February 12, 2019

Crisis: Cartoon War, Bezos & Global Surveillance, On Brazil, Collapsing Insect Populations, Reich

“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 February 12, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, February 12, 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 February 12, 2019:
1. Peter Jackson’s Cartoon War
2. Bezos and Global Surveillance

3. State Violence and Homophobia in Brazil

4. Scientists Issue Dire Warning About Collapsing Insect Populations

5. Trump Wants Socialism for the Rich, Harsh Capitalism for the Rest
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. Peter Jackson’s Cartoon War

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

When director-producer Peter Jackson’s World War I film, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” which miraculously transforms grainy, choppy black-and-white archival footage from the war into a modern 3D color extravaganza, begins, he bombards us with the clichés used to ennoble war. Veterans, over background music, say things like “I wouldn’t have missed it,” “I would go through it all over again because I enjoyed the service life” and “It made me a man.” It must have taken some effort after the war to find the tiny minority of veterans willing to utter this rubbish. Military life is a form of servitude, prolonged exposure to combat leaves you broken, scarred for life by trauma and often so numb you have difficulty connecting with others, and the last thing war does is make you a man.

Yes indeed: Of course "Military life is a form of servitude, prolonged exposure to combat leaves you broken, scarred for life by trauma and often so numb you have difficulty connecting with others, and the last thing war does is make you a man."

Also, on a personal note I like to add that I escaped all military service, very happily, because I was treated exceptionally well by the military on the day it was judged whether I was fit to go into the military: I was judged not to be fit, which was medical nonsense. This may have had to do with the fact that my father had spent more than 3 years and 9 months as a convict in four German concentration camps for resisting the Nazis, where my grandfather was killed for the same "crimes" as my father, or perhaps that I scored very high on the IQ tests, but in fact I do not know. But in any case, I still am glad that I missed all military madness.

Here is more on Jackson's film:

The British Imperial War Museum, which was behind the Jackson film, had no interest in portraying the dark reality of war. War may be savage, brutal and hard, but it is also, according to the myth, ennobling, heroic and selfless. You can believe this drivel only if you have never been in combat, which is what allows Jackson to modernize a cartoon version of war.

Yes, I think that is correct. It also is problematic, because most people who see these films have  not been in combat - which means that they can be lied to and believe the lies.

Here is some more:

Our own generals and politicians, who nearly two decades ago launched the greatest strategic blunder in American history and have wasted nearly $6 trillion on conflicts in the Middle East that we cannot win, are no less egotistical and incompetent. The images of our wars are as carefully controlled and censored as the images from World War I. While the futility and human carnage of our current conflicts are rarely acknowledged in public, one might hope that we could confront the suicidal idiocy of World War I a century later.

Yes, I do believe with Hedges that the USA's "own generals and politicians (..) are no less egotistical and incompetent" than the generals and politicians who led WW I. Then again, it is true that the numbers killed are - so far, at least - much less than the numbers killed in WW I.

Here is more on World War I (and the numbers given are only about the 1917 campaign):

Leon Wolff, in his book “In Flanders Fields: The 1917 Campaign,” writes of World War I:

It had meant nothing, solved nothing, and proved nothing; and in so doing had killed 8,538,315 men and variously wounded 21,219,452. Of 7,750,919 others taken prisoner or missing, well over a million were later presumed dead; thus the total deaths (not counting civilians) approach ten million. The moral and mental defects of the leaders of the human race had been demonstrated with some exactitude. One of them (Woodrow Wilson) later admitted that the war had been fought for business interests; another (David Lloyd George) had told a newspaperman: ‘If people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t—and can’t know. The correspondents don’t write and the censorship wouldn’t pass the truth.’

Quite so - and "ten million" killed is about the total population of Holland when I was born (in 1950).

Here is more - and this bit is mainly about Jackson's propaganda:

There is no mention in the film of the colossal stupidity of the British general staff that sent hundreds of thousands of working-class Englishmen—they are seen grinning into the camera with their decayed teeth—in wave after wave, week after week, month after month, into the mouths of German machine guns to be killed or wounded. There is no serious exploration of the iron censorship that hid the realities of the war from the public and saw the press become a shill for warmongers. There is no investigation into how the war was used by the state, as it is today, as an excuse to eradicate civil liberties. There is no look at the immense wealth made by the arms manufacturers and contractors or how the war plunged Britain deep into debt with war-related costs totaling 70 percent of the gross national product.

Yes indeed - I suppose all of the above is correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Honestly examining past wars gives us the ability to understand current wars. But this is a herculean struggle. The public is fed, and yearns for, the myth. It is empowering and ennobling. It celebrates supposed national virtues and military prowess. It allows an alienated population to feel part of a national collective engaged in a noble crusade. The celebration of the destructive force of our weaponry makes us feel personally empowered. All wars, past and present, are effectively shrouded in this myth. Those who decried the waste and carnage, such as Keir Hardie, the head of the Independent Labour Party, were jeered in the streets. Adam Hochschild’s book “To End All Wars” details the struggle by pacifists and a handful of journalists and dissidents during the war to make the truth known and who were mocked, silenced and often jailed.

Yes, I think that is all true and this is a strongly recommended article.

2. Bezos and Global Surveillance

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! I abbreviated the title. It starts with the following introduction:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is publicly accusing the owner of the National Enquirer of “extortion and blackmail,” weeks after the paper revealed details about his extramarital affair. Bezos had recently hired a private investigator to determine how the tabloid newspaper obtained private text messages between him and his lover, and whether the paper’s actions were politically motivated. The National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, Inc., responded to Bezos’s investigation by threatening to publish revealing photos of Bezos if he did not agree to publicly state that the Enquirer’s coverage was not politically motivated or influenced by political forces. We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald about the dispute and Amazon’s role in building the surveillance state.

Yes, I think the above is all true, judging this by more that I have read about this affair. And I also want to say immediately that I think that American Media Inc. did respond in terms of blackmail, but it is also true that I am less interested in American Media Inc. and blackmail than I am in Bezos.

Here is some more:

GLENN GREENWALD: (...) [A]s part of the Snowden reporting in 2014, we were able to report, with The Huffington Post, that one of the programs of the NSA is to do exactly this, is to collect the browsing histories and sex chats and porn site visits of people, typically Muslims that the NSA regards as, quote, “radicalizers” —not terrorists, not people plotting terrorist plots, just people who the NSA or the U.S. government believes disseminates radical messages—and collects their porn site visits and their sex chats in order to leak them, ruin their reputation, destroy their ability to speak out. This is an actual NSA program.

Yes, I think this is all true. It also seems this has been going on for more than ten years, while I have no idea about how many of these "radicalizers" have been shut up in the last ten years by the NSA. (As an aside: I neither visit nor visited porn sites nor did I ever engage in sex chats, but my reasons are that I know for a long time that everybody is being followed.)

Here is more:

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, the old line from—yeah, the old line from George Carlin, I think, really fits well here, which is, there’s a really big, powerful club, and you’re not in it. And that’s one of the odd parts of this story, is that, ordinarily, we would sympathize with the person who was being threatened with exposure of their private life if they didn’t stop making claims about a powerful media outlet, and yet, in this case, the person who is the, quote-unquote, “victim” is not just the world’s richest person, who has gotten extremely rich by virtue of exploiting labor in ways that are wholly horrific and on all different aspects, but also somebody who’s used these tactics himself in the past, and then, most significantly of all, as you referred to earlier, is somebody whose company has become one of the most valuable in the world by virtue of working hand in hand with the U.S. government and with police departments throughout the West in constructing exactly the kind of sprawling, invasive surveillance state that he believes himself now to be a victim of.

Well... I agree with Greenwald (in my own words) that Bezos is a despicable individual, but I also think that (in a democracy) all persons should have the same rights and legal duties, and this applies as well to persons I consider despicable.

Here is more:

GLENN GREENWALD: So, obviously, as a result of the Snowden reporting, a lot of attention was devoted to the sprawling, invasive surveillance activities of government agencies, like the NSA in the U.S. and the GCHQ in the U.K. and their partners in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. And less attention has been paid, or at least was paid, as part of that story, to the private corporations, the Silicon Valley giants, who play a crucial role in partnering with these government agencies to construct that surveillance state.

And some attention has been devoted in recent years to the role both Google and especially Facebook are playing in creating a ubiquitous surveillance state, but much less so for Amazon, which has done a really good job of branding itself in this very kind of unthreatening and benign way as a deliverer of books and other merchandise, when in fact one of the central components of Amazon’s business, that has made it one of the most valuable companies in the world, are extremely lucrative contracts with the CIA, with the Pentagon, with the Air Force, with police departments all over the Western world, not just in the U.S., to use technology to enhance the ability of governments and police forces to engage in surveillance.

Yes, I think this is also all true.

And for me the kernel of the above paragraphs is that, (i) next to (almost) each and every country's "security organizations" (the spies of the country) there are many tens of the richest corporations who also try to get all or virtually all information about anyone, and that (ii) the only limit seems to be having lots of money, while (iii) the difference between a country's "security organization(s)" and the very rich corporations who do the same or very similar things is that one can find out even less from the very rich corporations than one can find out about the "security organization(s)", while besides (iv) the very rich corporations both help the "security organizations" in many ways and act and collect to extend their own powers and incomes.

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

GLENN GREENWALD: This is what’s really frightening, Amy, is that Silicon Valley is producing companies, and the billionaires who control them, whose wealth and power are unprecedented. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and the people who control Google have more power than almost every nation-state, if not more power than all of them. And increasingly, they’re integrating into these nation-states and performing the core functions, the most threatening and dangerous functions of them, with almost no transparency. And this is the frightening thing. So, if we have, for example, NASA or the Air Force, we at least have congressional oversight. We nominally have laws, like FOIA, that enable us to find out what they’re doing. With Amazon and with Google and Facebook’s development of artificial intelligence, it’s almost entirely opaque.

This supports some of my remarks under the previous quotation, and this is a strongly recommended article.

3. State Violence and Homophobia in Brazil

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! I abbreviated the title. It starts with the following introduction:

On Friday, an operation by Brazilian military police in Rio de Janeiro left at least 13 people dead after a shootout in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Police say they were there to investigate suspected drug traffickers but encountered gunfire when they entered the area. Last month, Rio’s new governor, Wilson Witzel, said that city security forces were authorized to shoot to kill suspects. He also said Rio should have its own Guantánamo Bay to house criminals, whom he labeled “terrorists.” Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has vowed to intensify the war on drugs. While running for president, Bolsonaro said a “good criminal is a dead criminal.” In other news from Brazil, Brazil’s first elected openly gay federal lawmaker, Jean Wyllys, recently left his post and fled Brazil, amid growing homophobic violence coinciding with the rise of Bolsonaro. He was replaced in Brazil’s Congress by David Miranda, a Rio city councilmember and husband of our guest, Glenn Greenwald.

I say, for while I did know that Jean Wyllys fled Brazil, I did not know that David Miranda, the husband of Glenn Greenwald, replaced Wyllys in Brazil's Congress. I also think this is very brave of both Miranda and Greenwald.

Here is some more:

GLENN GREENWALD: So, this is what everybody was afraid of when Bolsonaro won. He got elected based on his promise to unleash the police and to authorize indiscriminate violence in the favelas, where the poorest people in Brazil live, largely black; to give the police immunity for when they engage in indiscriminate slaughter. He’s talked about this as a war. He is using the Duterte model in the Philippines of just going in and indiscriminately killing poor people, killing drug dealers but also innocent people. And the governor of Rio de Janeiro is, on some level, even more extreme.

And this is probably the first overt manifestation of that policy, where 13 people were killed. Folha, the largest newspaper in Brazil, reported that at least several, if not most, of the people killed were executed after they surrendered, which means it was just summary execution. The police laughed and told the frightened residents that the next time it will be 20 people who are dead. So, this is just the beginning of what is certain to be a very frightening climate.

I fear this is all true. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

AMY GOODMAN: How are you going to protect yourselves and your children?

GLENN GREENWALD: You know, I mean, obviously, we are aware of the fact that we’re both very—a very visible gay couple. I have, as you know, a media outlet, The Intercept Brasil, that has grown very, very rapidly, that has a very large audience and that has been very critical of Bolsonaro. And in a country where there’s a lot of hostility toward LGBTs, we, as an interracial, visible gay couple, with two adopted children from the northeastern part of the country, are obviously threats. And we’re aware of that. We’re taking security precautions. But, you know, I look at Brazil as a country that I love, that belongs to my husband and my children, and is one that we intend to stay and fight for as well as we can.

Well... I admire Greenwald and Miranda, but I also think that they seriously increased the risk of being murdered themselves, which I think in Greenwald's case would be a great loss. And this is a strongly recommended article.

4. Scientists Issue Dire Warning About Collapsing Insect Populations

This article is by Jon Queally on Common Dreams. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

The first global scientific review of its kind reaches an ominous conclusion about the state of nature warning that unless humanity drastically and urgently changes its behavior the world's insects could be extinct within a century.

Presented in exclusive reporting by the Guardian's environment editor Damian Carrington, the findings of the new analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, found that industrial agricultural techniques—"particularly the heavy use of pesticides"—as well as climate change and urbanization are the key drivers behind the extinction-level decline of insect populations that could herald a "catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems" if not addressed.

"If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet's ecosystems and for the survival of mankind," report co-author Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, told the Guardian.

I think this is all true - which means that there are three major plagues threatening, namely a nuclear war, climate change, and the dying of insects. And I consider the last in a class by itself, because (i) the dying of most insects entails "catastrophic consequences" for "the survival of mankind", and because (ii) their dying seems mostly to be the consequences of poisons that were very widely adopted and spread and that were and are meant to increase agricultural productivity.

Incidentally, as to the second point, there is Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" which was first published in 1962 and criticized the indiscriminate use of pesticides (especially DDT in the 1960ies).

For more, see the graphic below. Here is more on the insects:

Calling the current annual global insect decline rate of 2.5 percent over the last three decades a "shocking" number, Sánchez-Bayo characterized it as "very rapid" for insects worldwide. If that continues, he warned: "In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none."

Isn't this a bit alarmist? Anticipating that concern, Sánchez-Bayo said the language of the report was intended "to really wake people up," but that's because the findings are so worrying.

Not involved with the study, Professor Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK, agreed. "It should be of huge concern to all of us," Goulson told the Guardian, "for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects."

Yes indeed - and I add that, in my opinion, at least, a quarter less insects, which will be the case in a mere 10 years if nothing or little is done, will be sufficient to materially lessen the supply of food for humans, and will increase the hunger or the death of many.

Here is the last bit of text I quote from this article:

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace U.K., responded to the reporting by saying these are the climate-related developments that concern him most of all.

"I spend so many hours a week concerned climate change," he said in a tweet
linking to the story. "But this is the stuff that worries me most. We don't know what we're doing, not trying to stop it, [and] with big consequences we don't really understand."

Yes, I agree with Parr. And because I think this is really important, here is a graphic from the article that shows the loss of insects over the past decade:


In case you want an analogy: I think a fair one is to consider that 10% fewer insects is comparable to 10% less strong floors and walls in your house. And this is a strongly recommended article.

5. Trump Wants Socialism for the Rich, Harsh Capitalism for the Rest

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

“America will never be a socialist country,” Donald Trump declared in his State of the Union address. Someone should alert Trump that America is now a hotbed of socialism. But it is socialism for the rich. Everyone else is treated to harsh capitalism.

In the conservative mind, socialism means getting something for doing nothing. That pretty much describes the $21 billion saved by the nation’s largest banks last year thanks to Trump’s tax cuts, some of which went into massive bonuses for bank executives.

Well... yes and no. I mostly agree, but also like to point out that (i) the "socialism of the rich" is nothing like real socialism; that (ii) socialism itself is a quite vague concept (for considerably more on this see my Crisis: On Socialism) and that besides (iii) capitalism as well is a vague concept that is variously explained.

Here is some more:

Banks that are too big to fail – courtesy of the 2008 bank bailout – enjoy a hidden subsidy of some $83 billion a year, because creditors facing less risk accept lower interest on deposits and loans. Last year, Wall Street’s bonus pool was $31.4 billion. Take away the hidden subsidy and the bonus pool disappears.

Trump and his appointees at the Federal Reserve are easing bank requirements put in place after the bailout. They’ll make sure the biggest banks remain too big to fail.

Trump is promoting socialism for the rich and harsh capitalism for everyone else in other ways.

I think that "socialism for the rich and harsh capitalism for everyone else" depends too much on the vague terms "socialism" and "capitalism".

Here is some more:

When he was in business, Trump perfected the art of using bankruptcy to shield himself from the consequences of bad decisions – socialism for the rich at its worst – while leaving employees twisting in the wind.

Now, all over America, executives who run their companies into the ground are getting gold-plated exit packages while their workers get pink slips.

Once again: In fact I do not think that what Trump practices is "socialism for the rich": It is capitalism for the rich, which includes as one of many facts that the rich protect the rich - but that does not make these capitalists socialists in any sense I would give to the term "socialism".

Here is some more:

Around 60 percent of America’s wealth is now inherited. Many of today’s super rich have never done a day’s work in their lives.

Trump’s response has been to cut the estate tax to apply only to estates valued at over $22 million per couple. Mitch McConnell is now proposing that the estate tax be repealed altogether.

What about the capitalist principles that people earn what they’re worth in the market, and that economic gains should go to those who deserve them?

America is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history. As rich boomers expire over the next three decades, an estimated $30 trillion will go to their children.

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

After a few generations of this, almost all of the nation’s wealth will be in the hands of a few thousand non-working families.

To the conservative mind, the specter of socialism conjures up a society in which no one is held accountable, and no one has to work for what they receive. Yet that’s exactly the society Trump and the Republicans are promoting for the rich.

Meanwhile, most Americans are subject to an increasingly harsh and arbitrary capitalism in which they’re working harder but getting nowhere, and have less security than ever.

They need thicker safety nets and deserve a bigger piece of the economic pie. If you want to call this socialism, fine. I call it fair.

No, I think the above just is too confused, for it confuses "socialism for the rich", which is in fact capitalism for the rich, with the rich helping the rich, which is as little real socialism as is the case for poor people helping poor people under capitalism, with something that Reich considers may be called socialism, viz. "thicker safety nets and (..) a bigger piece of the economic pie", which is not real socialism, but much closer to social democracy.

I like Reich, but this article seems to me too confusing (and I know that Reich himself likes to save capitalism, or at least that is almost the title of one of his recent books).

[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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