January 25, 2019

Crisis: Warren & Ultra-Millionaires, Tyranny, Coup in Venezuela, Nuclear Apocalypse, Corporations

“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 25, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Friday, January 25, 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 25, 2019:
1. Elizabeth Warren Proposes Annual Wealth Tax on Ultra-Millionaires
2. Lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck: Bush, Rumsfeld & Cheney Are a Troika of
     Tyranny & Should Be in Prison

3. Over 70 Scholars and Experts Condemns US-Backed Coup Attempt in

4. Apocalypse Still Looms as Doomsday Clock Stays at 2 Minutes to

5. Seeking a Cure for Our New Gilded Age — For the Total Corporate
     Domination of Everything
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. Elizabeth Warren Proposes Annual Wealth Tax on Ultra-Millionaires

This article is by David Dayen on The Intercept. This starts as follows:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign has rolled out a proposal for an annual tax on wealth, becoming the first major Democratic candidate to follow a recommendation outlined in Thomas Piketty’s blockbuster book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

The proposal, according to two University of California, Berkeley, economists who are leading experts on wealth and inequality, would shrink the wealth of the superrich by $2.75 trillion over a 10-year period, while only affecting around 75,000 U.S. households.  

A paper distributed by Warren’s campaign announcing the proposal notes that the United States contains “an extreme concentration of wealth not seen in any other leading economy.” As UC Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have demonstrated, the top 0.1 percent has had their wealth share nearly triple between the late 1970s and 2016.

Warren actually endorsed the concept of a wealth tax five years ago, in an interview with Piketty and The Intercept’s Ryan Grim. Asked how a bill to tax wealth would sound after Piketty described it, Warren said, “Oh, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in — in on the notion that we have to rewrite our tax code.” She added that the tax code “has to reflect the importance of work and people who achieve and people who accomplish, over being born into wealth.”

I think this may very well be a good idea. In fact, I belong to those who want considerably more, for the rather simple reason that I am against the existence of billionaires - see yesterday - but this does seem to be a step in that direction, at least.

So I agree with nearly everything in the above quotation, except possibly with Warren´s distinction between ¨
people who achieve and people who accomplish, over being born into wealth¨ and my reason is mostly that while I think there is a talent for finance + money that helps people grow rich (if lucky), I also think that talent is one of many, and is very much overvalued, both financially and morally.

Then again, this is a side issue. Here is more:

Piketty endorsed the Warren plan on Thursday. “In many ways, the US led the world toward the development of progressive taxation and the reduction of inequality at the global level during the first half of the 20th century,” he wrote in a statement. “I am confident that Senator Warren’s proposed progressive wealth tax will not only help curb inequality and ultimately promote growth in the US, but also have a major impact all around the world.”

Targeting wealth instead of income attacks a much larger source of inequality and economic distortion. Concentrated wealth has skyrocketed over the past several decades; an Oxfam study out this week estimates that the world’s billionaires grew their fortunes by $2.5 billion per day in 2018.

Yes, although I care less for Piketty´s opinions, though they may be right, than for the facts outlined in the above quoted second paragraph.

Here is a bit of an explanation of Warren´s proposal:

The Ultra-Millionaire Tax, as Warren’s campaign describes it, would impose a 2 percent annual tax on household net worth on all dollars above $50 million. An additional 1 percent surtax would kick in above $1 billion in income. Wealth is defined in the plan as “all household assets … including residences, closely held businesses, assets held in trust, retirement assets, assets held by minor children, and personal property with a value of $50,000 or more.”

These are marginal tax rates, which conservatives have busily tried to misconstrue during the debate over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70 percent income tax rate above $10 million. Households with exactly $50 million in wealth would pay zero dollars in wealth taxes; the first dollar above that would trigger a tax of 2 cents.

That the Warren tax would raise far more than Ocasio-Cortez’s plan is a function of the extreme concentration of wealth in the United States. “While we must make income taxes more progressive, that alone won’t straighten out our slanted tax code or our lopsided economy,” the Warren proposal paper explains.

Well... it sounds quite fair to me (¨a 2 percent annual tax on household net worth on all dollars above $50 million¨) and besides, I like it that Warren´s proposal, if it becomes law, probably will ¨raise far more than Ocasio-Cortez’s plan¨, which I also am for.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
The wealthy would still be able to enjoy the vast majority of their wealth. Saez and Zucman estimate that the top 0.1 percent will pay 3.2 percent of their wealth in taxes in 2019, and the wealth tax proposal would only increase that to 4.3 percent. Incidentally, the bottom 99 percent pays about 7.2 percent of their wealth in taxes, because they lack savings and rely heavily on labor income.
Precisely, and this is also why it is morally very fair: Billionaires pay 4.3 percent tax on their anyway excessive wealth, whereas the non-rich pay ¨about 7.2 percent of their wealth in taxes¨. And this is a strongly recommended article.

2. Lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck: Bush, Rumsfeld & Cheney Are a Troika of Tyranny & Should Be in Prison

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

As Venezuela faces an attempted coup supported by the U.S., Brazil and the European Union, we speak with human rights attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. In November, John Bolton accused Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua of being part of a “troika of tyranny.” Kaleck says the real “troika of tyranny” is George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who should be in prison for war crimes. Kaleck is a human rights attorney who for decades has been at the forefront of the legal fight to hold powerful actors and governments around the world accountable for human rights abuses. His new book, titled “Law Versus Power: Our Global Fight for Human Rights,” documents his remarkable career, including his time as whistleblower Edward Snowden’s lawyer in Europe. Kaleck is general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Yes, I agree with Kaleck. Here is the first of some bits from his interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the global state of human rights right now, as you see it. You generally live in Berlin. You are here visiting the United States.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, I mean, everybody’s talking now about Putin and Erdogan, Turkey’s president, and, of course, also about Trump, and rightly so. They have to be criticized on every level. No question about that. But we shouldn’t forget the former “troika of tyranny”: Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney. And everybody tends now, in the light of, you know, the performances of President Trump, to think of these men as honorable, respectful politicians. They weren’t. They were war criminals. And the only reason why they are not in the prison is because the U.S. is so powerful and avoided any kind of accountability. And that is tragic.

I agree with Kaleck, except on a point of style and fact: I belong to those who never thought that Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney were decent men, and there are quite a few like me, so Kaleck´s ¨everybody¨ is a - considerable - overstatement.

Anyway. Here is some more from this interview:

AMY GOODMAN: (..) President Trump has brought it right out into the open. He says the reason we’re not going to do anything to Saudi Arabia about what happened to Khashoggi is because of our military relationship with them and the money they bring to the United States—whether or not that’s true.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, honest enough. I mean, let’s say others would cover themselves behind some kind of whatever reasons. And so, of course, this is the truth. So, even he talks sometimes the truth.

But coming back to Gina Haspel, Gina Haspel was part of the torture system after 9/11, which consisted of many different actions all over the world, not only Guantánamo, not only infamous prison Abu Ghraib in Iraq, but also the CIA
extraordinary rendition program, a kidnapping and torture program of terror suspects. And so, as there is no kind of accountability here, no real investigation and prosecution in the U.S., we are trying, since 2004, to hold them accountable in Europe.
We have several judgments of the highest court of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, which declared the CIA extraordinary rendition program unlawful, in cases against Poland, against Lithuania, where there were secret detention sites, and in cases against Macedonia. And we also filed—we filed cases, criminal actions, against not only Rumsfeld, Bush, John Yoo, the lawyer who justified all this, who teaches now in Berkeley—a scandal—but also against Gina Haspel, because she was a very prominent figure in this system.

I say, which I do because I did not know most of the above, while I strongly agree.

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

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, President Obama’s approach to all of this, which was “Let’s look forward, let’s not look back”—


AMY GOODMAN: —in terms of whether or not these people will be held accountable. We have 15 seconds.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Unfortunately, very typical reaction. It’s stupid, because if we don’t care for the torture in the past, it will appear in the future again.

Yes indeed, although I would say that it is not only ¨stupid¨ to look forward, let’s not look back” but it also seems to me quite illegal, for the only crimes you can punish (rationally speaking) are the crimes that happpened in the past, whereas Obama insisted these very serious crimies should not be legally investigated. And this is a strongly recommended article, with considerably more than I quoted.

3. Over 70 Scholars and Experts Condemns US-Backed Coup Attempt in Venezuela

This article is by the Common Dreams staff on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

As many American lawmakers, pundits, and advocacy groups remain conspicuously silent in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to formally recognize Venezuela's opposition leader as the "interim president"—a move that was denounced as open support for an attempted coup d'état—renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, filmmaker Boots Riley, and over 70 other academics and experts issued an open letter on Thursday calling on the Trump administration to "cease interfering in Venezuela's internal politics."

I agree with Chomsky and others, though I should add that in fact I know little about Venezuela. But in any case, Chomsky and others are quite right to protest against the support Trump gives to an "interim president" who never was elected.

Here is one more bit from the article:

"Actions by the Trump administration and its allies in the hemisphere are almost certain to make the situation in Venezuela worse, leading to unnecessary human suffering, violence, and instability," the letter reads. "The U.S. and its allies must cease encouraging violence by pushing for violent, extralegal regime change. If the Trump administration and its allies continue to pursue their reckless course in Venezuela, the most likely result will be bloodshed, chaos, and instability."

Highlighting the harm American sanctions have inflicted upon the Venezuelan economy and people, the letter goes on to denounce the White House's "aggressive" actions and rhetoric against Venezuela's government, arguing that peaceful talks are the only way forward.

Yes, I agree. And you can find the complete letter by Chomsky and others in this article, that is recommended.

4. Apocalypse Still Looms as Doomsday Clock Stays at 2 Minutes to Midnight

This article is by Jessica Corbett on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Thanks to world leaders' failures to adequately address the threats posed by nuclear weapons and the climate crisis—in spite of mounting public pressure for bold action on both fronts—the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced
Thursday that the Doomsday Clock remains at two minutes to midnight, "the closest it has ever been to apocalypse."

I completely agree with ¨the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists¨. Here is a small bit of background information:

Founded in 1945 by developers of the atomic bomb, the Bulletin's mission is to "equip the public, policymakers, and scientists with the information needed to demand, recognize, and support public policies that reduce manmade existential threats."

Last year, citing inaction on the climate and nukes, the group moved the hands of its infamous Doomsday Clock forward a half-minute, signaling to the global community that it was at greater risk of experiencing utter catastrophe.

I completely agree - and my own two most important reasons for fearing a nuclear war are that I think, together with many other psychologists, that Trump is insane, while the dangers of a nuclear are extremely much larger than 30 or 50 years ago, for the simple reason that there are far stronger nuclear bombs than 30 or 50 years ago.

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

"Humanity faces two dire and simultaneous existential threats: nuclear weapons and climate change. The longer world leaders and citizens thoughtlessly inhabit this abnormal reality, the more likely it is that we will experience the unthinkable," former California Gov. Jerry Brown, the Bulletin's executive chairman, said in a statement.

Yes, I agree and this is a strongly recommended article.

5. Seeking a Cure for Our New Gilded Age — For the Total Corporate Domination of Everything

This article is by Yves Smith on Naked Capitalism. It starts as follows:

Jonathan Tepper, the lead author of The Myth of Capitalism, is one of the founders of a macroeconomic research group for clients who are asset managers, i.e. investors who manage people’s savings. He previously worked as an equity analyst at SAC Capital and as a vice president in proprietary trading at Bank of America. He was a Rhodes Scholar.

Tepper is disdainful (to say the least) of the theories of Marx and Piketty, and so he advances a new explanation for the chasming inequality which disfigures post-Reaganite and post-Thatcherite economies: “The growing gap between the rich and the poor is happening due to a decline in competition,” he writes. “This has been driven by industrial concentration and extremely lax to nonexistent antitrust enforcement” (p. 227). We consequently find ourselves in “a second Gilded Age” (p. 8) which requires us to wage a second campaign “to institute new antitrust laws that serve the people” (p. 234).

In fact, I´ve never heard about Jonathan Tepper, who also is not on Wikipedia. But in fact I have not heard about almost everyone who is alive (like everybody else indeed), so this is no objection.

Then again, while I do agree with Tepper that the lack of competition, which also, and perhaps more clearly, may be stated as the growth of monopolies and oligopolies, is one important factor in the growth of wealth of the 1% and the decline of wealth of the 90%, I do not think it is the only important factor.

Also, while I am not a Marxist and did not read Piketty (but I do know his main ideas), I think that Tepper may be a bit unfair against Marxists or Marx, for the simple reason that I know that his argument, at least when it is - quite fairly - restated in terms of ¨
the growth of monopolies and oligopolies¨, was already quite popular with Marxists in the 1930ies.

Finally, I should say that the above article now seems removed from Naked Capitalism and seems replaced by this article, it seems mostly because Tepper got very angry with an earlier review.

O well. Here is some more:

As a devotee of street-smart hardcore lefties from Chris Hedges to Jimmy Dore, I was not anticipating a rough ride from such a straight-arrow nice guy as Tepper. I was in fact, as I began reading, expecting a lot of wonky, noncontroversial, carefully-worded, good-government bromides. Boy was I in for a surprise. The theme of gentle Jonathan Tepper’s book is outrage. Sustained outrage.

Tepper uses an analogy to “Lucky” Luciano’s Mafia Commission of the 1930s to explain how contemporary American corporations divide up the turf in order to rid themselves of any real business competition (pp. 21-22). He uses an analogy to a brain-eating tapeworm to illustrate how the extreme concentration of industry has a literally parasitic effect on our economy: “Monopolies and oligopolies won’t kill the economy, but they can cripple it” (p. 36).

Well... I like Chris Hedges as well (and know less of Jimmy Dore, though I know who he is and saw several videos with him), but the first paragraph also tells us more about Yves Smith than about Jonathan Tepper.

Then again, as I began saying, the second paragraph does look familiar from Marx, though I am quite willing to assume Tepper is not a Marxist at all.

Here is some more:

The sensitive reader will feel morally obligated bear some of Tepper’s burden of exhaustively-researched outrage, but will also fear being, as I was, overwhelmed by it. My recommendation is to begin with Tepper’s chapter six, felicitously entitled “Toll Roads and Robber Barons.” Study chapter six. Digest chapter six. In it Tepper presents a catalog of the extent of — the ubiquity of — the hypertrophic concentration of industry in neoliberal America. “If you’re not outraged by the time you get to the end of the chapter,” Tepper writes, “you weren’t reading carefully. Most industries have carved up the United States with the sole purpose of screwing the consumer” (p. 116).

It would seem to me that one inference from the above is that Tepper´s book is not very well-written. Then again, this also is the usual case.

Next, there is a list of over 20 cases of increased monopilization/oligpolization. I will quote only the first five:

The word Raub-ritter, robber-baron, it is I think worth mentioning, could just as accurately be translated into our current American idiom as rape-knight:

1. Cable/High Speed Internet: Three companies control 65% of the nation’s cable market but this figure is meaningless. At the local level, the companies face no real competition…. Almost all of the United States has essentially been carved up geographically.

2. Computer Operating Systems: Microsoft has an over 90% market share.

3. Social Networks: Facebook has over 75% market share in all global social media…. Mark Zuckerberg is the emperor of the private data of 2 billion people who have handed over all their personal information, political views, likes, and preferences. Users should be very scared…. When Facebook was growing, he could not believe how stupid his users were in handing over all their personal information,“They trust me – dumb fucks.

4. Search: Google has an almost 90% market share in search advertising.

5. Milk [monopsony]: If you’re a dairy farmer, you often have no choice when it comes to selling your milk. Dean Foods is the dominant player…. The firm has had to pay millions of dollars in price fixing and monopoly lawsuits.

Incidentally, the translation of ¨Raub-ritter¨ as ¨rape-knight¨ is not ¨just as accurately (..) translated¨ as ¨robber baron¨, for the simple reason that robbing (which is what ¨Raub¨ means) is not the same as raping.

Here is some more:

Tepper emphasizes that such monopolistic and oligopolistic concentrations of industry do not effect the efficiencies of economies of scale. They effect the exact opposite. They effect inefficiency and inequality and economic lethargy. For the drive to concentrate industry is perhaps the most aggressive form of rent-seeking — of robber-barronhood — of knight-rape. It is the will to increase one’s own wealth without creating new wealth. Thus Tepper writes: “The damage to the economy is far worse than you could imagine. The evidence is overwhelming that higher economic concentration has created a toxic cocktail of higher prices, less economic dynamism, fewer startups, lower productivity, lower wages, greater economic inequality, and damage to smaller communities” (p. 37).

I probably mostly agree with this (apart from the translation from the German), although again I know similar arguments from Marxists, quite long ago as well.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article (that meanwhile seems to have been removed from Naked Capitalism and to be replaced by
this article):

[L]et the reader now consider Tepper’s analysis of the economic state of the Union over the past four decades: “While merger waves were rare historically, we’ve seen a merger wave in every single decade since Reagan gutted antitrust. Like a ratchet effect, companies only get bigger and more bloated. The 1990s launched an even greater merger wave than the 1980s. While Reagan may have gutted the Sherman and Clayton acts, President Bill Clinton promoted mergers with even greater fervor. Under Clinton, the defense companies went from over 100 down to 5 major defense contractors, many with no competitors in their respective weapons systems. On social issues, George W. Bush and Barack Obama may have differed, and their rhetoric may have differed when it came to corporations, but there was absolutely no difference in policy when it came to monopolies and oligopolies…. Obama talked tough on big business and Wall Street, but he raised as much money from them as possible and was arguably even more pro-merger than Bush.

Again I basically agree. But as I said: The article from which the above quotes are cited has been removed. O well...

[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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