Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Crisis: About North Korea, Unions, Trump Emergency, Harvey Chemicals, A Hammer...

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Summary
2. Crisis Files
    A. Selections from September 5, 2017 


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, September 5, 2017.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last four years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I probably will continue with it, but on the moment I have several problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health.

As I explained, the crisis files will have a different format from July 1, 2017: I will now list the items I selected as I did before (title + link) but I add one selection from the selected item to give my readers a bit of a taste of the item linked.

So the new format is as follows:

      Link to an item with its orginal title, followed by
      One selection (usually) from that item (indented)
      Possibly followed by a brief comment by me (not indented).

This is illustrated below, in selections A.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from September 5, 2017

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:

This article is by Jon Schwarz on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

The most alarming aspect of North Korea’s latest nuclear test, and the larger standoff with the U.S., is how little is known about how North Korea truly functions. For 65 years it’s been sealed off from the rest of the world to a degree hard to comprehend, especially at a time when people in Buenos Aires need just one click to share cat videos shot in Kuala Lumpur. Few outsiders have had intimate contact with North Korean society, and even fewer are in a position to talk about it.

One of the extremely rare exceptions is the novelist and journalist Suki Kim. Kim, who was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at age thirteen, spent much of 2011 teaching English to children of North Korea’s elite at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

In fact, Suki Kim is a very courageous woman. Here is a bit more about her:

But Kim was never caught, and she returned to the U.S. to write her extraordinary 2014 book, “Without You, There Is No Us.” The title comes from the lyrics of an old North Korean song; the “you” is Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father.

Kim’s book is particularly important for anyone who wants to understand what happens next with North Korea. Her experience made her extremely pessimistic about every aspect of the country, including the regime’s willingness to ever renounce its nuclear weapons program. North Korea functions, she believes, as a true cult, with all of the country’s pre-cult existence now passed out of human memory.

I think that seems a reasonable judgement, basically for two underlying reasons: First, North Korea is an extremely totalitarian state for nearly 70 years now, and second (and see the article for more information) hardly any North Korean knows anything (true) about the world outside North Korea.

This is from the fine interview, that indeed also is quite chilling:

JON SCHWARZ: I found your book just overwhelmingly sorrowful. As an American, I can’t imagine being somewhere that’s been brutalized by not just one powerful country, but two or three or four. Then the government of North Korea, and to a lesser degree the government of South Korea, used that suffering to consolidate their own power. And then maybe saddest of all was to see these young men, your students, who were clearly still people, but inside a terrible system and on a path to doing terrible things to everybody else in North Korea.

SUKI KIM: Right, because there’s no other way of being in that country. We don’t have any other country like that. People so easily compare North Korea to Cuba or East Germany or even China. But none of them have been like North Korea – this amount of isolation, this amount of control. It encompasses every aspect of dictatorship-slash-cult.

What I was thinking about when I was living there is it’s almost too late to undo this. The young men I was living with had never known any other way.

This seems true, and part but not all of the reason is that ¨the young men¨ of North Korea do not know anything about how it is outside of North Korea, and believe utter nonsense about it.

Here is Suki Kim on North Korea´s nuclear arms:

JS: Based on your experience, how do you perceive the nuclear issue with North Korea?

SK: Nothing will change because it’s an unworkable problem. It’s very dishonest to think this can be solved. North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons. Never.

The only way North Korea can be dealt with is if this regime is not the way it is. No agreements are ever honored because North Korea just doesn’t do that. It’s a land of lies. So why keep making agreements with someone who’s never going to honor those agreements?

And ultimately what all the countries surrounding North Korea want is a regime change.
In rational principle, it would seem as if North Korea can be contained some five or ten more years, in which it very probably will not be able to build nuclear arms that it can reach the USA with, but then again ¨rational principle¨ and Donald Trump seem to be irreconcilable in principle... (and here is an explanation).

Here is the end of the article:

JS: Well, I felt bad after I read your book and I feel even worse now.

SK: To be honest, I wonder if tragedies have a time limit – not to fix them, but to make them less horrifying. And I feel like it’s just too late. If you wipe out humanity to this level, and have three generations of it … when you see the humanity of North Koreans is when the horror becomes that much greater. You see how humanity can be so distorted, and manipulated, and violated.

This is a strongly recommended article (which may explain why Trump may start an atomic war there).

2. Documents Reveal Right-Wing Plan to Strike Public Unions With 'Mortal Blow'

This article is by Andrea Germanos on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

As a new poll shows labor unions enjoy their highest approval rating in over a dozen years, newly obtained documents reveal a nationwide plan by an alliance of right-wing think tanks to “deliver a mortal blow” to government employee unions to keep progressive politicians out of power at the state and national levels.

The State Policy Network (SPN) documents were obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy and first published by the Guardian.

Center for Media and Democracy describes the SPN, which kicked off its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas on Tuesday, as “the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party.”

The 66 think tanks (aka “stink tanks“) that make up the SPN, explains CMD, “operate as the policy, communications, and litigation arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), giving the cookie-cutter ALEC agenda a sheen of academic legitimacy and state-based support.”

And here is what these ¨stink tanks¨ are united against. This is from the beginning of the Wikipedia lemma ¨Labor unions in the United States¨ (minus note numbers):

In 2016, there were 14.6 million members in the U.S., down from 17.7 million in 1983. The percentage of workers belonging to a union in the United States (or total labor union "density") was 10.7%, compared to 20.1% in 1983. Union membership in the private sector has fallen under 7% — levels not seen since 1932. From a global perspective, the density in 2013 was 7.7% in France, 18.1% in Germany, 27.1% in Canada, and 85.5% in Iceland, which is currently highest in the world.
Union workers average 10-30% higher pay than non-union in the United States after controlling for individual, job, and labor market characteristics.
States with higher levels of union membership tend to have higher median incomes and standards of living. It has been asserted by scholars and the International Monetary Fund that rising income inequality in the United States is directly attributable to the decline of the labor movement and union membership. 

And these relative advantages and the remaining political influence of the unions in the USA are what these 66 ¨stink tanks¨ want to see dead.

Here is one bit on the relative popularity of unions - in the context of the fact that about 70% of the American working population has not made any real advance in their incomes since the 1980ies (and see item 5 below)

The new reporting comes as a Gallup poll shows that 61 percent of adults say they approve of labor unions—the highest approval rating since 2003 and an increase of five points since last year. Partisan differences are clear: Eighty-one percent of Democrats approve of unions compared to just 42 percent of Republicans, the poll shows.

But as said above, the actual percentage of unionized workers is not 82% nor 42% but is just 11% (rounded). This is a recommended article.

3. Donald Trump Is Our National Emergency

This article is by Adele M. Stam on AlterNet and originally on The American Prospect. It starts as follows:

President Donald J. Trump really likes fire engines. They’re big. They’re red. They’re shiny. And because he’s president, he can get in one whenever he wants to.

On Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, as Houston lay drowning, Trump admired an adoring, pre-screened crowd from atop the bumper of a firetruck parked at a rural firehouse. “What a crowd,” the president said, as if he were addressing a campaign rally. “What a turnout!”

This may strike some readers as not quite fair, but I am not among them because I am a psychologist who thinks Donald Trump is not sane, and who also thinks that he does have an ideology and a politics, namely what I call (and he doesn´t) neofascism,
which I have discussed - for example - here:
On Fascism and Neofascism: Definitions.

Here is more on Trump´s current political program:

By Wednesday, even as word spread of the breach of petrochemical plants in Houston that were releasing toxins into the air, it seemed that Trump, who wants to cut the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by a third, had moved on from the historic disaster in Texas. His Wednesday plan is to deliver a speech in Missouri to build support for a major tax cut he wants Congress to pass. The tax plans under consideration disproportionately benefit the wealthy, and would shrink corporate tax rates significantly.

Yes indeed. And here is Adele Stam´s judgement:

To recap: The president responded to a catastrophic event with a photo op on a fire engine; said he used the news coverage of that deadly catastrophe to advance word of his pardon of a known racist; made that pardon after being widely condemned for blaming the violence in Charlottesville on “many sides”; and was revealed to have lied about his business dealings in Russia, a country the U.S. intelligence community has concluded intervened in the U.S. presidential election to the benefit of the Trump candidacy.

And still Congress, which is controlled by the president’s party, has made no move that would lead to Trump’s removal from the presidency. After all, they wouldn’t want to miss the chance to get that tax cut rammed through.

I agree. Trump is sick, but he is covered by a Congress and a Senate that are mostly bought, and who work and vote mostly for the rich, who also pay them.

4. Harvey Flood Victims Don't Even Know What's in the Chemical Plumes They Are Inhaling

This article is by Amy Goodman on AlterNet and originally on Democracty Now! It starts as follows and is about some consequences of hurricane Harvey:

Hurricane Harvey has been downgraded from a Category 4 hurricane to a tropical depression as it moves over Louisiana and into Mississippi. Texas officials say at least 44 people were killed by the storm and nearly 100,000 homes are damaged by flooding. This comes as a chemical plant about 25 miles northeast of Houston, in Crosby, was rocked by two explosions early Thursday morning. The facility produces highly volatile chemicals known as organic peroxides, and at least 10 sheriff’s deputies were hospitalized after inhaling fumes.
But Federal Emergency Management Agency head Brock Long said a plume of chemicals leaking from the plant was "incredibly dangerous." We speak with Matt Dempsey, reporter with the Houston Chronicle who questioned Arkema about what is stored at the plant and who produced the investigative series "Chemical Breakdown," which examined regulatory failures of the chemical industry.

In fact, since I am not a chemist, I do not know how dangerous this is. But very few people are chemists, and that is also not the underlying point, which is not the rarity
of adequate chemical knowledge in most, but the suppressing of nearly all knowledge from chemical spills such as Harvey has caused:

MATT DEMPSEY: Right. So, yesterday around 8:30 or 9:00, the company sent me a list of the names of the chemicals, but that is not a Tier II. In fact, I sent a really pretty angry email back saying, "This is not helpful. This is not what we asked for." And the reason why I want that Tier II chemical inventory is because it has the amounts of the chemicals, and it will tell you what kind of containers those chemicals are contained in. And I’ve also asked for like a map of the facility. Yesterday, at the press conference in the morning, they told—they assured me that they would provide a Tier II. They assured me they’d provide a map of the facility. I have gotten neither of those things. I have asked for—a bunch of other questions that remain unanswered.

This may sound a bit technical (it is) but the main points are that (i) the Arkema company does not say what chemicals are involved, nor (ii) the amounts of chemicals that currently go up in smoke, nor (iii) how these chemicals are stored. And they also keep lying.

Here is some more, this time about legalities (or ¨legalities¨):

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how it’s possible that when you have 10 sheriff’s deputies that go off to the hospital, that the public cannot know exactly what chemicals are poisoning people, not to mention the cause of this one-and-a-half-mile radius that has been evacuated around the plant?

MATT DEMPSEY: Right. It’s challenging. I mean, like I said, there is a federal right-to-know law, but that federal right-to-know law has a clause in it that says it can’t override any state law. And nationwide, not just in Texas, though it’s been particularly bad in Texas, that law has been chipped at—right-to-know has been chipped away by states, making it harder and harder to get access to these chemicals. So, I can ask. I can ask questions. I can bug the company. I can send emails and make calls to the state and other agencies. But it’s just very difficult to make any progress, because they’ve made it so that they can use terrorism as—the threat of terrorism as an excuse, in Texas, to shut down access to most chemical inventories.

In brief Arkema does not - or so it seems - have to release any information about the chemicals that are being released as their factory is under water, because (it is falsely claimed) being honest about the poisons they do release, involuntarily indeed, would or might or is said to increase ¨the threat of terrorism¨...

I say, for that is total crap. And this is a recommended article.

5. If I Had a Hammer ...

This article is by William Rivers Pitt on Truth-out. This is from near the beginning:

Know what else is stuck in the mud, and has been for about the same amount of time? Wages. Your wages, mine, and just about everyone else's -- 70 percent of workers in the US -- haven't changed much at all for decades. Adjusted for inflation, your upward mobility and ability to save for the future are pretty much right where they were when Jane first said what she had to say.

They say time flies. When it comes to the so-called American Dream, however, time has been standing still.

The fact that wages in this country have not improved for two generations running has a whole lot to do with the ongoing and highly successful campaign fought against labor unions by the bosses of the world, including the one who's currently running the country. Today, only about 13 percent of US households are made up of union workers. The decline in the ranks of labor unions matches with cold precision the overall decline of the nation itself.

Yes indeed (bolding added): ¨wages in this country have not improved for two generations running¨, and this is mostly due to the steady decline of labor unions. Also see item 2 above, where it is said that the percentage of unionized workers is not 13%% but 11%. I do not know who is right, but settle for a 12% unionization (which is less than 1 in 8 of all the workers).

And this is the brief history how the unions were mostly defeated:

During the 2016 presidential campaign, one could not go more than a day without hearing candidate Trump rail about empty factories dotting the landscape like tombstones. This was, to put it mildly, a hoot, because it was his wealthy friends and their parents, and their parents' parents, who intentionally obliterated the manufacturing industry in the United States.

For many years, labor unions held the line against ownership's greed and actually made sure a factory worker could support a family. Their influence was growing, and that influence had to be stymied if profits were to be maximized. By deliberately sending our nation's manufacturing core -- steel, textiles, etc. -- overseas, where wages were lower, ownership pulled a checkmate move against labor unions, kneecapping their power.

This ¨deliberately sending our nation's manufacturing core¨ was mostly done by Bill Clinton, and neither ¨the workers¨ nor ¨the voters¨ had any significant vote in the nearly total sell-out of the nation's manufacturing core to where they did not need to pay their workers 7 doillars an hour, but more like 1 or 2 dollars a day, thus vastly increasing their profits.

And this is from the end of the article:

Wait, I do have a hammer.

See, I'm in a union, an unusual thing these days. Some brave souls organized our shop years ago, and were able to succeed. Not every workplace that attempts unionization is able to follow this path. The problem is not that workers don't want to unionize. The problem is that the act of trying to unionize is practically revolutionary these days, and the forces arrayed against those who would organize are aggressive, repressive, well-funded and also organized themselves.

Yes, I suppose I agree - although I must add that a hammer that unites just 1 in 8 of all workers, and is also supposed to be ¨practically revolutionary¨ (which incidentally is utter bullshit from a European point of view), albeit better than no hammer at all, is not a big hammer, alas.

Anyway, this is a 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 1 1/2 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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