March 31, 2018

Crisis: Stephen Hawking, Malpractice, Criminal Trump, Jimmy Carter, Elections


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 31, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, March 31, 2018.

1. Summary

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

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 two 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.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from March 31, 2018
1. Remembering Stephen Hawking, Groundbreaking Physicist and
     Advocate for Climate, Palestine & Peace

2. Can Presidents Be Sued for Malpractice?
3. Do Trump's Voters Even Care If the President Is a Criminal?
4. Jimmy Carter Fears America's Transformation From Democracy to
     Oligarchy Is All but Complete

5. The Lure of Elections: From Political Power to Popular Power
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. Remembering Stephen Hawking, Groundbreaking Physicist and Advocate for Climate, Palestine & Peace

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
On Saturday, members of the scientific community, family, friends and fans alike will gather to remember the life and legacy of groundbreaking physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking died on March 14 at his home in Cambridge, England, at the age of 76. For decades, Hawking enchanted both scientists and science lovers by making groundbreaking discoveries about the origins of the universe, then translating these ideas for millions of nonscientists worldwide. His career and life itself have been celebrated as a medical miracle. Born in Oxford, Britain, in 1942, he was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder known as Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 21. Doctors said he had only a few years to live. Instead, he went on to live for more than 50 years, traveling the world in his motorized wheelchair and communicating through a custom-made computerized voice synthesizer. His only complaint was that the synthesizer gave him an American accent. He also protested against U.S. wars, including the U.S. war in Vietnam and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We speak to Kitty Ferguson, author of two books about Hawking, “Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind” and “Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything.”
Indeed. First, in case you are interested, here is a link to Lou Gehrig’s disease. And second, I have to admit that I do not know much about Stephen Hawking, mostly because the real physics and mathematics he did are beyond me. (I think I could have been a somewhat decent physicist or mathematician, but I certainly did not have Hawking's great talents. Then again, I know enough of both to be almost always much disappointed by popularizations, that I have learned to avoid. In case you want to know why see my "On Feynman and "Genius"" from 2011.)

Here is more:

This is Stephen Hawking, speaking at the White House in 1998.

STEPHEN HAWKING: Yet if, as I hope, basic science becomes part of general awareness, what now appear as the paradoxes of quantum theory will seem as just common sense to our children’s children. … However, to a large extent, we shall have to rely on mathematical beauty and consistency to find the ultimate theory of everything.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s physicist, professor and best-selling author Stephen Hawking, speaking in 1998 at the White House.

I do not think so myself, and here are my reasons:

First, "basic science" - if this is to cover some (non-trivial) mathematics, as it should - is beyond most ordinary people. It is a great pity, but it also is a fact.

And second, there definitely are "the paradoxes of quantum theory", and I also take it that - if Trump does not blow up the world - these will eventually be resolved somehow, and physical science and possibly parts of mathematics need changing for that, but in case this takes more than 40 or 60 years, most of the present science, mathematics and physicists will simply have disappeared from the memories of almost all non-physicists, indeed just as the physics of a 100 or indeed 60 years ago has disappeared for most non-physicists.

Then again, I suppose Hawkings probably will still be known in 50 or a 100 years, unlike most other presently living physicists and mathematicians.

Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: Last year, Stephen Hawking said that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement will cause avoidable environmental damage. This is Hawking speaking to the BBC ahead of a birthday conference in Cambridge, which was organized to mark his 75th birthday.

STEPHEN HAWKING: We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulfuric acid. Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now. By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children.

I quite agree with this. There is some more in the article, which is recommended, mostly because Hawkings was a truly special and brilliant man.

2. Can Presidents Be Sued for Malpractice?

This article is by Eugene Robinson on Truthdig. This starts as follows:

You can’t make this stuff up: President Trump has announced he will nominate a medical doctor who has no discernible management experience to run the second-largest agency in the federal government.

Can presidents be sued for malpractice?

The man Trump has named to become secretary of veterans affairs, Dr. Ronny Jackson, happens to be the president’s personal physician. More to the point, given Trump’s perpetual hunger for sycophancy, is the fact that Jackson showered the president with hyperbolic Dear-Leader-style praise during a widely viewed television appearance in January.

Trump has “incredibly good genes,” Jackson said in describing the physical examination he had given the president. Trump’s overall health is “excellent.” His “cardiac assessment” put him “in the excellent range.” If his diet had been a bit better, “he might live to be 200 years old.” In any event, “I think he will remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he’s elected.”

To start with malpractice: The answer is a clear no, simply because Trump is not a medical doctor, a lawyer or an architect. Then again, I agree with Robinson's distaste for Dr. Ronny Jackson, and especially for his saying that the grossly overweight president who has the habit of  very often three times repeating a simple point in his Tweets, "might live to be 200 years old": No man ever reached that age in fact.

Then there is this:

I assume Jackson has been more, shall we say, plain-spoken with the president about his health than he was with the public. But am I suggesting that flattery, rather than merit, is what makes him Trump’s choice to replace ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin? Absolutely, because no other explanation makes sense.

I agree. And here is some on and by Shulkin:

“I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans,” Shulkin wrote in his op-ed. “The private sector … is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing VA hospitals and clinics, particularly when it comes to the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war.”

Shulkin wrote that “in recent months” the political environment in Washington has become “toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive,” making it impossible for him to do his job. “It should not be this hard to serve your country,” he wrote.

I think this all is correct (but do not know about "the political environment in Washington").

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
I can’t say I’m surprised. Trump put neurosurgeon Ben Carson in charge of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, despite Carson having zero experience in housing policy. He put Betsy DeVos in charge of the Department of Education, despite her apparent unfamiliarity with actual schools. He put politician Rick Perry in charge of the Department of Energy, which Perry wanted to eliminate until he learned what the agency does.

There are at least two plausible explanations for Trump's nominations of evident incompetents:

(1) he nominated them because they are incompetent, because he wants to destroy a good part
     of the American government, as his former chief strategist Stephen Bannon wanted; and/or
he nominated them because he cannot get bettter men for his government.

I do not know whether it is one or the other, although I  suspect it is both. And this is a recommended article.

3. Do Trump's Voters Even Care If the President Is a Criminal?

This article is by Jacob Sugarman on AlterNet. It starts as follows:
Earlier this month, the Democracy Fund voter Study Group released an astonishing report. While an overwhelming majority of Americans favor a constitutional democracy, 32 percent of Trump voters would prefer a "strong leader" who doesn't have to answer to Congress or a body politic. "The highest levels of support for authoritarian leadership," the Study Group concluded, "come from those who are disaffected, disengaged from politics, deeply distrustful of experts, culturally conservative, and have negative views toward racial minorities."
Well... first of all, a good percentage of American voters did not vote in the last presidential elections; second about half of these were pro Trump (but we are already down to some 30% of the American adult population; and third, we need to consider one third of these, it seems.

This means we are talking about some 10% of the American voters, or so it seems to me.

Here is more by Sugarman:
So if the president's base has no real commitment to democratic values, would they care if the president were found culpable in any of the scandals presently roiling the White House? Jan-Werner Müller, a political theorist at Princeton University and the author of the 2016 book What Is Populism? has his doubts.

Even if Trump violated campaign finance laws in his alleged hush payment to Stormy Daniels, obstructed justice in the Mueller investigation or was discovered to have colluded with the Kremlin, Müller contends, he might not face any political consequences for his misdeeds.
Well... I agree these 10% or so very probably would admit almost anything done by Trump must be good because it is done by Trump (and they voted for him), but I do not see any special reason why I should take "a political theorist at Princeton University" seriously.

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:
What might look like corruption or cronyism to neutral observers is seen by the supporters of populists as doing the right thing for the right people, the 'real people.' This is why the tribal appeal of populism is so crucial. Populist leaders thrive on distinctions between 'us' and 'them,' between 'the people' and 'the establishment.'"

As Müller sees it, the president's supporters have been conditioned to tolerate a criminal commander-in-chief. Because Trump campaigned on the promise to dismantle a rigged political system, his voters likely interpret his looting and graft as a means to an end.

Possibly so, but I think totalitarianism would have been the far better distinction, except that I also think that the (renewed) definition of it on the Wikipedia is a fraud that intentionally took away all human interest by denying (utterly falsely) that any person, any party, any politics, or any preferences can be totalitarian (in terms of the Wikipedia's nonsensical definition), except if they are part of a totalitarian state. 

4. Jimmy Carter Fears America's Transformation From Democracy to Oligarchy Is All but Complete

This article is by Leslie Salzillo on AlterNet. It starts as follows:
At 93, former President Jimmy Carter is out promoting his 32nd book titled Faith: A Journey For All while taking interviews with various news groups along the way. This week, Judy Woodruff with PBS interviewed Carter in a two-part series. Here are excerpts from the first and second discussions.
I must admit that from all American presidents since Eisenhower, I like Carter the best, and not because I agree with him on faith, or indeed most other things, but because he seems to be fairly honest (for an American president).

Here is the first bit that I quote:

When Woodruff asked Carter his thoughts on the state of the country, the 39th U.S. president said:

Jimmy Carter:

We now have a development in America where the massive influx of money into campaigns has elevated rich people, powerful people above the average person.

So, we are moving toward an oligarchy of a powerful element of rich people compared to a true democracy.

And I think the other thing, besides the massive amount of money we have put into elections, is the gerrymandering of districts, which guarantees a continued polarization of people.

We have a situation now where people who are in power impose a lot of punishment on unfortunate people. We have seven times as many people in prison now as we did when I left the White House, for instance. We have got a much greater disparity of income among Americans than we have ever had before.

In fact, eight people in the world — six of them are from America — own as much money as half of the total population of the world, 3.5 billion people.

In America, we have the same problem, maybe even in an exaggerated way. We have marginalized the average person, for the benefit of the wealthier people in America.

I think everything Carter said above is quite correct - which is pretty rare in a former or actual American president.

And here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

A little further down in the interview, Woodruff asks Carter to rate Donald Trump’s performance during these last 14 months.

Jimmy Carter:

I don’t think he’s doing well.

He’s made some very serious mistakes. I think the worst mistake he’s made so far has been the appointment of John Bolton to be his national security adviser.

I know Bolton from way back at a distance. I have never met him personally. But he has been very eager to go to war with different people, including North Korea and Iran. He’s been in the forefront of every kind of radical enhancement the United States can make based on its own military prowess. He’s — he’s told lies about things where I knew the truth. And so I just have very little confidence in him.

Again I think Carter was quite correct. And this is a recommended article.

5. The Lure of Elections: From Political Power to Popular Power

This article is by Frank Ascaso, Enrique Guerrero-López, Patrick Berkman and Adam Weaver on Truthout. It starts as follows:
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the gravitational pull of electoral politics has gripped the left with renewed intensity. Fueled by the popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders, discontent with political elites and the failure of the Democratic Party to defeat Trump, various segments of the left see an opening for breathing new life into building a "party of the 99 percent," a "party of a new type" or a "mass socialist party." Others are content running leftist candidates as Democrats under the guise of radical pragmatism. Given the history and structural limitations of such projects, social movements, activists and organizers should regard these calls with caution. If we want meaningful social change, or even basic progressive reforms, the electoral road leads us into a strategic cul-de-sac. Instead of better politicians, we need popular power -- independent, self-managed and combative social movements capable of posing a credible threat to capitalism, the state, white supremacy and patriarchy.
I say, which I do this time because I do not believe it. Specifically, I disbelieve the
"Instead" in "
Instead of better politicians, we need popular power": Why not popular power and better politicians?!

And yes, I am quite willing to agree that most American politicians are corrupt or dishonest or incompetent or are really out to get themselves rich, but voting takes very little trouble and does give a fair indication how how popular your politics are, indeed quite possibly regardless of the actual politicians who get elected.

Then there is this:
An oft-cited 2011 Pew Poll revealed that 49 percent of Americans under 30 had a positive view of socialism, while just 47 percent had a favorable opinion of capitalism. Disillusionment with President Obama, coupled with a steady stream of post-recession movements from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter, had significantly altered public discourse, expanded the field of struggle and pulled the broader political spectrum to the left.
I am sorry but (i) this is from seven years ago, and (ii) I do not care much for the opinions of "Americans under 30" on the subjects of "capitalism" or "socialism", simply because I know that having serious opinions on these subjects requires considerable study.

And while I do think some
"Americans under 30" are quite capable of having serious opinions about these subjects, I do not think they are the majority.

Then there is this:
But this is wrong; elections are a trap with more costs than benefits. Political change is a question of political power, and the electoral arena is a field of battle that caters to the already rich and powerful. It hands our power to politicians. As a result, when popular candidates win electoral office without the backing of powerful social movements (even candidates of the left), they are powerless to take meaningful action. Instead, electoral campaigns drain movements of vital resources that could be better spent elsewhere. The electoral road is not a shortcut to power; it is a dead end -- structurally, historically and strategically.
I am sorry, but this simply seems baloney to me. And once again: voting takes very little trouble and does give a fair indication how how popular your politics are, indeed quite possibly regardless of the actual politicians who get elected.

It is nonsense to be interested only in voting; but it is also nonsense to insist that you should not vote, especially because voting is easy.

Finally, the quotes are all from the beginning of this fairly long article that seems to have been written by four anarchists. Well... I am a (philosophical) anarchist, but not of their kind.


[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 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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