January 10, 2018

Crisis: NSA Spying, On Steve Bannon, Trump´s Skills, Nader on Trump, Wars & Propaganda


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 10, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, January 10, 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 10, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. NSA Surveillance Bill Would Legalize Loophole That Lets FBI Spy on
     Americans Without a Warrant

2. Steve Bannon Steps Down From Breitbart Post
3. Trump's No Genius—In Fact, He Ranks Lowest Among Last 15

4. An Open Letter to President Trump
5. Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Coming Year in Special Ops
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. NSA Surveillance Bill Would Legalize Loophole That Lets FBI Spy on Americans Without a Warrant

This article is by Alex Emmons on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

With major NSA surveillance authorities set to expire later this month, House Republicans are rushing to pass a bill that would not only reauthorize existing powers, but also codify into law some practices that critics have called unconstitutional.

The bill takes aim at reforming how federal law enforcement can use data collected by the National Security Agency, putting a modest constraint on when the FBI can conduct so-called backdoor searches of Americans’ communications. But because such searches make use of a legal loophole, critics say the current bill may do more harm than good by explicitly writing the practice into law.

The bill would reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which serves as the basis for some of the NSA’s largest surveillance programs, and keep it on the books through 2023. The law was first passed in 2008 after the George W. Bush administration’s secret warrantless wiretapping was made public, effectively to legalize what the administration was doing.

I say.

Well... as I have also been saying many times since 2012, I think the surveillance by the secret services of everything anyone does by an internet computer or cellphone [2] is by far the closest development of neofascism that I know, and these changes, that ¨legislate¨ the illegal and the unconstitutional stealings of the total privacy of everyone anywhere will make the USA into a real neofascist state.

Then again, I should add here that while quite a few write about fascism, also in connection with Trump and his goverment, very few seem to understand what fascism really was and indeed few even can define it in a plausible manner. [3]

I have read some who - more or less (!!) - did so about fascism (see here: On Fascism and Neofascism: Definitions) but I am very sorry to say I have read no one with - even! - any decent definition of neofascism.

In any case: As I said these new changes of the law will make the USA into the NUSA (and see my Crisis: Welcome to the NUSA! of a year ago), that is The Neofascist United States of America.

Here is some more:

The law allows the intelligence community to spy on Americans’ transnational communications without a warrant so long as the “targets” are not Americans. In 2013, documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA vacuums up a tremendous amount of wholly domestic communications through the program as well.

Republicans tried to ram through a different incarnation of the bill last month, based on a more draconian version passed by the House Intelligence Committee. During a daylong push to drum up support, Republicans on the committee circulated fliers depicting enlarged photos of Islamic State fighters, trying to give the impression that failing to pass that bill would be a gift to foreign terrorists. But leadership backed off after determining they didn’t have enough votes to pass it, according to multiple congressional sources. Domestic surveillance is the rare issue on which hard-right Republicans and left-leaning privacy advocates often find common ground.

Well... this sick neofascistic propaganda of the GOP has been going on for seventeen years now. For more see e.g. item 5 below.

Here is how neofascism proceeds:

Privacy advocates have called backdoor searches unconstitutional and urged Congress to close the loophole by requiring the FBI to get a court order to query Americans’ communications. The current bill takes a crack at doing so, requiring the FBI to get a warrant before searching the data in relation to an open criminal investigation.

But the bill carves out large exceptions. The FBI doesn’t have to apply for a warrant when national security is involved, or when it determines that there is a “threat to life or serious bodily harm.” And the bill would continue to allow the FBI to sift through the data even when those searches don’t involve a specific criminal investigation, which the FBI already does so often that they have compared it to searching Google.

Incidentally, note that for the NSA in any case any of the around 7 billion people who do not have an American passport already (and since 2001) is a rightless victim of the NSA, that is allowed (since 2001) to gather everything they can find.

Here is the last bit on this legalization of the neofascism of the secret services in the USA:

Daniel Schuman, policy director for digital rights organization Demand Progress, said the new bill essentially codifies illegal backdoor searches, while failing to effectively limit them.

“The Intelligence Committee’s bill disregards the Constitution and common sense by granting the government the authority to search Americans’ communications without first obtaining a warrant,” Schuman told The Intercept. “Not only does this turn the purpose of the foreign surveillance law on its head, transforming it into a domestic surveillance tool, but it places activists, minorities, and everyone else at the mercy of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, who have made clear their disregard for legal constraints and democratic norms.”

Yes indeed. And this is a recommended article. (And once again I am glad I was born in 1950 and not in 2000.)

2. Steve Bannon Steps Down From Breitbart Post

This article is by Jeremy W. Peters on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
Stephen K. Bannon stepped down on Tuesday from his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News, ostracized for now from conservative circles and the Republican Party he brazenly predicted he would remake.

Mr. Bannon’s departure, which was initiated by an estranged financial patron and Breitbart investor, Rebekah Mercer, came as Mr. Bannon remained unable to quell the furor over remarks attributed to him in a new book in which he questions President Trump’s mental fitness and disparages his son Donald Trump Jr.

I say, for I did not know this (and it is very recent). Clearly, the ¨new book¨ is Michael Wolff´s ¨Fire and Fury¨. (The last link is to my - fairly brief - review of it.)

Here is some more about Stephen Bannon, who seems to be failing as a rightwing revolutionist and seems to be falling now from both Trump´s sympathy and now also from Breitbart:

Mr. Bannon’s exit from Breitbart, a platform for hard-edge nationalist ideas, is the latest ignominious turn in a career that was once one of the most prominent and improbable in modern American politics.

Though he was virtually unknown outside his work at Breitbart, Mr. Bannon was named chief executive of the Trump campaign two and a half months before Election Day. And he helped instill the discipline and focus that allowed Mr. Trump to narrowly prevail in the three Midwestern states that gave him victory in the Electoral College.

He accompanied Mr. Trump to the White House and became his chief strategist. With an office in the West Wing and a direct line to the Oval Office — he initially reported to no one but the president — he seemed well positioned to wreak havoc on the political institutions and leaders he railed against as corrupt and self-serving.

Yes, that all seems to be true. In contrast, here is Stephen Bannon on Stephen Bannon:

When Mr. Trump first denounced Mr. Bannon last week, saying, “He not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Mr. Bannon insisted to his writers and editors at Breitbart that it would all blow over. When reports began circulating that Ms. Mercer had cut him off, he denied it outright. And when friends started asking him about rumors that his job was in jeopardy, he insisted that everything was fine.

I say. Well... without money Bannon cannot do much, or so it seems to me. I will be pleased if this is the last bit I write about Bannon, though one cannot be sure. And this is a recommended article.

3. Trump's No Genius—In Fact, He Ranks Lowest Among Last 15 Presidents

This article is by Nina Burleigh on AlterNet and originally on Newsweek. It starts as follows:
President Donald Trump—who boasted over the weekend that his success in life was a result of “being, like really smart”—communicates at the lowest grade level of the last 15 presidents, according to a new analysis of the speech patterns of presidents going back to Herbert Hoover.
I did not know this, but indeed I am not amazed.

Also, Trump did not just say that he is ¨
like really smart¨ (which is something I do not think, but that he is allowed to think about himself), but also that he is ¨a very stable genius¨, which is utter bullshit, and in fact confirms the psychologists´ and psychiatrists´ judgements who said he is nothing of the kind, but is in fact a megalomaniac aka a grandiose or malignant narcissist.

But leaving that out for the moment, here is Trump´s ¨really smart¨ use (as a
¨a very stable genius¨) of his tremendous linguistic gifts:

The analysis assessed the first 30,000 words each president spoke in office, and ranked them on the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and more than two dozen other common tests analyzing English language difficulty levels. Trump clocked in around mid-fourth grade, the worst since Truman, who spoke at nearly a sixth-grade level.

At the top of the list were Hoover and Jimmy Carter, who were basically at an 11th-grade level, and President Barack Obama, in third place with a high ninth-grade level of communicating with the American people.

I am Dutch and have no experience with American schools and universities, but while this is a bit vague, it is clear that the data about the linguistic gifts of the various American presidents both vary considerably (from the fourth grade to the eleventh grade) and do not leave much doubt that Trump speaks very simply.

Here is more on Trump´s sayings about Trump´s intellectual genius:

Trump has been swinging back hard against on the record allegations in Michael Wolff's bombshell new book that members of his own team called him “dumb” and “a dope.”

In a Saturday morning tweet, Trump reminded people that he was elected to the presidency “on my first try.”

“I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!” He also tweeted hat “throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart."

In comments at Camp David later, he added that he was “a very excellent student” and “came out and made billions and billions of dollars ... ran for president one time and won.”

He said so. (And if he had just let the $200 million he got from his dad gather interest without doing anything whatsoever, he would have $12 billion instead of $8 million, or so it seems.)

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

The words were run through a variety of lexicological analyses, besides the Flesch-Kincaid, and the results were the same. In every one, Trump came in dead last. Trump also uses the fewest "unique words" (2,605) of any president—Obama was the best at 4,869—and uses words with the fewest average syllables, with 1.33 per word, compared to positively multi-syllabic president Hoover at 1.57.

“By every metric and methodology tested, Donald Trump’s vocabulary and grammatical structure is significantly more simple, and less diverse, than any President since Herbert Hoover, when measuring “off-script” words, that is, words far less likely to have been written in advance for the speaker,” CEO Bill Frischling wrote. “The gap between Trump and the next closest president ... is larger than any other gap using Flesch-Kincaid. Statistically speaking, there is a significant gap.”

That is, Trump scored the lowest since president Hoover on all of a variety of tests. And this is a recommended article.

4. An Open Letter to President Trump

This article is by Ralph Nader on his site. It starts as follows:

Dear President Trump,

Let us all wish and work for a peaceful and just New Year.

The American people are spending a significant amount of time observing and thinking about your presidency and its robust tweeting operation as President. Three areas of interest and concern comprise this letter’s purpose:

1. With news of the forthcoming medical examination by your physicians there will be renewed interest in your medical records and medical condition. This is true of all Presidents, but more so with you, because you have not been as forthcoming or anywhere near as complete in your disclosures about the state of your health during the campaign and since you became President last January.(...)

Please release your full medical records with the necessary technical details and explanations to give the public confidence in your health.

Nader´s request is both quite serious and quite justified, but my own guess - after a year of Trump - is that he will never publish his full medical records.

Here is the second point:

2. There is much writing and litigation about how you are enriching yourself from many private and public sources. The emoluments clause of the Constitution is much in the news as recurrent reports bring to public attention all the spenders going to your properties and those of your family hoping to ingratiate themselves with your favors, including diplomatic officials of foreign countries in Washington, DC and New York City, and other public officials patronizing your properties abroad. 

Since you have not fully divested from your properties, there is all the more reason for you to release several years of your tax returns, including the most recent return.
My judgement is the same about Trump´s tax returns: Nader´s request is both quite serious and quite justified, but my own guess - after a year of Trump - is that he will never publish his tax returns (and will continue to lie about them).

Here is the third point:
3. There has been a vast conflict between your public statements assuring the people that “we want to protect our workers, their safety our health and we want to protect our air and our country’s natural beauty.” Moreover, last year you asserted that no one would go without healthcare.
By contrast, you have selected men and women to run your health and safety regulatory agencies and departments who were and are openly hostile to these agencies’ official statutory missions.
In fact, this is mostly about Trump´s incredible and excessive lying. I think this will also continue, and indeed expect it to get worse.

There is more in the open letter and this is a recommended article.

5. Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Coming Year in Special Ops

This article is by Nick Turse on TomDispatch. It starts as follows, with an introduction by Tom Engelhardt

If you want to know something about life in America these days, consider how New York Times columnist David Leonhardt began his first piece of the year, “7 Wishes for 2018”: "Well, at least it’s not 2017 anymore. I expect that future historians will look back on it as one of the darker non-war years in the country’s history...”

Think about that for a moment: 2017, a "non-war year"? Tell that to the Afghans, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Somalis, or for that matter the parents of the four American Green Berets who died in Niger last October.
In fact, I will only quote from Engelhardt´s introduction. And the above quote is quite correct, although it doesn´t mention that part of what The New York Times does is propagandizing, and part of the propaganda is the dearth of information The New York Times provides to its readers about the effective multiple wars that the USA does conduct throughout the world since 2001.

Then again, here is Tom Engelhardt:

Launched in October 2001, what was once called the Global War on Terror -- it even gained the grotesque acronym, GWOT -- has never ended.  Instead, it’s morphed and spread over large parts of the planet.  In all the intervening years, the United States has been in a state of permanent war that shows no sign of concluding in 2018.  Its planes continue to drop a staggering tonnage of munitions; its drones continue to Hellfire-missile country after country; and, in recent years, its elite Special Operations forces, now a military-within-the-U.S.-military of about 70,000 personnel, have been deployed, as Nick Turse has long reported at this website, to almost every imaginable country on the planet.  They train allied militaries and proxy forces, advise and sometimes fight with those forces in the field, conduct raids, and engage in what certainly looks like war.
Yes indeed - but the American mainstream media mainly neglect to treat all those ¨engagements¨ that look ¨like war¨. And therefore most Americans know little or nothing about the wars fought in their names, and from their taxes.

And in fact here is Tom Engelhardt again:
The only catch in all this (and it’s surely what led Leonhardt to write those lines of his) is the American people. Long divorced from their all-volunteer military in a draft-less country, we have largely ignored the war on terror and gone about our business just as President George W. Bush urged us to do two weeks after the 9/11 attacks.  ("Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.")  As those distant conflicts expanded and terror groups spread and multiplied, Washington helped the "non-war" atmosphere along by perfecting a new kind of warfare in which ever fewer Americans would die.  Half a century later, its quagmire qualities aside, the war on terror is largely the anti-Vietnam War: no body counts, few body bags, lots of proxy forces, armed robotic vehicles in the skies, and at the tip of the “spear” a vast, ever-more secretive military, those special ops guys.  As a result, if you weren’t in that all-volunteer military or a family member of someone who was, it wasn’t too hard to live as if the country’s “forever wars” had nothing to do with us.  It’s possible that never in our history, one filled with wars, have Americans been more deeply demobilized than in this era.  When it comes to the war on terror, there’s neither been a wave of support nor, since 2003, a wave of protest.
I think that is quite true and quite sad. 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 (!!).

[2] In fact, I do not own a cellphone, and never will: I very much dislike being spied upon by the NSA and indeed by most other secret services.

But what I wanted to say is also that it seems to me that cellphones are designed to stupify their users, among other things by lacking a keyboard (other than as a tiny window in which one only type with one finger), that makes the communicating in slogans that Twitter is so much about, a virtual necessity: No one can write long texts on a cellphone.

[3] No one is able to read all or most of the very many books that were written about fascism and Nazism, and neither am I.

But I am a philosopher and a psychologist of 67, whose father, mother and grandfather all were in the communist resistance against the Nazis in Holland in WW II, and both my father and my grandfather were arrested in August of 1941, and convicted as ¨political terrorists¨ to concentration camp imprisonment, that my grandfather did not survive.

And while there definitely are some contemporaries who know more about fascism/Nazism than I do - see e.g. Christopher Browning´s ¨Ordinary Men¨ (which I now find is totally unreferenced and not reviewed on the more and more horrible and sick and sickening Wikipedia) - I should add that I have not read any journalist on fascism or neofascism in the last 25 years that came close to Browning (who indeed is an academic historian).

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