally 10% of the richest, for the richest got a whole lot richer, and were the only ones to do so.

And I have left in the second paragraph quoted above for three reasons: First, it has a certain plausibility, but second, one of the many failures of economy as a real science, is that economists are (also) not capable of explaining the circular nature of crises. And third, Wolff is right - to the best of my knowledge - that many market observerrs predict a downturn.

Here is more from the article:

AMY GOODMAN: (..) But I do want to ask about this Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s secret meeting—emergency meeting, I should say—with top U.S. financial regulators, after hosting a call with executives from six major banks on Sunday. You have him meeting with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon, Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman, Tim Sloan of Wells Fargo, Michael Corbat of Citigroup. What message did he convey to them? And what about the meeting with the regulators?

RICHARD WOLFF: (..) But the irony is, it didn’t play out very well, because the mass of people saw it for what it was: a ploy, an effort to verbally shore things up—which makes you wonder about how bad it really is, having pretended there was no problem, having pretended we have a strong economy. We don’t have one, so now you have to kind of talk it up.

Incidentally, these are either similar persons or the same persons from mostly the same banks that "regulated" the crisis of 2008 (with the help of Obama) so that it would profit them.

Also, what they did say and decided is unknown, which is part of my reasons to believe Wolff on this. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

AMY GOODMAN: Are we in the midst of a recession, or is it just about to hit us?

RICHARD WOLFF: It’s just about to hit us. Goldman Sachs is literally predicting it. JPMorgan Chase—you mentioned these institutions before—they’re all saying in their newsletters—if you read the financial press, it’s not a question of whether, it’s just a question of when. And it’s sort of within the next six to 18 months. So, yes, it’s possible those will be wrong, but, you know, it’s been that way for a couple of centuries. It’s a good bet. And so, yes, we’re going to have one.

I think that is probably correct, in so far as the economy can be predicted (which is not far). And this is a recommended article, with considerably more than I quoted.


4. Could This Be Our Best Hope of Removing Trump From Office?

This article is by Paul Street on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

The dog whistle couldn’t have been any clearer. When Donald Trump said two weeks ago that “the people would revolt” if he were impeached, his extremist base of neo-Nazis, Klan members, right-wing militias and sympathetic service members likely heard the following: “Feel free to attack Democrats, liberals, leftists and progressives if the coming Democratic Party-run House of Representatives acts on its constitutional right to impeach me.”

Impeachment alone probably wouldn’t trigger a right-wing uprising. But impeachment followed by the unlikely prospect of removal, which requires 67 votes in the Republican-majority U.S. Senate,  might well make it happen. So too could invoking the 25th Amendment on the grounds that Trump is incapable of performing his presidential duties.

Possibly so, but I do not even have rational chances for these possible future events. Here is more:

The case for Trump’s ouster grows stronger by the week. Beyond his possible obstruction of justice, criminal acceptance of foreign emoluments while in office and felonious campaign finance violations—any one of which could provide grounds for legal proceedings against him—the president has routinely embraced authoritarian rulers around the world and engaged in obvious appeals to violence. He has, at every turn, revealed himself to be entirely unfit for office.

Ironically, the most effective means of achieving his removal may be to revolt, albeit in a fashion radically different from the one the president has envisioned. America must instead engage in civil unrest that targets not just the current inhabitant of the Oval Office but the entire bipartisan ruling class that birthed his monstrous presidency.

Well... I think that Street may be right that "the most effective means of achieving [Trump's] removal may be to revolt" but I do not see that the chances for such a revolt are large or appreciable, at least now.

Here is some on the backgrounds of what is happening:

That Trump has never had a functioning democracy to overthrow is evidence enough that this kind of activism is long overdue. Released in the early spring of 2008, Sheldon Wolin’s classic study, “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism revealed that the U.S. was no longer a “democracy,” if it ever had been. America, Wolin found, had mutated into a new sort of totalitarian regime wherein economic and state power were conjoined and virtually unchecked by a demobilized, atomized and politically disinterested populace, conditioned to stay that way. “At best,” Wolin determined, “the nation has become a ‘managed democracy’ where the public is shepherded, not sovereign.”

I like Sheldon Wolin, and if you want to see a series of fine interviews with him by Chris Hedges, look here (where there are links to other parts of the series), but I do not know whether he is right about inverted totalitarianism, although he was a quite sensible man (who died not long ago).

Incidentally, what makes this extremely difficult to discuss in a rational fashion is the fact that the ever worsening Wikipedia insists with Brzezinski that only states are totalitarian, and not persons, plans, ideas, visions, parties or practices of those who do not live in the Soviet Union, Russia or China.

My own conception of totalitarianism is under the last link, and is supported by more than 50 years of reading (+ an intention to be honest and not to propagandize, which is something that I feel quite sure that the recent - utterly anonymous - rewriters of the item on Wikipedia completely lack).

Anyway... here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

One year after Hillary’s ignominious defeat, the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) published their expertly researched book “Democracy in America?” The volume’s key finding: “The best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups—especially business corporations—have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. …”

Yes, I agree to that and this is a recommended article.

5. Is the Trump Administration Triggering a Financial Panic?

This article is by Jake Johnson on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

The deeply harmful government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for billions in border wall funding continued with no agreement in sight.

From his vacation spot in Cabo San Lucas, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Sunday sent markets tumbling with a bizarre Twitter statement assuring the public that there is absolutely no reason to believe Wall Street is about to collapse—a move one reporter described as the “financial equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

And, holed up in the White House instead of his Mar-a-Lago resort on Christmas Eve, Trump fired off a tweet-storm blaming the Federal Reserve for what’s shaping up to be the stock market’s worst December since the Great Depression.

Yes indeed (and see above). Here is more:

The Christmas Eve call, as CBS News put it, summoned the “ghost of 2008,” as the team—formally called the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets—also convened during the 2008 financial crisis, which ultimately wiped out trillions of dollars in wealth, sparked a massive foreclosure crisis, and inflicted harm to ordinary Americans that persists to this day.

The specifics of Monday’s call have not yet been made public.

Yes again - and please note that Mnuchin's tweet, that was described as the “financial equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater” was not followed by any clarity on Mnuchin's or Trump's part.

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

Pointing out that the stock market “is not the economy,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) noted that nonetheless the Trump administration’s disarray combined with its plutocratic policy agenda has harmed ordinary people while further enriching those at the very top.

“The stock market goes up and down and the market is not the economy. But it is, for many people, their retirement or their college savings plan,” Schatz wrote. “And a lot of wealth has been wiped out because of the trade war, the tax cuts, and volatility not in the market but in the Oval Office.”

Yes, I agree and this is a recommended article.

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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