April 28, 2019

Crisis: On Trump & Women, "The Middle Class", On Elizabeth Warren, How Bad?, On Assange

“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 28, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, April 28, 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 28, 2019:
1. Trump's Crusade Against Women Goes Global
2. The Middle Class Is Under Assault Across the Globe

3. Would Warren Prosecute the Perpetrators of the Great Recession?

4. How Bad Does It Have to Get?

5. Tony Kevin Speaks Out on Assange
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. Trump's Crusade Against Women Goes Global

This article is by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Before he became president, Donald Trump described himself as pro-choice. Now, he can’t do enough to deny women control of their own bodies. Marching in lockstep with Vice President Mike Pence and some of the most anti-choice members of his right-wing coalition, Trump has gone global in his crusade, watering down a United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at stopping rape and sexual violence in war. His acting U.N. ambassador threatened to veto any resolution containing language referring to “reproductive health.” The goal of the demand, most observers agree, is to ensure that women who are raped in war should not receive any help terminating pregnancies. This episode is just the most recent in the accelerating and increasingly successful campaign to criminalize abortion, waged by a vocal, well-funded minority in this country.

Yes, I think all of the above is true. Here is some background:

For close to half a century, the right to a safe, legal abortion has been guaranteed by the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. For many years, the divided court consistently reaffirmed Roe v. Wade. With the surprise retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, though, and his replacement with controversial, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the balance on the court has shifted markedly to the right, and the future of Roe is entirely uncertain.

Confident that the current Supreme Court would now overturn Roe v. Wade if given a chance, anti-choice activists and their allies in Republican-controlled state legislatures are pushing a new wave of anti-abortion bills. This will set the stage, they hope, for a Supreme Court decision eliminating a woman’s right to privacy and to make her own health care decisions, enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

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

“The extreme nature of this year’s bills is unprecedented,” the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute noted in a recent report. “Legislation under consideration in 28 states would ban abortion in a variety of ways.” Among the slew of strategies employed are trigger bans, which would make abortion completely illegal in a state should Roe be overturned; gestational age bans, which make abortion illegal after a fetus has gestated six, 12 or 18 weeks, or some other length of time (these are often referred to as “fetal heartbeat” bills); reason bans, which bar abortions for reasons of a fetus’s sex, race or disability; and method bans, which bar certain types of abortion procedures.

Add to that the TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that impose extraordinary, cumbersome regulations, which the majority of small clinics cannot afford to follow.

Again this is all correct. Here is the ending of this article:

Donald Trump himself has been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by no less than 16 women. Is this really the world leader who should be shaping global policy on sexual violence?

The answer to the last question is no (unless you are insane, very stupid, quite ignorant or very right-wing), and this is a strongly recommended article.

2. The Middle Class Is Under Assault Across the Globe

This article is by Greg Wilpert on Truthdig and originally on The Real News Network. It starts as follows:

GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. A recently released O.E.C.D. study finds that the middle class in 34 developed countries is being squeezed to such an extent that its income is shrinking. The study titled Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class, looks at the growing economic hardship of the middle class and especially of the younger generation among O.E.C.D. member states. The O.E.C.D., or Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is an organization with 36-member states, mostly of the world’s more developed economies. Joining me now to discuss the report is Michael Forster. He is a Senior Economist and Policy Analyst at the O.E.C.D. Directorate for Employment, Labor, and Social Affairs, and is a co-author of the aforementioned report. Welcome, Michael.

This is by way of introduction, but I do have a question (that is not answered in this article), that may be stated as "what is the middle class?". I know this can be answered in several ways that all consider incomes and wealth, from the lowest to the highest, and somehow pick some middle section, which is also close enough (if the picking is done reasonably), but in fact my question may be rephrased as: "since when is there a middle class?".

And I put it in this way because I was born in 1950, in a poor and proletarian family, and the family remained quite poor until the middle 1960ies, and then increased their income some until 1980.

So in fact from my own point of view, in Holland - where I live - there was not much of "a middle class" until the middle 1960ies, when indeed quite a lot changed.

I am not sure, but it seems to me this is similar in most other rich capitalist countries, which in turn means that "the middle class" existed at best since the middle 1960ies, and not or hardly before: Poverty in the 1950ies; 2nd WW; crisis in the 1930ies etc.

Anyway... here is some more from the article:

GREG WILPERT So why is it important, first of all, to study the changes in the middle class, rather than discuss average trends in standard of living, or the extent of poverty in a society?

MICHAEL FORSTER The point is middle class is the economic foundation of a society, but not only that; it is the democratic foundation. Not to forget in O.E.C.D. countries, the middle class pays two-thirds of taxes and contributions, but it’s also a recipient of two-thirds of transfers and benefits. The middle class is in a way a guarantee for a well-functioning, prosperous society, and used to be in the past a sense of aspiration. But in the last one to two generations, this dream has started to vanish.

I agree with Forster, but I do question him on the existence of what he calls "the middle class" between - say - 1895 and 1965, and I mean that question to apply only to the rich capitalist countries i.e. essentially Western Europe, Canada and the USA.

Also, while he may be right that in some sense there was a middle class in that period, it definitely was different from the middle class that arose from 1965 onward, at least in my experience, and to the best of my knowledge.

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

GREG WILPERT So yeah, that’s actually the next point. Why exactly is it shrinking and why is this dream starting to diminish? What are your main findings about the middle class and what are the main ways under which it is under pressure, as the report says?

MICHAEL FORSTER Yeah. It’s not so much about the shrinking size of the middle class. The middle class decreased by three to four percentage points in the U.S., or a bit more, 5 points. But the point is rather to look at over generations. So it used to be very common to be part of the middle class for the baby boomers. But since that generation, the probability to reach the middle class has been broke significantly at some point. And this is due to three concurrent developments. One is, sluggish income growth. So in most O.E.C.D. countries, income growth since the last ten years is much, much lower, especially at the middle. Second is, insecurity in the labor market. The new labor market functionally makes it so that you have less of a security. And thirdly, the cost of a typical middle-class lifestyle has increased a lot.

I think again that Forster is right, but - as I said - he does not answer my question "since when is there a middle class?". Anyway, this is a recommended article.

3. Would Warren Prosecute the Perpetrators of the Great Recession?

This article is by Marc Steiner on Truthdig and originally on The Real News Network. It starts as follows:

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Mark Steiner. Great to have you all with us. Senator Elizabeth Warren is attempting to make waves with her bold pronouncements during her bid for this presidency. She’s introduced two bills into the Senate. The first is called the Corporate Executive Accountability Act, which will hold corporate executives of million-dollar corporations criminally liable for negligence with potential prison time. The other is called The Too Big to Jail Act, creating a corporate crime strike force. In the wake of the 2008 meltdown, where there were no criminal prosecutions of note despite ruining millions of lives in our country, it’s led to a roiling discontent in America. Why has it been so difficult to prosecute bankers and corporate leaders and executives in our country? Why has the government been so reluctant to do so? And in the unlikely circumstance that Warren’s bills will get passed in the Senate, what would be the result and complications if they did? Joining us once again to sort through all of this is a man who knows a thing or two about white-collar crime. Bill Black— Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, white- collar criminologist, former financial regulator, the author of the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One, and a regular contributor here at The Real News. Bill, welcome back.

This is all correct, and I like Bill Black. Then again, I want to answer two of the questions posed in the above bit.

The first question is "Why has it been so difficult to prosecute bankers and corporate leaders and executives in our country?". My answer is quite simple: Because the government - Obama's  government - refused to do so. See for example Eric Holder.

And the second question is: "Why has the government been so reluctant to do so?" I think there are two main answers to that: because (1) "the government", including the Senate and the House, was mainly made up from rich men and rich women, who were partial to the rich, and because (2) "the government", including the Senate and the House, was to a considerable extent corrupted by money or by promises of well-paying jobs.

I know my answers are sketchy, but I think they are correct.

Here is Bill Black on prosecuting bankers, which he did a lot:

BILL BLACK So seriously, to go through these things, let’s recall that in much more difficult cases in the savings and loan debacle, we oriented the prosecutions entirely towards the most elite defendants. And here’s the first thing: There is never a problem to the financial system from prosecuting individual criminals. It is not good for a financial system to be run by criminals. You strengthen the financial system when you convict and remove criminals from running the largest bank.

I quite believe him (and he had a lot of experience). Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

BILL BLACK The bankers do things and bankers shape the institutions, so institutions matter enormously. And that’s the first big thing in a critique of Senator Warren. If anybody is close to Senator Warren, please send her this link. [laughter] We can really help. She’s got exactly the right ideas, but she isn’t an expert in criminology. She wasn’t part of the efforts to prosecute folks successfully that I’m about to describe. We can really, really help her be effective and we’re willing to help any candidate be effective on these issues. Two enormous institutional changes have made the world vastly more criminogenic. Those changes are: we got rid of true partnerships where you had joint and several liability.
The second thing is modern executive compensation. Modern executive compensation not only creates the incentives to defraud, because you can be made wealthy. It provides the means to defraud. This allows you to convert corporate assets to your own personal wealth in a way that has very little risk of prosecution and it allowed you to suborn the controls but also [allowed] the lower officers and employees to actually commit the fraudulent acts, which are usually accounting for you in a way that you’d have plausible deniability. We can change both and we must change both of those incredibly perverse incentives if we want to deal with fraud successfully.

I think Black is quite right, and this is a strongly recommended article.

4. How Bad Does It Have to Get?

This article is by Robert Freeman on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
  • It’s bad enough that he lost the election by 3,000,000 popular votes.
  • (..)
I do reproduce most of this list, but I deleted the parts dealing with Russiagate because I think Freeman is mistaken about that. (If you want to read them go here and click on the title.)
  • It’s bad enough that many tens of millions of dollars mysteriously disappeared from his inauguration committee, and he feels no compunction to explain where it went.
  • It’s bad enough that he brags about groping women and grabbing them by the pussy.  Is there an honest woman in the country who admires that?  Wants that? 
  • It’s bad enough that he’s been credibly accused of sexual assault by more than 20 women.
  • It’s bad enough that he is an unindicted co-conspirator in the felony to commit election finance fraud by paying hush money to a Playboy bunny and a porn star. 
  • It’s bad enough that he filed for bankruptcy six times, stiffing workers, contractors, and lenders for tens of millions of dollars. 
  • It’s bad enough that his resorts and other properties for years hired undocumented aliens, even as he railed against a “tidal wave” of illegal immigrants.  
  • It’s bad enough that he inherited $413,000,000 from his father, much of it through illegal tax dodges, but pretends to be a self-made man. 
  • It’s bad enough that his “charitable” foundation was ordered shut down after having been revealed to be a sham, used to help promote his business and political interests. 
  • It’s bad enough he claims he was a good student, but threatens to sue any schools that release his grades. 
  • It’s bad enough he claims to be a brilliant businessman but refuses to release his taxes which would prove it.  Or, disprove it. 
  • It’s bad enough that he says the Mueller report “totally exonerates” him, yet refuses to allow it to be released, or, for critical witnesses to be able to testify about it.  
  • It’s bad enough that he grossly understated the value of his assets to dodge taxes, while grossly overstating their value to secure bank loans.
  • It’s bad enough that the Mueller report detailed 10 instances of obstruction of justice that would be criminal, were he not the president and, so, immune from indictment. 
  • It’s bad enough that he’s a pathological liar, telling almost 10,000 lies since assuming office, literally not being able to deal with reality.
  • (..)
  • It’s bad enough that he has separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents, put them in cages, and then lost track of them.
  • It’s bad enough that he praised neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville two years ago, then re-defended them just a few days ago.  
  • It’s bad enough that, though sworn to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed, he told immigration officials to break the law, promising to pardon them if they were convicted. 
  • (..)
  • It’s bad enough he promised to help the working man, but immediately passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut that went almost exclusively to corporations and the wealthy. 
  • It’s bad enough he continues to claim he’s building The Wall when not a single inch of new wall has been built since he took office.  
  • It’s bad enough he promised to protect Social Security but just two weeks ago submitted a budget that cuts benefits to millions, including seniors in poverty.  
  • It’s bad enough that he refuses to cooperate with Congressional hearings, trashing the Constitution and the checks and balances at the very heart of our form of government.
Well... I think I agree on most of these points with Freeman. Here is his question: 

We could go on. And on.  And on.  And on.  But as bad as all of this is, the real question is, “When does it get so bad that we will no longer tolerate this scum running the country, dividing us against each other, desecrating our values, degrading our civic spaces, and destroying our institutions?”  When does it get bad enough that WE will actually do something to stop being so mocked, so humiliated, and so defiled?

My answer to Freeman's question - “When does it get so bad that we will no longer tolerate this scum running the country, dividing us against each other, desecrating our values, degrading our civic spaces, and destroying our institutions?”  - will probably make few persons happy, but it is the best I know:

Being the child of two parents who were in the resistance against the Nazis in WW II, with a father who survived over 3 years and 9 months of 4 concentration camps, and a grandfather who was murdered there, it seems to me that if the circumstances are as dangerous as under the Nazis, at most 5% will not "
tolerate this scum running the country" - and in fact, the same holds for my own experiences (as a student leader in the 1980ies).

I know I am not optimistic, but I do believe I am realistic. And this is a recommended article.

5. Tony Kevin Speaks Out on Assange

This article is by Tony Kevin on The Off-Guardian. This is from close to its beginning:

The US governing elite remains obsessively Russophobic. The nuclear arms race is slipping out of control under dangerous American illusions of global military supremacy. We are living through the most perilous moment since the Cuban missile crisis; more perilous even, since in the craziness of Russiagate, the US government is not currently even speaking to Russia.

Yes, indeed. But first an aside: Who is Tony Kevin? Here is an answer from The Conversation:

"Tony Kevin was a professional Australian diplomat from 1968-98. He headed DFAT’s policy planning function from 1985 to 1990, under secretaries Stuart Harris, Richard Woolcott and Michael Costello. He was Australian ambassador to Poland 1991-94 and to Cambodia 1994-97."

And incidentally, this is one more example of the manipulative Wikipedia, for somebody who was 30 years a leading diplomat, and at present speaks for asylum seekers and Julian Assange will get removed from Wikipedia: Tony Kevin is not on Wikipedia.

Oh well... Back to Kevin's article:

So why bother about this person called Julian Assange? This one weird early middle-aged guy who seems to have a knack for getting up the noses of so many powerful people and governments? Aren’t there bigger things we need to think about than the fate of this one particularly troublesome person? Should we not just think of him as ‘collateral damage’ of the past 20 years, and move on to more important and current debates and causes?

I think the questions are mostly sick (relativistic) but indeed they are not Kevin's. Here are some of Kevin's answers:

Julian is now in great danger. He faces extradition from Britain to the heartland of the American Empire. They want to silence him, to bury him in a US prison for the rest of his life as they wanted to bury Chelsea Manning for 35 years, a sentence only commuted by Obama in an act of decency as he left office, to nine years. As now Manning is indefinitely back in jail again — a truly heroic person.

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

It all boils down to a simple either-or proposition: either Julian is crazy and dangerous and must be locked up for life, or those out to get him are committing evil acts . There can be no sitting on the fence on this one, no careful balancing of pros and cons on each side.

We are talking about an innocent man’s life and about the attempt by malign state forces to silence this great man’s voice.

Yes again, and this is a strongly 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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