January 6, 2018

Crisis: On James Risen, Mass Exodus(?), Trump's Dangers, Google & Facebook, On Journalism


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 6, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Saturday, January 6, 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 6, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. James Risen on Life as a NY Times Reporter
2. Trump Aides Plan Mass Exodus in Wake of Explosive Book Revelations:

3. A Year Has Gone by, But Trump Is Still Here and Even More Dangerous
4. Why Aren't Google and Facebook Held Accountable for Spreading Fake

5. Trolling Trump, Journalism Watchdog to Hold 'Global Press Oppressor

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. James Risen on Life as a NY Times Reporter

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction (and it is the first of two successive articles, and while I do not quote the second article, I think you ought to read both):
We spend the hour with former New York Times reporter James Risen, who left the paper in August to join The Intercept as senior national security correspondent. This week, he published a 15,000-word story headlined “The Biggest Secret: My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror.” The explosive piece describes his struggles to publish major national security stories in the post-9/11 period and how both the government and his own editors at The New York Times suppressed his reporting, including reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, for which he would later win the Pulitzer Prize. Risen describes meetings between key Times editors and top officials at the CIA and the White House. His refusal to name a source would take him to the Supreme Court, and he almost wound up in jail, until the Obama administration blinked.
Yes indeed, and James Risen is a quite important American journalist, who was considerably earlier - in 2004 and 2006 - with very similar facts as Edward Snowden had, although Risen indeed had considerably fewer facts.

Also, this is an interesting and fairly long interview (in two parts) that I all recommend, though I make excerpts only from the beginning of the first interview.

Here is some of Risen's background:
AMY GOODMAN: (..) In the story, Risen gives a personal account of his struggles to publish significant stories involving national security in the post-9/11 period and how both the government and his top editors at the Times suppressed his reporting on stories, including the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, for which he would ultimately win the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. Risen describes how his story would have come out right before the 2004 presidential election of President Bush over John Kerry, potentially changing the outcome of that election. But under government pressure, The New York Times refused to publish the story for more than a year, until Risen was publishing a book that would have had the revelations in it first. In his new piece for The Intercept, James Risen also describes meetings between top Times editors and officials at the CIA and the White House.
Yes indeed - and please mark that Risen had similar information as Edward Snowden published in 2013, but that Risen had, indeed in part, but quite convincing, already in 2004. But then it was not published: That happened only in 2006, mostly because the CIA and the White House objected (as if they did not know the First Amendment).

Here is more:

AMY GOODMAN: So, the story of what happened with your warrantless wiretapping story, the story of the wiretapping of Americans throughout the country, more than a decade before Ed Snowden revealed so much—can you go back in time and tell us what you found before the election, the second election of President Bush? We may not have read it in The New York Times at the time, but you had written it.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah. Well, it’s in the spring of 2004. I was meeting with a source, who—I was talking to this source, and in the process of talking, the source said, “There’s something that I know that I think is the biggest secret in the government, but I’m too frightened to tell you about it right now.” (...)
And finally, the source just kind of started talking about what he—what the source knew, and eventually, you know, in the course of about 10 or 15 minutes, told me the outlines of the NSA’s domestic spying program, that had begun under the Bush administration, both the warrantless wiretapping and the broader effort to gather email and phone records of Americans. And it was the outlines of this massive program that we later learned was codenamed Stellar Wind.
Yes indeed. And as to Stellar Wind: This program did also collect the (meta)data of many or of all communications between Americans (by computer or cellphone) which - among other things - led to William Binney's resignment from the NSA.

Here is more:

JAMES RISEN: Well, there were a couple components of it. There were several components of it. There was—they had—what we later learned, they had grabbed—they were—the NSA, which was supposed to spy on foreigners overseas, had been turned inward on the United States by the Bush administration, and so they were spying on Americans when they were only supposed to spy on foreigners. And they were getting—they were listening in to the phone conversations of Americans’ international phone calls with foreigners, without search warrants, without any warrants from the secret FISA Court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court. And they were also gathering the phone records, logs and email addresses and messages of Americans throughout the country.

And so, basically, this was the—what I was told about was the outlines of what we now know as all of the domestic spying that has been going on since 9/11. It’s the same program that Edward Snowden later leaked documents about.
Precisely - and please note that (1) I think that at present all communications of anyone anywhere are being followed and traced by both the NSA and by large corporations like Facebook, Google and Apple, and (2) I also think this is by far the best foundation of a neofascistic dictator-ship that I have ever known:

Everyone's privacy, everyone's full thoughts, writings, income, buyings, opinions and friends fully accessible to the secret services (from anywhere indeed) is the straight road to neofascism and dictatorship of the very few.

Here is the last bit from this fine interview that I quote:
JAMES RISEN: Well, the same grounds, that the Bush administration argued that it was too valuable for the counterterrorism programs in the United States, that it was the most—their argument was it was the crown jewel of counterterrorism programs, it was the most important thing that the U.S. was doing against al-Qaeda, and that if we revealed it, we would be responsible for hurting America’s national security. And so, that was the basic argument. And the editors agreed with that at the time.
That is to say: The editors of the New York Times agreed - at the time - with the U.S. government that it had the full rights to do what was explicitly forbidden by the First Amendment, and in fact that the New York Times should support the state's terrorists (namely, those in the NSA) against the non-state's terrorists, while giving up the law of the U.S.A.

There is a lot more in both interviews, and it is all strongly recommended.

2. Trump Aides Plan Mass Exodus in Wake of Explosive Book Revelations: Report

This article is by Travis Getty on AlterNet and originally on Raw Story. It starts as follows:

As bad as thing have been so far in the White House under President Donald Trump, they soon could get even worse.

Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury depicts a chaotic and dysfunctional White House where staffers fear and loathe the president, whom they regard as a vain and moody “idiot,” and those conditions have exacerbated the stress that comes with the job, reported Axios.

“More than half a dozen of the more skilled White House staff are contemplating imminent departures,” according to Axios co-founders Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. “Many leaving are quite fearful about the next chapter of the Trump presidency.”

Actually, I had expected today to have more news about "Fire and Fury", but I did not see much except on The Guardian, which has grown very much worse with the new editor, and that I also cannot copy anymore without some trouble, which I think isn't worth it: The Guardian is definitely out as a "progressive and honest publisher"; it is definitely in as a collection of Blatcherist liars who are only interested in their own incomes. (I am a bit sorry, but yes: I am angry.)

Anyway, there very probably will be more knews about "Fire and Fury" tomorrow. Meanwhile, there is the above and the following:

Those anecdotes show how unprepared Trump is for the presidency, and how he ignores or disregards advice and follows his instincts wherever they lead — even when he contradicts himself.

“He seemed almost phobic about having formal demands on his attention,” Wolff wrote.

Wolff described a “wackadoo” moments whenever the president rambled off topic, and staffers were forced into “intense method-acting” to pretend not to notice “what everyone could see.”

There will be more to follow, undoubtedly. Meanwhile, this is a short recommended article.

3. A Year Has Gone by, But Trump Is Still Here and Even More Dangerous

This article is by Jefferson Morley on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

The friends who surrounded President-elect Donald Trump a year ago have become his enemies. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, once a stalwart ally, is a "liar," say Trump’s lawyers. Former campaign strategist Steve Bannon, once a political guru, has "lost his mind," according to the president.

The president is not just threatening North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with “fire and fury.” The phallically obsessed Trump now boasts, via Twitter, that his nuclear “button” is "much bigger" than Kim’s.

Yes indeed. And incidentally - I am a psychologist - I do agree for a long time now that Trump is not sane and is a megalomaniac (psychiatrese: "a grandiose narcissist"), even though it seems that few journalists read or understand psychology or psychiatry.

Anyway. Here is more on the many talents of genius that Trump apparently atttributes to himself:

The president is not just saying Democratic charges of collusion with the Russians are a “hoax." He is mobilizing his supporters to denigrate, undermine and "purge" the FBI. He has normalized the idea that law enforcement should be weaponized against political criticism.  

Trump is not just talking about prosecuting journalists. He is taking legal steps to silence them. On Thursday, a White House attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to publishing company Henry Holt demanding it stop its plans to publish Michael Wolff’s bombshell book, in which Bannon is quoted as saying the Trump campaign’s meetings with Russia were “treasonous.” (In response, Holt moved up the release date.)

I say. And I do so because it is not the task of the president to try to remake the news so that it fits his own preconceptions.

As to Michaell Wolff's "Fire and Fury", I am afraid you will have to await tomorrow's Nederlog or do your own searching: I am writing the NLs normally in the very early hours of the morning, and today is not an exception.

Here is one conclusion of Jefferson Morley:

“Chaos” and “disruption” are "circling around the administration," says conservative ex-Ohio governor John Kasich.

If Trump’s first year in office confirmed that he is a megalomaniac with authoritarian ambitions, his second year opens with the realization that, as Dionne puts it, “his strategy for political survival is rooted in a willingness to destroy our institutions.”

I wholly agree, indeed also with the terminology (for megalomania is at least 100 years older than the psychiatrese "narcissistic personality disorder"), except that I do miss a reference to psychologists and psychiatrists who agree with me. (But this is it, once again.)

Then there is this:

The rise of Fox News as the propaganda organ of the right wing of the Republican Party, and the takeover of the rest of the national news distribution system by Silicon Valley’s platform monopolies, has debilitated whatever role independent journalism plays in checking unaccountable power.

The result, notes Foreign Policy’s James Traub, “is the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a ‘public’ and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool.”

I don't quite agree.

As to the first paragraph: I agree that Fox News + Silicon Valley do not spread objective and factually correct news, which indeed is a serious undermining of the real free press. But there still is some free press left, though perhaps not so much in the mainstream media, while the USA is not - yet at least - an authoritarian dictatorship.

As to the second paragraph: The first statement seems to me to be a dream anyway (for there simply is no "common purpose" that unites over 300 million people, and the same applies to "a common form of reasoning").

As to the second and the third statement: I very much dislike it to be brushed under "We", and indeed I never did these things (although I do not glow with respect for ordinary men, indeed).

What is true is that the mainstream media have been replaced to a considerable extent by utterly anonymous persons and bots that operate on Facebook etc. that produce bullshit and propaganda. I agree this is a very dangerous development (for I insist that anonymous ordinary people rarely know science, logic, or mathematics, and already have dangerous opinions for these reasons), but I disagree with Traub.

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

The hope that the American system would be stronger than the man in the Oval Office was misplaced. It isn’t.

If there is any hope in the news, it is that Trump will hasten his own demise and self-destruct.
Perhaps I may be a bit more optimistic than Jefferson Morley? In any case, I am not convinced yet that the first statement is true, while I hope the last statement is. And this is a recommended article.

4. Why Aren't Google and Facebook Held Accountable for Spreading Fake News?

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

In Part 1, we looked at the consequences of two laws—the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Communications Decency Act, enacted 20 years ago—that allowed Silicon Valley giants like YouTube and Facebook to act as platforms and not publishers. These laws release them from personal responsibility for copyright infringement, slander and libel, if they followed take-down procedures in a reasonable amount of time.

The effects on legitimate copyright holders, in music and today in video media, are clear.

Now we will explore the effect on news and journalism.

In fact, I reviewed Part 1 on January 3

And you may recall that both Facebook and Youtube, both with billions of members/customers, (and bolding added) "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.

In fact, this seems to me an utterly absurd legal "fact" but thus it goes. Here is more:

Using the internet service provider "pipe" argument, tech companies like Google and Facebook claim they have little or no editorial control over the content on their platforms. Silicon Valley companies use an analogy to compare themselves to phone companies rather than media publishers, arguing that AT&T doesn’t edit, censor, prioritize or sequence the content or call participants. Like a phone company, Silicon Valley companies contend they manage content with "algorithms"—and reluctantly, because of cost/human moderators—and still manage to maintain ISP status.

The algorithm is a mysterious sounding word that cloaks tech companies’ editorial control. I think of the algorithm as analogous to Coca-Cola’s secret formula—which turned out to be sugar. Algorithms are closely guarded with techs' go-to rationale for secrecy: We can’t tell anyone, because users will game the algorithm. Translation: leave the algorithm gaming to us.
As to the first paragraph: Maybe AT&T "doesn't edit, censor, prioritize or sequence the content or call participants" but Facebook and Google certainly censor and sequence their members' or users' contributions to public discussions (and both have billions of members/customers).

As to the second paragraph: I completely agree with Rick Gell that "
algorithm is a mysterious sounding word that cloaks tech companies’ editorial control" and indeed also that this word has been intentionally chosen to mystify, propagandize and bullshit the customers of tech companies.

In fact, it used to be called programming, which is the much better term. And all programming - I know, for I can program in at least six programming languages) may be reduced (fundamentally) to rules that amount to the following:
If you (the computer) read this and that, do such and so, and else do so and such.
Please note that these rules depend - always, necessarily - on enormous abstractions from the real data: Absolutely everything except "this and that" (that may be long or short) gets completely ignored by the same program.

Next, these programs are kept completely secret: nobody is supposed to have the right to see them, control them, alter them or revoke them (other than leaders of the corporations who own them).

Here is more on the programs that Facebook and Google use (bolding added) "
with no responsibility for content they deliver":

The DMCA and CDA have birthed a media consumption environment where the bulk of the advertising revenue and the bulk of the content consumption funnel through Google search and Facebook, with no responsibility for content they deliver. Their power and a modest algorithm change can be devastating for the publishers doing the investigative work. built an audience close to 6 million unique visitors over a 20-year period, and in one month this past June, its traffic dropped by 50 percent from what it was at the beginning of the year. Why? The algorithm, of course.

That is, Google must have rewritten the program that finds AlterNet with a clause that forces it to sequence its findings (often or always) behind the findings of Fox News (etc.)

Here is more on the programs Google and Facebook use:

There is another reason to keep algorithms secret. They can’t really do the job professional editors and fact-checkers do.
As Zeynep Tufekci pointed out in the New York Times, “Human employees are expensive, and algorithms are cheap. Facebook directly employs only about 20,658 people, roughly one employee per 100,000 users. With so little human oversight and so much automation, public relations crisis like the one that surrounded ads for hate groups are inevitable.”

In fact, I happen to agree with Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation that the only way to keep programs safe is to publish them all as free and open source. But this would depress the profits of internet organizations, and profits are holy. (And human rights or honesty or fairness are not, for most internet corporations.)

Here is more:

Things are going to get worse on the misinformation and news front before they get better, as new digital face and voice technologies roll out. It is now possible to alter a video clip of President Trump speaking and have him say, “We are bombing North Korea,” in perfect voice, with perfect facial movements that are impossible to detect with the naked eye. 

I say. And there are more than 2 billion users of Facebook, most of whom seem anonymous (except for Facebook), and many of whom only use Facebook for their information.

Here is another conclusion of Rick Gell:

Today, 40 percent of Americans are getting their news from Facebook, a company that won’t legally stand behind its news content or admit it is a publisher. With Google and Facebook as the conduits, news publishers that accept responsibility for their content are now in the Silicon Valley version of the Roman Colosseum, racing to be first to deliver tabloid-headline-juiced news stories into Google search and Facebook feeds or suffer the consequences. It’s a demoralizing way to run the fifth estate.

I quite agree, and this (and the previous part) are strongly recommended.

5. Trolling Trump, Journalism Watchdog to Hold 'Global Press Oppressor Awards

This article is by Julia Conley on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

In response to President Donald Trump's announcement this week that he plans to hold an awards ceremony for dishonest media outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Friday it was organizing its own event to honor anti-press world leaders.

CPJ will be announcing THE GLOBAL PRESS OPPRESSORS AWARDS on Monday at 5:00pm. Subjects will cover Thinnest Skinned & Outrageous Use of Laws, in various categories for world leaders. Stay tuned!
I say, which I do because I did not know this, and besides I do think it does not belong to the functions of the U.S. president to criticize the press, though I know that Trump thinks so.

Here is some on how some Americans reacted:
A Rasmussen poll taken after the president first promoted his idea for an awards ceremony, in a November tweet, found that 40 percent of respondents believed Fox News, which has covered the Trump administration far more favorably than other cable networks, should win Trump's "Fakest News Trophy."
That seems a sensible reaction. The article ends as follows, and I partially disagree:
"The United States has some of the strongest legal free speech protections in the world, and serves as a beacon for press freedom in a world where journalists are routinely censored, attacked, or imprisoned for their work," notes the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker's website. "But the U.S. record is imperfect, and journalists and advocates must tirelessly defend the First Amendment in courts, in legislatures, and in the media. Constant vigilance and an honest accounting of the country’s track record on press freedom are essential."
My reasons to mostly disagree with this are two.

First, while I like the First Amendment to the Constitution, I do not think this was sufficient to guarantee the freedom of the press (though it did, to some extent, for a long time, but not anymore in the days of the internet).

Second, even if the First Amendment was fairly good, to maintain the legal rights on free speech requires (in the end) a Supreme Court that is willing to keep these rights. What happened in fact in 2010 was that the
Supreme Court - completely falsely, without any justification - interpreted the First Amendment, which is literally as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
as if it meant that "the freedom of speech" = "the having of money", which means that the richest persons have the most votes, and also should have the most votes.

I wrote this down as I understand it, and to me it seems completely insane (as it did to one of the pensioned former judges of the Supreme Court). But it is the opinion of the majority of the Supreme Court.

Anyway. I do agree with the CPJ and it is for this reason that this article is recommended.


[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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