January 31, 2019

Crisis: USA vs Maduro, USA Most Corrupt, No More Philanthropy: Taxes, On Schultz, Human Lives

“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 31, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, January 31, 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 31, 2019:
1. As U.S. Moves to Oust Maduro, Is Invading Venezuela Next?
2. The United States Is the Most Corrupt Country in the World

3. ‘Stop talking about philanthropy’ and pay higher taxes

4. The Disaster of Howard Schultz

5. “Tell Me Donald. Exactly How Much Is a Human Life Being Sold For?”
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. As U.S. Moves to Oust Maduro, Is Invading Venezuela Next?

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

The United States is continuing to ratchet up pressure on the Venezuelan government in an attempt to topple President Nicolás Maduro. On Tuesday, the State Department announced it is giving control of Venezuela’s U.S. bank accounts to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself to be president last week. Meanwhile, the U.S. has also refused to rule out a military invasion of Venezuela. We spend the hour with prize-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn.

I usually copy the introductions to the interviews Democracy Now! makes because they are good. I also did so here, although part is repeated by Amy Goodman:

AMY GOODMAN: The United States is continuing to ratchet up pressure on the Venezuelan government in an attempt to topple President Nicolás Maduro. On Tuesday, the State Department announced it’s giving control of Venezuela’s U.S. bank accounts to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president of Venezuela last week.

This came a day after the U.S. imposed a de facto embargo on oil from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA. The new sanctions include exemptions for several U.S. firms, including Chevron and Halliburton, to allow them to continue working in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has also refused to rule out a military invasion of Venezuela. On Monday, national security adviser John Bolton was photographed holding a notepad on which he had written the words “5,000 troops to Colombia.”
On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence met with members of the Venezuelan opposition at the White House. Trump’s new special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, also took part in the meetings. Elliott Abrams is a right-wing hawk who was convicted in 1991 for lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, but he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Abrams defended Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt as he oversaw a campaign of mass murder and torture of indigenous people in Guatemala in the 1980s. Ríos Montt was later convicted of genocide. Abrams was also linked to the 2002 coup in Venezuela that attempted to topple Hugo Chávez.

I think the above is all correct and here is some information on Allan Nairn. Here is more by Nairn: 

ALLAN NAIRN: What his appointment emphasizes, re-emphasizes—it was already obvious—was that the U.S. is trying to overthrow the government of Venezuela and that it will be willing to use violence, to use military force, if necessary. That’s what Abrams, and indeed U.S. policy, has been all about.

I think their first preference would be to have a successful covert operation. Mike Pompeo, when he was in charge of the CIA, all but stated it publicly. At one point when he was speaking in Aspen at one of those gatherings of the elite, he gave the rough outlines of an operation, in coordination with U.S. allies like Colombia, to topple the Maduro government in Venezuela. And now, just recently, the night before Guaidó declared himself as the new president of Venezuela, he was on the phone with Mike Pence directly. Pence was—The Wall Street Journal broke the story. Pence was directly talking to him, and the next day he comes out and declares himself as the president of Venezuela. And now they’re asking—they’re offering incentives to Venezuelan Army officers to come over to their side and hoping that the U.S. can re-establish control of Venezuela in that manner.

I think this is also all correct - and please note that Juan Guaidó ¨declared himself as the new president of Venezuela¨.

Here is more about Donald Trump´s interests in Venezuela and war:

In 2016, during the campaign, speaking of Iraq, Trump said, “To the victor belong the spoils. You have to go in and take the oil.” You could call this a Trump doctrine. And Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves. Now, very often oil is used as the explanation for the motive for U.S. invasions and foreign policy, and I think its role is usually way overblown. People give it too much weight in the analysis. But in this case, it might turn out to be very relevant, given that Trump has that doctrine and is now personally in power.

Secondly, politically, Trump needs a new war. Trump has been stuck with, for him, being in the embarrassing position of just being able to continue the old W. Bush and Obama wars. There’s a consensus among U.S. mainstream historians that no president can be great unless he has a war.

I think this is also correct. Then there is this about elections and the USA:

ALLAN NAIRN: The U.S. has always—and this is an important point for understanding U.S. context—the U.S. doesn’t care at all about elections. They don’t care at all about the poor. Completely fake elections are fine with them. The U.S. just, you know, not long ago, finished ratifying a fraudulent election in Honduras, where Hernández imposed himself for re-election, and he did that with the assistance of Mike Pence and others. They don’t care about the poor. They targeted Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian movement from the beginning. In 2002, even though Chávez had, not long before, been re-elected in a clean vote, a completely clean vote.

Yes, though this may need some qualifications. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

ALLAN NAIRN: But in the conditions we have today, where Maduro does not have near the popular support that Chávez did, where he’s really been running the country into the ground and has been using the fact that the U.S. is trying to undermine the government as a universal excuse for everything, for his own incompetence and corruption and brutality against protesters in the streets, this government, the Maduro government, is in a rather weak position. And it appears that the population is now becoming rather divided.

Indeed. Also, while I do not know much about Venezuela, I do know a few things, and tomorrow there may be a review of a recent good interview with Noam Chomsky, who explains that he
does not much like either Maduro or Chavez, although they are better than the local rich or the CEOs of American oil companies. And this is a recommended article, with considerably more than I reviewed. 

2. The United States Is the Most Corrupt Country in the World

This article is by Juan Cole on Truthdig and originally on Informed Comment. It starts as follows:

The United States fell six places to a ranking of only 22 in Transparency International’s list of countries by corruption. Under Donald Trump, America is not in the top 20 for fair dealing.

But as I have argued before, the United States is the most corrupt country in the world and should be ranked 194, not 22.

Well... what does ¨corruption¨ mean? Here is the beginning of an article on Wikipedia on corruption (minus note numbers):

In general, corruption is a form of dishonesty or criminal activity undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire illicit benefit. Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement, though it may also involve practices that are legal in many countries. Political corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain. Corruption is most commonplace in kleptocracies, oligarchies, narco-states and mafia states.

In brief, I think myself that the USA is corrupt, and under Trump considerably more so than under Obama, but I do not think that (bolding added) ¨the United States is the most corrupt country in the world¨.

Then again, much depends on how one defines ¨corruption¨, and Cole does not define it. But here he is on the USA:

Obviously, the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Treasury would not give corporations impunity for obtaining contracts by bribery, and it is this sort of scrupulousness that the Transparency International list is rewarding. And Americans don’t have to bribe government officials, as is true in many countries (though, to be fair to the government officials, they typically demand bribes because their governments don’t pay them a living wage).

But in all sorts of ways, U.S. corruption is off the charts, and because the U.S. is still the No. 1 economy in the world by nominal gross domestic product, massive corruption here has a global impact.

I think my conclusions must be that Cole´s definition does not seem to be quite like the definition that Transparency International used (which I do not know) and also not quite like the definition in the Wikipedia (which I will presume in this review).

Cole proceeds to give ten points. I will partially quote six of them. Here is the first:

1. The U.S. is so corrupt that our ruling Republican Party would even deny human-made climate change and adopt pro-carbon policies inexorably destined to wreck the planet earth, all to ensure a few extra years of profits for dirty coal companies and oil giants like ExxonMobil.

Well... I don´t quite think this is corruption, for which I will use the Wikipedia´s definition, although I agree with Cole that what he sketches is bad.  (But some of the Republicans may be honest in not believing in climate change, and besides, disagreements about facts or science do not usually falll under ¨corruption¨.)

Here is some more:

2. Our government is so corrupt that the Environmental Protection Agency has not only ceased protecting the environment, it has become a cheerleader for polluting industries, gutting any regulation that might stand in the way of making a little extra money at the expense of, like, killing people. Its current head is a former coal industry lobbyist!

I agree this is also bad but again I think I would not call this corrupt. Here is some more:
3. The U.S. government is so corrupt that it is winking at the murder by Saudi authorities of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, almost certainly at the order of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (...)
Again I agree this is bad but I think I would not call this corrupt. Here is some more:

4. The U.S. is so corrupt (audience: “How corrupt is it?”) that the Senate has allowed a bill to come to the floor, introduced by Marco “Benedict Arnold” Rubio, that approves of individual states excluding vendors and contractors who boycott Israel. Although Rubio, Gary Peters, Ron Wyden and other backers of the bill maintain that it does not affect freedom of speech, it actually guts freedom of speech. We university lecturers who speak on other campuses are considered contractors, and people will be prevented from giving talks at the University of Texas, for example, by such laws. The law is unconstitutional and will be struck down if the U.S. judiciary still has a modicum of integrity. (..)

And again I agree this is bad but I think I would not call this corrupt.  Here is some more:

5. A sure sign of corruption is an electoral outcome like that of 2016. An addled nonentity like Donald Trump got filthy rich via tax loopholes and predatory behavior in his casinos and other businesses, and then was permitted to buy the presidency with his own money. He was given billions of dollars in free campaign time every evening on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and other channels that should have been more even-handed, because they were in search of advertising dollars and Trump was a good draw. Then, too, the way the Supreme Court got rid of campaign finance reform and allowed open, unlimited secret buying of elections is the height of corruption. (..)

No, the reasons that Trump gained the presidency are much more complicated than corruption.

What I do agree with is that the Supreme Court did open the door to much corruption by getting
rid of campaign finance reform and¨ by allowing ¨open, unlimited secret buying of elections¨. (But that decision itself was probably not so much corrupt as the consequence of there now being more neoconservative/neoliberal judges. What Cole is right about is that this opened the door to much corruption.)

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

6. The rich are well-placed to bribe our politicians to reduce taxes on the rich. The Koch brothers and other megarich troglodytes explicitly told Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in 2017 that if the Republican Party, controlling all three branches of government, could not lower taxes on its main sponsors, there would be no billionaire backing of the party in the 2018 midterms. This threat of an electoral firing squad made the hundreds of bribe-takers in Congress sit up and take notice, and they duly gave away to the billionaire class $1.5 trillion in government services (that’s what federal taxes are, folks—services, such as roads, schools, health inspections, implementation of anti-pollution laws), things that everyone benefits from and that won’t be there any more.

I think this may be a good example of corruption. There is considerably more in the article, but I think my conclusions must be that (1) I would have liked a definition of what Cole means by ¨corruption¨, while (2) I think I agree with Cole on the political or moral badness of the facts he criticizes, but I do not think most are corrupt in the sense in which I tend to use that term.

3. ‘Stop talking about philanthropy’ and pay higher taxes

This article is by John Queally on AlterNet and originally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

While the private jets have mostly left the airport outside of Davos, Switzerland following the conclusion of this year’s World Economic Forum, a little noticed exchange that took place during the annual gathering has picked up steam in recent days showing what it looks like when some of the world’s richest people are confronted by someone willing to call literal “bullshit” on the we-can-save-the- world-with-charity mantra that dominates among the global elite.

If the world’s richest and most powerful are worried about a so-called popular “backlash” in response to the global economic system they defend—and largely control—Rutger B[regman], a Dutch historian and author of the book Utopia for Realists, during a panel last week titled “The Cost of Inequality,” said the pathway is not complicated. “The answer,” he said, “is very simple: Just stop talking about philanthropy, and start talking about taxes.”

“I mean we can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes,” Bregman added. “We can invite [U2 frontman] Bono once more. But, come on, we’ve got to be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”

I say, which I do this time because I completely agree with Rutger Bregman (as he is called in Dutch - and the last link is to the Wikipedia, for though I am Dutch, I did not hear earlier about him).

Also, I give a reason why Bregman is quite correct: Philanthropy is always a personal choice, whereas taxes (in a democracy) are (1) what the majority of the population supports, that (2) can be imposed legally.

And therefore those who are for philanthropy of the rich, generally are both against the majority of the population, and are against making it legal.

Here is some more about the Davos panel:

Also on the Davos panel with Bregman was Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. Just last week, as the WEF summit was just opening, Oxfam released a report on global inequality showing that just 26 billionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s 3.8 poorest billion people.

“We have a tax system that leaks so much, that allows $170 billion of money every year to be taken to tax havens and to be denied the developing countries that need that money most,” said Byanyima during the panel. “So we have to look at the business model, and we have to look at the role of governments to tax and plow back money into people’s lives.”

I completely agree with Byanyima. And here is the last bit I quote from this article, which is by Bernie Sanders:

“We have a rigged tax code that has essentially legalized tax-dodging for large corporations and the world’s wealthiest individuals,” said Sanders. “It is time to end these egregious loopholes and make the wealthy pay their fair share.”

Again I completely agree and this is a strongly recommended article.

4. The Disaster of Howard Schultz

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

There are 3 big reasons why Howard Schultz’s self-proclaimed candidacy is troubling:

1. He could be a spoiler in 2020, splitting the vote and putting Trump back in the White House. Even Bill Burton, a former Obama adviser who has joined the Schultz team, publicly warned against third-party voting in 2016.

Well... Reich may be factually correct, but then this reason would not only stop Howard Schulz (and this is some background on this billionaire) but also - for example - Ralph Nader (who does not run in 2020).

Here is some more:

2. His message is without substance (he uses empty catchphrases like “silent majority” and “common sense solutions”) and his policy proposals are zilch. When asked by John Dickerson on CBS This Morning what his “big idea” was, Schultz declared: “The big idea is very simple: to unite the country. For us to come together. To do everything we can to realize that the promise of America is for everyone.”

I agree with Reich that this is political and moral bullshit. Here is the last point that I quote from this - brief - article:
3. He represents the very worst aspect of America’s new billionaire class in politics: He simply anoints himself as a presidential candidate, declares he’s running as an independent so doesn’t have to put himself and his ideas through any party primary contest, and can spend an unlimited amount of his own money marketing himself and his candidacy. American democracy wasn’t built for this.

Yes indeed, I agree with Reich, though the majority of the Supreme Court probably does not. And this is a recommended article.

5. “Tell Me Donald. Exactly How Much Is a Human Life Being Sold For?”

This article is by Andy Rowell on Common Dreams and originally on Oil Change International. It starts as follows:

Two years into his Presidency, the fullblown cost of Donald Trump’s assault on human health, the environment and on science is becoming brutally and painfully clear.

The cost in lives lost and pollution emitted from his rollback of regulations has been calculated too. The numbers do not lie: Trump is killing his voters. Trump is making our kids sick. Trump is killing the planet, at the same time as giving his polluting friends in the fossil fuel industry billions of dollars in handouts. And all the while, he carries on obfuscating the truth about climate change in a deliberate attempt to confuse and distort the debate.

This may be mostly correct, although I am quite prepared to accept that Trump simply does not believe in climate change, and also does not believe in science (and besides he is - in my psychologist's opinions - insane).

And this bit is about Trump and science:

First let’s look at science. To mark the two year anniversary of Trump’s presidency, the Union of Concerned Scientists has just issued a report into the Administration’s attack on science.

It concludes: “The Trump administration over its first two years has shown a pervasive pattern of sidelining science in critical decisionmaking, compromising our nation’s ability to meet current and future public health and environmental challenges.”

According to the UCS, the ten major features of the Trump administration’s anti-science agenda include:

I agree with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who also articulated their position in a list of 10 points, which I quote, but without the explanatory texts:
  • Circumventing guidance from scientific experts
  • Suppressing scientific studies 
  • Politicizing scientific grants 
  • Eliminating climate change from policy development. 
  • Undermining protections from hazards at work and home. 
  • Endangering the environment. 
  • Restricting scientists’ communications.
  • Creating a chilling environment.
  • Restricting federal science at scientific conferences.
  • Changing data use and availability. 

I think most or all of the above points are correct. Here is some more on the above (broken) rules:

To give you an example of what Trump’s rollback looks like in terms of pollution and impact on health, yesterday, the Associated Press also analyzed 11 major rules targeted for repeal or relaxation by the Trump Administration.

According to the AP, these rules – such as cutting coal pollution, expanding offshore drilling, relaxing rules on fracking, mercury pollution and refinery pollution, and repealing vehicle emission standards, amongst others, “will come at a steep cost: more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, a jump in climate-warming emissions and more severe derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.”

Yes, I more or less agree. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

The AP report sparked outrage online yesterday after it was published. One Twitter user asked: “Tell me Donald. Exactly how much is a human life being sold for?”

But the AP’s analysis is only as small fraction of what is at stake: According to a blog on Scientific American yesterday, it has been estimated that air pollution rollbacks by the Trump administration will increase premature deaths in the US by up to “40,000 people annually along with tens of thousands of lost work and school days because of illness.”

I think I more or less agree again, 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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