December 15, 2018

Crisis: China´s Economy, Australian Gag Order, Reign of Egoists, Net Neutrality, Russia & Trump


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

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, December 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 three 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 December 15, 2018:
1. China’s Economy Slows Sharply, in Challenge for Xi Jinping
2. Australian Gag Order Stokes Global Debate on Secrecy

3. Reign of Idiots
4. How We're Getting Net Neutrality Back
5. Sex, Russia and Impeachment
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. China’s Economy Slows Sharply, in Challenge for Xi Jinping

This article is by Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
China’s consumers and businesses are losing confidence. Car sales have plunged. The housing market is stumbling. Some factories are letting workers off for the big Lunar New Year holiday two months early.

China’s economy has slowed sharply in recent months, presenting perhaps the biggest challenge to its top leader, Xi Jinping, in his six years of rule. At home, he faces difficult choices that could rekindle growth but add to the country’s long-term problems, like its heavy debt. On the world stage, he has been forced to make concessions to the United States as President Trump’s trade war intensifies.

I say, which I do because I did not know the above. Also, the main reasons this article is reviewed here are the importance of China in the world´s economy and the fact that I dislike Xi Jinping mostly because he seems to be setting himself up as a dictator in a totalitarian country, that he also surveys (probably soon with much help by Google) by internet computer, that gives his secret police tenthousands of times more information on anyone than the KGB or the Gestapo ever could have. And this internet information = power - which makes Xi Jinping quite dangerous.

Here is more:

Gauging the magnitude of the slowdown is difficult, given the unreliability of China’s economic data. But there are signs that the country’s problems are deepening.

On Friday, Chinese officials reported surprisingly weak growth in monthly retail sales and industrial production weighing on global markets and helping to drag down the S&P 500-stock index by 1.9 percent. Many economists say the slowdown is the worst since the global financial crisis a decade ago, when Beijing was forced to plow trillions of dollars into its economy to keep growth from derailing.

“Xi Jinping has likened China to an ocean that no storm can disturb, but the tempest now hitting it is by far the biggest” in years, said Diana Choyleva, the chief economist at Enodo Economics in London, who estimates that growth has fallen even lower than during the crisis.

I relay this here and do not know whether it is true, though I suppose it mostly is. Here is more, this time mostly on Xi Jinping:

Over the past two decades, a surging economy gave the Chinese leadership an ever bigger platform. (..) China has generally negotiated from a position of strength.

Mr. Xi doesn’t have that luxury anymore. He has solidified control over ever more of Chinese political and social life and the economy. This year, he removed term limits, setting himself up to be president for life if he chooses. While the trade war with the United States provides a handy scapegoat, public blame for a prolonged downturn could ultimately fall on him. Already the government has ordered that bad economic news be censored.

I think this is mostly true, and I very strongly dislike the fact that Xi Jinping has set ¨himself up to be president for life if he chooses¨, which according to me is strong evidence that in fact he set himself up as China´s dictator.

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

Already, China has ramped up the sort of government-led spending that bailed out its economy in the past. At Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group, a state-owned giant that supplies many highway and rail builders, sales have jumped 50 percent from a year ago, said Wang Min, the company’s chairman.

Regulators have also ordered banks to lend more to private businesses. Ministers have promised to compensate businesses for not laying off workers. Environmental controls are being less stringently enforced, making it easier for polluting factories to stay open.
But China’s options for juicing the economy aren’t as effective as they used to be.

A small but notable rise in defaults in China has made some lenders nervous. Rules adopted since the financial crisis make China’s bank managers responsible for life for loans that aren’t repaid, and that has them more leery of extending financing to keep troubled businesses afloat. Government-led spending adds to the huge debt pile, making that long-term drag on growth even worse.

Again I do not know how true this is, though I suppose it mostly is. And this is a recommended article.

2. Australian Gag Order Stokes Global Debate on Secrecy

This article is by Damien Cave on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
There is a criminal case unfolding in Australia that shall not be named. The defendant is a figure with a global reputation, someone of great influence in the country and the world. The charges are serious and of significant public interest.

But publishing news about this case is illegal.

I say?! This sounds like dangerous bullshit to me, and that mostly for two reasons:

First, while I accept the fact that a few trials must be done in relative secrecy, I think all real justice is public justice: If you can be convicted without anyone knowing it because this knowledge is mostly or wholly forbidden, you may as well be convicted by a dictator.

And second, WTF has the USA, England or Holland to do with the rulings of an Australian judge?! The law is national, not international, though indeed there are parts which are inter- national, but even so, the law is mostly national and is indeed based on the fact that there are national stated that will try to maintain it.

Here is some more:

Judges in Australia and some other countries, including Britain, often issue gag orders that temporarily restrict the publication of information related to a criminal proceeding on the grounds that it might sway jurors or potential jurors.

Sometimes, judges even require the existence of these orders to be kept secret.

In this case, something unusual is happening — the sweep of the restrictions is so all-encompassing that the conflict between the public’s right to know and the defendant’s right to a fair trial is rippling across the internet and the world, touching news outlets and institutions in distant countries.

If you’re not in Australia, you may have already read recent coverage of the case.

If you are in Australia or depend on online news from international organizations like The New York Times, The Associated Press or Reuters, you probably know nothing about it.

Gag orders, also known as suppression orders, are supposed to work that way. They usually apply to speech within a specific jurisdiction.

But the global nature of the internet has blurred the lines, giving local judges the power to threaten any website accessible to local residents, regardless of where the site or its journalists are based.

That includes The Times: The Times is not publishing the latest news of the case online, and it blocked delivery of the Friday print edition to Australia, to comply with the judge’s order. The Times’s lawyers in Australia have advised the organization that it is subject to local law because it maintains a bureau in the country.

Most of this is correct, but it seems to me that ¨the global nature of the internet has blurred the lines, giving local judges the power to threaten any website accessible to local residents, regardless of where the site or its journalists are based¨ sounds like bullshit to me because - once again - the law is not global: it is local and must be local, because it requires a local government to institute it as law and to try to maintain it as law.

Besides, as I also said before: Except for a very few cases, all real justice is public justice, and if it is not public, it is not justice.

Here is some more:

The core debate is an old one, pitting the right of the accused to a fair trial against the right of free speech, and of the public to know what’s going on in the courtroom. Those poles are not mutually exclusive: Trials in Australia, as in the United States, are usually both open and fair.

“What you need for a fair trial are fair and unbiased jurors, not people who have been kept in the dark,” said Kurt Wimmer, a media and technology lawyer who is a partner with Covington and Burling in Washington.

Because of the way technology has shifted the media landscape, gag orders now raise additional questions of scale and geography. The question now is whether a local judge, in protecting the right to a fair trial, should have the unilateral authority to silence journalists and publishers around the globe.

I agree with the first two of the above quoted paragraphs, but not with the last: A local judge should not ¨have the unilateral authority to silence journalists and publishers around the globe¨
and indeed cannot have it because all laws are in the end national laws, and are maintained (if at all) only by the nations which have these laws.

Here is the ending of this article:

For now, one judge in an Australian court is altering how the world sees a global figure accused of serious crimes. To preserve a local media blackout, he and the case’s lawyers, who have supported the media ban, demand that the rest of the world not publicly debate their competence or the man being prosecuted to ensure, as much as possible, fair treatment in court.

To some, that suppression of information will be seen as a triumph of justice, a noble win for local self-determination and the rule of law.

To others it will be seen as an act that, however well intended, undermines transparency and accountability in a case that much of the world would desperately like to discuss.

In fact, I still have no idea whatsoever about the person (who must be very powerful) who is at trial, nor do I have any idea what the trial is about. And clearly I think that this ¨undermines¨ all  ¨transparency and accountability¨. Finally, I also think that no Australian judge should have the power to stop all discussions outside Australia. And this is a recommended article. 

3. Reign of Idiots

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. Here is a little introduction:

This article was published originally on May 1, 2017, but was republished this week, possibly because Hedges´ weekly column on Truthdig (which is one of my favorites on the internet) was not very popular, although I do not know this.

The reason it was not very popular may have been that it was given to Christianity this week and indeed it was not popular with me because I am an atheist (and a philosopher). But then again, I am quite familiar with Hedges´ columns and I do know since a long time that one of the things he and I disagree about indeed is Christianity.

Also, I don´t much care, although that is mostly due to the fact that I mostly like Hedges´ views and values. In any case, this week was the first time - to my knowledge - that two columns by Hedges were (re)published in one week, and the present column, from 2017, seems far more popular than the one that was originally published, that indeed also disappeared from Truthdig´s

In fact, I have reviewed the Reign of Idiots when it was published in 2017, and it so happens that I did not quite agree with Hedges´ theses then as well. Here is my review from 2017, which I republish here mostly because I like Hedges without agreeing with him:

Reign of Idiots  starts as follows:

The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor, and project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore and fantasy.

I don't think so - and I believe most men are not very intelligent nor very moral or ethical, and are not, according to their own - mostly pretended or mostly believed - ideas about ethics, morality and value, whatever they are.

But I don't think most men are "idiots" in any plausible sense of the term; I do think they are egoists; I do think they are pretenders; and I do think they are mostly deceiving themselves as well as others. But most men are not idiots.

Something similar holds for the next quotation: It seems much more true (in my pretty experienced and pretty learned eyes) again to speak of egoists rather than idiots, and perhaps stress the fact that egoism may entice one into many very gross falsifications:

The idiots know only one word—“more.” They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their vanity. The Roman, Mayan, French, Habsburg, Ottoman, Romanov, Wilhelmine, Pahlavi and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law. 

And something similar applies to the following quotation, although I think I agree with Chris Hedges on the thesis that Trump is not sane (as quite a big number of psychologists, of which I am one, and psychiatrists now seem to agree):

Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero (...)

I agree Trump is a narcissistic megalomaniac, and if you disagree, as you may, I think you should read the last link and consider the probable fact that you yourself does not know much about madness, insanity or psychology.

But again, most of his motives also are egoistic rather than idiotic, though I agree that egoism may entice one into many very gross falsifications, and certainly tends to do so in politicians, CEOs, and holders of power, who try to serve their own financial interests while pretending to act for the interests of the majority.

There is also this, that is a reflection on five centuries of plundering by white men:

Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. They used their technological superiority to create the most efficient killing machines on the planet, directed against anyone and anything, especially indigenous cultures, that stood in their way. They stole and hoarded the planet’s wealth and resources. They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it.

I think this is too negative, and it also seems to presume that most men may be as intelligent and as honest as a few. I don't think so, and in that sense I am either not an ordinary "leftist" - for I think there are considerable moral and intellectual differences between individual men, which most "leftists" these day deny [1] - or else, and far more plausibly, I am a philosophical anarchist (<-Wikipedia), somewhat like Emma Goldman, who came to the same conclusion as I did, already in my teens: Real leftist radicals are like aristocrats.

Also, I think that the intellectual standards, the moral and ethical standards, the individuality, the personal courage, and the honesty of the Leftist [2] intellectuals and intelligent men and women are better than the same qualities of most ordinary men, at least in the sense that they are more intelligent, more courageous, and more honest than the norms and ideas of the average, indeed whether poor or rich.

There is this on the magical thinking that moves the majorities, especially the not well-educated majorities:

Magical thinking is not limited to the beliefs and practices of pre-modern cultures. It defines the ideology of capitalism. Quotas and projected sales can always be met. Profits can always be raised. Growth is inevitable. The impossible is always possible.

I agree on magical - willful irrational - thinking, but again I add that the ideology of capitalism isn't just based on magical thinking and wishful thinking, but also on plain personal greed and egoism (that once selected may be followed with considerable rationality, at least by the few intelligent and well-educated ones).

Then there is this, where I personally disagree with the pronouns: This does not hold of my family, and it also does not hold of quite a few intelligent Leftists, who were mostly honest and were mostly not deceived (and may have suffered quite a lot for being honest and undeceived [3]):

The merging of the self with the capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self-reflection and moral autonomy. We define our worth not by our independence or our character but by the material standards set by capitalism—personal wealth, brands, status and career advancement. We are molded into a compliant and repressed collective. This mass conformity is characteristic of totalitarian and authoritarian states. It is the Disneyfication of America, the land of eternally happy thoughts and positive attitudes.

The reason this does not hold for myself or my parents is that neither of us defined ourselves "by the material standards set by capitalism", and that each of us did insist foremost on our independence, our character and our values, which indeed also were all uncommon, but not non-existent, also not in others (like friends of my parents).

Here is the ending, with which I happen to agree mostly if "idiots" is replaced by "egoists"

Half the country may live in poverty, our civil liberties may be taken from us, militarized police may murder unarmed citizens in the streets and we may run the world’s largest prison system and murderous war machine, but all these truths are studiously ignored. Trump embodies the essence of this decayed, intellectually bankrupt and immoral world. He is its natural expression. He is the king of the idiots. We are his victims.

And this is a recommended article, but I think you should replace "idiot" everywhere by "egoist".

4. How We're Getting Net Neutrality Back

This article is by Timothy Karr on Common Dreams and originally on the Free Press. It starts as follows:

A year ago today, the Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Ajit Pai made one of the worst, most abnormal decisions in the agency’s history.

It ignored public consensus and voted to strip away the Commission’s authority to protect internet users from companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon that want to block, throttle or de-prioritize the online content people want to see.

The Pai FCC justified that decision with the bogus claim that the strong open-internet rules adopted in 2015 were hurting broadband investment and speeds. Powered solely by these lies, Pai ripped up not just the nondiscrimination rights embodied in the Net Neutrality rules, but the entire legal foundation for the FCC to promote broadband deployment, affordability and privacy.

At the time, then-Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in her dissent that “the public can plainly see that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC is handing the keys to the internet — the internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime — over to a handful of multibillion-dollar corporations.”

Well... yes and no. I think I mostly agree with the first three paragraphs (and Timothy Karr is the senior director of the Free Press), but not with the last one.

In fact I think (and I know how to program for more than three decades, and own a personal computer for over thirty years) that the internet may be a remarkable invention, but it was started and designed by the US Defense Deparment and it was designed with the explicit end to give the secret spies from the (American) government all the power that they could get by knowing tenthousands of times more about anyone anywhere than the KGB or the Gestapo ever could know.

I think the internet is the biggest danger for freedoms of all kinds that ever existed; I think it has been explicitly designed to be so: See my Crisis: Propaganda and Control: Brezezinski 1968 that shows this was the case from the late 1960ies (!!!) onwards; and I think the internet is - by far - the best reason to impose neofascism on everyone everywhere that has ever been designed.

Also, I know my position is rare - but it also is much better informed than the views of most other people, and based on considerably more knowledge, both of politics and of programming, than the vast majority has.

Anyway... back to the article:

In 2018, Net Neutrality advocates mobilized a record number of elected officials to our side. Nowhere was this more evident than on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan majority in the Senate passed a resolution in May to restore the open-internet rules.

That resolution is still gathering support in the House, where 181 members have already pledged to sign a discharge petition to bring it to a full floor vote in the last few days of the congressional session ending this month. That's short of the 218 required to move the petition forward, but we've never had this many members of Congress signal such strong support for Net Neutrality. We wouldn't have seen so many new champions were it not for the millions of people Free Press Action and other groups mobilized to speak out.

I do not know whether the above is true, but I accept it. Here is some more:

The Pai FCC will also have to defend its repeal and abdication of authority in court. Free Press and our allies are challenging the agency’s reversal on the proper definition of broadband, its flawed justifications for tossing out the rules and the many procedural fouls that plagued the FCC’s action last year.

The lawsuit is in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, with oral arguments scheduled for February 1. Pai and his Republican colleagues will have to defend their phony rationale for destroying the open-internet protections and putting nothing in their place.

I admit that - in the short run, at least - my guess is that the court may be more important than Congress, and I agree with Karr that the internet should be neutral - but I also think that the internet, as it works now, is much more a very great danger to those using it (more than 4 billion persons now) than that it will or does liberate them in any sense.

Here is the ending of this article:

Without Net Neutrality, large phone and cable companies will take control of the stories we tell, deciding who gets a voice and who doesn’t.

It’s why we’re confident that open-internet supporters will win in the end. And that victory will come sooner rather than later.

I agree with the first quoted paragraph, but am skeptical about the second paragraph. And this is a recommended article. 

5. Sex, Russia and Impeachment

This article is by Reese Erlich on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

America's largest city is abuzz over the latest revelations about Donald Trump's crimes. I'm here on book tour discussing Iran, but audiences want to know if Trump will be impeached.

Court documents filed in the case of Trump's long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen show The Donald paid off two women with whom he had sexual relations. Prosecutors consider the payments, totaling several hundred thousand dollars, to be illegal campaign contributions because they were explicitly used to prevent scandal during the 2016 presidential race.

Top Democratic Party leaders admit those payments constitute impeachable offenses, but have so far not called for impeachment.
Yes, I agree all of this is correct. Here is some more:

In my opinion, Trump is guilty of a number of high crimes and misdemeanors. He has escalated the undeclared wars in Syria and Yemen. He obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and lied about meetings his advisors had with Russians.

Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction, has been building a grass-roots movement for impeachment over the past two years. (Solomon is also co-author with me of the book Target Iraq.) He said Trump regularly violates the Constitution's emoluments clause. The Trump family directly benefits from foreign governments renting rooms in Trump hotels in Washington DC., among other shading business dealings.

I think this also is all correct. Here is again some more:

You noticed that I didn't mention Trump's collusion/conspiracy with Putin as one of the impeachable offenses. I think liberals have overplayed that connection, and it's likely to backfire.

To date, there's no evidence that Trump cooperated with Russia to illegally influence the 2016 elections or adopt pro-Russian policies as a quid pro quo for favorable business dealings.

Yes, the Russians spent a few hundred thousand dollars to set up fake social media sites to attack Hillary Clinton and support Trump. But, despite the liberal outcry, it had relatively small impact.

Trump won by less than 80,000 votes in three key states. The Democrats lost because Trump appealed to alienated white voters and the Clinton campaign tilted right rather than mobilizing new voters with a progressive program.

And I agree completely with this as well (and maintain that position since the end of 2016).

This is from the ending of this article:

Russia is no more threat to the people of United States than any other lesser imperialist power. We face far greater threats from the neocons currently occupying the White House.

I view Russian interference in US elections the same way I see its espionage. Both countries carry out illegal spying on one another. Occasionally a spy is caught. One side self righteously denounces the other, but no one believes espionage will topple either government.

Quite so, again. And 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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