December 24, 2018

Crisis: On Trump & Mattis, On Paul Ryan, On Ocasio-Cortez, On Tumblr, On Democracy


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

This is a Nederlog of Monday, December 24, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than 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 24, 2018:
1. Trump, Angry Over Mattis’s Rebuke, Removes Him 2 Months Early
2. Paul Ryan's Entire Career Was a Cash Grab for Billionaires

3. This Could Stop Congress From Forcing Shutdowns

4. Here's why 'platforms' like Tumblr are a totalitarian threat

5. Communities Without Consequences: Demographics and the
     Destruction of Democracy
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, Angry Over Mattis’s Rebuke, Removes Him 2 Months Early

This article is by Helene Cooper and Katie Rogers on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

Less than two hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis went to the White House on Thursday to hand a resignation letter to President Trump, the president stood in the Oval Office and dictated a glowing tweet announcing that Mr. Mattis was retiring “with distinction” at the end of February.

But Mr. Trump had not read the letter. As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians. The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis’s bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.

In a tweet later that morning, the president announced that he was removing Mr. Mattis from his post by Jan. 1, two months before the defense secretary had planned to depart. Mr. Trump said that Patrick M. Shanahan, Mr. Mattis’s deputy and a former Boeing executive, would serve as the acting defense secretary, praising him as “very talented” and adding that “he will be great!”

Yes indeed, although I read in other articles about the same subject that Trump had read the letter but did not understand it. I do not know what is the truth.

Here is some more:

Officials in allied nations, who had already expressed unease over Mr. Mattis’s resignation, voiced exasperation over his hastened departure. “And now Trump gets rid of SecDef Mattis almost immediately,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden, wrote on Twitter. “No smooth transition. No effort at reassurance to allies. Just vindictive.”

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

By Sunday morning, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, had informed Mr. Mattis that he would have just over another week in his current job. Mr. Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the president’s third national security adviser since taking office, are left to direct policy while the president considers an official replacement for Mr. Mattis. In a call with reporters, a White House official framed Mr. Shanahan’s tenure as one that could keep daily operations stable in the interim.

Yes. And this is a recommended article.

2. Paul Ryan's Entire Career Was a Cash Grab for Billionaires

This article is by Peter Certo on Truthdig and originally on OtherWords. This from near its beginning:

For years, the ten-term Wisconsin Republican — who’s retiring as Democrats prepare to take over the House — enjoyed an improbable reputation as a “deficit hawk” and “deep thinker” about fiscal issues.

Year after year, as House budget chairman, Ryan would roll out his latest “blueprint.” He’d literally roll up his sleeves for the cameras and detail his latest plans to slash rich people’s taxes and scale back public services for everyone else.

For a while, mainstream liberals greeted Ryan as a serious interlocutor.

They treated his plans to privatize Medicare, eviscerate Social Security, and shred the safety net as valid viewpoints in the Adult Conversation they wanted politics to be. Even if you didn’t agree with him, they said, you had to admit Ryan “had a plan” to “deal with the debt.”

That scam propelled Ryan to the House speakership in 2015. Then the long con really took off.

I think I fully agree with Certo, but this is on my understanding that Ryan´s plans consisted mostly of making the few rich a lot richer and the many poor a lot poorer.

I also think my understanding is correct:

For five straight years before Ryan took over, deficits had declined. By the time he gave his self-satisfied farewell, they’d increased by $343 billion — a product of Ryan’s tax breaks for corporations and millionaires, which will cost $2 trillion over the next decade.

Thanks to the very deficit he created, Ryan then left office warning that Congress needed to cut — you guessed it — Medicare and Social Security. (No doubt he’s still stinging from his 2017 failure to throw 24 million Americans off their health care — a feat of pure sociopathy he actually said he’d been dreaming about since he “was drinking out of kegs.”)

Indeed, although I have a minor correction: ¨a feat of pure sociopathy¨ is virtually meaningless because sociopathy is psychiatric bullshit that makes one a madman in the eyes of psychiatrists simply because one does not agree with a society´s dominant norms. (Thus, perfectly sane persons were considered mad in the Soviet Union because they disagreed with the dominant norms in the Soviet Union.) I would replace it by something like ¨an evil feat¨.

Here is more:

Ryan was never a serious thinker and he didn’t care about debt. He was a frat bro from a wealthy family who read a lot of Ayn Rand, a writer who called it “a disease” to do anything good for “the primordial savages” who made up “the collective” —  i.e., the public.

A bad model for public servants, if you ask me.

I quite agree with Certo on Ryan´s qualities. As to Ayn Rand (and I do not know how much she influenced Ryan): her attitudes to ¨“the primordial savages” who made up “the collective” —  i.e., the public¨ are extremely arrogant and amounts to something that is little different from the thesis that ¨the public¨ is too stupid to take care of its own interests, and should be manipulated into doing what their manipulators think is best for them - that is, to two classes of humans: the rich and smart and the non-rich and stupid.

Here is the ending of this article:

The silver lining is that Ryan’s villainy — like Trump’s — spurred the growth of powerful movements to expand health care, rebalance the economy, and get the U.S. out of immoral wars. Lawmakers from those movements — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and others — and a new House majority can now get to work burying Ryan’s legacy forever.

No one who isn’t a billionaire — or a bombmaker — will miss him.

I mostly agree and this is a recommended article.

3. This Could Stop Congress From Forcing Shutdowns

This article is by the Common Dreams staff. It starts as follows:

US Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for congressional salaries to be put on hold during the next government shutdown.

The US government went into a partial shutdown at midnight on Friday after President Trump refused to sign a spending bill that did not include $5 billion for his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. He had long claimed that Mexico would pay for the wall.

“It’s completely unacceptable that members of Congress can force a government shutdown on partisan lines & then have Congressional salaries exempt from that decision,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

“Have some integrity,” she added, calling for salaries to be furloughed for the next shutdown.

Yes, I completely agree with Ocasio-Cortez, and will turn below to my reasons, but first a bit from a Tweet of Ocasio-Cortez:
Yes indeed, and here is the background:

Members of the House and the Senate are paid $174,000 a year. According to Roll Call, 153 House members and 50 senators are millionaires.

More than 420,000 federal workers who are considered “essential” will continue working — but without pay, according to CBS News. Those employees may eventually receive back pay. However, an additional 380,000 workers will be furloughed and may miss a paycheck depending on how long the shutdown lasts.

My three reasons why I completely agree with Ocasio-Cortez are that (1) it is simply very unfair to dismiss persons working for the government because someone partially closes the government on political grounds, and (2) it is even more unfair to force hundreds of thousands to work for the government without pay, while (3) in Holland certainly and I think also in the rest of Western Europe, at least, as well, one cannot dismiss people who work for the government on the ground that the government will stop working in part for a period, nor can one stop paying these people.

And I think my three reasons are entirely fair.

4. Here's why 'platforms' like Tumblr are a totalitarian threat

This article is by Keith Spencer on AlterNet and originally on Salon. This is from near its beginning:

Long before Tumblr’s C-suite decided to go full Protestant, similar situations occurred at other digital platform sites. When San Francisco–based Uber lowers the base fare for its global workforce of millions of drivers, a worker in Mumbai suddenly suffers. And when the engineers at Facebook in Menlo Park decide to toy with the algorithm that determines who and what you see in your Timeline, the reduction in visibility is felt by a small family business in Cairo.

There is something innately absurd about this undemocratic, totalitarian arrangement: it can make one’s success (or failure) feel utterly arbitrary, as if we were all mere puppets driven by randomly-changing algorithms. And yet, for the corporate imaginations who set the decrees, there is a Machiavellian logic at work driven by — what else? — profit.

Yes, I mostly agree - but if you were to rely on (the ever-worsening) Wikipedia for an understanding of the term ¨totalitarianism¨, you are totally out of luck, for according to Wikipedia, which seems to mirror Brzezinski in this and other respects, totalitarianism can
exist only in states which are totalitarian (which then is mostly undefined), and not outside them. So as long as the USA is assumed to be democratic, it cannot possibly totalitarian - according to Wikipedia, that is.

For me, that is intentional bullshit aka propaganda, and I define totalitarianism (about which I have been reading more than 50 years) as follows:
Totalitarian: Ideology or religion that is pretended to have final answers to many important human questions and problems and that is pretended to be thereby justified to persecute persons who do not agree with the ideology or the religion.

This is the usual form that every human ideology assumes - religious, political and otherwise, with science as the almost only partial exception.
The supposed truths and values of any religion or ideology tend to be absurdities according to the common sense of whomever does not have the religion or ideology. And in general Voltaire's sharpwitted dictum applies here: "If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities."

Indeed, the main factual, moral and intellectual problem of virtually all religions and political ideologies is not that most of the key theses of the religion or ideology are nonsensical, false or not properly based on evidence, but the fact that these key theses are used in a totalitarian fashion.

And yes, I also do not quite agree with Spencer´s choice of the term ¨totalitarian¨ for the actions of the leaders of Uber, Facebook, Google etc. and namely not because these leaders do not call for persecution of the people they disagree with - but I can understand why he uses the term.

Here is more on what I call the a-social media, for that is what they are:

Social media corporations like Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram are interested in keeping us glued to their sites, regardless of the social repercussions. One might argue that all companies attempt to get consumers habituated to their products; yet social media’s influence in our lives is personal and intrusive in a way that few industries have ever been before. "Your telephone in the 1970s didn’t have a thousand engineers on the other side of the telephone [who were] updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive," digital ethicist Tristan Harris explained in a CBS interview.

Yes indeed - and please realize that the a-social media try to keep their members on their sites by advertisements in order for their members to read more advertisements, simply because that is how the a-social media make money: From advertisements.

And not only that, for the a-social media know much more about you, your family and your friends than you know yourself (or your family and friends know about themselves):

Nowadays, social media literally categorizes, manages, and controls our relationships with friends and confidants. In the process, it affects what we see of their lives, the emotions we feel and receive, and the information we are fed. In this regard, the social media industry is far more intimate than the newspaper industry; more manipulative than the beauty industry; and more precise in its targeting than television. And now, for many bloggers, marketers, newspapers, businesses and — yes — sex workers, it is also the hand that feeds them.

Why, then, do these sites all undergo spontaneous algorithm changes that alienate vast swaths of their userbase? Again, the answer has to do with eyeballs and thus profit. Facebook constantly refines its algorithms to keep users on its site as long as possible, and solicits feedback "so that you spend more time using the service — thus seeing more of the ads that provide most of the company’s revenue," as Harris said. This is standard practice for social media companies.

Yes indeed, although I disagree with ¨we¨ because I know about Facebook for a long time, but it sickens and sickened me so much that I never became a member and only visited it twice (to check out lies somebody had written about me, and which were only on Facebook).

Here is more:

When Facebook suddenly changed its Timeline algorithm last year, thousands of news sites saw their traffic drop dramatically — resulting in a sudden dip in advertising dollars. Facebook made the decision because its industrial psychologists figured out that people stay more engaged (read: spend more time on the site) if they see their friends' posts, rather than the posts of news sites or magazines that they might follow.

Well... here at least two other considerations are quite relevant. The first is that the leaders of Facebook insist that (i) they are entitled to do with their - secret - programs (aka algorithms, but that is a term I dislike) as they please, simply because they are private companies. The second is that the vast majority of the members of Facebook is too stupid and/or too ignorant to understand what Facebook is doing to them.

I think both are quite correct. There is a lot more to be said about either point, but I will not try to do so in this review.

Here is Franklin Foer (who edited the New Republic) quoted:

[Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg] has described Facebook [as] being like a government. It sets policies. I think that he has generally had a vision of where he wants to lead his users. [The] idea of sharing, [is] so deeply embedded in Facebook; [Zuckerberg] wants the people who use Facebook to become more sharing individuals. This is consistent with one of the big values at Silicon Valley, which is transparency; Silicon Valley believes in the religion of transparency. So one way in which [Zuckerberg] justified Facebook is that it causes people to be more transparent. They expose more of their lives to their friends and to their family, and they expose their views, they expose where they go to holiday, and that this is going to make us ultimately better human beings.... I mean, really, in my view, they have a set of ideals, but they also have a business model. They end up reconfiguring your ideals in order to justify their business model.

I think that is at least partially misleading, for what Zuckerberg wants is that the individual persons who become members of Facebook become totally transparent (and predictable, and advertisable, and manipulable) whereas he wants Facebook to be as non-transparent as he can possibly make it.

Here is the ending of this article:

This is all to say that we’ve reached a point where the power wielded by said platforms has few analogues in history. An errant piece of code or an intentional Facebook Timeline change has an instant, damning effect on so many lives. Such an arrangement speaks to the totalitarian nature of Silicon Valley: the eggheads who know best make the rules, and the rest of us — whether magazine, sex worker or Uber driver — are just grist for the digital mill.

I mostly agree with this, although I still do not think that the choice of ¨totalitarian¨ was the best choice of words. I think that - for example - authoritarian would have been better, but this is a recommended article.

5. Communities Without Consequences: Demographics and the Destruction of Democracy

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Even after more than two years, the notion that America elected an ignorant, racist, profane, incompetent, reality show buffoon as President still seems incomprehensible to the rational, reality-based world.

What is even more inconceivable is that Trump seems to have taken some 40 percent  of Americans down his hate-filled, myth-fueled, anti-science rat-hole with him.  Worse, the Republican Party is abandoning democracy and a sizable number of citizens seem prepared to join them, with 52 percent  of Republicans saying they’d back Trump if he suspended elections in 2020.  

How did hate-speech, white nationalism, and authoritarianism gain so much ground in the “home of the brave and the land of the free?”

The answer is complex, and there’s a virtual cottage industry forming to explain it.

Well... while I did not know that ¨there’s a virtual cottage industry (..) to explain it¨, I do know that (1) I have read quite a number of articles that seem to be written by such a cottage industry but (2) I have missed in each and every of these ¨explanations¨ what seem to be the main reasons to explain why ¨America elected an ignorant, racist, profane, incompetent, reality show buffoon as President¨ and why Trump ¨seems to have taken some 40 percent  of Americans down his hate-filled, myth-fueled, anti-science rat-hole¨.

My reasons are that at least 40 percent of the Americans is stupid and/or ignorant, and these are the two main reasons for Trump´s success - but I do not know of anybody else who insists on this, even while it is or ought to be obvious that 50% of all Americans have an IQ that is less than 100.

And I think the main reason why I missed that obvious (partial) explanation very many times is that the articles I do read are mostly by professional journalists, who want to avoid criticisms of the gifts of many of their readers, especially if their opinions are not flattering for at least 50% of their readers.

Well... I am not a professional journalist at all, and never was, while I am strongly interested in the truth, and that is my main explanation for the fact that you will not read my main explanation for the fact that Trump was chosen as president in 2016.

Back to the answers that Atcheson does give:

Citizens in small states have always enjoyed a disproportionate amount of power by virtue of the way the constitution was negotiated.  For example, voters in Wyoming have about 290,000 people per Senator, while in California the ratio is about 19,020,000 people per Senator.  And as the population has grown, citizens in states with only one Representative have had their voices amplified even further.  Since the electoral college is defined by Congressional representation, this plays out in the Presidential contests.

Yes indeed: This is quite true. Then there is also this:

Finally, the rise of a segmented news environment in which people get their information from ideological monocultures that reinforce their biases and prejudices, with social media further insulating them from any exposure to alternative views, has allowed people and media to substitute myth, rumor and outright lies for data, reality, and context.

Well... yes, but when people do ¨get their information from ideological monocultures that reinforce their biases and prejudices¨ my own explanation is that the main reason for this must be that they are stupid and/or ignorant.

And there is this:

Worse, people can now form communities of like-minded people on the Internet. This isn’t simply the creation of specific news and information tailored for people’s prejudices – this is the creation of virtual communities in which people’s worst fears, prejudices and biases are reinforced, not tempered. In short, these communities create a culture that not only fosters the most heinous species of propaganda, but allows it to be more sweeping in its influence.

No, it is not bad that people can ¨form communities of like-minded people on the Internet¨ - in fact, this is what happens when you somehow throw a great number of people together so that they can easily communicate: it is human.

What is bad is that many of the ¨communities¨ people form consist mostly of stupid and/or ignorant people who refuse to read or see materials (they could easily see if they wanted) because it disagrees with their values or ideologies; what is also bad is that the a-social media
strongly further that people only read their a-social media and no or hardly any other; and what is also bad is that the a-social media are led by persons who are by far the most interested in the profits they make themselves from exploiting their a-social media as well as they can.

Here is the ending of this article:

The solutions are a progressive and populist set of policies like those in Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Only hope can extinguish despair; only concrete action can counter empty rhetoric. 

Sadly, the Democratic leadership seems intent on embracing the tired old tactics of identity politics, faux progressive rhetoric, and pay-to-play neoliberalism in lieu of a set of real progressive policies that would lift all Americans, mitigate climate change, and unite us in the process.

Yes, I agree with this, and this is a recommended article in spite of my criticisms.

[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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