November 13, 2018

Crisis: On Julian Assange, Amazon, Exit Wilderness, Trump Grades F, Surveillance Capitalism


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 13, 2018


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, November 13, 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 November 13, 2018:
1. Crucifying Julian Assange
2. Amazon Is Everything That's Wrong With America
3. The Horrors Humans Have Inflicted on the Planet’s Wilderness
4. Why and how Donald Trump flunks the presidential leadership test
5. How surveillance capitalism became the dominant business model of
     Silicon Valley
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. Crucifying Julian Assange

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Julian Assange’s sanctuary in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London has been transformed into a little shop of horrors. He has been largely cut off from communicating with the outside world for the last seven months. His Ecuadorian citizenship, granted to him as an asylum seeker, is in the process of being revoked. His health is failing. He is being denied medical care. His efforts for legal redress have been crippled by the gag rules, including Ecuadorian orders that he cannot make public his conditions inside the embassy in fighting revocation of his Ecuadorian citizenship.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to intercede on behalf of Assange, an Australian citizen, even though the new government in Ecuador, led by Lenín Moreno—who calls Assange an “inherited problem” and an impediment to better relations with Washington—is making the WikiLeaks founder’s life in the embassy unbearable. Almost daily, the embassy is imposing harsher conditions for Assange, including making him pay his medical bills, imposing arcane rules about how he must care for his cat and demanding that he perform a variety of demeaning housekeeping chores.

I do not know whether everything Hedges says is true, but I do believe it, and I admire Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Here is more:

The Ecuadorians, reluctant to expel Assange after granting him political asylum and granting him citizenship, intend to make his existence so unpleasant he will agree to leave the embassy to be arrested by the British and extradited to the United States. The former president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, whose government granted the publisher political asylum, describes Assange’s current living conditions as “torture.”

I take it this is also mostly true. Here is Assange's mother:

“Here are the facts,” she went on. “Julian has been detained nearly eight years without charge. That’s right. Without charge. For the past six years, the U.K. government has refused his request for access to basic health needs, fresh air, exercise, sunshine for vitamin D and access to proper dental and medical care. As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. His examining doctors warned his detention conditions are life-threatening. A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes in the embassy in London.”

“In 2016, after an in-depth investigation, the United Nations ruled that Julian’s legal and human rights have been violated on multiple occasions,” she said. “He’d been illegally detained since 2010. And they ordered his immediate release, safe passage and compensation. The U.K. government refused to abide by the U.N.’s decision. The U.S. government has made Julian’s arrest a priority. They want to get around a U.S. journalist’s protection under the First Amendment by charging him with espionage. They will stop at nothing to do it.”

In fact, I do not know whether Assange is being tortured, and I also think he is not, compared to how others are treated, and quite possibly how he will be treated when delivered to the USA, whose head of the CIA has been - literally - torturing people before.

But this doesn't matter, in the sense that he is - at least - and has been systematically and seriously mistreated the last 7 months, while the only reasons for his mistreatment are political.

Here is more:

Assange was once feted and courted by some of the largest media organizations in the world, including The New York Times and The Guardian, for the information he possessed. But once his trove of material documenting U.S. war crimes, much of it provided by Chelsea Manning, was published by these media outlets he was pushed aside and demonized.

Yes, that is right - and in fact I think and Chris Hedges thinks that Assange should have published Manning's material, and indeed he did, for the simple reason that Manning's material did document U.S. war crimes.

Here is more on the Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party—seeking to blame its election defeat on Russian “interference” rather than the grotesque income inequality, the betrayal of the working class, the loss of civil liberties, the deindustrialization and the corporate coup d’état that the party helped orchestrate—attacks Assange as a traitor, although he is not a U.S. citizen. Nor is he a spy. He is not bound by any law I am aware of to keep U.S. government secrets. He has not committed a crime.

Precisely so, to the best of my knowledge. Here is more:

WikiLeaks and Assange have done more to expose the dark machinations and crimes of the American Empire than any other news organization. Assange, in addition to exposing atrocities and crimes committed by the United States military in our endless wars and revealing the inner workings of the Clinton campaign, made public the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency, their surveillance programs and their interference in foreign elections, including in the French elections. He disclosed the conspiracy against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by Labour members of Parliament. And WikiLeaks worked swiftly to save Edward Snowden, who exposed the wholesale surveillance of the American public by the government, from extradition to the United States by helping him flee from Hong Kong to Moscow.

Again quite so to the best of my knowledge.

Here is more:

What is happening to Assange should terrify the press. And yet his plight is met with indifference and  sneering contempt. Once he is pushed out of the embassy, he will be put on trial in the United States for what he published. This will set a new and dangerous legal precedent that the Trump administration and future administrations will employ against other publishers, including those who are part of the mob trying to lynch Assange. The silence about the treatment of Assange is not only a betrayal of him but a betrayal of the freedom of the press itself.

I agree, although I think many in the present mainstream/corporatist press have themselves deliberately betrayed press freedom and owe their careers and incomes to these betrayals.

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

Assange is on his own. Each day is more difficult for him. This is by design. It is up to us to protest. We are his last hope, and the last hope, I fear, for a free press.

I agree and this is a strongly recommended article.

2. Amazon Is Everything That's Wrong With America

This article is by Robert Reich on Truthdig and originally on Reich's site. This is from near its beginning:

Amazon’s business isn’t just selling stuff over the Internet. It’s getting consumers anything they want, faster and better. To do so, it depends on a continuous flow of great new ideas.

Like the other leading firms of the economy, Amazon needs talented people who interact with each other continuously and directly – keying off one another’s creativity, testing new concepts, quickly discarding those that don’t work, and building cumulative knowledge.

Technology isn’t a thing. It’s a process of group learning. And that learning goes way beyond the confines of any individual company. It happens in geographic clusters, now mostly along the coasts.

I agree on Amazon with Reich, but less so on technology and talent, and indeed I probably think that real talent is rarer than Reich thinks it is, although this does not make much difference to Reich's mainly economic argument.

Here is more:

The result is widening inequalities of place.

For most of the last century, wages in poorer parts of America rose faster than wages in richer places, as inventions were put to work in the hinterlands. After Henry Ford invented the Model T, for example, workers on assembly lines all over the Midwest built it.

Now it’s just the opposite. Bright young people from all over America, typically with college degrees, are streaming into the talent hubs of America – where the sum of their capacities is far greater than they’d be separately.

The invention sparked inside these hubs is delivering streams of new designs and products to the rest of the world – including to other global hubs.

In return, the money pouring into these places is delivering high wages, great living conditions (museums, restaurants, cafes, recreation), and unbounded wealth.

As I said, I think this is - in my opinion - more a consequence of concentrating considerable numbers of quite well-paid people, rather than from the talents these are supposed to have. (I did get two very good degrees in the "University" of Amsterdam, while I was ill all the time (as I still am) but I also think that I have met in the approximately 25 years that I regularly visited the UvA only three people in that "University" who were really talented - and one was dismissed (as a professor) and the other fled with his family to the USA (where he also was professor)).

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

Between 2010 and 2017, according to Brookings, nearly half of the America’s employment growth centered in just 20 large metro areas, now home to about a third of the U.S. population.

Relative to these booming hubs, America’s heartland is becoming older, less well-educated, and poorer.

The so-called “tribal” divide in American politics, which Trump has exploited, is better understood in these economic and cultural terms: On one side, mega-urban clusters centered on technologies of the future. On the other, great expanses of space inhabited by people left behind.

Another consequence is a more distorted democracy. California (now inhabited by 39.54 million) and New York (19.85 million) each get two senators, as do Wyoming (573,000) and North Dakota (672,591).

Yes. And this is a recommended article.

3. The Horrors Humans Have Inflicted on the Planet’s Wilderness

This article is by Tim Radford on Truthdig and originally on Climate News Network. It starts as follows:

Only 23% of the planet’s habitable terrestrial surface now remains as undisturbed wilderness, thanks to the spread of the human horde.

A century ago, as the human population explosion began, 85% of the world was undisturbed living space for all the other species. Yet between 1993 and 2009 – in the years that followed hard on the first global summit to consider the state of the planetary environment – an aggregation of areas of wilderness larger than India was delivered over to human exploitation, scientists warn in the journal Nature.

I say, for I did not know this, and I consider this pretty horrible. Then again - having followed "the environment" since 1972 - I do not think this is very amazing: It all fits in the trend I have seen developing for nearly 50 years now.

Here is more (and Watson is one of the researchers):

Professor Watson and colleagues argued in August that humans had in some way poisoned, polluted, exploited or disturbed almost all the planet’s oceans: only 13% could now be classified as undisturbed.

Now he and others have addressed the state of the wild terrestrial soils and rocks. Take Antarctica – essentially uninhabited, and with no terrestrial wildlife – out of the equation, and the scale of planetary devastation becomes more stark: humans have now left their mark on 77% of the world’s living space.

And the remaining wilderness is unevenly distributed: just 20 nations hold or govern 94% of the remaining marine and terrestrial wilderness areas. Russia, Canada, Australia, the US and Brazil host 70% of these unspoiled spaces.

I take it this is correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

“A century ago, only 15% of the Earth’s surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock,” Professor Watson said.

“Today, more than 77% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87% of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities. It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India – a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures.

I take it this is also correct. And this is a strongly recommended article.

4. Why and how Donald Trump flunks the presidential leadership test

This article is by Anonymous (no author's name given) on AlterNet and originally on History News Network (where the name of the author is given as Walter G. Moss). It starts as follows:

After he had completed almost a full year as president, 155 presidential scholars concluded that overall he had earned an “F” grade on their Presidential Greatness Survey. In addition to assigning him a general grade, the scholars also graded him on his legislative accomplishments, communicating with the public, foreign policy leadership, and embodying institutional norms. For the first two areas they gave him a “D”; for the last two, an “F.” A slightly larger group of scholars listed him as the worst and most polarizing of our 44 presidents.

Shortly before the above survey appeared, one of the most prominent historians of our presidents, Robert Dallek, stated that “it is clear Trump is unfit to serve,” and lawmakers should “invoke the 25th Amendment” to remove him from office. Dallek has written books about Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Reagan. Another leading historian and author of a new book on U.S. presidents at war, Michael Beschloss, recently declared that because Trump lacks historical knowledge, empathy, and self-restraint, and “will grab for as much power as is available,” he is a more dangerous man to have in the White House than the previous presidents Beschloss has studied.
I completely agree with the above, which I did not know, and am glad to learn. And as regular readers of the crisis series may know, I am a psychologist and philosopher who agrees with tenthousands of other psychologists and psychiatrists who said that Trump is insane because he is a malignant narcissist, and besides, since I think I am somewhat of a specialist on fascism and neofascism, I insist he is a clear neofascist in my sense, simply because he evidently satisfies all ten criterions that define neofascists.

Then there is this:
Of course, many Trump supporters might reply, “What can you expect from a group of eggheads?”
My answer to this is as follows: A great lot more than from prejudiced low-IQ morons of your kind, for while their ideas are often mistaken, at least they are intelligent and informed, whereas I still have to see the first intelligent and informed supporter of Trump.

There is a whole lot more in this article that I leave to your interests. It ends as follows:

Regarding the chances of Trump becoming a wiser and less polarizing president, the words that most come to mind are those of the poet W. H. Auden, who in a different context once wrote: “Is it likely? No.”
Of course. And this is a strongly recommended article.

5. How surveillance capitalism became the dominant business model of Silicon Valley

This article is by Keith A. Spencer on AlterNet and originally on Salon. It starts as follows:
The ubiquity of smartphones means that those who own one are pretty easy to track. All modern smartphones have inbuilt GPS accurate to within a few feet. Even if your GPS is turned off, smartphones also peer at Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity, which are mapped to a physical location and can be used to verify location. Even if your Wi-Fi and your GPS are turned off, your phone and its apps can use triangulation of your cell signal to figure out roughly where you are.
Even if you’re on your personal computer instead of your phone, there are plenty of ways for websites or applications to figure out your location.
Even if you mask your IP address, there are other ways that you can be tracked.
Yes, quite so. And while I do accept that my IP address gets tracked, I do not accept the sick, immoral, and degenerate spying that happens with all smartphones, which also means that I do not have one, do not want one, and indeed will never have one.

Here is more:
As with much modern-day tech that has the capacity to surveil, these technologies were not sold to consumers under the auspices of spyware. Rather, the GPS in cell phones, and the cameras and microphones in our computers and phones, are of great utility for consumers: they enable navigation, on-demand delivery and services, and help us keep track of our things and loved ones. Yet the tradeoff is that we have opened ourselves up to the potential to be surveilled, tracked, and monitored 24/7 – by either companies or governments.
First of all, I do not see where GPS is good for, since all that is needed to reach me are my name and address, much rather than a continuous list of all the places where my body has been with my smartphome.

Second, I get sick of being sided with "we": I did not do so; I did not want so; and I have been always against it.

Third, my reasons to be so strongly against it is that spying on everything anyone does with a computer is the means to get neofascism worldwide, and indeed I am certain it has been planned to do so ever since the late 1960ies: See Crisis: Propaganda and Control: Brezezinski 1968.

Here is more:
If you think computers and smartphones sound like a great tool for spy agencies to track government dissenters and critics, you’re not the only one. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an online civil rights nonprofit organization, has been tracking the United States National Security Agency (NSA)’s attempts at tracking and surveilling US citizens. Some well-documented discoveries include the revelation that the NSA “installed a fiberoptic splitter at its facility [in] San Francisco that makes copies of all emails, web browsing, and other Internet traffic to and from AT&T customers and provides those copies to the NSA,” data that includes “both domestic and international Internet activities of AT&T customers.” A whistleblower leak in 2013 revealed that the NSA “obtains full copies of everything that is carried along major domestic fiber optic cable networks.”
Quite so, and I am one of those who think that the NSA does obtain "full copies of everything that is carried along major domestic fiber optic cable networks" - which means that they have enormously more power than the KGB and the Gestapo ever had, for they know (implicitly) everything about anyone (though most of it is not read by human eyes).

I think the result is the most frightful world there has ever been.

Here is more:
Yet in general, tech companies are not only complicit in granting governments the power to surveil, but actually benefit from a close relationship.

Why is this? Mainly because so many tech companies are already experts at surveillance, since their whole business model involves building profiles on users so that they can advertise to them in increasingly subtle and manipulative ways, anticipating their consumer desires before they even realize them. The New York Times has reported that the US government has cozied up to tech companies for the purpose of aiding with surveillance; most companies happily and willingly offered to make it easier for the government to access their data, and in the case of Google and Facebook, even discussed building “separate, secure portals” through which “the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it.”
Precisely - which means that Google and Facebook are like the KGB and the Gestapo - except that they know virtually everything (implicitly) about virtually everybody.

Here is Evgeny Morozov quoted:

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, tells us that if we have something to hide, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place; he himself prefers to live in a luxury building without a doorman – so that no one can see him come and go. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants us to practise openness and radical transparency; he himself purchases neighbouring houses to get as much privacy as possible.
Silicon Valley’s elites hate [i]ntrusion into their personal lives. Had they worked for any other industry, their concerns would be justified. But they work for an industry that tries to convince us that privacy does not matter and that transparency and deregulation are the way to go. Since they do not lead by example, why shouldn’t their hypocrisy be exposed?
As I said, Schmidt is the head of the commercial KGB so I am not amazed that he tells us Untermensche (subhumans) who do not have his billions that we better should not be doing anything whatsoever that the big corporations, the NSA or the government do not want us to do, and threatens our kind of subhhumans (implicitly) at the same time that one of these will get you if you do.

And this is the last bit that I quote from this article, which is a quote by Jamais Cascio:

Soon, probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two – we’ll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing [...] This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily.
Yes, I fear Cascio is right, which also means that I am very glad to be 68 rather than 18, for this means that I probably will not be arrested for my ideas and values. And besides, I was 15 to 30 from 1965 till 1980, which was probably the best (and the safest) time to be alive in Western Europe or the USA, ever. 

[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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