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Nederlog

April 14, 2015
Crisis: Journalism, Billionaires, Evil, Basic Income, Iraq: 1 million killed
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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Sections
Introduction

1.  It Takes a Party
2. As Predictable as 'Death and Taxes,' GOP Pushes
     Billionaire Estate Tax Cut

3. 
A Nation's Shame: Trillions in New Wealth, Millions of
     Children in Poverty

4.
Free Money for Everyone! What’s the World Coming To?
5. Report Shows US Invasion, Occupation of Iraq Left 1
     Million Dead



Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, April 14, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Paul Krugman, who - rightly - dreads the great amounts of non-news
about the American presidential elections the next 1 1/2 years; item 2 is about
a GOP proposal to cut the taxes of billionaires; item 3 is about extreme riches and extreme poverty, and uses an old term (that I find quite appropriate); item 4 is about a long article that explains and expounds Basic Income; and item 5 is about a new statistical estimate of the number of the dead (who were killed) only in Iraq since 2001: 1 million.

1. It Takes a Party

The first item today is an article by Paul Krugman on The New York Times:
This starts as follows:

So Hillary Clinton is officially running, to nobody’s surprise. And you know what’s coming: endless attempts to psychoanalyze the candidate, endless attempts to read significance into what she says or doesn’t say about President Obama, endless thumb-sucking about her “positioning” on this or that issue.

Please pay no attention. Personality-based political analysis is always a dubious venture — in my experience, pundits are terrible judges of character.

I picked this in part because of this beginning:

I must have - very briefly - seen at least 20 articles, since last Sunday, that were trying "to psychoanalyze the candidate"; "to read significance into what she says or doesn’t say"; or that pretended to shed light on "her “positioning” on this or that issue".

And none of the journalists who wrote these articles know her; none has a degree or any real relevant knowledge that I can take seriously; while all seem to have been - I did not read any of these articles in full: no time and no interest - engaging in the kind of mostly meaningless smalltalk (meaningless because it really is not based on any new evidence or information: it merely adds more mostly non-fact-based bullshit) that seems to be the favorite of many journalists, simply because it is so very easy to write.

I am writing this in April 2015, one and a half year before the presidential elections, which means that at a rate of 10 such articles a day I will see around 5000 of these articles until the elections - and that is without really trying, and without having any interest in this kind of journalism.

So indeed I will avoid nearly all of this. This doesn't mean I will not write about the upcoming presidential elections, but if I do, it will be based on some new and relevant information, and otherwise I will skip it.

Paul Krugman next explains that the choice in 2016 will be much clearer than it used to be. I think he is right, but you will have to check out his arguments, if you are interested, by clicking the last dotted link.

He ends as follows:

As you can probably tell, I’m dreading the next 18 months, which will be full of sound bites and fury, signifying nothing. O.K., I guess we might learn a few things — Where will Ms. Clinton come out on trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership? How much influence will Republican Fed-bashers exert? — but the differences between the parties are so clear and dramatic that it’s hard to see how anyone who has been paying attention could be undecided even now, or be induced to change his or her mind between now and the election.

One thing is for sure: American voters will be getting a real choice.

As you may have inferred, I too am not looking forward with joy to the next 18 months filled with vast doses of non-information about presidential candidates,
and indeed I plan to skip nearly all of it.

But there is one problem: If the Republicans will win - as they very well may do - it will be because they got the hundreds of millions or several billions in advertising money from their mega-rich donors that will allow them to deceive considerable parts of the American electorate. (For the vast majority of the American voters belong to the 90% of the not rich, and have real interests that should move them away from voting Republican - as long as they are not deceived.)

And I may write some about these deceptions.

2. As Predictable as 'Death and Taxes,' GOP Pushes Billionaire Estate Tax Cut

The next item is an article by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

In another boon for U.S. billionaires, Congressional Republicans are planning to ring in this year's Tax Day with a vote to repeal the federal estate tax. 

Under the bill (H.R. 1105) offered by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), estates—no matter how large—would not be taxed, whereas under current law, a deceased person’s assets must be worth more than $5.43 million before they are subject to the tax.

Further, the legislation would also repeal a generation-skipping transfer tax and lower the top marginal gift tax rate. In an email to Common Dreams, Scott Klinger, director of Revenue and Spending Policies at the Center for Effective Government, said the bill is really "repeal on steroids—it would allow vast amounts of wealth to pass from one generation to the next."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the repeal would add nearly $270 billion to the deficit over the next ten years.

There is also this, in further explanation:

"The estate tax is an essential tool for leveling the playing field and preventing the rise of wealth dynasties," Josh Hoxie and Chuck Collins, both with the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), wrote in a joint letter sent Monday. "In our tax code since 1916, the federal estate tax was designed to stem the rise of concentrated wealth and the economic as well as political power that comes with it."

As Klinger further explains:

Imagine Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, whose company stock is valued for tax purposes at pennies a share. None of Zuckerberg’s fabulous stock gains have yet been taxed. [...]

If the estate tax were eliminated and all accrued but unpaid capital gains taxes were forgiven, $40 billion of untaxed stock-based wealth would be passed to heirs tax-free. And if those heirs took their huge inheritances and invested them in portfolios that they didn’t touch during their lives, all of their capital gains taxes would be forgiven when they died, and their heirs would inherit still larger fortunes.

Congress is on the path to creating a permanent class of Americans who never have to work or pay taxes.

Precisely. And that is what the GOP presently is:

An assault on government, democacry, morality, decency, solidarity, fairness and equality, financed by the mega-rich, for the interests of the mega-rich.

Also, they may well win the next election because a considerable amount of the American electorate may be deceived, by advertisements and propaganda, to vote against their own economic, legal and moral interests.

3. A Nation's Shame: Trillions in New Wealth, Millions of Children in Poverty 

The next item is an article by Paul Buchheit on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

America's wealth grew by 60 percent in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60 percent

Financier and CEO Peter Schiff said, "People don’t go hungry in a capitalist economy." The 16 million kids on food stamps know what it's like to go hungry. Perhaps, some in Congress would say, those children should be working. "There is no such thing as a free lunch," insisted Georgia Representative Jack Kingston, even for schoolkids, who should be required to "sweep the floor of the cafeteria" (as they actually do at a charter school in Texas). 

The callousness of U.S. political and business leaders is disturbing, shocking.
Here are some examples of that "callousness":
Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.
(..)

In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it's 20 of every 100.

And here is a sum-up:

Children's Rights? Not in the U.S. 

It's hard to comprehend the thinking of people who cut funding for homeless and hungry children. It may be delusion about trickle-down, it may be indifference to poverty, it may be resentment toward people unable to "make it on their own."

I like the article, but I am a lot less uncertain about the reasons for evident inhumanity than Paul Buchheit is (or seems to be) - and no: it is often not "delusion", "indifference" or "resentment".

For it often comes to this (and I quote one of my favorite writers, who also lived in a harder time than the present [1]):
The plea of ignorance, of folly, of grossness, or selfishness makes nothing either way: it is the downright love of pain and mischief for the interest it excites, and the scope it gives to an abandoned will, that is the root of all evil, and the original sin of human nature. There is a love of power in the mind independent of the love of good, and this love of power, when it comes to be opposed to the spirit of good, and is leagued with the spirit of evil to commit it with greediness, is wickedness. I know of no other definition of the term. A person who does not foresee consequences is a fool; he who cheats others to serve himself is a knave; he who is immersed in sensual pleasure is a brute; but he alone,  who has a pleasure in injuring another, or in debasing himself, that is, who does a thing with a particular relish because he ought not, is properly wicked.
Note he said "greediness" (which these days counts - together with selfishness - as a virtue in the GOP). Again:
Is it pride? Is it envy? Is it the force of contrast? Is it weakness or malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity, a hankering after, evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but a fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction. Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is a bittersweet, wants variety and spirit. Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal. Do we not see this principle at work everywhere? Animals torment and worry one another without mercy: children kill flies for sport: every one reads the accidents and offences in a newspaper as the cream of the jest: a whole town runs to be present at a fire, and the spectator by no means exults to see it extinguished. (...) Men assemble in crowds, with eager enthusiasm, to witness a tragedy: but if there were an execution going forward in the next street, as Mr. Burke observes, the theater would be left empty.
For me it is easy to explain "the thinking of people who cut funding for homeless and hungry children" and to explain how and why the few acquired trillions in wealth while (and because) millions of children go hungry:

They are greedy, they are egoistic, they are rich, and they are bent on doing all the evil that is profitable to them, and do it
also with lies and deceptions, because
it pleases them and makes them even richer.

Also, I am saying this without attaching any supra-natural or religious sense to the term "evil":  it simply is the best term to describe the motives and the acts of those who further hunger and poverty of the very many, in order to grow even richer themselves.

4. Free Money for Everyone! What’s the World Coming To?

The next item is an article by Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark:
This starts as follows (and is here because I like the idea of a Basic Income):
From Liberia, to Tokyo, to the Cherokee Nation and Old Europe, more and more people are talking about Basic Income in all kinds of different forums. If the global economic and environmental crises have had any positive effect it would be that people are fighting back. As history has so often shown, the neediest people are those who best understand human rights (in their absence). For more than three millennia the three basic principles of human rights, freedom, justice and human dignity, have been inscribed on clay and stone tablets, parchment and paper, usually after they have been shouted for and fought for, all around the world, in streets, squares and a variety of battlefields, from Mount Vesuvius (Spartacus) to slave ships. Nobody has to be taught these principles because all humans understand them as their rights.
Yes and no: Yes, I am sympathetic to the idea of a Basic Income (<- Wikipedia) for everyone, and I also agree that "freedom, justice and human dignity" are ideas that can be understood by all, but no: I do not agree that "all humans understand them as their rights", and I also do not agree that merely knowing these terms is sufficient for a good understanding of what a human right is or might be.

The above continues as follows:
In the concept of “universal human rights”, “universal” is redundant since the qualifier “human” means all humans. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), it qualifies “Declaration”, suggesting the geographical scope of the proclamation rather than rights for all humans. In any case, the “universal” rights it pledged were swiftly rendered into separate “generations” of broken promises floating above and outside social and juridical institutions, without any mechanisms of guarantee and bestowed piecemeal by leaders or in the warped forms of humanitarianism and charity, although it is obvious that the generalised nature of a human right theoretically distinguishes it from any privilege confined to a group, class or caste. Now, with the obscenely growing gap between rich and poor, when it is estimated that by 2016 the richest 1% will own more than the rest of the world, the universal principle is more urgent than ever.
Again, yes and no.

First, the original
Universal Declaration of Human Rights is on my site. I think this is a highly respectable statement of human rights, that also are clearly formulated, and that was accepted by the United Nations on the wide scale it was only because of the incredible horrors of World War II, that had ended 3 years before the Universal Declaration was accepted.

Second, I do not know of any country in which all these human rights were ever realized or maintained  (and only of a few countries that approximate the Universal Declaration).

Third, I agree - it seems - with the writers that later versions of "Human Rights", that generally stole from the Universal Declaration, and especially the "European Code of Human Rights" are often fraudulent: Whereas the Universal Declaration declares all its rights to hold for everyone, the
"European Code of Human Rights" basically is a list of exceptions to them: You are - they say - guaranteed "human rights", except if this displeases the state's security organs, sometimes even in 8 or 10 explicitly listed ways. [2] These "human rights" serve the - usually very secretive - security organizations of states much rather than that they guarantee any real human rights, for these are exceptionless.

Here is the Basic Income as explained by the authors:
Basic Income is one very practical example of a universal human right. It is not just an economic measure to eradicate poverty but an income paid by the State to each member or accredited resident of a society, regardless of whether he or she wishes to engage in paid employment, or is rich or poor, independently of any other sources of income and irrespective of cohabitation arrangements in the domestic sphere. The fact that everyone receives a Basic Income doesn’t mean that everyone gains: the rich lose. How to finance it is as important as the quantity involved and we favour progressive tax reform which redistributes wealth from the rich to the rest of the population. Precisely the opposite of recent trends.
Yes, indeed. The rest of the article is a fairly good discussion of various uses and difficulties of the Basic Income, and does make a reasonable case it could be realized fairly easily (in some forms) - if there were the political will for it, that
so far has been missing.

I don't think I agree with everything, but this is a decent article for those who want to know more about Basic Income.

5. Report Shows US Invasion, Occupation of Iraq Left 1 Million Dead

The last item is an article by Dahr Jamail on Truth-out:

This starts as follows:

A recently published report has revealed that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was responsible for the deaths of approximately 1 million Iraqis, which is 5 percent of the total population of the country. The report also tallies hundreds of thousands of casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Authors of the report, titled "Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of the 'War on Terror,'" have told Truthout that other casualty reports, like the often-quoted Iraq Body Count (IBC), which has a high-end estimate at the time of this writing of 154,563, are far too low in their estimates, and that the real numbers reach "genocidal dimensions."

Joachim Guilliard, the author of the Iraq portion of the study, told Truthout that the new study relied heavily on extrapolations from a previous study published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal, which put Iraq's numbers at 655,000, but the study was published in 2006 and is now dramatically out of date.

I say. There is also this:

The figure from the recent "Body Count" report, stunningly high as it is, still only counts deaths in Iraq up until the end of 2011. Some of the worst violence that has engulfed the country has happened since that time.

The report also does not account for deaths among the approximately 3 million Iraqi refugees who have been subjected to conflict zones, disease and health problems.

There is a lot more in the article, including a defense of the methods followed.
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Notes

[1] The quotes are from William Hazlitt (<- Wikipedia), from "The Plain Speaker", p. 348 and p. 128 in my Everyman edition (that was published in 1928).

[2] This is also why the GCHQ is probably correct in its defense that nothing they do "opposes human rights": Because the "human rights" they mention are those in the European Code, that does not codify human rights, but codifies all the many exceptions to their maintenance that the secret services love so much. (And I will write about this, but later.)

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