January 3, 2018

Crisis: Silicon Valley, Spy Agencies, Seven Forbidden Words, Public Warnings, Climate Change


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 3, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, January 3, 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) 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.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from January 3, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. How Silicon Valley’s Capitalist Greed Continues to Cheat Creators and
     Rob American Culture

2. Glenn Greenwald on Trump-Russia Probe: Be Skeptical of Spy Agencies
     with History of Lying & Deceit

3. Trump’s Seven Forbidden Words
4. The Ethics of Warning the Public About a Dangerous President
5. Climate Change 2017: What Happened and What It Means
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. How Silicon Valley’s Capitalist Greed Continues to Cheat Creators and Rob American Culture

This article is by Rob Gell on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

First, they came for the music, and we did not speak out—because most of us are not musicians.

Then they came for the news, and we did not speak out—because most of us are not journalists.

Now they’ve come for our democracy, and maybe, just maybe, Americans are finally waking up to Silicon Valley’s power and impact on intellectual property, a free press and our democracy.

In fact, in case you do not know it, this beginning is quite like Martin Niemöller's statement that exists in various forms. Here is the beginning of the Wikipedia on him:

Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller was a German anti-Nazi theologian
and Lutheran pastor. He is best known for a widely-paraphrased statement which he made in different versions, one of which is "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Socialist. ... Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me."

And I think this is justified, although I also think some reference to Niemöller would have been more correct. (I know Niemöller's words since the early 1960ies, but then my father was in the Dutch resistance and arrested and sent to concentration camps for resisting the Nazis by collaborating Dutch judges. And I expect them to be rather less well known now than they were in the 1960ies and 1970ies.)

Here is some more, and the article is good and helps clarify some things I wondered about. We shall come to that below, after the following point:

As the country wrestles with rampant misinformation and the growing reach of Silicon Valley, there has been much talk of Russia, monopoly, algorithms, and the need for more fact-checking and moderation.

A few weeks ago, in response to yet another problem with children’s content and comments by pedophiles on YouTube, it was announced that “YouTube plans to have 10,000 people dedicated to reviewing videos in 2018—though it would not to say how many workers it has doing that job now.”

Yes indeed - and while I think one should not leave YouTube to itself, the fact that Youtube and Facebook are largely left to police itself and its secret algorithms goed back to two laws that were changed in the nineties, as Rob Gell explains:

I argue the system is broken at its core, driven by two rarely discussed laws passed 20 years ago that freed Silicon Valley from accountability for copyright infringement and defamation and wreaking havoc, first for copyright holders and then for news organizations, ever since.  

In 1996 Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and in 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)—long before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube existed. The laws effectively gave Silicon Valley a “get-out-of-jail-free” card allowing them to disregard long-standing laws and protocols governing intellectual property, media consumption and news, fueling growth at a scale only possible with such blanket immunity. 

And that also concerns the point I have been wondering about myself, ever since finding that YouTube shows extremely many films, videos etc. all of which do normally have some form of copyright - except that the copyright seems to (mostly) mystically disappear as soon as something copyrighted is loaded up to YouTube.

As I said, I have been wondering about this and the present article gives the answers at least in outline:

Congress passed the Communications Decency Act of 1996 primarily in response to internet pornography, but added a Section 230, stating in part, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” The law effectively immunizes providers of interactive computer services from tort liability, such as defamation, for the actions of their users. As a result, Google and Facebook are not subject to the types of liability traditional print and broadcasting media have faced for publishing tortious materials.

Here is how the laws that applies to YouTube differ fundamentally from the laws that apply to the New York Times and all other media companies:

If a news story libels someone in the New York Times, they can sue the New York Times. If a news story libels someone on Facebook or YouTube, upon notification, Facebook and YouTube remove the content without consequence, regardless of views or damage done. A libeled party can go sue the Ukrainians who posted the content, if they can find them. If a content owner sees someone posting their content without their consent—same drill. They would notify Facebook or Google, which will remove the content, and that’s it. And it wouldn’t be surprising if the content appears hours later, under a new account.

In brief, YouTube and Facebook, nominally because they are not publishers nor "speakers of any information" in effect are freed from laws that apply to everyone else: anybody can (re-)publish copyrighted materials there, and indeed that happens all the time.

There is considerably more, for which you are referred to the original. The article ends as follows:

The DMCA and CDA protections enabled a few Silicon Valley giants to become sinfully rich, with a concentration of power not seen since the 1920s. The digital revolution could have succeeded without the ‘disruption’ and their disregard for copyright and content creators.

Precisely. There is more to be said on this, but I found this an interesting and informative article that is warmly recommended.

2. Glenn Greenwald on Trump-Russia Probe: Be Skeptical of Spy Agencies with History of Lying & Deceit

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
Three major U.S. news outlets in early December promoted a story alleging WikiLeaks had secretly offered the Trump campaign special access to the Democratic National Committee emails before they were published. The reports suggested the correspondence proved collusion between the Trump family and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence.” It turns out this information was false. The issue of collusion with Russia was also a key focus in President Trump’s recent interview with reporter Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, where Trump said repeatedly, “There was no collusion. … There was no collusion.” We talk about the probe into Russia collusion and coverage by mainstream media with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald, one of the founding editors of The Intercept.
I normally publish the introductions to the interviews made on Democracy Now! simply because they are good and clarify things, but I think it should have been added to this introduction that "the U.S. intelligence community" (i) is not a single community but consists of at least 17 different mostly secret American institutions, and that (ii) it (or they) "regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence”" in public, while it is not known (for the greatest part) how it (or they) regard it in the privacy of their own offices.

Anyway... here is Juan Gonz
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Early [last] month, three major U.S. news outlets all promoted a story alleging that WikiLeaks had secretly offered the Trump campaign special access to Democratic National Committee emails before they were published. The reports suggested the correspondence proved collusion between the Trump family and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence.” It turns out the information was false.
Yes indeed. Here is more by Glenn Greenwald:
GLENN GREENWALD: So, I think it’s—yeah, so I think it’s worth remembering how dramatized CNN presented the story as being. They really did present it as kind of the smoking gun that would bring down the Trump presidency and, once and for all, prove collusion. And then, shortly after, both MSNBC and CBS said that they confirmed the story independently, and were on air for hours doing the same thing. It was by far the biggest story of the day, being pointed to as evidence that Trump actually did collude with the Russians through WikiLeaks, because what CNN said was that there was an email sent from an unknown person to Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr., offering them access to the WikiLeaks archive
And as it turned out, the entire report was false. It was false because it was based on the inaccurate date of this email. The email that was sent to Donald Trump offering this access was not sent before these emails were public. It was sent by some member of the public after the emails were public.
Quite so. Next, one would have thought - at least if one was a more or less honest, more or less normal "member of the public" - that CNN, MSNBC and CBS would have made excuses and given explanations. Not so:

So, CNN and CBS and MSNBC were forced to admit their story was false, because The Washington Post got a hold of the email and showed that it was false. But what they refused to do is what journalists demand every day that other people do, that other companies and corporations do, that government officials do, which is provide transparency about their mistakes. To this day, CNN refuses to say who these sources were who gave them the wrong date, how it is that they all got the date wrong, innocently, in good faith. Was it a deliberate attempt to deceive the public?

And that’s what erodes trust in media outlets, which is: When they clam up and hide behind corporate and lawyer statements and refuse to provide basic transparency about their own behavior, how do they then have credibility to turn around and demand transparency from government institutions and officials or from corporations, when they refuse to provide it themselves?
Yes, I think I agree (and I also think both Trump and the mainstream media these days find it easier to lie than to tell the truth, at least in many cases, of which the present one also is an instance):
I think that’s one of the reasons. In ordinary life, if you go to your job and you make a series of horrendous mistakes, you’re going to be fired, and it’s going to be hard for you to find a job. But people who work in journalism or people who work in politics, like David Frum, who spent years just outright lying to the American public about the most—the weightiest matters, continue to get promoted. (...) And all these people do is continue to rise and get embraced and get rehabilitated, because there’s zero accountability. The more power you have, the more you are able to commit all kinds of grave sins and lies and crimes, and continue to succeed. And it really ought to be the opposite.
Yes, although it is not just a matter of power, for at least two other things enter:

First, there simply is a considerable difference in the media between people whose image have been grounded by the media (as it were) and those which have not, which at least in part explains why one sees time and again, and year after year, that the same speakers are and remain associated with the same subjects, even though there may be far better presenters.

And second, it is also true that all mainstream media are (also) propagandizing, which is to say that they are intentionally deceiving their publics, which in turn means that the responsibilities in media companies are different from responsibilities elsewhere.

But this is a recommended article.

3. Trump’s Seven Forbidden Words

This article is by Lawrence Davidson on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
There is a scene in George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel 1984, where the protagonist, Winston Smith, is having a conversation with a philologist by the name of Syme. Syme is involved in a government effort to restructure the language spoken by the novel’s upper classes, those who have power or work for the ruling party. The language is called “Newspeak.” Syme’s job is to get rid of dangerous words. Here is how he describes his task: “We’re destroying words – scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. … The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime [having unorthodox thoughts] literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
Yes indeed. I have written about this before - see e.g. here - and here is how Trump's government relates to Orwell, or perhaps rather to Big Brother:
Sometime in the month of December 2017, somewhere in the bowels of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C., a high-level appointee of the Trump administration moved to take ideological control of the agency’s budget-writing process. This official presented a directive to the agency’s departments, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), listing seven words that were not to be used in budget preparation. If they were, they would be flagged and the document sent back for “correction.”  The seven “forbidden” words are: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
Note this is evidently and obviously censorship: If one is forbidden to use certain ordinary English words (of scientific speech and writing, also), simply because their use is "flagged and the document sent back for “correction”", that is evident censorship.

Of course, the Trumpian government denies this, but at the same time twists the whole subject by refusing to speak of censorship of specific words and instead speaks of "banning" (in general), which they then deny:
The higher-ups at the HHS have insisted that there is no “ban” in place. Departments like the CDC can still do research in areas to which these unwelcome key words relate. But this disclaimer is misleading. To do the research you need money, and the money comes from the budget. The “discouragement” of key words is meant to marginalize their related research agendas. If fully effective, this attempt at censorship – for that is what it is – could contribute to undermining several generations of cultural progress, and challenge the “science-based” methodology that serves as a foundation for the modern world.
I am quite sure that Trump does not believe in any science that does not rhyme with his wishful thinking, so to that extent I agree, although this does not (yet, quite) "challenge the “science-based” methodology that serves as a foundation for the modern world".

But it is out and out censorship of common scientific words, and that should be plainly forbidden to political types furthering their own unscientific wishful thinking.

Here is the end of the article:
The strategy of eliminating the official use of words like “diversity,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “transgender,” “evidence-based,” “science-based,” and “fetus” is part of this effort to turn the clock back. Maybe then, so the story goes, with no words to express these concepts, the uncritical minds of our time will be – as Syme the philologist predicts – unable to think unorthodox thoughts.
I mostly agree, although I think that the ability "to think unorthodox thoughts" is less serious than the explicitly censored attempts to express them in ordinary scientific English.

And this is a recommended article.

4. The Ethics of Warning the Public About a Dangerous President

This article is by Bandy X. Lee, Leonard L. Glass and Edwin B. Fisher on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
IN SPITE of widespread concern regarding Donald Trump’s ability to execute his office, the psychiatric establishment continues to enforce silence on its members, depriving the public of their expertise. Hampering the profession’s ability to warn about danger needs reconsideration. A sense of this critical need gave rise to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” a collection of mental health expertise made accessible for lay readers.
In fact, I am agreeing with Lee, Glass and Fisher (all three are either psychiatrists or psychologists, while I am a psychologist) ever since the beginning and the end of 2016,
and I have repeatedly written about Trump's madness in Nederlog since then.

This time - the article is from yesterday - the argument is directed against the American Psychiatric Association, indeed quite correctly so, in my opinion:
Ordinarily, psychiatrists abide by what is called the Goldwater rule, which prohibits diagnosing public figures without a personal examination and without consent. But assessing dangerousness is different from making a diagnosis, in that we are evaluating the situation, not the person. The same person may not be dangerous in a different situation, for example, but a diagnosis stays with the person. Diagnosing a public figure is outside our business and should not be done — but it is also irrelevant when it comes to danger.
Yes indeed. In fact, I have disagreed with the Goldwater Rule ever since hearing about it, simply because it restricts both the personal freedoms of psychiatrists, and because it restricts warnings against publicly elected madmen, but the present article gives a somewhat new ground: "assessing dangerousness is different from making a diagnosis".

I'd say "yes and no" to this somewhat new ground, indeed simply because "
assessing dangerous- ness" does involve something like a diagnosis, but then again this needs not be a real - full, complete - diagnosis, and anyway what does constitute a - medical, psychiatric, psychological - diagnosis is somewhat of a problem.

But I do agree more than I disagree, and here is one important ground why:
Dangerousness in a public figure is what threatens public health, and the only situation in which we as mental health professionals have a role, if any. While police and security personnel generally step in after the fact, mental health professionals are expected to intervene when they see signs or risk of danger. In all 50 states, they have the legal authority, if not the obligation, to report, to warn, and to take steps to protect potential victims, be they themselves, others, or the public.
Yes indeed. Firstly, it is true that "mental health professionals are expected to intervene when they see signs or risk of danger" in ordinary people, and rightly so: If you - as a psychologist or psychiatrist - suspect that your patient or client may be willing to murder people, then you should do something about that.

And I say that if this rule applies to ordinary people, who rarely are in a position to murder more than 50 persons, it certainly applies to powerful political people, whose decisions may help kill or indeed outright kill thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of persons.

But not according to the
the American Psychiatric Association: Ordinary people should be restrained, but powerful political people should be left free to decided who they want to kill, and namely on the ground that these powerful political people did not consent on their being "diagnosed".

Here are Lee, Glass and Fisher:
Our assessment leads us to recognize that warning about a public figure should not be based on formal understanding about which professions should be allowed to voice their concerns in which forums, but on whether rules continue to serve these humanitarian goals when mental health expertise might be critical to a population’s well-being and survival.
Yes indeed, and for the reasons that (i) these rules do apply to ordinary people, whose madness may make them murder a few, among other things, and therefore (ii) these rules should be applied to powerful political people, whose madness may make them murder hundreds
of thousands or indeed millions of persons.

Here is the end of this article:
Given that misconceptions and stigma — and the very use of psychiatric terms as epithets — arise from a lack of knowledge, mental health professionals should further engage in educating the public, not less. And it is about time the professional organizations catch up with the voice of their professional members, rather than trying suppress their interactions with a public struggling to comprehend the nature and magnitude of the risk it faces from an unstable leader.
Yes, and this is a recommended article.

5. Climate Change 2017: What Happened and What It Means

This article is by Bruce Melton on Truthout and originally on News Analysis. It starts as follows:

How many more billions of dollars in damages will it take? How many more lives? It's obvious; all the climate extremes we have been experiencing lately are indeed caused by climate change. Our climate is already far too dangerous. Scientists have been warning us for 30 years, but still they can't say for sure.

This is because scientists tell us things in terms of certainty, and this is where we get the oft-heard statement, "We can't tell if this event was caused by climate change or not." Almost nothing is certain, especially rapidly changing climate extremes, because it takes time to develop certainty about the weather.

Well... yes and no. I more or less agree, but I am trained as a scientist (in psychology) and I have been following "the environment" - as I shall say - ever since 1972, when I first read The Limits to Growth. And that is 46 years ago this year, and not "30 years". (Indeed, serious warnings about the environment also predate 1972: There were e.g. Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring appeared in 1962, and Aldous Huxley, who warned against the destruction of the environent in 1958. And there are more.)

Next, it is simply either plainly false or very misleading to say that "scientists tell us things in terms of certainty": They definitely do not, as anyone with any grasp of statistics, probability etc. may know, as does anyone who studied any of a quite large number of sciences.

Then again, the following is true about Trump's government (and the list is considerably longer in the original):

Donald Trump and his climate-science-denying administration certainly will not. They are repealing the Clean Power Plan, which are the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) landmark pollution rules designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from large sources such as power plants. They reversed the Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. They shut down the EPA's climate change website in April, and when it returned in July, it was half-missing. Trump also cancelled the Climate Action Plan, dropped climate change from the list of national security threats and revoked Federal Emergency Management Agency flood risk standards accounting for sea level rise with federal infrastructure projects.

There is rather a lot more and - unlike the introduction - this seems mostly quite true, but I leave this to your interests.

The article ends as follows:

The bottom line is that climate change, because of delayed action, is happening faster and more extremely than projected. Before Trump, the best-case scenario of emissions reductions allowed for significantly more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming. With dangerously extreme weather happening more and more frequently, and with abrupt changes plausibly already begun, now is not the time to be backpedaling climate policy.

Climate scientists warned us that our task would be more difficult the longer we delayed. The difficulty has now arrived and even further delay is real. The great risk is that a little more warming will not create a small increase in additional extremes. It is entirely plausible that a little more warming will cross thresholds and create nonlinearly more extreme events that are literally unrecoverable, if we do not reduce warming sooner rather than later.

Yes indeed - and in fact I started worrying about what are in fact broken feedback lines in 1972, after reading The Limits to Growth, for I realized then that if you are destroying a very complicated system of climatological feedback principles then - as long as no new stable system has arisen - extreme events will get more and more likely, and also not predictably but suddenly.

We seem to have arrived there now.


[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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