March 19, 2018

Crisis: Facebook, Exit Freedom, Cambridge Analytica, Muddying Elections, Jared Kushner


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 19, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Monday, March 19, 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 19, 2018
1. Facebook’s Role in Data Misuse Sets Off a Storm on Two Continents
2. Building the Iron Wall
3. Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower: How We Influenced U.S. Voters

4. Facebook's Recurring Nightmare: Muddying Up Elections
5. Jared Kushner, You're Fired!
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. Facebook’s Role in Data Misuse Sets Off a Storm on Two Continents

This article is by Matthew Rosenberg and Sheera Frenkel on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
American and British lawmakers demanded on Sunday that Facebook explain how a political data firm with links to President Trump’s 2016 campaign was able to harvest private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network’s alerting users. The backlash forced Facebook to once again defend the way it protects user data.
Yes indeed, for the first statement in the above quotation. But I should add that I think the last statement I quoted is FAR too kind to Facebook, and indeed I would have asked by what right Facebook collected its user data: For me, it seems by fraud or by propaganda, and the propa- ganda mostly speculated on the massive ignorance of the vast majority of its members about programming, about computing, and about their rights.

Indeed, I would not be amazed if Facebook committed 2 billion
frauds in collecting its members , who are "dumb fucks who trust" Mark Zuckerberg, in Zuckerberg's own words - where I should add that I do not know which data Zuckerberg's AI slurps up, nor do I know how many of these data are (or should be, in a morally decent society) completely private (e-mails, incomes, health- status, doctors' opinions, bank accounts, school histories, political values, and indeed most things).

Then there is Amy Klobuchar:
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to press for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to appear before the panel to explain what the social network knew about the misuse of its data “to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”
Again I both am and am not amazed by Rosenberg's and Frenkel's "so far": Do they really mean to suggest that in their opinion such a widely loved member of the internet as Mark Zuckerberg should not explain how he managed to get the private data of no less than 50 million Americans?! And precisely - provably - what he did acquire?! And that again was acquired by Cambridge Analytica?!

I think that is utterly crazy, but I know he has something like a superhuman status, as someone who could squeeze 70 billion dollars out of misleading his members and abusing their private information.

Here is the last bit I quote from this article, and this bit seems factually correct:

The calls for greater scrutiny followed reports on Saturday in The New York Times and The Observer of London that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm founded by Stephen K. Bannon and Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, had used the Facebook data to develop methods that it claimed could identify the personalities of individual American voters and influence their behavior. The firm’s so-called psychographic modeling underpinned its work for the Trump campaign in 2016, though many have questioned the effectiveness of its techniques.

But Facebook did not inform users whose data had been harvested. The lack of disclosure could violate laws in Britain and in many American states.

Yes indeed - although I should add that this is from The New York Times, which has been saying for more than a year that "the Russians" decided the American elections from 2016, essentially on no good evidence whatsoever: What about stealing no less than the privacies of 50 million Americans, by a British-American firm?!

Then again, that is a question which is neither posed nor answered in this article. There are two more articles about Facebook or Cambridge Analytica reviewed below, here and here.

2. Building the Iron Wall

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, along with 18 members of the House of Representatives—15 Republicans and three Democrats—has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding that the Qatari-run Al-Jazeera television network register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The letter was issued after Al-Jazeera said it planned to air a documentary by a reporter who went undercover to look into the Israel lobby in the United States. The action by the senator and the House members follows the decision by the Justice Department to force RT America to register as a foreign agent and the imposition of algorithms by Facebook, Google and Twitter that steer traffic away from left-wing, anti-war and progressive websites, including Truthdig. It also follows December’s abolition of net neutrality.
The ominous assault on the final redoubts of a free press, through an attempt to brand dissidents, independent journalists and critics of corporate power and imperialism as agents of a foreign power, has begun. FARA, until recently, was a little-used regulation, passed in 1938 to combat Nazi propaganda.
I like Chris Hedges, in part though not only because he is a good writer. And while I agree with most that is being said here, I should add that this is one of his lesser openings in his weekly column on Truthdig, though I probably agree with him that it could not have been put much shorter nor much clearer in the format used.

And in any case, here is some information about "
the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)" (minus note numbers):

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is a United States law passed in 1938 requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a "political or quasi-political capacity" disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances. The purpose is to facilitate "evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons." The law is administered by the FARA Registration Unit of the Counterespionage Section (CES) in the National Security Division (NSD) of the United States Department of Justice/  As of 2007 the Justice Department reported there were approximately 1,700 lobbyists representing more than 100 countries before Congress, the White House and the federal government.

I admit this is from Wikipedia, that I do not trust any longer, because the lies it presents about totalitarianism (which cannot - according to the lying Wikipedia - apply to persons, political parties, plans, programs, or propositions of anyone, unless these are part of a totalitarian state, which makes total nonsense of over 50 years of reading I've done in totalitari- anism, from George Orwell onwards).

Then again, I meanwhile also discovered who are the restylers of the concept of totalitarianism: The rightist neofascist (?) Carl Friedrich (whose "concept of a "good democracy" rejected basic democracy as totalitarian" (Wikipedia): such a man) and the neofascist Brzezinski, whose mind may also been one of the first to approve of computers as instruments to introduce neofascism (which he called "technotronics" in the late 1960ies: See here).

To end these remarks on the last quotation: I also admit this beginning on FARA is not very clear, and that I copied its last statement simply because it interests me.

Then again, I do agree with the second paragraph of what I quoted above from Hedges, and here is more:

The handful of independent websites and news outlets, including this one, and a few foreign-run networks such as Al-Jazeera and RT America, on which I host a show, “On Contact,” are the few platforms left that examine corporate power and empire, the curtailment of our civil liberties, lethal police violence and the ecocide carried out by the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries, as well as cover the war crimes committed by Israel and the U.S. military in the Middle East. Shutting down these venues would ensure that the critics who speak through them, and oppressed peoples such as the Palestinians, have no voice left.
I take it this is also correct, although I am aware that this presupposes more knowledge about e.g. the mainstream media than is given in this article. I do have that knowledge, and I think the above is (mostly) correct.

Then there is this:
The anonymous site PropOrNot, replicating this tactic, in 2016 published a blacklist of 199 sites that it alleged, with no evidence, “reliably echo Russian propaganda.” More than half of those sites were far-right, conspiracy-driven ones. But about 20 of the sites were progressive, anti-war and left-wing. They included AlterNet, Black Agenda Report, Democracy Now!, Naked Capitalism, Truthdig, Truthout, CounterPunch and the World Socialist Web Site. PropOrNot charged that these sites disseminated “fake news” on behalf of Russia, and the allegations became front-page news in The Washington Post in a story headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during the election, experts say.”
To date, no one has exposed who operates PropOrNot or who is behind the website. But the damage done by this black propaganda campaign and the subsequent announcement by Google and other organizations such as Facebook last April that they had put in filters to elevate “more authoritative content” and marginalize “blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information” have steadily diverted readers away from some sites. The Marxist World Socialist Web Site, for example, has seen its traffic decline by 75 percent. AlterNet’s search traffic is down 71 percent, Consortium News is down 72 percent, and Global Research and Truthdig have seen declines. And the situation appears to be growing worse as the algorithms are refined.
Yes indeed, and I wrote repeatedly about PropOrNot in 2016 and this was - in my terms, to be sure, and not the sick falsifying bullshit preferred by Friedrichs, Brzezinksi and the Wikipedia - a totalitarian attack by anonymous bullshitters on the proper meaning of totalitarianism.

I think I agree with everything quoted, although I do not know about the percentages (which I do believe).

As a partial aside, of the sites mentioned by Hedges, I read AlterNet, Democracy Now!, Naked  Capitalism, Truthdig, and Truthout every day since 2013 at the latest (and probably also before), while I read Black Agenda Report regularly but not every day, CounterPunch some times (but I dislike its site: Too many advertisements), and the World Socialist Web Site occasionally.

Here is some more on Google and Amazon:
The lines separating technology-based entities such as Google and Amazon and the government’s security and surveillance apparatus are often nonexistent. The goal of corporations such as Google and Facebook is profit, not the dissemination of truth. And when truth gets in the way of profit, truth is sacrificed.
Yes indeed, and the reason for the first statement is that Google and Amazon do much of the work that the American government's spies are supposed to do: There is a considerable overlap of the activities of the NSA and Google and Amazon (and also some differences).

As to the other two statements that I quoted: I completely agree: Yes "
when truth gets in the way of profit, truth is sacrificed" (nearly always).
The corporate oligarchs, lacking a valid response to the discrediting of their policies of economic pillage and endless war, have turned to the blunt instrument of censorship and to a new version of red baiting. They do not intend to institute reforms or restore an open society. They do not intend to address the social inequality behind the political insurgencies in the two major political parties and the hatred of the corporate state that spans the political spectrum. They intend to impose a cone of silence and the state-sanctioned uniformity of opinion that characterizes all totalitarian regimes. This is what the use of FARA, the imposition of algorithms and the attempt to blame Trump’s election on Russian interference is about. Critics and investigative journalists who expose the inner workings of corporate power are branded enemies of the state in the service of a foreign power. The corporate-controlled media, meanwhile, presents the salacious, the trivial and the absurd as news while fanning the obsession over Russia.
Again I quite agree and like to add that "the state-sanctioned uniformity of opinion that characterizes all totalitarian regimes" is totalitarian in my sense, but not at all in the late Friedrich's and the late Brzezinski's sense: They would protest that an obvious democracy like the USA cannot possibly harbour anything like totalitarianism (for only Hitler, Stalin and Mao ran totalitarian states, indeed with some smaller states).

And this is from Hedges' ending:

The iron wall is rising. It will cement into place a global system of corporate totalitarianism, one in which the old vocabulary of human rights and democracy is empty and where any form of defiance means you are an enemy of the state. This totalitarianism is being formed incrementally. It begins by silencing the demonized. It ends by silencing everyone.
Yes indeed - except that, once again, Friedrichs and Brzezinski would protest (if they were alive) that only states can be totalitarian, while an obvious democracy as the USA cannot possibly show totalitarianism, and they would probably have added (if alive) that corporations (in their neofascist ideologies) cannot possibly be totalitarian either, but instead are the strongest bonds on freedom.

I agree with Hedges and Orwell, and totally reject Friedrichs and Brzezinski, but you should keep in mind that while there still are some sites that do give more or less correct definitions of totalitarianism, most sites seem to have switched to the neofascist use that
Friedrichs and Brzezinski propounded, in complete contradiction with Orwell and many other respectable authors.

3. Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower: How We Influenced U.S. Voters (Video)

This article is by Eric Ortiz on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Did data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica win the presidency for Donald Trump?

"I think it probably played a part," said Christopher Wylie, the data scientist who worked for the company and built the software program---using data collected from Facebook---that targeted 50 million unsuspecting Americans during the 2016 presidential race.

Yes indeed - and unlike the former bit, this is not written by someone kneeling before the superhuman Zuckerberg. Here is some more:

In an interview with The Guardian, Wylie explained how Cambridge Analytica influenced voters in the United States by creating personalized political advertisements. "Instead of standing in the public square and saying what you think and then letting people come and listen to you and have that shared experience as to what your narrative is, you are whispering into the ear of each and every voter, and you may be whispering one thing to this voter and another thing to another voter," Wylie said.

Yes indeed - and in fact this may pertain to no less than 50 million privatised narratives (privatised by AI), although I do not know this. But I do know that having the personal data of 50 million American voters does give those who possess it very strong possibilities for influencing very many American voters.

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:

The 28-year-old data war whistleblower decided to come clean about Cambridge Analytica because he regrets his role in what he called a "grossly unethical experiment" to sway public opinion.

"I can't say for sure what was the defining factor in getting Trump elected or growing the alt-right," Wylie said. "[But] if you want to fundamentally change society, you first have to break it. It's only when you break it is when you can remold the pieces into your vision of a new society. This was the weapon that Steve Bannon wanted to build to fight his culture war."

Yes, and I did not see the video of Wylie, although this is accessible from the article. But this is an interesting and also to the best of my knowledge a factually correct article, that is recommended. There also are some more data on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica in the next item:

4. Facebook's Recurring Nightmare: Muddying Up Elections

This article is by Ryan Nakashima and Anick Jesdanun on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:
Facebook has a problem it just can’t kick: People keep exploiting it in ways that could sway elections, and in the worst cases even undermine democracy.

News reports that Facebook let the Trump-affiliated data mining firm Cambridge Analytica abscond with data from tens of millions of users mark the third time in roughly a year the company appears to have been outfoxed by crafty outsiders in this way.

O, come on: "Facebook has a problem"?!

Facebook made - potential - problems for two billion of its users by extracting all the personal and private information from them it could get (I guess, for Facebook also keeps nearly everything it does a private secret: it has privacy rights none of its members has) and by making very many billions of dollars for its owner by selling the private information it stole from its users (either directly or by misleading them) to all manner of corporations.

Anyway... here

Each new issue has also raised the same enduring questions about Facebook’s conflicting priorities — to protect its users, but also to ensure that it can exploit their personal details to fuel its hugely lucrative, and precisely targeted, advertising business.

Well... I do not know any evidence whatsoever that supports the notion that Facebook does "protect its users" in anything whatsoever except in getting as much personal and private data from them as possible, while also confusing and misleading them about which data it does and does not gather (and what it does not gather seems to be only what its spokespersons say is or may not be gathered).

But here is some more on the real things that Facebook does:

Facebook may say its business model is to connect the world, but it’s really “to collect psychosocial data on users and sell that to advertisers.” said Mike Caulfield, a faculty trainer at Washington State University who directs a multi-university effort focused on digital literacy.

Quite so. And for me, Facebook is a 2 billionfold fraud of its users ("dumb fucks" who trusted the owner, in the owner's proud own words), that so far produced 70 billion dollars for its owner in a few years, that is, 35 dollar per member. And the 70 billion dollars are just the profits: the private data of 2 billion users are very probably sold for a whole lot more.

Here is a bit more on Cambridge Analytica:

Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge employee who served as a key source for detailed investigative reports published Saturday in The New York Times and The Guardian , said the firm was actually able to pull in data from roughly 50 million profiles by extending its tentacles to the unwitting friends of app users.

In fact, this only concerns the mechanism of stealing that Cambridge Analytica used, but it does not say anything about which private data it did succeed in stealing from Facebook (nor indeed the related questions whether Facebook was willing to sell these data to Cambridge Analytica and - for example - the latter might have thought the price was too high).

Here is Wylie, who - more or less - explains what was going on:

Wylie said he regrets the role he played in what he called “a full service propaganda machine.” Cambridge’s goal, he told the Guardian in a video interview , was to use the Facebook data to build detailed profiles that could be used to identify and then to target individual voters with personalized political messages calculated to sway their opinions.

“It was a grossly unethical experiment,” Wylie said. “Because you are playing with an entire country. The psychology of an entire country without their consent or awareness.”

Yes indeed - and I add these possibilities were both foreseen in 1967 and 1970 by Zbgniew Brzezinski, then head of American security, and he wanted them very much, precisely to make such use of them as Wylie sketches here: See here. And he did get precisely what he wanted, ca. 1992.

Then there is this:

Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said Facebook badly needs to embrace the transparency it has essentially forced on its users by sharing their habits, likes and dislikes with advertisers.

I think this is a very strange way of putting what is going on: Facebook simply stole the private information about the "habits, likes and dislikes" (together with very much more, it seems) from its users, and indeed it should never have had the right to do so (which anyway is extremely tenuous, indeed in good part because while Facebook seems to steal as much as it can, it is about itself, its algorithms, its interests, its clients etc. etc. etc. as silent as it can be).

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

“It’s a disgusting abuse of privacy,” said Larry Ponemon, founder of the privacy research firm Ponemon Institute. “In general, most of these privacy settings are superficial,” he said. “Companies need to do more to make sure commitments are actually met.”

Well... yes and no. I agree with Ponemon that "privacy settings are superficial" (and indeed not only with Facebook but - it seems - everywhere) and two important reasons for this are (i) only a very small proportion of the members of Facebook seems to know much about programming and computing, while also (ii) only a small proportion of the members of Facebook seems to know much about the laws that may apply.

I agree with that. But I fundamentally disagree that "[c]ompanies need to do more to make sure commitments are actually met":

I think the laws - virtually anywhere - should be changed (back, if necessary or possible) so that it becomes a very serious felony to own or use any of the private information of any of the users of the internet without some prior, clear and fundamentally non-secret decision by a judge, quite as with paper mail 25 and more years ago (!!).

Until these changes have been made and are actively maintained, anybody's privacy will remain up for grabs by spies from anywhere with access to internet cables and also by big corporations from anywhere with access to the same.

5. Jared Kushner, You're Fired!

This article is by Nomi Prins on Tomdispatch. It starts as follows:

Here we are a little more than a year into the Trump presidency and his administration’s body count is already, as The Donald might put it, “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting.”

Among the casualties are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; my former boss at Goldman Sachs, economic policy chief Gary Cohn; National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; FBI Director James Comey; White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer; four other communications directors including Hope Hicks who, having been Ivanka Trump's confidante, was elevated to the status of the president’s “real daughter” before her own White House exit; chief strategist Steve Bannon; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; a bunch of other instant relics of Trumpian political history, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Actually, a 200-year-old magnolia uprooted from the White House grounds thanks to the first lady.)

Yes indeed. These are all facts and I also like Nomi Prins. This is what she proposes to do and indeed does in the rest of her article:

Given the not-if-but-when nature of Kushner’s departure from the White House, it’s none too soon for media outlets to prepare themselves.  With that in mind, here is a prospective political obituary for him.

Well... I think it is mildly interesting, but I will not review more of mere speculations, although I do agree with Prins (it seems) that Kushner is an incompetent, like many of Trump's other appointments. I leave the rest of this to your interests.


[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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