Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Crisis: Despots, Computational Curtain, Reality, Trump's Brain, Dodd-Frank, Payments

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots Is Central to the U.S.
     Tradition, Not a Deviation From It

How Our Worlds Are Decided for Us From Behind the
     Computational Curtain

3. Our Political Reality Is the Stuff of Nightmares
Lessons in History from Donald Trump, Who Has 'a Very Good

5. Trump’s Banksters and the Rollback of Dodd-Frank
How Much to Buy a Congressional Vote? New Research Seeks


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday
, May 3, 2017.

Summary: This is a
crisis log with six items and six links: Item 1 is about a long article by Glenn Greenwald on praising despots: According to Greenwald (and I mostly agree) this has been American policy not just since Trump but since Truman; item 2 is about an interesting article on Truthdig about computers, and privatization of private
data, and also about encryption (which is missing from the article); item 3 is an article about Trump's first 100 days; item 4 is about either the truly superhuman brain of Donald Trump or else about his megalomanic personality disorder; item 5 is about the rolling back of Dodd-Frank; and item 6 is a first specification how much congressional votes cost: They are rather cheap, especially for billionaires.

Also, I have since February 1 made the Nederlog of the day (this one, today) into the opening of the site, but I found that is too much work for me (who also is ill) to do, so today I changed back to the previous old and proper schema (except for the fact that "xs4all" - really: the KPN - simply refuses to update my site properly, as they did do from 1996 to 2015, and as the other site I have, that I started in 2005 because already then "xs4all" was horrible for me, still does, and as is completely normal - but not for "xs4all" - really: KPN - anymore).

I will explain this in some more detail tomorrow and will then also remove or alter the upper white box.
May 3: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today. The Dutch site - quite unaccountably - happens to be correct today. They did it well from 1996 till 2015, updating within minutes at most. I think they totally stopped doing this to limit the readings of my site. I think (but I don't know anything whatsoever about "xs4all") they now update once a week, which means that they are - for me - over 10,000 times worse than they were between 1996 and 2015.

These horrors happen now for the 16th month in succession. And they happen on purpose, because it is extremely simple to do this properly, and it was done properly from 1996 till late in 2015. (If you want these horrors, then sign in with "xs4all.nl"; if not, avoid them like the plague.)

And I have to add that about where my site on xs4all.nl stuck for others I have NO idea AT ALL: It may be December 31, 2015. (Xs4all wants  immediate payment if you are a week behind. Xs4all.nl has been destroying my site now for over a year. I completely distrust them, but I also do not know whether they are doing it or some secret service is.)
1. Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots Is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From It

The first article today is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Since at least the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: In a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.

Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policymakers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.

The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for its mass killings and aggressively enabled the genocide carried out by one of the 20th century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.

I think the above is quite correct, but I admit I am a radical (which I do because I also know lots of people reject or qualify the above).

There is rather a lot more that supports the above introduction, which I leave to your interests. And this is from the ending, adding a twist to the above introduction:

Cultivating authoritarian leaders is everything except a “shift in American foreign policy.” Nonetheless, this propagandistic lie has now become commonplace among über-patriotic journalists eager to tell the world that the U.S. before Trump had been devoted to liberating the oppressed peoples of the world from tyranny.

I think that is also true, and this is a recommended article (and I am trying to keep my reviews brief because there are 6 items to review today, and I started late [1]).

2. How Our Worlds Are Decided for Us From Behind the Computational Curtain

The second article is by John Cheney-Leopold on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
If we are made of code, the world fundamentally changes. This codified interpretation of life is, at the level of our subjectivity, how the digital world is being organized. It is, at the level of knowledge, how that world is being defined. And it is, at the level of social relations, how that world is being connected. Of course, we don’t have to use Microsoft products to unleash our potential. That’s beside the point. But Microsoft’s iconic corporate monopoly works as a convenient stand-in to critique the role that technology has in not just representing us but functionally determining “who we might become.”

Representation plays second fiddle if Microsoft can quite literally rewrite the codes of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, celebrity, and terrorist. Rewriting these codes transcodes their meaning onto Microsoft’s terms. They become the author of who ‘we’ are and can be.
Actually, we are not made of code, indeed just as little as a house is made from electricity: we are made of flesh and bone, and to say otherwise is either silly or

So the world does not fundamentally change, but Cheney-Leopold is quite correct that much of what we see (and also of what we are denied to see!) is organized by some "codified interpretation" that co-determines - and I write "co-determines" because we also make some (influenced) decisions - what we see (and desire and believe) and that "codified interpretation" that co-determines these things generally, is the trade secret of companies like Google or Facebook or Microsoft or Apple.

As to representation and "
the codes of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, celebrity, and terrorist": 

It is true that writing code for what these terms mean (in some sense, to some) "
transcodes their meaning onto Microsoft’s terms" and also true that Microsoft's codes are only known to Microsoft's people, which in turn means that these terms probably have meanings for Microsoft that they don't have for others, but - at least for now - these meanings must be fairly close to what these terms mean for ordinary speakers and in ordinary dictionaries.

at least for now, the terms must mostly represent what the terms mean for fairly naive users. The problem is - now, at least - rather that what these terms mean for computers is not only what they represent, but whether they may be seen, and if so, in what form they should be presented to the naive viewer. And these possibilties combine censorship and propaganda.

There also is a further danger, that Cheney-Leopold describes as follows:

(...) Google, Facebook, and others are on their way to privatizing “everything.”

By privatizing “everything,” I really mean everything. Love, friendship, criminality, citizenship, and even celebrity have all been datafied by algorithms we will rarely know about. These proprietary ideas about the world are not open for debate, made social and available to the public. They are assigned from behind a private enclosure, a discursive trebuchet that assails us with meaning like rabble outside the castle walls.

I don't think everything (or "everything") is privatized yet, and one must keep in mind that what is privatized, at least now, and gets "privatized" by firms like Google and Facebook, are associations of moral values and desires with certain terms, and that these private associations determine what you will see and how it will be presented to you. And these things are privatized because Google or Facebook control the associations, the values and the desires they think certain terms had and should have, and use them only for their own profits.

And here is one very important consequence - that is in fact mostly due to the fact that private computers are and have been mostly not encrypted, rather than to computers as such:

The consequence of this privatization means that privacy has become inverted, not in its definition but in its participants and circumstances. A site like OkCupid has privacy from us, but we don’t have privacy from OkCupid. We don’t know how our data is being used. We can’t peek inside its compatibility match algorithm. But every little thing we do can be watched and datafied.

Yes, and this should either be completely undone (by encrypting everything from the bottom up) or indeed be inverted: It is bloody sick, bloody immoral and also bloody theft that Facebook or secret services know more about you than you recall about your own life or yourself, but indeed for the moment they do, and they will continue to do so in the future, apart from total encryption (which I am very strongly for) or an enormous economical collapse (that may allow the survivors to make the necessary choices otherwise than they were in the past).

What in fact happened is this:

As communication scholar Christian Fuchs has detailed, the data gathered in these privatized spaces became the constant capital by which profit would be produced, echoing the most basic of capital relations: we legally agree to turn over our data to owners, those owners use that data for profit, and that profit lets a company gather even more data to make even more profit.

In fact, these "legal agreements" are all cases of legal theft (of data you don't know you are producing, that are taken and used from you for minimal or no payment, or the utterly insane offering of "personal advertisements"), in programs you do not know anything about, for purposes you also do not know anything about) and the legal theft at bottom is the same as the legal theft that made the capitalists rich, by offering minimal wages to people that would otherwise have died, followed by taking the product of their labor for themselves. (In case you want an explanation of these principles of capitalism try chapter I and II by Alexander Berkman in his "What Is Communist Anarchism". [2])

Here is the ending of Cheney-Leopold:

When privacy is reversed, everything changes. Our worlds are decided for us, our present and futures dictated from behind the computational curtain.

Yes, and the privacy can be reversed precisely because it has been - intentionally, I am morally certain - a matter of course NOT to properly encrypt everything you write in your e-mails or say in your cellphones: Your private information has been given deliberately to firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.

Finally (and I doubt I am speaking for Cheney-Leopold here): Without proper encryption, that is also safe-guarded by laws, computers and cellphones will be the tools with which the very rich can and probably will enslave or control everybody else.

That seems the probable future to me, and this is a recommended article (although I don't quite agree).

3. Our Political Reality Is the Stuff of Nightmares
The third article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet:

This starts as follows:

It’s become the new abnormal: Trump’s decrees, accusations and posturing; his transparent lies, threats and reversals. Then comes the cleanup crew, the White House propagandists, pretending he’s serious.

Half the media plays it straight, according Trump a gravitas unsupported by facts or details. Others, from TV comedians to seasoned political columnists, cannot keep a straight face. Whatever being presidential or serious governing is, they know that’s not Trump.

One hundred days in, what are we to make of this confusing mess?
That is, this is another "100 Days" article, of which I have published at least 5 files in the previous week. (Check the index if you are interested.) This doesn't mean the present article is uninteresting, but it does mean I can make this review brief (and see note [1]).

Here is the first point I want to quote:
Trump’s ascent appears to be morphing into an open invitation for Washington’s right-wing lifers to get back in the game and take another whack at the same lousy ideas they have been peddling since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Yes I agree, although this is a fairly easy conclusion. Here is the second and last point from this review:
The only thing that’s clear 100 days into Trump’s presidency is that the country has entered a downward spiral and it’s unclear which factions or forces on the right will emerge with either political power or personal fortunes, or both. But politics and capitalism abhor vacuums—even in a deepening dystopia. Wherever this is headed, it has yet to hit bottom.
I more or less agree, although I would say some more things have become clear or clearer. But I do agree with the end: "Wherever this is headed, it has yet to hit bottom."

And this is a recommended article.

4. Lessons in History from Donald Trump, Who Has 'a Very Good Brain'

The fourth article is by Heather Digby Parton on AlterNet:

This starts as follows, and it is here not only to enjoy you, but also to make (once again) a serious psychological point (and I am a psychologist):

President Donald Trump said something profoundly ignorant on Monday. I know that shocks you. He is, after all, a man who has told us over and over again that he is smarter than just about anyone you’d want to mention. He has said:

“I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.

I understand money better than anybody. I understand it far better than Hillary, and I’m way up on the economy when it comes to questions on the economy.”

This means - taken for what it said, at least - that Donald Trump must be an extremely special person: He understands taxes better than any of the billions of men there are and have been, and he also understands money better than any of the billions of men there are.

But this is not all (according to Donald Trump):

He has also said:

Nobody knows more about trade than me.”

“Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.”

Regarding the legality of his travel ban, he opined:

I was a good student. I understand things. I comprehend very well, better than I think almost anybody.

Plus he has said:

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

That is: Trump understands trade better than any of the billions of men there are and have been, and Trump understands infrastructure better than any other American (did he grow more polite, for this is quite humble, in Trump's terms).
Also - according to Trump - he was not only a good student, but he thinks better than
than almost any of the billions of men there are and have been (including Aristotle, Newton, Euler, Gauss, Russell and Von Neumann).

Not only that: According to Trump he understands the military better than any of the billions of men there are and have been (including Napoleon or Eisenhower), and he certainly knows more about ISIS than any of the Americans, including all their generals.

Here is Heather Parton's sum-up of Trump according to Trump:

That’s just a small sampling of the times that Trump has asserted he is gifted with vast knowledge and a prodigious intellect that far outstrips anyone else in the entire world, perhaps anyone else who has ever lived.

I think she must be right: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to take two examples, were geniuses at two or possibly three things, but compared to Donald Trump, who outthinks almost anybody else (he says) and is - in his own opinion - something like (at least) a five-fold genius, they amount to hardly anything at all (and I haven't heard Trump's opinion on Trump's mathematical, physical, musical, artistic and quite a few other gifts, that - I take it - are as amazing, in his opinion).

What do you call a man who so grossly, so systematically, and so hugely overestimates his own capacities? You call him a megalomaniac (<-Wikipedia) or alternatively (but I don't like psychiatrese) a grandiose narcissist (<- the link is to testimony by pstychologists and psychiatrists) and you deplore his craziness.

And that is what I think he is, although he has convinced about half of the American voters - who do neither excel in intelligence nor in knowledge - to be their president.

Ah well... this is a recommended article.

5. Trump’s Banksters and the Rollback of Dodd-Frank

The fifth article article is by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

Donald Trump has ordered a rollback of regulations over Wall Street, including the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010 to prevent another too-big-to-fail banking crisis.

Perhaps Trump thinks that we’ve forgotten what happened when Wall Street turned the economy into a giant casino, and then – when its bets went sour in 2008 – needed a giant taxpayer funded bailout.

Maybe Trump thinks Americans forget losing their jobs, homes, and savings in the fallout.

I agree Trump "has ordered a rollback of regulations over Wall Street, including the Dodd-Frank Act", but I don't think he thinks "Americans forget losing their jobs, homes, and savings in the fallout" in 2008: I think he doesn't care. (It will not happen to him and/or he will profit from the losses of others, so why should he
worry?! [3])

Here is some of what Dodd-Frank implies:

Getting rid of Dodd-Frank triples the odds of another financial crisis. 

Meanwhile, Trump has brought more banksters into his administration than any in any previous administration – mostly, from Goldman Sachs. 

The head of Trump’s economic council is Gary Cohn who was president of Goldman Sachs. Other Goldman alumni include Trump’s right hand man, Steve Bannon, Trump’s pick for Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for the securities and exchange commission, Jay Clayton and another White House advisor, Dina Powell.

In fact, in 2008 it has turned out that the big American banks can do what they please; defraud whom they please; and be rewarded with trillions of money for thefts and frauds, and they could do so with the help of Obama and with the assistance of Goldman's own Hank Paulson and later Timothy Geithner.

My guess is that - since there will be another crisis following that of 2008, though I do not know when - the Goldman Sachs people who now crowd Trump's economical council
expect to do a similar thing in the next crisis as they did in the last: Transport as much as possible of the money from the non-rich and the government to the bankaccounts of the very rich, like themselves. It worked in 2008, so why not again?!

I agree this is my guess; I insist there is very good evidence for it. And this is a recommended article.

6. How Much to Buy a Congressional Vote? New Research Seeks Answer

The sixth and last article today is by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams, and she asks a quite interesting question:

This starts as follows:

While it is conventional wisdom that money influences politics, researchers released a report Tuesday aiming to answer the longstanding question of exactly how much political spending it takes to sway a Congressional vote.

Fifty Shades of Green (pdf), published by the Roosevelt Institute, analyzes "the role political finance has played in securing the privileged positions of both high finance and big telecom" by examining how lawmakers evolved in supporting efforts to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and net neutrality.

Specifically, the authors looked at Democratic representatives who originally voted in favor of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and then later voted to dismantle key provisions of it.

This is a quite interesting report (and it can be downloaded by the above last link).
This is quoted from its introduction:

(...) the authors found "the link between campaign contributions from the financial sector and switching to a pro-bank vote to be direct and substantial."

"The results indicate that for every $100,000 that Democratic representatives received from finance, the odds they would break with their party's majority support for the Dodd-Frank legislation increased by 13.9 percent," the report states. "Democratic representatives who voted in favor of finance often received $200,000 – $300,000 from that sector, which raised the odds of switching by 25–40 percent."

The authors further noted that Democrats who were nearing the end of their House term as well as members of the House Financial Services Committee "were far more likely to support the banks on repealing elements of Dodd-Frank."

That is: A couple of $100,000s, which is very little money for a billionaire, can move the votes from "for the people" to "for the banks", whereas for helping Google or Netflix, a few $1000s are sufficient to move the votes from "for the people" to "for the rich who own computer firms".

I say. That is how it goes, and this is one of the conclusions drawn by the authors of the report:

The report continues:

Recipients of money from firms in favor of network neutrality, such as Netflix or Google, whose access to users could be affected, were considerably more likely to vote in favor of Markey's amendment: Every additional $1,000 dollars decreased the odds of voting against by 24 percent. Similarly, contributions from firms opposed to network neutrality were also telling: every $1,000 increased the chances of a vote against by 2.6 percent. The more conservative a representative was, the more likely he or she was to vote against network neutrality. Telecom employment in the district did not seem to matter, but district median income did: Every $1,000 in additional income decreased the odds of a vote against network neutrality by 7.2 percent

In the report's conclusion, the authors write that they don't "want to overstate" the results, however, they add that "the long history of skepticism toward claims that money powerfully influences legislative voting should come to an end."

Without mincing words, they add that the documented pattern of lawmakers "is too obvious to need much emphasis: Substantial numbers of legislators sell out the public interest in exchange for political money. This may not be the best Congress money can buy—the coefficients in our equations could be even larger, after all—but the reality is bad enough."

Yes indeed. Or in other words: "Democracy" in the USA is sold to the highest bidder, who generally are banks or computer firms, who profit enormously, while real democracy gets drowned completely by the corruption of the people elected to keep it up.

It might have been even worse than it is, but that is about the only "good" thing about it.


[1] One of the reasons I am late is that I found out this morning that the mathematical logician Raymond Smullyan (<-Wikipedia), whom I admired a lot for clarity of mind and for great logical acumen, died on February 6, last. He got to be 97, like Russell, but lived three days less.

[2] I really like Alexander Berkman, but I think he should have made one thing clearer:

Capitalists are rich people who can front the money to poor people who have to work to live, and the schema is that the payment given to the poor (which for at least a 100 years was very poor, for very long days) is sufficient to give the rich the full control and the property of the product the poor produce.

What the poor should have said is: We disagree this is fair or equitable. You may front the money for us to work, but you are not to get the product: Our own men will sell the product, and redistribute the payments to ourselves and to you on a fair basis - for it is certaintly not fair that a few are millionaires or billionaires, while the many have to work all day and hardly have enough to live.

[3] In fact - of course - he should worry, as a president or as a social being. But he doesn't, for he is - like most neoliberals, indeed - only interested in his personal profit. And when that is your main interest, another person's losses, or the losses of millions of other persons, indeed either doesn't matter because it doesn't hurt your profits, or is positive, because the losses of others may and perhaps do increase your income.

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