May 2, 2019

Crisis: On Human Complicity, On Venezuela, On "Capitalism", U.S. Infrastructure, On The Money

“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 May 2, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, May 2, 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 May 2, 2019:
1. Why Are We Complicit? A Narrative for Our Era
2. Venezuela Coup Attempt Fails to Overthrow Maduro

3. Yes, We Can do Better Than Capitalism

4. The New "Infrastructure Deal" Is a Political Disaster

5. Where the Money Is
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. Why Are We Complicit? A Narrative for Our Era

This article is by Roy M. Poses MD on Health Care Renewal. In fact, I had a review of an earlier article on Health Care Renewal on April 29 (to which I refer because the history of my ex and myself is relevant, and it is briefly told there), while the present article can be seen as a continuation of the above article. In any case, it starts as follows:
Why are seemingly good people complicit with bad things?  In health care, we have seen seemingly good health care professionals and academics silent in the face of manipulation and suppression of clinical research; deception, attacks on free speech and the press, silencing of whistleblowersconflicts of interest; ill-informed, incompetent, self-interested leadership; and outright corruption and crime, including fraud, bribery, and extortion.

We have seen the anechoic effect, that cases of such behavior are not the subject of polite discussion.  When I saw a whistleblower being threatened (he ultimately lost his job), one colleague said I should ignore it, and keep my nose "to the grindstone."

Why?  One explanation is that ordinary people are afraid to challenge behaviors that help the rich and powerful, fear losing their jobs, fear angering others.  It seems hard to comprehend the mindset of those who are complic[i]t.
Yes indeed:

I quite agree, but I fear I am also in a fairly small minority, namely one of at most 5%. Then again, I am rather to very certain that at most 1 in 20 Dutchmen have the internal courage, the character, and the intelligence to stand up against politicial leaders they strongly disagree with, and I am rather to very certain of this because it accords with my own life (of meanwhile nearly 69 years), and it accords with the lives of my parents, and it accords with the lives of my grandparents.

And the point here is that I am leftist radical who ceased to be a Marxist when I was 20, but who became a student leader even though he was ill, namely to oppose the destruction of the Dutch universities and of the courses given there, but who found that 95% of the students much rather had worthless universities and worthless courses than good universities and good courses, because the latter were more difficult, while the former would provide them with M.A. diplomas. They told me so, and also called me "a dirty fascist" and "a terrorist" not because they knew I was, but because they knew they disagreed with me and were in the majority.

My parents were both communists/Marxists for at least 45 years of their lives, and were in the resistance during WW II. My mother was never arrested, but both my father and his father were, and were convicted by collaborating Dutch judges (none of whom was ever punished, and all of whom could continue their careers as judges after WW II). Also, while my father survived over 3 years and 9 months of 4 German concentration camps, my grandfather - who also turned into a communist/Marxist in 1937 - was murdered in such a camp.

Finally, in Holland over 100,000 Jews were arrested and murdered, and at most 1 in 20 had the courage to try to do something against this mass murder.

I could write a lot more, but these are the basic facts why I do believe 19 out of 20 Dutchmen either lack the courage, or the character, or the intelligence to stand up against politial leaders they strongly disagree with - even if at the same time 19 out of 20 Dutchmen will insist falsely that they do (indeed precisely as immediately after WW II 19 out of 20 Dutchmen insisted falsely that they had been in the resistance).

As I said, I am afraid at most 1 in 20 Dutchmen will agree with me, but then again I know no one with a Dutch family as radical as my family was. And I am sorry if you belong to the 19 out of 20 - but hey: You are still there, whereas my direct family was exterminated.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Today we have a new narrative about how people are sucked into complicity, in an op-ed in the New York Times by James Comey,
Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring.
Then again,
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from.
I don't think Comey is the right person to tell you what you should and should not do, but he is right to the extent that "people are sucked into complicity", indeed to an embarrassing extent, at least in my eyes. Also, this is a strongly recommended article.

2. Venezuela Coup Attempt Fails to Overthrow Maduro

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

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is claiming to have defeated a coup attempt launched by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly. On Tuesday morning, Guaidó appeared in an online video standing among heavily armed soldiers, calling for the military to back what he called the “final phase” of an effort to topple Maduro’s government. Guiadó appeared alongside Leopoldo López, a longtime opposition leader, who was reportedly released from house arrest by renegade officers. Guaidó has been attempting to topple the Venezuelan government since January, when he declared himself to be Venezuela’s interim president. The Trump administration, as well as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and others, openly supported the coup attempt. Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business that military action in Venezuela is possible, “if that’s what is required.” We speak to Miguel Tinker Salas, Venezuelan historian and professor at Pomona College.

Yes indeed, although I tend to be very skeptical about anything Guaidó says in public, and rather skeptical about anything Maduro says in public, but the above bit seems to sketch the situation in and around Venezuela reasonably well.

Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, national security adviser John Bolton repeated the Trump administration’s position on Venezuela, saying all options are on the table. He also insisted Tuesday’s events were not a coup.

JOHN BOLTON: We want, as our principal objective, the peaceful transfer of power. But I will say again, as the president has said from the outset, and that Nicolás Maduro and those supporting him, particularly those who are not Venezuelans, should know, is all options are on the table. … This is clearly not a coup. We recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. And just as it’s not a coup when the president of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it’s not a coup for Juan Guaidó to try and take command of the Venezuelan military.

Of course Bolton was speaking utter bullshit: Quite evidently Guaidó tried to start a coup; and quite evidently he is totally unelected and as such not "the legitimate interim president of Venezuela", but I do have to grand that almost all Western governments (rather than the people) seem to agree with Bolton.

Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: (..) Professor Miguel Tinker Salas, let’s begin with you. What do you understand is happening on the ground right now in Venezuela? What has taken place? And the significance of Juan Guaidó standing together with Leopoldo López?

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: What took place yesterday was an intended coup. The problem is, if you’re going to stage a coup, you normally would have the generals and the admirals standing at your side. So, obviously that didn’t happen. So it was an attempt on the part of Guaidó and López and his faction within the right-wing opposition to try to create greater divisions within the military. It was obviously that he did not have that support. What had happened was, they had a handful of lower-ranking officers from the National Guard. They had one general from the military intelligence service. But they did not have the core within the Army or the Navy or the Air Force.
Well... I agree with Goodman that I do not have any certainty that I do understand what is happening in Venezuela, and two reasons are that I have not paid much attention to Venezuela in the past, and also that my Spanish is not good at all.

Then again, I do trust Goodman and am more or less prepared to accept Salas comments as a possibly correct statement of what is happening in Venezuela by someone who knows a lot more about Venezuela than I do.

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

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: (..) So, as I said earlier, this is an effort to provoke this crisis, to try to escalate it, because we’ve already had three separate incidents previously. Guaidó claimed he would be president on January 23rd. He wasn’t; it failed. He claimed that on February 23rd, from the border in Cúcuta, he would re-enter the country, assume the presidency. It failed. So, once again, we have Guaidó claiming that he will assume the presidency. This time it appears to have failed, as well.

I take it this is factually correct and this is a recommended article.

3. Yes, We Can do Better Than Capitalism

This article is by Richard Wolff on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

As capitalism drives itself into ever-greater inequality, instability and injustice, its critics multiply. Worried defenders react in two ways. Many dismiss the criticisms. After all, capitalism has been around a long time and weathered ups and downs before. They presume or hope that criticism will fade as little really changes despite the critics, and frustrations set in. It’s just losers who complain. The winners will surely carry the system forward. Some defenders insist that there simply is no alternative to capitalism, so criticism becomes pointless.

A second sort of defenders takes a different approach. They place adjectives in front of the word capitalism and argue for some and against other such adjectives. Thus we get criticisms of statist or state-interventionist capitalism in favor of “free-market” capitalism and of “regressive” capitalism in favor of “progressive” capitalism. Greedy capitalism, we are told, must give way to “sharing” capitalism. Similarly it is said that “Crony” capitalism or capitalism without a social conscience should be dissolved.

Capitalism’s defenders of both types clearly want the basic system to continue. But exactly what is the system? It turns out that its defenders are neither agreed nor clear about the definition of what they are defending.

I tend to avoid articles by Richard Wolff because he is an American academic Marxist whose articles tend to be too Marxist for me, but he is sometimes right, and he seems mainly correct in the present article, which is in fact about the meaning of the term "capitalism".

And indeed this first bit is correct. Here is some more:

Is capitalism a “market” system? If that means markets are the institutional mechanism whereby resources and products are distributed—by voluntary exchanges between owners of goods and services—then the problem is that capitalism is hardly the only “system” that utilizes markets. Slavery certainly did (think slaves and cotton in the US south). Feudal plantations often did too. And both Soviet and contemporary Chinese socialisms have made use of markets.

Yes indeed. Here is some more:

Is capitalism a “private enterprise” system versus a “state enterprise” system? Such a definition is also problematic. Slavery and feudalism exhibit co-existences of enterprises owned and operated by private individuals holding no position within any state apparatus alongside those owned and operated by state officials. There have been private and state enterprises within slave, feudal, and capitalist systems. The presence of state enterprises, like the presence of markets, is thus not system-specific.

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

Capitalism’s basic problems are intrinsic. They comprise the employer- employee relationship at its core and that relationship’s results for the broader economy, politics and culture. Modern society’s systemic problem is capitalism, not this or that kind of capitalism.  Reforms have replaced one kind of capitalism with another.

I more or less agree, and this is a strongly recommended article because the meaning of the term "capitalism" indeed is considerably less clear than is presupposed by many.

4. The New "Infrastructure Deal" Is a Political Disaster

This article is by Jeffrey C. Isaac on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

In the past 24 hours four things of direct political importance to the ongoing saga of the Trump Maladministration have occurred:

(1) the Barr Justice Department, and the Trump administration more generally, has escalated its battle of wills with the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, refusing to comply with requests for information and for interviews, in clear violation of the law;

(2) Trump and his family members have filed a civil suit trying to block Deutschebank from disclosing financial information that has been duly requested by House Committees;

(3) The New York Times reported that Robert Mueller sent a letter to Barr in late March objecting to Barr’s public statements about how the Mueller Report exonerated the President

(4) Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer met with President Trump in the White House, and agreed to the outlines of a plan for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill .

According to the Times: “Ms. Pelosi requested the meeting with Mr. Trump, in part to change the conversation from impeachment to infrastructure and to demonstrate that Democrats want to proceed with a policy agenda, and not merely with investigations of the president.”

Yes, I take it Isaac is quite correct on all the four points he mentions above. Also, I think I should say right away that I strongly dislike both Pelosi and Schumer.

Here is more:

Re-read those statements by Pelosi and Schumer again.

Would it be consistent with my credentials as a political scientist of good professional standing to declare that these statements are craven and idiotic?

Let me be even clearer. Trump’s dangerous authoritarian tendencies have been on display for over two years. The Mueller investigation did not exonerate him. And in the face of the Mueller Report, Trump has lied about the Report; blatantly rejected any form of Congressional oversight; and waged a campaign of verbal violence against Mueller and against the Democrats, accusing them of “treason” and of attempting “a coup.”

The situation has become graver by the day. House Democrats are readying subpoenas. A number of very prominent Democrats have consistently denounced Trump’s flouting of constitutional democracy. Many have talked of impeachment, and among the Democratic presidential contenders, Elizabeth Warren, and now even Joe Biden, have seconded this talk.

And Schumer smiles because Trump deigns to meet with him after calling his party treasonous?

Well... I don't know about Jeffrey Isaac's "credentials as a political scientist of good professional standing" and in fact I don't care much, but he is clearly allowed to write what he wants. And I think he is correct about "Trump’s dangerous authoritarian tendencies".

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

It would be bad enough if Pelosi and Schumer were “bringing a knife to a gunfight”; but they are bringing nothing but a pencil and a smile. This is the way they “deal?”

Trump is a danger to democracy. I have argued that the Democrats should commence impeachment hearings, not because such hearings can remove Trump, but because if properly conducted they can weaken him and link to a broader campaign against him. I stand by this argument. But others favor more conventional Congressional investigations, and this too makes some sense. What does not make any political sense is the notion that one can conduct such investigations, in the fact of constant resistance and attack by Trump, and at the same time make nice with Trump.

Either the Democrats are in a political battle, now, to defeat a dangerous president, or they are not.

I more or less agree with Isaac, but not quite with his statement that "if properly conducted [impeachment hearings] can weaken [Trump] and link to a broader campaign against him", and my reasons are that (i) nobody knows they can or will be "properly conducted"; that (ii) it may also happen that as a result of impeachment hearings Trump (once again) gets loads of free TV time; while (iii) in any case impeachment is very improbable with the present Senate where the Republicans have the majority. But he is right about the centrist Democrats, and this is a recommended article.

5. Where the Money Is

This article is by Jim Hightower on Common Dreams and originally on Creators. It starts as follows:

Famed bank robber Willie Sutton once explained that he busted into banks because "that's where the money is." What a small-timer! Corporate thieves—including the biggest banks—know that the big scores are in the tax code and federal budget. America's superrich establishment decided to woo Trump and his fanatical constituency to back their agenda of plutocratic plunder.

It's working. The big legislative accomplishment of the guy who claimed to be a working-class hero was his 2017 Christmastime signing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. As most Americans now realize, the tax cut was not for them but instead was a disgraceful trillion-dollar-a-year giveaway to corporate giants and their wealthiest shareholders.

According to Americans for Tax Fairness, hundreds of TCJA's corporate backers are already making a killing. In just the first three quarters of 2018, big business quietly pocketed stunning tax savings they would have — and should have — paid to support America's public needs:

— Apple: $4.5 billion

— AT&T: $2.2 billion

— Bank of America: $2.4 billion

— Verizon: $1.75 billion

— Walmart: $1.6 billion

Yes, I think all of the above is correct. Here is some more on the honesty and character of the very rich:

ThinkProgress found that in 2018, RATE members — including AT&T, Capital One, CSX, Ford, General Dynamics, Intel, Kimberly-Clark, Lockheed Martin, Macy's, Northrop Grumman, T-Mobile, Verizon, Viacom and Walmart — instead eliminated more than 100,000 U.S. jobs. Verizon, for instance, promptly offered a "voluntary severance package" to 44,000 employees and offshored thousands of its U.S. jobs to India. It was "an opportunity to find more efficiencies," the CEO told workers, "and help expedite ... an innovative operating model for our future." Or, to put it more simply: It was greed.

Well... the "innovative operating model for our future" involves shifting as many American jobs as possible to - especially - India because workers are paid a fraction of what American workers are to be paid. And this means that those who had the jobs in the USA after this "innovative operating model for our future" has been applied have lost their jobs, which in turn means that the very rich get more and more rich, and the rest gets poorer and poorer.

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

So where did the money go? To the top. After all, only the tax giveaways were mandated — not a dime in obligations (not even thank-you notes) was written into law. With no strings attached and union voices largely hushed or marginalized, top executives and board members spent it on themselves and their big investors, hiding their grubby motives behind "stock buybacks," an accounting gimmick that hikes the pay of bosses who do nothing to earn it.

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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