April 11, 2018

Crisis: On Facebook * 3, On Trump, On Doomsday Machines


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from April 11, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, April 11, 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 April 11, 2018
1. Is “Sorry” Enough? Facebook Built Empire on Harvesting Personal
     Information with Little Oversight
2. Trump Launches a New Drug War, Targeting the Opioid Crisis -- But
     Who's the Real Enemy?
3. Why It's So Hard to Delete Facebook: Constant Psychological Boosts
     Keep You Hooked

4. As Facebook's Zuckerberg Testifies In Congress, Lawmakers Will Face a
     CEO With Power Over Their Careers and Agenda
5. Doomsday Machines
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. Is “Sorry” Enough? Facebook Built Empire on Harvesting Personal Information with Little Oversight

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify today on Capitol Hill amid the burgeoning scandal about how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. In prepared remarks ahead of his testimony today, he writes, “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. … It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.” The company has also unveiled new privacy tools ahead of Zuckerberg’s testimony today. For more, we speak with David Dayen, a contributor to The Intercept and columnist for The New Republic. His recent pieces include “Ban Targeted Advertising” and “The U.S. Government Is Finally Scrambling to Regulate Facebook.”
Yes - and one of the main things things that I find extremely odd is that while it is by now widely agreed upon that Cambridge Analytica did harvest ¨the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission¨ - who seem to be mostly Americans - this does not seem to have any special interest for Robert Mueller, who still seems to be mostly interested in ¨the Russians¨, although is is quite obvious that they had no access to the data Cambridge Analytica obtained.

O, and there is one more thing I like to underline: There are more than 2 billion ¨users¨ of Facebook, and nearly all of them let their personal data be stolen by Zuckerberg, and at the same time all the data of all their ¨friends¨ on Facebook, but in fact none of the ¨users¨ has anything to say, for here is Zuckerberg - ¨the dumb fucks trusted me¨ as he said:
¨I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Here is more from the interview:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify today on Capitol Hill amid the burgeoning scandal about how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. In his prepared testimony for today, Zuckerberg says, quote, “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. … It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.” This is Zuckerberg speaking on CNN last month.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: This was a major breach of trust. And I’m really sorry that this happened. You know, we have a basic responsibility to protect people’s data. And if we can’t do that, then we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people. So, our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

Zuckerberg is not ¨serving people¨: He is abusing people by stealing their private data, and he is doing so in order to become the richest man on earth (or one of the five richest men on earth).

Facebook got started in the beginning of 2004. Fourteen years later, Zuckerberg ¨earned¨ no less than 70 billion dollars, which means that he made 5 billion dollars a year on average, which again means he makes 100 millions every week, which again means that he has made, on average, over 500,000 dollar each and every hour of his life, the last 14 years.

Finally, Facebook-as-is would not exist at all without Zbigniew Brzezinski, who already in the late 1960ies decided that (i) American security would try to find out as much as possible about absolutely everyone, and that (ii) it could do so by NOT encrypting any of the data that came on the internet, so that (iii) anybody rich enough or anybody powerful enough (and nobody else: this does take a lot of money) could and would know everything that ordinary people set on line: their opinions, their values, their preferences, their ideas, their incomes, their age, their addresses, their faces - in fact all and everything.

It is true that Zuckerberg did make none of these decisions (he wasn´t born yet in the late 1960ies when these decisioons seem to have been taken by Brzezinski) but he did abuse them as much as he could, as did the NSA and very many more spying organizations did as well.

Here is more, that starts with a good point by
Juan González:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, David, you heard Zuckerberg talk about how this is a mistake, a terrible mistake. But the reality is, this is the model. This is the way that Facebook makes money, being able to monetize the activity of the people on their network. This whole issue of the failure of congressional leaders to adequately regulate the development of the internet, the way they did television, the way that they did other forms of communication technology, the telephone, and, basically, the privatization of the most important means of communication that we have in the world today—what was the responsibility of Congress, that should have been, earlier on, tackling this problem?

DAVID DAYEN: Right, Congress absolutely should have stepped in much sooner than now, when we’ve already seen this problem. Obviously, as you mentioned, Facebook and Google and other social media sites make money off of exploiting the data of their users.
Well... in fact I do not know whether Congress is really interested in repairing the extreme dangers everyone is subject to, simply because the very rich (corporations) and the very powerful (states´ secret spies) - and nobody else, for it takes a lot of money - ARE allowed to spy on absolutely everyone, which has also been enabled from the beginning of the internet by NOT ENCRYPTING ANYTHING, precisely as Brzezinski wanted from the late 1960ies onwards.

Here is the ridiculous and decrepit liar Sheryl Sandberg:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Could you come up with a tool that said, “I do not want Facebook to use my personal profile data to target me for advertising”? Could you have an opt-out button: “Please don’t use my profile data for advertising”?

SHERYL SANDBERG: We have different forms of opt-out. We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product.

Namely: Because Sandberg wants to know everything about anyone (that she can use to make yet more money for herself and Zuckerberg).

Here is Dayen´s response:

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, Sheryl Sandberg says that you would only have to be able to pay if you’re opting out completely of advertising. This is seemingly ridiculous. Facebook has 2 billion members of an audience. If a television station or radio station had that kind of massive audience, I think they’d figure out a way to make money with advertising, without harvesting the data of every single person. We went through many decades in this country without targeted advertising. I think we can go back to that.

The idea of an opt-out button is very similar to what—the regime that is being constructed in Europe. It’s called the GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation, and it would require affirmative consent from people to have their data collected and sold to advertisers or used in the targeting of advertising. And I think that there are more and more people in Washington who are seeing that as a viable method to protect citizens.
I more or less agree with the first quoted paragraph, although I´d say - as I said above - that Zuckerberg and Sandberg want to know everything about their users (they can make a profit on).

As to the second paragraph: I am a European, and here is more information on the GDPR. I am both skeptical and not very much informed about it, and I suppose I might see what this new legislation is capable of from May 25 onwards (but I don´t expect much).

There is more in the interview and this is a recommended article.

2. Trump Launches a New Drug War, Targeting the Opioid Crisis -- But Who's the Real Enemy?

This article is by Conor Lynch on AlterNet and originally on Salon. It starts as follows:
In a characteristically incoherent speech last month, President Donald Trump displayed all the signs of a wannabe despot while outlining his plan to combat the opioid crisis, hich included the controversial call to execute drug dealers. “If we don't get tough on the drug dealers we are wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty,” declared the president, who praised other countries where drug dealers are put to death, such as China, Singapore and the Philippines. “You take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games. They don’t have a drug problem.”
In fact, what I select from this are Trump´s ¨characteristically incoherent speech¨ (which is quite correct, and I add that he also - and at least since 2015, when this first struck me - seems to repeat most points he makes three times), and the fact that his ¨cure¨ for the many dangers of drugs is to shoot the dealers.

Here is some more on the second point:
On the issue of drugs, Trump has displayed a particular fondness for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is notorious for ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, and who was overheard telling unemployed citizens to “kill all the drug addicts” last year.
I think Duterte is a plain madman, but then I think more or less the same about Donald Trump (and I am a psychologist).

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

Besides advocating the death penalty for drug dealers, the president couldn’t resist sprinkling some xenophobic rhetoric into his crazed speech, blaming Mexico and illegal immigrants for fueling the opioid epidemic. “Ninety percent of the heroin in America comes from our southern border, where, eventually, the Democrats will agree with us and we’ll build the wall to keep the damn drugs out,” declared Trump, failing to mention that the vast majority of those who misuse opioids — 11.5 of the 11.8 million opioid misusers in 2016, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — were misusing prescription opioids, not illegal drugs like heroin.
This is, incidentally, characteristic for Trump´s honesty - and in fact most of the prescription opoids are being sold through medics many of whom seem to have been corrupted by the extremely rich makers of prescription opioids.

There is considerably more in the article, which is recommended.
3. Why It's So Hard to Delete Facebook: Constant Psychological Boosts Keep You Hooked

This article is by Sundar, Liu, DiRusso and Krieger on AlterNet and originally on TheConversation.
It starts as follows:

Here we go again: another Facebook controversy, yet again violating our sense of privacy by letting others harvest our personal information. This flareup is a big one to be sure, leading some people to consider leaving Facebook altogether, but the company and most of its over 2 billion users will reconcile. The vast majority will return to Facebook, just like they did the last time and the many times before that. As in all abusive relationships, users have a psychological dependence that keeps them hooked despite knowing that, at some level, it’s not good for them.

Decades of research has shown that our relationship with all media, whether movies, television or radio, is symbiotic: People like them because of the gratifications they get from consuming them – benefits like escapism, relaxation and companionship.
I think that I do not like the writers of this article, and namely not because (i) they seem to set themselves up as better than most of their readers (who are Facebook users, at least in the USA) and (ii) because they seem to be stupid: I do not read because of ¨escapism, relaxation and companionship¨: I read because I am curious and like rational and possibly true information, and  also (iii) while I am probably in a rational minority, I don´t like to be automatically dealt into the corners of the stupid or the ignorant.

Besides: Do they not know that a symbiosis requires two different biological organisms?! Or are they perhaps converted to the crazy notion that ¨
movies, television or radio¨ are persons, presumably in the same sense as corporations and ¨algorithms¨?!

I am just asking. Here is some on what Facebook is supposed to do (according to the authors of this article):
Interactive tools in Facebook provide simplified ways to engage your curiosity, broadcast your thoughts, promote your image, maintain relationships and fulfill the yearning for external validation. Social media take advantage of common psychological traits and tendencies to keep you clicking – and revealing more of yourself.
First, I noted the ¨simplified¨: Compared with what? With html? I suppose so, but I do not know.

Second, I dislike the name ¨social media¨, and prefer to call them ¨a-social media¨ because nearly all ¨relations¨ people have on these media are NOT between real people who really know each other and met one another ¨in the flesh¨, but is about the contrived, often lying or misrepresenting, bits of texts and images people put on line to ¨
promote [their] image¨ and ¨fulfill [their] yearning for external validation¨.

But OK.... to start with, here is the last bit of my ¨
ordinary men¨ in my Philosophical Dictionary (and no: if you haven´t read it before, you probably have little idea). I put it between two lines:

On ordinary men: Here are some human all too human weaknesses that - especially but not only - ordinary men easily fall prone to
  • Ordinary men  
    • engage mostly in wishful thinking (so as to keep themselves "happy")
    • are ruled by bias and prejudice
    • do not know real science, logic, mathematics or philosophy
    • do not do unto others as one would not be done by only within one's group
    • are role-players who play by wishful thinking, make-believe - "The quality or act of pretending; assuming something is true when in fact one knows it is not" (wiki dictionary) - and pretension who normally do not step out of their roles out of self-interest and because of group-sanctions
    • are collaborators: They mostly do as they are told by leaders
    • are followers, of fashions and leaders of all kinds, usually because it is the fashion and they are conformists
    • are levellers: The only ones who excel are the leaders of the group and what the media display as excellent
    • believe truth coincides with their interests and prejudices, especially as regards things that involve their or their groups' supposed interests
    • personalize or animate everything: all manner of abstractions - nations, corporations, groups, the people - are supposed to will and feel
    • do not reason in terms of quantified terms: Terms like "Some", "most" are carefully avoided often to infer all from some without mentioning either: ("Women are emotional", "Germans are no good")
    • cannot reason abstractly on any high level
    • make all manners of fallacies esp. of generalization, ambiguity and begging the question
    • are not independent individuals with their own ideas and values intentionally gathererd by their own life's practice

One result, supplementing Rummel's statistics, is this:

"I fear we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which peer-group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce "ordinary men" to become their "willing executioners." " (Christopher R. Browning, "Ordinary men", p. 222-3)

That was part of the quotation from my ordinary men.

Here is what ordinary men are supposed to do according to the writers of the article. In fact, what I quote is compiled from four sections, each of which have more text than I quote:

Buoying your ‘friend'ships  (...)
I did not put the quotes around ¨friend¨ but they are quite proper, simply because most of your supposed ¨friends¨ on Facebook you never - really - met.

Here is more on what ordinary men are supposed to do:

Molding the image you want to project

The more you reveal, the greater your chances of successful self-presentation. Studies have shown that strategic self-presentation is a key feature of Facebook use. Users shape their online identity by revealing which concert they went to and with whom, which causes they support, which rallies they attend and so on. In this way, you can curate your online self and manage others’ impressions of you, something that would be impossible to do in real life with such regularity and precision. Online, you get to project the ideal version of yourself all the time. (...)

I did not say so: The authors of this aricle insist on it. And they do so without indicating in any way that all these personal private data were put on line on purpose in an unencrypted format that allowed anyone rich or powerful enough to find out everything they want about absolutely everyone who is not rich and powerful enough to prevent that his or her personal private data are freely acquired by anyone rich or powerful enough.

Then there is this sickness (in my opinion):

Snooping through an open window

The more you click, the more you can keep an eye on others. This kind of social searching and surveillance are among the most important gratifications obtained from Facebook. (...)
That is to say: Ordinary men like (almost) nothing as much as surveilling others to see whether others behave, say and look as the surveillants please. That is, according to the authors of this article ordinary men like almost nothing so much as being totalitarian (in my sense, and not in the sick and denegerate sense of Wikipedia).

Here is the last bit I quote

Enlarging your tribe

Expressing yourself and being validated
O Lord! I am sorry, but I am getting sick...

4. As Facebook's Zuckerberg Testifies In Congress, Lawmakers Will Face a CEO With Power Over Their Careers and Agenda

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

Does Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have more power than his congressional inquisitors?

As Zuckerberg heads into congressional hearings spurred by revelations that a GOP-connected political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, stole personal data from 87 million users in 2014 before working for 2016 Republican presidential candidates, Facebook has done something that will make members of Congress take notice: It has taken more steps to curb abusive campaign advertising and to protect user privacy than anything Congress has done in years.

On the political advertising front, Facebook announced last Friday that it was not going to post any ad from anyone who would not identify themselves, say where they're located, and it would also post links showing all of that political advertisers’ messaging. On the privacy front, Facebook also announced it would globally adopt forthcoming European Union rules, which return control over that online personal data to users from advertisers, including campaigns.

Well... let me start with answering the first question in the above quotation:

If you own $70 billions and you have over 2 billion ¨users¨, of whom you know everything that might be profitable for you, then clearly you have much more power than any one member of Congress.

As to the other two paragraphs: It may be true that Facebook ¨has taken more steps to curb abusive campaign advertising and to protect user privacy than anything Congress has done in years¨, but then Congress was lamentably inactive.

And besides, I think Zuckerberg etc. are major liars, which means that I think that (i) the concessions that Facebook has made were mostly forced, while also (ii) these measures are extremely recent.

Here is some more:

Thus, for Facebook to identify and verify who is behind political messages on its must-use platform is doing what Congress has not done for a long time: shine a light on partisan operatives.

If anything, many candidates and the political consulting industry have gone in the opposite direction. The Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, followed by the likes of super-operatives like Karl Rove and super-funders like the Koch brothers, have mainstreamed what’s called “dark money” in politics. That’s where the identities of those buying political ads stay hidden, in contrast to attacks that have only become more vitriolic. The Democrats are no saints on this front either. They have adopted their opponents tactics in the equivalent of a partisan arms race—where everyone copies everyone else and no one disarms.

Well... I think Facebook so far has been only promising and not delivering.

5. Doomsday Machines

This article is by Daniel Ellsberg on Consortiumnews. It starts with the following introduction:
The Doomsday Machine, published in December by Bloomsbury, is Daniel Ellsberg’s account of the 1960s U.S. nuclear weapons program told from his experience as a consultant to the Pentagon and the White House. Ellsberg drafted Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s nuclear war plans. He later became the most famous whistleblower in American history. Here is an excerpt from his new book, printed by permission of Bloomsbury, which appeared first in Harper’s Magazine
Ellsberg´s article starts as follows:
At the conclusion of his 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick introduced the concept of a “Doomsday Machine”—designed by the Soviet Union to deter nuclear attack against the country by automating the destruction of all human life as a response to such an attack. The movie’s Russian leader had installed the system before revealing it to the world, however, and it was now being triggered by a single nuclear explosion from an American B-52 sent off by a rogue commander without presidential authorization.

Kubrick had borrowed the name and the concept of the Doomsday machine from my former colleague Herman Kahn, a Rand physicist with whom he had discussed it. In his 1960 book On Thermonuclear War, Kahn wrote that he would be able to design such a device.

Yes indeed - and Dr. Strangelove is one of the best films I have ever seen, and is very much recommended (but I don´t know where, unfortunately).

Here is some background information:

Like covert operations and assassination plots, nuclear war plans and threats are not publicly discussed by the small minority of officials and consultants who know anything about them. These officials keep silent to maintain high clearances, access, and the possibility of being consultants after they’ve left service. This discretion, coupled with systematic secrecy, lying, and obfuscation has created extremely deficient scholarly and journalistic understanding and almost total public and congressional ignorance.

As a result, most aspects of the US nuclear planning system that I knew half a century ago still exist today, as prone to catastrophe as ever but on a scale that vastly exceeds what was understood then.

I believe all of this to be true, and indeed it is very frightening, precisely because that ¨small minority of officials and consultants¨ is in fact deciding about the future of mankind and of human civilization if things do go wrong.

Here is Ellsberg´s thesis:

The hidden reality I aim to expose is that for more than fifty years, all-out thermonuclear war—an irreversible, unprecedented, and almost unimaginable calamity for civilization and most life on earth—has been, like the disasters of Chernobyl, Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, and Fukushima Daiichi, and a catastrophe waiting to happen, on a scale infinitely greater than any of these. And that is still true today.

I think that is quite true (and again very frightening). Here is more:

Here is what we now know: the United States and Russia each have an actual Doomsday Machine. It is not the same system that Herman Kahn envisioned (or Stanley Kubrick portrayed), with warheads buried deep and programmed to explode in their own territories, producing deadly global fallout. But a counterpart nevertheless exists for both countries: a system of men, machines, electronics, communications, institutions, plans, training, discipline, practices, and doctrine—which, under conditions of electronic warning, external conflict, or expectations of attack, would with unknowable but possibly high probability bring about the global destruction of civilization. These two systems still risk doomsday: both are on hair-trigger alert that makes their joint existence unstable. This is true even though the Cold War that rationalized their existence ended thirty years ago.

I think this is also quite true. And here is the ending of Ellsberg´s article (a selection from his book The Doomsday Machine):

Our mortal predicament did not begin with the election of Donald J. Trump, and it will not end with his departure. The obstacles to achieving these necessary changes are posed not so much by the American public—though in recent years it has shown dismaying manipulability— but by officials and elites in both parties and by major institutions that consciously support militarism, American hegemony, and arms production and sales.

No policies in human history have more deserved to be recognized as immoral. The story of how this calamitous predicament came about and how and why it has persisted for over half a century is a chronicle of human madness. Whether Americans, Russians, and the rest of the world can rise to the challenge of reversing these policies and eliminating the danger of near-term extinction caused by their own inventions and proclivities remains to be seen. I choose to act as if that is still possible

And I quite agree (although Trump may blow up everyone). This is a strongly 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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