March 17, 2018

Crisis: Iraq Death Toll, ¨Social Media¨, Trumpian Corruptions, Haspels, Torture


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 17, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Saturday, March 17, 2018.

1. Summary

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

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from March 17, 2018
1. The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the U.S. Invasion
2. Is Social Media Destroying Democracy?
3. Inside the Trump Circus of Corruption
4. Why Can't We Talk About the T-Word with Trump's CIA Pick?
5. Democrats’ Surrender On Torture Is Nearly Complete
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. The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the U.S. Invasion

This article is by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
March 19 marks 15 years since the U.S.-U.K invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the American people have no idea of the enormity of the calamity the invasion unleashed. The U.S. military has refused to keep a tally of Iraqi deaths. General Tommy Franks, the man in charge of the initial invasion, bluntly told reporters, “We don’t do body counts.” One survey found that most Americans thought Iraqi deaths were in the tens of thousands. But our calculations, using the best information available, show a catastrophic estimate of 2.4 million Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion.
I say.

There is more
below on the number of Iraqi victims, who incidentally but significantly are nearly all Iraqi civilians who were killed by American military professionals (plus some military provided by other countries) who did not even count the bodies they made, presumably because Iraqis were assigned a level of humanity far below that of Americans.

But before going on about the number of Iraqi victims I want to make three background remarks on how these numbers, and indeed these wars that go on for fifteen years, are possible at all.

There seem to be three important background facts (apart from the stupidity and/or ignorance that characterize many though not all Americans):
  • Nixon privatized the American army: There is no more draft (that could hit any American, including - gasp! - the children of the rich and of Senators and Congressmen), which meant military fighting and keeping military secrecies were from then on very much easier.
  • The mainstream media are in a few hands and lie, deceive or suppress news as if these are the tasks of the press: This means you simply cannot trust ¨the news¨ you get from such sources even as factually correct (apart from ideological colorings) - but most consumers do not seem to know this or do not seem to care.
  • There is by now an enormous corruption in the Senate and in Congress: Everyone there - it seems - can be bought; it seems each of these 750 or so men and women has been assigned 10 or more heavily paid lobbyists; and in fact - or so it seems to me - the great majority of these people, though not all, have been bought.
There are more reasons but these are important reasons why very much of the potential news about the American military simply are never heard: A privatized army; centralized mainstream media in a few hands that live on propaganda rather than facts; plus the enormous corruptions in the Senate and Congress simply take care of this.

Back to the article:

The number of Iraqi casualties is not just a historical dispute, because the killing is still going on today. Since several major cities in Iraq and Syria fell to Islamic State in 2014, the U.S. has led the heaviest bombing campaign since the American War in Vietnam, dropping 105,000 bombs and missiles and reducing most of Mosul and other contested Iraqi and Syrian cities to rubble.

An Iraqi Kurdish intelligence report estimated that at least 40,000 civilians were killed in the bombardment of Mosul alone, with many more bodies still buried in the rubble. A recent project to remove rubble and recover bodies in just one neighborhood found 3,353 more bodies, of whom only 20 percent were identified as ISIS fighters and 80 percent as civilians. Another 11,000 people in Mosul are still reported missing by their families.

I copied that as stated, and only note the fact that of those killed 80 percent were civilians. And perhaps I should also add that a more or less reliable proportion that relates the numbers of people who were killed (in an accident or in violence of any kind) to those who were wounded but not killed, as 1 : 10. I do not know the actual proportion, and I only state my guesses to remind you that there tend to be many more that are wounded than killed.

Next, there is this on a reliable report on the number of victims (from 2006) together with the reactions of two of the warring parties, namely the U.S. and U.K. governments:

Two such reports on Iraq came out in the prestigious The Lancet medical journal, first in 2004 and then in 2006. The 2006 study estimated that about 600,000 Iraqis were killed in the first 40 months of war and occupation in Iraq, along with 54,000 nonviolent but still war-related deaths.

The U.S. and U.K. governments dismissed the report, saying that the methodology was not credible and that the numbers were hugely exaggerated. In countries where Western military forces have not been involved, however, similar studies have been accepted and widely cited without question or controversy. Based on advice from their scientific advisers, British government officials privately admitted that the 2006 Lancet report was “likely to be right,” but precisely because of its legal and political implications, the U.S. and British governments led a cynical campaign to discredit it.

Yes indeed - and see my three points about important parts of the reasons why these warring governments can dismiss these factual reports and get away with this.

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

Taking ORB’s estimate of 1.033 million killed by June 2007, then applying a variation of Just Foreign Policy’s methodology from July 2007 to the present using revised figures from Iraq Body Count, we estimate that 2.4 million Iraqis have been killed since 2003 as a result of our country’s illegal invasion, with a minimum of 1.5 million and a maximum of 3.4 million.

These calculations cannot possibly be as accurate or reliable as a rigorous up-to-date mortality study, which is urgently needed in Iraq and in each of the countries afflicted by war since 2001. But in our judgment, it is important to make the most accurate estimate we can.

Yes indeed, and I do agree. And this is a strongly recommended article.

2. Is Social Media Destroying Democracy?

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. It starts as follows:
The political world is awash in a growing sea of social media-fed misinformation, loosely called fake news. Each week brings eyebrow-raising reports of a threat poised to upend America’s already dysfunctional political landscape, or reports that those at the helm of online information ecosystems delight in distorting reality and disrupting societal norms.
Well... yes and no, but mostly no and my reasons are all related to the words that are chosen in this report. Here are some of my reasons:
  • First, my answer to the question in the title is: Yes, definitely. But my reasons do not appear to be Rosenfeld´s reasons. I think the main reason is that just on Facebook alone there are over 2 billion customers who sold their privacies for the benefit of getting advertisements that may help them save some, while at the very most 10% are capable of real writing and real thinking - but nearly all of them publish, for this has been made stupidly easy, and nearly all do so anonymously.
  • Second, I am not worried by ¨misinformation¨ (?!) nor by ¨fake news¨ (?!?!); I am very much worried by the straight assertion of lies and falsities, while I get upset by progressive journalists (like Rosenfeld) who simply copy these vaguaries while wholly avoiding straight terms like ¨truth¨, ¨falsity¨, ¨lies¨ and ¨propaganda¨.
  • Third, I also do not believe in ¨information ecosystems¨: This is a falsifying metaphor - and if Facebook is meant (how can I know?), I´d say this is not an ¨information ecosystem¨ but is a system that is designed to spread propaganda, lies, and falsities; to suppress many things real cititzens ought to know; and that makes money by stealing the private information on their users (who are according to its owner ¨dumb fucks¨ who trust him).
There are more reasons. Then there is this:
There’s nothing new about political distortions or rabble-rousing in American culture and politics. But just as social media is revolutionizing and accelerating aspects of the way people and campaigns communicate, these frontline dispatches heralding a disinformation dystopia are frequently missing a key element: context, or magnitude, so readers know what matters—and doesn’t—about the purported threats or trends. This omission is significant, because as the March issue of Science noted, “about 47 percent of Americans overall report getting news from social media often or sometimes, with Facebook as, by far, the dominant source.”
O Lord! Now it is ¨context or magnitude¨ that is missing, ¨so readers know what matters¨.

No, it is not ¨context¨ or ¨magnitude¨ that are missing: It is the presence of billions of low IQs (half of mankind has an IQ under 100) and of very many anonymous stupid or ignorant folks, who now can all ¨write¨ and scold whomever they please. (And no: You won´t teach them much by including
¨context¨. If you have any success, you will only be discriminated and scolded by the majority of the stupid or ignorant.)

Then there is this:

Last week, Science published a study that analyzed 126,000 rumors spread on Twitter and traced how propaganda spreads further and faster than facts do. People are drawn to falsities, like to share it, and social media super-charges that process, its authors said. In a separate article, 15 social scientists warned that dynamic is fanning political extremism.

“Our call is to promote interdisciplinary research to reduce the spread of fake news and to address its underlying pathologies it has revealed,” the co-authored article, "The Science of Fake News," concluded. “We must redesign our information ecosystem… We must answer a fundamental question: How can we create a news ecosystem and culture that values and promotes truth?”
This is also utter bullshit. First, Twitter is not a good subject because people then were limited to 148 characters, which makes it very difficult not to write in slogans and impossible to give rational arguments. Second ¨propaganda¨ (?!) does NOT ¨spread further and faster than facts do¨: Bold sensation probably does, but that is not what is being claimed here. Third, ¨people¨ are NOT ¨drawn to falsities¨: They are drawn to what interests them. Fourth, ¨the spread of fake news¨ is itself a Trumpian propaganda term. Fifth, to speak of ¨pathologies¨ in this context (i) is total propaganda and (ii) is utterly false (and I am a psychologist) - and those who spread lies and falsities unwittingly probably are stupid or ignorant, but these terms are totally avoided.
Sixth, in any case this supposedly ¨scientific report¨ published in Science, was not science but bullshit - as is, alas, much of the social sciences.

Finally, here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
“There’s a collective freakout going on regarding the effects of social media on society as a whole,” Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, whose research focuses on media and social change, said in an email. “I’d classify the concerns I’ve heard into four general areas: Social media is addictive and bad for us; social media platforms are killing journalism; social media is being manipulated by bad actors to spread propaganda; and social media leads to ideological isolation and polarization.”
Well... yes: I accept this, but it is not saying much.

3. Inside the Trump Circus of Corruption

This article is by Heather Digby Parton on AlterNet and originally on Salon. This is from near the beginning:

Axios' Jonathan Swan quoted a White House staffer summing up the atmosphere these days:

This is the most toxic working environment on the planet. Usually tough times bring people together. But right now this atmosphere is ripping people apart. There's no leadership, no trust, no direction and [at] this point there's very little hope. Would you want to go to work every day not knowing whether your future career was going to be destroyed without explanation?

That is in apparent reference to the fact that people are being summarily dismissed and marched out of the White House without even being able to gather their personal items, almost on a daily basis.
I say. Then again, probably because I am a psychologist, I can give at least one fairly good explanation why so many ¨future career[s]¨ are ¨going to be destroyed without explanation¨:
My reason - and it seems now at least 70,000 psychologists and psychiatrists agree with this - is that Donald Trump is not sane.

You may disagree, but if you do my guess is that you are not a psychologist. Also, I do agree with those who say this is not all of the reason - but I think it is a significant part of it.

Here is more:
One thing Trump's game of musical chairs is accomplishing is that it's become almost quaint to worry about the massive amount of corruption within the administration. It is now so commonplace that when it becomes public there is a moment of hand-wringing in the press and then ... nothing happens. For all the turnover in this administration, virtually none of it has been because of the self-dealing and profiteering that's reported virtually every day.
Yes, this is true. Here is more on the Trumps and the Kushners (not reporting on others mentioned in the article):
Then there are the Trumps and the Kushners. The emoluments issue seems to have disappeared, despite the fact that foreign governments are routinely spending massive sums at Trump hotels to curry favor with the president, and God only knows what they're doing at his foreign properties. Donald Trump continues to do almost weekly promotional appearances at this resorts and golf properties, charging people big bucks for access to him and pocketing the money.
Quite so. And this is on Trump´s children (all of whom are completely unqualified for the work they are supposed to do in Trump´s government):
wrote about Donald Trump Jr.'s Indian adventure awhile back, selling foreign policy and condos in one whirlwind trip. Now it looks like Ivanka Trump herself is finally coming under scrutiny. She did not divest her holdings in the Trump Organization and is receiving more than a million dollars a year from projects with state-owned companies around the world, even as she works in the White House without proper clearance and travels the globe as a representative of the U.S. government. It's astonishing that she is getting away with this.
Yes again, although I am reprinting this mostly because she is said to get ¨more than a million dollars a year¨ from projects she is not qualified for. O well... and this is a recommended article.

4. Why Can't We Talk About the T-Word with Trump's CIA Pick?

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

The key to defending the practice of torture is never to use the word.

When the Bush administration wanted to torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, it adopted "enhanced interrogation techniques." When President Obama decided not to investigate Bush's torture regime, he said it was "time to look forward, not backwards."

Now that deputy CIA director Gina Haspel, a leading participant in the torture regime, has been nominated to run the agency, this linguistic evasion is returning with a vengeance.
Yes indeed. Here is some on the spirit of solidarity that marks many (not all) ¨former U.S. intelligence officials¨:
The Cipher Brief, a blog run by former U.S. intelligence officials, solicited comments on Haspel’s nomination from six former U.S. officials. All of them praised her. All but one alluded to her record of torture. All avoided using the T-word.
I say, although I admit that while not knowing this it also does not amaze me. Here is some more:

None disputed Haspel’s role in torturing suspected terrorists, because there is no dispute. The executive summary of a still-classified Senate Intelligence Committee report describes the torture regime in (literally) agonizing detail at “Detention Site Green,” the code name for the CIA detention facility in Thailand that Haspel ran starting in July 2002.

Haspel, the agency now says, did not oversee the torture of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi member of al-Qaeda who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. But she knew about it and destroyed evidence of it. What did she know?

I agree. Here is one of quite a few who are named and quoted in the article:

Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden: "She’s got a confirmation issue, and they will be coming out of the woodwork with her previous history. But that’s a fight I think the president wouldn’t mind having. 'I’m tough on terrorism. These people aren’t.' So it may be personally difficult for Gina, but I do think she gets confirmed.… Gina Haspel did precisely what the agency and the nation asked her to do.”

I only remark that while I agree with Hayden that ¨Gina Haspel did precisely what the agency¨ ¨asked her to do¨, although I and everyone else who does not belong to ¨the agency¨ are not allowed by ¨the agency¨ to know ¨precisely¨ what ¨the agency¨ wanted, although I am quite willing to believe that they told her she could fuck all international laws that forbid torture, and torture as she pleased, as long as she kept this a secret (and called it ¨interrogation¨). O, and I disagree with Hayden about ¨the nation¨.

And to the best of my knowledge Haspels did do what ¨the agency¨ wanted her to do. Here is one important reason:

The underlying assumption of all of Haspel’s defenders is that, even if torture is immoral, illegal or ineffective, U.S. intelligence officials must be free to do whatever they want in defense of “national security.” That was the attitude that launched the torture program 17 years ago, and neither failure nor disgrace seems to have dispelled it.

Yes indeed. And this illegal bullshit was maintained by the USA for 17 years now... This is a recommended article.

5. Democrats’ Surrender On Torture Is Nearly Complete

This article is by Marcy Wheeler on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

In the same tweet he used to unceremoniously fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump announced the twin nominations of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement and CIA veteran Gina Haspel as the new head of the nation’s premier intelligence agency. Haspel, the CIA’s current deputy director, now stands to become the agency’s first female director, despite the fact that she previously supervised a CIA black site where detainees were tortured and was later implicated in the destruction of video evidence of those interrogations.

The news of her nomination was met with mild skepticism by some Democratic senators, but assuming she doesn’t get bottled up behind an impasse over Pompeo, nothing suggests her eventual confirmation is in serious doubt.

Yes, that is all correct. And there is this about Haspel´s fondness for torturing coupled to her fondness of keep all evidence for this a secret:
What’s not in dispute is Haspel’s role in the cover-up: Once Abu Zubaydah and Nashiri were shipped to their next stop in a series of black sites, Haspel started her multiyear campaign to destroy the videos that showed their torture, which indisputably contradicted written authorizations and records. Defying the warnings of multiple Democrats, the director of national intelligence and several judges, Haspel in November 2005, as chief of staff for the director of clandestine services, sent a cable ordering officers to stick the tapes into an industrial-strength shredder.
And this is from the ending of this article:
It may well be, as her supporters argue, that Haspel is the best, most competent, least politicized nominee we’re likely to get from Trump.
I say - and I have a pertinent question: If so, how extra-ordinarily monstrous are the other possible nominees? I am just asking and this is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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