September 24, 2018

Crisis: Trump vs. China, Privacy & Control, Brexit & Labour, Millenials, Anti-Democracy


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from September 24, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Monday, September 24, 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 September 24, 2018:
1. Trump’s China Fight Puts U.S. Tech in the Cross Hairs
2. Just Don’t Call It Privacy
3. Stop Brexit? U.K. Labour Party to Debate New Vote
4. Why I’m Betting on Millennials, this November 6th
5. Trump’s New (Non-Democratic) Normal
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. Trump’s China Fight Puts U.S. Tech in the Cross Hairs

This article is by Cecilia Kang on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
President Trump says his trade war with China will protect America’s dominance and derail Beijing’s plan for technological and economic supremacy.

But as the fight kicks into high gear this week, American tech and telecom companies are warning that the industry’s growing reliance on products made and assembled in China means they are more likely to be casualties, not victors, in the skirmish.

Mr. Trump’s next round of tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods goes into effect on Monday, hitting thousands of consumer products from handbags to refrigerators to bicycles. The tariffs will also hit the tech and telecom companies that provide much of the gear that powers the internet, mobile networks, data storage and other technology. United States customs will begin collecting a tax on circuit boards, semiconductors, cell tower radios, modems and other products made and assembled in China and exported into America.

Those tariffs, Intel warned in a letter last month, are “a game changer for the American consumer.” The tariffs begin at a rate of 10 percent and increase to 25 percent next January.

Yes, indeed. And here is some of the background:

Like American automakers and other manufacturers, the tech sector has increasingly outsourced production to China, where manufacturing and assembly of products is cheaper than in the United States. In recent decades, Intel, Dell, and Apple began shifting manufacturing overseas to take advantage of lower labor costs and align operations closer to customers in emerging markets.

Intel, for instance, designs and manufactures most semiconductors in the United States but relies on Chinese facilities for assembly of their chips, which will now be taxed. Moving those manufacturing and assembly operations outside of China is unrealistic, the company has warned, saying “it is too expensive to relocate established and integrated supply chains.”

In fact, this "outsourcing of production to China", that also may be termed the intentional destruction of production in the USA, has been the result of nearly 40 years of successive deregulation.

I think the last link is still one of the best explanations I know. I also think that Trump's fight with China is stupid, but I will not argue that here and now. And this article is recommended.

2. Just Don’t Call It Privacy

This article is by Natasha Singer on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

What do you call it when employers use Facebook’s advertising platform to show certain job ads only to men or just to people between the ages of 25 and 36?

How about when Google collects the whereabouts of its users — even after they deliberately turn off location history?

Or when AT&T shares its mobile customers’ locations with data brokers?

American policymakers often refer to such issues using a default umbrella term: privacy. That at least is the framework for a Senate Commerce Committee hearing scheduled for this Wednesday titled “Examining Safeguards for Consumer Data Privacy.”

After a spate of recent data-mining scandals — including Russian-sponsored ads on Facebook aimed at influencing African-Americans not to vote — some members of Congress are now rallying behind the idea of a new federal consumer privacy law.

Well... yes and no. That is, I think Singer is quite right that more is involved than "privacy", and in fact I think a much better term is "surveillance" - but then again (having read more than five years of 35 sites addressed to politics and the internet) I fear either term is not properly understood by the vast majority of computer users. And that is the basic problem.

Here is more Singer:

There’s just one flaw with this setup.

In a surveillance economy where companies track, analyze and capitalize on our clicks, the issue at hand isn’t privacy. The problem is unfettered data exploitation and its potential deleterious consequences — among them, unequal consumer treatment, financial fraud, identity theft, manipulative marketing and discrimination.

In other words, asking companies whose business models revolve around exploiting data-based consumer-influence techniques to explain their privacy policies seems about as useful as asking sharks to hold forth on veganism.

“Congress should not be examining privacy policies,” Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a prominent digital rights nonprofit, told me last week. “They should be examining business practices. They should be examining how these firms collect and use the personal data of customers, of internet users.”

Yes, I think that is basically correct, but one underlying point is that it is not just firms that abuse the total surveillance of everyone anywhere with an internet computer:

The whole schema of total surveillance of everyone by "private computing" has been set up in the late Sixties and early Seventies by American security, that is by the government's secret spies. They wanted to see and store everything anyone did by an internet computer, and did everything to get there, and they fully succeeded.

And I think that what I said in the previous paragraph are - by now - simple facts. Here is the last bit of Singer that I quote:

Many consumers know that digital services and ad tech companies track and analyze their activities. And they accept, or are at least resigned to, data-mining in exchange for conveniences like customized newsfeeds and ads.

But revelations about Russian election interference and Cambridge Analytica, the voter-profiling company that obtained information on millions of Facebook users, have made it clear that data-driven influence campaigns can scale quickly and cause societal harm.

And that leads to a larger question: Do we want a future in which companies can freely parse the photos we posted last year, or the location data from the fitness apps we used last week, to infer whether we are stressed or depressed or financially strapped or emotionally vulnerable — and take advantage of that?


The facts seem to be these: At most 1 in 50 of all computer users has a somewhat decent comprehension of what computers are, what they can do, and how to program them, but the vast majority "decided" or "accepted" or "resigned to" the fact that the security forces, indeed like the advertising firm Facebook and others, can and do get absolutely everything almost anyone makes by an internet computer.

Also, while I definitely am a computer user who does NOT want at all "
a future in which companies can freely parse the photos we posted last year, or the location data from the fitness apps we used last week, to infer whether we are stressed or depressed or financially strapped or emotionally vulnerable — and take advantage of that", the vast majority just does not seem to care.

And in the end that is why I am extremely pessimistic about the internet and computing:

Personal computing has been set up so as to give the governmental spies of all nations plus the rich to find out everything about anyone, and this is itself a very strong ground to believe neofascism is around the corner and also will be unbeatable.

3. Stop Brexit? U.K. Labour Party to Debate New Vote

This article is by Jill Lawless on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:
Britain’s main opposition Labour Party confirmed Sunday that it will hold a major debate on Brexit at its party conference this week, raising hopes among Labour members hoping to stop the country from leaving the European Union.

With the U.K. and the European Union at an impasse in divorce talks, many Labour members think the left-of-center party has the power—and a duty—to force a new referendum that could reverse Britain’s decision to leave the 28-nation bloc.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has long opposed that idea, but he and other party leaders are under pressure to change their minds. As delegates gathered in Liverpool, one message was emblazoned on hundreds of T-shirts and tote bags: “Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit.”

In fact, I am against Britain's leaving the European Union (and I lived for a while in England in the early Seventies, before it entered, but yes: that is long ago) but my own arguments may be mostly personal: (1) I very strongly despise the demagogue and pro-Brexiteer Nigel Farage, and (2) it is my guess that Britain will rapidly get a lot poorer if they Brexit (but other than a series of journalistic articles I have no strong economical facts to support this).

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

Corbyn — a veteran socialist who views the EU with suspicion — has long been against holding a second public vote on Brexit, although his opposition appears to be softening.

He said Sunday that he would prefer a general election rather than a referendum, but added: “Let’s see what comes out of conference.”

“Obviously I’m bound by the democracy of our party,” Corbyn told the BBC.

Still, Labour faces a major political dilemma over Brexit. Most of the party’s half a million members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit.

In fact, I do not see the validity of the last argument: if the "257 lawmakers" support Brexit, they are against the majority in their own party. And this is a recommended article.

4. Why I’m Betting on Millennials, this November 6th

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

Millennials (and their younger siblings, generation Z’s) are the largest, most diverse and progressive group of potential voters in American history, comprising fully 30 percent of the voting age population.

On November 6th, they’ll have the power to alter the course of American politics – flipping Congress, changing the leadership of states and cities, making lawmakers act and look more like the people who are literally the nation’s future.

But will they vote?

In the last midterm election, in 2014, only 16 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 bothered.

In midterms over the last two decades, turnout by young people has averaged about 38 points below the turnout rate of people 60 and older.
Yes, but it is also well to remind the reader of the facts that (i) Trump became president through the electoral college with around 60 million votes, (ii) defeating Hillary Clintom who had around 62 million votes, while (iii) around 100 million Americans with voting rights did not vote - which is to say that around 45% of all American voters did not vote in the last presidential election (which also means that while 45% of all voters did not vote, no less than 84% of the voters between 18 and 29 who did not vote).

And I think that these proportions are more important than concentrating on the eligible voters that are between 18 and 29: Almost half of the American population did not vote in the last presidential elections; almost 85% of those between 18 and 29 did not vote.

Here is a bit of explanation by Reich:

Also, unlike their grand parents – boomers who were involved in civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, the anti-Vietnam War movement – most young people today don’t remember a time when political action changed America for the better.

They’re more likely to remember political failures and scandals – George W. Bush lying about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction; Bill Clinton lying about Monica; both parties bailing out Wall Street without so much as a single executive going to jail.

Most don’t even recall when American democracy worked well. They don’t recall the Cold War, when democracy as an ideal worth fighting for. The Berlin Wall came down before they were born.

That seems correct - but it does not increase my belief that a considerably higher proportion of the 18 to 29 year olds will vote in 2018 or 2020.

There is considerably more in the article, which ends as follows:

As doubtful as these young people are about politics, or the differences between the two parties, they also know that Trump and his Republican enablers want to take the nation backwards to an old, white, privileged, isolated America. Most of them don’t.

In my thirty-five years of teaching college students, I’ve not encountered a generation as dedicated to making the nation better as this one.

So my betting is on them, this November 6th. 

Mine is not and my arguments are above. And in any case, it seems wiser to try - somehow - to get more of the 100 million non-voters to vote.

5. Trump’s New (Non-Democratic) Normal

This article is by John Feffer on TomDispatch. It starts as follows:
During a lifetime of make-believe, Donald Trump has neve7r pretended to be a conventional politician. When he finally decided to make a serious bid for office, he built his presidential aspirations on the flimsiest of foundations: a wild conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s birthplace. His leadership bona fides were equally laughable, having presided over bankrupt casinos and failed real-estate projects, fabricated the persona of a lady-killer, and created a reality TV show about a tin-pot entrepreneur.
And then, of course, he won. In the 2016 presidential election, the guardrails of democracy collapsed. The Electoral College, designed to weed out all those with what Alexander Hamilton had once called “talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity,” delivered a victory to a candidate who had talents for little else.
Well... this is more or less correct, but I disagree with the assertion that "[i]n the 2016 presidential election, the guardrails of democracy collapsed": The guardrails of democracy in the USA have been weakened for almost 40 years now (at least).

And in fact Feffer agrees. First there is this:
Forget Donald Trump for a second and just think to yourself: Who’s responsible for the last 17 years of never-ending American wars that have convulsed the planet? Babies? Teenagers? Grown men acting like babies? Let’s face it: perfectly sober adults, including the man who left ExxonMobil to become secretary of state, have long seemed intent on ensuring the flooding, burning, and general destruction of this planet. And don’t forget that the adults in the Republican Party, backed by their deep-pocket funders, were responsible for getting Donald Trump over the hump and into the Oval Office. Ultimately they, and not the policy-ignorant president, are to blame for the devastation that followed.
And then there is this:

The truth is: those guardrails of democracy were faulty long before Trump came along and some of the adults in the room are scarier than the squalling infant. Such metaphors, in fact, make it increasingly difficult to see what Trump and his babysitters are really doing: not just destroying a culture of civility or undoing the accomplishments of the Obama administration but attacking the very pillars of democracy.

I more or less agree (but then: why did Feffer assert the contrary in the beginning of this article?).

Here are two facts about "American democracy" that are quite true (and these also explain my quotes around "American democracy"):

Many democratic countries wouldn’t tolerate the way the rich and corporations call the shots in American elections. To win a House seat, for example, now costs, on average, $1.5 million; a Senate seat, nearly $20 million. By contrast, in Canada, where neither corporations nor unions can make campaign contributions and individuals are restricted to a very modest $1,500 cap on party donations, a typical campaign for parliament costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and nearly half of the biggest spenders lose.

In 2010, the situation in the United States became incomparably worse when the Supreme Court decided, in the Citizens United case, that campaign contributions are constitutionally protected free speech. Super PACs can now spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, giving rich individuals unparalleled impact and a way to cover their tracks through “dark money” contributions. Former president Jimmy Carter has accurately labeled that decision “legalized bribery.”

Quite so. There is a lot more in this 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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