August 15, 2018

Crisis: Neoliberal Economics, On Google, ¨Russia-gate¨, On Social Security, Propaganda


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from August 15, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, August 15, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

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.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from August 15, 2018:
1. “Hothouse Earth” Co-Author: The Problem Is Neoliberal Economics
2. Google Is Tracking Your Movements, Like It or Not
3. Russia-gate One Year After VIPS Showed a Leak, Not a Hack
4. The Truth About Social Security: Setting the Record Straight
5. The goal of propaganda is a population that polices itself…
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. “Hothouse Earth” Co-Author: The Problem Is Neoliberal Economics

This article is by Kate Aronoff on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

By shifting to a “wartime footing” to drive a rapid shift toward renewable energy and electrification, humanity can still avoid the apocalyptic future laid out in the much-discussed “hothouse earth” paper, a lead author of the paper told The Intercept. One of the biggest barriers to averting catastrophe, he said, has more to do with economics than science.

When journal papers about climate change make headlines, the news usually isn’t good. Last week was no exception, when the so-called hothouse earth paper, in which a team of interdisciplinary Earth systems scientists warned that the problem of climate change may be even worse than we thought, made its news cycle orbit. (The actual title of the paper, a commentary published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, is “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene.”)

Coverage of the paper tended to focus on one of its more alarming claims, albeit one that isn’t new to climate researchers: that a series of interlocking dynamics on Earth — from melting sea ice to deforestation — can feed upon one another to accelerate warming and climate impacts once we pass a certain threshold of warming, even after humans have stopped pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The best chance we have for staying below that catastrophic threshold is to cap warming at around 2 degrees Celsius, the target enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

That’s all correct and plenty daunting. Yet embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system.

Well... yes and no, I´d say. Here are my brief explanations:

First, I agree that ¨One of the biggest barriers to averting catastrophe, he said, has more to do with economics than science.¨ I think that is true, but then again the question is: What do climate scientists know about the economy? We shall turn to that second question below.

Second, I also agree that ¨
a series of interlocking dynamics on Earth — from melting sea ice to deforestation — can feed upon one another to accelerate warming and climate impacts once we pass a certain threshold of warming¨ - but then again, this possibility was already quite clear to me in 1972.

Third, I think the following is pretty sensational from ecologists and climate scientists: ¨none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system¨.

My point is not that this isn´t true (it well may be) but how and why ecologists and climate scientists think ¨the economy¨ can be changed, and indeed not just in principle (for that is extremely easy) but in fact.

I think myself that is most unlikely without a major economical crisis, simply because the rich have most of the powers, and mostly don´t care about climate change or ecology: They are hust interested in profits.

Here is some more:

Asked what could be done to prevent a hothouse earth scenario, co-author Will Steffen told The Intercept that the “obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.” Instead, he suggests something “more like wartime footing” to roll out renewable energy and dramatically reimagine sectors like transportation and agriculture “at very fast rates.”

That “wartime footing” Steffen describes is a novel concept in 2018, but hasn’t been throughout American history when the nation has faced other existential threats.
I am sorry, but while I believe Steffen is an honest man, I also think he knows a great lot more about ecology and climate science than he knows about ¨the economy¨. Besides, I have been following ecology - to settle on a term - since 1972, and I have seen very many ideas about how to change parts of ¨the economy¨ to lessen the dangers from ecology, but I do not know of any idea that was successful - and climate changes has been going on for over 50 years now.

And here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Asked what he thought the balance should be between those sorts of market-tweaking measures and regulations, Steffen cautioned that he wasn’t an expert in the field. “Naively from the outside as a non-expert,” he said, “I would say regulation every time: throw people in jail, fine them, do whatever you need to do. But make sure you get the biophysical outcome. From what I’ve seen, market mechanisms don’t always deliver that.”
If the last 50 years are a guide to the future, then this will not happen without a major economical crisis: ¨Neoliberal economics¨ is and was profit oriented, and will only become ecology oriented when it is forced, and such force is extremely unlikely without a major crisis.
2. Google Is Tracking Your Movements, Like It or Not

This article is by Ryan Nakashima on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.

An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.

Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request.

Let me start with saying that I refuse to use Google, and Microsoft and Apple, because I know these companies lie and deceive on major scales, and besides Microsoft and Apple run their own private and secret operating systems that I do not trust one bit.

As to the above information: It clearly is deception, but then I expect deceptions from Google (and Facebook, and Microsoft, and Apple and more).

Here is how Google deceives its users:

Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.

I think this is quite true. And apart from that: What this article does not answer at all is the question whether Google - anyway - saves where you have been, also if your Location History has been turned off, not on your device, but on their own devices. (And I think they do, but I have no proof other than that memory is very cheap now.)

Here is the outcome according to the present article:

To stop Google from saving these location markers, the company says, users can turn off another setting, one that does not specifically reference location information. Called “Web and App Activity” and enabled by default, that setting stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your Google account.

When paused, it will prevent activity on any device from being saved to your account.
So you can stop - it seems, and with considerable trouble - Google´s saving the information where you have been on your own device. I have not read anything about Google´s saving
the information anyway to its own devices
, indeed in fact to the megafile it keeps with all the data it got from you (with or without your permission to save it on your own device).

And in fact the only way I know to prevent this is to run Ubuntu (and a few other systems) that are open instead of closed (as are Microsoft, Apple and Google) and not to use Google at all. This is what I do, and this is a recommended article.

3. Russia-gate One Year After VIPS Showed a Leak, Not a Hack

This article is by Patrick Lawrence on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
A year has passed since highly credentialed intelligence professionals produced the first hard evidence that allegations of mail theft and other crimes attributed to Russia rested on purposeful falsification and subterfuge. The initial reaction to these revelations—a firestorm of frantic denial—augured ill, and the time since has fulfilled one’s worst expectations. One year later we live within an institutionalized proscription of proven reality. Our discourse consists of a series of fence posts and taboos. By any detached measure, this lands us in deep, serious trouble. The sprawl of what we call “Russia-gate” now brings our republic and its institutions to a moment of great peril—the gravest since the McCarthy years and possibly since the Civil War. No, I do not consider this hyperbole.
I say. Then again, I do not agree with all:

First, it should have been said that the ¨
highly credentialed intelligence professionals¨ (which indeed they are) were members of the VIPS, and had left their intelligence profession mostly around 2001.

Second, I have followed this, but I concluded something different: Most mainstream media simply did not report on the information the VIPS did make public around a year ago.

And third, I also disagree with ¨
One year later we live within an institutionalized proscription of proven reality. Our discourse consists of a series of fence posts and taboos¨: It does not hold for me (and some others), and besides, while I agree that the outcome was mostly totalitarian, this was not an effect of what happened a year ago, but goes back to 2001 or 1980 (and grew and grew since then).

Here is more from the article:
Much has happened since Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity published its report on intrusions into the Democratic Party’s mail servers on Consortium News on July 24 last year. Parts of the intelligence apparatus—by no means all or even most of it—have issued official “assessments” of Russian culpability. Media have produced countless multi-part “investigations,” “special reports,” and what-have-yous that amount to an orgy of faulty syllogisms. Robert Mueller’s special investigation has issued two sets of indictments that, on scrutiny, prove as wanting in evidence as the notoriously flimsy intelligence “assessment” of January 6, 2017.

Indictments are not evidence and do not need to contain evidence. That is supposed to come out at trial, which is very unlikely to ever happen. Nevertheless, the corporate media has treated the indictments as convictions.

Numerous sets of sanctions against Russia, individual Russians, and Russian entities have been imposed on the basis of this great conjuring of assumption and presumption. The latest came last week, when the Trump administration announced measures in response to the alleged attempt to murder Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a former double agent and his daughter, in England last March. No evidence proving responsibility in the Skripal case has yet been produced. This amounts to our new standard. It prompted a reader with whom I am in regular contact to ask, “How far will we allow our government to escalate against others without proof of anything?”

This is a very good question.
I think this is mostly correct, and I agree with Lawrence that there is no real evidence for anything like ¨Russia-gate¨ and that ¨Russia-gate¨ was mostly engineered with propaganda and deceptions that are totalitarian (but not in the sick Wikipedia´s present sense).

Here is more from the article:
There have been many attempts to discredit VIPS50 as the group’s document is called. There has been much amateurish journalism, false reporting, misrepresentation, distortion, misquotation, and omission. We have been treated to much shoddy science, attempts at character assassination, a great deal of base name-calling, and much else. Russia is routinely advanced as the greatest threat to democracy Americans now face. Is there any denying that we live amid an induced hysteria now comparable to the “Red under every bed” period of the 1950s?
I more or less agree, but I also think that I disagree with Lawrence´s assessment that ¨we live amid an induced hysteria now comparable to the “Red under every bed” period of the 1950s¨:
I was born in 1950, and while I do not recall much about politics of the 1950s, I do think it was - so far, I grant - worse in the 1950s.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
American discourse has descended to a dangerous level of irrationality. The most ordinary standards of evidentiary procedure are forgone. Many of our key institutions—the foreign policy apparatus, the media, key intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, the political leadership—are now extravagantly committed to a narrative none appears able to control. The risk of self-inflicted damage these institutions assume, should the truth of the Russia-gate events emerge—as one day it surely will—is nearly incalculable. This is what inspires my McCarthy and Civil War references. Russia-gate, in a phrase, has become too big to fail. 
I think I mostly disagree with this: I think totalitarianism has grown in the USA, and ¨the Russia-gate events¨ are part of it, but I also think that totalitarianism has been growing for many decades in the USA, and that ¨the truth of the Russia-gate events¨ well may never appear.

4. The Truth About Social Security: Setting the Record Straight

This article is by Nancy Altman on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

President Franklin Roosevelt signed our Social Security system into law eighty-three years ago today, on August 14, 1935. It has stood the test of time.

Social Security protects us against the economic consequences of risks to which all of us are vulnerable. Rich or poor, any of us can suffer a devastating, disabling accident or illness. Rich or poor, any of us can die prematurely, leaving young children behind. Rich or poor, all of us hope to grow old. When we do, if we are to have a dignified and independent retirement, we need a guaranteed steady income which we cannot and will not outlive.

Social Security addresses universal economic risks that have always been with us and always will be. That explains why more than 170 countries today have some form of social security. It also explains Social Security’s deep and longstanding popularity in our country.
Yes, I totally agree with this. But the forms of social security differ quite a lot, from country to country, and the USA is backward compared to most Western countries.

Here is more:

Despite Social Security’s more than eighty-year history, some elites either do not understand Social Security or willfully refuse to understand it. They talk about providing benefits to those who need them, as if the program were government largesse, which it is not. Rather, Social Security is insurance that is earned through work and paid for with premiums regularly deducted from workers’ pay.

In addition, elites often speak as if the trust funds were some kind of gimmick, somehow less real than private pension trust funds. Perhaps most absurd are those who claim that what the creators of Social Security intended is not the program we now have.

Yes indeed, again. And Altman is right about the fact that part of the rich and their media have attempted to spread quite a number of lies about social security.

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

Roosevelt’s and the other founders’ words and actions make clear that they envisioned Social Security to be a permanent part of the economy, once the Great Depression was history. They knew that the nation would return to full employment. When we did, the goal was to have in place Social Security and other programs that improved the economic security of all Americans and prevented, as much as possible, the human cost imposed by the ups and downs of all modern economies. In particular, Social Security was not designed to alleviate the suffering of people caught in the immediate distress of the Great Depression, nor to get people to quit their jobs. Rather, it was set up as wage insurance that people earned.

Quite so, again: social security is paid by the workers, and serves to insure them against setbacks that may hit all, like illness, and to assure a decent pension to workers once they are around 65. And this is a recommended article. 

5. The goal of propaganda is a population that polices itself…

This article is by MarkGB on the Off-Guardian. It starts as follows:
Propaganda has reached its zenith when each member of the target population thinks the same; when they are afraid to think differently. At this point ‘leadership’ may commit whatever atrocities it sees fit…in the certainty that the population will either not ‘see’ it, or will view the expression of criticism as a more heinous crime than the act being observed. This is achieved through cementing a ‘false equivalence’ in the mind of the group.
The propagandist seeks to bend the ‘group mind’. Thoughts and actions consistent with the ‘narrative’ are deemed to be socially acceptable & politically correct…ones that challenge it are regarded as socially UN-acceptable & politically IN-correct. Overtime this is reinforced through a dynamic that exists within every human grouping, and many species of mammal – fear of disapproval. Ergo, the propagandist is employing a form of ‘crowd control’.
No, I do not think so, and indeed I also do not agree with the title. What MarkGB seems to confuse are (and these are my definitions, since many years also):
Propaganda: Slanted, biased, prejudiced or partial presentation of something that is meant to produce a state of belief that is not proportional to the evidence.

Most points of view people get exposed to are kinds of propaganda, whether political, religious or economical. And indeed, the last kind of propaganda, also known as advertising, is the most expensive and well-paid kind of writing or filming there is, and the sort of information most people are most exposed to.

Advertisement and public relations are also kinds of propaganda, intended to mislead a public into buying products or believing institutions, political parties or  governments. Of course, the commercial spreaders or lies that are public relations companies deny this, but then their craft is the art of lying, using the techniques of conmanship.
And a successful totalitarianism:
Totalitarian: Ideology or religion that is pretended to have final answers to many important human questions and problems and that is pretended to be thereby justified to persecute persons who do not agree with the ideology or the religion.

This is the usual form that every human ideology assumes - religious, political and otherwise, with science as the almost only partial exception.

Please note the ¨successful¨. And I think this confusion - which in fact derives in part from a total lack of any definition of key terms - is a fundamental mistake.

Here is more - and the first paragraph sketches what a successful totalitarianism would be like:

When the fear of disapproval becomes so strong that one’s sense of belonging, or even physical survival, depend on adherence to the narrative…when failure to comply with it attracts immediate rebuke from other members of the group…then the population can be said to be policing itself. That is how ‘cults’ function, and more frequently than you might imagine…it’s how intelligence agencies and other governmental figures attempt to work through the media.

This is what Orwell warned of in the dystopia of ‘1984’. The Party had achieved what we might call a ‘maintenance state’ for the narrative – society was policing itself. (...) Disloyalty was considered a ‘thought crime’:
Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them. There is almost no kind of outrage – torture, imprisonment without trial, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them”
But MarkGB confuses propaganda and (successful!) totalitarianism, and also quotes falsely (or so it seems): The - excellent - quotation from Orwell is not from ¨1984¨ but is in fact from ¨Notes on Nationalism¨, that was published in 1945 (probably before Orwell started on ¨1984¨).

[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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