May 3, 2019

Crisis: Impeaching Trump, George Monbiot, Barr vs. Pelosi, On The Pentagon, On Twitter

“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 3, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Friday, May 3, 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 3, 2019:
1. The Case for (and Against) Impeaching Trump
2. George Monbiot on U.K. Climate Emergency

3. Barr Skips House Hearing; Pelosi Accuses Him of Lying

4. The Pentagon Effectively Owns Trump Now

5. The dangers of digital politics
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. The Case for (and Against) Impeaching Trump

This article is by Mehdi Hasan on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election didn’t provide the smoking gun on collusion with Russia that many were expecting, but it did paint a picture of a President willing to repeatedly, brazenly, and unashamedly obstruct justice at every opportunity. It also suggests that Trump was restrained from more serious criminality only by the timely intervention of underlings and cabinet officials determined to save him from his own worst impulses. So where does all this leave the conversation on impeachment? With Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, calls are escalating for action to remove Trump for office. While some see a moral imperative for Congress to act, others point out the unlikelihood of a Republican-controlled Senate taking such action seriously. On this week’s Deconstructed, Mehdi Hasan talks with Tom Steyer, the hedge fund Billionaire who launched the “Need to Impeach” campaign in 2017, and with editor Ezra Klein, who thinks political considerations make impeachment a bad idea.

Yes indeed. This is a good introduction, and in fact I am one of the doubters as well. Here is some more:

MH: So, on today’s show, the case for, and against impeaching Donald Trump. 

The polls show that Americans don’t want to impeach the president. Even support for impeachment amongst Democratic voters is down in the wake of the Mueller report, which Attorney General Bill Barr and the Republicans have spun as clearing Donald Trump of any crimes. 

Donald J. Trump: No collusion, no obstruction. 

[Crowd cheers.] 

MH: First off, that’s a lie. It’s impossible to read the 448 pages of the Mueller report and come to any other conclusion than that the president of the United States repeatedly, brazenly, unashamedly obstructed justice, which is both a crime and an impeachable offense.

Yes, I agree with Hasan. Here is some more:

MH: Of course, Democratic Party leaders in Congress don’t like leading, they like following, they like compromising, they like rolling over. I’m sorry, they do. They think the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the late 1990s hurt the Republican Party, even though the Republicans won the White House the year after they tried and failed to remove Clinton from office.

On impeachment, remember, Democratic Party leaders also told us to wait for the Mueller report, even though, as you’ve all heard me point out on this show before, you don’t even need Mueller or Russia to make the case for impeachment.

Trump does impeachable things on a near-weekly basis. You could impeach him for trying to illegally divert emergency relief funds from Puerto Rico to Texas and Louisiana, or for making illegal hush money payments to a porn star who he slept with, or for trying to use the federal government to settle personal scores with private businesses like Amazon, or for tax fraud, or for trying making money out of the presidency. You could impeach just him for bringing the office of the presidency into deep, deep disrepute. To quote Republican Senator Lindsey Graham during the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

Lindsey Graham: Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.

MH: If you don’t impeach Trump, how do you hold him to account? What kind of precedent do you set for future presidents? Or even this president?

This time I somewhat agree with Hasan and, to put it as simply as possible, my main disagreement is with "If you don’t impeach Trump, how do you hold him to account?":

Clearly, those who mostly agree with Hasan - as I do - do hold Trump "to account", but are not certain whether impeachment - which is a legal way of trying to hold the president to account - will help or hinder Trump in being elected for the second time as president.

And I agree with this argument, mostly for the simple reason that impeachment, if it comes again with big amounts of free time for Trump as in 2016 ("because it pays", to quote - I think - a CBS man), it will give him lots more free time to argue his own case.

Here is Hasan with Tom Steyer:

MH: You launched Need to Impeach back in October 2017, less than a year into Trump’s presidency, a full 18 months before Robert Mueller published his report or had his report published to the public. Why? What made you launch what some might call a quixotic campaign for impeachment so early on in this presidency?

TS: Well, Mehdi, we all could see from public information that this was a president who is obstructing justice. He’d already fired Mr. Comey. He was already almost on a daily basis trying to prevent any kind of investigation of his campaign or his presidency. And he was also a president who in plain sight was corrupt. He was taking money through his real estate operations, directly from foreign governments, and from American companies that were subject to his jurisdiction. And that is absolutely contrary to his promise to put the American people and our interests ahead of himself.

I agree with Steyer on these points. Here is some more:

TS: (..) We have a rogue president who is deeply corrupt.

MH: And unstable.

TS: And who is a danger to the system itself and if we in fact do not impeach him and remove him from office, we’re making a statement that it’s okay. We’ve now normalized corruption. We have said we don’t believe in the rule of law being applied equally to the rich and powerful and we’ve basically changed the whole nature of America. And that is just wrong.

First, I agree with Hasan that Trump is unstable, mostly because I am a psychologist who thinks Trump is insane. (Then again, I also know that few psychologists are read unless they are a "public figure", and I know that most of their arguments are not understood by most.)

And second, I disagree with Steyer that "
if we in fact do not impeach him and remove him from office, we’re making a statement that it’s okay": No, that is an incorrect argument. I think I dislike Trump as much as Steyer, but I have difficulties with impeaching him not because I think Trump is OK, but because I do not know how much free time on TV impeaching Trump will give to Trump.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this (much longer) article and it is by Ezra Klein:

EK: (..) Leaving Trump in office, but potentially strengthening his ability to win re-election, if that is in fact the case of what impeachment would do, is also a bad option.

MH: Is that what you believe? You believe that a failed impeachment, if it would help him be re-elected in 2020.

EK: I lean that way now, yes.

I more or less agree with Klein here, but my main problem is: How much free TV time will Trump get as a result of being impeached - and I do not know anyone who has asked that question, nor anyone who gave a (decent) answer to it. But this is a recommended article.

2. George Monbiot on U.K. Climate Emergency

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

On Wednesday, the House of Commons became the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. The resolution came on the heels of the recent Extinction Rebellion mass uprising that shut down Central London last month in a series of direct actions. Activists closed bridges, occupied public landmarks and even superglued themselves to buildings, sidewalks and trains to demand urgent action to combat climate change. Police arrested more than 1,000 protesters. Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn told Parliament, “We are witnessing an unprecedented upsurge of climate activism, with groups like Extinction Rebellion forcing the politicians in this building to listen. For all the dismissive and defensive column inches the processes have provoked, they are a massive and, I believe, very necessary wake-up call. Today we have the opportunity to say, 'We hear you.'” We speak with George Monbiot, British journalist, author and columnist with The Guardian. His recent piece for The Guardian is headlined “Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse.” Monbiot says capitalism “is like a gun pointed at the heart of the planet. … It will essentially, necessarily destroy our life support systems. Among those characteristics is the drive for perpetual economic growth on a finite planet.”

Yes indeed, and I have three points to make on the above.

The first is that Extinction Rebellion, that I think I saw first mentioned in a column by Chris Hedges (here it is), was - so far, at least - more succesful than I thought in February.

And the second is that I respect George Monbiot on ecology aka climate change, but I do not think much of him with regard to political or economic ideas or values.

The third is that I do not quote The Guardian anymore (where Monbiot's articles tend to be published) because it is made uncopiable, which I can work around, but with trouble, which I do not do because I think The Guardian has become a lot worse under Katherine Viner, who now is its chief editor.

Anyway. Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Guardian columnist and author George Monbiot. His most recent book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. His recent piece for The Guardian headlined “Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse.”

George, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this vote.

GEORGE MONBIOT: It is highly significant, because it provides leverage for people like myself, for people like Extinction Rebellion, the youth climate strikers, to actually say, “Well, now you MPs, you members of Parliament, have declared a climate emergency; you have to act on it.” And, of course, it’s not clear that they’ve completely thought through the implications of this.

Well... yes and no: I somewhat agree with Monbiot, but do not think it is very important with regards to pushing MPs in the direction one wants.

Here is some more:

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. So, this is one of several very important ideas which are coming forward at the moment for really looking at how we can replace our whole political economy with a new system, because it’s very clear now: Capitalism is broken. It is like a gun pointed at the heart of the planet. And it’s got these characteristics which mean that it will essentially, necessarily destroy our life support systems. Among those characteristics are the drive for perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. You just can’t support that ecologically. Things fall apart. It also says, well, anyone has got a right to buy as much natural wealth as their money allows, which means that people are just grabbing far more natural wealth than either the population as a whole or the planet itself can support. And so we need to start looking at a completely new basis for running our economies.

Well... in fact Monbiot is not saying anything I did not realize in 1972, when I first read "The Limits to Growth". Then again, I do not think this justifies Monbiot's highly abstract and non-specific "we need to start looking at a completely new basis for running our economies".

And who is "we"? Everyone on Twitter? Every economist? Every philosopher? I have no idea, but a rational selection and argumentation for a new society is quite difficult and has hardly been attempted.

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

GEORGE MONBIOT: (..) Extinction Rebellion is an extremely well-organized group. They’ve got some great strategies for bringing these existential issues right front and center of the public mind, which is where they belong. And they’ve done so through some very clever and cheeky and disruptive actions, but have managed to swing a huge amount of public support towards them. Sometimes civil disobedience alienates more people than it attracts. But in this case, there has been a very significant move towards a public awareness of climate breakdown and a public desire to do something about it.

I agree with the above and this is a recommended article.

3. Barr Skips House Hearing; Pelosi Accuses Him of Lying

This article is by Mary Clare Jalonick on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:

Attorney General William Barr skipped a House hearing Thursday on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report, escalating an already acrimonious battle between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s Justice Department. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Barr had already lied to Congress in other testimony and called that a “crime.”

Barr’s decision to avoid the hearing, made after a disagreement with the House Judiciary Committee over questioning, came the day after the department also missed the committee’s deadline to provide it with a full, unredacted version of Mueller’s report and its underlying evidence. In all, it’s likely to prompt a vote on holding Barr in contempt and possibly the issuance of subpoenas, bringing House Democrats and the Trump administration closer to a prolonged battle in court.

Yes, I agree with the above. Here is some more:

Pelosi also said the administration’s refusal to respect subpoenas by a House committee is “very, very serious” and noted that ignoring congressional subpoenas was one of the articles of impeachment against former President Richard Nixon.

As Democrats portrayed Barr as untruthful, they sought to speak to Mueller. Nadler said the panel hoped the special counsel would appear before the committee on May 15 and the panel was “firming up the date.”

It’s unclear whether Barr will eventually negotiate an appearance with the House panel. Nadler said he wouldn’t immediately issue a subpoena for Barr’s appearance but would first focus on getting the full Mueller report, likely including a vote holding Barr in contempt of Congress.

I think the above sounds reasonable. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Democrats have signaled they won’t back down and will take steps — including in court — to get the White House to comply.

But advisers to the president have suggested that any legal fight, even one that ends in defeat, would likely extend well into the 2020 campaign and allow them to portray the probes as political.

Yes, and the "advisers to the president" (?) have an argument, which is rather like mine to doubt the wisdom of an impeachment of Trump: It might give him a lot of free TV-time "to defend himself", which indeed also may overlap with the 2020 campaign. And this is a recommended article.

4. The Pentagon Effectively Owns Trump Now

This article is by William Astore on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch. It starts as follows:

Donald Trump is a con man. Think of Trump University or a juicy Trump steak or can’t-lose casinos (that never won). But as president, one crew he hasn’t conned is the Pentagon. Quite the opposite, they’ve conned him because they’ve been at the game a lot longer and lie (in Trump-speak) in far biglier ways.

People condemn President Trump for his incessant lying and his con games — and rightly so. But few Americans condemn the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state, even though we’ve been the victims of their long con for decades now. As it happens, from the beginning of the Cold War to late last night, they’ve remained remarkably skilled at exaggerating the threats the U.S. faces and, believe me, that represents the longest con of all. It’s kept the military-industrial complex humming along, thanks to countless trillions of taxpayer dollars, while attempts to focus a spotlight on that scam have been largely discredited or ignored.

I more or less agree, and specifically on three points.

The first is that "
few Americans condemn the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state, even though we’ve been the victims of their long con for decades now": I think that is true, and in fact it started around 1960 (!!).

And my second point continues the first, namely by saying that the military-industrial complex - in "
It’s kept the military-industrial complex humming along, thanks to countless trillions of taxpayer dollars, while attempts to focus a spotlight on that scam have been largely discredited or ignored" - was both named and raised by president Eisenhower in 1961.

My third point continues the second, and quotes a part of what Eisenhower said in 1961:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. [emphasis added]

I think Eisenhower was quite correct - and in fact the military-industrial complex has gained much more influence, and much more tax money, than Eisenhower could guess, and this has happened, in good part, because there was no or hardly any "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" (with a few exceptions like Daniel Ellsberg) to stop or control them.

Here is some more:

In short, the U.S. spends staggering sums annually, essentially stolen from a domestic economy and infrastructure that’s fraying at the seams, on what still passes for “defense.” The result: botched wars in distant lands that have little, if anything, to do with true defense, but which the Pentagon uses to justify yet more funding, often in the name of “rebuilding” a “depleted” military. Instead of a three-pointed pyramid scheme, you might think of this as a five-pointed Pentagon scheme, where losing only wins you ever more, abetted by lies that just grow and grow. When it comes to raising money based on false claims, this president has nothing on the Pentagon. And worse yet, like America’s wars, the Pentagon’s long con shows no sign of ending.

Yes indeed: I think that is basically correct. And here is the last point that I quote from this article:

In other words, when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, the Washington establishment of both parties has essentially been assimilated into the Pentagon collective. The national security state, that (unacknowledged) fourth branch of government, has in many ways become the most powerful of all, siphoning off more than 60% of federal discretionary spending, while failing to pass a single audit of how it uses such colossal sums.

Yes, quite so - and there are articles in Nederlog that give some background on the Pentagon's failing to pass a single audit for more than twenty years. And this is a strongly recommended article in which there is a lot more than I quoted.

5. The dangers of digital politics

This article is by Brian L. Ott on Salon. This is from near its beginning:

Just as the Age of Typography gave way to the Age of Television, the Age of Television is steadily giving way to the Age of Twitter. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in President Trump’s obsessive use of the platform. But the president is far from alone, as the popularity of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter feed suggests. Given Twitter’s growing centrality in our politics, I follow Postman’s lead by highlighting the defining traits of this communication platform and the dangers it poses to us all. Research suggests that Twitter is defined by three main characteristics: simplicity, impulsivity, and incivility.

First, thanks to its 280-character limitation, Twitter structurally disallows communication that is sophisticated and complex. While people can say things that are smart and witty on Twitter, they cannot convey complex ideas. You cannot, for instance, explain Kantian philosophy in 280 characters. You can make a funny joke about it, but you cannot seriously explicate it. This is significant because the issues and concerns confronting us today—from climate change and healthcare to terrorism and immigration—are exceedingly complex, and talking about them 280 characters at a time ensures that we will never develop workable solutions. You cannot fix a problem that you do not actually understand.

I like this article, but I disagree with the above quoted first paragraph, and that mainly for two reasons:

The first is that I do not quite think that "
the Age of Television is steadily giving way to the Age of Twitter". What I think is that both remain, specifically because (i) both are especially taken by the stupid and the ignorant, of which there are least 50% among all of mankind, while (ii) everyone on Twitter is mostly knewn to Facebook and Google, and gets indirectly supported by them because they give information that allows advertisers to advertise them almost personally.

And my second reason is implicit in the first: While I agree to some extent that "
simplicity, impulsivity, and incivility" are marks of the users of Twitter, I think that the main reasons why Twitter is so important are that at least half of mankind is stupid or ignorant; that precisely that half loves Twitter (anonymously, almost always, it seems); and that precisely that half was given Twitter and "its 280-character limitation" precisely because that half is not capable of mastering html, and does not write more than a few sentences in e-mail.

As to the second paragraph, I completely agree, and I never used nor ever will use an instrument that was expressly designed to keep the stupid and ignorant from ever growing less stupid or less ignorant, simply by limiting the length of their messages to the utterly insane limit of 280 characters.

O, and incidentally as regards my harping on
the stupid and the ignorant:
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Anyway. Here is some more:
Second, Twitter does not invite serious contemplation and thoughtful consideration. Generally speaking, people do not spend hours carefully crafting 280-character messages. They just fire them off – often in the “heat” in the moment. This is due to the structural properties of the platform, whose simplicity of use, invites impulsivity. People can tweet from virtually anywhere at any time. Writing a book, by contrast, requires considerable time, effort, and resources. Books are written, reviewed, rewritten, and edited. Tweets are, well, tweeted – usually with no forethought and reflection. As such, Twitter frequently contributes to misunderstanding and escalates sensitive situations.

Yes, I agree, although I am with Dr. King on the underlying causes: Stupidity and/or ignorance.

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

Third, while there are, no doubt, positive and civil messages on Twitter, research concerning the platform points to three interrelated findings that privilege incivility. First, Twitter usage is positively correlated to the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Second, people are more likely to communicate in uncivil ways when the target of their message is not immediately present. Third, negatively-toned messages travel both farther and faster on Twitter. Consequently, while it is certainly possible to be civil on Twitter, the medium is biased toward incivility. So, is it any wonder that our politics have become so divisive and mean-spirited?

I don't quite agree.

First, I reject the thesis that "Twitter usage is positively correlated to the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy" in part because I am a psychologist who knows these traits are fairly rare, and mostly because I get as far or further simply insisting that the main characteristics of most Twitter users is that they are - let's say - unintelligent and uninformed.

And second, I do insist that the main reason that "people are more likely to communicate in uncivil ways" is that by far the most people on Twitter communicate as aliases, which are extremely difficult for ordinary users to find real names + real addresses for.

But even so, 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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