February 7, 2019

Crisis: Abolish Billionaires, Liar-in-Chief, Workers Rebellion, Doomsday Machines, Good Journalism

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 7, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, February 7, 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 February 7, 2019:
1. Abolish Billionaires
2. “Liar-in-Chief”: Rep. Ilhan Omar Slams Trump’s SOTU Remarks

3. Beyond the 2020 Electoral Circus, a Workers Rebellion Is Brewing

4. Dismantling the Doomsday Machines

5. 'To Produce Good Journalism, There Are No Shortcuts'
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. Abolish Billionaires

This article is by Farhad Manjoo on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

Last fall, Tom Scocca, editor of the essential blog Hmm Daily, wrote a tiny, searing post that has been rattling around my head ever since.

“Some ideas about how to make the world better require careful, nuanced thinking about how best to balance competing interests,” he began. “Others don’t: Billionaires are bad. We should presumptively get rid of billionaires. All of them.”

Mr. Scocca — a longtime writer at Gawker until that site was muffled by a billionaire — offered a straightforward argument for kneecapping the wealthiest among us. A billion dollars is wildly more than anyone needs, even accounting for life’s most excessive lavishes. It’s far more than anyone might reasonably claim to deserve, however much he believes he has contributed to society.

At some level of extreme wealth, money inevitably corrupts. On the left and the right, it buys political power, it silences dissent, it serves primarily to perpetuate ever-greater wealth, often unrelated to any reciprocal social good. For Mr. Scocca, that level is self-evidently somewhere around one billion dollars; beyond that, you’re irredeemable.

I say, which I do because this article is on The New York Times. And it so happens that I quite agree: Billionaires are completely unnecessary, indeed also under capitalism, and the reasons are mostly as given by Manjoo: "money inevitably corrupts. On the left and the right, it buys political power, it silences dissent, it serves primarily to perpetuate ever-greater wealth, often unrelated to any reciprocal social good".

Then again, I also think that the difference between the richest and the poorest need to be far smaller than between one billion dollars and 12,000 dollars a year (in the USA and Europe), but I also agree that my favorite proportion, which is richest : poorest = 20 : 1, is very likely not possible as long as there is capitalism. (For more see my
Crisis: On Socialism.)

Here is some more:

I cover technology, an industry that belches up a murder of new billionaires annually, and much of my career has required a deep anthropological inquiry into billionairedom. But I’m embarrassed to say I had never before considered Mr. Scocca’s idea — that if we aimed, through public and social policy, simply to discourage people from attaining and possessing more than a billion in lucre, just about everyone would be better off.

In my defense, back in October, abolishing billionaires felt way out there. It sounded radical, impossible, maybe even un-American, and even Mr. Scocca seemed to float the notion as a mere reverie.

But it is an illustration of the political precariousness of billionaires that the idea has since become something like mainline thought on the progressive left.

Well... clearly Manjoo was not born in a communist family, as I was. Also, while I ceased more than 50 years ago to be a Marxist or communist, my differences (with Marxism, at least) were mostly philosophical and logical, rather than a difference in values, though indeed I should add, I think, that I already denied that the Soviet Union was socialist in any sense that I was willing to acknowledge by the time I was 14 (in 1964).

Anyway. Manjoo also is right that "
the idea has since become something like mainline thought on the progressive left". In a way, I am a little amazed that it has become a "mainline thought", mostly because the USA is quite capitalistic, but then again I also think it should be a rather prominent thought that there must be something wrong with any social-economical system were a very few are paid billions a year (in dollars), while others can earn no more than 12,000 dollars a year, and have to work very hard to do that.

Anyway, here is one of Manjoo's conclusions:
Billionaires should not exist — at least not in their present numbers, with their current globe-swallowing power, garnering this level of adulation, while the rest of the economy scrapes by.

I like to use this column to explore maximalist policy visions — positions we might aspire to over time rather than push through tomorrow. Abolishing billionaires might not sound like a practical idea, but if you think about it as a long-term goal in light of today’s deepest economic ills, it feels anything but radical. Instead, banishing billionaires — seeking to cut their economic power, working to reduce their political power and attempting to question their social status — is a pithy, perfectly encapsulated vision for surviving the digital future.

Billionaire abolishment could take many forms. It could mean preventing people from keeping more than a billion in booty, but more likely it would mean higher marginal taxes on income, wealth and estates for billionaires and people on the way to becoming billionaires.
Yes, I more or less agree: As long as the social-economic system is capitalist, billionaires should be made to disappear by high taxes of various kinds. And I also think that is entirely fair, and do so for two principal reasons: (1) as Manjoo put it "it’s far more than anyone might reasonably claim to deserve", and (2) especially if there are tens or hundreds of millions living in the same country as a billionaire who are poor though hard working.

Here is the last bit that I quote from Manjoo:
But if we tolerate the supposedly “good” billionaires in politics, we inevitably leave open the door for the bad ones. And the bad ones will overrun us. When American capitalism sends us its billionaires, it’s not sending its best. It’s sending us people who have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing inequality. They’re bringing injustice. They’re buying politicians.

And some, I assume, are good people.
Yes, I think I mostly agree. Billionaires should not exist - and even under capitalism (if this has not degenerated into an oligarchy of the rich) they can be made to disappear by taxation. And this is a strongly recommended article. 

2. “Liar-in-Chief”: Rep. Ilhan Omar Slams Trump’s SOTU Remarks

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

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump called for bipartisan unity while he attacked Democrats and the Robert Mueller investigation, denounced efforts to expand abortion rights in Virginia and New York, attacked immigrants and reiterated his demand for a border wall—with no mention of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which delayed his address by a week. Women in Congress wore all white to the speech in a nod to the movement for women’s suffrage. After the address, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams made history, becoming the first African-American woman to give the Democratic response. We’re joined by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the first Somali American elected to the House of Representatives and one of the first Muslim women in Congress. Her guest at last night’s presidential address was a Liberian woman who fled to Minnesota in 2000 due to civil war and is now facing the threat of deportation from the United States.

This article gives some attention to Trump's State of the Union address. I do not think this is very interesting anyway, and especially not by a president in whose State of the Union address journalists fact-checked 22 statements of which thet found only 2 true, but OK.

Here is more:

AMY GOODMAN: (..) I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to look at President Trump’s State of the Union address. On the international front, he announced plans to hold another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam beginning February 27th. He also defended his decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a landmark nuclear arms deal with Russia. Trump went on to threaten a new nuclear arms race.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others. Or perhaps we can’t, in which case we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.

Yes, this is quite true - and the danger of a nuclear war never seemed to me greater than under president Trump.

Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by another history-making woman, Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. She’s the first Somali American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress and the first hijab-wearing congressmember. She is a Somali-American refugee.
REP. ILHAN OMAR: (..) It was a really bizarre State of the Union address, that kind of went along with the bizarrely scripted House of Cards scene that we just recently witnessed with the longest shutdown of our nation’s history of 35 days. You know, I expected there to be a presidential address. I expected there to be an acknowledgment of the workers that he just used as a political football. I expected there to be some imagination, a plan. It really felt like a pedestrian address. And I was taken aback by the lack of planning, vision and interest that really went into bringing a unified message.

Also, I would also say, for this particular address, there seemed to be lots of hypocrisies. You know, he talked about welcoming legal immigration as much as possible. But we know that he limited the number of refugees that could enter this country.

Yes, that seems all correct (and no, I did not watch a video of Trump's speech, indeed not because of Trump, but because I never watch long speeches by politicians).

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

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about The Intercept’s report that a top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told health insurance executives from Blue Cross Blue Shield that Democratic leadership had major objections to Medicare for all and would continue to try to block single-payer healthcare. In a December presentation, Pelosi adviser Wendell Primus said strengthening the Affordable Care Act, lowering drug prices were instead the priorities for the party. Can you respond to this, Congressmember?

REP. ILHAN OMAR: We have a guarantee that the bill will have a hearing. So, I’m looking forward to finally having that scheduled. I know that Congresswoman Jayapal has been working really hard. And there—as the whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I look forward to not only having conversations with our caucus members, but with the Democratic Caucus, and maybe even getting some Republicans on board.

Well... it seems to me as if Omar already has learned to speak politicians' language. By contrast, since I strongly dislike Nancy Pelosi I say, in straight language, that Pelosi seems to have betrayed both the majority of the Democrats' voters and the majority of all American adults, who prefer Medicare for all, by effectively settling for the interests of the few rich rather than for the interests of the many poor. Also, I expect that to continue until she is replaced.

3. Beyond the 2020 Electoral Circus, a Workers Rebellion Is Brewing

This article is by Paul Street on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Let’s be brutally honest and unsentimental: There are few, if any, serious prospects for attaining the transformative change we need through the current United States elections and party system.

Yes, Donald Trump’s approval rating has dipped back down into the 30s (thanks to his shutdown madness), the Democrats have control of the House, and a handful of Democratic presidential candidates seem to be embracing progressive ideas like “Medicare for all.”

But, at risk of sounding rude, so what? Even before they took up their new House majority, the dismal, dollar-drenched establishment Democrats killed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s urgent call for the lower chamber of Congress to commit to the “
Green New Deal.” Never mind that fossil fuel-driven global warming is the biggest issue of our or any time, turning the planet into a giant greenhouse-gas chamber. Or that the Green New Deal is a great big, juicy twofer: a major good-job-creation program that would enlist millions of working people in saving livable ecology and thereby help avert the extinction of the human species. 

Yes, I agree with this, and here is some more on leading Democrats:

The Democratic Party presidential candidates talking progressive just mean they understand the ruse: You can’t win and cash in on years of “public service” to private interests without pretending to be something you aren’t.

I quite agree (and remind you that the Clintons meanwhile "earned" more than a 100 million dollars, and that the Obamas seem close to that as well).

Here is more by Street:

“The Democrats,” historian Terry Thomas told me in an email, “want to sit around and act like we’ve got this covered because we’re sane and Dumpster’s [Trump’s] not, our point has been proven, so now just give us power again, and we’ll put everything back together, nothing more needed. … No need for radical change, just put the adults back in. How insulting: the adults were in the room — by their estimation Obama was the epitome of adulthood — and it produced this.”

Bernie Sanders 2020? He will likely (but maybe not!) be pushed to the margins of the field with help from a “liberal” corporate media that will harp on his age and supposedly “extreme” positions. That media and the public relations industry will further sideline him by fixating, as usual, on superficial matters of candidate character and selling the “contenders”  like brands of toothpaste and pushing policy to the margins of discussion.

I think this is - probably - true as well. Here is some more:

A new movement for a real people’s party is forming in the U.S. Led by a group of young former Sanders staffers, who learned from experience that the Democrats offer a hopelessly flawed vehicle, the Movement for a People’s Party (MPP) stakes its hopes not on national candidates and celebrities but rather on grassroots organizing that connects the labor movement to local communities around issues that matter to everyday working people.

The heart and soul of the MPP is its Labor Community Campaign for an Independent Politics (LCCIP), an effort to put real organizing meat on the bones of two resolutions passed at the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention. “Whether the candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party,” the first resolution stated, “the interests of Wall Street have been protected and advanced, while the interests of labor and working people have generally been set back.” The second resolution concluded that “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils politics.”

Well... I think that is a reasonable idea. Then again, I also think that in the presidential elections of the USA people should vote, and if they vote as I want them to vote, they should vote for the Democrats, also if they agree they are bad (which I think most are).

This also does not quite support Street's title, but then again that may not be Street's. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

A grassroots people’s movement and politics can’t just be just about electing progressive-populist candidates. It must also be about defending leftist politicians against capitalist and broader right-wing reaction after they gain office.

Yes, I agree with this, and this is a recommended article.  

4. Dismantling the Doomsday Machines

This article is by John V. Walsh on Consortium News. It starts as follows:
The “Doomsday Machine,” the title of Daniel Ellsberg’s superb book, is not an imaginary contraption from a movie masterpiece.  A Doomsday Machine uncannily like the one described in “Dr. Strangelove” exists right now.  In fact, there are two such machines, one in U.S. hands and one in Russia’s.  The U.S. seeks to hide its version, but Ellsberg has revealed that it has existed since the 1950s.  Russia has quietly admitted that it has one, named it formally, “Perimetr,” and also tagged it with a frighteningly apt nickname “Dead Hand.” Because the U.S. and Russia are the only nations with Doomsday Machines to date we shall restrict this discussion to them.
I say, which I do because I am quite sorry to say that I did not know most of the above - which did not know mostly because nuclear war is mostly kept secret. Also, I should say immediately that this is a review of Ellsberg's Doomsday Machine” (that I recommend you to buy, but not at Amazone but at your local bookshop).

Here is more:
The first component of a Doomsday Machine is a mechanism of launching nuclear weapons with a command structure not always in the hands of a president in either country, something carefully hidden from the U.S. public.

The second component is a weapon of such destructive force that it can kill billions at once and then more gradually the entire human race and perhaps all animal life on earth.
Yes, I fear this is quite correct, indeed since the 1950ies. Here is an explanation of the first of the above two components:
One aspect of a first strike would be an attempt to knock out known command centers so that a retaliatory strike could not be ordered.  This is known as “decapitation.”The antidote to decapitation is “delegation,” that is, others besides the presidents and their immediate successors are authorized to press “the button.”  It works this way.  These “others” are located in secret command centers far from Washington or the Strategic Air Command Base in Colorado, both of which will be targeted in a decapitation strike.  If these secret centers find themselves cut off from communication with Washington or Moscow, then the assumption is made that a decapitating nuclear strike has occurred.  In that event these “others” removed from the centers of power are authorized to press the nuclear button.  These others are not elected officials and in fact we do not know who they are. What Ellsberg discovered is that some of these “others” are military people who are concerned that they too could be hit in a decapitating strike.  So they also have the authority to delegate.
Again I fear all of this is correct. Then there is this on the Pentagon:
In 1961, when Ellsberg was among those working on nuclear-war fighting strategy for the Kennedy administration, he requested an estimate from the Pentagon of the deaths due to a first strike as the war planners had mapped it out then. To his surprise the estimate came back at once — the Pentagon had made it and kept it hidden.  At a time when the global population was about 3 billion, a first strike by the U.S. would result in the deaths of 1.2 billion from explosions, radiation and fire.  That number was deaths only, not injuries.  And it was only the result of U.S. weapons; it did not include deaths from a Soviet response if they managed one.
Note that this is about 1961! Also, in case you thought that (in 1961) 1.2 billion deaths were all, you were quite mistaken:
But the damage does not stop there.  This is the surprise that the Pentagon did not understand at the time.  The ash from the fires of burning cities would be cast up into the stratosphere so high that it would not be rained out.  There it would remain for at least a decade, blocking enough sunlight to prevent crops from growing for 10 years.  That is sufficient to cause total starvation and wipe out the entire human race, with only a handful at most able to survive. Nuclear winter was  publicized in the 1980s and encountered some initial skepticism.

Now with the interest in global warming, better computer models have been developed. When the results of a nuclear first strike are put into these models, nuclear winter again makes its appearance as Brian Toon, Alan Robock and others have shown.  The TED talks of Toon and of Robock describing their findings are well worthwhile; they are brief and well-illustrated.  We are confronted with a genocide of all or nearly all humanity, an “Omnicide.”
I completely agree and this is a strongly recommended article in which there is a whole lot more than I quoted.

5. 'To Produce Good Journalism, There Are No Shortcuts'

This article is by Isabell Hȕlsen and Mark Pitzke on Spiegel International. It starts as follows:

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Sulzberger, you're one year into your role as the publisher of The New York Times. How much is resting on your shoulders?

Sulzberger: This is a really difficult time for media. Journalists and journalism are under attack by political forces all over the globe. Trust in media is declining, the business models are changing. Anyone who cares about journalism should be very worried about this. But I don't feel a high degree of weight falling on me personally.

In fact, Sulzberger is not only "the publisher of The New York Times" but is also a member of the family that owns most of it. And I agree with him that "Journalists and journalism are under attack by political forces all over the globe. Trust in media is declining, the business models are changing."

Here is some more:

DER SPIEGEL: Have President Trump's constant attacks helped forge the team together?

Sulzberger: What helped to forge this team together is a profound and growing concern that our vision for quality journalism is at risk of disappearing around the country and around the world: journalism that takes time, that takes travel, that takes expertise, that takes lawyers and fact-checking. Time and resources are the two things that are most at risk in our profession right now.

I agree again with Sulzberger's "concern that our vision for quality journalism is at risk of disappearing around the country and around the world". I think it is, and the main reason for this is that the advertisements that used to pay for most of the publishers' cost have radically diminished, and these also will not return.

Also, there is a possible repair, I think: One of the very few things I am willing to pay for on the internet, indeed especially because of its fundamental importance for democracy, is something like 1 to 5 dollars a month (I am poor) for free access to newspapers - and the money I would be paying would all go the newspapers.

This is not a complete idea, but I do think either there will be something like democracy (if Trump does not blow up the world) and it will remain because most voters are assured that for a small sum they can read many newspapers, or else democracy will disappear, again because I fear without a measure like I proposed, there will be few voters who have, or indeed who are capable of having, adequate ideas about what their politicians, their bureaucrats and their military are doing.

Here is some more:

DER SPIEGEL: Doesn't the media, including The New York Times, participate in Trump's reality show by constantly repeating what he says and tweets?

Sulzberger: Let me start by pushing back on the word "the media." I really find it a problematic word. Cable news operates with a fundamentally different set of standards than most digital and traditional publishers. And many of "the media" lack the resources The New York Times has to deeply interrogate what is happening. Our piece on the president's wealth and his tax schemes took 18 months, three full-time reporters and behind them an army of editors and lawyers who helped to bring that story to life.

Well... I agree that "the media" is a problematic name, in part for the reasons Sulzberger gives, but more so for other reasons, such as the honesty and qualities of the reporting that "the media" do.

In fact, I distinguish between "the corporate media" aka "the mainstream media" and
"the non-corporate media" aka "the non-mainstream media" (and I should add that I consider The New York Times to belong to the corporate media, although it is one of the better papers).

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

Sulzberger: (..) Our strategy was built too much around print, too much around advertising. Today we are reaching 150 million people a month, we have 4 million paying subscribers, which is probably more than twice what we had when the Innovation Report was released.

I am glad that The New York Times is doing well, indeed mostly because it is - still, and very roughly - half-way decent. There is a considerablt larger amount of text in this article than I quoted, and it 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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