January 12, 2019

Crisis: On Angela Davis, The Opioid Crisis, Michael Cohen Testifies, Nancy Pelosi, On Truth


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 12, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, January 12, 2019. 

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 January 12, 2019:
1. Angela Davis Speaks Out on Palestine, BDS & More
2. The Opioid Crisis, Made in the USA

3. Michael Cohen to Testify Publicly Before Congress

4. Nancy Pelosi Accused of Excluding Progressives From Key Committees

5. A Twenty-First-Century Incredibility Chasm
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. Angela Davis Speaks Out on Palestine, BDS & More

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

In a Democracy Now! exclusive, legendary activist and scholar Angela Davis speaks out after the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded a human rights award for her, reportedly due to her activism for Palestinian rights. In September, the institute announced that it would award Davis the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, named after the civil rights icon. But last Friday, the institute voted to withdraw the award and cancel this year’s gala event. The institute rescinded the award days after the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center sent a letter urging the board to reconsider honoring Davis due to her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Others in the Birmingham area criticized Davis for her support for the Black Panthers and Communist Party. We speak with Angela Davis in her first television interview since the controversy began.

I say. And this time this is mostly personal, and the reason is Angela Davis, whom I hardly have considered the last nearly 50 years. This in turn also has a personal reason, that goes back to the fact that both of my parents were in the - real - resistance against the Nazis in World War II and were 45 years of their lives dedicated, intelligent, honest, but not well-educated supporters of the Dutch Communist Party; that one of my grandfathers was in the in the resistance against the Nazis in World War II; that both my father and his father were arrested in August 1941 and condemned, as ¨political terrorists¨, by collaborating Dutch judges to concentration camp punishments, which my grandfather did not survive.

I liked and admired my parents, but at age 20, after having read a lot of Marx, Engels and Lenin, I decided I could not be a communist for the fairly simple reason that I could not believe in any of Marx´s main ideas. O, and I take it my parents would have taken a similar decision, except for the facts that the second World War was a truly horrible experience for them, while after World War II, starting in 1948, they were also much discriminated - as ¨traitors¨ - because they were communists.

Here I also should mention that in fact the Dutch Communist Party had around 10,000 members at the start of WW II; that it was the only Dutch group that decided - on May 14, 1940 - to go into resistance as a group; and that they lost 2000 of their members in 5 years of war. (So to be called ¨a traitor¨ after WW II, mostly by factual collaborators of the Nazis, was pretty offensive to my parents.)

Anyway... I have already linked in the Wikipedia on Angela Davis (and this was a repeat). Here is one more bit from the article:

Davis is a Birmingham, Alabama, native who grew up in a neighborhood known as Dynamite Hill because it was bombed so frequently by the Ku Klux Klan.

The institute rescinded the award days after the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center sent a letter urging the board to reconsider honoring Davis. According to, the January 2nd letter cited Davis’s, quote, “recent outspoken support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel [which] is very troubling as it targets the Jewish people excessively,” the letter said. It went on to state, “We do not suggest that Israel should be immune from criticism, but BDS ignores gross human rights transgressions by other countries around the world and focuses solely on Israel, the world’s only Jewish state,” unquote.

Others in the Birmingham area criticized Davis for her support for the Black Panthers and Communist Party.

Yes. I think I agree with Davis - mostly - on the BDS. I also think she is undoubtedly courageous, and indeed, as far as I can see, more so than any of the former members of around my age in the Dutch Communist Party, but that is about the extent of my agreements with her, for the simple reason that if I could decide at age 20, in 1970, based on my extensive readings of Marx, Engels and Lenin that I could not be a Marxist simply because I disagreed with all of Marx´s main ideas on intellectual ground (after growing up in one of the most communist families there was in Holland, and still agreeing with their ethical values), I think so could Davis, altough I admit it probably would have been more difficult for her than for me, in part for racial reasons.

But I really cannot understand why Davis remained a communist until communism ceased, both in the former Soviet Union and its associated states, and in most Western European communist parties, for these also mostly ceased to be in 1991.

She did, and this has taken away nearly all of the respect and admiration I had for her in the late 1960ies. And this is a recommended article.

2. The Opioid Crisis, Made in the USA

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Writer Chris McGreal and host Robert Scheer zero in on the book “American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts” in this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence.”

Scheer and McGreal, the book’s author and a correspondent for The Guardian and other news outlets, discuss how the opioid addiction crisis is largely an American epidemic. As McGreal notes, “[Eighty-five] percent of the world’s prescription painkillers are consumed in the United States, which has 5 percent of the world’s population.”

Scheer and McGreal discuss how these legally prescribed drugs are so destructive, and arrive at “another unique American aspect” in play, which is that in the U.S., “health care is an industry … in which patients are not seen as people but as clients.”

Big Pharma looms large in this crisis. According to McGreal, the pharmaceutical industry “persuaded the medical establishment that everybody needed access to these drugs, and so they got them inserted into hospitals through a program called ‘Pain as the 5th Vital Sign.’ ” And then there’s the Food and Drug Administration, which has lost sight of its stated mission of protecting consumers.

These and other factors—such as insurance companies cutting corners to cut costs, as well as patients conditioned to see themselves as clients and to follow a “pill for every ill” mentality—have exacted an immense cost, whether gauged in terms of health or wealth, in the blatant pursuit of profit. All the symptoms point to a sick system, with the drug industry free, at its heart, from anything resembling effective interventions from government or consumer sectors.

Yes indeed - I completely agree with this introduction.

And in case you do not think the opioid crisis is serious: It is, at least if you take human lives serious, for around 350,000 persons have died because of them in the last 20 years, which are more American victims of opioids in 20 years than American victims of wars in the same period.

Here is more:

Robert Scheer: (...) But this opiate crisis is really a failure of governance, of medicine, of logic, of science, in your country. And you know what else? You have some terribly poor people who have turned to the opiate to escape the reality of their life.

Chris McGreal: Ah, one of the reasons it’s American Overdose is because it is actually a uniquely American, pretty much uniquely American phenomenon, this opioid epidemic. And that was one of the reasons I wanted to write it. I was really struck, I’ve been doing reporting for The Guardian for several years; when you write newspaper reports, big questions loom in your mind the more you do them. And they don’t always get answered in the articles. The two big questions that started to haunt me about this epidemic were, why is it largely an American epidemic? Eighty-five percent of the world’s prescription painkillers are consumed in the United States, which is five percent of the world’s population. And the other question that began to bother me, [is that many parts of the USA] were drawn into this epidemic 20 years ago, and yet it’s now that we’re sitting here, and this country is now talking about it. It took 15 years for most of the United States to get around to recognizing, actually, that the worst drug epidemic in the country’s history has consumed the United States.
In most of Europe, where you have public health systems, the patient comes first. And they have their shortcomings, they have their restrictions on financing, they have their complications. But essentially, they’re run as patient-based services. And in the United States, actually, it’s about the insurance industry; it’s about selling pills. It’s about an industry, and the patient is really just the mechanism, the grease that keeps that industry turning.
This is mostly true - to the extent that I know - about the USA, but both my ex and my self do have now more than 40 years of - I quote - ¨a serious chronic disease¨ (called ME/CFS, though that wlll probably also change) in which we were not helped at all by 27 out of 30 Dutch medical doctors we saw, I am sorry, but I know that McGreal´s statement that ¨ [i]n most of Europe, where you have public health systems, the patient comes first¨ is simply false, and certainly for Holland.

The only explanation that my ex and I have heard until March of 2018 (10 months ago) that we were not ill but were insane (usually made polite for us, since we also both are psychologists, by the lie that ¨it is psychosomatic¨) is that in Holland - and, judging by what I know from patients with ME/CFS in the rest of Europe - it is true that there is a public health system, but it is not the patient who comes first, but the medical doctor (and his/her rights, incomes, payments, and status).

Since my ex and I have been discriminated for 40 years - which cost us a whole lot of money and very great troubles - I think I am quite sure that that is the situation in Europe. Then again, I think I agree with McGreal when he says that ¨
in the United States¨ ¨it’s about the insurance industry¨. This seems true to me, and differs - to an extent - from the European situation.

Back to the article:

RS: Well, the patient is the sucker. The medical industry, they’re the snake-oil salesman. I mean, clearly, that’s what’s the case in your book. And the reason it wasn’t noticed is, you know, we always think the other are going to be people of color, of another culture, another ethnic thing–no. A large part of the other that we ignore–we ignore their suffering, their problems–are white people in this country, of rural America, of forgotten America, the people who lost their jobs.
And you put your finger on it: these are prescription drugs; some authorized person, some center of medical authority, has had to write that prescription, sometimes under very dubious circumstances–some pharmacy somewhere out in the hinterland or so forth. But these people are actually taking in–and you should take us through some of the drugs–they’re taking in devastating drugs, in some ways more devastating than the drugs that were branded as illegal. But they’re legal. They’re prescription drugs; they’re not being dispensed in a way that’s to the letter of the law, but some authority, somebody called a doctor with a medical degree or something, has actually authorized this. That’s the key to this epidemic.

Yes, this seems entirely correct to me. Here is more:

CM: It is. But the key to why they’re doing that–again, how the American medical system works. A lot of doctors that prescribed these pills did so because they thought it was the right thing to do. There is a minority of doctors that just made huge amounts of money running what became known as pill mills, giving opioids to anybody that wanted them. And they are responsible for a good part of this epidemic. But a lot of ordinary people became hooked on very powerful painkillers, narcotics–heroin in a pill, as DEA agents call it–because their doctors thought it was the right thing to do. And the reason that their doctors thought it was the right thing to do was, essentially, the pharmaceutical industry got hold of medical policy.

Well...yes and no. In fact, I mostly agree, but I also believe that medical doctors - and perhaps, given 40 years of continuous painful discriminations by 90% of the Dutch medical doctors my ex and I have seen, I should write: even medical doctors - do have personal responsibility for their actions and their failures to act.

Then again, I must immediately add that this is mainly a personal belief I have: In Holland there was absolutely no way to make any medical person personally responsible for their enormous medical failures (as regards ME/CFS and some other rare diseases):

To this day there is in the whole of Holland precisely one medical doctor who is prepared to act for patients based on his belief that they are ill - it seems all other medical doctors still deny this or are very busy watching in the opposite direction (and not caring for people who are ill with ME/CFS for 40 years continuously - and as I´ve said: we asked 30 Dutch medical doctors for any help, and were effectively both refused and discriminated by 27 of 30 Dutch ¨medical doctors¨).

Finally about this point of personal responsibility of medical doctors: It is again mainly just a personal belief I have, but I do think that each and every medical doctor should know, based on his or her own knowledge of drugs and of medicine, what to prescribe and what not to prescribe.

But even this - extremely elementary - idea is false in Holland and in Europe (and also in hthe USA):

But the drug companies, of course, saw an opportunity. And once they leapt in, they took hold of the policy. And essentially what they did was, using front organizations, using well-meaning doctors, they did two things. They persuaded the medical establishment that everybody needed access to these drugs, and so they got them inserted into hospitals through a program called “Pain as the 5th Vital Sign,” ensuring that everybody got asked about pain and was treated with opioids. But they then unleashed their salesmen on the ordinary doctors. And one of the surprising things to me in researching this is you discover that doctors in this country only get two or three days of training for pain, in four years of medical education. They actually know very little about it. And some of whom were prescribing these drugs because the salesmen from the drug companies told them that they were safe and effective.

I agree this is true of the profit-oriented American drug companies. What I find pretty amazing is that modern doctors (1) get only ¨four years of medical education¨ in which (2) they ¨only get two or three days of training for pain¨.

I mean: Do they learn anything else except the 50 symptoms of the 50 most common diseases, and how to dress in a stethoscope and a white coat and pretend to be medical doctors?!

And I must add: In the last 40 years of illness, I have not learned that any Dutch doctor knew more than that (apart from 1 in 10, at most).

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

RS: What does this cost in lives and misery? What does it mean, this crisis?

CM: Well, the CDC’s calculation is 350,000 dead over about the past 15 or so years, although that’s almost certainly an underestimate; because of stigma around drug addiction and death, lots of people didn’t report it. But even if we take that figure, that’s an absolutely enormous figure. And then it’s worth remembering, as awful as that is, you’ve got two or three million people who are hooked, and actually being alive and severely dependent on these drugs is equally devastating to the families concerned. And the consequences beyond that, a really good example is what happens to children. There are, in this country, tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of children being looked after by people other than their own parents as a direct result of this.

Quite so, and all thanks to the qualities of the drug companies and the medical doctors. And this is a strongly recommended article.

3. Michael Cohen to Testify Publicly Before Congress

This article is by Mary Clare Jalonick, Eric Tucker and Chad Day on Truthdig and orginally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, will testify publicly before a House committee next month in a hearing that could serve as the opening salvo of a promised Democratic effort to scrutinize Trump, his conflicts of interest and his ties to Russia.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Thursday that Cohen will appear before that panel Feb. 7, a little more than a month after the Democrats took the House majority.

The hearing marks the latest step in Cohen’s transformation from a trusted legal adviser to the president to a public antagonist who has cooperated extensively against him. Although Democrats say the questioning will be limited to avoid interfering with open investigations, the hearing is still likely to pull back the curtain on key episodes involving Trump’s personal life and business dealings, including hush-money payments to women and a proposed Moscow real estate deal, that federal prosecutors have been dissecting for months.

Yes indeed - and I took this bit from Truthdig rather than The New York Times, because The New York Times now packages the texts you read into ten times as much Javascript code, which I find most objectionable.

Here is some more:

Cohen is a pivotal figure in investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign and by federal prosecutors in New York into campaign finance violations related to payments to buy the silence of a porn actress and a former Playboy Playmate who say they had sex with Trump. Federal prosecutors have said Trump directed those payments during the campaign.

Trump has denied having the extramarital affairs.

Cohen has pleaded guilty in both investigations and was sentenced last month to three years in prison.

Yes again. And this is a recommended article.

4. Nancy Pelosi Accused of Excluding Progressives From Key Committees

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

“At first glance, progressives got mostly rolled.”

That was how journalist David Dayen reacted on Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) announcement of appointees to three of the most powerful congressional committees, which progressives have targeted as essential for advancing ambitious policy priorities like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.

Critics immediately pointed out that the bold progressives advocacy groups have been pressuring Pelosi to pick for seats on the Ways and Means Appropriations committees—such as Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.)—were entirely absent from the House Speaker’s list of assignments.

Well... this is precisely what I expected Pelosi to do. Here is one more bit:

Among the number of progressive snubs was Pelosi’s choice of Wall Street-friendly Rep. Tom Souzzi (D-N.Y.)—a self-described fiscal conservative—over Ocasio-Cortez for a spot on the Ways and Means Committee, the House tax-writing body that has the power to shape—or completely stonewall—Medicare for All and other bold legislation.

I only can repeat my remarks. I hope this will change, but in fact, with Pelosi and Schumer heading the present Democratic Party, I will not be amazed if Hillary Clinton will - once again - be the next Democratic candidate. And this is a recommended article.

5. A Twenty-First-Century Incredibility Chasm

This article is by Rebecca Gordon on TomDispatch. This is from close to its beginning:

What, indeed, is truth? As Pilate implies and John’s tale suggests, it seems to depend on who’s telling the story -- and whose story we choose to believe. Could truth, in other words, just be a matter of opinion?

Many of my undergraduate philosophy students adopt this perspective. Over the course of a semester, they encounter a number of philosophers and struggle to understand what each is arguing and what to think when they contradict each other. I do my best to present scholarly assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of these varying approaches, but all too often students find themselves drowning in a pool of epistemological confusion. If a philosophy can be criticized, they wonder, how can it be true? The easiest solution, they often find, is to decide that truth is indeed just a matter of opinion, something that has only become easier now that Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office.
This popular belief that nobody really does or can know anything is the perfect soil for an authoritarian leader to take root.

I studied philosophy myself, but was removed very briefly before taking my (excellent) M.A. in it, because I had criticized my teachers, and had forgotten that, although most of them seemed to work at most four hours a week and to write absolutely nothing because (as many said) ¨that is vain¨, absolutely everyone who gets a position at the ¨University¨ of Amsterdam must be a universal genius.

So I got the satisfaction of being called ¨a fascist¨ and ¨a dirty fascist¨ once again (as had happened many times before) by some 20 to 25 members of the ASVA (all quasi-communists, but with a great part of the power in the ¨University¨ of Amsterdam between 1971 and 1995) and also ¨a terrorist, a terrorist, a terrorist¨ because I did not believe that I had met anyone working in the ¨University¨ of Amsterdam who really was a universal genius (and indeed very few who were brilliant or genuinely intelligent).

As to truth, here is the beginning of my definition of it (and there is more under the last link):

Truth: A statement is true iff what the statement means represents a fact. Accordingly, the truth is whatever exists in reality, whatever is real.

This implies that anyone who does believe in reality has the capacity to believe true and false statements, and since most people do believe they live in a reality that is far greater than they
are, most people have that capacity (and I will disregard the rest here).

Also, I must say that the philosophy students that Gordon has met seem to me to be extremely naive - for who (other than very dumb persons) would believe that ¨If a philosophy can be criticized, they wonder, how can it be true?¨. (Substitute ¨philosophy¨ by any other noun, and see whether you believe the resulting sentence.)

Here is more from the article:

In the Vietnam years, at least, such a credibility gap could be acknowledged and an administration forced to confront it. Despite the fact that media outlets now almost routinely tote up Trump’s “untruths” -- his misstatements, false statements, and lies -- by the thousands, his administration has managed to call into question the very existence of any “facts on the ground” whatsoever. This process began in the most literal way on the first day of the Trump era: his inauguration. In January 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that Trump had drawn “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”

When journalists began comparing photographs of the crowds at Trump’s and Barack Obama’s inaugurations -- the literal facts on the ground -- it became clear that Spicer was lying. (The photos of the Trump inaugural would later be “edited” to fit the president’s desired reality.) Some of us wondered: Would that moment mark the opening of a new credibility gap for the Trump era? And the answer would be: no, it would signal the beginning of something even worse.

Yes, this is mostly true - but I must add that while I agree that Trump´s ¨administration has managed to call into question the very existence of any “facts on the ground” whatsoever¨ this was not only the work of his administration, but also required the combination of stupidity, ignorance and arrogance, that seems to characterize tens of millions of American voters.

Besides - and again on a personal note - I ¨learned¨ on August 20, 1977, from professor Brandt who had been personally asked to do the public opening of that academic year (that runs form August till August) that (and I quote him directly and literally, albeit in English):

¨Everybody knows that truth does not exist¨
And this was the basis of most that was ¨taught¨ at the ¨University¨ of Amsterdam from 1977 till 1995. It was utter madness, but it was widely taught, though it differed a lot in the different faculties.

Here is some more:

Trump’s is not the first administration in recent memory to suggest that truth is a matter of what you choose to believe -- or, if you prefer, a matter of faith. In “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” a 2004 New York Times Magazine article, journalist Ron Suskind reported on discussions among various administration insiders about the president’s worldview. An unnamed former aide to Ronald Reagan assured Suskind, for instance, that, for President Bush, truth was in fact absolute. It just wasn’t based on evidence:

“This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about al-Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them...

"This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence."

All I can say to that is that on this evidence George W. Bush was a mad idiot: Whoever thinks that ¨to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence¨ is not utterly insane (if he is not lying and posturing) must be mad in my eyes.

Here is more:

A Bush aide (later identified as key adviser Karl Rove) similarly disparaged evidence-based reality, though in his case by favoring facts created not through faith but power. As he so resonantly explained to those stuck “in what we call the reality-based community":

"That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

I take it that Karl Rove is a great liar (or possibly quite insane). Here is the last bit that OI quote from this article:

Not surprisingly, among its critics Donald Trump’s presidency has inspired any number of references to political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s description of the dismantling of truth by authoritarian regimes of the previous century. In her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt described the process this way:

"In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”

In fact, I do not know whether I agree with Arendt (and I read the named book, and found it not good). My basic reason is that, whereas what she says may have been valid in some senses, it also is not valid for almost any real human person, for these have all been educated on the basis of the correct notion that there are real facts. Anyway. This is a 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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