January 15, 2019

Crisis: On ´Private Governments´, FBI vs. Trump, IRS Aids The Rich, U.S. Democracy, Dictators


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 15, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, January 15, 2019. 

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 January 15, 2019:
1. The ‘Private Governments’ That Subjugate U.S. Workers
2. The FBI’s Investigation of Trump

3. As Gov’t Shutdown Drags On, IRS Continues to Aid the Rich &

4. This Is How American Democracy Ends

5. The Trump Dictatorship
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. The ‘Private Governments’ That Subjugate U.S. Workers

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Corporate dictatorships—which strip employees of fundamental constitutional rights, including free speech, and which increasingly rely on temp or contract employees who receive no benefits and have no job security—rule the lives of perhaps 80 percent of working Americans. These corporations, with little or no oversight, surveil and monitor their workforces. They conduct random drug testing, impose punishing quotas and targets, routinely engage in wage theft, injure workers and then refuse to make compensation, and ignore reports of sexual harassment, assault and rape. They use managerial harassment, psychological manipulation—including the pseudo-science of positive psychology—and intimidation to ensure obedience. They fire workers for expressing leftist political opinions on social media or at public events during their off-hours. They terminate those who file complaints or publicly voice criticism about working conditions. They thwart attempts to organize unions, callously dismiss older workers and impose “non-compete” contract clauses, meaning that if workers leave they are unable to use their skills and human capital to work for other employers in the same industry. Nearly half of all technical professions now require workers to sign non-compete clauses, and this practice has spread to low-wage jobs including those in hair salons and restaurants.

I say, and I do so because (1) I think many of the things ¨the corporations¨ can do in the USA, cannot be done (at all, or to the same extent) in Holland, under Dutch laws, and (2) in one major way, Hedges is quite right that ¨the corporations¨ try to impose their own system of government on their employers, and that system of government tends to be much stricter than the restrictions a democratic government imposes on its citizens.

Then again, I have to admit as regards point (1) above I do not know about the current Dutch  regulations of the relations between corporations, the people they employ, and the law of the land as kept up by the Dutch government, and the reason is that I (and my former wife) have been ill for more than 40 years with ME/CFS.

But I am still pretty sure that what I said in (1) about the differences between the USA and Holland is more or less correct.

Here is more:

The lower the wages the more abusive the conditions. Workers in the food and hotel industries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, call centers, the garment industry, warehouses, retail sales, lawn service, prisons, and health and elder care suffer the most. Walmart, for example, which employs nearly 1 percent of the U.S. labor force (1.4 million workers), prohibits casual conversation, which it describes as “time theft.” The food industry giant Tyson prevents its workers from taking toilet breaks, causing many to urinate on themselves; as a result, some workers must wear diapers. The older, itinerant workers that Amazon often employs are subjected to grueling 12-hour shifts in which the company electronically monitors every action to make sure hourly quotas are met.

It´s the same about the above quotation: I think these measures are not possible in Holland.

Here is more:

Two-thirds of workers in low-wage industries are victims of wage theft, losing an amount estimated to be as high as $50 billion a year. From 4 million to 14 million American workers, under threat of wage cuts, plant shutdowns or dismissal, have been pressured by their employers to support pro-corporate political candidates and causes.

And again, in so far as I know in Holland your employer (at least in most professions: there are some exceptions) has nothing to say about or to do with your opinions, political or otherwise. In fact, that is an important part of what democracy means.

Here is more:

The corporations that in effect rule the lives of American workers constitute what University of Michigan philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson refers to as “private governments.” These “workplace governments,” she writes, are “dictatorships, in which bosses govern in ways that are largely unaccountable to those who are governed. They don’t merely govern workers: they dominate
them.” These corporations have the legal authority, she writes, “to regulate workers’ off-hour lives as well—their political activities, speech, choice of sexual partner, use of recreational drugs, alcohol, smoking, and exercise. Because most employers exercise this off-hours authority irregularly, and without warning, most workers are unaware of how sweeping it is.”

I say. In case you are interested about Anderson, this was a reference. I have studied philosophy myself, but was removed from the right of doing an M.A. in it (with excellent marks, also on my B.A.) while I was ill and very briefly before taking it, because I had dared to criticize the competence of the (for 95%) utterly incompetent people who were supposed to touch me philosophy. This does not reflect on Anderson directly or indirectly, but it does mean that I am somewhat more skeptical about academic philosophers than about - say - academic mathema- ticians or biologists.

Anyway. It is also true that - so far as my knowledge about Holland reaches, where I´ve been born and lived for 65 of my 68 years - no Dutch corporation has ¨the legal authority¨ (..) “to regulate workers’ off-hour lives as well—their political activities, speech, choice of sexual partner, use of recreational drugs, alcohol, smoking, and exercise.¨

Here is a sum-up by Anderson:

“Employers’ authority over workers,” Anderson writes, “outside of collective bargaining and a few other contexts, such as university professors’ tenure, is sweeping, arbitrary, and unaccountable—not subject to notice, process, or appeal. The state has established the constitution of the government of the workplace; it is a form of private government.” These corporations, by law, can “impose a far more minute, exacting, and sweeping regulation of employees than democratic states do in any domain outside of prisons and the military.”

If this is right (and I see no specific reason to doubt this), this is very bad and indeed seems a lot like dictatorship.

Here is more on ¨neoliberalism¨ (which is bullshit however it is defined):

Neoliberalism posits that the choice is between a free market and state control, whereas, as Anderson writes, “most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government.” Neoliberalism argues that the essence of freedom is free enterprise, while never addressing workers’ surrender of basic freedoms.
The neoliberal ideologues’ solution to the cannibalization of the economy is to call for fostering a nation of entrepreneurs. This is a con. Corporations and their lobbyists write the laws and the legislation, creating a two-tiered legal system in which poverty is criminalized and we are controlled, taxed and punished. The corporate oligarchs, however, live in a world where monopoly, fraud and other financial wrongdoing are legal or rarely punished and taxes are minimal or nonexistent.

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

American workers have never achieved the array of rights won by workers in other industrialized countries. At the height of union representation in 1954, only 28.3 percent of American workers were union members. This number has fallen to 11.1 percent, with only 6.6 percent of private-sector workers belonging to unions. Wages have for decades declined or been stagnant. Half of all U.S. workers make less than $29,000 a year, effectively putting their families in poverty.
Workers, lacking unions and the ability to pressure management through collective bargaining, have no say in their working conditions. If they choose to leave abusive employment, where do they go? The inequalities and the workers’ loss of liberty and agency are embedded within the corporate structure. It is impossible, as Anderson warns, to build a free, democratic society dominated by private governments. As these private governments merge into the superstructure of the corporate state we are cementing into place an unassailable corporate tyranny. It is a race against time. Our remaining freedoms are being rapidly extinguished. These omnipotent dictatorships must be destroyed, and they will only be destroyed by sustained popular protest such as we see in the streets of Paris. Otherwise, we will be shackled in 21st-century chains.

I think I quite agree, and one reason for my agreement is the fact of surveillance of everybody´s computers by both the secret services of most countries and by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and some more, which seems to me - and in complete independence of what was said in the present article - the best guarantee for the arisal of a complete dictatorship that I do not know how to avoid, except indeed by trying to destroy it before it has the dictatorship over almost everyone. And this is a strongly recommended article.

2. The FBI’s Investigation of Trump

This article is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Last week, the New York Times reported that the FBI, in 2017, launched an investigation of President Trump “to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security” and specifically “whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” The story was predictably treated as the latest in an endless line of Beginning-of-the
-End disasters for the Trump presidency, though – as usual – this melodrama was accomplished by steadfastly ignoring the now-standard, always-buried paragraph pointing out the boring fact that no actual evidence of guilt has yet emerged:

The New York Times (...) No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials. (..)

The lack of any evidence of guilt has never dampened the excitement over Trump/Russia innuendo, and it certainly did not do so here.

Yes, I agree about both points Greenwald makes: After two years of searching, there still has been no evidence produced that Trump worked - somehow - for the Russians, but this fact does not seem to have ¨dampened the excitement over Trump/Russia innuendo¨.

Here is more from Greenwald (who has a lot more, that I leave unreviewed):

That the FBI conducted an extensive counterintelligence investigation of Wallace was unknown until 1983 – eighteen years after his death. Citing reporting by the Des Moines Register, the New York Times explained that “Wallace was watched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation while he was Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of Commerce for Harry S. Truman, and also in his 1948 run for the Presidency” and that “the bureau opened Wallace’s mail, tapped his supporters’ telephones and used informers and agents to trail him in search of ”possible Communist or pro-Soviet ties.'”

In case this does not worry you:

It is not difficult to understand what is so ominous and even tyrannical about the FBI investigating domestic political figures whose loyalties they regard as “suspicious,” and whose political career they regard as a “national security threat,” simply because those politicians express policy positions about U.S. adversaries that the FBI dislikes or regards as insufficiently belligerent.

It’s the FBI’s job to investigate possible crimes under the law or infiltration by foreign powers, not ideological sins. If a politician adopts policy views that are “threatening” to U.S. national security or which is unduly accommodating to America’s adversaries or “enemies,” that’s not a crime and the FBI thus has no business using its vast investigative powers against a politician who does that.

I completely agree: ¨It’s the FBI’s job to investigate possible crimes under the law or infiltration by foreign powers, not ideological sins¨.

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

If Trump’s foreign policy is misguided or “threatening,” that’s a matter for the Congress and/or the American public, not the FBI. However “threatening” one regards Trump’s foreign policy relating to Russia, the FBI’s abuse of its powers to investigate an elected official due to disagreement with his ideology or foreign policy views is at least as dangerous, it not more so, and the fact that those policy disagreements are characterized as “national security threats” does not make those actions any less threatening or abusive – whether for Trump, Henry Wallace or George McGovern.

I completely agree. And this is a recommended article in which there is a lot more than I quoted.

3. As Gov’t Shutdown Drags On, IRS Continues to Aid the Rich & Corporations

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

As 800,000 federal workers remain furloughed or working without pay in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, we look at how the Trump administration has restarted a division of the Internal Revenue Service to help corporate lenders. The Washington Post reports that an appeal from the mortgage industry has resulted in hundreds of IRS staffers returning to the agency to carry out income verifications for lenders. This process earns the $1.3 trillion mortgage banking industry millions of dollars in fees. We speak with Paul Kiel, a reporter for ProPublica and contributor to the series “Gutting the IRS.” His recent piece for the series is titled “Who’s More Likely to Be Audited: A Person Making $20,000—or $400,000?”

As I have repeatedly pointed out, in Holland you cannot keep federal workers without pay, nor can you force them to work without pay. That is one thing. Besides, I also do not think it would be legal in Holland - during a conflict between the government and part of its staff - to return part of the staff so that they can do work that profit the rich, although I admit I am less certain of this supposed fact.

Here is more from the article:

AMY GOODMAN: So, they bring in—they make these workers not only essential, but they are paying these workers.

PAUL KIEL: Right. They found money to, I guess, make them happier workers, I guess. I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does this benefit the mortgage industry?

PAUL KIEL: It makes sure that they can make loans, so they can make money, you know, that things don’t shut down for them, even if it’s shut down for most of the federal government.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was done at the behest of Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary.

That were some of the relevant background facts. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

PAUL KIEL: Well, so, I think it’s important to note, so, one of our largest anti-poverty programs is the earned income tax credit. About $70 billion goes out; it goes to 27 million households. And that is run by the IRS. And since the '90s, the right, the Republicans in particular, have put a lot of pressure on the IRS to audit people who receive that benefit, that comes in the form of a tax refund each year. Over a third of the audits that the IRS does are of people who receive that credit. And that's a type of auditing that the IRS does that’s largely automated.

And so, what we were able to show in our piece is that audits of the rich, audits of corporations have come down much more quickly than audits of people who are receiving this credit. And these are people, you know, households that tend to have income under $20,000 a year. It’s a program that lifts about, you know, millions of children out of poverty every year. And the computers can still pump out those audit letters. And so, that area of auditing has fallen much less precipitously.
AMY GOODMAN: (..) It shows that since 2011, audit rates for the wealthy have dropped more steeply than for the earned income tax credit recipients. For example, for taxpayers earning between $200,000 and $500,000 a year, audit rates dropped by 74 percent, but for earned income tax credit recipients who have a median annual income under $20,000, audits dropped by just 36 percent.

PAUL KIEL: Right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re more likely to be audited if you’re making less than $20,000 or $40,000 a year than if you make a million dollars?


And that - I agree - seems quite immoral to me. This is a recommended article.

4. This Is How American Democracy Ends

This article is by Bill Blum on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

For the time being, President Trump has toned down his threat to declare a national emergency to pay for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Addressing a White House roundtable Friday afternoon, Trump continued to insist that he has the “absolute right” to issue an emergency decree. But, he added, “I’m not going to do it so fast.”
The problem, however, isn’t just that we have a mendacious crypto-fascist in the White House who looks to other crypto-fascists for counsel and succor. The problem is that the National Emergencies Act (NEA), passed in 1976 and which Trump would invoke to get his way, makes it easy for any president to declare emergencies. Trump’s threat to deploy extraordinary powers to counter a fake crisis on our southern boundary should spark a clarion call to reexamine, repeal and replace the NEA.

I mostly agree, but I do not think that the term ¨crypto-fascist¨ helps (other than to relieve some of Blum´s anger) and my reasons are (once again) that (1) there are at least 22 different definitions of ¨fascism¨ (that you all find here, with my comments and criticisms: On Fascism and Neofascism: Definitions), while (2) I have been reading about ¨fascism¨ for at least three years now, but I have not found a single journalist (i) who gave any definition of the term, and (ii) also no journalist who seems to know ¨fascism¨ is quite ambiguous.

This is - once again - quite the same, and as regards the ¨crypto¨: that generally means that the term which follows it might not quite apply - but in which of the at least 22 senses?!

Anyway. Here is more:

By the early 1970s, Congress had enacted some 470 statutes, delegating extraordinary powers to the president in times of crisis on issues ranging from public health, natural disasters and land management to national defense and security. A 1934 law still on the books even allows the president to shut down or take control of “any facility or station for wire communication” (arguably, the internet in the digital era) upon his proclamation “that there exists a state or threat of war … or other national emergency.”

As Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, writes in The Atlantic, the NEA was passed to “rein in this proliferation.”

But then again (as the article makes more or less clear, but I do not review the parts) the NEA also failed.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which is Blum´s expectation:

Worse still is the prospect that after pressing the emergency button for the border wall, Trump’s appetite for even more outrageous initiatives will expand exponentially until he destroys our democracy piece by piece, one phony national emergency at a time.

Possibly so - and you also may be interested in the next article I review:

5. The Trump Dictatorship

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

The only redeeming aspect to Trump’s presidency is he brings us back to basics. And what could be more basic than the difference between democracy and dictatorship?

Democracy is about means, not ends. If we all agreed on the ends (such as whether to build a wall along the Mexican border) there’d be no need for democracy.

But of course we don’t agree, which is why the means by which we resolve our differences are so important. Those means include a Constitution, a  system of government based on the rule of law, and an independent judiciary.

A dictatorship, by contrast, is only about ends. Those ends are the goals of the dictator – preserving and accumulating personal power. To achieve those ends, a dictator will use any means necessary.

Which brings us back to Trump.

Actually, I don´t think I quite agree with the proposed distinction (in terms of ends and means) between democracy and dictatorship, for I think more is involved, but OK.

Here is more:

The conventional criticism of Trump is that he’s unfit to be president because he continuously breaks the norms of how a president should behave.

Trump’s norm-breaking is unsettling, to be sure, but Trump’s more fundamental offense is he continuously sacrifices means in order to preserve and accumulate personal power.

He thereby violates a president’s core responsibility to protect American democracy.

I agree with the latter part of the quoted paragraphs, but less with the beginning: I am one of the meanwhile quite many psychologists (and psychiatrists) who say that Trump is ¨unfit to be president¨ because he is insane (which also goes quite far explaining his thousands of lies).

Anyway. Here is more:

He is treating the government of the United States as a bargaining chip. He is asserting power by any means possible. This is the method of a dictator.

A president who claims he has an absolute right to declare a national emergency and spend government funds that Congress has explicitly refused to appropriate for the ends he seeks, is also assuming the role of a dictator.

Yes, I totally agree with the second paragraph, and my reason is that Congress has the legal right to apportion money, much rather than Trump.

Trump’s entire presidency to date has sacrificed the means of democracy to the end of his personal power.

He has lied about the results of votes, and established a commission to investigate bogus claims of fraudulent voting. He has attacked judges who have ruled against him, with the goal of stirring up the public against them.

He has encouraged followers to believe that his opponent in the 2016 election should be imprisoned; and condemned as “enemies of the people” journalists who report unfavorably about him, in an effort to fuel public resentment – perhaps even violence – against them.

Yes, I agree, though once again I tend to explain many of the things Reich mentioned by saying that they are well explained by Trump´s lack of sanity.

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

The choice could not be clearer. Democracy is about means, while dictatorship is about ends. Trump uses any means available to achieve his own ends.

We can preserve our democracy and force Trump out of office. Or we can continue to struggle against someone who strives to thwart democracy for his own benefit.

In the months ahead, that choice will be made, one way or the other. 

I think I agree and 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 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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