January 24, 2019

Crisis: Plastic Nanoparticles, No Billionaires, Political Absurdity, New Tax Plan, Powerful Oligarchs

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 24, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, January 24, 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 24, 2019:
1. 'Never Good News Having Particles in Your Brain'
2. As usual, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right: There should be no

3. We’ve Reached Peak Political Absurdity

4. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Tax Proposal Rattles Billionaires at Davos

5. The Problem Isn't Robots Taking Our Jobs. It's Oligarchs Taking Our
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. 'Never Good News Having Particles in Your Brain'

This article is by Philip Betge on Spiegel International. Incidentally, as to the title of the article:
I am glad I do have particles in my brain, but I agree with Spiegel they should not be particles of plastic. In other words, I think the adjective "plastic" disappeared somehow before "particles".

Anyway... it starts as follows (and it is a good  interview):

DER SPIEGEL: Plastic contamination of the environment seems to have reached epidemic levels. Of particular concern are tiny microplastic particles. Can these be a threat to human health?

Waring: I think we are left with a definite maybe. A key problem with plastics is that they are essentially indestructible. Rather than being biodegraded, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microscopic fragments. These can enter the human body either by inhalation or by ingestion. We don't really know where they go, but in some marine animals, such particles have been shown to accumulate in the brain, liver and other tissues. This could be a problem.

Actually, I think I would have said that having - millions and millions, or tenthousans and tenthousands - of plastic particles in the brain, the liver and in other tissues is a serious problem. In fact, I believe Rosemary Waring - who is 76 and "an honorary reader in human toxicology" - mostly agrees with me, but indeed this also is a Spiegel interview, that will become rather widely known.

Here is more:

DER SPIEGEL: Where do these particles come from?

Waring: Microplastics come from many sources, for example from the breakdown of larger items, abrasion from tires, microbeads from cosmetics or synthetic clothing fibers. A standard 5-kilogram (11-pound) wash of polyester fabrics has been estimated to release up to 6,000,000 microfibers. Through surface runoff, manufacturing processes, agriculture or waste water treatment facilities, most of this ends up in the environment, for example in rivers, and is eventually lost to the seas. Extrapolations suggest that up to 250 million tons of plastic will be present in the oceans by 2025.

Yes indeed - and you may question yourself about the number of 5-kilogram washes you need every year (* 6,000,000 microfibers).

Here is more:

DER SPIEGEL: How are humans exposed to microplastics?

Waring: Filter feeders like mussels seem to readily internalize microplastics, because they are of the same size as their preferred diet. It has been estimated that European shellfish consumers could potentially ingest 11,000 microplastic particles per year. A lot of the plastic particles in the environment are present in the atmosphere and transported by the wind. When you breathe in air, microscopic plastic particles are inhaled as well. Salt and sugar, for example, have also been reported to be contaminated with plastic, as well as honey and German beer. The analysis of tap water and bottled water found that a high proportion of drinking water contains plastic fragments.

I think I can generalize this by saying: Everything we eat or drink or breathe is very probably contaminated with at least some plastic microfibers (and this will be the case - if Trump does not start a nuclear war - for the next couple of hundreds of years, whatever else happens).

Here is more:

DER SPIEGEL: What happens with the plastic once it gets into the body?

Waring: That depends a lot on the size of the degraded plastic material. Bigger particles are not readily absorbed. Most of these just seem to pass through the body without doing much harm. It is currently believed that these bigger particles do not penetrate deeply into organs and, if at all, can only cause some limited local inflammation or tissue abrasion. Smaller particles however, referred to as nanoplastics, are a different thing altogether.

DER SPIEGEL: Nanoplastics refers to bits that are smaller than 0.001 millimeters.

Waring: The smaller the size of the plastic particles, the more likely they are to cross biological barriers such as cell membranes. What we know is that nanoparticles in general can interact with proteins, lipids and carbohydrates in the body. Nanoparticles can even cross the blood-brain barrier and it seems probable that they can affect the central nervous system. Reports of behavioral changes in shrimp and fish exposed to nanoplastics support this hypothesis. Plastic particles made fish eat slower and explore their surroundings less.

Precisely, and in fact this is one of my reasons to say above that I believe Rosemary Waring probably mostly agrees with me.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this interview:
Waring: If I were extremely worried, I wouldn't eat oysters or mussels, and I still do occasionally. However, more research needs to be done. We do not know enough about the potential health risks of microplastics. As a precaution, the amount of plastic being released into the environment must be drastically reduced. We need sewage treatment plants that remove microplastics, so they do not end up in rivers and the sea. And we need to get the plastic out of the ocean. But even with concerted global effort, the amount of microplastics in the environment will continue to grow, and the question remains: What impact will this have on human health? The concerning answer is that no one really knows.
Well... Waring is also 76, so she doesn´t need to fear the consequences of eating 10,000s of bits of nanoplastics in 40 or 50 years. But I do insist that if fish and shrimp react to nanoplastics (by eating less and exploring less) it is probable that the same holds for higher animals. And this is a strongly recommended article in which there is considerably more than I quoted.

2. As usual, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right: There should be no billionaires

This article is by Amanda Marcotte on Salon. This is from near its beginning:

On Monday, Ocasio-Cortez attended a symposium where author Ta-Nehisi Coates asked her if it was moral to have "a world that allows for billionaires." Ocasio-Cortez swiftly said it was not. She hastened to note that individual billionaires, such as Bill Gates, may well be good people. But "a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong."

AOC continued to hammer this point home later the same night on "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert, explaining (yet again) that her proposed 70 percent marginal income tax rate would only be on money made above the first $10 million a year -- and that a similar marginal tax rate reached 90% when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Yes, I almost completely agree with Ocasio-Cortez, although I certainly do not think that Bill Gates may be a good person. But she is quite correct on the rest, and indeed Eisenhower also was a Republican.

Here is some more:

"Do we want to live in a city where billionaires have their own personal Uber helipads," she asked, "in the same city and same society as people who are working 80-hour weeks and can't feed their kids?"

Right-wing media sprung into action to try to discredit her, of course, by implying that a woman who graduated summa cum laude with an economics degree is a bimbo and with Twitchy using a screenshot to make the usually genial Ocasio-Cortez somehow look like a ballbuster. But it's getting increasingly difficult to maintain the myth that the enormous wealth inequality in not just American society but the entire world somehow reflect a system that's fairly rewarding people for their talent and labor.

Yes, although I probably would have added that - by and large, and without any academic economics - the rich are rich because they get what they deny to the poor.

Here is some more:

On Monday, Oxfam published a report showing that a mere 26 individual billionaires now have as much wealth between them as the least wealthy half of the human population. Which is to say, these 26 people have more money combined than 3.8 billion of the world's population.

The idea that those 26 people are somehow being fairly rewarded by that massively unequal equation defies all common sense, especially as most billionaires have built their wealth on the labor of people who only take home a fraction of the value they add to the companies they work for.

Yes indeed, and the first paragraph states what I consider an extremely gross moral indecency. Then again, while I agree that paying one man tens of millions a year, and nearly all other men tens of thousands a year (in the West) ¨defies all common sense¨, I would have added that, besides, it is grossly indecent as well, in moral or ethical terms.

Also - and this may be a side remark - I think that my description of the rich as ¨the rich are rich because they get what they deny to the poor¨ may be somewhat less (implicit) Marxist than saying that ¨most billionaires have built their wealth on the labor of people who only take home a fraction of the value they add to the companies they work for¨. (But this is somewhat technical, and for a little more see Marx.)

Anyway... here is some more:

Nearly 60 percent of Americans now support the marginal tax rate program Ocasio-Cortez has proposed. This includes a remarkable 45 percent of Republicans, despite all the work right-wing media has done to demonize Ocasio-Cortez and anything related to her.

The problem conservatives must face is that the very inequality they are defending is a rhetorical obstacle in itself. Most people recognize that it's unfair that rich people make so much more money than the rest of us, and does not necessarily prove they have worked harder. Getting people to sign off on the idea that they simply are less worthy than their wealthier fellow citizens is not an easy lift, which is why Republicans prefer to stick to culture-war distractions, like fear-mongering over immigration or abortion.

I say, which I mostly do because I did not know that ¨45 percent of Republicans¨ support Ocasio-Cortez´s tax rate program - which indeed also is both economically and politically quite sensible, for the simple reason that under the Republican Eisenhower the very rich paid 90% tax, while this also was in the time that the USA was very rich and very capitalist.

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

Because the truth of the matter is that she's right: We shouldn't have billionaires. Any system that has a handful of ultra-wealthy individuals, by definition, is not rewarding hard work and social contributions fairly, or anywhere close to it. We don't need to embrace full-on socialism communism, and Ocasio-Cortez is swift to say that. But the floor needs to come up and the ceiling needs to come down.

Well... I more or less agree, although I also insist that banishing billionaires and making incomes and wealth considerably more equal than they are, are (mostly) socialist ideals.
And this is a strongly recommended article.

3. We’ve Reached Peak Political Absurdity

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

American telescreens broadcast an endless theater of the political absurd. Take, for example, the ongoing saga over the government shutdown and President Trump’s border wall that has been playing out on screens across the nation for weeks.
The closure could go on “for years,claimed the president, adding that given federal government workers support the move, it was better to call his payment stoppage a “strike.”

The telescreens showed Trump threatening to declare a “national emergency” over a “national crisis” of “illegal crossings” at the U.S.-Mexican boundary. We saw
Trump and his press secretary claim that U.S. authorities had recently interdicted many “terrorists” (including “Islamic” ones) from crossing  the border. 

We learned that the president threatened via tweet to end “birthright citizenship”—the national citizenship granted to all persons born in the U.S. under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment—through an executive order.

Well... I mostly agree with Street, although I probably would have added that this ¨peak of political absurdity¨ is best explained by three assumptions: (1) Trump is insane; (2) Trump´s government in fact only works for the interests of the rich; and (3) for Trump and his government there are no moral norms, no ethical principles, and no scientific facts: there only are profits + the one single norm CEOs have to satisfy (pace Friedman), namely to make maximum profits, completely regardless of any other norm.

Here are some more insanities by Trump:

Calling opponents of his wall “open-border extremists” who would render the country defenseless in the face of a criminal invasion of drugs, gangs and violence, he also attributed the nation’s widespread drug crisis to our “open border policy.”

“The radical Left,” Trump bizarrely intoned during his speech, “can never control our borders. I will never let it happen. Walls are not immoral. In fact, they are the opposite of immoral.”

I more or less agree the above is bizarre, except that - since I am a psychologist - I call it insanity, for I maintain now since nearly three years (like many other psychologists, and like some psychiatrists) that is what Trump is: insane.

Here is some more Trumpian insanity:

There is naturally no evidence of significant federal worker support for the president’s preposterous decision that they should go without paychecks. It’s worth remembering that a strike occurs when workers collectively withhold their labor to try to compel their employer to make changes in pay and/or working conditions. To describe federal workers’ involuntary loss of payment at the command of their boss as a “strike” is ludicrous to a degree that would make George Orwell blush.

While he’s at it, Trump might as well send out a tweet claiming to resolve the problem of “essential” federal workers’ unpaid status with an executive order abolishing the 13th Amendment and designating them as slaves.

The president’s claim that “the radical left” is a threat to “control our borders” is just as bizarre, not to mention a prime example of red-baiting.

I completely agree with Street on the meaning of ¨strike¨: This is about as insane as declaring that there will be no more wars because you insist that ¨war¨ means peace, or as declaring that there will be no more poor because you insist that ¨poor¨ means rich. And this is a strongly recommended article.

4. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Tax Proposal Rattles Billionaires at Davos

This article is by Ilana Novick on Truthdig and originally on Blogger. It starts as follows:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., during a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper on Jan. 6, proposed a 70 percent marginal tax rate on income earned above $10 million. Cooper called this “radical.” The proposal has earned extensive media coverage, and has been debated by pundits on both sides of the political aisle.

One group that is not thrilled, according to Hugh Son and Brian Schwartz of CNBC, are attendees at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, the annual gathering of international business and political leaders who meet to discuss the state of the world economy. “It’s scary,” Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer for Guggenheim Partners, told CNBC, adding, “By the time we get to the presidential election, this is going to gain more momentum. … I think the likelihood that a 70 percent tax rate, or something like that, becomes policy is actually very real.”
Another billionaire, who declined to be named, told CNBC that despite the massive media attention around Ocasio-Cortez’s interview, Democrats would not be likely to support the plan. “It’s not going to happen—trust me,” he said.

One prominent Democrat interviewed at Davos agreed. Glenn Hutchins, founder of the private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, who CNBC calls a member of the “Democratic establishment,” said, “The important thing in my view is not to try to score political points with having a 70 percent, very high tax rate. The important thing is to try to figure out a tax system that is both fair and efficient.”

I agree with Ocasio-Cortez (and see item 2), and I also insist that, compared to the taxes on the rich that the Republican Eisenhower demanded (90%), 70% is quite low.

And I have one comment on Hutchins: He is plainly contradicting himself, for the only way to make ¨a tax system that is both fair and efficient¨ is to increase the taxes on the rich and the very rich.

Here is one more bit from this article:

Although Davos attendees and Anderson Cooper see Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal as extreme, as  of Vox points out, “[The] top tax rates used to be much higher,” adding, “Under [President] Eisenhower, the top earners paid a 91 percent marginal rate, falling to Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70 percent under Kennedy and Johnson, before falling to 50 percent after Ronald Reagan’s first big tax cut, and then down to 38 percent after the 1986 tax reform.”

While the proposal is just two weeks old, early surveys indicate Americans are receptive to Ocasio-Cortez’s idea. One poll, from The Hill-HarrisX, suggests that the idea may gaining favor with the public, as 59 percent of respondents answered yes to the question, “Would you favor or oppose a tax proposal that would apply a 70% rate to the 10 millionth dollar and beyond for individuals making $10 million a year or more in reportable income.” This includes 45 percent of Republican respondents.

Quite so, and these are good things to know. This is a recommended article.

5. The Problem Isn't Robots Taking Our Jobs. It's Oligarchs Taking Our Power

This article is by Adam Simpson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Each week workers are confronted with yet another article touting the threat of technology wiping out their jobs. A recent “60 Minutes” segment featured venture capitalist and author Kai-Fu Lee predicting that advances in artificial intelligence would “in 15 years displace about 40 percent of the jobs in the world.”

The message to workers is clear: the threat of obsolescence is real, so act accordingly. The advice of the World Economic Forum, the McKinsey Global Institute, and others, is that workers must “reskill” in order to have a livelihood available to them.

Yes, indeed. But reskilling is quite difficult if you are over 30 and have a normal intelligence. Besides, there is a major difference between a Kai-Fu Lee who is predicting at present that ¨advances in artificial intelligence would “in 15 years displace about 40 percent of the jobs in the world”¨ (without - it seems - drawing further consequences) and the climate that arose in the early 1960ies with quite dissimilar predictions, for it was then assumed (in the early 1960ies) that these technological advances would lead to humans having to work less and less, while maintaining their financial income.

But 50+ years later the same technological advances, which now are a great lot further, are merely used (or so it seems) to argue that if you are not rich you must
"reskill" or starve.

Here is some more on

Practically, the “reskilling” that workers achieve will simply serve to lower the cost currently existing tech labor without any assurances that such sectors will be immune from “disruption” in a few years by the next wave of automation.

Ultimately, the better advice for workers seeking to avoid “disruption” is to become the agents of disruption themselves. What 21st-century workers need is what workers have always needed: power. Organizing unions and developing pathways to ownership is the best way workers can address the anxiety of the so-called “automation age,” not chasing the labor market demands of elites.

Well... I partially agree, but I also think that it is desirable that the sort of ideas that were quite current in the early 1960ies get reintroduced, which may be summarized as saying that if technology and artificial intelligence make it possible that - for example - 10% less of human work is needed to produce something, then this should mean that 10% less work is done, for the same payments.

Instead, the present rich and their spokesmen argue that if you do not reskill, you will loose your job to machines - which means that machines and profits are far more important for the present rich than human beings, human rights, or human happiness, that is, except if these human beings are very rich to start with.

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

Without the threat of economic misery, workers could—and likely would—refuse to participate in an increasingly exploitative system that exclusively benefits the one percent. Learning to program the robot that took your last job might be a temporary reprieve, but the way the system works does not change: It demands that workers be disciplined by the threat of looming destitution. And it demands that capitalists maximize their profits, including by decimating workers with new technology if that’s what it takes. Capitalism can’t function if workers are liberated from such threats, by skills or otherwise.

Yes, I agree - and I recall that Milton Friedman (a major fraud, in my opinion) insisted for decades that the only norm any corporate executive has to satisfy is to make the maximum profit, indeed also if this involves killing the non-rich. And 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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