November 21, 2018

Crisis: Trump & Mueller, New Press Rules, Laws & The Future, Philosophy & Trump, On Cannabis


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 21, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, November 21, 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 21, 2018:
1. Trump Provides Written Responses to Mueller Questions
2. White House Lays Out Draconian New Press Rules
3. Do You Know Where Your Lawmaker Stands?
4. Philosopher on Trump's Lying
5. Canada’s Grand Cannabis Experiment Has Set Scientists Free
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 Provides Written Responses to Mueller Questions

This article is by Eric Tucker on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:
President Donald Trump has provided the special counsel with written answers to questions about his knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election, his lawyers said Tuesday, avoiding at least for now a potentially risky sit-down with prosecutors. It’s the first time he has directly cooperated with the long investigation.

The step is a milestone in the negotiations between Trump’s attorneys and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over whether and when the president might sit for an interview.

The compromise outcome, nearly a year in the making, offers some benefit to both sides. Trump at least temporarily averts the threat of an in-person interview, which his lawyers have long resisted, while Mueller secures on-the-record statements whose accuracy the president will be expected to stand by for the duration of the investigation.

The responses may also help stave off a potential subpoena fight over Trump’s testimony if Mueller deems them satisfactory. They represent the first time the president is known to have described to investigators his knowledge of key moments under scrutiny by prosecutors.

Yes indeed. I think most of the above is clear, but I will answer two possible points:

First, what about "the threat of an in-person interview, which his lawyers have long resisted"?
I think - and this is fairly certain - that Trump's lawyers assume, probably correctly, that Trump does not know enough law or is simply too stupid (or both) to answer Mueller's questions in person. Also, I think Trump's lawyers are correct in their assumption.

And second, what is a subpoena? Incidentally, the question also arose yesterday - see here - when I did not answer it explicitly, relying on my knowledge of American law. I checked today, and this is the answer of Wikipedia:

A subpoena (..) or witness summons is a writ issued by a government agency, most often a court, to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure. There are two common types of subpoena:

  1. subpoena ad testificandum orders a person to testify before the ordering authority or face punishment. The subpoena can also request the testimony to be given by phone or in person.
  2. subpoena duces tecum orders a person or organization to bring physical evidence before the ordering authority or face punishment. This is often used for requests to mail copies of documents to requesting party or directly to court.
Well... I was right (though the above states a little more than I knew), and now you know it too.

Also, I think I should add that a subpoena is important, in the sense that it assumes - quite correctly - that the person to whom it is issued is under the law.

And for Trump himself that seems not true: He seems to assume that a president of the USA is beyond the law (which also includes his repeated assertion that if he is convicted of anything as president, he can pardon himself).

I think Trump is quite mistaken: In a state of law everyone falls under the law.

Here is more from the article:

Mueller left open the possibility that he would follow up with additional questions on obstruction, though Trump’s lawyers — who had long resisted any face-to-face interview — have been especially adamant that the Constitution shields him from having to answer any questions about actions he took as president.

Trump’s lawyers say it’s time for the investigation to end, but Mueller’s team may well press for additional information.

In fact, Trump's lawyers, who "have been especially adamant that the Constitution shields [Trump] from having to answer any questions about actions he took as president" seem to share this authoritarian delusion of the president of the USA (in a democratic state of law, that is).

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

“Mueller certainly could have forced the issue and issued a subpoena, but I think he wants to present a record of having bent over backwards to be fair,” Wisenberg said.

The Supreme Court has never directly ruled on whether a president can be subpoenaed to testify in a criminal case. Clinton was subpoenaed to appear before the Whitewater grand jury, but investigators withdrew the subpoena after he agreed to appear voluntarily.

On the matter of subpoenas again see yesterday - here - because Ralph Nader thinks that Mueller made a serious mistake in not subpoenaing Trump. (I do not know whether that is true, but I am quite certain that Nader knows a whole lot more about American law than I do.)

As to the Supreme Court: I think that from a principial legal point of view, there ought to be no doubt that any president in any democratic state of law is subject to the laws of the land, and therefore can be subpoenaed.

Then again, with an effectively Republican Supreme Court (in majority) this may be contentious, it seems especially because the Supreme Court "
has never directly ruled on whether a president can be subpoenaed to testify". This is a recommended article.

2. White House Lays Out Draconian New Press Rules

This article is by Jake Johnson on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

The Trump White House conceded defeat in its authoritarian effort to revoke CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials on Monday, but with that concession came yet another attack on the media’s ability to simply do its job—this time in the form of press “decorum” rules that one commentator denounced as “dictatorial.”

According to the new restrictions—which were met with a mixture of bafflement and outrage by reporters and civil libertarians—journalists will only be permitted to ask a “single question” with no follow-ups, unless explicitly allowed by Trump or the White House official running the press briefing.

Reporters will then be required to yield the floor by “physically surrendering” the microphone to White House staff.

If journalists refuse to comply with these rules, the White House decreed, they may be suspended or have their press passes revoked.

I say. I do not know whether this is "dictatorial", but it is both "draconian" and authoritarian.

Here is more:

In response to the new rules, which were crafted without any input from the White House press corps, the ACLU wrote, “The White House belongs to the public, not the president, and the job of the press is to ask hard questions, not to be polite.”

“These rules give the White House far too much discretion to avoid real scrutiny,” the ACLU continued. “Asking an ‘unauthorized’ follow-up question cannot be the basis for excluding a reporter. The rules should be revised to ensure that no journalist gets kicked out of the WH for doing her job.”

Yes, quite so. This is a recommended article.

3. Do You Know Where Your Lawmaker Stands?

This article is by Julia Conley on Common Dreams. I have shortened the title. It starts as follows:

In a nationwide day of action on Tuesday, both incoming and incumbent House Democrats are being called on to embrace the growing demand of New Green Deal in order to answer a simple questions: Are they on the side of the fossil fuel industry or that of a sustainable, green energy future that will create millions of new, good-paying jobs?

The youth-led climate action group Sunrise Movement has planned more than 350 events targeting Democrats, pressuring the party that claims to support climate science to prove their commitment by backing the Green New Deal—the bold set of proposals aimed at investing in green infrastructure, technology, and jobs to both curb the fossil fuel emissions fueling the climate crisis and strengthen the U.S. economy.

Well... I think I like the Sunrise Movement, though I am not quite sure, and I also like the Green New Deal although my guess is that it asks - at present, at least - too much. Then again, I do agree with everybody who is young and fears their life may be destroyed by the ecology or nuclear arms. (I think both expectations are plausible, and I fear the future, but I am also 68, and certainly no longer young.)

Here is more:

Jeremy Ornstein, a Massachusetts teenager whose impassioned plea to Democrats went viral last week after he demanded lawmakers "get out of the way" if their "hands are too deep in the pockets of the fossil fuel executives" to take meaningful action to solve the climate crisis, released a video calling on young people to take part in the mass mobilization.

"The momentum for this is rolling and we're winning victories every day," Ornstein said, pointing to the growing number of representatives who have expressed support for the Green New Deal. "That's why we cannot stop now. We have too much on the line—our futures, our homes, we've been living in fear of a climate catastrophe, in anger about the corruption and negligence of our politicians for far too long. We can't back down."

I do not know how much I agree with Ornstein, but he is right that "our futures [and] our homes" are seriously threatened by the climate crisis.

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

"We have the momentum to make a Green New Deal real, but we need a critical mass of Congresspeople to support the proposal," the Sunrise Movement wrote on its website.

The Green New Deal would create 10 million jobs over 10 years in low- or no-carbon energy sectors like solar and wind power, building on the current trend of growing job creation in those fields—compared with the coal industry, which only employs 92,000 Americans today.

"America cannot continue this unsustainable course," wrote Greg Carlock and Emily Mangan in their report on the Green New Deal for the progressive think tank Data for Progress. "The time is over for debating the reality of climate change, the threats to the environment or public health, and the lack of justice. The time is also over where we could accomplish our goals through incremental change."

Well... I agree that "The time is over for debating the reality of climate change, the threats to the environment or public health, and the lack of justice", but I did not get enough information in this
article to decide whether I agree with the Green New Deal. This is a recommended article.

4. Philosopher on Trump's Lying

This article is by Lee McIntyre on AlterNet and originally on The Conversation. I abbreviated the title. This is from near its beginning:
[I]f most politicians lie, then why are some Americans so hard on President Donald Trump?

According to The Washington Post, Trump has told 6,420 lies so far in his presidency. In the seven weeks leading up to the midterms, his rate increased to 30 per day.

That’s a lot, but isn’t this a difference in degree and not a difference in kind with other politicians?

From my perspective as a philosopher who studies truth and belief, it doesn’t seem so. And even if most politicians lie, that doesn’t make all lying equal.

Yet the difference in Trump’s prevarication seems to be found not in the quantity or enormity of his lies, but in the way that Trump uses his lies in service to a proto-authoritarian political ideology.

Well... I too am a philosopher (who was refused his M.A. in philosophy because I criticized my utterly incompetent teachers of philosophy, which is the reason I then took an M.A. in psychology) and I think I studied philosophy, truth, belief etc. considerably longer than McIntyre.

And one of my problems with McIntyre is that he uses a lot of terms that he does in no way define, even though he should know the terms are unclear.

Here is an example:

I recently wrote a book, titled “"Post-Truth,” about what happens when “alternative facts” replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence. Looked at from this perspective, calling Trump a liar fails to capture his key strategic purpose.

Any amateur politician can engage in lying. Trump is engaging in “post-truth.”

Well... what is ""post-truth""? And what are ""alternative facts""? (I think both are doubly quoted, but am not sure about "post-truth".)

Here is an answer to my first question (minus note numbers) and there is considerably more in the link (which is about politics):

Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics and post-reality politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of facts by relegating facts and expert opinions to be of secondary importance relative to appeal to emotion. While this has been described as a contemporary problem, some observers have described it as a long-standing part of political life that was less notable before the advent of the Internet and related social changes.

I think this is basically nonsense, although the explanation of the terms is more or less correct.

It is nonsense because all ideology (all politics, all religion and all morals and all ethics) always is and always has been for almost everyone (who is not an academic who makes a special study) a matter of emotions, of fantasies, of fictions, and of feeling far more than of factual knowledge or relevant information.

Also, it would seem to me that those who believe that "post-truth" is something new and special are basically like postmodernists, who also seem to believe that putting a "post-" before a term damns the original term to meaninglessness.

Besides, what really is different today, namely the internet and the incredible amount of new writers, has little to do with post-truth, and a lot with ideology, emotion, stupidity, and ignorance of relevant information of the vast majority of modern "writers", especially on Facebook and Twitter. (I agree all of this is quite problematic, but the problems this does pose are not solved by a term like "post-truth".)

And "alternative facts" are not facts, but is itself a lie that suggests that fiction and fantasy are real, which they are not.

Here is more:

Citing a 2,000 percent spike in usage – due to Brexit and the American presidential campaign – they defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Ideology, in other words, takes precedence over reality.

When an individual believes their thoughts can influence reality, we call it “magical thinking” and might worry about their mental health. When a government official uses ideology to trump reality, it’s more like propaganda, and it puts us on the road to fascism.

Well... in the first place, for any political ideology and any religion, and indeed for nearly all facts, (bolding added) "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief" and they always have been, for the last 2500 years.

The difference is that there also were some (a small minority) in the last 2500 years who were interested in the real factual truth, namely those who were scientists, and who tried to find the truth, or at least approximate it, and while doing so at least had some more relevant knowledge than non-scientists.

In other words "ideology" always "takes precedence over reality", except in the case of science, and of people who know what scientific reasoning is, and who apply it.

Finally, to write that "When a government official uses ideology to trump reality, it’s more like propaganda, and it puts us on the road to fascism" is very confusing and quite imprecize:

First, for most government officials (of any time and any place) there is no distinction between their ideology and their reality, for - like the vast majority - they accept their ideology as a good approximation of the truth (also if that is quite false).

Second, it is - at least for most of the government officials - not like propaganda, except if they add some propaganda to it (which they quite often do, nearly always, at nearly all places).

And third, how this would put us "on the road to fascism" is a complete riddle to me, as is the meaning of "fascism" for McIntyre. (He may mean at least 21 different things by it. See here.)

Here is more:

The point of a lie is to convince someone that a falsehood is true. But the point of post-truth is domination. In my analysis, post-truth is an assertion of power.

As journalist Masha Gessen and others have argued, when Trump lies he does so not to get someone to accept what he’s saying as true, but to show that he is powerful enough to say it.

He has asserted, “I’m the President and you’re not,” as if such high political office comes with the prerogative of creating his own reality.

First of all, people normally lie because they want other people to believe certain things they themselves think are not true and they do so almost always to increase the probability that they will get what they want, or to decrease the probability that they are found out.

Clearly, Trump is lying in the first sense.

Second, about power and truth: Of course Trump lies to convince most of his followers. I agree he does not care about being found out, but this indeed is because he is the president.

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

Even if all politicians lie, I believe that post-truth foreshadows something more sinister. In his powerful book “On Tyranny,” historian Timothy Snyder writes that “post-truth is pre-fascism.” It is a tactic seen in “electoral dictatorships” – where a society retains the facade of voting without the institutions or trust to ensure that it is an actual democracy, like those in Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey.

In this, Trump is following the authoritarian playbook, characterized by leaders lying, the erosion of public institutions and the consolidation of power. You do not need to convince someone that you are telling the truth when you can simply assert your will over them and dominate their reality.

My own belief, after this article, is that post-truth is a myth for the simple reason that all political and religious ideologies always are and have been very much more fantasy, fiction, wishful thinking, and prejudices than factually true or rationally credible.

And this article is bad philosophy.

5. Canada’s Grand Cannabis Experiment Has Set Scientists Free

This article is by Amanda Siebert on The New York Times. It starts as follows (and while it can be plausibly maintained that cannabis does not belong to the crisis, I think it does for me - and for more see ME in Amsterdam).

This starts as follows:
When Canada fully legalized recreational cannabis on Oct. 17, the internet giddily reimagined the CN Tower in Toronto peeking out from a thick haze and swapped the flag’s red maple leaf for its jagged-edged green cousin. Outsiders might titter about an entire populace turning into potheads, but legalization means some of the country’s brightest can now turn their minds to pot.

As the first G-7 nation to slacken cannabis laws, Canada has bolted to the front lines of the plant’s methodical scrutiny and investigation. No longer at risk of censure or lacking access to specimens, researchers can transcend the narrow parameters of scientific study once considered acceptable, namely, clinical research, to explore social, biological, genetic and agricultural questions. From botanists to phytochemists, microbiologists to epidemiologists, scientists of all sorts are free to openly pursue a greater quantity and quality of cannabis science than ever before.

This is more or less correct, although quite clearly the "entire populace" of Canada will not turn "into potheads" - and I know, for I am living in Holland where the use of marijuana and hashish, although it still is illegal, has not been criminally prosecuted for users in the last 50+ years. (It is different for dealers.)

Also, the second quoted paragraph is mostly quite correct, although I think I should mention that both usage and research of marijuana was all quite legal until - I believe - 1904. Then again, the means and the knowledge of science have vastly increased in the last 110 years - but indeed with little effect on marijuana, for that could not or hardly be scientifically researched.

Here is more:

Canada’s brand-new legislation, the Cannabis Act, replaces a restrictive system that treated researchers like would-be drug dealers. Scientists intending to cultivate their own plants can now simply apply for a specific class of license
rather than toil for an exemption from the retrograde Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which, among other demands, required criminal record checks.

The Canadian government, once unwilling to touch the stuff, has stepped up to properly examine how cannabis affects the body and brain.
In fact, I have not read the Cannabis Act, but this sounds quite good. Here is more:
Already, more than 130 companies have been approved, with hundreds more in line. The industry’s leaders have opened large-scale trials, including exploring the plant’s power to alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea and reduce seizures in epileptic children. A multimillion-dollar university professorship has been established to investigate a cannabis solution to the opioid overdose epidemic.
Yes, although I think I can definitely say that there will not be "a cannabis solution to the opioid overdose epidemic" and my reason is that cannabis does not result in physical addiction, whereas opioids do. (It may help, but it will not give a "solution". Again, I say so on the basis of 50+ years of experience with the Dutch approach to marijuana.)
The scholarship on cannabis will finally advance now that a developed, Western society has welcomed back an ancient drug plant, says Jonathan Page, a Vancouver-based plant biologist and a leader of the cannabis genome project. Therapeutic marijuana application dates back thousands of years, according to archaeological and historical records.

And again yes. This is a 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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