Prev-IndexNL-Next

Nederlog

Jan 13, 2017
Crisis: N.S.A., Trump's Businesses, Journalism, "News Conference", Economics
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction   

1.
N.S.A. Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted
     Communications

2. Trump Ignores Ethics Experts Urging Him to Divest from His
     Businesses & Puts Sons In Charge Instead

3.
Committee to Protect Journalists: Watch Out for "Leak
     Investigations" Targeting Journos Under Trump

4.
Five Ways Trump’s “News Conference” Wasn’t a News
     Conference

5. Philip Pilkington: To What Extent Is Economics an Ideology and
     to What Extent Is It a Useful Theory?
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of January 13, 2017.

This is a
crisis log with 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about yet another large bit of information and freedom that was given to the supermen of the secret services (and to no one else) by Obama: nearly all data secretly stolen from every American (and all data stolen form every non-American) are now fully readable by all seventeen American secret services; item 2 is about Trump's refusal to give up his businesses as president of the USA; item 3 is about journalism under Trump's presidency; item 4 is about an article by Reich on Trump's "news conference": it was no such thing; and item 5 is about an article by an economist who argues (as I do) that economy is not a real science (though it contains bits that make sense): I agree.

My providers did - to my considerable amazement - both OK yesterday (which is the first time in several months: thence my amazement).

And incidentally: I can get rid of "December 31 2015" in Denmark (which the provider regularly shows, much rather than the current date, although it meanwhile is 2017 and I published many
megabytes since 2015, also on every day) by clicking on the rightmost globe twice, and then on a central globe... (... and I am deeply sorry, but this is the level of idiocy that I am reduced to, either by my providers or by secret services from somewhere).

1.
N.S.A. Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications

The first item is by Charlie Savage on The New York Times:
This starts as follows:
In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies
before applying pricacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

The more I know about Obama, the less I like him, and this is typical Obama in my estimate: He is preparing for the neofascistic terrorist state that might already get realized by president Trump.

First, why do I say "terrorist state"? Because a country where every person is more fully known (in secret) by its secret services than they can recall about themselves (which is, to the best of my knowledge, the present situation) either already is a dictatorship or it will soon be one. [1]

Second, why do I call it "neofascistic"? Because I understand the following by "neofascism" [2]:

Neofascism is a. A social system that is marked by a government with a centralized powerful authority, where the opposition is propagandized and suppressed or censored, that propounds an ethics which has profit as its main norm, and that has a politics that is rightwing, nationalistic, pro-capitalist, anti-liberal, anti-equality, and anti-leftist, and that has a corporative organization of the economy in which multi-national corporations are stronger than a national government or stateb. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a social system.

And I think a system like that, though without the name I gave to it, has been the aim of quite a few Western governors since Thatcher and Reagan, indeed not by everyone, but by most of the prominent conservative or pro-business politicians, if perhaps also not fully. [3]

Finally, when I put the extremely frightening terrorist state together with neofascism, you have my expectation of the system under which most men will live, where few have real rights, few have any riches, nearly all have to work for very little pay, and where almost everything will be owned by a few hundreds of powerful billionaires, whose desires are the only ones that are treated as serious and deserved. [4]

In case I may be moving too fast for you:

I know that I am projecting what I know and have learned the last 50 years, but the above is my expectation, which goes in fact back to the years 2001-2005. And while this is my expectation - and for readers of Dutch: see my article from 2005 - it also is one of the most horrible expectations there is, at least from my ethical point of view:

I fear an all powerful totalitarianism that is totally geared to serving the interests of some very few extremely rich men who own nearly everything, and that may last for hundreds of years simply because absolutely everyone (of the common people) is fully known to the very few authorities (and can be taken out, in secret of course, by the secret services).

And we owe that threatening system especially to Bush Jr. and to Obama. Here is what Obama did this time for the secret services:

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

This means that everyone who works for any secret service in the USA will get the effective status of a superman (German: ‹bermensch) who may know everything about anyone, who usually does not even know that everything he or she did, thought, valued, desired etc. is known to the supermen of the secret services.

And the supermen now may know everything the N.S.A. kept private, that is, including personal identities and all personal information (including very many nude pictures, or so it would seem from earlier findings about the English secret service GCHQ).

For the supermen of the secret services may know everything about anyone, but anyone who is not a superman of the secret services may know nothing about these supermen who know everything about one, and therefore is best described as a sub-human (German: Untermensch).

And the supermen of the secret services may do extremely many things in total secrecy, such as these things (from Snowden's files: these are "government secrets"):


Here is what the ACLU thinks about it (according to the New York Times):

But Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

What is not mentioned here is that everybody who is not an American is totally free for the American secret services: Non-Americans are not covered by any rights Americans have as Americans, and "therefore" all of the billions who have an internet computer but no American passport are fully (and automatically) hoovered up as a matter of fact by the NSA.

But Toomey is right that most Americans already are fully known for various reasons, and one of them is that the domestic internet data that providers use may very well be (also) stored outside the USA - which makes them again fully and automatically open to any searches by the NSA.

And while Toomey is also quite right that "[s]eventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant", I note that the past 15 years since 9/11/2001 have brought ever more freedoms for the very few supermen of the secret services, which entails ever more unfreedoms for everybody else (who may be taken out somehow - "legally" !! - in secret by the supermen of the secret services).

I suspect it is by now too late to do much against the secret services: all one can hope for is a major crash in the economy, that may allow a termination of the secret surveillance of everyone by the secret services. [5]

Here is the last bit of added freedom that the supermen of the secret services got from Obama:

The limits on using Americans’ information gathered under Order 12333 do not apply to metadata: logs showing who contacted whom, but not what they said. Analysts at the intelligence agencies may study social links between people, in search of hidden associates of known suspects, “without regard to the location or nationality of the communicants.”

That is: While Americans (and only Americans) may - for now - perhaps have their emails not read (billions of non-Americans do not have even that right), this does not mean that the seventeen secret services do not have the (almost) full data about whom everyone knows, is family with, works with etc. etc. etc.: They do.

2.
Trump Ignores Ethics Experts Urging Him to Divest from His Businesses & Puts Sons In Charge Instead

The second item is by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now!:
This starts with the following introduction:
At his first press conference since July, President-elect Donald Trump addressed questions about his business interests and asserted that, as president, he would be exempt from possible conflicts of interest. The Trump Organization is an umbrella company for his hundreds of investments in real estate, brands and other businesses. But Trump said he would not follow advice from ethics experts to divest or create a completely blind trust, and instead announced he will hand over management of the Trump Organization to his sons. The head of the Office of Government Ethics slammed President-elect Trump’s plan to separate himself from his business, calling it "wholly inadequate." We get response from John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation.
I'd say that what Trump is doing is simply saying "Fuck you all! You think I am not going to profit from being president?! I am!! Everything I do is presidential, for I am elected!"

And this is also as I thought he would act. Here is some more on the background:
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Trump’s businesses include hotels, golf courses and buildings around the world stamped with his name. The Trump Organization is an umbrella company for his hundreds of investments in real estate, brands and other businesses. The vast holdings could create unprecedented conflicts of interest. But Trump said he would not follow advise from ethics experts to divest or create a completely blind trust, and instead announced he will hand over management of the Trump Organization to his sons.
And this is Walter Shaub, who is head of the Office of Government Ethics:

WALTER SHAUB: We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for personal profit. Stepping back from running his positions is meaningless from a conflicts of interest perspective. The presidency is a full-time job, and he would have had to step back anyway. The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust. It’s not even close. I think Politico called this a "half-blind" trust, but it’s not even halfway blind. The only thing it has in common with a blind trust is the label "trust." His sons are still running the business, and, of course, he knows what he owns. His own attorney said today that he can’t unknow that he owns Trump Tower. The same is true of his other holdings. The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate. That’s not how a blind trust works. There’s not supposed to be any information at all.

Yes indeed, and here is John Wonderlich:
JOHN WONDERLICH: (..) We’ve been waiting for some time to find out how Trump was going to deal with the looming conflicts of interest. And yesterday’s update told us what we suspected, which is that he’s not really going to deal with it at all. It’s a pretty stunning rebuke of how we expect the presidency to function and the expectations we have for public service, although it is, unfortunately, legal. There is a loophole in the Ethics in Government Act that means the president can hold outside positions and still own corporations that are active, and maintain all these interests. So, this is really a dismaying situation we’re in, where we have to—where the president is going to be active and have massive debt and be directly involved in this kind of corporate activity. It’s stunning.
I agree to most of this, although I add that this appears to me not so much "a loophole in the Ethics in Government Act" as a complete deregulation of that Act (that may have been intentional as well at some point, though I do not know this).

Here is some more of Wonderlich:
JOHN WONDERLICH: It’s important because we need to have an understanding of the interests of the president of the United States, especially when he has business interests, debt and connections and partnerships with foreign leaders, foreign governments, businesses throughout the economy. We don’t understand what the president’s interests are and who has leverage over him. That’s the situation, and it’s a few days before the inauguration.
Yes indeed, though from Trump's point of view this is all excellent: The less anybody knows about his real income, his real debts, and his real businesses, the more profits he can make as the most powerful man on earth.

3. Committee to Protect Journalists: Watch Out for "Leak Investigations" Targeting Journos Under Trump

The third item is also by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaik on Democracy Now!:

This starts with the following introduction:
During his press conference on Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump lashed out at reporters. He slammed CNN as "fake news," called BuzzFeed a "failing piece of garbage" and refused to answer questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta after his outlet reported that top intelligence officials had briefed Trump, President Obama and top lawmakers over claims that Trump representatives met repeatedly with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and discussed the hacking of the DNC and the email of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. BuzzFeed later published a dossier, prepared by British former intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which contains unverified allegations, including a charge that Russian officials have a sex tape from 2013 involving Trump and hired sex workers. For more on the incoming Trump administration’s relationship with the press, we are joined by Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Incidentally, this is a fair introduction on what Trump said about the press and about reporters, that is also discussed in item 4, below.

One point is missing from it: The - indeed completely unverified - dossier that BuzzFeed published was known to quite a few media before the presidential elections, and they also tried to verify it and did not succeed, and therefore did not publish about it.

Here is Joel Simon on Trump's attitude to the press:
JOEL SIMON: Well, I think that my response is just we see on display the attitude that Trump exhibited throughout his campaign and in every interaction with the media, which is that he has a framework in which the media, as long as it amplifies his message, he welcomes it, but as soon as it adopts a critical posture, there’s a completely different response.
Yes indeed, and I should add that I (and other psychologically informed persons) explain this (in part) by Trump's megalomania: He - sincerely - believes that Trump Is The Greatest In Everything That Counts, and therefore sees every criticism as a personal attack on Him Who Is So Extremely Superior.

Here is some more:
JOEL SIMON: But I think that what alarms me is this kind of framework in which information itself and the role of the media is denigrated, is—it’s an environment in which there’s confusion, obviously, about what’s real, what’s not real, what’s news, what is not news. Fake news is being bandied about. And what that does is it creates an environment in which it almost inoculates Trump from critical media coverage. And that’s the framework that he’s creating. And that’s a framework that we see in authoritarian countries, where the media is denigrated, sidelined, marginalized, attacked, confidence is eroded, and that creates a framework in which authoritarian leaders assert more power.
Yes, but this requires an addition (that Simon doesn't make):

Currently (!!) the USA is not an authoritarian country (like Russia or Turkey), which also means that while I agree that Trump is trying to create a framework in which He (The Greatest Of All, in his own opinion) is The Authority On Everything, the question whether this  will succeed depends a lot on the media and the journalists.

This should have been pointed out by Simon (and I add myself that I am not optimistic, and certainly not about the mainstream media).


4.
Five Ways Trump’s “News Conference” Wasn’t a News Conference

The fourth item is by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

Tyrants don’t allow open questioning, and they hate the free press. They want total control. That’s why Trump’s so-called “news conference” on December 11 – the first he’s held in six months – wasn’t really a news conference at all.

I did publish a review of an article on Trump's press conference yesterday, and said then that it was not quite serious simply because Trump's press conference wasn't quite serious.

This is another review of the press conference, and it is quite similar. Here is Reich's summary which are presented as headings, without Reich's explanatory texts:

Consider:

1. Trump refused to answer questions from reporters who have
     run stories he doesn’t like, or from news outlets that have
     criticized him.

2. He loaded the audience with paid staffers who cheered his
     statements and jeered at reporters.

3. He continued calling the media “dishonest.”
4. He condemned individual news outlets.
5. He repeatedly lied, and the media in attendance weren’t
     allowed to question him on his lies.

If you want to see more, you have to click the last dotted link. And here is Reich's ending:

In short, Trump’s first news conference as president-elect – his first news conference in six months – wasn’t a “news conference” at all, and shouldn’t be called one. 

It’s another example of Trump’s attempt to control the media.  Trump isn’t even president yet, but he’s already eroding our democracy.
I agree, though I don't quite agree that Trump is a tyrant: He may want to become one (and I do not know, and think - as a psychologist - that he is mad), but he hasn't succeeded yet.

5. Philip Pilkington: To What Extent Is Economics an Ideology and to What Extent Is It a Useful Theory?

The fifth and last item today is by Philip Pilkington on Naked Capitalism:
Let me start thus by saying that I selected this article because it is by an economist who shares my view of "economical science" that - as it happens - is rather like my view of "psychological science": Neither is a real science (like physics or chemistry); both are more like ideologies than like sciences; but in either there also has been done work that makes sense. And incidentally, as to economics being a real science: If it were, far more economists would have predicted the economical crisis of 2008 then the very few who did. They did not. Therefore it is not. (QED)

This is from near the beginning:
In my book The Reformation in Economics I take the position that modern economics is more similar to phrenology than it is to, say, physics. This is not at all surprising as it grew up in the same era and out of remarkably similar ideas. But what is surprising is that this is not widely noticed today. What is most tragic, however, is that there is much in economics that can and should be salvaged. While these positive aspects of economics probably do not deserve the title of ‘science’ they at least provide us with a rational toolkit that can be used to improve political and economic governance in our societies.
As to phrenology (<- Wikipedia), that is explained somewhat in the article: I merely give the reference to Wikipedia plus the assurance that indeed phrenology was a quite popular science in the 19th century.

Incidentally, one of the reasons phrenology has been discarded while economics was not, and that Pilkington fails to mention, is that phrenology is about human experiences ("what kind of person is one?") whereas economics is about something rather heavily mathematized that can hardly be understood without some mathematics and some knowledge of the technical meanings of central terms.

Here is Pilkington on economics (of which he may have a more limited view than I have - see below):

The curious thing about modern economics is its almost complete insularity. Its proponents appear to have very little notion of how it applies to the real world. This is not the case in normal sciences. Take physics, for example. It is extremely clear how, say, the inverse squares law applies to experienced reality. In the case of gravitation, for example, the inverse squares law makes experimentally testable predictions about the force exerted by, say, the gravitational pull between the sun and the earth.

Modern economics – by which I mean neoclassical or marginalist economics which relies on the notion of utility-maximisation as its central pillar – completely lacks this capacity to map itself onto the real world. As philosophers of science like Hans Albert have pointed out, the theory of utility-maximisation rules out such mapping a priori, thus rendering the theory completely untestable. Since the theory is untestable it cannot be falsified and this allows economists to simply assume that it is true.

This is correct, but it doesn't mention that there many more schools of modern economics than Pilkington mentions.

Thus, the Wikipedia article "Schools of economic thought" mentions no less than twenty (20) schools of economic thought in the 20th century alone, and many more in history, and that is also quite correct (and indeed rarely mentioned by most economists that I have read, which meanwhile is a considerable amount, since 1965).

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

Such systems of ideas are ideological to the core. They are cooked up independently of the evidence and are then imposed upon the material of experienced reality. We are encouraged to ‘read’ the world through the interpretive lens of economics – and when we ask for evidence that this lens uncovers factually accurate information we are confounded with circular arguments from the economists.

Large-scale public policy is also filtered through this lens. This is done by constraining the study of macroeconomics – that is, GDP growth, unemployment, inflation and so on – by tying it to the theories of utility-maximisation.
Yes, but as I said: There are in fact many schools of economic thought, and indeed they all seem to use similar methods in the following sense: (i) they all start with a few basic concepts and terms (like: "labor", "capital", "utility", "profit", "class", "rationality") that (ii) are rapidly made rather to very abstract and usually are also mathematized, which (iii) makes them both less directly apply to ordinary experience but easier to apply to sets of data that correspond to the technical abstractions in (ii).

The difficulties Pilkington mentions are (especially) in steps (ii) and (iii), and since there are extremely many possible definitions of quite a few different possible central concepts, all of which can be mathematized in many different ways, this makes for an enormous potential hodgepodge of terms, methods, statistics and mathematics that nearly all economists (partially) escape from by selecting the particular ideology they chose as The Economics - which then is made very difficult to see because this is almost never clearly admitted on any level, whereas the mathematics and statistics prevent any direct comparisons with ordinary human experiences.


And so it goes...

---------------------------------
Notes
[1] The only two states I know where a lot was known about many people were Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia - but the Gestapo and the KGB did not know 1% of 1% of 1% of 1% of what the NSA knows, and the NSA knows what it knows about
everyone with a computer that is connected to internet.

I grant that it is an assumption of mine that a government that knows as much as the Gestapo or the KGB did know about the inhabitants of their nations is governed by persons who like all the power they can get, but that is the assumption I make.

Second, the NSA knows millions of times more than either the Gestapo or the KGB did,
while none of the surveillance of everyone was necessary to defeat terrorism according to very prominent people who worked for decades for the NSA or the CIA (see: William Binney and Ray McGovern).

And therefore I think my assumption is more likely to be true (very bitter as that is) than false.

[2] This definition is my own, and was made simply because I could not find any decent definition of neofascism, while I found 22 different definitions of fascism. Also, this definition was composed before I knew of Donald Trump (and it was informed by a decent amount of relevant knowledge).

[3] This is what I think, but here are a some precisifications:

First, while both Reagan and Thatcher come out as close to neofascism on my definition, they would certainly have rejected the term for themselves, and might have rejected my definition. If the same definition would have been presented as "neoconservatism" or "neoliberalism" they might have agreed with both points, though that is not certain.

Second, something similar holds for neoconservatives and neoliberals: Certainly not
under the name "neofascism", but otherwise they would mostly agree.

[4] This is what I presently think is the most likely outcome, if indeed we are not blown up by nuclear arms nor have another major economical crisis. It is not at all what I want, but this does seem the most likely, given the forces of the governments and the secret services and the rich.

And I should add that I am glad that I am 66 rather than 26 or 36: I did live in comparative freedom, even though I am ill for 38 years now and have had very little money. I am much afraid this will not be given to those who are 26 or 36 now, and who live in the USA or Europe.

[5] And this is also what I think (and see the previous four notes).

       home - index - summaries - mail