April 25, 2019

Crisis: Stiglitz on Various Things (1 & 2), Democrats Prefer Trump?, Savagery & Security, On AI

“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 April 25, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, April 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 April 25, 2019:
1. Stiglitz: Capitalism Hasn’t Been Working for Most People for the Last 40

2. Stiglitz: Warren & Sanders Want to Make the Economy Work for All

3. Do Democrats Prefer Trump in the White House?

4. Savagery and Its Promoters and Profiteers

5. What Is the 'AI Agenda,' Who's Pushing It and Why?
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. Stiglitz: Capitalism Hasn’t Been Working for Most People for the Last 40 Years

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

We look at staggering inequality and the state of the U.S. economy with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton. Joseph Stiglitz is a professor at Columbia University and chief economist for the Roosevelt Institute. His latest book, out this week, is “People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent.”

Well... I think Joseph Stiglitz is one of the more interesting economists, but I also think I should warn you right away that I don't think the present economics is much of a science (one simple reason is that it has three distinct incompatible foundations), and I am not much impressed by a Nobel Prize in economics.

Then again, I do think some of his ideas are sensible. As an introduction, here is Abigail Disney, who is no economist:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Disney heiress Abigail Disney is speaking out against wage inequality, calling Disney CEO Bob Iger’s salary, quote, “insane.” In an opinion piece for The Washington Post published Tuesday titled “It’s time to call out Disney—and anyone else rich off their workers’ backs,” she wrote, quote, “I had to speak out about the naked indecency of chief executive Robert Iger’s pay. According to Equilar, Iger took home more than $65 million in 2018. That’s 1,424 times the median pay of a Disney worker. To put that gap in context, in 1978, the average CEO made about 30 times a typical worker’s salary. Since 1978, CEO pay has grown by 937 percent, while the pay of an average worker grew just 11.2 percent. This growth in inequality has affected every corner of American life.”

AMY GOODMAN: Those are the words of Abigail Disney. She went on to write, “At the pay levels we are talking about, an executive giving up half his bonus has zero effect on his quality of life. For the people at the bottom, it could mean a ticket out of poverty or debt. It could offer access to decent health care or an education for a child,” she wrote.

I agree with Disney, and so does Stiglitz:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: She’s absolutely right. You mentioned that in the late '70s it was 30 to one, on average; today it's over 300 to one. And it’s not as if our CEOs have gotten 10 times as productive in those intervening years. It’s not as if—you know, American CEOs get paid so much more than their workers relative to those in Europe and even more relative to those in Japan. And it’s not because our CEOs are that much more productive. It’s because we have a real problem in our corporate governance laws, in our norms, that allow them to take away that much money.

Yes indeed. Here is some more:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And then, of course, you have to add the taxation policy, which is gradually protecting wealth rather than trying to create a level playing field, whether it’s with the elimination of the inheritance tax or the ending, effectively, of progressive taxation. That means that all that money that they get, they get to keep, as well, right?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Yeah. You know, this is a time where we—given the growth of inequality, you would have thought the natural response is to ramp up a progressivity of our tax system. And we’ve done just the opposite. The 2017 tax bill is a real illustration of that. It increased the tax rate on a majority of people in the second, third and fourth quintile. In other words, the vast middle class, when the bill is fully implemented, will see higher tax rates, in order to give a tax cut for billionaires.

I agree with Stiglitz, except when he says "And we’ve done just the opposite": In fact "we" (whoever that is or may be, except for the few very rich) did no such thing, for these things were pushed through by the small minority of the very rich.

Here is some more by Stiglitz:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: So, in those few words in the title, I try to pack an awful lot. So, one of the things I wanted to say is that any modern economy, the market is going to have to play an important role. So, that’s why I wanted to use the word “capitalism.” But I wanted to signal that the form of capitalism that we’ve seen over the last 40 years has not been working for most people. And that’s why I talk about people. We have to have progressive capitalism. We have to tame capitalism and redirect capitalism so it serves our society. You know, people are not supposed to serve the economy; the economy is supposed to serve our people.

Well... I have several questions about this:

First, what has "the market" to do with "capitalism"? (And remember that both terms are rather vague.)

Second, I don't disagree that "the form of capitalism that we’ve seen over the last 40 years has not been working for most people", but then around 40 years is the working life of most people. So my question is: Why favor "capitalism" if it doesn't work for the vast majority during 40 years?

And third, why should we "have to tame capitalism and redirect capitalism so it serves our society"? And besides: if "people are not supposed to serve the economy; the economy is supposed to serve our people" then this seems quite incompatible with almost any form of "capitalism" that existed since the 1840ies.

I know none of these questions has obvious clear answers, but I do think they are quite fundamental.

Here is some more:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But hasn’t the exacerbation of inequality—I go back to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc. There were competing systems back then, and Western capitalism had to at least provide some benefits to its workers to prevent them from going toward socialism. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries, not only were new markets opened up for capitalism, but there was no longer a need to give any sops to the working class, as a result of the fact that there was no longer a competing system.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: I think you’re absolutely right.

I don't quite agree. First of all, the "socialism" of the Soviet Union (etc.) was not socialism in any sense that I (or George Orwell) understand by it. And second, I don't think capitalism has become more and more exclusively pro-rich because of the collapse of a system some call "socialism" but because the very rich capitalists got much better organized, from the early seventies (see Lewis Powell Jr.) onwards.

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

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: (..) To put it, you know, another way, in the 1950s, we aspired to be the first middle-class society. And we talked about education for all. We had infrastructure investment. We had a tax rate at the top of 90%, and we had the fastest rate of growth that we’ve ever had.

Well... I agree that "in the 1950s, we aspired to be the first middle-class society" - but then capitalism exists at least since the 1840ies, and if an economical system takes over 100 years to arrive - briefly, for something like 25 years - at a "middle-class society", that is, a society were more than around 10% do get a decent income, then once again: What is so attractive about capitalism for the 90% who are not rich capitalists themselves?!

Anyway... I do think this article is interesting and worthwile, and it is strongly recommended. Also there is some more Stiglitze in the next article I review:

2. Stiglitz: Warren & Sanders Want to Make the Economy Work for All Americans

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

As the 2020 election race barrels forward with nearly 20 Democratic candidates, we speak with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz about the policy platforms of progressive hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, including Warren’s plan to break up big tech companies and cancel student debt and Sanders’s commitment to democratic socialism, which Stiglitz compares to “what in Europe is called social democracy, sometimes called the welfare state.”

Yes, I agree with the above, which I also extend somewhat by saying that - so far, at least - Warren and Sanders are the only elected Democrats elected before 2016 and since Bill Clinton was president who strike me as honest. And besides, Stiglitz is quite right that what Bernie Sanders is in favor of is - in European terms, at least - social democracy rather than democratic socialism.

Here is some more:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: (..) I actually think there should be a global minimum tax, because what is going on is that they’re avoiding not only taxes in the United States, but they’re looking around the world for places, like Panama and the tax paradises, to avoid taxes. Apple was particularly bad, where they shifted all their money into Ireland, from all their profits in Europe, and then did a special deal with Ireland so they basically paid almost no taxes, .02 or .2%—I mean, really very low, a real example of tax avoidance, almost at the level of evasion.

Yes indeed: I quite agree. Here is some more:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: On the student loan thing, we have a student debt now of $1.5 trillion. It’s so large, it’s beginning to affect our macroeconomy. It’s affecting individuals’ lives. They can’t get—you know, buy a home, start a family, because of the debt. Now—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It’s a new form of indentured servitude.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: It’s a new form of indentured servitude. And so, we have to think about it in two parts. One, going forward, how do we make sure that a university education is affordable to everybody? And the second part is: What do we do with the backlog of $1.5 trillion?

Now, she has a particular proposal. It’s somewhat different from the one that I’ve been advocating. What I think is that you should have what I call contingent repayment. If your income is below a certain level, say, below $50,000, you don’t pay back anything. If it’s over $200,000, you might pay back 4%.

Yes, and I can add that Holland (where I live and studied in the university) did have such a system, which indeed saved me a lot of money (by the time I was 53, and it was clear that I never would have a well-paying academic job).

Then again, at present the Dutch are moving "academically" strongly in the direction of "indentured servitude", and also have halved the academic educations in almost every field of study.

Here is some more by Bernie Sanders:

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Democratic socialism, to me, is creating a government and an economy and a society which works for all rather than just the top 1%. It means ending the absurd inequalities that exist today. And I want to lay this out, because you’re not going to hear this much on Fox, and you’re not going to hear this much in the media, in general. And the American people have got to conclude whether we think it is appropriate and what America is about to have three families owning more wealth than the bottom half of the American society, 160 million people; whether it’s appropriate for the top 1% to own more wealth than the bottom 92%; whether it is right that 49% of all new income goes to the top 1% (..)

I agree with all of this, but I don't think I would call this "democratic socialism". Here is the last bit of Stiglitz I quote:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: So, I think he’s given a good definition of what is called democratic socialism. Now, what Trump is trying to do is confuse people’s minds. Traditionally, socialism, you know, a hundred years ago, was about the ownership of the basic means of production. You didn’t hear a word about that from Bernie Sanders. He’s not talking about that old-style socialism. He’s not saying we want to bring Maduro, Venezuela, to America. That’s not what he’s talking about. What he’s really talking about is what in Europe is called social democracy, sometimes called the welfare state, sometimes—you know, it’s basically based on: We need systems of social protection; we need systems to make sure that we invest in our young people, invest in our infrastructure, invest in R&D; we invest in the future, protect the climate and protect the environment. In other words, we make our economy work for all Americans.

And the word I use is progressive capitalism. But, you know, is there any difference between my definition of progressive capitalism and what Bernie has called democratic socialism? No. It’s all trying to get at an economy that serves our citizens.

Well... (i) Stiglitz is not correct in saying that Sanders gave "a good definition of (..) democratic socialism". Also (ii) he is correct that "socialism" "was" (and is) about the common ownership of the basic means of production. Then again, I am not sure (at all) what Stiglitz means by "progressive capitalism", and I am quite certain that this is definitely not the same as "what Bernie has called democratic socialism".

Anyway, this is again a strongly recommended article.

3. Do Democrats Prefer Trump in the White House?

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

What will happen in the House, where Democrats hold 235 of 435 seats and where only a simple majority is required for impeachment? A left-leaning House minority wants the body to exercise its constitutional authority. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the multimillionaire House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other well-heeled Wall Street Democrats to act. They know that a thoroughly debased Republican Party would never try to remove Trump from office, and they are reluctant to feed a narrative, championed by the president and Fox News, that the former is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

Yes, this is more or less correct. Here is some more:

While Trump deserves the historical black mark of impeachment, obstruction of justice is likely the least of his crimes. His worst transgressions include a ramped-up war on a habitable earth (Trump is gleefully enabling the fossil fuel industry’s exterminatory campaign to turn the planet into a giant greenhouse gas chamber), his nativist war on immigrants, his championing and passage of a regressive tax cut in an already absurdly unequal society, his ongoing campaign to kick millions of vulnerable people off the health insurance rolls, and his broadly authoritarian wars on truth, democracy and the rule of law.

Well, I agree with Street on what Trump is doing, but then neither of the things he mentions was investigated by Mueller.

Here is some more:

Pelosi and the rest of the establishment Democrats are right to calculate that an impeachment spectacle would not only sputter in the Senate but perhaps even benefit Trump and his party in 2020, much as it did for Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. If nothing else, it would likely help Trump rally his horrid white-nationalist base in several key battleground states.

I think this is also mostly correct. Here is some more:

Barring the onset of a recession (another distinct possibility), only popular front-runner Bernie Sanders is likely to prevail against Trump. And, as in the last presidential election cycle, corporate politicos are already working to sabotage the nomination of their most viable candidate in a general election.

This also may be correct. 

Look for the Democratic establishment to do everything it can to prevent its party from defeating Trump in 2020. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. At this point, the party exists to serve its corporate clients. Its leaders fear the specter of socialism while the world’s most powerful nation threatens to slide into fascism.
Establishment Democrats would rather lose to a white-nationalist right than even the mildly social-democratic left within their own party. It’s why the late political scientist Sheldon Wolin labeled them “the Inauthentic Opposition.”
-- ends

Perhaps. Also, this would be considerably more convincing if Street (or somebody else) had given evidence about the corruption of a great number of elected Democrats. In fact, I think he may be right, but I do not know the evidence.

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

The Democrats were neoliberal partners in Trump’s ascent; now they appear eager to ensure the second term of a presidency that could spell the end of American democracy.

Well... this is quite possible, and this is a recommended article.

4. Savagery and Its Promoters and Profiteers

This article is by David Swanson on Washington's Blog. It starts as follows:

Max Blumenthal’s new book, “The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump,” is over 300 pages and wastes not a word. It also does far more than it claims.

“This book,” Blumenthal writes, “makes the case that Trump’s election would not have been possible without 9/11 and the subsequent military interventions conceived by the national security state. Further, I argue that if the CIA had not spent over a billion dollars arming Islamist militants in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, empowering jihadist godfathers like Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden in the process, the 9/11 attacks would have almost certainly not taken place. And if the Twin Towers were still standing today, it is not hard to imagine an alternate political universe in which a demagogue like Trump was still relegated to real estate and reality TV.”

I like Max Blumenthal, and the second paragraph may be true, though the problem with it is that none of the things Blumenthal says might have happened did happen in fact.

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

“The Management of Savagery” not only shows us what it sets out to, but shows us some of why and how people have been led to believe false narratives. “The American people did not choose this fight,” lied President Barack Obama. “It came to our shores and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens.” If you believe that one, I’ve got a couple of dozen presidential candidates to sell you.

This is a recommended article.

5. What Is the 'AI Agenda,' Who's Pushing It and Why?

This article is by Jim Hightower on Common Dreams and originally on Creators. This is from close to its beginning:

What? AI stands for artificial intelligence, the rapidly advancing digital technology of creating cerebral computers — essentially, robots that think. Able to program themselves, act on their own and even reproduce, these cognitive automatons are coming soon to McDonald's and other workplaces near you.

Yes, exclaimed the innovative CEO, consumers need a robotic order-taker to advise them on what to order — based on AI's ability to analyze millions of data bits about the weather, traffic, time of day and what other people are ordering. "Decision technology" it's called, and Steve spent 300 million McDollars to buy a whole company that peddles these so-called thinking machines.

The AI outfit says the benefit of its brainy computer system is that it allows "the rapid and scalable creation of highly targeted digital interactions." Now what could be more inviting than that?

Well... yes and no. I have a remark on each paragraph.

First, I do not think that AI is (now) creating "
robots that think", at least not as you or I are thinking.

Second, "the
innovative CEO" is the CEO of McDonald, and one of the points of AI is that it can currently get any information that is on virtually any computer that is connected to the internet, including more about your own life and your own privacies than you recall.

"the rapid and scalable creation of highly targeted digital interactions" is total bullshit, but it is no fault of Hightower, but an example of how CEOs lie.

Here is some more:

Far from helping you, the snazzy new AI ordering system at McDonald's will be helping the corporation by silently compiling personal information about you, ranging from your "movement patterns" to your license plate number. As Easterbrook admits, McDonald's will use the technology to "make the most" of the data collected.

The CEO of McDonald's may be talking about his "digital interaction" plan, but most corporate bosses won't talk about theirs in public. Amongst themselves — psssst — they whisper excitedly about implementing a transformative "AI agenda" across our economy.
In their boardrooms and clubrooms, however, top executives see AI as their golden calf — a holy path to windfall profits and personal enrichment by replacing whole swaths of their workforce with an automated army of cheap machines that don't demand raises, take time off or form unions. Kai-Fu Lee, a longtime tech exec, confided to The New York Times that AI "will eliminate 40 percent of the world's jobs within 15 years."

Well, yes but it is far less the probable fact that "whole swaths of their workforce" will be replaced "with an automated army of cheap machines that don't demand raises" etc. then the fact that AI currently gives those who have the money to abuse it the possibility of knowing (in principe, on some hard disk, that may not (yet) have been read by human eyes) absolutely everything about anyone - which is the utter death of any personal privacy, and therefore (I think) the utter death of any realistic personal freedom (except for the braindead conformists).

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

Executives try to skate by the human toll by saying that the machine takeover is a natural process, the inevitable march of technological progress. Hogwash! The AI agenda is not coming from the gods, nature or machines. It's a choice being made by an elite group of corporate and political powers trying to impose their selfish interests on everyone else.

Yes indeed, 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 3 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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