December 18, 2018

Crisis: On Trump, Google & China, Ralph Nader Interview (*2), Trump & Public Interest, Marijuana


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 18, 2018
B. Extra Bit: On Marijuana

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, December 18, 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 18, 2018:
1. Trump, the Quintessential American
2. Google’s Secret China Project “Effectively Ended” After Internal

“To the Ramparts”: Ralph Nader
4. Ralph Nader on Single Payer, Climate Devastation, Impeachment &
     Why Mulvaney Is a “Massive Outlaw”

Why Trump’s Private Transactions are Terrifying
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, the Quintessential American

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Donald Trump is part of the peculiar breed Herman Melville described in his novel “The Confidence-Man,” in which the main character uses protean personas, flattery and lies to gain the confidence of his fellow passengers to fleece them on a Mississippi River steamboat. “Confidence men,” as Melville understood, are an inevitable product of the amorality of capitalism and the insatiable lust for wealth, power and empire that infects American society. Trump’s narcissism, his celebration of ignorance—which he like all confidence men confuses with innocence—his megalomania and his lack of empathy are pathologies nurtured by the American landscape. They embody the American belief, one that Mark Twain parodied in “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” F. Scott Fitzgerald excoriated in “The Great Gatsby” and William Faulkner portrayed in the depraved Snopes clan, that it does not matter in the crass commercialism of American society how you obtain wealth and power. They are their own justifications.
Yes, this seems more or less correct to me (though ¨megalomania¨ has now disappeared from Wikipedia, although it is proper English since the 1890ies, and has been replaced by ¨narcissism¨ which is a psychiatric term of art - but this is an aside).

Here is more:
American culture is built on a willful duplicity, a vision we hold of ourselves that bears little resemblance to reality. Malcolm Bradbury wrote “that in America imposture is identity; that values are not beliefs but the product of occasions; and that social identity is virtually an arbitrary matter, depending not on character nor an appearance but on the chance definition of one’s nature or colour.”
I think this is also mostly correct, and indeed the same set of attitudes (let´s say) also is Dutch, but it probably needs a bit of restatement:

Fundamentally, this is hypocrisy, which may be briefly described as ¨
Acting as if; pretending; playing a part¨ and somewhat more extensively as the difference between the personal character of humans, i.e. what they are and made of themselves, and show to their family, friends or themselves in private, and the public character of humans, i.e. what they show of themselves or of what they like to be seen as when performing some social role, whether this is work or connected to appearing in public.

And I make this point because, while I agree that all public characters are playing some social role and are basically pretending to be as they are not, I also - as a psychologist - insist that this is playing a part, and underneath it there is the personal character, that is more stable and is playing the parts.

Here is a bit about a 19th Century foregoer of Trump:

Barnum was the high priest of the polytheistic, secular religion of Americans and the creator of kitsch as an aesthetic, characteristics that define Trump. Trump built his own temples to celebrity and to himself, among them the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City and Trump Towers in various cities. Trump, like Barnum, understood that celebrities and their relics function in American culture as totems and magical talismans. He, as did Barnum, caters to the vulgarity of the mob, elevating the salacious and the sleazy and claiming it is culture and art.
Yes, I think that is correct. Here is some more on Barnum:
An autobiography by Barnum, “Struggles and Triumphs,” which was published in 1869, shamelessly details the sleights of hand and deceptions that made him very, very wealthy. He understood, as he wrote in the autobiography, that “the public appears disposed to be amused even while they are conscious of being deceived.” This understanding underlies the popularity of entertainments such as professional wrestling and reality television shows, along with Fox News, all of which are premised on cons.
Yes indeed - and in fact this is also one of the reasons why I do distinguish between intelligent and educated members of the public and the rest, for the simple reason that I think that the intelligent and educated members of the public, that is always in a minority, is capable of seeing through many more - political and propagandistic - cons than the stupid and ignorant parts of the public.

This is also one of the difficulties of democracy: The fact that the largest part of any sizable population does not belong to the intelligent and educated part, and therefore is much easier to propagandize and to con.

Back to the article:
In our Barnumesque culture, those who create the most convincing fantasies in the cycles of nonstop entertainment are lionized. Those who puncture the fantasies with the prosaic truth are condemned for spoiling the fun. These pseudo-events and fabrications lift people up out of their daily lives into an Oz-like world of fantasy. They destroy a civil discourse rooted in verifiable fact, obliterating any hope of holding back the magical thinking that lies at the core of all totalitarian societies.
Yes, but this ought to be combined with the fact that up to 25 years ago only relatively few could publish on paper, whereas nowadays publishing on paper has turned into a minority affair, and most publishing is on the internet - where there now are between 2 and 4 million other publishers, on the so-called ¨social media¨.

This is a very great difference and should be dealt with, but I´ve so far never seen any article that addresses the difference between the relatively few publishers on paper, until - say - 1993, and the enormous amounts of publishers on the internet.

Anyway... back to the article and to Trump:
Trump’s get-rich-quick schemes and seminars, including his books, were a con. His casinos were a con. His paid speeches on behalf of self-help gurus such as Tony Robbins were a con. Tales of his sexual prowess, spread by himself masquerading over the phone as a Trump spokesperson, were a con. His building projects were a con. Trump even had, Johnston writes, “imaginary employees.” Trump and his kleptocrats and grifters are today triumphant, and neither democratic norms or simply human decency will inhibit their pathological lust for more.
Yes, I mostly agree. Here is the last bit that I quote, from the ending of the article:
We can no longer tell the difference between illusion and reality; indeed when a version of reality is not verified on our electronic screens and by our reality manipulators it does not exist. The skillful creation of illusion and the manipulation of our emotional response, actions that profit the elites to our financial and political detriment, have seeped into religion, education, journalism, politics and culture.
Well... yes and no, which is to say that I do believe that the intelligent and well educated minorities are still capable of seeing through many cons and much propaganda, but that I
agree that since 1993 these are in the small minority on the internet, which indeed is the
basis of an enormous problem if - as I agree is the case - most of the majorities nowadays
can be conned and propagandized into believing all manner of falsities
. And this is a recommended article.

2. Google’s Secret China Project “Effectively Ended” After Internal Confrontation

This article is by Ryan Gallagher on the Intercept. It starts as follows:

Google has been forced to shut down a data analysis system it was using to develop a censored search engine for China after members of the company’s privacy team raised internal complaints that it had been kept secret from them, The Intercept has learned.

The internal rift over the system has had massive ramifications, effectively ending work on the censored search engine, known as Dragonfly, according to two sources familiar with the plans. The incident represents a major blow to top Google executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai, who have over the last two years made the China project one of their main priorities.

I say! I do so because I did not know this and it seems - to me, at least - a considerable advance beyond what I did know, which was that Google is helping the totalitarian government of China to impose its totalitarianism on everyone who is using a computer in China.

To be precise: I think the Chinese are themselves capable of helping the totalitarian government of China to impose its totalitarianism on every Chinese, but I agree that this is much better than having Google do it for them, for pay.

Here is some on the background of this story:

The dispute began in mid-August, when the The Intercept revealed that Google employees working on Dragonfly had been using a Beijing-based website to help develop blacklists for the censored search engine, which was designed to block out broad categories of information related to democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest, in accordance with strict rules on censorship in China that are enforced by the country’s authoritarian Communist Party government.

Yes indeed. Here is more

The engineers used the sample queries from, for instance, to review lists of websites Chinese people would see if they typed the same word or phrase into Google. They then used a tool they called “BeaconTower” to check whether any websites in the Google search results would be blocked by China’s internet censorship system, known as the Great Firewall. Through this process, the engineers compiled a list of thousands of banned websites, which they integrated into the Dragonfly search platform so that it would purge links to websites prohibited in China, such as those of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and British news broadcaster BBC.

Yes indeed - and this means also that Google intended to help the Chinese communist party and Xi Jinping by making it impossible for the Chinese population to read sites published outside China with some news that the Chinese communist party does not want ordinary Chinese to read or see.

Here is the ending of this article:

Last week, Pichai, Google’s CEO, appeared before Congress, where he faced questions on Dragonfly. Pichai stated that “right now” there were no plans to launch the search engine, though refused to rule it out in the future. Google had originally aimed to launch Dragonfly between January and April 2019. Leaks about the plan and the extraordinary backlash that ensued both internally and externally appear to have forced company executives to shelve it at least in the short term, two sources familiar with the project said.

Google did not respond to requests for comment.

I think this is also correct, that is, I agree with Gallagher that the leadership of Google still hopes to make many more billions by being the agents of the Chinese communist party. But this is at least a small advance, and this is a strongly recommended article.

3. “To the Ramparts”: Ralph Nader

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
A new book by longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential hopeful Ralph Nader links the criminality of the Trump administration to the unchecked power of previous U.S. presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In “To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course,” Nader argues that the U.S. federal government is fundamentally corrupt, warmongering and owned by corporations—but he also issues a call for members of the public to hold their representatives and senators accountable, including by building local Congress watchdog groups across the country and utilizing “citizens summons” to force members of Congress to appear before residents of their districts.
Incidentally, I normally copy the introductions to the interviews on Democracy Now! that I review, for the simple reason that they are good and informative.

It is the same here, and I agree with Nader as summarized, although I also see difficulties, namely those mentioned in section 1, in particular here and here.

Here is some more:

RALPH NADER:  (...) So, we’ve got to network all of these structures of abuses of power, from the White House to Wall Street, right down to states like North Carolina or Wisconsin, where they are detonating the critical right of voting in this country and reaping the dividends for their corporate paymasters.

So, I think it’s time really to get down to the nitty-gritty, which is, it’s all about Congress to turn around the executive branch, judicial branch. It’s 535 people. We know their names. They put their shoes on like we do every morning. And we know that they want something we can give them or deny. It’s called votes. People say, “Well, it’s all about campaign money.” They want campaign money to intimidate their opponents and to put ads on TV—to get votes. We cut the campaign money off like the pass, like the Khyber Pass. You cut it off—right?—by mobilizing Congress watchdog groups in every congressional district.

I think this is correct (but with the two difficulties mentioned above: here and here). Here is more by Nader:

RALPH NADER:  (...) There are 725,000 people—men, women, children—in each congressional district. A mere one-half of 1 percent of the adults—say, a little over a million people—organized in 435 districts, with full-time offices, representing left-right changes in our country—huge left-right support down where people live, work and raise their family. They may call themselves conservative or call themselves liberals, but they want the same things. They want safe medicines. They want access to healthcare that’s affordable. They want better schools. They want repaired public services—sewage, drinking water, highways, bridges. They want clean politics. That’s what the Democratic Party has for an opportunity now, is to appeal to left-right collective action, which comes out of the grassroots, and it’s unbeatable politically in Congress. So I put this book out, on the ramparts, in order to show how to turn it around. You turn it around by focusing individually on your two senators and representatives.

I think this is also correct (but again with the two difficulties mentioned above: here and here).

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

RALPH NADER:  (...) But, you see, Congress has got to have these hearings. They’ve got to make this a high-visibility issue. And that’s what we’ve been lacking for years now. Congress has been a dead zone. It’s been wasting $5 billion, which is its budget, and increasing congressional secrecy, restrictive rules on progressive members, and putting more and more power in the hands of the top leaders, stripping even the formerly committee chairs of the ability to decide for themselves what kind of hearings.

Yes - and I also pointed out some of the difficulties with this plan, that I do agree with, which may be summarized by saying that the many corruptions of Congress have been proceeding since 1980 at least, and so far have not been stopped and hardly been hindered. But this is a recommended article. And there is some more by Nader in my next review:

4. Ralph Nader on Single Payer, Climate Devastation, Impeachment & Why Mulvaney Is a “Massive Outlaw”

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
As President Trump threatens to shut down the federal government over border wall funding, there have been some shake-ups in the White House. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will resign as he faces at least 17 federal investigations into suspected ethics violations. A former fossil fuel industry lobbyist, David Bernhardt, will become the interim interior secretary. Meanwhile, Trump has tapped Mick Mulvaney to become acting chief of staff to replace Gen. John Kelly. Mulvaney already holds two posts in the administration: White House budget director and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And in Texas, a federal court has declared the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate unconstitutional, setting up a likely challenge at the Supreme Court. We are joined by longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. He is author of the new book “To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course.”
This was the introduction from this article. Here is more:

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s start where we ended, with that long list of just what’s happened this week, and that is this Texas federal judge—yes, nominated by President George W. Bush but confirmed by a Democratic Senate—this judge calling the ACA, calling Obamacare, unconstitutional, and what this means.

RALPH NADER: I think it’s going to be overturned. It’s almost unanimously condemned by legal experts from all sides. It’s considered intellectually bad opinion by conservative legal scholars and denounced even more vociferously by progressive legal scholars. And it doesn’t have an injunction in the country, so there’s going to be no changes, unless, on rehearing, the judge really goes off the rails, but then I think he would be overreaching in terms of his own jurisdiction. So, we’ll wait for the circuit court of appeals.

I hope Nader is correct. In fact, here is one reason why he may be correct:

RALPH NADER: (..) I mean, if Obamacare, which is full of loopholes, excessive complexity—still 29 million people without health insurance, tens of millions underinsured. The corporations run away with record profits—drug companies, hospital chains, insurance companies, huge executive compensation. So, if they overturn judicially—which is not likely—Obamacare, even The Wall Street Journal has said that this will open up the path to single payer, full Medicare for all, everybody in, nobody out, much more efficient, and, above all, gives you your free choice of doctor and hospital.

Again I hope Nader is correct. And here is Nader on Trump:

RALPH NADER: (..) So, I think President Trump is digging himself an even bigger hole by putting Mulvaney there. The combination of Mulvaney, John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a lethal one even for Trump’s political survival. He’s trying to get sycophants around him, which is usually a late stage in the collapse of a regime.

I can only say again that I hope he is correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, and it is about the impeachment of Trump:

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on impeachment?

RALPH NADER: Well, impeachment is going to await the report of the Mueller investigation. If he comes out with documentation in terms of high crimes and misdemeanor potential, the House of Representatives has a constitutional obligation to initiate impeachment hearings. I mean, it’s just basically investigating the high crimes and misdemeanors of President Trump and other high officials.

We shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I mean, our Founding Fathers let presidents, between elections, be unaccountable except for one measure, and that is the impeachment function.

I agree and this is a recommended article.

5. Why Trump’s Private Transactions are Terrifying

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. This is from near its beginning:

After two years of Trump we may have overlooked the essence of his insanity: His brain sees only private interests transacting. It doesn’t comprehend the public interest.

Private transactions can’t be wrong or immoral because, by definition, they require that every party to them be satisfied. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a deal.

Viewed this way, everything else falls into place.

For example, absent a public interest, there can’t be conflicts of interest.

Well... yes and no. First, I agree that Trump is insane,  but second, I disagree that ¨the essence of his insanity¨ is that he ¨doesn´t comprehend the public interest¨.

Here are my reasons. Trump is insane essentially because he satisfies nine out of nine of the behaviorally defined characteristics that are used (by psychologists and psychiatrists) to establish whether someone is a narcissist (which is a pathology i.e. a mental ¨illness¨). (In fact, satisfying five out of nine of these criterions is enough.)

I am a psychologist and agree with this, but this is not what Reich, who is neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist, understands by Trump´s insanity.

The reason that not knowing or not caring for the public interest is not a sign of insanity is mostly that it seems as if the majority of the members of the GOP, and it also seems the majority of the rich, agree (e.g. with Thatcher: ¨There is no society¨) that public interests either do not exist or should not exist.

And while I disagree with most members of the GOP and the rich I do not think (as a psychologist) that most of them are insane (while Trump is), although I probably would agree to the thesis that most of them are egoistic.

There also is another disagreement between myself and Reich: I definitely do not think that ¨[p]rivate transactions can’t be wrong or immoral because, by definition, they require that every party to them be satisfied¨.

My reason is very simple: Almost every ¨agreement¨ for work and for pay that the non-rich and the poor make with the rich (or their representatives) is not one in which ¨every party to them [is] satisfied¨ for these agreements are between the rich and those who have to work for their incomes and their food and their housing - and usually the positions are in fact extremely unequal. (I myself have had many jobs, but absolutely never had any satisfactory working contract, which I could never get because I always was poor, and had to be ¨satisfied¨ with such agreements as the vast majority of the poor also had accepted, again because their choice was between starvation and unsatisfactory work.)

Back to Reich and Trump:

“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million,” Trump told a crowd at an Alabama rally in August 2015. “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

Ethics smethics. Without a public interest, no deals can be ethical violations. All are just private transactions.  

So someone donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and subsequently received a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department. What’s the problem? Both parties got what they wanted. (Federal prosecutors are now investigating this.)

Again yes and no, mostly because I disagree with Reich about his thesis that ¨[w]ithout a public interest, no deals can be ethical violations.¨ I do, because a deal is an agreement between two people, and virtually any agreement between any two people involves much more than just these two people.

Here is the ending of this article:

When private deals are everything, the law is irrelevant. This also seems to fit with Trump’s worldview.

If he genuinely believes the hush money he had Cohen pay was a “simple private transaction,” Trump must not think the nation’s campaign finance laws apply to him. But if they don’t, why would laws and constitutional provisions barring collusion with foreign powers apply to him?

As we enter the third year of his presidency, Trump’s utter blindness to the public interest is a terrifying possibility. At least a scoundrel knows when he is doing bad things. A megalomaniac who only sees the art of the deal, doesn’t.

Well, as I explained, it simply is false that ¨[w]hen private deals are everything, the law is irrelevant¨: Almost every private deal between two persons involves very much more interests and work than the interests and work of just these two persons.

Also, again as I explained, I do think Trump is a megalomaniac aka narcissist, and is mentally ill for that reason, but I do not think that Trump´s disinterest (let´s say) in the public interest is itself a sign that he is insane, for the simple reason that he shares his distinterest with most (though not all) of America´s present-day conservatives.

B. Extra Bit: On Marijuana

The article in this section does not neatly fit in the crisis mould. In fact, it is a fairly long review of a recent book called ¨Grass roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America¨ by Emily Dufton.

I have not read the book, but I know a lot about marijuana (in Holland, which is different from most countries, for in Holland politics and illegal dealings in drugs intersect since 30 years at least), and the book seems sensible.

The article is by Peter Maguire and is on The New York Review of Books:

It starts as follows:
One of the few issues that many Americans can agree on in 2018 is, improbably, marijuana legalization. Pot is now legal in thirty-three states and Washington, D.C. In April, John Boehner, the former Republican Speaker of the House, made the rounds of the morning TV talk shows to announce that he now supported decriminalization. Boehner, a former Big Tobacco lobbyist, had declared in 2015 that he was “unalterably opposed” to making pot legal. Now, perhaps hoping to cash in on the marijuana “green rush,” he sits on the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a New York City–based marijuana startup headed by investment bankers. Acreage hopes to be to Big Pot what R.J. Reynolds, Boehner’s other employer, is to Big Tobacco. Acreage’s CEO, Kevin Murphy, optimistically predicts a “massive consolidation in this business” that will earn his company billions by 2020.
Yes, and this is a very great difference with how marijuana has been treated in the USA (and elsewhere) during the last 50+ years, for in the USA marijuana has been classified - without any scientific reason whatsoever - as being as dangerous as heroin.

I do know for I am 68 and came first into contact with marijuana in Holland in 1967. Here is some more from the beginning of this article:

Those who did not live through the 1960s may find it difficult to appreciate just how subversive this plant was once thought to be. Because the US government viewed pot smoking as a rejection of postwar American values, it considered the battle against marijuana an important front in the culture wars. To the Nixon administration marijuana was not a legal or economic issue—it was a moral one. The president considered homosexuality, marijuana, and immorality “the enemies of strong societies” and compared them to the “plagues and epidemics of former years.”

Grass Roots and most scholarly studies about pot have a large and excusable blind spot. Much of the history of the American marijuana business is unknown simply because of its criminal nature.
This is more or less correct. Here is a bit more, on how marijuana got classified to be as dangerous as heroin:
When Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970, it “temporarily” classified marijuana—along with heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote—as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black,” President Nixon’s assistant for domestic affairs, John Ehrlichman, admitted in an interview, “but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”
I think that is quite correct. There is a whole lot more in this article, which I will all leave to your interests, except for the ending:
The American government has not only lost the war on pot; it has also lost the War on Drugs. Today, America is the most drug-addicted nation on earth. It also has the world’s largest prison population and a racist two-tiered judicial system. One would think that the architects of this war would be in political purgatory. Instead they are now trying not only to dictate the terms on which legalization will proceed, but also to cash in on it. Since when do the defeated dictate the terms of their surrender?
My - brief - answer to the last question is: Since politics and the law mostly got corrupted in the USA. And this is a recommended article, with a whole lot more than I quoted.

[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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