April 21, 2018

Crisis: On Brazil, Carbon Poisoning, National Renewal (?), ¨Monsters¨ & ¨Animals¨, Corruption


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from April 21, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, April 21, 2018.

1. Summary

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

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 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 I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from April 21, 2018
1. Dilma Rousseff: The Rise of Brazil’s Far Right Threatens Democratic
     Gains Since End of Dictatorship

2. Our Greatest Threat Is the Hardest to Act Upon
3. An Electoral Strategy for National Renewal

4. Of Animals and Monsters and Missiles over Damascus

5. Bill Curry on the Move Against Public Corruption
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. Dilma Rousseff: The Rise of Brazil’s Far Right Threatens Democratic Gains Since End of Dictatorship

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
The imprisonment of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has shaken up this year’s presidential election. Lula is the front-runner but will likely be barred from running if he is not released from prison. Polling second is the far-right former military captain Jair Bolsonaro. We speak to former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff about the rise of the far right and the recent assassination of Brazilian human rights activist and Rio City Councilmember Marielle Franco.
Yes. I am interested in Brazil, were it only because there live around 209 million persons in Brazil. Then again, I found the following bit not very interesting:

DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] (...) The far right in Brazil, like the far right everywhere, is anti-woman, anti-black, anti-indigenous persons. And it is in favor of ending all oversight. And they struggled for this. They want to end any oversight of labor work situations, analogous to slavery, that continue to exist in Brazil. They are full of prejudice and intolerance. And they believe that they can resolve the most complex problems using brute force or violence, open violence.

But in recent years democracy has been growing worldwide. And today what we are bearing witness to, unfortunately, in Brazil, is the return of the far right, which, since the redemocratization of the country, has never expressed itself in such clear terms. And that is due to the fact that to bring about political conditions to carry out a coup by means of an impeachment, when there’s been no high crime or misdemeanor, they had to open up that box of monsters. And the Brazilian far right pushed that and has now destroyed the political center and the center right, because the center right was pro-coup, and as it dropped out of the picture, the far right gained strength. This is the main result of the coup in Brazil (...)
My criticism is that while I like Rousseff a lot more than her opponents, the above is vague
2. Our Greatest Threat Is the Hardest to Act Upon

This article is by Meara Sharma on Truthdig. It is a book review of William T. Vollmann´s book
“No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies”. This is from near the beginning:
William T. Vollmann’s new book, “No Immediate Danger,” tussles with the comprehension-defying nature of climate change. It is a 600-page amalgam of scientific history, cultural criticism, mathematical experiments, risk-benefit analyses of energy production and consumption, and diaristic meanderings through radiation-festooned landscapes post-Fukushima. The effect is bewildering.
I have not read this book, but I am following ¨the environment¨ since 1972 (when I was 22) after I had read an earlier book by Paul Ehrlich and then ¨The Limits to Growth¨, and I am fairly well informed about ¨the environment¨.

Also, my own strong impression, which is very well supported by the later editions of
¨The Limits to Growth¨ is that the governments and the parlmentarians, while pretending to do a whole lot for ¨the environment¨ in actual fact did so little that in nearly fifty years none of the - quite pessimistic - expectations of ¨The Limits to Growth¨ have had to be adjusted.

And incidentally: Yes, I have read quite a few purported ¨refutations¨ of ¨The Limits to Growth¨, indeed especially in the early 1970ies, but while I agree that the report was far from perfect and can be fairly criticized in a number of ways, I also insist that (i) their
- quite pessimistic - expectations have been mostly kept up now for 50 years, especially because (ii) the governments and parliamentarians promised to do a whole lot, but in fact did extremely little (beyond gaining votes for their reelections).

Here is more:
The first of two volumes, jointly called “The Carbon Ideologies,” the whole book is written as a letter to the future. “Someday,” it begins, “perhaps not long from now, the inhabitants of a hotter, more dangerous and biologically diminished planet than the one on which I lived may wonder what you and I were thinking, or whether we thought at all. This book is for them.”
Why so little action? Is it because many of us don’t care about some “ecosystem somewhere”? Because the science lacks certainty? Because of companies’ concerns about their profits? Because of data suppression? Because it is easier not to act? These questions course through the book.
Well... the questions in the second of the above quoted paragraphs may be decent questions, but I do not think that the question what ¨you and I¨ - presumed to be ordinary human beings - ¨were thinking, or whether we thought at all¨ is relevant. And I don´t think it is relevant.

And my reason is that (i) the actual subject is scientific, and in the end only a quite small proportion of everyone who is alive is scientifically qualified in the science or sciences that deal with the environment, while (ii) those who had much of the power the last 50 years, which are the governments and the parliamentarians, seem to have done in hindsight as little or almost as little as they could do and be reelected.

It are not ¨the ordinary people¨ (who in considerable majority have little idea of real science) who are to blame: it are the governments and the parliamentarians of the last 50 years who should be blamed.

Then there is this:
The title “No Immediate Danger” refers to a phrase Japanese authorities used after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, and in the second part of the book, Vollmann enters that realm. Our insatiable demand for energy has pushed us toward nuclear power, touted as a miracle solution that can sustain our way of life without emitting carbon dioxide and thus contributing to climate change. During trips to Japan, Vollmann wades through the zeal that surrounds nuclear power (“Will free us from the fear that our energy resources will run out”) and considers its hidden and heinous costs. He also interrogates the safety failures of the plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), whose management plan stated, “The possibility of a severe accident occurring is so small that from an engineering standpoint, it is practically unthinkable.”
In fact, almost everything said by the officials of TEPCO were lies. Here is some more on the same subject:
[Vollmann] meets tsunami survivors, decontamination workers and plant officials, often supplying them with radiation levels that suggest they’re not as safe as they think. He is repeatedly met with chilling stoicism. The disaster was “just bad luck. “Even natural radiation exists, and if it is natural, it must be all right.” Nuclear power “is necessary. Whether it is good or bad is another story.” Perhaps this is true patriotism. Or a coping mechanism.
I don´t think so, for Vollmann was speaking with - mostly - ordinary persons, who may do their best, but who are no scientists, no climate scientists, no biologists, and no physicists.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this review:
I read much of “No Immediate Danger” in Delhi, where the air is heavy with the refuse of coal plants, construction and the steady thrum of 10 million cars (as Vollmann calculates, gross domestic product growth and the growth of emissions go hand in hand). Breathing in Delhi is the equivalent of smoking about 40 cigarettes a day, and 1 in 3 children has impaired lungs.
There are swifter, simpler, more efficient ways to learn about how human impact on the planet has set us striding into a “hot, dark future.” But “No Immediate Danger”—written as calculated denial becomes policy—takes a tack that feels appropriate. It is overwhelming. It drowns us in calculations, facts, images, stories. It embodies the confusion of our current moment, the insidiousness of disbelief, and the mania-inducing reality that our greatest threat is the hardest to act upon.
I say, and I am referring to Delhi. It does not bode well at all for the future.

As to
“No Immediate Danger”: I shall not read it, because I have been reading about these things for nearly 50 years now, but for people who are considerably younger than I am (and who do know some science) it may be a useful, interesting and probably also a rather embittering book. And this is a recommended article.

3. An Electoral Strategy for National Renewal

This article is by John Rachel on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

We have a serious problem with our floundering democracy.

Our elected representatives don’t represent us. Thus, the people have no real voice in the direction and running of the country.

Yes, every election cycle candidates make delightful speeches, offering vague but pleasant rhetoric on all the wonderful things they will do for “we the people” once elected.

Unfortunately, when they arrive in Washington, D.C., amnesia sets in, and they forget the folks back home who put them in their cushy jobs in our nation’s capital. They then take their marching orders from their deep-pocketed corporate patrons slash ruling-elite puppet masters, and we get a country that serves only the rich and powerful, with the rest of us scrambling to survive.

This is - or so I think - mostly correct: The - very few - persons who are voted in (on the national level) in the USA do not do what they promised to do, and they do very often do what they are paid to do (by the rich).

In brief, very much of the parliamentary structure and very many of the persons working in it have been corrupted by the rich.

I think that is correct. Here is Rachel´s - purported - cure:

This is why we’ve created the CFAR national electoral strategy.

CFAR stands for Contract For American Renewal. It’s a contract between a candidate for office and the voters in his or her voting jurisdiction—i.e., their congressional district or their state.

The candidate contract idea is simple and straightforward.

The candidate contract takes the guesswork out of voting.

It’s a radical innovation that sets a new standard for electoral integrity. It provides a bulletproof mechanism for deciding where a candidate stands on crucial issues, how serious that candidate is about solving the problems that are important to voters, how serious that candidate is about representing his or her constituents.

In fact, it sets down in writing exactly what that candidate will be doing on 11 key initiatives when he or she arrives in Washington, D.C.—right from Day One.

I say, which I do because it is rather unexpected. Also, I have tried the site of the CFAR a number of times and what I found was the following:

  • they have selected 11 rather populous themes with the American voters
  • the American voters are supposed to elect only persons who signed their contract
  • their contract is shown several times but cannot be copied

At this point I am growing considerably more skeptical:

How many of those who American voters are going to vote for (and against) will sign such a contract? I got evidence for precisely one person, and I also guess that most of those who want to be voted into Washington will refuse to be bound by a contract with their voters.

This makes it rather unlikely - I think - to succeed, and besides, I strongly dislke sites (except Ralph Nader´s and that is because he is in his eighties) from which I cannot copy things (without doing several things I hardly ever do: I give up the sites).

Here is another explanation of and by CFAR:

Our answer to this obstinacy, this total defiance of the will of the American people, the corruption that has poisoned the political process and all but destroyed our democracy, is the Contract For American Renewal.

The CFAR includes 11 initiatives. These are the things millions of Americans want done—a huge majority of U.S. citizens.

As different as these items are individually, they all have one thing in common: None of them gets through our deadbeat Congress.

Well, I shouldn’t say it’s deadbeat, because it’s not. Our representatives are working hard to make sure none of these things gets passed. They’re working hard not for you and me, but for their rich patrons, their deep-pocketed Wall Street donors, their Koch brothers, their defense contractors, investment bankers and hedge-fund buddies.

As I said, but it’s worth repeating: Candidates always say the right things.

I take it that the diagnosis is that (i) the great majority of those who get elected are in fact corrupt, and that is a main reason so few of the many things that majorities of the Americans want are being realized (I agree); and that (ii) to stop them from being corrupt, those who want to be elected have to sign a contract that they will try to turn the 11 things that CFAR selected into law.

Well... I am rather skeptical about the second point, simply because I see no good reason why those who want to be elected will sign such a contract and I also see no decent means to make them stick to the contract.

There may be answers to my skepticism, but so far I have not found them. And I think I agree with Truthdig, who prints the last line to the article:

Truthdig has taken no editorial position on the Contract for American Renewal.

I agree with Truthdig, but I recommend this article for those who are interested in finding out more about CFAR (while I think they should have made their contract copyable, and tend to give up sites - and ideas - that are expressed on sites I cannot copy).

4. Of Animals and Monsters and Missiles over Damascus

This article is by Lawrence Davidson on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
President Donald Trump ordered the bombing of selective targets in the Syrian capital, Damascus last Friday night. He did so because he was emotionally upset by Syrian President Bashar al- Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the town of Douma – the last rebel (ISIS-style) stronghold adjacent to the capital. 

Just prior to Trump’s actualizing his emotions by throwing missiles into Damascus, he had expressed his opinion (and keep in mind that there is no difference between fact and opinion for Trump) that President Assad is a “monster” as well as an “animal.” This was at least in part because the Syrian President stooped to “killing his own people.” The problem with all this is (1) Trump has no hard evidence that Assad was behind the alleged gas attack and (2) killing your own people is, unfortunately, what civil wars are all about.

Alas, the world has always been, and still is, full of “monsters” and “animals.”

I agree with the first two paragraphs, but less with the third, although this will throw up a question that Davidson almost certainly was not thinking of.

And here are the two points about the third paragraph which makes me somewhat skeptical:

First, who are the ¨ “monsters” and “animals” ¨ that ¨the world has always been, and still is, full of¨? The least I should have been offered - I think - is an indication about whom Davidson has in mind: Does he mean the - always very few - political and religious leaders who led the world the last 2000 years or so (and he may well be right about them), or does he mean - perhaps - simply that most persons (anywhere, any time) are ¨“monsters” and “animals”¨?

Davidson does not say.

Second, I get rather irritated when I see quotes around terms like “monsters” or “animals”, or indeed, speaking more precisely, when I see quotes around such terms which do not indicate that they are terms (as I did in this statement) but that what is meant is not quite the same as would have been meant had these terms been used without quotes.

And my main reason is that when one speaks in that last way, e.g. of “monsters” or “animals” or “fascists” or “communists” or “terrorists” or “torturers” (etc. etc.), it becomes extremely vague what one really means, indeed because saying “X” rather than plainly calling them X is to indicate that underneath one is not calling them X, without saying what one would call them.

Then again, as I was saying, this will lead to a point that Davidson very probably did not have in mind, but that he alludes to as follows:

Part of the problem might be that our cultures and institutions infantilize too many of us. By this I mean that from infancy through old age we are taught to follow orders and go along with the group. As children we are taught to obey our parents, then our teachers. When, as teens we (at least in the West) begin to break away from parental control, we more often than not replace parental guidance with that of our peer group. Then, on to a career, where a new set of rules and expectations is imposed. Of course, there is sociological logic to all of this. We could have no societal structure and stability without a certain level of rules and obedience to them. However, there is a price. The price at the state level may be seen in terms of all too often unquestioning loyalty, patriotism and solidarity that leads the average citizen to simply follow the leader, and thereby participate in the violence the state has declared as necessary.

First, I mostly agree to the last paragraph.

But second, this introduces a theme that Davidson almost certainly completely misses, namely ¨The Irrational in Politics¨.

In fact, the last link is to an essay of that title that dates back to 1970 (yes, that is indeed nearly fifty years ago) that was then written by Maurice Bredon, which was an alias for Chris Pallis, who was both a quite prominent British/Greek neurologist and also a radical or revolutionary socialist most of his life (whence his alias) and who was - in my opinion - a quite interesting and quite intelligent man.

I should add that I only discovered Chris Pallis and his ¨The Irrational in Politics¨ a few months ago, and I agree that - this time without quotes - the irrational in politics is a very wide subject that yet has not been studied much by most who are interested in politics.

Third, in the present Nederlog I only add this:

I will reproduce ¨The Irrational in Politics¨ on my site, with my fairly extensive and also - in part - personal comments, but I do not know when. (I hope to do so within a month, but I am also ill a very long time and sleep currently too little, so I make no promises.)

Also, in case you might have read ¨The Irrational in Politics¨ (which I strongly recommend) you should realize that I am considerably farther from Marx and Reich than Pallis was (although I agree that he knew and understood both rather well, at least); that the theme is much wider than Pallis could treat (in 1970); that the theme of the irrational in politics has been mostly though not wholly neglected by most who were interested in politics the last 50 years; and finally that, while I do admire and like Chris Pallis, I do not agree with him (as you may find when I have published my reproduction of ¨The Irrational in Politics¨ with my notes).

Now back to Davidson´s text, which ends as follows:

There is no ready solution to any of this. The number of people who will refuse military orders, as suggested by Einstein, or refuse to shoot protesters, as suggested by B’tselem, is much too few to stop the mayhem. Our proclivity to violence has been institutionalized and our fundamental societal need to maintain group cohesion has been perverted by the those who claim to be our leaders. It is something of a vicious circle – or maybe just an eternal Catch 22.

I mostly agree with Davidson, but I add the mere question that if indeed it is ¨something of a vicious circle – or maybe just an eternal Catch 22¨, then why bother with politics?

There are rational answers to the last question, but I will not give them here and now. But this article is recommended.

5. Bill Curry on the Move Against Public Corruption

This article is by Ralph Nader on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Bill Curry is wondering why corruption is the center of debate or upheaval in every country but ours. He writes that, “Hardly a week goes by without a front-page report of a government toppled or convulsed by corruption scandals.”

Why not our country? Reasons abound. One is that corruption has been institutionalized. It is much more systematic than merely putting cash in an envelope to get a procurement contract from public officials.
The ways private commercial interests corrupt public officials are well known. They come by way of exploding campaign funding, lobbyists with gifts swarming over legislatures, speaking fees, revolving doors for corporatists taking key government positions to thwart law enforcement, and lucrative offers to lawmakers in anticipation of their retirement. All these lures are much more persuasive when the general public is quiet and unorganized.

Legalized corruption is all over Washington, D.C. as trillions of dollars of giveaways, subsidies, bailouts, and no-bid contracts proliferate.
Yes, I agree with Ralph Nader. And in case you are interested in Bill Curry, this was a link.

Here is more on corruption:

Why is corruption at the top? Because most people know that corruption is the problem that turns government against the people. Corruption affects taxes, waste, health care, drug prices, credit gouging, energy conversion, upgrading public facilities, living wages and cracking down on corporate crime, fraud, and obscene corporate welfare (crony capitalism.) It is behind luscious contracts to the military hardware services industry that President Eisenhower warned about in his 1961 farewell address. Corruption also primes the pump for criminal wars of aggression such as the war in Iraq—by unaccountable politicians like war criminals Bush and Cheney.

Again I agree. This article ends as follows:

Curry is fed up, has fire in his belly, and wants action.

Taking off from his past writings and experience over the years and a recent roundtable discussion we had in Washington on massive public and private billing fraud, he has drafted a “call to action” seeking a quantification and analysis of the corruption epidemic, “followed by a strategy for building a movement and influencing media and political elites.”

The next step in mobilizing, he urges, would be “a national conference in Washington this fall to which every institution active in this issue is invited and asked to adopt a declaration to commit to a fight.”

Are any foundations or enlightened people of means committed to this fundamental turnaround in our political economy and its immense, prompt benefits? After all, when so much that is wrong is made “legal” or “plausible” by corrupt lawmakers, the peoples’ focus can be quite efficient—535 members of Congress and 7,383 state lawmakers for one gigantic jumpstart in a key election year!

Well... I agree there are around 8000 persons (on 326 million Americans in all) who are elected and who do have far more power than most of the (326 milions - 8000 persons) have, and I also agree that the majority of these 8000 people is corrupt, which is a very serious problem (except for the very rich, who pay the corrupt representatives to do the biddings of the very rich).

Also, it seems that Curry´s initiative may be - somehow - related to item 3.

My last remark is that I - who visited many conferences between 1966 and 1982 - am quite doubtful about the outcomes of yet one more conference. 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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