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Nederlog

Sunday, December 31, 2017.

Crisis: Third Parties, GOP Tax Cuts, San Juan Mayor, Science Scrubbed, 10 Theories
 
Sections                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 31, 2017.
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Sunday
, December 31, 2017.

1. Summary

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

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) 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 two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and will continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from December 31, 2017
1. Third Parties, Your Time Is Now
2. How the GOP Tax Cut Will Also Shrink Your Paycheck
3. San Juan Major Blasts Trump As Slow Recovery Drags On 100
     Days After Hurricane Maria

4. 2017 Was a Big Year for Scrubbing Science from Government
     Websites

5. One year, many Trumps: 2017’s 10 best theories about our
     Great Leader
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. Third Parties, Your Time Is Now

This article is by Lark Lo on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

For third parties in this country, educational campaigns and working within the Democratic Party has to stop.

There is this idea among some that it is too soon to build third-party candidates and a formidable campaign by 2020, but we have been building third parties for over 150 years.

We are ready now for a true choice.

Well... I more or less agree, but (i) this is not a good article (ii) I am not an American and (iii) the problem is difficult, in considerable part - it seems to me - because any new party that has a chance competing against the Republicans and the Democrats and winning, needs a whole lot of money, while (iv) the corporations or individuals who may deliver that money are usually only interested in their own profits.

So I will only make a remark or two about one of the strange facts about the American "democracy" (I think it is floundering or destroyed, whence my quotation marks), at least from the European point of view, which is that there are only two major parties since a 100 years or so:

If political parties are groups of people trying to get a majority or at least a sufficient pressure on the government and the lawmakers to realize some of their own ends and values, which is how political parties tend to be motivated, the American system of just two main parties is in fact mostly against this end.

Thus - for example - in Holland there tend to be around 15 parties (at least), each of which tends to articulate its own point of view on several or quite a few things, of which again some 8 are regularly elected, from which then some government must be formed,
which almost always will be a government of - somewhat opposed - political parties, that
also tends to be a compromise.

I do not think - in fact: not at all - that the Dutch system is ideal, but it certainly is more democratic than the American system, precisely because Dutchmen have much more to chose from, and also find their own points of view a bit better represented in parliaments and city councils, indeed also if their point of view did not get a majority.

Also, I do not really know why the Americans have made do - effectively: there always were a few radical parties that never made a real chance of winning any election - with just two political parties, but I suspect money has a lot to do with it.

Anyway... here is more by Lark Lo:

If you live in Los Angeles or New York, think about your life right now under a Democratic everything. Is this what you want the end of Donald Trump to look like? When Trump is gone, do you want to see a cool coffee shop owned by trust funders on every corner, $5,000 rents with five roommates, steadily looking for work in a gig economy where you can’t save and you have to work for Uber on the weekends, teach yoga at night, float from contract job to contract job—even though you have a master’s degree?

Possibly so, but this is at best a prediction, so not very strong in the context of the present argument.

Here is some more:

Working within the Democratic Party system and running educational campaigns is not going to help anyone. It will not prevent anyone competent who is involved in any kind of third party from being viewed as an extreme threat.

Anyone who deviates from the Democratic Party line is viewed as a threat by the party and its corporate funders.
This is also not a strong argument, and I would replace it by saying that it seems to me as if the banks and the rich have bought most Republicands and most Democrats to realize their banking interests rather than - some of - the public interests of large groups of American voters.

This is the end of the article, that again is weaker than it should be:

The two-party system is a tool to maintain a feast-or-famine paradigm. It keeps the United States at war with itself and internationally. It supports the binary idea of good vs. evil, with no option other than “You’re for us or against us.”

The Democrats are the good guys (in their own minds), and if the Republicans are the only other choice, in the average liberal-leaning person’s mind, the lesser evil is good.

But another world is possible. Third parties, your time is now. It has to be now. We can’t survive with a little bit of evil anymore.

Well... in fact the same sort of thing happens if there are - say - 15 parties: One has to chose one of them - if one votes at all - which means one must say "No" to the 14 other parties.

Then again, as I argued above, with - say - 15 parties there usually is considerably more choice from alternative plans and proposals.

In brief, I think it would be quite good if there were more parties in the USA with a realistic chance of being elected, indeed simply because this would give the voters better and more democratic choices, but I also think it will be quite difficult, and especially because the two sitting parties have already been thoroughly corrupted.


2. How the GOP Tax Cut Will Also Shrink Your Paycheck

This article is by Thom Hartmann on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

The morbidly rich billionaires who own the Republican Party know that when working/middle-class people get a tax cut, it means that over time working-class wages will go down – which is why they’re more than happy to give us all a temporary tax cut.

This is what wealthy people know that most Americans don’t: Tax cuts for truly wealthy people increase their income and wealth; tax cuts for working people actually decrease their income and wealth over time.

Thom Hartmann also gives fairly extensive explanations that I do not know whether to believe. In any case, my own explanation is a lot simpler, and it is also based on the facts I know about Holland:

Taxing by the government serves two main purposes: To get the government money,
and to help redistributing some of the riches. The second purpose may be done in many ways, but they explain in principle why the poor will not profit in tax cuts: Their tax cuts will be quite small in any case, while they loose what may be redistributed to them if the rich also get tax cuts (which will be a lot bigger).

I think that explication is sufficient. Here is some more by Hartmann:

This is also why high-tax countries pay higher wages (and have better public services, paid for with those taxes). In Denmark, for example, the average full-time MacDonald’s worker earns around $45,000 U.S. equivalent, although about 40% of that goes to taxes to pay for the national health-care system, one of the world’s best school systems, and high-quality high-paid police who treat Danes with respect.

I am sorry, but I am a European and have lived there 67 years, and most of what I have read about my own country Holland in the American press was simply false: It is totally false that soft drugs are legalized in Holland, but I have read that bullshit very many times; it is totally false that the Dutch have not to pay "for the national health-care system" (that also is lousy); and by and large most of what I have read about Holland in the American press was prejudice rather than fact.

So I assume the same about Denmark, that is: I do not trust the information (although I do believe Denmark is better arranged than Holland, which is better arranged than the USA).

This is considerably better:

According to economist Thomas Piketty, the poorest 50 percent of Americans have seen their incomes decline by a full 1 percent since 1978— even as incomes for the top 10 percent of Americans have jumped by a whopping 115 percent and incomes for the top .001 percent have skyrocketed an astronomic 685 percent.

The aforementioned progressive nature of our tax code – big changes at the top are matched by much smaller changes at the bottom – accounts for why wages have “merely” been flat or declined “only” 1% since Reagan, whereas wealth at the top has exploded under “conservative” tax policies.

Yes indeed - and I did agree with this above as well. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Starting with Reagan’s government-defunding, billionaire-friendly tax-cuts in the 1980s we stopped building and even repairing much of our infrastructure, causing the deterioration of our nation to developing-world status in many parts of the country. 

I think this is true, and this is a recommended article.


3. San Juan Major Blasts Trump As Slow Recovery Drags On 100 Days After Hurricane Maria 

This article is by the Common Dreams staff. It starts as follows:

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz blasted U.S. President Donald Trump as a "disaster-in-chief" in an interview with ABC News this week while slow recovery efforts continue 100 days after the Category 4 Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico in late September.

"Where he needed to be a commander-in-chief, he was a disaster-in-chief. President Trump does not embody the values of the good-hearted American people that have [made] sure that we are not forgotten," Cruz said. "He was disrespectful to the Puerto Rican people, he was disrespectful to the American people who were leaving their homes to come help us here."

This is here mostly because of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz: I think she is quite right.

Here is some more:

Cruz has been a leading critic of the Trump administration's response to the humanitarian crisis that broke out on the island, a U.S. territory, following the hurricane. She pointed to the suspiciously low official death count as an example of the government's inadequate handling of disaster, adding that she hopes the review recently ordered by Gov. Ricardo Rossello will reveal how many people died in connection to the storm.
(...)
Rossello's order that the government review the official death toll, which is 64, followed a New York Times report published earlier this month that documented more than a thousand deaths on the island following the hurricane.

Note that the difference between 64 victims and "more than a thousand deaths" is in the order of 1 against 20.

Here is some more:

After outlining the ongoing issues that residents are experiencing with accessing electricity, food, and drinkable water, Cruz concluded, "The botched effort has been insensible, it has been man-made, and has been Trump admininstration-made."

I think she is quite right, and this is a recommended article.


4. 2017 Was a Big Year for Scrubbing Science from Government Websites

This article is by Megan Jula and Rebecca Leber on Mother Jones. It starts as follows:

Moments after President Donald Trump took the oath of office last January, nearly all references to climate change disappeared from the White House official website. A page detailing former President Barack Obama’s plans to build a clean energy economy, address climate change, and protect the environment became a broken link (archived here).
(...)
Whenever a new administration takes charge, government websites are often revised. But during the Trump administration’s first year in office, a striking number of references to science, climate, energy, and the environment have all but disappeared from various governmental websites. 

I think this is quite true, and Jula and Leber also give a considerable list in the body of the article (that I'll skip).

Here is one main point, that unfortunately is presented in a somewhat confused manner:

But even though website changes range from negligible to rebranding, in some cases they reach the level of what critics assert is outright censorship“Each one represents a slow chipping away at science communication from the government,” said Gretchen Goldman, the research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

My point is that censorship is one thing, while a "chipping away at science communication from the government" is quite another thing: Censorship - which should be mostly forbidden - applies to all possible opinions and values, whereas science is man's best and most rational attempt to arrive at the truth. And while one may be in favor of censorship of some political or moral ideas, one cannot be in favor of censorship of science (and be rational).

There is next a fairly extensive listing of 9 government agencies and how they changed, sometimes quite radically, in what they said when the government changed from Democratic to Republican.

I will skip them in this review and give one more quotation:

Deliberate rewording extends beyond websites, as well. In August, The Guardian reported that Trump administration officials had instructed U.S. Department of Agriculture staff to avoid the term “climate change” in their work and use “weather extremes” instead. NPR found that scientists have begun censoring themselves and omitting “climate change” from public grant summaries.
    (...)
But all told, the changes are hardly surprising in an administration that intends to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, has blocked the Clean Power Plan, dropped climate change as a national security threat, attempted to boost fossil fuels, and rolled back efforts to plan for climate change. 

In fact, I am not amazed at all "that scientists have begun censoring themselves and omitting “climate change” from public grant summaries", but this is because I learned what few really learn: At least 95% of all scientists work for money, which also means that money will tend to be their main interest (in spite of whatever ethical stances they may take, indeed).

This is a decent article, but it should have made a sharper distinction between censorship on the one hand, and suppressing the accepted scientific expressions on the other hand.


5. One year, many Trumps: 2017’s 10 best theories about our Great Leader

This article is by Andrew O'Hehir on Salon. It starts as follows:

In tribute to the black hole who swallowed the news for an entire year, here are my personal top 10 theories about Donald Trump of 2017. None of them could possibly explain everything; none is entirely wrong. Several of them amount to restating the basic idea in a new way, said idea being “This guy has totally messed with our minds.”

Early in the year I made it through a weekend without saying or writing his name, and we once chose to go an entire publication day at Salon with no stories about him. But Donald Trump cannot be exorcised so easily. He may be defeated or disgraced someday, but he cannot be undone or erased from history. As we close out the unbelievable first year of his unbelievable presidency, our only choice is to try to understand.

Well... yes, but while I know a little bit about O'Hehir I would have appreciated if Salon, for which he writes since 20 years, would have added his educational qualifications.

I do not say these are all-important, but it would make some difference to me to know whether the speculations of a journalist are based on some decent M.A. degree in the social or physical sciences, or whether I must assume the speculations of the journalist are not based on any solid understanding of science.

This knowledge was not given by Salon, and I think it is a pity. You may agree with me if you see the "
personal top 10 theories about Donald Trump" that O'Hehir distinguishes.

I will list all of them, indeed as stated by O'Hehir, but I will suppress all explanatory texts in the article, except for two bits:
  • Trump is a historical fluke who will soon be erased (...)
  • Trump is an actual or aspiring fascist dictator

As Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post recently observed, the word “fascist” seems to fit the circumstances pretty well: a leader who treats his narrow election as a universal mandate, who overtly seeks to undermine democratic institutions and the rule of law, who thrives on stoking racial or ethnic tensions and demonizing an imprecisely defined “establishment,” and who seeks to gather all possible power to himself as the unitary symbol of both the state and its people. But as she further noted, the word also carries 20th-century associations of large-scale military conquest and mass murder, things that Donald Trump and his so-called movement manifestly lack the willpower, organization or leadership ability to carry out in practice.
(...)
Major proponents: Yale historian Timothy Snyder, in perhaps the most-read and most-shared Salon interview of the year. My colleague Chauncey DeVega (who interviewed Snyder) has been a thought-leader in this realm, but pretty much every observer and commentator on American politics who falls somewhere between Jeff Flake and the Revolutionary Communist Party has flirted with the terminology, and the idea.

These are the first two of then possible interpretation O'Hehir lists. I partially agree with Applebaum, Snyder and DeVega, but I note that (i) I have not seen any journalist who
had a fair understanding of either fascism or neofascism: all make do either without any decent definition, or with something that only lists a few points, while (ii) I also think that, given decent definitions of fascism and neofascism, I think it is rather clear that Trump is a neofascist.

Then again, I did read absolutely no one in about two years of daily reading who came up with a good definition of either fascism or neofascism - which I think in fact is a shame.

Here are six more interpretations of Trump that O'Hehir distinguishes, and I think the first five are more or less self-evidently bullshit. I skip all of them other than listing these, but I will say something about the sixth:

  • Trump is the embodiment of the true will of the American people
  • Trump is the voice of the voiceless "white working class" and an expression of “economic anxiety”
  • Trump is a Russian stooge and/or a Republican useful idiot
  • Trump is Steve Bannon’s personal Joffrey Baratheon
  • Trump is a disruptive postmodern genius who has remade reality
  • Trump is an avatar of American ignorance, bigotry and stupidity

Clearly true, and alarming, but not very illuminating. I think this is just a despairing reformulation of all the earlier theories, except for the “zero hypothesis” ones in which Trump doesn’t really matter and the ignorance, bigotry and stupidity mentioned above are just a passing weather system before the sun breaks through again.

Leading proponents: Everyone who didn’t vote for him, and a fair number of people who did.

Points in favor: That dizzy feeling you get when you see him on TV and have to remind yourself, that guy is actually the president.

Points against: None. It just doesn’t explain anything.

I am sorry, but to grant that stupidity and ignorance and prejudice are very important forces in American democracy is - in my extensive reading the last 4 1/2 years, which must be better than 99% of all readers - quite rare in my experience, whereas it would explain a lot, and notably the election of the utter misfit Trump; the decline of the mainstream media as conveyors of truths; and many of the idiocies that are more or less seriously discussed.

Here are the last two theories O'Hehir discusses:

  • Trump is a seminal figure in a new Age of Revolution, aka World War IV
  • Trump is an enemy of democracy, the Enlightenment and civilization
    (...)

    Leading proponents; points in favor; points against:
    No one could possibly disagree with this. And no one knows what to do about it.

I only remark that the last theory - "No one could possibly disagree with this" - is opposed by quite a few proponents of Trump, and indeed it also is rather vague.

In brief, I do not think this is a good article, but I recommend it anyway because it does comprise, if not well, quite a few of the theories about Trump I have read the last two years.

------------------------------
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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