1. Robert Scheer
Questions Lawrence Summers, Michael
Blumenthal About the 2008
2. The Staggering, Semi-Secret, $70 Billion Annual U.S.
Global Arms Business
3. Trump as the Reagan Reboot
4. Smartphone Addiction: The Slot Machine in Your
This is a Nederlog of Thursday, July 28, 2016.
is a crisis log. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item
1 is about Robert Scheer and Larry Summers and is interesting (but
the video is bad); item 2 is about why people read
so little about the $70 billion annual U.S. global arms business (and I
found it a bit naive); item 3 is about Trump and
Reagan (but I disliked the pumped up style); and item 4
is about smartphone addiction and the vast dangers of computing,
which are very real.
Scheer Questions Lawrence Summers, Michael Blumenthal About the 2008
first item today is by Emma Niles on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
We'll get to a video of the exhange below.
Here are first two quotations from
Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer
began Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention
attending Politico’s “Economy and the Election” conference.
There, he took the opportunity to speak with two former Treasury
secretaries: Lawrence Summers, who worked under Bill
Clinton, and Summers’ predecessor Michael Blumenthal, who served in Jimmy
Carter’s administration. Accompanied by Truthdig Associate Editor
Alexander Kelly, who filmed the discussions, Scheer questioned both
former secretaries about economic policies that led to the 2008
Scheer spoke first with Summers, in an
exchange that quickly grew tense.
Scheer's “The Great American Stickup”:
While much has been made of the
baffling complexity of the new market structures at the heart of the
banking meltdown, there were informed and prescient observers who in
real time saw through these gimmicks. The potential for damage was thus
known inside the halls of power to those who cared to know, if only
because of heroines like gutsy regulator Brooksley Born, chair of the
Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996 to 1999. When they
attempted to sound the alarm, however, they were ignored, or worse.
Simply put, the rewards in both financial remuneration and advanced
careers were such that those in a position to profit went along with
great enthusiasm. Those who objected, like Born, were summarily
Yes, quite so. And here is what Bill
Clinton did, as president (for which he was rewarded after his
presidency, or that is what I think):
Of the leaders responsible, five
names come prominently to mind: Alan Greenspan, the longtime head of
the Federal Reserve; Robert Rubin, who served as Treasury secretary in
the Clinton administration; Lawrence Summers, who succeeded him in that
capacity; and the two top Republicans in Congress back in the 1990s
dealing with finance, Phil Gramm and James Leach.
“Clinton signed off on the
reversal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the legislative jewel of the
Franklin Roosevelt administration designed to prevent financial
institutions from getting too big to fail,” Scheer once wrote. “The first
beneficiary of that legislation was Citigroup, a corporation that
resulted from a merger that would have been banned by Glass-Steagall.”
So much for the “modernizing” that
Clinton had bragged about.
A year later a variation of that same
word appeared in the title of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act,
which Clinton signed and which exempted from government regulation all
of the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that
would later prove so toxic. That legislation led to the explosion of
the market in unregulated mortgage-based securities, the key source of
the financial-sector “dealmaking” that Clinton now bemoans.
Here is the video (but it is unfortunately
not well made: I could not understand Scheer's questions - and my sound
DNC Day 3: Robert
Scheer Questions Lawrence Summers, Michael Blumethal
The Staggering, Semi-Secret,
$70 Billion Annual U.S. Global Arms Business
The second item is by William Hartung on AlterNet and originally on
This starts as follows:
When American firms dominate a
global market worth more than $70
billion a year, you’d expect to hear about it. Not so with
the global arms trade. It’s good for one or two stories a year in the mainstream media,
usually when the annual statistics on the state of the business come
Yes indeed, though I should also say this is not
by far the only kind of item that is sorely lacking in the
mainstream media that - in my vision at least,
and I read the Dutch NRC-Handelsblad from 1970-2010, and then cast it
out precisely for the following reason, that since only got a
lot worse, from my occasional gleanings - they change more
and more into amusement for their
readers (perhaps with some information thrown in, as infotainment,
though that again may well have been bought by one of their
advertisers) much rather than giving real and verified
information about the things that interest me, and that I could
and did usually get in my forty years of reading the NRC-Handelsblad
(and no: meanwhile it is unrecognizable from what it was in its
good years, which are the 1970ies and 1980ies).
Anyway - back to a theme that is hardly treated in today's mainstream
As to the first paragraph: I think I have
answered both questions, though probably not as William Hartung
So here’s a question that’s puzzled me
for years (and I’m something of an arms wonk): Why do other major U.S.
exports -- from Hollywood movies to Midwestern grain shipments to Boeing airliners -- garner regular coverage
while trends in weapons exports remain in relative obscurity? Are
we ashamed of standing essentially alone as the world’s number one arms
dealer, or is our Weapons “R” Us role such a commonplace that we take
it for granted, like death or taxes?
The numbers should stagger anyone.
According to the latest figures available from the Congressional
Research Service, the United States was credited with more
than half the value of all global arms transfer agreements in
2014, the most recent year for which full statistics are available. At
14%, the world’s second largest supplier, Russia, lagged far behind.
You read so little about quite important things like the enormous
amounts of weapons sold by the USA, with enormous amounts of profits, because the
free press has ceased to function: People are not so much informed
by the mainstream papers as that they are amused.
And consequently most people are neither ashamed by the enormous
amounts of weapons exports nor do they think it is a common place:
Ordinary people just don't read about this anymore, and certainly are
not informed well about them.
Clearly, not everybody is ignorant:
To be completely accurate, there
is one group of people who pay remarkably close attention to these
trends -- executives of the defense contractors that are cashing in on
this growth market. With the Pentagon and related agencies taking
in “only” about $600 billion a year -- high by historical
standards but tens of billions of dollars less than hoped for by the
defense industry -- companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and
General Dynamics have been looking to global markets as their major
source of new revenue.
Yes, but I am quite confident they do not get
their information from the mainstream media, simply because there is
hardly any information about
the incredible amounts of arms that the US yearly sells.
There is a whole lot more in the article, that ends as follows:
There is, however, unlikely to be
a genuine public debate about the value of the arms business and
Washington’s place in it if it isn’t even considered a subject worthy
of more than an occasional media story. In the meantime, the
United States continues to hold onto the number one role in the global
arms trade, the White House does its part, the Pentagon greases the
wheels, and the dollars roll in to profit-hungry U.S. weapons
Yes, but the underlying main reason that the
public simply does not get any adequate information about "the value of the arms business and Washington’s place in it" is that the free press doesn't really exist anymore (apart
from a few places on the internet).
3. Trump as the Reagan Reboot
The third item is by J.P. Sotille on
This starts as follows:
The conventional wisdom says Donald
Trump has turned presidential politics into a reality show. It’s an
understandable diagnosis, particularly given his intentionally brassy
persona and the professional
wrestling-style antics he used to dispatch a motley crew
of also-rans on this way to victory. Both were on display in Cleveland
where — with the name “Trump”
towering over him — the sole survivor triumphantly claimed the ultimate
prize at the end of a year-long series
If nothing else, this “reality show as
politics” narrative helps pundits make sense of a candidacy they
couldn’t predict and the establishment couldn’t control. It affords
them the cold comfort of categorizing Trump as something totally new
and completely foreign to American politics. But in America’s
celebrity-obsessed matrix of infotainment, clickbait-n-switch “news”
and the instant iBranding of everything, the more apt description
of Trump’s presidential potboiler is not the reality show … it’s the
Well... yes and no, but I will not comment
because I don't like this pumped up style of writing, and also
I am not at all interested in what "helps pundits".
Here is some more:
The reboot was as simple as it was
effective. Trump took a proven hook — the Reagan Revolution — and
“pumped it up” with a relentless tweetstorm of
tendentious tropes and a bomb-throwing rhetorical style that would make
action-movie filmmaker Michael Bay blush.
Like a seasoned — or cynical — Hollywood producer, Trump used political
investments in himself, his
own companies and those
ubiquitous red hats to turn an old franchise into a new
smash hit. Like so many of the films that have been rebooted in the
whiz-bang era of computer animation, The Donald fills the screen like
an action-packed, CGI-enhanced version of The Gipper.
Along the way he’s sexed-up Reagan’s
Revolution with a barrage of attacks on the corrupt political system,
on the media and on the turncoats in his own party. He’s wowed
disillusioned Republicans and entreated embattled Reagan Democrats with
explosive charges against China’s economic
rapists, with dire warnings about cunning
Mexican negotiators and with blanket condemnations of
incompetent, perhaps even
Again: Well... yes, but I know these
things for a long time now and I don't need this having rewarmed in a
sensationalistic prose style.
There is quite a lot more in the article, but I didn't learn anything
new from it and I disliked the style.
4. Smartphone Addiction: The Slot Machine in Your Pocket
The fourth and last
today is by Tristan Harris on Spiegel International:
This starts as follows:
When we get sucked into our smartphones
or distracted, we think it's just an accident and our responsibility.
But it's not. It's also because smartphones and apps hijack our innate
psychological biases and vulnerabilities.
I learned about our minds'
vulnerabilities when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for
blind spots, vulnerabilities and biases of people's minds, so they can
influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know
how to push people's buttons, you can play them like a piano. And this
is exactly what technology does to your mind. App designers play your
psychological vulnerabilities in the race to grab your attention.
I want to show you how they do it, and
offer hope that we have an opportunity to demand a different future
from technology companies.
First two general orientations:
Tristam Harris, the writer of this
article, was both a magician and (I quote, because I find the
description quite oddly loaded, though that is not Harris's fault) "a
product philosopher at Google, where he studied how technology affects
a billion people's attention, well-being and behavior". He is also 31 years of age, and the "hope" he speaks of
in the above last quoted paragraph seems to me completely
false, but I will come to that below.
And as for me: I never had a smartphone,
and I never will have one, because (1) I might just as well send
everything I do with it directly to the NSA, the GCHQ, and many other
secret services, including Facebook and Google, and (2) I do
like to keep my own privacy, my own mind, my own decisions and my own
choices without being manipulated by all manners of completely
unknown human shit ,
and (3) meanwhile, I think that computers + internet are the greatest
enemy of anyone who is interested in privacy, good government,
democracy, honesty and decency. 
Here is some more by Harris:
I certainly do not check my phone "150 times a day".
I do check it about 10 times a day, and that is three or four times too
many. Also, I despise slot machines for over 50 years now, and yes: I
did learn about variable rewards
The average person checks their phone
150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious
choices? One major reason why is the number one psychological
ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards.
If you want to maximize addictiveness,
all tech designers need to do is link a user's action (like pulling a
lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive
either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness
is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable.
Does this effect really work on people?
Yes. Slot machines make more money in the United States than baseball,
movies, and theme parks combined.
etc. in psychology.
Then there is this:
But here's the unfortunate truth:
Several billion people have a slot machine in their pocket.
When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we're playing a slot machine
to see what notifications we have received. When we swipe down our
finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we're playing a slot machine to
see what photo comes next. When we "Pull to Refresh" our email, we're
playing a slot machine to see what email we got. When we swipe faces on
dating apps like Tinder, we're playing a slot machine to see if we got
I quite agree that it is a very "unfortunate truth" that "[s]everal billion people have a slot machine in their pocket" and not only because it is a slot machine, but because all
of them have effectively given their all - their privacy,
their mails, their desires, their ideas, in brief: everything that made
them the persons they are - to the NSA, the GCHQ, untold many other
secret services, and Facebook, Google, Microsoft etc. etc.
I also fear these billions are mostly of
the lower half of the IQs, but even that assumption is not always true,
for "it is so convenient" that Facebook knows everything about you
(while you don't know anything about Facebook's
operators and principles).
Then there is this, to show you how Facebook manipulates you (one of
its very many mostly unknown ways):
Apps also exploit our need for social
approval. When we see the notification "Your friend Marc tagged you in
a photo" we instantly feel our social approval and sense of belonging
on the line. But it's all in the hands of tech companies.
Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat can
manipulate how often people get tagged in photos by automatically
suggesting all the faces we should tag. So when my friend tags me, he's
actually responding to Facebook's suggestion, not making an
independent choice. But through design choices like this, Facebook
controls the multiplier for how often millions of people experience
their social approval.
I hate Facebook and never was a member and
generally totally avoid it. I hate Instagram and Snapchat and never
used them. Also, I don't think algo- rithmically generated "social
approval" is social approval at all: it is advertising
and being advertised.
Then there is this on LinkedIn, that recently was acquired by
Microsoft, so that it can know even more about you, without
you knowing anything about who is learning all
these things about you, nor what it is used for:
LinkedIn is another offender. LinkedIn
wants as many people creating social obligations for each other as
possible, because each time they reciprocate (by accepting a
connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a
skill) they have to come back to linkedin.com where they can get people
to spend more time.
Like Facebook, LinkedIn exploits an
asymmetry in perception. When you receive an invitation from someone to
connect, you imagine that person making a conscious choice to invite
you, when in reality, they likely unconsciously responded to LinkedIn's
list of suggested contacts. In other words, LinkedIn turns your
unconscious impulses into new social obligations that millions of
people feel obligated to repay. All while they profit from the time
people spend doing it.
There is a lot more in the article, that
ends by articulating a hope that "[w]e have an opportunity to demand a
different future from the tech industry".
I consider that hope utterly
phony. Most people don't understand their smartphones; most
people don't understand how they are being abused; most people don't
even learn to program; and most of the billions who use smartphones
simply are far from smart themselves.
Here is the last but one paragraph from the
The ultimate freedom is a free
mind, and we need technology that's on our team to help us live, feel,
think and act freely.
If you want a free mind and are truly
intelligent, you don't have a smartphone. If you have a free
mind, you don't believe in "our team" (whoever that is). If you
want to live, feel, think and act freely, you
mostly avoid computers and you mostly avoid the
internet. (Spend some time with your friends, without any computer.
Read a real paper book!)
For computers + internet are the
greatest enemy of anyone
who is interested in privacy, good government, democracy, honesty and
And to restore them to proper uses, proper restrictions and proper
oversights, I assume it is necessary that the economy crashes hugely.
I am very sorry, but that is how I think
it is. 
I am completely convinced that the three types of human beings that are
almost always despicable shit are (i) the politicians, who
nearly all excel everybody else in precisely one trait: they
are enormous liars (nearly always for their own private interests) (ii)
the rich, who profit enormously and as a rule give
back hardly anything; and (iii) the spies,
whether with Facebook, the NSA, Google or the GCHQ: I suspect most of
these are in fact sadists (which I think some 10% of the people are).
(I certainly could not do what they are supposed to do, and no: I am
not a sadist either, and I never dreamt about the delicacies of spying
 As to "I think
that computers + internet are the greatest
enemy of anyone who is interested in privacy, good government,
democracy, honesty and decency":
Yes, I definitely do and the reason is simple: A computer + internet
will almost certainly deliver you in the hands of many secret
services, who can plunder your emails and your computers, in
secret, without your knowing anything about it, and besides, it
will deliver you in the hands of very many spies who work for
I think almost nobody ought to be in the hands of these
persons, but almost everybody these days is,
for which reason almost nobody is in a position to say that he knows
that his privacy, his secrets, his personal information, is not
spread amongst hundreds or thousands of secret offices of secret
persons whom he doesn't know but who either know or are in a position
to know everything about him (and very far more than he can recall by
These are the outlines of the greatest totalitarian spying system
that has ever been constructed, and it has been constructed in
the form of computers + internet connections.
I like computing but I hate spying, and since spying these days
controls computing, I think wise people should mostly avoid computers
 First see the previous note. Next, you
should realize that I know rather a lot about computing, and do so a
I learned to program in Fortran in 1973 (but didn't like the
kind of job, while the programming was still effectively done with
cards and only for banks); I had a friend who bought an Apple II in 1979,
on which I also programmed (in Applebasic, which was quite good); I got
my first personal computer in 1987
(an Osborne, that ran CP/M), soon followed by Philipses and other
IBM-clones; I learned to program in Basic, TurboPascal, Prolog, C,
after that (but not much); I have two sites (copies, but each is over
500 MB of html, mostly written by me); and altogether I have been using
a computer almost every day since 1987.
There surely are quite a few who know a lot more about computing than I
do, but I do know a fair amount, and I have a lot of experience.
And while I still like computing, my attitudes towards it have
been growing very much less sympathetic to it (i) since 2007,
when I learned about data- mining; (ii) since 2012, when I
realized that who controls the internet controls the world and
feared I and billions of others were spied upon in everything we did by
both dataminers and secret services; and (iii) since 2013, when
I learned, thanks to Edward Snowden, that my fears about being
spied on were very much less serious than the awful reality.
Finally, my position about being spied upon is similar to my position
to the crisis: This will end only if capitalism crashes royally, mostly
because the politicians who could have ended it all have almost
all been vastly corrupted.
This is a very sad conclusion - neofascism or collapse, in
brief - but that is what I think. I agree we aren't there yet.