April 16, 2018

Crisis: On War, Comey´s Interview *2, China vs. Trump, Congress and Facebook


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from April 16, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Monday, April 16, 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 16, 2018
1. The Pandora's Box of War
2. In Interview, Comey Calls Trump ‘Morally Unfit’ and a ‘Stain’ on All
     Around Him
3. James Comey’s Interview on ABC’s ‘20/20’: Annotated Excerpts

4. While China Picks Winners, Trump Picks Losers

5. Congress Held Ten Hours of Hearings on Facebook. What’s Next?
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 Pandora's Box of War

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Editor’s note: Chris Hedges’ regular column will appear later this week. Here is a repost of his April 8, 2017, article, which appeared shortly after the first time President Trump fired missiles into Syria in reaction to reports of chemical warfare by the regime of President Bashar Assad. On Friday the United States again conducted a missile attack on Syria in the wake of reports that Assad’s forces had used chemicals against civilians.
I say. Well... I like Chris Hedges, and I will simply repeat the review that I wrote a little over a year ago, and that review started as follows:

War opens a Pandora’s box of evils that once unleashed are beyond anyone’s control. The invasion of Afghanistan set out to defeat al-Qaida, and nearly 16 years later, we are embroiled in a losing fight with the Taliban. We believed we could invade Iraq and create a Western-style democracy and weaken Iran’s power in the region. The fragmentation of Iraq among warring factions has left Iran the dominant Muslim nation in the Middle East and Iraq destroyed as a unified nation. We set out to topple President Bashar Assad in Syria but then began to bomb the Islamic insurgents trying to overthrow him. We spread the “war on terror” to Yemen, Libya and Syria in a desperate effort to crush regional resistance. Instead, we created new failed states and lawless enclaves where vacuums were filled by the jihadist forces we sought to defeat. We have wasted a staggering $4.79 trillion on death, destruction and folly as our nation is increasingly impoverished and climate change threatens us with extinction. The arms manufacturers, who have a vested interest in perpetuating these debacles, will work to make a few trillion more before this act of collective imperial suicide comes to a humiliating end.

I think this is a fair summary - and Chris Hedges was an international correspondent for 20 years, who reported mostly on wars in that time, and from where the wars were being fought: He knows what he is speaking about from his own long experience.

This is about the opponents of the USA:

The jihadists’ savagery mirrors our own. The jihadists respond to our airstrikes and aerial drone attacks by using suicide vests and improvised explosive devices. They respond to our black sites and prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo with basement cells that torture kidnapped captives. They respond to the ideology of Western secularism with an Islamic state. They respond to violence with violence.

I think this is a fair summary as well, and like to add that from the point of view of the Muslims in the Middle East, they are being attacked now for 16 years (at least: see item 5) by the USA, from the other side of the world, which cost the nations in the Middle East hundreds of thousands of lives and exposure to extremely much violence, and which produced little else except great misery to very many.

Then there is this paragraph, which consists only of questions (and see item 3 below):

WATCH Does U.S. Attack Against Syria Violate International Law?

Why the moral outrage now among Americans? Why have we stood by as Syrians died daily from barrel bombs, bullets, famine, disease and drowning off the shores of Greece? Why have we been mute as schools, apartment blocks, mosques and hospitals have been bombed into rubble? Where is the outrage about the deaths of the thousands of other children, including those we killed recently in Mosul when a March 17 coalition airstrike took the lives of as many as 200 civilians? Why are we not enraged by the Trump administration’s flagrant violation of domestic law by carrying out an act of war without approval from Congress or the United Nations? Why do we lament these deaths yet bar Syrian war refugees from entering the United States? Is American foreign policy to be dictated by the fickle emotions of Donald Trump, whose perception of reality appears to be obtained exclusively from a television screen?

I will not answer these questions except for the first one, and in a general way: I think
that the present moral outrage among Americans has been caused in part by children being killed with poison gas, but I also think that "public opinion" in the USA has been more or less systematically poisoned by the mainstream media, that also failed to give much honest information - and for "
the Trump administration’s flagrant violation of domestic law by carrying out an act of war without approval from Congress or the United Nations" see item 3 below.

This article ends as follows:

This slaughter has already lasted nearly 16 years. It will not cease until the United States is exhausted and withdraws its forces from the region. And before that happens, many, many more innocents will die. So save your tears. We are morally no different from the jihadists or the Syrians we fight. They reflect back to us our own repugnant visage. If we wanted this to stop, we could make it happen.

I have two remarks on this bit:

First, I don't think that (speaking about Americans) it is true that "We are morally no different from the jihadists or the Syrians we fight" and I don't think so for - at least -three reasons: The jihadists and the Syrians in general (mostly civilians) do live in a state of war, and the Americans do not; the jihadists and the Syrians not only risk being blown up daily by American and others bombs, but also have far less money than Americans; and most Syrians know war in their own country from their own experiences, while most Americans only know war from news reports on TV.

Second, the problems with "[i]f we wanted this to stop, we could make it happen" are that there are several opposing camps and parties in the USA, some of which are for (this) war and some of which are against (this) war, while in general the force of "we", if "we" are ordinary people who are not rich and live in the USA, has very much diminished in political influence.

And this is a recommended article.

2. In Interview, Comey Calls Trump ‘Morally Unfit’ and a ‘Stain’ on All Around Him

This article is by Michael Shear and Peter Baker on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
If there was any chance that President Trump and James B. Comey could have avoided all-out war, it ended Sunday night.

That was when ABC News aired an interview with Mr. Comey, the president’s fired F.B.I. director, as he uses a publicity blitz for his searing tell-all memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” to raise the alarm about the dangers he says Mr. Trump poses to the country.

While ABC aired one hour of its conversation with Mr. Comey, it had conducted a five-hour interview with him, a transcript of which was obtained by The New York Times. In it, Mr. Comey called Mr. Trump a serial liar who treated women like “meat,” and described him as a “stain” on everyone who worked for him.

He said a salacious allegation that Mr. Trump had cavorted with prostitutes in Moscow had left him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government. And he asserted that the president was incinerating the country’s crucial norms and traditions like a wildfire. He compared the president to a mafia boss.

“Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country,” Mr. Comey told ABC’s chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos, on the program “20/20.” “The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be president.”

I say. And as I said before, I neither like Comey nor Trump, though I agree with most of the statements by Comey quoted above.

Then again - and while I do not trust Trump one bit - I do not see why ¨a salacious allegation that Mr. Trump had cavorted with prostitutes in Moscow had left him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government¨, and I do not see that because anybody can dream up very many ¨salacious allegations¨ against anyone, but that is no proof nor evidence at all that any of these allegations are true, probable or even possible.

There is this on Comey:

Mr. Comey seems likely to be the star witness in any obstruction of justice case that might be brought against the president by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the sprawling Russia investigation. Mr. Trump’s legal fate, as well as his political fortunes in Washington, may depend on whether he succeeds in undermining the credibility of Mr. Comey and the law enforcement institutions he views as arrayed against him.

While many of Mr. Trump’s critics believe that the proper remedy for his perceived transgressions is impeachment, Mr. Comey insisted that would just “let the American people off the hook.” He said the public was “duty bound” to vote Mr. Trump out of office in the next election.

Possibly so, although I add that I do not quite follow Comey´s remarks on impeachment. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Mr. Comey’s intensely personal attacks — a reflection of his self-righteousness, his detractors say — are all the more combustible because they are aimed directly at a president who has said with pride on Twitter that “when someone attacks me, I always attack back...except 100x more.”

As if on cue, hours before the interview aired, Mr. Trump called Mr. Comey a “slimeball” for the second time in three days, saying in a pair of early-morning Twitter posts that he belonged in jail for what the president said were lies to Congress and leaks of classified information. In another post, Mr. Trump said Mr. Comey would go down in history as “the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!” He added that “he is not smart!”

I say. There is considerably more in the article, that is recommended.

And there is also a second article on the NYT, written by one of the authors of the present article, that gives considerably more evidence. That is the next article I review today:

3. James Comey’s Interview on ABC’s ‘20/20’: Annotated Excerpts

This article is by Michael Shear on The New York Times. In fact, I will only quote 3 from 19 excerpts that Shear describes in his article, that starts as follows:

‘He is morally unfit to be president.’

I don’t buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on. I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.

A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it — that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds. And that’s not a policy statement.
I think I agree with all of this, although I have to say something about Comey´s ¨I don’t think he’s medically unfit to be president¨:

I am (among other things) a psychologist, who now thinks since more than two years - for it started here - that Trump is a neofascist, and that Trump is insane.

First about neofascism: The last link is my definition of it, and and long as I have not even read a single proper definition by journalists of ¨fascism¨ - which exists now nearly 100 years - while I cannot find any reasonable definition of ¨neofascism¨, I stick to my definitions (both of which are based on much reading and considerable knowledge of fascism).

Next about Trump´s sanity. This is a bit more complicated and I´ll explain it briefly here:

I am a psychologist who is not impressed by psychiatrists. Then again, I agree with some of them on one thing: It is desirable that the definitions that psychiatrists and psychologists use to arrive at some classification of the problens of their patients are in observational terms.

And what I saw in March of 2016 was an observational definition of a narcissist (better called: a megalomaniac) in terms of 9 observational characteristics, with the added rule that satis- fying 5 of the 9 characteristics was sufficient to classify someone as a narcissist, while I also could clearly see (from videos) that Trump satisfied 9 out of 9 of the
observational characteristics that were taken to define a narcissist.

There is a lot I can say about psychiatry and psychology, and indeed I did so in 2012 (and my
DSM-5: Question 1 of "The six most essential questions in psychiatric diagnosis" is a good article on modern psychiatry), but I will leave all of this out here and now. All I do say is that my decision to agree that Trump is insane was based on a perfectly normal process of - observation-based - reasoning that psychiatrists and psychologists often use.

Here is some more:
During much of the interview, Mr. Comey seems disciplined and almost dispassionate. But at the end, he lets loose in a remarkable way. It is hard to think of a time that such a senior official of the government has gone on to so directly question the moral fitness of the sitting president. He said that he hoped Mr. Trump would be held accountable for his lies, but that impeachment would be a cop-out for a public that should also be held accountable for electing Mr. Trump in the first place.
This is more or less correct (and this is the only time in this review I quote Shear).

Then there is this:

‘The loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant center of everything.’

STEPHANOPOULOS: How strange is it for you to sit here and compare the president to a mob boss?

COMEY: Very strange. And I don’t do it lightly. I — and I’m not trying to, by the way, suggest that President Trump is out breaking legs and — you know, shaking down shopkeepers. But instead, what I’m talking about is that leadership culture constantly comes back to me when I think about my experience with the Trump administration. The — the loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant center of everything, it’s all about how do you serve the boss, what’s in the boss’s interests. It’s the family, the family, the family, the family. That’s why it reminds me so much and not, “So what’s the right thing for the country and what are the values of the institutions that we’re dealing with?”

As an aside, I think these are also grounds to consider Trump as not quite sane. Besides: What is the difference between ¨Trump is sane but is acting as a Mafia boss¨ and ¨Trump is not sane and and not acting as a Mafia boss¨? (Just asking.)

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

‘It was him talking almost the entire time.’

It was him talking almost the entire time, which I’ve discovered is something he frequently does. And so it would be monologue in this direction, monologue in that direction, monologue in a different direction.

And a constant series of assertions that — about the inauguration crowd, about how great my inauguration speech was, about all the free media — earned media, I think was his term, that I got during the campaign. On and on and on and on. Everyone agrees, everyone agrees, I did this, the — I never assaulted these women, I never made fun of a reporter.

And — I’m sure you’re wondering what question did I ask that would prompt those? None, zero. I didn’t ask any questions that I recall.

Yes, and again these are reasons to consider Trump as not quite sane (and I saw a video in which Trump did make ¨fun of a reporter¨).

As I said, these are just 3 from 19 excerpts from ABC that Shear discusses in this article, that is strongly recommended.

4. While China Picks Winners, Trump Picks Losers

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

“It’s nonsense that there’s a beautiful free market in the power industry,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said last week as he pushed for a government bailout of coal-fired power plants.

Republicans who for years have voted against subsidies for solar and wind power – arguing that the “free market” should decide our energy future – are now eager to have government subsidize coal.
Meanwhile, Trump is imposing a 30 percent tariff on solar panels from China, thereby boosting their cost to American homeowners and utilities. The Trumpsters say this is because China is subsidizing solar.  

To Trump and his merry band of climate-change deniers, boosting coal is fine. Helping solar is an unwarranted interference in the free market.

I agree with this. Then there is this:

Besides subsidizing these industries, China is also telling foreign (usually American) companies seeking to sell in China that they must make their gadgets in China. As a practical matter this often means American firms must disclose and share their technology with Chinese firms.  

“We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on,” said Trump, just before upping the ante and threatening China with $100 billion of tariffs.

China’s theft of intellectual property is troublesome, but the larger issue of China’s industrial policy is not. The United States has an industrial policy, too. We just don’t do it well – and Trump is intent on doing it far worse.

And I agree that ¨China’s theft of intellectual property is troublesome¨. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

America has always had an industrial policy. The real question is whether it’s forward-looking (the Internet, solar, zero-emissions buses) or backwards (coal).

Trump wants a backwards industrial policy. That’s not surprising, given that everything else he and his administration are doing is designed to take us backwards.

Well... yes (but the forward/backward joke is weak).

5. Congress Held Ten Hours of Hearings on Facebook. What’s Next?

This article is by India McKinney on Common Dreams and originally on the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It starts as follows:

After grilling Mark Zuckerberg for ten hours this past week, the big question facing Congress is, “What’s next?” The wide-ranging hearings covered everything from “fake news” to election integrity to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that spurred the hearings in the first place. Zuckerberg’s testimony did not give us much new information, but did underline what we already knew going in: Facebook’s surveillance-based, advertising-powered business model creates real problems for its users’ privacy rights.

But some of those problems can be fixed. As Congress considers what to do next, here are some of our suggestions.

I do not agree with the above, and my reason is that Zuckerberg was not grilled.

In fact, his (bolding added) ¨testimony did not give us much new information¨, and while I did not see it (I am sorry, but I strongly dislike interviews on TV) I do know that those questioning him had at most five minutes, and could not properly follow up their questions: I do not consider that ¨a grilling¨ at all.

Here are the recommendations in McKinney´s article:

DO Ask For Independent Audits

Facebook mentioned cooperating with FTC audits, but we’re not clear on whether or not Facebook is allowing independent auditors to inspect the data. If we allow Facebook to control the outside world’s visibility into its data collection practices, we can never be exactly sure if Facebook is actually complying with its own assertions. Facebook, along with other large tech companies that handle massive amounts of user data, should allow truly independent researchers to regularly audit their systems. Users should not have to take the company’s word on how their data is being collected, stored, and used.

I agree with the last sentence, but I think Zuckerberg will never agree. Then there is this - and the ¨(...)¨ in the next quotation indicate deletions in my quotation:

DO Consider The Impact On Future Social Media Platforms (...)
DO Watch Out For Unintended Effects On Speech (...)
DON’T Allow Big Tech To Tell Congress How To Regulate

Several times during his testimony, Mr. Zuckerberg called for privacy regulations both for ISPs and for platforms. While we agree privacy protections are important for both of these types of businesses, they shouldn’t be conflated. The rules we need for ISPs may be significantly different from those needed for platforms. In any event, Congress shouldn’t allow the tech giants to write their own rules given their strong incentives to favor the needs of shareholders over those of the public.

Again I agree with the last sentence (but I think again Zuckerberg disagrees). Then there is this:

DON’T Treat Social Media The Same As Traditional Media

The foundation of a functional democracy is the ability to communicate freely with one other and our elected officials. Like television and radio before it, social media is now a crucial vehicle for that civic discussion. However, the rules that govern traditional media cannot be the same rules that govern social media.
No, I am sorry.

First, the ¨foundation of a (...) democracy¨ is ¨
the ability to communicate freely with one other¨, but that is not the same as a (bolding added) ¨functional democracy¨, for a functional democracy also has rules and procedures by which the people living in a ¨functional democracy¨ can address their governments and their bureaucrats, and receive fair and honest answers to their questions (without having to involve judges and sworn testimonies).

And second I do not see why I should share Zuckerberg´s pretensions that he is running something that is fairly called ¨a social medium¨:

What Zuckerberg runs is an a-social medium that steals private information from its users and that also tries to influence and mold their opinions, values and choices by subtly influencing them. Zuckerberg runs a medium that is doing its damnedest to please Zuckerberg and add more billions to his - utterly insane - ¨earnings¨ from stealing the privacies from his members and influencing their values and choices in undetected ways.

Here is the final recommendation by McKinney:
DO Talk to Technologists, Engineers, and Internet Lawyers

Well, I agree that - at least - technologists and engineers should be involved in serious discussions about the internet.

But I am a bit hesitant about recommending this, mostly because I do not know much about the Electronic Frontier Foundation and because I did not agree with some remarks in this 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 (!!).

       home - index - summaries - mail