July 3, 2019

Crisis: No Citizenship Questions, Trump's Tax Returns, Abolishing Billionaires(?), On Facebook

“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 July 3, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

I realize that I did not commemorate the fact that I am writing Crisis files for six years now, since I started to do so after June 10, 2013, which taught me about Snowden.

I am registering it now, and may write about it the coming days, but I am also somewhat worse at present than I was for a long time. (This still continues: I have ME/CFS since 40+ years.)

There will be more about computers and Ubuntu in Nederlog soon, but I am happy to announce that Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, that I installed in 2017, works again as it did before on May 24, and after 24 hours of misery.

And on May 23 I also got a working computer with 18.04 LTS (which is worse than 16.04 LTS because its Firefox also is a menuless horror that I refuse to use, but happily SeaMonkey is not, for it still has it menus and can be installed on 18.04), so I am at present - and after two weeks of struggling - in the possession of two more or less, though not yet quite decently working computers.

So today there is a more or less common Nederlog, where "common" is the style I developed in 2013.

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 four crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from July 3, 2019:
1. 2020 Census Form Will Not Include Citizenship Question
2. House Files Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure of Trump Tax Returns
3. Should We Abolish Billionaires?
4. Thumbs Down to Facebook’s Cryptocurrency
The items 1 - 4 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. 2020 Census Form Will Not Include Citizenship Question

This article is by Robert Mackey on The Intercept. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

The Trump administration admitted defeat on Tuesday, confirming that forms for the 2020 United States census will not include a question asking residents who respond to the survey if they are U.S. citizens. The change of plans follows last week’s Supreme Court decision that the Commerce Department had failed to provide a valid reason for adding the question.
Here is the email from DOJ (..)

“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the government had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question,” Dale Ho, the Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told The Intercept after receiving the email. “Everyone in America counts in the census, and today’s decision means we all will,” he added.

I say, for I did not know this and it is a good thing (in my opinion). Here is some more:

As Sam Adler-Bell explained in The Intercept last week, the Supreme Court majority seemed to agree with legal observers that the Commerce Department’s claim that it needed to add a citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act “was pre-textual, a post-hoc scheme by Trump officials to obscure their real motive: to suppress participation in the census and allow them to gerrymander districts to maintain white minority rule.”

The decision is a victory for voting-rights advocates who argued that asking about citizenship status would have a chilling effect and lower response rates among immigrants, leaving their communities underrepresented in Congress.

Yes indeed - and this is also why Trump is seeking to have immigrants "underrepresented in Congress", for most immigrants will not vote for Trump or the Republicans.

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

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who is the Senate minority leader, hailed the decision to proceed with the census despite recent threats from the president that he might seek to delay the count until the administration could find a reason to justify asking about citizenship status. Schumer also promised oversight of the count.

Democrats in Congress will be watching the Trump administration like a hawk to ensure there is no wrong-doing throughout this process and that every single person is counted.

— Chuck Schumer

Yes. Also, the article says - no doubt correctly - that Trump's government may still try to give arguments that the Supreme Court said were lacking, so "watching the Trump administration like a hawk" remains necessary, but meanwhile this is a small advantage for those who do not like Trump. And this is a recommended article.

2. House Files Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure of Trump Tax Returns

This article is by Nicholas Fandos and Charlie Savage on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

The House sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday, demanding access to President Trump’s tax returns and escalating a fight with an administration that has repeatedly dismissed as illegitimate its attempt to obtain the financial records.

The lawsuit moves the dispute into the federal courts after months of sniping between the Democratic-led House Ways and Means Committee, which requested and then subpoenaed the returns, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The case may ultimately go to the Supreme Court, and its outcome is likely to determine whether financial information that Mr. Trump has kept closely guarded in spite of longstanding presidential tradition will be viewed by Congress and, ultimately, the public.

In Tuesday’s filing, the House argued that the administration’s defiance of its request amounted to “an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information needed to conduct oversight of Treasury, the I.R.S. and the tax laws on behalf of the American people.” It asked a judge to order the defendants to comply.

I agree with the last paragraph, but in fact more is involved, as the following bit explains:

But with the House and the executive branch locked in a broader struggle over access to information and witnesses related to the Trump administration, the stakes in the tax-return lawsuit may be higher than that particular issue. House Democrats are facing similar resistance on a broad range of investigations that include inquiries into Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian election interference, the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and the profits gleaned from Mr. Trump’s continuing business ventures.

In almost every instance, the Trump administration has argued that Congress’s power to gain access to those materials is inherently limited to information that would serve “legitimate” legislative purposes — defined by the executive branch to be limited to materials needed to help draft new laws and to exclude uncovering potential wrongdoing.

Congress retorts that its powers to compel information are far more sweeping than that and encompass oversight of important matters in general — and that its decisions about what information it wants to subpoena are not to be second-guessed by the White House.

The same dispute is at the center of a pair of lawsuits over subpoenas to accounting and banking firms for other financial records involving the Trump Organization.

Yes, and I agree with the third paragraph, and my basic reason is that what "the Trump administration" wants, which is access only to materials that the Trump administration calls "“legitimate” legislative purposes" and which it defines as only those materials which are "to help draft new laws and to exclude uncovering potential wrongdoing" in fact seems to serve to deny that Congress is there to control the government.

Here is the last bit I quote:

Depending on how quickly the courts choose to move on the litigation, though, that outcome could take months or years — a reality certain to frustrate liberals who are irate both at Mr. Trump’s vow to fight “all” congressional subpoenas and at the House’s thus far slow pace in bringing the case to court. Six months into Democratic control of the House, the tax returns lawsuit is its first attempt to enforce a subpoena in court.

The law often is notoriously slow, and this may mean that Congress cannot control considerable parts of the present government - which in my opinion is crazy. And this is a recommended article.

3. Should We Abolish Billionaires?

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

America now has more billionaires than at any time in history, while most Americans are struggling to make ends meet. With such staggering inequality, it’s fair to ask: should we abolish billionaires?

There are basically only four ways to accumulate a billion dollars – and none of them is a product of so-called free market capitalism. 

Billionaires themselves aren’t the problem. The real failure is in how our economy is organized.

Well... yes and no, I'd say, for I disagree with Reich's thesis that "Billionaires themselves aren’t the problem", for the simple reason that wealth implies power, and I see no reason why anyone with a billion dollars (or euros, for that matter) would have vastly more power than myself, who has 14,000 euros of income every year.

Yet that is the fact, for somebody with a billion dollars (or euros) has very many ways to keep as rich and become still richer, and all these ways are completely closed to the more than 99% who are not billionaires.

Next, Reich sketches how one may make or get a billion. I only copy his headings, each of which come with text, that you can read by going to the original:

One way to make a billion is to exploit a monopoly. (..)

A second way to make a billion is to get insider information unavailable to other investors. (..)

A third way to make a billion is to pay off politicians. (..)

A fourth way to be a billionaire is to get the money from rich parents or relatives. (..)

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

About 60 percent of all the wealth in America today is inherited.
America is creating a new aristocracy of people who never worked a day in their lives.  

Let’s abolish billionaires by changing the way the economy is organized. 

This doesn’t mean confiscating the wealth and assets of the super rich. It does mean getting rid of monopolies, stopping the use of insider information, preventing the rich from buying off politicians, and making it harder for the super-rich to avoid paying taxes. 

In other words, creating a system in which economic gains are shared more widely.
[T]he cost to our democracy of billionaires with enough wealth and power to dictate the rules of capitalism for their own benefit is incalculable.

Well... indeed I am against billionaires, as Reich is, but then I do not see many effective uses of "stopping the use of insider information, preventing the rich from buying off politicians, and making it harder for the super-rich to avoid paying taxes", simply because billionaires are immensely rich and powerful. Anyway. This is a recommended article.

4. Thumbs Down to Facebook’s Cryptocurrency

This article is by Joseph Stiglitz on Common Dreams and originally on Project Syndicate. It has a subtitle which I like to quote:

Only a fool would trust Facebook with his or her financial wellbeing. But maybe that’s the point: with so much personal data on some 2.4 billion monthly active users, who knows better than Facebook just how many suckers are born every minute?

I like to quote this because it seems as if Stiglitz and (and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) may agree on what I think is a fact: There are very many suckers; all suckers have been given the means to publish their stupid or ignorant ideas on Facebook; and - in my opinion, at least - so many suckers poison the field of published opinions by their sheer majority, coupled with the fact that each and every sucker gets traced by Facebooks to see how much money they have; how they spend it; and also how they may be influenced, manipulated, propagandized and deceived to spend more money on the advertisers Facebook serves.

Besides, I also like this quote because I think the presence of over 2 billion publishing suckers - who are traced in everything by Facebook - in fact constitutes an enormous problem, that very few see, and that fewer seem to dare to even name.

Well, I am not a sucker and was never a member of Facebook and will never be, but I do see that the digital gangster(s) who lead Facebook constitute an enormous problem for real democracy.

Anyway... the article starts as follows:

Facebook and some of its corporate allies have decided that what the world really needs is another cryptocurrency, and that launching one is the best way to use the vast talents at their disposal. The fact that Facebook thinks so reveals much about what is wrong with twenty-first-century American capitalism.
The real problem with our existing currencies and financial arrangements, which serve as a means of payment as well as a store of value, is the lack of competition among and regulation of the companies that control transactions. As a result, consumers – especially in the United States – pay a multiple of what payments should cost, lining the pockets of Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and banks with tens of billions of dollars of “rents” – excessive profits – every year.

Yes, I agree, though Stiglitz concentrates on one of several great problems. Here is more on Facebook's effort not only to control (and influence, manipulate, propagandize and lie to) its users in absolutely everything, but also to control the money they use to pay for the advertisements they have been manipulated into:

There are two obvious answers to the question of the business model: one is that people who engage in nefarious activities (possibly including America’s current president) are willing to pay a pretty penny to have their nefarious activities – corruption, tax avoidance, drug dealing, or terrorism – go undetected. But, having made so much progress in impeding the use of the financial system to facilitate crime, why would anyone – let alone the government or financial regulators – condone such a tool simply because it bears the label “tech”?

If this is Libra’s business model, governments should shut it down immediately. At the very least, Libra should be subject to the same transparency regulations that apply to the rest of the financial sector. But then it wouldn’t be a cryptocurrency.

Alternatively, the data Libra transactions provide could be mined, like all the other data that’s come into Facebook’s possession – reinforcing its market power and profits, and further undermining our security and privacy. Facebook (or Libra) might promise not to do that, but who would believe it?

Yes indeed - and no: I do not trust anything Zuckerberg says, and indeed he got rather infamous by saying himself that his customers are stupid suckers because they believe him, which happens to be quite correct by my lights.

There is considerably more that I skip. This is from the ending of the article:

Facebook has earned a level of distrust that took the banking sector much longer to achieve. Time and again, Facebook’s leaders, faced with a choice between money and honoring their promises, have grabbed the money. And nothing could be more about money than creating a new currency. Only a fool would trust Facebook with his or her financial wellbeing. But maybe that’s the point: with so much personal data on some 2.4 billion monthly active users, who knows better than Facebook just how many suckers are born every minute?

Precisely, and this is a strongly recommended article.


a name="N1."><[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 (!!).
       home - index - summaries - mail