December 28, 2018

Crisis: Impeaching Trump, Facebook's "Moderations", 10x More Dying(?), The Republicans, The DNC


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 28, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Friday, December 28, 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 28, 2018:
1. The Inevitability of Impeachment
2. 5 Takeaways From Facebook’s Leaked Moderation Documents

3. Extinction Rates Could Be 10 Times Worse Than We Thought

4. The Party of Ideas

5. The DNC Is Putting Its Thumb in the Right Direction
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. The Inevitability of Impeachment

This article is by Elizabeth Drew on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

An impeachment process against President Trump now seems inescapable. Unless the president resigns, the pressure by the public on the Democratic leaders to begin an impeachment process next year will only increase. Too many people think in terms of stasis: How things are is how they will remain. They don’t take into account that opinion moves with events.

Whether or not there’s already enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump — I think there is — we will learn what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has found, even if his investigation is cut short. A significant number of Republican candidates didn’t want to run with Mr. Trump in the midterms, and the results of those elections didn’t exactly strengthen his standing within his party. His political status, weak for some time, is now hurtling downhill.

Perhaps, though I do not know. (But I believe there is enough evidence to impeach Trump).
Here is some more:

The midterms were followed by new revelations in criminal investigations of once-close advisers as well as new scandals involving Mr. Trump himself. The odor of personal corruption on the president’s part — perhaps affecting his foreign policy — grew stronger. Then the events of the past several days — the president’s precipitous decision to pull American troops out of Syria, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s abrupt resignation, the swoon in the stock market, the pointless shutdown of parts of the government — instilled a new sense of alarm among many Republicans.

The word “impeachment” has been thrown around with abandon. The frivolous impeachment of President Bill Clinton helped to define it as a form of political revenge. But it is far more important and serious than that: It has a critical role in the functioning of our democracy.

Impeachment was the founders’ method of holding a president accountable between elections. Determined to avoid setting up a king in all but name, they put the decision about whether a president should be allowed to continue to serve in the hands of the representatives of the people who elected him.
Yes, this is all correct, although it also seems to me that most ordinary people seem to forget what happened to politicians quite soon.

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

Lost in all the discussion about possible lawbreaking by Mr. Trump is the fact that impeachment wasn’t intended only for crimes. For example, in 1974 the House Judiciary Committee charged Richard Nixon with, among other things, abusing power by using the I.R.S. against his political enemies. The committee also held the president accountable for misdeeds by his aides and for failing to honor the oath of office’s pledge that a president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

The current presidential crisis seems to have only two possible outcomes. If Mr. Trump sees criminal charges coming at him and members of his family, he may feel trapped. This would leave him the choice of resigning or trying to fight congressional removal. But the latter is highly risky.

I don’t share the conventional view that if Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, the Republican-dominated Senate would never muster the necessary 67 votes to convict him.

Yes indeed, although I am not certain whether "the Republican-dominated Senate" would convict Trump, although I agree they may. This is a recommended article.

2. 5 Takeaways From Facebook’s Leaked Moderation Documents

This article is by Aodhan Beirne on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

Sometimes an emoji is just an emoji. Sometimes it may be a threat.

And with only a few seconds to spare, Facebook moderators have to make the call — even if the text that accompanies the laughing yellow face is in an unfamiliar language.

To help with those decisions, Facebook has created a list of guidelines for what its two billion users should be allowed to say. The rules, which are regularly updated, are then given to its moderators.

For Facebook, the goal is clarity. But for the thousands of moderators across the world, faced with navigating this byzantine maze of rules as they monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages, clarity is hard to come by.

Facebook keeps its rulebooks and their existence largely secret. But The New York Times acquired 1,400 pages from these guidelines, and found problems not just in how the rules are drafted but in the way the moderation itself is done.

href="" title="">You can read the report by Max Fisher here.]

Here are five takeaways from our story:

In fact, I kept the reference to Max Fisher's report in my review because my readers may be interested in it.

Here is the first takeaway - and "(...)" indicates where I made cuts:

Facebook is experimenting on the fly.

The rules are discussed over breakfast every other Tuesday in a conference room in Menlo Park, Calif. — far from the social unrest that Facebook has been accused of accelerating.

Though the company does consult outside groups, the rules are set largely by young lawyers and engineers, most of whom have no experience in the regions of the world they are making decisions about. (...)

Yes, this seems to be correct - and it is my guess that the "young lawyers and engineers" will almost always make those choices that they think will serve Facebook and Facebook's profits.

Here is more:
The rules contain biases, gaps and errors. (...)

The moderators feel overwhelmed.

Facebook outsources moderation to companies that hire the thousands of workers who enforce the rules. In some of these offices, moderators say they are expected to review many posts within eight to 10 seconds. The work can be so demanding that many moderators only last a few months. (...)

I removed all the comments on the second takeaway, in part because it seems very obvious to me anyway, and in part because I do not trust Facebook anyway.

Also, eight to ten seconds is far too little for a rational judgement on almost any posty, I'd say. (But again: I don't think Zuckerberg is interested in rational judgements.)

Here is some more:

Facebook is edging into countries’ politics.

Facebook is growing more assertive about barring groups and people, as well as types of speech, that it believes could lead to violence.

In countries where the line between extremism and mainstream politics is blurry, the social network’s power to ban some groups and not others means that it is, in essence, helping pick political winners and losers.(...)

Yes, I think that is correct. And besides, there are two other points:

First, why would the police and the military of a country be admitted to use violence, but other groups not? I think this is a quite relevant question, but I will not try to deepen it in this review.

And second, why would anyone want to be censored by an organization while the internet at large is not censored at all except by courts? Especially if that organization keeps the rules by which it censors people private and secret?

Again, I will not go deeper with more questions. Here is the last of the five takeaways Beirne mentioned:

Facebook is taking a bottom-line approach.


Actually, I think this point is formulated wrongly: What Facebook is taking is an approach that serves Facebook's existence and Facebook's profits, while also trying to extend the number of its members - and it does so all with rules it brags about but keeps secret.

Anyway. This is a recommended article.

3. Extinction Rates Could Be 10 Times Worse Than We Thought

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

Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse.

That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.

In their study, long before the complete loss of one species, other species locked into the same ecosystem started to perish. There is no need to worry about the rare but real hazard of an asteroid impact, or a burst of gamma rays from a nearby exploding star. The message from the simulators is that global average warming of between 5 and 6C above the level for most of history since the end of the last Ice Age would be enough to wipe out most life on the hypothetical Earths.

I say. And while I do not know whether this is correct, the key notion these scientists use is one that was very clear to me in 1972, when I first read about "ecology"/"the environment"/"climate change" - I am listing some alternatives, mostly because I am happy with none - namely the idea of feedback (with which I was then also much interested in, for completely non-related reasons).

The basic non-mathematical argument is that (i) anything which exists, exists in part because it has usually very many feedback relations with various things and processes in its environment, while (ii) removing any thing (by destroying or killing it) will also remove most of the feedbacks it relied upon to survive, which (iii) are likely to produce massive changes if "the thing" that is removed are all or most of a species of living things.

I think all of the previous paragraph is still correct - which is one reason to take the two scientists seriously, indeed without knowing they are correct.

Here is more:

Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy and Corey Bradshaw of Finders University in Adelaide, Australia write in the journal Scientific Reports that they turned to computer simulation to resolve an enduring ecological question: quite what is it that drives biodiversity loss?

“Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list.”

The growth in human numbers, and the exploitation of the planet’s surface for economic growth, has destroyed habitats and disrupted ecosystems on a scale without parallel: global warming and climate change will make things worse.

I think the above paragraph is more or less obvious, but the next one illustrates my point about failing feedbacks:

And they found that failure to take into account the complex, entangled interdependencies of living things led to an underestimate, by 10 times, of the magnitude of mass extinction by climate change alone. The message is: don’t just save the giant panda, save the forest.

“Conservationists and decision makers need to move fast beyond a species-specific approach, and look with increasing attention at interaction networks as a fundamental conservation target,” Dr Strona said.

I fear this may well be correct, although I do not know this, and although I also agree with the last bit that I quote from this article:

Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth.

That is, I agree computer models very probably have weaknesses, and I also insist that there is very much more to know about biology and natural species than is known, as is an elementary consequence from the fact that "the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued" - but it seems a large part of the unknown creatures (and processes) may have been destroyed before they can be studied. And this is a strongly recommended article.

4. The Party of Ideas

This article is by Mike Lofgren on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

I recently attended a conference at the Niskanen Center. It was a think tank gabfest at which the participants were disillusioned conservatives hoping to chart a course toward a saner political center-right. Jonathan Chait did a near-ecstatic write-up of the meeting and its promise of a conservative movement with fewer XYY chromosomes. Jeet Heer was less optimistic.

What impressed me, however, was the elegiac note struck even by those thoroughly disenchanted participants who believed that American conservatism had not been hijacked by know-nothings, but contained the seeds of its own perversion.

They were almost uniformly nostalgic about the early 1980s, when most of them turned to the Republican Party.
Thirty-five years have given us plenty of time to test the truth of the main tenets of the Republican coalition when applied across economics, national security, social policy, and governance. Several of the most significant ideas follow:

If you do not know anything about Mike Lofgren, I think you should read up on him. I think he is interesting and likeable person - interesting, because he worked for decades for Republicans, and likeable because he has been reflecting publicly on this since 2011, and I agree with many of his conclusions.

I will quote a bit more than usual from this article and start with this, where once again the occurences of "(...)s" in quoted texts indicate cuts made by me:

Thirty-five years have given us plenty of time to test the truth of the main tenets of the Republican coalition when applied across economics, national security, social policy, and governance. Several of the most significant ideas follow:

Starve the beast. This was a popular rationale for tax cuts (beyond the real, tacit one of further enriching political donors) offered by reigning conservative demigod Milton Friedman. If you reduce revenue, it will force hated Big Government to shrink accordingly. Not only has this scheme never worked out, Republican administrations have expanded the national debt significantly more
than Democratic ones.

Tax cuts pay for themselves (or even increase revenue). This absurd myth is still being mouthed by true believers like Paul Ryan, even as he leaves the speakership with an unprecedented record of fiscal failure at a time of a generally good economy. (...)

As I started saying in this review, Lofgren has several decades of experience of working for the Republican Party, which also is one reason why I am interested in his ideas. And the above two ideas are quite familiar to me, and I completely agree with Lofgren that both are utter nonsense.

As an aside, I also think Milton Friedman was an utter fraud, but this indeed is an aside, although I will briefly return to him at the end of this review.

Here is more:

Efficient markets hypothesis. Wall Street must, by a Newtonian law of nature, allocate capital and risk in the most efficient manner possible. Therefore, who needs regulations? A glance at the numerous financial panics throughout history ought to have disproved this idea, but Federal Reserve board chairman Alan Greenspan embraced it along with Ayn Rand’s other crank notions. (...)

Yes indeed - and there is no Newtonian law of the economy in any sense, and indeed all economists are much divided on what their science is, which also shows that economy itself is not Newtonian in any sense.

And I suppose Lofgren is correct on Greenspan and Rand, which - if true - shows both were not clever people but at best somewhat clever frauds, which I insist is true of Rand.

Here is more:

Government is the problem. Uttered by no less than Saint Ronnie, this sentiment is the leitmotiv of conservative thought. Funny, though, it somehow excludes the Pentagon, which consumes more than half the discretionary budget. And it’s rarely practiced by those who preach it (many of whom have spent entire careers on the federal payroll). (...)

I think this is quite true - that is, I know this was a sentiment of Reagan, while I agree with Lofgren this must be almost wholly propaganda, because the Republicans rarely practice it, and indeed also never seem to mention the Pentagon, except to praise it.

Here is more:

The gold standard. (...)

Run government like a business. This chestnut is rarely questioned, although a moment’s thought proves it fallacious. Businesses sell products to customers for profitable revenue. Government is a citizens’ compact to provide a gamut of services from policing to disease research to protecting land held in common to national defense, all financed by taxes. Government officials must obey governmental and constitutional rules; they are not autocratic CEOs who run their firms as they see fit. (...)

I leave the gold standard to your interest (the whole article is available here) and I completely agree with Lofgren's criticisms.

Here is more:

Law and order/personal responsibility. In the 1980s and 1990s, the GOP styled itself the Party of Personal Responsibility: “no defining deviancy down!” as scolds like Bill Bennett incessantly reminded us. Republican amendments to crime bills competed to be the toughest on crime, with capital punishment preferred. Many liberals called it coded racism, but it ultimately became something even worse: more like the Leninist who-whom principle whereby something is only a crime depending on the political status of the perpetrator.

Yes indeed - and as to "coded racism", you should realize that blacks in the USA are both a lot poorer than whites (on average) and are also more subject to police controls of many kinds.

Here are the last two significant ideas that Lofgren discusses:

Authoritarianism good/totalitarianism bad.
Blame America First/liberals hate America. (...) It culminated in the common post-9/11 belief that anyone skeptical of the existence of WMD in Iraq hated America.

I agree again, and I also would insist both are examples of the meaning of totalitarianism that I prefer (see the link), which is contradictory to the meaning of totalitarianism that the Wikipedia spreads to billions. Then again, I will not discuss this in the present review.

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

These are but a few of the crackpot nostrums peddled by conservatives in their supposed intellectual golden age. While movement eggheads like Milton Friedman seem like hopelessly unworldly lunatics (he once posited that we didn’t need a Food and Drug Administration because manufacturers would ensure safe products out of market efficiency and the goodness of their hearts – yeah, sure they would), they prevailed over time.

Yes indeed. As to the fraud Friedman: Here he is claimed to posit that manufacturers "would ensure safe products" out of "the goodness of their hearts", while he also got quite well-known with insisting that producers have to answer no moral norm whatsoever except that they should aim at the highest possible profits.

Anyway... I think this was an interesting survey of some of "the crackpot nostrums peddled by conservatives" and it is a strongly recommended article.

5. The DNC Is Putting Its Thumb in the Right Direction

This article is by Michael Whitney on The Intercept. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez is setting a kind of cover charge to get onstage for the Democratic presidential primary debates, but not just any money will do. In addition to the usual polling metrics required to join the debate, candidates will also have to meet a to-be-determined criteria for “grassroots fundraising.”

Including small-dollar fundraising as a necessary element for debate participation would have two effects. First, it incentivizes candidates to invest — strategically, financially, and emotionally — in growing a small-donor base. Second, it will force potential billionaire self-funders like Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Howard Schultz to demonstrate some level of popular enthusiasm for their campaigns, meaning they can’t just flash their own cash and buy their way onstage.

This is a remarkable decision for any political party, and it reflects a growing shift in how campaigns are run and won. It also previews what will be an important way to measure the success of candidates in the Democratic primary: not just looking at how much money candidates raise, but how much of their money comes from small-dollar donors.

Well... yes and no: Yes in principle, but probably no in practice. My reasons are - and some more follow below - that I don't trust Perez, I don't trust Hillary Clinton, I don't trust Nancy Pelosi, and besides I don't trust many of the elected Democrats (the majority, in fact) because they are funded by the rich.

In fact, Michael Whitney agrees with me, at least to an extent:

A word of caution before getting too excited about the idea of “grassroots fundraising” being a new standard for whether Democratic Party sanctions candidates: The only way it will be a meaningful metric is if the party defines it as how much of a candidate’s money comes from people donating $200 or less, which is the federal definition of an “unitemized,” or small-dollar, contribution.

And in fact, so far "the Democrats" have not even settled that. Also there is this, which shows that this proposal, so far at least, has remarkably little success:

It’s not easy raising money from small-dollar donors. Only two of the 435 members of the House of Representatives elected in 2018 raised the majority of their money from small dollars: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and John Lewis. Just eight more representatives pulled in 31 percent or more of their money from the grassroots.

Of the potential 2020 contenders who have filed federal fundraising reports, only four — Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. — have raised the majority of their money in the current election cycle from small-dollar donors.

Quite so, and while there is considerably more in the article, I think the above two facts - no one has decided how much of the money Democratic contenders gather must be from people giving small gifts (which is all the large majority can give), and only four Democrats, so far, "have raised the majority of their money in the current election cycle from small-dollar donors" - are sufficient to show that at present this will hardly work.

I think I will remain quite skeptical of "the Democrats" until it is quite certain that the majority gets funded mostly by the many poor than by the few rich, 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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