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Nederlog

August 3, 2015
Crisis: Farming, Greek Coup, Postcapitalism (?), Basic Income

"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. 
A Haven From the Animal Holocaust
2.  The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
3.  Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason
      review – engagingly written, but confused

4. 
For Every One, A Basic Income? Yes! Radical Ideas
      About Fixing Inequality



This is a Nederlog of Monday August 3, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Chris Hedges on farming (and I do have a diploma that qualified me as a cattle-farmer, in Norway, so I felt a bit more addressed than many); item 2 is about a very fine article by Ellen Brown on what is wrong with modern banking; item 3 is about an article on The Guardian that criticizes an article of Paul Mason that I earlier reviewed, also critically; and item 4 is about an article about an English economist, who favors Thomas Paine's basic income, which does seem a sound idea to me.

I also should say that I feel a bit better now than I did before the last two days, and that I like the first two items, the first in part because I once was a farmer with a farming diploma; the second mostly because it is a very good and quite clear article you should read all of.

1.  A Haven From the Animal Holocaust

The first article of today is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows - and perhaps I should give A Full Disclosure, also because I am a bit proud of it: I am (well: I was) a real diplomaed catttle farmer [1]:

There are mornings when Susie Coston, walking up to the gate of this bucolic farm in her rubber boots, finds crates of pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, geese or turkeys on the dirt road. Sometimes there are notes with the crates letting her know that the animals are sick or injured. The animals, often barely able to stand when taken from the crates, have been rescued from huge industrial or factory farms by activists.

The crates are delivered anonymously under the cover of darkness. This is because those who liberate animals from factory farms are considered terrorists under U.S. law. If caught, they can get a 10-year prison term and a $250,000 fine under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Indeed, that is thoroughly insane, and it also shows that the system of justice that prevails in the U.S. is arbitrary, crude and cruel, and serves the rich and their myths quite willingly, and does so in sadistic ways: everybody who disagrees with the rich is blamed as a terrorist ("war on terrorism"), while anybody - and especially blacks - who gets arrested with marijuana gets incarcerated for many years ("war on drugs"). Also, the punishments for many crimes are barbarous (and very different from what they were in the 1970ies).

As Hedges says (and as I mostly agree):

Only in the insanity of corporate America can nonviolent animal rights activists be charged as terrorists while a white supremacist who gunned down African-Americans in a South Carolina church is charged on criminal counts. Only in the insanity of America can Wall Street financers implode the global economy through massive acts of fraud, causing widespread suffering, and be rewarded with trillions of dollars in government bailouts. Only in the insanity of America can government leaders wage wars that are defined as criminal acts of aggression under international law and then remain, unchallenged, in positions of power and influence. All this makes no sense in an open society. But it makes perfect sense in our species of corporate totalitarianism, in which life, especially the life of the vulnerable, is expendable and corporate profit alone is protected and sanctified as the highest good.

Yes. You may reply this mixes standards, which is true, but then these standards are also applied by the U.S. government and its courts, that lock up more U.S. inhabitants than anywhere else, and that do so - or so it seems - because those who are incarcerated can be forced to work for 70 cents a day (!!), which gives the corporations exploiting them enormous profits.

And it seems to me Chris Hedges is simply right when he blames "
corporate profit" as the sole good and the main motive that drives all this cruelty and sadism - for that is what institutionalized factory farming is: a way to maximize profit by institutionalized sadism, cruelty and neglect.

There is also this, on some major side effects of cattle farming:
Animal agriculture sends more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere than worldwide transportation. The waste and flatulence from livestock are responsible for creating at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock causes 65 percent of all emissions of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 296 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. Crops raised to feed livestock consume 56 percent of the water used in the United States. Seventy percent of the crops we grow in the U.S. are fed to animals. Eighty percent of the world’s soy crop is fed to animals. It is a flagrant waste of precious and diminishing resources. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk.
To be sure, I do not know for sure all the numbers are correct, but they do roughly correspond to some of the numbers I learned in 1977, for then there
also was some ecological concern, perhaps because it was Norway. [2]

Sofar I have been in broad agreement with Chris Hedges, but I get a bit queasy when he comes to write about farmers who rescue some of the victims of factory farming. Hedges reports them as saying things like this:

“Every animal [at the farm] has a different personality, every animal has a name, all have health records,” she went on as we walked to a barn that held rescued pigs. “We are saying they are as important as any other individual.”
No, I am sorry - and I have been a farmer, and I did treat the animals in my care well. But they did not have "personalities" and they were not "as important as any other individual” (such as myself and my girlfriend, for example), and to say
they do have personalities and are as important as any other individual seems to me to claim far more knowledge than one has.

For I did not see much of a personality in the animals I cared for: they had different temperaments, and most were quite nice and quite patient most of the time, but communication and understanding were quite difficult, even with the cat we raised from a kitten and that we both loved and cared for: it could not speak.

Besides (and I take it that is the case for all farmers), we really spent too litttle time with most animals to grow any enduring liking and understanding, for in fact you don't see any specific cow, sheep or pig for more than a very short while each and every day, and a considerable part of the time you see them you are not occupied with them, specifically, but with cleaning away the shit all produced, or giving food to all of them. And most of the 24 hours you simply did not see the animals the farm depended on. [3]

Finally, here is the ending of Chris Hedges' article, who quotes a farmer:

"To me, being vegan is about trying to live as kindly as possible. That includes how we relate to nonhuman animals, as well as to human animals, as well as to the planet. It’s about creating mutually beneficial relationships, instead of abusive and exploitive relationships.”

Well... yes and no.

First, about vegans. The reasons given for veganism seem to be rather like those of the philosophical poet and vegetarian Percy Bysshe Shelley (who died in 1822) and I respect them. But I never got to be a vegan, and one reason is that I like meat, and another reason is that I know all animals that do not live on plants live on other animals, that they generally have to kill, which may happen in very cruel (if not intended) ways.

Second, about "nonhuman animals, as well as to human animals". I know I am an animal, as are all other humans. But even so, I look quite differently on humans than on other animals, and the basic reason is that I can talk with humans, and I cannot talk with any other animal. Also, human beings are far more developed in terms of ideas, technologies and culture than any (other) animal species. And while you can look upon this from quite a few different perspectives, there is a sound reason why the human animal is the boss over all other animals: it is more
clever, it uses language, it developed culture.

Third, about "creating mutually beneficial relationships". Really now?! The reason for almost any pig, any sheep and any cow's existence is that their existence is profitable. Very few of the billions of cows, sheep and goat would have existed without human intervention (and indeed most of the cows get born by artificial insemination). So what you should say to any animal like a pig that you keep as a farmer is something like: You are here to get slaughtered and eaten (by me or others), but meanwhile let's pretend it is in both our interests that I keep you locked up, feed you on a schedule, and kill you when you are still young?!

No, it isn't. I thoroughly agree with Chris Hedges that factory farming is cruel and sadistic; I can understand most of the reasons for veganism; and I insist that my girlfriend and I treated the animals we were to care for as well as we could, as indeed I think animals ought to be treated, but the end of farming is profit (which is - I agree - a motive that is driven to insanity by factory farmers) and the means of cattle farming are - if human beings are animals - animalistic: we subject the weaker to the more clever, as indeed happens throughout nature, where the strong either eat plants or eat other animals.

2. The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion

The next article is by Ellen Brown (<- Wikipedia) on Truthdig (and before on her Web of Debt):

This starts as follows:

“My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Luca Brasi held a gun to his head and my father assured him that either his brains, or his signature, would be on the contract.”                                                                                                — The Godfather (1972)

In the modern global banking system, all banks need a credit line with the central bank in order to be part of the payments system. Choking off that credit line was a form of blackmail the Greek government couldn’t refuse.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is now being charged with treason for exploring the possibility of an alternative payment system in the event of a Greek exit from the euro. The irony of it all was underscored by Raúl Ilargi Meijer, who opined in a July 27th blog:

The fact that these things were taken into consideration doesn’t mean Syriza was planning a coup . . . . If you want a coup, look instead at the Troika having wrestled control over Greek domestic finances. That’s a coup if you ever saw one.

Let’s have an independent commission look into how on earth it is possible that a cabal of unelected movers and shakers gets full control over the entire financial structure of a democratically elected eurozone member government. By all means, let’s see the legal arguments for this.

Yes, indeed. And no, there are no legal or moral arguments for this (other than of a Donald Trump like quality, to the effect that a man like him can exploit anyone because he is a superior man).

There are essentially three lines of argument in the article, which is very good. I will not quote the line about the bureaucratic bullshit of Mario Draghi, for which you have to click the last dotted link. The two other arguments are about the electronic liquidity that came in the place of gold, and a run-down of the steps that were used to submit the Greeks.

Here is the liquidity argument (which we owe to Richard Nixon, as we do the professional US army):

Internationally before 1971, this “settlement asset” was gold. Later, it became electronic “settlement balances” or “reserves” maintained at the central bank. Today, when money travels by check from Bank A to Bank B, the central bank settles the transfer simply by adjusting the banks’ respective reserve balances, subtracting from one and adding to the other.

Checks continue to fly back and forth all day. If a bank’s reserve account comes up short at the end of the day, the central bank treats it as an automatic overdraft in the bank’s reserve account, effectively lending the bank the money in the form of electronic “liquidity” until the overdraft can be cleared. The bank can cure the deficit by attracting new deposits or by borrowing from another bank with excess reserves; and if the whole system is short of reserves, the central bank creates more to maintain the liquidity of the system.

Note that this is a thoroughly crazy schema: First, there is no external standard of any kind: all there is are 1s and 0s in electronic bank accounts; and second central banks are free to create money as needed, again without any external standard.

And here is a survey of the steps that were used to submit the Greeks:

Were liquidity and insolvency problems intentionally generated in Greece’s case, as Tankus suggests? Let’s review.

First there was the derivatives scheme sold to Greece by Goldman Sachs in 2001, which nearly doubled the nation’s debt by 2005.

Then there was the bank-induced credit crisis of 2008, when the ECB coerced Greece to bail out its insolvent private banks, throwing the country itself into bankruptcy.

This was followed in late 2009 by the intentional overstatement of Greece’s debt by a Eurostat agent who was later tried criminally for it, triggering the first bailout and accompanying austerity measures.

The Greek prime minister was later replaced with an unelected technocrat, former governor of the Bank of Greece and later vice president of the ECB, who refused a debt restructuring and instead oversaw a second massive bailout and further austerity measures. An estimated 90% of the bailout money went right back into the coffers of the banks.

In December 2014, Goldman Sachs warned the Greek Parliament that central bank liquidity could be cut off if the Syriza Party were elected. When it was elected in January, the ECB made good on the threat, cutting bank liquidity to a trickle.

When Prime Minister Tsipras called a public referendum in July at which the voters rejected the brutal austerity being imposed on them, the ECB shuttered the banks.

So there we are: Fundamentally, a handful of mostly unelected moral degenerares that make up "the Troika" (engineered by the American bank Goldman Sachs) forced the Greeks into austerity, and then accused them
of "spending too much", so as to force still more austerity on them.

Here is the ending of the article:

As Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King warned in 1935:

Once a nation parts with the control of its currency and credit,
it matters not who makes the nation’s laws. Usury, once in control, will wreck any nation.

For a nation to regain control of its currency and credit, it needs a central bank with a mandate to serve the interests of the nation. Banking should be a public utility, serving the economy and the people.

Yes, indeed. And what hope is there? I have very little hope, though I am fairly certain that no system of greed and exploitation of the many by the few rich can survive long.

But this is a very good article, that you should read all of.

3. Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason review – engagingly written, but confused

The next article is by Chris Mullin on The Guardian:
To start with, this article is here because I reviewed a previous article on The Guardian by Paul Mason himself about his new book, that I started as follows:
I have done my best, and have read it all, but I could find little decent rational argumentation, amidst a lot of utopian thinking, and a few more or less factual bits.

The present article starts as follows (and refers to what I called "utopian thinking"):

At a time when, despite the occasional hiccup, market forces appear to be triumphant everywhere, up pops Channel 4’s economics editor, Paul Mason, to predict that the end is nigh. Capitalism, says Mason, citing an obscure early 20th-century Russian economist, runs in approximately 50-year cycles or waves. The fourth wave came to a spectacular end with the financial crisis of 2008. We are now embarking on the fifth and final one, which, on past performance, is due to crash somewhere around 2050.

Well... the end may be nigh, but to argue that it will come around 2050 because of the cycles of waves that are supposed to move capitalism is indeed utopian, i.e. devoid of any realistic foundation.

There is considerably more in the article, which was written by a former Labour MP, whom I also don't agree with, but it is the type of reaction I do agree with:

Mr Mason has basically only utopian ideas and very thin prescriptions, and seems
to have reasoned that since he won't be there in 2050 he can make a decent amount of money 35 years earlier (while no one ever succeeded in fairly predicting what society would be like in 25 years), namely by pretending to be able to predict it, and indeed that seems quite true, I mean that he was fairly certain he could make money of it now.

I don't begrudge him the money, but I don't believe his predictions.

4. For Every One, A Basic Income? Yes! Radical Ideas About Fixing Inequality

The last article of today is by Lynn Stuart Parramore on AlterNet:
This starts with the following explanation, as the rest of the article is a rendition of an interview:

British economist Tony Atkinson has been studying inequality — the gap in income and wealth between the top and the bottom — for nearly half a century. Now that the dogma of trickle-down has been exposed as myth, he sees economists, policy-makers and the public finally waking up to the seriousness of the problem. But how to fix it? In his new book, Inequality: What Can Be Done? Atkinson focuses on ambitious proposals that could shift the distribution of income in developed countries. This post was originally published on the blog of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

That settles the background. I will give just two quotes. The first is about the idea of a basic income, that is in fact quite old:
The basic income is very close to the idea Thomas Paine put forward in the 1790s. (Paine’s proposal, by the way, is on the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration.) That proposal is something that I and many others think is really interesting, which is that everyone, on reaching the age of 18 or so, should receive a capital payment. It would be like a negative capital tax. That idea was also proposed years ago in America by Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law at Yale.
I like it and for the argument of the principle, you can indeed consult Thomas Paine, whose text starts here (rather than in the link provided), and one reason I like it is that this will offset the very unfair advantage children of the rich get through being rich.

The other quotation is about the massive amounts of goodness and honesty and equality that Thatcher, and Major, and Blair, and Brown, and Cameron brought to the British:
I think it’s very important to distinguish here between distribution of incomes and distribution of wealth. On incomes, there’s very little dispute. There is no doubt that income inequality in Britain today is very significantly higher than it was a generation ago. The Gini coefficient, which is used to measure it, is some ten percentage points higher than it was in the 1970s. And that’s a very big increase. It took us from being a country like the Netherlands or France to being a country like the United States in terms of inequality.
As I said: The British owe this to the concerted efforts of Thatcher, and Major, and Blair, and Brown, and Cameron. And their own stupidity or greed, of course, for they elected these obvious frauds and thieves.

--------------------------------------
Notes

[1] This is quite true, but it is also quite old, for the diploma is from 1977 and is a Norwegian one, and most of the work for it was done, also in Norway, in 1975. The reason to list it here is that I am (or at least: was) a qualified cattle farmer, diplomaed as fit to run a Norwegian cattle farm, which is something extremely few persons like me, who grew up in a city as the son of proletarians, and who was smart enough to go to a university, where he got one of the best diplomas as an M.A. that were ever awarded in psychology, have achieved.

Also, it was unexpected for me, as was the fact that I liked farming (although it was quite hard work) and (Norwegian) farmers, unlike all the exceedingly boring and meaningless office-work I had done. It also changed some of my values, though I never got to be a vegan (as I will try to explain).

Finally, I should also say that this is the diploma I am proudest of, although I got it easily: it was a real diploma, that formally qualified me for doing work I considered quite sensible (unless all the other work I have done) and that I liked doing, and that I had worked hard for to get it, though the work required was physical rather than mental.

It is a better diploma than my academic ones, because the academic ones only opened the way to a - very much better endowed - fundamentally fraudulent academic career (or as an equally fraudulent health care worker).

[2] There are at least two reasons why Norway was a bit different. First, although it still was in part an agricultural society, it turned out that it had enormous supplies of oil (from the part of the seas the Norwegians claim), which rather suddenly had made it the richest or one of the richest countries in the world (in part also because it doesn't have many inhabitants (a little over 5 million in 2013). Second, in the 1970ies one of the most well-known Norwegians was professor Arne Naess, who had by then developed from a thorough skeptic into an ecosophical (his term) prophet, who strongly supported many radical ecological ideas, and whose influence under the university-educated Norwegians was considerable. It is by now too late for me (it is 40 years ago) to quantify the differences, but they were both there, were easy to see for whoever read the  leading Norwegian papers, and were also both totally absent from Holland. (The Dutch had some gas, but far less in value than the Norwegian oil, while no Dutch philosophy professor ever got famous or well-known, quite deservedly so, also).

[3] Note that all of this paragraph is simple common sense: When you care as a human being, probably with your wife, for 25 cows, 20 sheep, 2 pigs, 1 bull, 2 cats, and 4 dogs, every day, all year (and this really was the minimum to survive on, 40 years ago), even when you are the kindest of farmers, you in fact spend little time per animal, and even if they were to speak as well as you do, you would not have time to make much of any "personal relation".

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