Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Crisis: Extreme Vetting, Russian Life, Trump & America, USA Backwards, USA Kleptocracy

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Summary
2. Crisis Files
    A. Selections from August 8, 2017 


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, August 8, 2017.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last four years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I probably will continue with it, but on the moment I have several problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible and with my health.

As I explained, the crisis files will have a different format from July 1, 2017: I will now list the items I selected as I did before (title + link) but I add one selection from the selected item to give my readers a bit of a taste of the item linked.

So the new format is as follows:

      Link to an item with its orginal title, followed by
      One selection (usually) from that item (indented)
      Possibly followed by a brief comment by me (not indented).

This is illustrated below, in selections A.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from August 8, 2017

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. These Are the Technology Firms Lining Up to Build Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” Program

This article is by Sam Biddle and Spencer Woodman on The Intercept. This is from near the beginning:
So it’s time for something new and better, says ICE: a system that will serve as an “overarching vetting” machine “that automates, centralizes, and streamlines the current manual vetting process while simultaneously making determinations via automation if the data retrieved is actionable” in order to “implement the President’s various Executive Orders (EOs) that address American immigration and border protection security and interests.” In other words, data-mining software that helps ICE agents find human targets faster.
ICE’s hope is that this privately developed software will help go far beyond matters of legality to matters of the heart. The system must “determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society, as well as their ability to contribute to national interests” and predict “whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.” Using software to this end is certainly in line with Trump’s campaign rhetoric — during a rally in Phoenix, he described how “extreme vetting” would make sure the U.S. only accepts “the right people,” using “ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.”

Sign-in sheets from the ICE event show a sizable private sector turnout, including representatives from IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, LexisNexis, SAS, and Deloitte, along with a litany of smaller firms, such as Praescient Analytics, Red Hat, PlanetRisk, and Babel Street (the sign-in sheets can be read below).

And this is the intended result:
Essentially, anything online that doesn’t require a password would be fair game under the Extreme Vetting Initiative:

The Contractor shall analyze and apply techniques to exploit publically [sic] available information, such as media, blogs, public hearings, conferences, academic websites, social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, radio, television, press, geospatial sources, internet sites, and specialized publications with intent to extract pertinent information regarding targets, including criminals, fugitives, nonimmigrant violators, and targeted national security threats and their location.

In fact, I think ICE is implementing the techniques and technologies that soon will be used to control everyone. And that is neofascism (<- check the definition!). And please note that no private person can do anything against these searches of everything and anything, nor can he (or she) institute similar searches: These are only open to the rich and to the secret services.

There is more in this article that is recommended.

2. The NYT’s Grim Depiction of Russian Life

This article is by Gilbert Doctorow on Consortiumnews. This starts as follows:
Our five-week stay at our home in the Russian countryside was approaching its conclusion when I got an email from a friend in France asking me to comment on an article in The New York Times entitled “Russia’s Villages, and Their Way of Life, Are ‘Melting Away’.”

The article surely met the expectations of its editors by painting a grim picture of decline and fall of the Russian countryside in line with what the author sees as very unfavorable demographic trends in the Russian Federation as a whole. The fact that his own statistics do not justify the generalization (a net population loss of a few thousand deaths over live births in 2016 for a population of 146 million) does not get in the way of the paint-by-color canvas.  Nor does the author explain why what he has observed in a village off the beaten track in Northwest Russia, in precisely the still poor region of Pskov, gives an accurate account of country life across the vast territory of Russia, the world’s largest nation-state.
I think I agree with Doctorow that most that one can read in the New York Times these days about Russia is propaganda that is meant to describe a very backward and poor Russia. Doctorow opposes this by his own experiences in Russia, and very well might be right, although I also think that the experiences of one person or a few persons when considering a country as big as Russia are also not convincing.

Then again, what one should keep in mind are the following facts:

Socialism is dead in Russia, and has collapsed in 1991; capitalism was then introduced on a mega-scale, and was helped especially by American bankers; and Russia these days is as capitalistic as the USA.

These are elementary facts, that seem to be snowed under the anti-Russian
propaganda that has been rampant in the USA since Hillary Clinton failed to get the presidency. 

3. Night Thoughts on Trump and America

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

With Donald Trump away vacationing at one of his golf resorts, the rest of us may have a chance to relax. But in truth it’s more like a short break in a continuing nightmare. Just enough time to turn on the light, look at the clock and ponder where we are, before the nightmare envelopes us again.

What can we ponder that will make all of this a bit less frightening? For one thing, it could be far worse. Trump could have fulfilled his campaign promises to repeal Obamacare, lock Hillary up, build a wall, and throw out all immigrants without papers.

By now he might have confused so many Americans about the truth that most of us would believe the words coming out of his mouth. Hell, by now he could have incited another civil war.

Actually very little has happened. He’s huffed and puffed, threatened and fumed, yet almost none of it has found its way into concrete laws. And it may not: The typical “honeymoon” enjoyed by new presidents is over for him. His first hundred days came and left, almost without a trace.

Well... I agree with Reich that it could have been worse with the Trump government in the first 100+ days, and that he might - instead? - have repealed Obamacare, locked Hillary up, build a wall, and have thrown out all immigrants without papers.

Then again I think I disagree with Reich in the sense that I think Trump is still trying to do all these things, perhaps minus locking up Hillary.

And there is this (after Reich notes that he was born in 1946 and is 71):

To put it another way, a few weeks from now I’ll be returning to the classroom and a new crop of college freshmen. They were born in or around 1998. Chronologically, they’re as far removed from Trump and the rest of us early boomers as we were, when we went to college, from Americans born in 1912. Which is to say, a very long way.

So unless Trump brings on a nuclear war that ends life as we know it on the planet, he is unlikely to have much influence on the lives of my upcoming freshmen. His first (and perhaps only) term in office will be over when they’re just 22. Think of being 22 years old and having your whole life ahead of you, without Trump.

But this seems to have been written on the presumptions that most of Trump's plans will fail. And I think that is pretty optimistic (and I disagree, though I would have liked Reich to be right).

4. The Great Leap Backwards: Trump's Blueprint To Make America Not Great

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. This starts as follows:

The Trump administration is doubling down on oil, gas, and coal at a time when the rest of the world is committing to getting off the stuff and investing in renewable energy.  Renewable energy, by the way, is the cheapest new source of energy, the cleanest source, and it creates more jobs here at home than investments in fossil fuels do.

It’s hard to describe just how stupid this is.  It’s as if, at the turn of the 19th Century, Roosevelt and Taft invested heavily in the whale oil industry while the rest of the world switched to petroleum.  Or as if the head caveman decided that the stone age wouldn’t end until they ran out of stones.

The economic folly of this is exceeded only by the fact that this puts the US and the world on a potentially civilization-ending environmental path.

But it’s not just his energy policy.  He’s busy dismantling the entire scientific infrastructure that had contributed to making the US one of the most prosperous, safe, and powerful nations in the history of the world.
The reason they’re doing this is because they have spent the last four decades convincing people that government is the problem – and once they’d convinced enough people of it they began throwing enough monkey wrenches and budget cuts into the system to make it true. And why did they embark on this jihad against government?  Because corporate America and a few rich fat cats wanted to eviscerate the only force powerful enough to constrain their capacity to run roughshod over the interests of the people. Little things like safe food, fair labor practices, safe working conditions, a living minimum wage, or an environment that didn’t kill millions of people were “choking off” the free enterprise system according to these folks. Then of course, there was the issue of taxes – as in corporations, the rich and powerful didn’t want to pay them.

Yes indeed: I quite agree with the last paragraph. And this has happened and is happening now since 1979/1980 (Thatcher/Reagan gain power), and has been continued completely unopposed in the USA, except by some non-mainstream papers and sites, and by individuals.

There is more in the article, that is recommended.

5.  Even More Evidence the US Is a Kleptocracy, Not a Meritocracy

This article is by Paul Buchheit on Common Dreams. It starts as follows (and see the previous article):
Inequality is much worse than we're led to believe by a dismissive business media. The numbers are hellish, and they're growing.

1. The Extreme Wealth Gap is Still Expanding

The U.S. has gained $30 trillion in wealth since 2008, about half of it in the stock market, much of the remainder in real estate holdings. Based on prior analyses, data from Credit Suisse and Forbes, and recent work by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, it's a rather simple process to estimate the distribution of our nation's wealth over that time period. The following are conservative estimates, since the numbers amount to about $15 trillion, the minimum amount by which financial wealth has increased since the low point of the recession.

•The richest 400 individuals gained an average of $2,500,000,000 each since the recession. 
•The .01% (12,000 households) gained about $120,000,000 each. 
•The rest of the .1% (120,000 households) gained about $11,000,000 each. 
•The rest of the 1% (1,068,000 households) gained about $2,500,000 each. 
•The 2-5% (4,800,000 households) gained about $900,000 each. 
•The 6-10% (6,000,000 households) gained about $285,000 each. 
•The 11-20% (12,000,000 households) gained about $117,000 each.

In addition, the Bottom 80% (96,000,000 households) gained about $13,000 each:


The distribution of U.S. wealth became even more skewed in 2016, according to Credit Suisse data, with the average 1% household gaining about $3 million in just one year. Nearly half of their windfall came as a transfer of wealth from middle class households (the 40% of households above the median), who lost an average of $35,000 in that same year. 

Possibly even worse than the post-recession redistribution of wealth is the nearly 40-year stagnation of income for the bottom half of
America.  Income for the working-age bottom 50% has not improved since the late 1970s. The share of all income going to the poorest 50% has dropped from 20 to 12 percent. The share going to the richest 1% has risen from 12 to 20 percent.
There is more in the article, that is recommended. And please note that the USA has been leaping backwards since 1980, which was and is expressed by the fact that - as the above graph shows - since 1980 only the 2% of the richest profited, and everyone else was put backward, systematically also, and not just economically.


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