January 28, 2019

Crisis: Trump vs The Courts,
Facebook´s Frauds, Right-wing Outrages, Green New Deal, On Iran

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 28, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Monday, January 28, 2019.

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 January 28, 2019:
1. There’s a Better Battlefield for the War Against Trump’s Lies: the Courts
2. How Facebook Cashed In on Tricking Kids

3. The 5 biggest right-wing outrages this week

4. The Green New Deal is Not Enough: We Need an Alternative

5. War Against Iran Becoming Ever More Likely
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. There’s a Better Battlefield for the War Against Trump’s Lies: the Courts

This article is by Trevor Aaronson on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

President Donald Trump and his administration lie to and mislead the public as a matter of course. It’s a concerning but indisputable fact. So how do we combat propaganda and lies in our post-truth world?

The popular pre-Trump solution among news media outlets of fact-checking in real time — explaining to the public in dry, dispassionate language what’s true and what’s not — has proven ineffective and farcical at a time like this. In the bustling business of publicly fact-checking Trump, the Washington Post has counted more than 8,000 “false or misleading claims” from the 45th president. But that isn’t stopping his lies. 

I think this is somewhat misleading, although I think it is quite true that Trump is a great liar.

Then again, if you speak of ¨
our post-truth world¨ it seems to me (and I am both a philosopher and a psychologist) you are bullshitting or much exaggerating: The world is there, as a matter of fact (indeed apart from a few philosophers), and the lies and propaganda are not quite there but in the symbolic misrepresentations of it, most of which are quite intentional.

Also, it seems to me somewhat of an exaggeration to insist that ¨
explaining to the public in dry, dispassionate language what’s true and what’s not — has proven ineffective¨, for clearly at least the more intelligent and more reasonable part of the public is still open to mostly dispassionate language that explains when and where Trump and others are lying.

The real basic problem that is not mentioned in the previous paragraph is that there are now more than four billion persons who can publish more or less what they want on Facebook, Twitter etc., which is totally different from 20 or more years ago, while the great majority of these new publishers may well be stupid or ignorant (which rarely stops them from publishing or sending on whatever ¨news¨ hit their fancies).

Anyway. Back to the article that introduces the courts as follows:

The Information Quality Act, sometimes referred to as the Data Quality Act, is an obscure law enacted in 2001 as a rider in a spending bill. The initial idea behind the legislation was to guarantee that agencies of the U.S. government are held to reasonably high information-quality standards as more and more of their reports and data were made available on the internet.

The legislation directed the Office of Management and Budget to establish standards for information distributed by U.S. government agencies. The guidelines require information published by U.S. agencies to be objective and honest, with any analysis based on clear and transparent methodology.

Indeed, there’s nothing radical about the guidelines. Basically, they require government agencies to meet the same standards your local community college requires of its students. But the law also provides for a remedy: If a federal judge can be persuaded that an agency’s published information does not meet the standards, the judge can order the report to be removed and retracted.

I think this may be a good idea. One problem is that the Information Quality Act has hardly or not at all been used by American courts. Then again, Trump and his government may be taken to court:

Trump, however, has ushered in a new hope of relevancy — and use — for the law. We’ve never had a presidential administration whose lies are as frequent and blatant as this one’s. While previous administrations have certainly told lies, including some very big and consequential ones, the Trump administration is without equal in its prolific output of propaganda that can be debunked with readily available information. Enter the Information Quality Act.

Yes. Here is the ending of this article:
The Trump administration is consistently making dubious claims, bigly, that could be challenged under the Information Quality Act. Officials have said 3,700 people with terrorist ties were apprehended at the border; that a border wall will stop terrorists; and that more than 600 criminals were part of the migrant caravan in November. Democracy Forward Foundation has already challenged as “misleading and unreliable” statements made by Treasury Department officials, including Secretary Steven Mnunchin, in support of the Republicans’ 2017 tax cut.

No more Truth-O-Meters, please. They’re toothless in our Trumpian age. Let’s file some lawsuits and give judges an opportunity to play their constitutional role in our increasingly dysfunctional republic.

I think this is again somewhat misleading, for (1) ¨the courts¨ can only investigate a relatively small part of the many lies uttered by Trump and his government, and (2) it is doubtful that going to court will be well reported in the mainstream media, while (3) naming, registering and explaining the many falsities of Trump and his government is a simple, sensible and rational way of listing Trump´s falsities.

So I do agree that the courts also may be involved, but I still insist that
naming, registering and explaining the many falsities of Trump and his government is a basic factual need for rational and reasonable persons.

2. How Facebook Cashed In on Tricking Kids

This article is by Nathan Halverson on Truthdig and originally on Reveal. It starts as follows:

Facebook orchestrated a multiyear effort that duped children and their parents out of money, in some cases hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and then often refused to give the money back, according to court documents unsealed tonight in response to a Reveal legal action.

The records are part of a class-action lawsuit focused on how Facebook targeted children in an effort to expand revenue for online games, such as Angry Birds, PetVille and Ninja Saga.

I say. Well... I think Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook are enormous criminal projects, where naive people are tricked into giving up all or most of their privacies (that most do not know well either) and are then tricked into criminal schemes like the one described in this article.

Here is the schema Facebook uses to steal from parents by way of abusing their children:

Facebook encouraged game developers to let children spend money without their parents’ permission–something the social media giant called “friendly fraud”–in an effort to maximize revenues, according to a document detailing the company’s game strategy.

Sometimes the children did not even know they were spending money, according to another internal Facebook report. Facebook employees knew this. Their own reports showed underage users did not realize their parents’ credit cards were connected to their Facebook accounts and they were spending real money in the games, according to the unsealed documents.

For years, the company ignored warnings from its own employees that it was bamboozling children.

Yes indeed - and I think this is the natural Facebook reaction, for I believe that the only norm Zuckerberg and Facebook seek to satisfy is the only norm Milton Friedman saw for corporations: Corporations (like Facebook) have only a single norm: To maximize their profits - and if this means tricking small children into using their parents´ credit cards that is quite satisfactory, as long as it increases Facebook´s profits.

Here is more:

The revenue Facebook earned off children had such large chargeback rates–a process in which the credit card company is forced to step in and claw back money on behalf of parents–that it far exceeded what the Federal Trade Commission has said is a red flag for deceptive business practices.

Despite the many warning signs, which continued for years, Facebook made a clear decision. It pursued a goal of increasing its revenues at the expense of children and their parents.

As I said above. Here is more on Facebook´s - years long - fraud:

An internal Facebook survey of users found that many parents did not even realize Facebook was storing their credit card information, according to an unsealed document. And parents also did not know their children could use their credit card without re-entering a password or some other form of verification.

Perhaps even worse, the children didn’t even realize they were spending real money within the game, because as Stewart would later write, “It doesn’t necessarily look like ‘real’ money to a minor.”

All of which is quite credible about the mostly naive users of computers these days: Parents did not know their children could use their credit cards with any verification; children did not know or understand that they were spending real money; and Facebook profited from both, and did so quite intentionally:

Facebook made a decision. Company policy was to tell game developers to let children spend money without their parents’ permission, according to an internal memo circulated within the company.

The memo stated, “Friendly Fraud – what it is, why it’s challenging, and why you shouldn’t try to block it.” “Friendly fraud” is the term Facebook used when children spent money on games without their parents’ permission.

Facebook made clear that game developers should let children spend money even without their parents’ permission.

The company was focused on revenue, not blocking friendly fraud. Its stated philosophy on chargebacks was “maximizing revenue,” according to the memo.

As said, Facebook itself said its fraudulent policies was ¨Friendly Fraud¨, and it engaged in it, quite willingly, quite intentionally, to maximize its own profits. This is a recommended article.

3. The 5 biggest right-wing outrages this week

This article is by Matthew Chapman on AlterNet. I abbreviated the title. This is from near its beginning:
  1. Ben Stein says Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is promoting “the same kinds of things” as Hitler, could lead America to genocide.

Freshman Democratic Socialist lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) continues to confound the GOP with her confrontational style and her unapologetically leftist policies on taxation, health care, and the environment. But right-wing actor and media personality Ben Stein sees something much more sinister in her politics, as he said on Fox Business on Wednesday.

“We have a society in which there are an awful lot of people who have no idea that Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung all came to power promising the same kinds of things that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is promising,” said Stein. “And it led to mass murder, it led to dictatorship, it led to genocide. These promises are old promises and they invariably lead to bad things.”

Well... somebody who argues like this either is completely insane or else is a very ugly and immoral great liar. Since I think there are significantly fewer insane persons than lying persons, I take it the second alternative applies.

Here is one more example of ¨right-wing outrages¨:
  1. Utah Republicans seek to legally define women as individuals capable of “receiving sperm.”

Time and again, Republican attempts to rile up their base with a culture war against transgender rights have backfired, with “bathroom bills” in North Carolina and Texas ending in defeat and humiliation for the GOP. But Utah Republicans want to give it a try now — and their bill is so ridiculous it has to be seen to be believed.

HB 153, authored by state Rep. Merrill Nelson, would require all birth certificates identify people only as male or female, and prohibit anyone from changing their gender. But perhaps the most insane part is how the bill defines “female”, as noted by Rewire News legal analyst Imani Gandy:

I say. I agree this is totally ridiculous or insane. There are three more similar examples, but these two are enough for this review. And this is a recommended article.

4. The Green New Deal is Not Enough: We Need an Alternative Globalization

This article is by Michael Galant on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

The Green New Deal is the most ambitious climate plan in Congress.

Developed through years of grassroots activism and propelled to fame by the rising star of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the proposal has attracted the support of more than 40 members of Congress, Senators from Sanders to Booker, and even 64% of registered Republican voters.

While the details remain unclear, the general outline – a comprehensive, state-led transition to 100% renewable energy, founded on green jobs and economic justice – is both popular and necessary. Without a dramatic overhaul of the American economy, averting climate change will be impossible.

But domestic policies won’t be enough.

From the birth of neoliberalism in the 70’s through the rapid economic globalization of the 90’s, the ruling parties of the Global North have spent decades constructing a global economic system rigged in the interests of capital.

Placing short-term profits for the rich and powerful over the long-term wellbeing of people and planet, this system is specifically designed to undermine national programs like the Green New Deal.

Under this system, capital and corporations (but not people) are allowed to cross borders at will.

Well... I agree (mostly) with all of this, but I also see at least two difficulties.

The first difficulty is that most political activities by ordinary people are limited to the state they live in, and the second difficulty is that most of the changes that allowed the few rich to transplant the industries they control to India or China, where the wages are much smaller than in the USA and Europe are legal changes, that took tens of years to arrive, and need many lawyers to attack (apart from a revolution).

Here is one difficulty:

Under this system, corporations can even sue national governments for regulating them. Through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism built into many “free trade” agreements, countries enacting legitimate environmental regulations risk being forced to pay billions in restitution by an opaque, corporate-dominated international court.

Quite so. And this is from the ending of this article:

Restrict the movement of corporations and capital. End ISDS. Renegotiate “free trade” agreements. Stop tax havens. Dismantle and rebuild alternatives to the WTO, IMF, and World Bank. Reform and strengthen the UN. Empower national governments to regulate corporate interests. Build self-sufficient local economies.

Well... yes, but these are desires rather than rational and practicable plans. I agree with the desires, but considerably more is needed to practice them.

5. War Against Iran Becoming Ever More Likely

This article is by Jim Lobe and Ben Armbruster on Common Dreams and originally on The Lobe Log. It starts as follows:

Donald Trump’s domestic troubles, combined with the current makeup of his foreign policy team, provide a confluence of circumstances, perhaps a perfect storm, to pull the United States into a war with Iran.

Indeed, the walls are closing in around Trump. The president’s poll numbers—once seemingly impervious to an already unprecedentedly tumultuous administration—are sinking, even among his most ardent supporters, as he increasingly boxes himself into the corner of a government shutdown for which the public says he’s largely responsible. At the same time, impeachment looms on the horizon.

Yes, this at least seems probable. Here is more:

As Jim Lobe pointed out in September, Trump has previously signaled that a president could benefit politically by starting a war with Iran, as he predicted President Obama would do no less than half a dozen times between late 2011 and 2013 in order to win reelection or “show how tough he is.” At least back then, Trump correlated political redemption with war against Iran. And with what’s left of his domestic agenda on hold indefinitely due to the Democratic takeover of the House, Trump’s attention—as erratic as it is—is very likely to shift to foreign policy where he not only enjoys greater freedom of action but can also deflect attention from his disastrous presidency.

This also seems probable. Here is more:

Mattis’s departure effectively removes from the leadership team a major obstacle to Bolton’s belief that the United States should take strong military action against Iran. Bolton was an unapologetic supporter of the war in Iraq and promoted false claims to make the case for the 2003 invasion. Bolton has since dedicated much of his career—even working closely and surreptitiously as UN ambassador with then-Vice President Dick Cheney and the Israelis—to prepare the grounds for war with Iran or promote regime change. And he isn’t shy about misleading the public to attain those goals. Earlier this month, for example, he claimed, without offering any evidence, that there is “little doubt” that Iran is committed to building a nuclear weapon, even though U.S. intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have made no such conclusions.

This seems all quite true. Here is more:

But it’s not just Bolton. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a long-time Iran hawk who, prior to joining the administration, campaigned heavily in the House against the JCPOA in favor of hundreds of air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Pompeo has taken point on the Trump administration’s public campaign to demonize Iran and lay the groundwork for war.

Yes. There is a whole lot more in this article, that ends as follows:

The potential of some kind of conflict with Iran escalating into a larger regional war is very real, possibly more real than ever. Although some have been sounding the alarm, the attention given to this dire situation is nowhere near the level it deserves. Given the national media’s ever-shifting focus on whatever shiny chaotic moment emerges from Trump and his administration, it’s possible that the United States could find itself in a new Middle East war without anyone really noticing it happen.

This is more or less correct, 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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