March 18, 2019

Crisis: Global Economy, ´Socialist´ Bogeyman, Zuckerberg, Children in Politics, The Probable Future

“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 March 18, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Monday, March 18, 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 March 18, 2019:
1. The global economy is a time bomb waiting to explode
2. Stop Joe McCarthy-ing the 'Socialist' Bogeyman

3. Can Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Be Trusted

4. Parenting the Climate-Change Generation

5. Time to kill off the ghosts of the past
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at everyorning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. The global economy is a time bomb waiting to explode

This article is by Marshall Auerback on AlterNet and originally on the Independent Media Institute. It starts as follows:

In the aftermath of the greatest financial calamity since the Great Depression, then–chief of staff for the Obama administration Rahm Emanuel made the call for aggressive action to prevent a recurrence of the meltdown of 2008.

Although the U.S. government’s system of checks and balances typically produces incremental reform, Emanuel suggested that during times of financial upheaval, the traditional levers of powers are often scrambled, thereby creating unique conditions whereby legislators could be pushed in the direction of more radical reform. That’s why he suggested that we should never let a crisis go to waste. Ironically, that might be the only pearl of wisdom we ever got from the soon-to-be ex-mayor of Chicago, one of those figures who otherwise embodied the worst Wall Street-centric instincts of the Democratic Party. But give Rahm props for this one useful insight.

But we did let the crisis of 2008 go to waste. Rather than reconstructing a new foundation out of the wreckage, we simply restored the status quo ante, and left the world’s elite financial engineers with a relatively free hand to create a wide range of new destructive financial instruments.

I quite agree to the last paragraph, and indeed registered there was a crisis in 2008 on September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) months before the Dutch government said so, and indeed I think it still continues, at least for the poor, of which I am one.

Then again, for those who are not poor, the crisis was soon ¨repaired¨, indeed quite in the sense Auerback uses in his last paragraph.

Here is some more:

Rather than respond to each financial meltdown by seeking to curb the activities that led to the crisis in the first place, the sheer ongoing dominance of our financial sector has ensured that policy has merely worked to bail out the big players, and do everything to keep the rigged casino of the economy in their favor. Thus, financial institutions continue to concoct increasingly esoteric and opaque financial instruments that they market to less financially sophisticated counterparties.

Quite so. Here is some more (and a lot of skipping by me):

If you thought the near-breakdown of the global economy in 2008 was enough to make global policymakers and regulators rethink their persistent accommodation of financial innovation and deregulation, think again. Regulators have continued to accommodate this complexity, rather than minimizing it. Complex financial systems beget yet more complex (and ultimately ineffective) regulation. It is better to simplify the system in order to improve the quality of the regulation and the ease of oversight (which the complexity is designed to avoid).

Yes, I agree. This is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Absent any kind of sanction for undertaking more systemically dangerous activities, our policymakers have therefore made the same mistakes that were made in the early 2000s: they are establishing perverse ongoing incentives that increase risk, punishing the timid (prudent?) with low returns. It’s a classic illustration of Gresham’s Law, whereby bad money drives out good.

So here we go again. (..) The crash gave us a chance to downsize finance and restrict its ability to wreak comparable havoc on the economy going forward. Instead, we let the crisis go to waste, which almost certainly means a nasty sequel to 2008 facing us in the near future.
I agree and this is a recommended article - and I skipped a large amount, because I did not think it very interesting for most, and also because it was written in abbreviations - LOBOs, CLOs, CDOs and more - that I think are far more confusing then writing them out in proper English, but OK.

2. Stop Joe McCarthy-ing the 'Socialist' Bogeyman

This article is by Will Bunch on Common Dreams and originally on Philly. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

President Trump actually almost got something right the other day. Americans should be worried about a return of “McCarthyism,” the kind of list-waving, name-calling, career-destroying mass hysteria that was pioneered in the 1950s by then-Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy, over his invented claims that the U.S. government was overrun with “card-carrying Communists.” But needless to say, the 45th president is looking for his “witch hunt” in all the wrong places.

No, the place where I’m getting the “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” crazed vibe of the old House Un-American Affairs Committee is not from the Bob Mueller probe but by watching our elite (and elitist) Beltway pundits on cable TV or in the editorial pages, determined to rid the 2020 presidential campaign of any scourge of alleged “socialism” that might ruin the utopia that is modern American capitalism.

Yes indeed, though I think I have to add that while I do not like this total nonsense at all, it may also be taken as a sign that the American rich have no real arguments to defend their system or their choices.

Also, I hope they fail but I am rather pessimistic for quite a few reasons, one of which is that in my ten years of more or less systematic readings about the crisis (of 2008) I have not read a single journalist (in over tenthousand articles) who could define terms like ¨fascism¨ or ¨socialism", or at least no one who did. (See e.g. yesterday.)

Back to the article:

[C]an you be “a proud capitalist” knowing that — riding the top of this pyramid of demoralized and occasionally suicidal workers — Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos has become the richest man in the history of the planet, at $160 billion and counting, with dreams of escaping into outer space. And yet despite that, poverty-stricken cities that struggle to deliver good schools and basic services to everyday citizens promised billions in tax breaks and other financial aid to attract his highly profitable firm’s second headquarters.

Can capitalism itself be proud of its track record here in the world’s richest democracy — where death rates are now rising from middle-class, middle-aged folks getting hooked on the escape of opioids or turning to booze or killing themselves in despair, where wages for all but the top sliver of corporate executives and hedge-funders have been flat for decades, where older people are one sickness away from bankruptcy and young people are drowning in college debt for the education that still didn’t help them get a good job?

I more or less agree, although I think that ¨the world’s richest democracy¨ for ¨the USA¨ is much too flattering to the present USA.

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

I’m frightened that America’s 1 Percent, their GOP allies who are desperate to find a work-around for Trump’s majority unpopularity, and brazen enablers like the third-party vanity (or maybe to help Trump and his pro-billionaire policies) campaign of ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz are so determined to make the 2020 election about name-calling and not about ideas to improve America.

That is the new McCarthyism — using the bogeyman shouts of “Socialism!” to target baby boomers raised in an era when “socialism” was a shocking taboo, and to slime candidates without having to discuss equitable things like universal health care or college affordability. (..) It threatens to taint to the 2020 race so badly that 2016′s ugly contest will soon be recalled as an exercise in civility, in comparison.

Yes, I mostly agree, although I also wish to point out that the main reason why the 1 percent may be able to reduce the 2020 presidential elections to name-calling about socialism is that there are many Americans who are stupid or ignorant. But this is a recommended article.

3. Can Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Be Trusted

This article is by Lambert Strether on Naked Capitalism. I abbreviated the title. This is from near its beginning:

I’ll ask two questions: First, can Zuckerberg be trusted? Second, can Facebook become “privacy-focused,” as any normal human would understand the term? Spoiler alert: No, and no.

Zuckerberg should not be trusted, for three reasons.

First, Zuckerberg either either lies or bullshits consistently and flagrantly. Hacker Noon reviewed Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony:

I watched Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress this week (first to the Senate, then to the House), I was shocked by how many patently false or misleading statements he made…. feel it is important to already get some of the obvious lies out there. I feel that we software engineers and machine learning experts who actually understand Facebook’s technology have a duty to spread the word that Mark is either lying or he doesn’t actually know what Facebook does

The article reviews four of Zuckerberg’s lies, in detail, and concludes:

For those who are US citizens, I ask you to consider for a moment the gravity of the fact that the CEO of one of the world’s most powerful companies is outright lying to the Congress.

Yes indeed (and I agreed with the British parliamentarians who called Zuckerberg a ¨digital gangster¨).

Here is some more from this article:

Second, Facebook the firm lies strategically. From the British House of Commons, “Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report” (PDF):

The management structure of Facebook is opaque to those outside the business and this seemed to be designed to conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions. Facebook used the strategy of sending witnesses who they said were the most appropriate representatives, yet had not been properly briefed on crucial issues, and could not or chose not to answer many of our questions. They then promised to follow up with letters, which—unsurprisingly—failed to address all of our questions. We are left in no doubt that this strategy was deliberate.

There’s no reason to think that the strategy of Facebook’s Founder is any different.

Third, previous Zuckerberg announcements have come to nothing. Consumer Reports:

The company hasn’t always delivered on past promises. In the spring of 2018, for example, Zuckerberg announced that a “Clear History” setting would soon allow consumers to delete data Facebook had collected off the site and from third parties. Nearly a year later, the tool hasn’t appeared. It’s now promised for this spring, and it’s still unclear exactly how it will work. Consumer Reports e-mailed Facebook for more details about the rollout of “Clear History” but the company has not yet responded.

Yes indeed. In fact, there is rather a lot more in this article. Here is its ending:


Should Zuckerberg be trusted? Of course not. Can Facebook Become “Privacy-Focused”? [hollow laughter]

Quite so, and this is a recommended article.

4. Parenting the Climate-Change Generation

This article is by Frida Berrigan on Tomdispatch. It starts as follows:

Kids are taking over the streets in other countries, rallying and chanting and refusing to go to school one day a week.

Young people across the world are striking to draw attention to the ravages of climate change. They are demanding -- with their bodies and their voices -- that the catastrophe each of them will inherit be a priority for the grown-ups around them. They are insisting that we adults make some sacrifices to keep their planet from becoming uninhabitable.

“We are the voiceless future of humanity... We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes.” You know who said that? A teenager. Actually, lots of them, since it’s part of a letter, a call to action, from the organizers of Fridays for a Future. I’m hearing them loud and clear and it’s driving me crazy!

Well... I have to admit that I am not much in favor of kids (under 16s, at least) doing politics, and my reason is fairly normal: They are not yet adults; they have not yet adult knowledge (unless they are quite to very intelligent - and while I was very intelligent, I was also still mostly a child at 16); and you have to ask yourself whose ideas and values they really stand for: Their own or their parents´ (and besides, how much they know of science and the rational approaches to the problems they are concerned with).

Also, I admit that I do not like Greta Thunberg much, though I more or less agree with her ideas. My reasons are that she is part from a family of actors, and she also has Asperger syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and selective mutism, and I think none of these things are recommendations for anyone (apart perhaps from expecting that a member from an actors family has an increased likelihood of becoming an actor).

Anyway... this is about (i) how many Americans agree that there is climate change, and about (ii) how much those who think there is climate change are willing to pay to stop it:

Seventy-three percent of Americans now acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change -- by far the biggest number since the question was first asked in 2008 -- but too few want to pay to make it go away. Asked if they’d spend even $10 a month to address the crisis, 72% of Americans took a hard pass, 57% of them opting for $1 a month instead. Set that against the cost of your favorite large iced latte with a shot of caramel, a Netflix subscription, or the Uber ride you summoned when you could have walked.

Yes, I fear that is quite correct. Also, I think this shows at least in part the reason why children have become politically active (because the grown-ups are largely inert), and why I think the children will probably fail, at least as long as large parts of the adults remain inert.

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

But the personal stuff -- not driving, eating meat, or buying plastic crap -- won’t, of course, do the trick. Collective action is needed. Frida Berrigan becoming a vegan won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45%. To get there, we need a whole new set of relationships, as well as rules and regulations. We need to live collectively, not just individually, as if the planet matters. We need, as Guardian  columnist George Monbiot has put it, “a complete revision of our relationship with the living planet.” 

Well... I am sorry, but I do not believe in Monbiot´s ¨complete revision of our relationship with the living planet¨, and I add that though I would like such a ¨complete revision¨, it almost never happened, and certainly never in 10 or 25 years. Anyway, this is a recommended article in which there is much more than I quoted.

5. Time to kill off the ghosts of the past

This article is by Andrew O´Hehir on Salon. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

We may finally have arrived at the point, at the end of the warm, wet winter of 2019, when even the most cynical observers of American politics must admit that the presidency of Donald Trump presents an urgent and unprecedented crisis.

I would count myself among the cynical-observer camp, at least in the sense that I have repeatedly argued that Trump was a symptom of the disease eating away at American democracy, not the disease itself. That’s in opposition to what we might call the “Stephen Colbert hypothesis,” which is that Trump’s election was a fluke anomaly, catalyzed by a uniquely polarizing and toxic figure, and once we get rid of him things will go back to the so-called normal conditions of 2015 and earlier.

I still believe this is an important truth: There is no “normal” to go back to, and nothing about that period was normal anyway.

I more or less agree with O´Hehir, but he does not discuss my own psychologist´s conviction that Trump is both special and problematic because he is insane. Then again, I have meanwhile learned that few journalists know much about psychology (or socialism or fascism or many other scientific subjects) and therefore (?) either do not write about them at all, or else reflect the ordinary prejudices ordinary people have.

Back to the article:
It has struck me all along that both major political parties in the U.S. are collapsing or imploding in generally similar ways, even if one of them is a whole lot uglier than the other. In the last year or so, it has required willful collective blindness among the media and political classes not to see that the crisis of democratic legitimacy has effectively spread worldwide, infecting virtually every major Western nation and a bunch of others besides. If the Brexit tragicomedy and the Yellow Vest protests in France are the most obvious signs of that, they’re definitely not alone. We stand at an inflection point in history, with the future shrouded in darkness. Revolution, tyranny or collapse may lie ahead, and in all likelihood some combination of the three.

Yes, I mostly agree, although I think I like to add that most of the political and economical there are, are there because (i) the political and economical leaders are often both rich and corrupt, while (ii) the non-leaders are often stupid or ignorant (and see above).

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

It would be the most Democratic Party thing ever to pick a nominee who is deeply distasteful to the progressive base, win a narrow electoral victory by peeling off a thin slice of Rust Belt white folks and marginally increasing African-American turnout, attempt to rebuild the Bill Clinton administration atop the smoldering ruins left by Trump, and unconvincingly claim that the republic has been saved. It won't have been, of course -- but that outcome strikes me as more likely than not.

Yes indeed: I agree, and I also gave my reasons just before this last quotation. 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 3 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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