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Nederlog

 April 27, 2016

Crisis: Snowden, Power & Reality, Sanders, iPhones, About Trump
Sections                                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. Snowden Debates CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Encryption
2. From Brady to MH-17, Power Defines Reality
3. Notching One More Win, Sanders Vows to Fight 'Until
     Last Vote is Cast'

4.
Economy In Decline: Apple Reports Massive Revenue
     Decline As iPhone Sales Plummet Dramatically

5. The Real Meaning of Donald Trump
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, April 27, 2016.


This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a recent debate Snowden took part in; item 2 is about power, facts and truth, but lacks definitions of these quite important terms, which makes this item difficult to judge; item 3 is a decent article about Sanders' 4 losses and 1 gain; item 4 is about Apple's first decline in sales (of iPhones) since 2003, which the writer explains as evidence that the next crisis (since 2008) is brewing; and item 5 is about Donald Trump, which was a bit disappointing, but gave me reason to remark something about "Exceptionalism".

1. Snowden Debates CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Encryption

The first item is b
y Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

NSA whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden took part in his first public debate on encryption on Tuesday night, facing off against CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a journalist and author known for his coverage of international affairs.

Zakaria, in New York, defended the government’s right to access any and all encrypted messages and devices as long as there’s court approval. Snowden, speaking over  a live video-link from Moscow, argued the security of the Internet is more important than the convenience of law enforcement. The debate was organized by NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and the Century Foundation.

I didn't know that until today.

And I agree completely with Edward Snowden that "the security of the Internet is more important than the convenience of law enforcement" in any case and whatever the government is that would like to "enforce the law" of their country.

The reason Snowden is quite right is that "law enforcement" is always
national, and that "the internet" now harbours a lot of what people wrote, for publication and in their private mails (and indeed also considerable parts of what they said), and which comprises most things - which also means that if the internet gets somehow fucked up, especially as regards security, everybody gets fucked up, and in nearly everything he or she does.

It is also worth observing that "law enforcement" - unlike: a secure internet that can be safely used by almost everyone - is not necessarily a good thing. The law itself may be bad; those enforcing it may be bad; and/or the government that tries to maintain the laws (which might but need not be good) may be bad.

And the first definitely holds for the USA, which has laws that permit a few handfulls of anonymous professionals who work for the secret service to know everything anybody does with a computer, and all in complete secrecy, which  gives the secret service they work for more power than anyone has ever had, because knowledge is power, and they know - in principle - anything anyone
knows (and put on a computer connected to the internet), while the second will definitely hold if Trump wins the presidency, at least that is what I think.

I go to the next point I want to say something about:

Though Zakaria started off firm in his conviction that law enforcement should be able to get hold of all digital messages with court approval, he gradually conceded that it may not be that simple. Zakaria said he himself doesn’t actively encrypt any of his communications, assuming everything will be fine — though Snowden pointed out that, since he has an iPhone, some of his data and communications are encrypted by default.

I didn't see or read the debate (and also I don't like watching long discussions, except if those involved are really intelligent and/or funny), so I don't know what Zakaria meant by "court approval", but mere "court approval" means nothing to me (it might have been a Nazi-court; it may be a Chinese or North Korean court, etc. etc.): One has to specify both the court and the law(s) they use before one can say anything much about either.

And if the situation is as it currently is in the USA, with secret "courts", issueing often secret decisions, that nearly always favor the NSA, which acts knowingly and on purpose in complete defiance of the Fourth Amendment, these "courts" do not seem to function as real courts (which are not secret, nearly always, and whose verdicts never are) but as real protections of the NSA, with little or no basis in real law, for real law is generally public law - as should also be the case here, for the NSA simply steals or tries to steal everything everybody does with an internet computer, and everything anybody says in a cellphone. (And for me these are crimes, regardless of any law.)

Here is the last bit I will briefly discuss - and the "He" in the first paragraph is Zakaria:

He concluded by encouraging greater clarity about what kind of communications the government can and cannot access—before the next disastrous terrorist attack. “We do face real threats out there. There are people out there trying to do bad things. Once they happen, the government will be given carte blanche,” he said.

Snowden noted that former security officials now proclaiming the value of unbreakable encryption—including former NSA director Michael Hayden—had considered those questions carefully and had fallen on the side of computer security.

As to Zakaria's saying that "the government will be given carte blanche" if something bad happens: I don't say no, but the argument does appear to grant the assumption that their - eventual (?) - getting carte blanche is not based on any rational argument, but on hysteria. And besides, I think that the govern- ment has given carte blanche to the NSA with the Patriot Act and its successor,
and that was a major mistake, that fifteen years later still is not undone.

And as to Michael Hayden: I agree that unbreakable encryption (or encryption that takes many years or decades of work to break it) is very valuable and important, but what I know about Hayden makes me fundamentally and deeply
distrust anything he says.

This is a recommended article.

2. From Brady to MH-17, Power Defines Reality

The second item is b
y Robert Parry on Consortiumnews:
This starts as follows:

Power – far more than fact – determines what is defined as true in America, a nation that has become dangerously disconnected from reality in matters both trivial and important.

The way it works now is that, in case after case, the more powerful entity in the equation imposes the answer and the rest of us are invited to join in by throwing stones and jeering at the weaker party.
I think I might agree, but it would be nice (I tend to think [1]) if people define important terms, like "power" and "fact" and "reality". Robert Parry - like almost all journalists, so this is not an argument specifically directed against him - does not, and this makes the whole discussion in this article vague, and more difficult to understand than it would have been if clear definitions had been given.

For what it is worth, I have given - long ago, already - my own definitions of these terms in my Philosophical Dictionary (currently 18.6 MB in size but still not done: I am ill since 1.1.1979, though I guess more than 2/3rds has been done, in the course of the last 12 years) and here they are, both in part:
Power: In society: The ability to make someone do or believe something if one desires it. The ability to make someone believe something is also called influence.
Fact: What is represented by a true statement; what is real; what is the case; what is so.

Every human being that learned to speak learned this on the basis of a notion like fact.

The problem is not with the intuitive notion but with ascertaining whether or not statements represent facts, and what manner of facts, and how to ascertain this is so or not.

Given my definitions (and the one for "power" is pretty long and pretty logical, in my treatment) I think Parry's quoted statements are more correct than not, but then I do know this is just on the basis of my definitions, and others may well use other definitions.

Then again, the title of his article is false or misleading: At best (I would say) power defines what some people believe reality is, for clearly no amount of (human) power can define reality - at least if that means what I think it means:
Reality: What exists independently of anybody believing or desiring it.

Note that as defined this says little about the nature of this supposed reality other than that it exists whether or not anybody believes or desires it. The definition also does not entail anything about how one could or should study it. (See: Scientific realism.)

Incidentally, you may ask: What is the point of giving these definitions? I think
they are good, brief and clear, and better than most other definitions of these terms, and that last fact is a sufficient reason (for me) to give them.

But I do not offer them as if they are the correct definitions (I may be mistaken, for one thing) and in fact I offered them here to show how much
clearer Parry's argument would have been with some reasonable definitions of
his key terms, indeed not at all necessarily mine or like mine.

Finally, my reason to spend some time on this is that I think the theme he started, about power, facts and also truth is quite important, in part indeed because - real, factual - truth tends to disappear in the very great amounts
of intentional lies, unintentional falsehoods, intentional bluster, bluffing, braggadacio and bullying, and the great spades of ideological propaganda of
various kinds that are now served up as "arguments" in almost any political discussion.

And I will pay attention to power, facts and truth later, but not here. There are
two other points Parry makes (in a discussion of considerably more) that I want to say something about.

First, about the Ukraine (and the MH-17, and see the next remark):

On a far more serious level, there’s the tragic case of MH-17, which has been thrust back into the news by British press reports about an upcoming BBC documentary that cites seven eyewitnesses in Ukraine who reported seeing a warplane in the vicinity on July 17, 2014, just before MH-17 was shot down – and one witness saying he saw the warplane firing what looked like an air-to-air missile.

That account, if taken seriously, would put another chink in the West’s narrative absolving the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government of any responsibility and blaming ethnic Russian rebels and Putin.

The two main reasons that I pay little attention to the Ukraine are that (1) I read neither Russian nor Ukrainian, and therefore must depend on secondary
or tertiary sources, while (2) I am rather clearly aware that most that I do get
that way, both from the USA, from the Ukraine and from Russia, is mere propa-
ganda. And since I don't want to indulge in propaganda, I generally avoid "news
about the Ukraine".

Second, there is this on Kerry and some Dutch intelligence report:

While Kerry declared that the U.S. government knew almost immediately where the ground-to-air missile was fired, the Dutch Safety Board report last October could only put the firing location within a 320-square-kilometer area (covering both government and rebel territory) and a Dutch intelligence report stated that the only operational missiles in the area capable of downing a plane at 33,000 feet were controlled by the Ukrainian military.
In fact, I only know which Dutch intelligence report is meant (and did not read it) from the Wikipedia item "Malaysia Airlines Flight 17", while the Dutch are
involved because 2/3rds of the 283 killed passengers were Dutch.

And I have no valid opinions on what happened to MH-17, but I do have some
on Kerry (<- Wikipedia):

He is one American about whom I have radically changed my mind. I liked him in the early 1970ies when he was an important speaker for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War organization (<- Wikipedia); I dislike him since 2004 and later, after he had - being already quite rich himself - married into the Heinz fortunes, and spoke mostly for the rich. (His personal assets are between 230 and 320 million dollars, apart from his wife, who had 750 million dollars in 2004.)

Indeed, one reason to mention him is that he is about the only American about whom I have changed my opinions so drastically, since 1970. (And incidentally: Bill Clinton is not an example, for I did not like him from the start: He seemed immediately far too much of a propagandist.)

3. Notching One More Win, Sanders Vows to Fight 'Until Last Vote is Cast'

The third item is
by Deirdre Fulton and Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Less than two hours after the polls closed on Tuesday, major networks declared Hillary Clinton the winner in Maryland, Delaware, and delegate-rich Pennsylvania.

Bernie Sanders notched a strong victory in Rhode Island while in Connecticut the two Democratic candidates were locked in a tight contest. As of this writing, Sanders was projected to have 50 percent of the vote, holding a 2 point lead over Clinton.

Speaking in Huntington, West Virginia shortly after polls closed, Sanders reminded the crowd how far the campaign had come and how, originally, the media dismissed him as a "fringe" candidate. 

"The media said, 'You know Bernie is a nice guy, Bernie combs his hair really well, [is a] top notch dresser'," the candidate joked, "'but nonetheless he really is a fringe candidate. The campaign is a fringe campaign not to be taken seriously.'"

"And in the middle of all of that," Sanders continued, "we were taking on the most powerful political organization in America. An organization that elected a president, President [Bill] Clinton, on two occasions and an organization that ran a very strong campaign for Secretary Clinton in 2008."

Meanwhile, it is a bit later than when this article was written and published, and the news of April 27 is that Sanders lost in 4 out of 5 states. I think that is a great pity, as was his loss in New York, but I take it that these are the facts.

There is also this:

Bernie Sanders will "reassess" his candidacy after Super Tuesday 4 but has vowed to remain in the race until California, even if the delegate results are not in his favor.

"Reassess does not mean that he's not going to be part of this race," his senior strategist Tad Devine told the New York Times on Tuesday. "Reassess does not mean that his message, that we think is the most powerful message, is going to change."

I agree with Devine. And there is this from Sanders himself:

As voters went to the ballots in Pennsylvania, Sanders shook hands with residents and made stops at a local bookstore and cafe. He also confirmed to reporters that he would not be dropping out of the race in the event of an unfavorable voting day.

"The answer is, we are in this race until the last vote is cast," Sanders said. "The people of California have a right to determine who they want to see as president of the United States and what kind of agenda they want the Democratic Party to have."

Again I agree. 

4. Economy In Decline: Apple Reports Massive Revenue Decline As iPhone Sales Plummet Dramatically
 
The fourth item is by Michael Snyder on Washington's Blog, and originally on the Economic Collapse Blog:

This starts as follows:
Corporate revenues in the United States have been falling for quite some time, but now some of the biggest companies in the entire nation are reporting extremely disappointing results.  On Tuesday, Apple shocked the financial world by reporting that revenue for the first quarter had fallen 7.4 billion dollars compared to the same quarter last year.  That is an astounding plunge, and it represents the very first year-over-year quarterly sales decline that Apple has experienced since 2003.  Analysts were anticipating some sort of drop, but nothing like this.  And of course last week we learned that Google and Microsoft also missed revenue and earnings projections for the first quarter of 2016.  The economic crisis that began during the second half of 2015 is really starting to take hold, and even our largest tech companies are now feeling the pain.
I say, for I had no idea. And I agree this is a quite important fall in profits. Also, it seems as if Apple has been hit especially in declines in sales of their iPhones:
I think that this announcement by Apple is waking a lot of people up.  The global economic slowdown is real, and we can see this in iPhone sales.  During the first quarter, Apple sold 16 percent fewer iPhones than it did during the same quarter in 2015.  This is the very first year-over-year quarterly sales decline for the iPhone ever.
I agree that is a considerable fall, and I also agree that this is probably due
to the fact that fewer people have the money to buy an iPhone.

And here - to finish this item - is Michael Snyder's lesson from these events:

In recent days, Barack Obama has been running around boasting that he saved the world economy from another Great Depression.  But that isn’t true at all.  Instead, our “leaders” have simply set the stage for a larger and more painful crisis.  I like the way that Doug Casey recently put it

Whether you want to call it a “Great Depression”, a “Greater Depression” or “The Greatest Depression”, the truth is that we are heading into a period of time that will be unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before.

The greatest debt bubble in the history of the planet is starting to implode, and this time the central bankers and the politicians are not going to be able to put the pieces back together again.

But just like in 2008, the vast majority of the population will not recognize the warning signs until it is way too late.

I agree Obama did little to contain the crisis, when he could have (although
I am willing to grant that the enormous financial manipulations by the bank managers had already started under Bush Jr).

Also, I am afraid Michael Snyder may well be right, and that indeed we may
be "
heading into a period of time that will be unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before".

We shall see. This is a recommended article.

5. The Real Meaning of Donald Trump

The fifth and last item for today is b
y Tom Engelhardt on TomDispatch:

I found this a bit disappointing, given the title, but I pulled two points from it.

The first is this:
Donald Trump, in other words, is the first person to run openly and without apology on a platform of American decline. Think about that for a moment. “Make America Great Again!” is indeed an admission in the form of a boast. As he tells his audiences repeatedly, America, the formerly great, is today a punching bag for China, Mexico... well, you know the pitch. You don’t have to agree with him on the specifics. What’s interesting is the overall vision of a country lacking in its former greatness.
Hm, hm.

To start with, I don't think the first statement of this quotation is correct:
So does Bernie Sanders, and with a lot more rational justification than Donald Trump, for Sanders insists that he wants to do something about the ever widening differences between the rich few and the poor many, and he insists
(quite correctly) that this is a very important problem.

And besides, I am not really interested in the kinds of lies Trump uses, and I am not for two basic reasons:

First, Trump appeals only to the rich or to the stupid. Anybody who isn't rich and isn't stupid and has seen some of his speeches knows that either he mostly means what he says and he is a loony, with very little real understanding of realistic politics, or he does not mostly mean what he says, and he still is a loony, a bully and a liar. (And besides, he is a grandiose narcissist, with definite
and strong temperamental problems, in any case.)

Second, I am really not interested in what drives Trump in terms of ideas: Somebody who insists that the two most important books he knows are (1) Trump's very own "The Art of the Deal", and (2) the Bible (which I am rather
sure he hasn't read) just lacks the kind of intellectual civilization a president
of the USA should have (and indeed mostly did have, until Reagan and Bush Jr arrived).

And there is this on "exceptionalism", which is noteworthy:

As for the U.S. being the planet’s “exceptional” nation, a phrase that now seems indelibly in the American grain and that no president or presidential candidate has avoided, it’s surprising how late that entered the presidential lexicon.  As John Gans Jr. wrote in the Atlantic in 2011, “Obama has talked more about American exceptionalism than Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush combined: a search on UC Santa Barbara's exhaustive presidential records library finds that no president from 1981 to today uttered the phrase ‘American exceptionalism’ except Obama. As U.S. News' Robert Schlesinger wrote, ‘American exceptionalism’ is not a traditional part of presidential vocabulary. According to Schlesinger's search of public records, Obama is the only president in 82 years to use the term.”

I incline to thinking that I also heard it from Bush Jr. or Cheney but I may be mistaken. In any case, Tom Engelhardt is quite right that this rather sick excuse for violence and murder has been used a lot by Obama.

And here are the reasons why I think the American Exceptionalism is pretty sick:

A. It seeks to give a special superhuman status to over 300 million people whose only claim to being "Exceptional" is that they were born Americans. That is not a valid reason to declare them - each and every one of these 300 million, regardless of education, intelligence, morality, outlook or personal heroic deeds - "Exceptional", and indeed I see no reason to consider them different in human qualities (judged in a lump of 300 million) than any arbitrary European (to whom, judged in a lump of several hundreds of millions, applies precisely the same). And also:

B. It tries to justify the violence the American military and American govern- ments do as if there is a special reason for it: That those engaging in it
are "Exceptional".

That seems to me - who is not an American - a pretty sick justification, indeed in good part because it sounds quite like the justification the Nazis gave: They were Exceptional - Superhuman, etc. - because they were Aryan.

--------------------------
Notes
[1] I have to add here (in a footnote) that "I tend to think" - with the stress on "tend" - that people might considerably clarify their arguments if they not merely use their terms but also give decent, clear and brief definitions of some of their key terms, because I also know that (i) few people have clear definitions in mind for almost any term they use, and (ii) few people can give clear definitions of the terms they use without consulting a dictionary.

I think that is a pity, but it is what I think. (Quite a lot could be done about this by considerably better education, but then again there also is considerable space for intelligence, and stupid people almost never see that definitions are important, for the simple reason that they find it quite difficult to consider even the possibility that other people may use the same terms as they do, but with quite different senses.)


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