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Nederlog

December 9, 2018

Crisis: Shell Oil, Trump & Fraud, Democratic Norms, Chomsky on Understanding, Climate Change


Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 9, 2018
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, December 9, 2018.

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 five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from December 9, 2018:
1. Shell Oil Executive Boasts That His Company Influenced the Paris
     Agreement
2. Prosecutors’ Narrative Is Clear: Trump Defrauded Voters. But What
     Does It Mean?

3. The High Cost of Shattering Democratic Norms
4. Noam Chomsky: Here's why Americans know so much about sports but
     so little about world affairs

5. Climate Change Is Likely to Come Sooner and Be Worse Than Latest
     Worst-Case Forecasts Suggest
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. Shell Oil Executive Boasts That His Company Influenced the Paris Agreement

This article is by Kate Aronoff on The Intercept. It starts as follows - and the ¨him¨ in the third paragraph is the ¨top Royal Dutch Shell executive¨:

Shell oil helped write the Paris climate agreement, according to a top Royal Dutch Shell executive.

They’re also the world’s ninth-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
      (...)
To hear him tell it, their involvement has been wildly successful. “We have had a process running for four years for the need of carbon unit trading to be part of the Paris agreement. We can take some credit for the fact that Article 6 [of the Paris agreement] is even there at all,” Hone said at an IETA side event within the Katowice, Poland, conference center. “We put together a straw proposal. Many of the elements of that straw proposal appear in the Paris agreement. We put together another straw proposal for the rulebook, and we saw some of that appear in the text.”

Well... I told my readers yesterday, in my review of The World Still Isn’t Meeting Its Climate Goals, that I did not and do not believe in either the Paris Agreement or the Kyoto Agreement, basically because I have been following the evironment and/or the climate from 1972 onwards (when I read ¨The Limits to Growth¨), and my own conciusion about these governmental agreements about the prevention of global warming is that they have been failing since 1972, and that those agreements that have been reached on a governmental level are much too low, while also the verbal agreements will not be kept by many governments.

Also, I have been thinking so for many years (and long before the Kyoto Agreement of 1992), but I had not expected to get the support of the Royal Dutch Shell the day after my review of The World Still Isn’t Meeting Its Climate Goals.

Here is more on Shell (by Bragg) and by Shell (by Hone):

Jesse Bragg, communications director for Corporate Accountability, told me, “In some ways, I’m pretty thankful that Shell was so honest about what many campaigners have been saying for a long time: that the very corporations that created this crisis are at the table and writing the supposed solutions for getting us out of it.”

Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, only state actors can officially negotiate over the text of climate agreements, including the Paris agreement. Unions, civil society groups, and corporations can be observers to that process.

Hone added that he’s been “chatting with some of the delegations” and that the “the [European Union’s] position is not that different from how Shell sees this.”

This has three paragraphs. Here are my comments on each of them:

First paragraph. I agree with Bragg - ¨
the very corporations that created this crisis are at the table and writing the supposed solutions for getting us out of it¨ - and while I also agree this has been hidden a long time, Shell opens up now because (I think) Shell believes they have basically won the fight about oil: Shell will be extracting oil for a long time to come.

Second paragraph. I would say that this is quite clear - which also means that it should be quite clear that (i) Shell is a corporation that ought to have been excluded from official negotiations, but (ii) it is writing at least some of the texts that the state actors are agreeing upon, and (iii) these texts are much to the advantage of Shell.

Third paragraph. And that is the result: According to this
¨top Royal Dutch Shell executive¨, the states that agreed on the Paris agreements and Shell are so close that “the [European Union’s] position is not that different from how Shell sees this”.

And here is part of what Shell achieved:
Article 6, the provision that Shell is taking credit for, outlines carbon markets as one of the chief ways that oil companies and other major polluters can rein in their emissions, allowing them to purchase credits for emissions reductions elsewhere instead of just reducing them directly. Such systems have been racked with controversy and do basically nothing to reduce the local impacts of extraction.
Precisely: Shell can continue to extract whatever it wants, with the small proviso that it must purchase credits for these extractions elsewhere, namely in countries where there is little extraction.

So... that is the Paris Agreement, or at least some parts of it in some detail. You may believe in it, but I think that if you do (i) you do not know much about the environment and the climate and/or (ii) you have been tricked. And this is a strongly recommended article/.

2. Prosecutors’ Narrative Is Clear: Trump Defrauded Voters. But What Does It Mean?

This article is by Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
The latest revelations by prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Mr. Trump has ever acknowledged.

In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law.

The prosecutors made clear in their memo that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election — and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory.

Yes, this seems more or less correct (though I am one of those who does not believe in Russia-gate, which in fact also has not been proved in the last two years).

Here is more:

¨[...] Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” the prosecutors wrote.

“He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” they continued. “In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”

The exposure on campaign finance laws poses a challenge to Mr. Trump’s legal team, which before now has focused mainly on rebutting allegations of collusion and obstruction while trying to call into question Mr. Mueller’s credibility.

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

[E]ven if Mr. Trump cannot be charged while in office, the House could still investigate or even seek to impeach him. The framers of the Constitution specifically envisioned impeachment as a remedy for removing a president who obtained office through corrupt means, and legal scholars have long concluded that the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors” does not necessarily require a statutory crime.

If the campaign finance case as laid out by prosecutors is true, Mr. Nadler said, Mr. Trump would be likely to meet the criteria for an impeachable offense, and he said he would instruct his committee to investigate when he takes over in January.

But he added that did not necessarily mean that the committee should vote to impeach Mr. Trump. “Is it serious enough to justify impeachment?” he asked. “That is another question.¨
I take it this is mostly true as well and this is a recommended article.

3. The High Cost of Shattering Democratic Norms

This article is by The Editorial Board on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

The Wisconsin Assembly speaker, Robin Vos, a Republican, said the quiet part out loud this week when he told reporters that it was a blatant power grab for his lame duck chamber to pass legislation that weakens the incoming Democratic governor, Tony Evers.

“We did have an election,” Mr. Vos said on Tuesday. “Whether everyone here likes it or not, I respect the fact that Tony Evers is the governor and he’s going to be starting on Jan. 7. But he’s not the governor today, and that’s why we’re going to make sure the powers of each branch are as equal as they can be.”

Unless they acted, Mr. Vos warned, “we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”

Mr. Evers, that “very liberal governor,” won the election with 29,227 more votes
than the incumbent, Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, so more Wisconsinites seem to believe in his policies than in those of the departing governor. Mr. Evers, the state schools superintendent, ran on an agenda that included
 increased school spending, a middle-class tax cut and a more humane stance on undocumented immigrants.

The package of bills now sitting on Mr. Walker’s desk would require the new governor to get the Legislature’s permission to ban guns in the Capitol, adjust benefits programs or withdraw the state from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. The Legislature will also now appoint the majority of the members to the state’s powerful economic development board.
Well... as I explained yesterday, in Republicans Are Clinging to Power in Wisconsin. Expect to See More GOP Power Grabs, I think this is deeply illegal, because if this were legal then it would give the power to the Republicans forever: Either they win, and continue, or else they loose and make it legally impossible for the Democrats to govern.

The above quotation was about Wiscon, but similar things are happening in Michigan:
Meanwhile, another power play is unfolding in Michigan, where a lame duck Republican Legislature is also scheming to strip the incoming Democrats of various powers of their offices. Under the measures, oversight of campaign finance rules would shift from the secretary of state’s office to a special commission. Another bill would allow the Legislature to intervene in lawsuits that involve the state, rather than leaving that authority to the incoming attorney general, a Democrat, Dana Nessel.

The chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association, Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, called the mischief in the Midwest “a dangerous assault on our democracy.”

I agree with Raimondo. Here is the opinion of The Editorial Board:

Are these political shenanigans norm shattering? Absolutely. They’re obnoxious and cynical, too. And it is regrettable that one political party in particular is so insecure about the merits of its ideas — and the concept of representative democracy — that it feels the need to push a political system under strain even further toward extremism.

Are the moves illegal? That’s for the courts to decide.
It seems to me you can´t have it both ways: Either these are ¨political shenanigans¨ (and legal ones) that are ¨norm shattering¨, which means that they are or should be illegal, specifically because they overturn democracy, or else ¨the courts¨ have to decided whether they are illegal.

I think the first alternative is correct, and indeed I also think that ¨the courts¨ are not necessarily correct.

Here is some background:
Is all this unprecedented? Sadly, not. Lame duck and 11th-hour power plays of all sorts by both parties are common in American politics at all levels, though they usually are not as bald as what we’re seeing in Madison and Lansing. But American history is replete with examples of patronage, ballot box stuffing, corruption, legislative chicanery and disenfranchisement on a societal scale, and somehow the Republic has survived.
Well... it seems at least a bit odd to say that ¨somehow the Republic has survived¨ in spite of its being ¨replete with examples of patronage, ballot box stuffing, corruption, legislative chicanery and disenfranchisement on a societal scale¨.

And the last bit of this article seems far too optimistic to me:

It’s easy to lose faith in American democracy when the two major political parties have gerrymandered themselves into impregnable bunkers and bathe in rivers of campaign cash. Most depressing of all is the nationwide effort to erect barriers to voting, orchestrated by the party of Lincoln.

But keep the faith. This is what democracy looks like. Messy. Unfair. Imperfect.

Why should one ¨keep the faith¨ (?!) when ¨the two major political parties have gerrymandered themselves into impregnable bunkers and bathe in rivers of campaign cash¨?! That seems to be a reaction that amounts to insisting that one believes democracy exists, while most of the evidence says it is not. And this is a recommended article.


4. Noam Chomsky: Here's why Americans know so much about sports but so little about world affairs

This article is by Noam Chomsky on AlterNet and originally on Noam Chomsky´s Official Site. In fact, the answers Chomsky gives seem to be from several years, but the basic question is clear and sensible:

QUESTION: You've written about the way that professional ideologists and the mandarins obfuscate reality. And you have spoken -- in some places you call it a "Cartesian common sense" -- of the commonsense capacities of people. Indeed, you place a significant emphasis on this common sense when you reveal the ideological aspects of arguments, especially in contemporary social science. What do you mean by common sense? What does it mean in a society like ours? For example, you've written that within a highly competitive, fragmented society, it's very difficult for people to become aware of what their interests are. If you are not able to participate in the political system in meaningful ways, if you are reduced to the role of a passive spectator, then what kind of knowledge do you have? How can common sense emerge in this context?

The following is a short excerpt from a classic, The Chomsky Reader, which offers a unique insight on a question worth asking -- how is it that we as a people can be so knowledgable about the intricacies of various sports teams, yet be colossally ignorant about our various undertakings abroad?

The question is a good one, and I am afraid I disagree with Chomsky.

Part of the reasons why I disagree has to do with my background: I am the first M.A. in my family, and that was in my case not due to the fact that my parents were stupid, for they were not, but to the fact that they were poor. Consequently, I also was raised by a poor family, and lived in a poor neighborhood.

And in any case, I do not much believe in any strong political or social common sense, simply because I never saw it other than in small groups and at quite limited times, while I strongly (and since more than 50 years) believe that the majority of men are not intelligent and not knowledgeable (and the two strongly interdepend).

Here is Chomsky´s opinion (in a short form):

[..] I think that this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that's far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that's in fact what they do. I'm sure they are using their common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.

Well... if Chomsky agrees that the majority of people ¨might as well live in a fantasy world, and that's in fact what they do¨ he seems to be on the way of agreeing with me.

Then again, the whole ideas of intelligence and (scientific) knowledge are not mentioned in this article, and I am myself quite clear that politics, and ethics, and values, if they are to be more clear than unclear, do require a degree of intelligence and a facility for forming abstractions that
are not normal in people with an IQ of 115 maximal (and yes, I know and agree that IQs are far from perfect and not a really good measure of intelligence, but they are the best we have, now).

And I say so in part because I have been living the first 20 years of my life in a poor neighborhood.

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

QUESTION: You have said that most intellectuals end up obfuscating reality. Do they understand the reality they are obfuscating? Do they understand the social processes they mystify?

CHOMSKY: Most people are not liars. They can't tolerate too much cognitive dissonance. I don't want to deny that there are outright liars, just brazen propagandists. You can find them in journalism and in the academic professions as well. But I don't think that's the norm. The norm is obedience, adoption of uncritical attitudes, taking the easy path of self-deception. I think there's also a selective process in the academic professions and journalism. That is, people who are independent minded and cannot be trusted to be obedient don't make it, by and large. They're often filtered out along the way.

I largely agree with the above quotation - but once again, I am not much impressed by the intelligence and knowledge of ordinary men, while here Chomsky says that the norm - which the fast majorities anywhere and everywhere satisfy - ¨is obedience, adoption of uncritical attitudes, taking the easy path of self-deception¨, which I think is correct, and he adds that something similar is so ¨in the academic professions and journalism. That is, people who are independent minded and cannot be trusted to be obedient don't make it, by and large¨, and I agree again, because I have the same experience, and indeed was ¨filtered out¨ by the Dutch academic community because I was critical of Dutch academics.

Anyway... while I disagree with Chomsky, this is a recommended article.


5. Climate Change Is Likely to Come Sooner and Be Worse Than Latest Worst-Case Forecasts Suggest

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
The news on climate change has been pretty grim lately, but the fact is, it’s possible—even likely—to be far worse than the already sobering news in the latest reports.

Now, this is going to get a bit wonky, but hang in there—the future viability of the life support system you rely on may be at stake.

First, let’s review the headlines from the recent reports, and then examine why warming is likely to be much worse, and come much sooner than even these grim reports suggest.

The recent IPCC report told us that even a temperature increase of 1.5°C could be devastating and that we have very little time to act to avoid it. The Fourth National Assessment told us the U.S. is already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change and that flooding, droughts, fires, and disease would only get worse before it gets better, even if we act immediately.

Yes - I basically agree, indeed for reasons that were sketched out in item 1: I am following the environment and the climate since 1972, and I see no reason to trust the governments, all or nearly all political parties, or any of the corporations that make billions by extracting oil.

Here is more:

Finally, the Global Carbon Project reported that carbon emissions are expected to reach 37.1 billion tons in 2018—an all time high. So as the world gathers to talk about how to implement the Paris agreement at COP 24, we are falling further behind in meeting even its woefully inadequate commitments that will hold warming to 3.5°C, and possibly more.

Pretty scary.

Yes indeed, and see item 1. Here is more:

When it comes to climate change, the past is not prologue. In fact, in the future, the climate is likely to be more sensitive to a given amount of emissions, not less, because carbon sinks have been compromised. This makes a big difference. For example, the new assumptions in the IPCC report suggest we have about ten years of current emissions remaining before we warm by 1.5°C; under the old ones, we only had three years. But since the sinks are eroding, the expanded carbon budget used in the IPCC’s report isn’t warranted.

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

So, 1) a higher proportion of the carbon we release is likely to stay in the atmosphere, and 2) massive natural stores of methane and carbon are beginning to be released into the atmosphere in addition to the human emissions. This means our carbon budgets are likely smaller than we thought, not larger, and the time left before we exceed 1.5°C much shorter than we forecast.   

The bottom line is that we have no time to act, if we want to have a reasonable chance of avoiding devastating and catastrophic climate change. That’s why a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary. Nothing short of a World War II-style mobilization will enable us to escape a devastating global meltdown.  

I do not know whether the first of the above quoted paragraphs is correct, but I agree with the second part. And this is a recommended article.


Note
[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl 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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