Thursday, October 5, 2017

Crisis: On Facebook, Rule Of Law, Norman Lear, Plutocracy, On Big Corporations

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. Summary
Crisis Files
    A. Selections from October 5, 2017 


This is a Nederlog of Thursday, October 5, 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 will continue with it.

On the moment and since nearly two 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 will continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading [2]:

A. Selections from October 5, 2017
1. 6 Ways We Can Begin to Rein in Facebook's Immense Power
     Over Media and
Our Society
2. Undermining the Rule of Law at the E.P.A.
3. From Killing Germans in WWII to Revolutionizing TV, Norman
     Lear Reflects
on His Life
4. Déjà Voodoo: Plutocratic Economics from Reagan to Trump
5. How Big Corporations Game Our Democracy into Their

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. 6 Ways We Can Begin to Rein in Facebook's Immense Power Over Media and  Our Society

This article is by Jefferson Morley on AlterNet. It starts as follows (and I learned it was ¨reign¨ at school):

Mark Zuckerberg is really, really sorry.

Last year he dismissed as "crazy" the critics who said “fake news” delivered by Facebook might have given the election to Donald Trump. Last week he said he regretted it.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, he apologized for what Facebook has wrought.
The Facebook leadership, like the U.S. government and the rest of us, is belatedly facing up to what Zuckerberg once denied: the social harms that can be inflicted by digital platform monopolies. The contrition and the voluntary remedies, notes Quartz, are “designed to head off looming regulations."

Yes, and if you believe Zuckerberg who owns over $70 billions - that is:
$70,000,000,000 - thanks to the sick manipulations he subjects his victims to, more of which below, I think you are crazy.

But OK - that is my personal opinion. Here is more on his creation:

Facebook came to dominate social media with an ingenious interface that enables users to escape the Wild West of the open internet and join a sentimental community of family and friends, knitted together by likes, links, timelines, photos and videos.  

Along the way, the company employed a scalable and amoral business model: use algorithms of people's personal data to mix messges of "promoted posts" with family messages and friendly momentos. Its an automated system that is profitable because it requires relatively little human intervention and can be used by anyone who wants to influence the behavior of Facebook users.
The question is, what can government and civil society do to protect the public interest from a $300 billion monopoly with 2 billion users? "Facebook is so gargantuan," says Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, “it’s exceeded our capability to manage it.”
The problem is that since the 1970s, antitrust law has been interpreted through the lens of University of Chicago “free-market” economics. In this view, the test of a monopoly is the short-term harm it does to consumers; i.e., does it raise prices?

If a monopoly doesn’t raise prices, the Chicago School claims, it's not doing any harm. As a result, most of the legal precedents in antitrust law, developed over the last 40 years, are ideologically hostile to the notion of a “public interest.”

This is correct, and I have a similar remark on the neofascists behind the University of Chicago´s defenders of the rich: If you believe their bullshit, I think you are crazy if you are not a psychopath yourself (who lack self-control on their egoism and greed).

But this is again my personal opinion. There is a lot more in this article, but I will only list the six remedies that are being discused, and refer you to the article if you want to read the text joined to these remedies:

Six Remedies

1. FCC regulation
2. Mandatory FEC Disclosure
3. Empower Users
4. Make Data Ephemeral
5. Break up Facebook
6. Think Big

In fact, I think only the fifth remedy makes much sense (and I much doubt this can be implemented in the present political climate in the USA).

This text belongs to the sixth point above:

Most important is political imagination. The ascendancy of free-market thinking since the heyday of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher has transformed citizens into consumers and failed civil society in the process. The rise of income inequality is one result. The emergence of unaccountable platform monopolies is another.

Facebook, the website, is the creation of Zuckerberg and clever programmers. But their enormous power is the result of a selfish and short-sighted ideology that privatizes public space at the expense of most people.

With the Democrats incorporating anti-monopoly ideas into their "Better Deal" platform and right-wing nationalists such as Steve Bannon talking about regulating internet giants "like utilities,” the free-market ideology has lost credibility and there is a growing demand for action. As the Roosevelt Institute puts it, "Let’s Reimagine the Rules."

The urgency of reining in Facebook is that if the public does not control its surveillance and engagement technologies, those techniques will be used to secretly manipulate, if not control, the public sphere, as they were in the 2016 election.

“Either we work with government to regulate algorithmic systems,” says Pasquale of the University of Maryland, “or we will see partnerships with governments and those running algorithmic systems to regulate and control us.”

Yes, this is mostly correct, and I repeat the last bit for your special delectation:
“Either we work with government to regulate algorithmic systems,” says Pasquale of the University of Maryland, “or we will see partnerships with governments and those running algorithmic systems to regulate and control us.”
I agree, but the present government of the USA will - almost certainly - not cooperate with persons who try ¨to regulate algorithmic systems¨ (and ¨algorithmic systems¨ is total baloney for ¨programs¨).

This is a recommended article.

2. Undermining the Rule of Law at the E.P.A.

This article is by David Uhlman on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

In the more than seven months since he became administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt has been on a reckless mission to dismantle public health safeguards and environmental protections. Mr. Pruitt’s E.P.A. wants to postpone or roll back dozens of rules that save lives and provide clean air and water, including efforts by the Obama administration to combat climate change and to protect rivers and streams from pollution.

Last week brought more bad news: Mr. Pruitt is proposing to end a decades-long agreement with the Justice Department that funds the E.P.A.’s lawsuits against polluters responsible for creating hazardous waste sites. Neither Congress nor the courts will have the final say. The decision rests with the Trump administration.

Yes indeed. Here is more:

But in its budget proposal, the E.P.A. said it no longer intended to reimburse the Justice Department for Superfund litigation costs.

These lawsuits are expensive, with Justice Department lawyers doing battle, often for years, with the largest law firms in America. But the return on the agency’s investment is substantial. The Justice Department recovers hundreds of millions of dollars every year in cleanup costs to replenish the Superfund program’s coffers, which enables the E.P.A. to conduct more hazardous waste cleanups, including emergency responses to chemical releases like those that occurred after Hurricane Harvey.

For the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Justice Department, which represents the E.P.A. and other federal agencies in court, funding from the E.P.A. is essential.

And here is a summary judgment:

Mr. Pruitt’s proposal is a breathtakingly bad idea, giving polluters license to do their dirty work with less fear of punishment and a greater ability to outlast an understaffed Justice Department in court. The victims would be ordinary Americans, many of them poor and minorities, who often live closest to where environmental violations occur and where the worst Superfund sites are located.

I agree and this is a recommended article.

3. From Killing Germans in WWII to Revolutionizing TV, Norman Lear Reflects on His Life

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It is here mostly because I like ¨All In The Family¨ (<-Wikipedia), which was series produced by Norman Lear (<-Wikipedia).

This long interview starts as follows:
Norman Lear is a television icon, known for bringing controversial political elements into popular TV shows. Outside of his long career in Hollywood, Lear is also a political activist: He’s passionate about protecting the First Amendment and founded People for the American Way, an advocacy organization for progressive causes.
And the interview starts as follows:

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes, hopefully, from my guests. In this case, no question: it’s Norman Lear. And–OK, the man’s a legend, the man has been a major force in making American life liveable. And I’m just going to read, he wrote a book recently, a terrific book. And it’s called Even This I Get to Experience. And the book came out, and you know, I hate to say it, I still buy my books at independent bookstores, but I was on Amazon, I got the electric version, electronic version. I read it, I read it straight through; and that’s not a great thing to do, ‘cause you should take a break and go to the bathroom or something. But I did; I couldn’t put it down. And I just–and then a message flashed and said, “Would you like to be the first one to review it.” So I’m going to read what I said then, impulsively, after reading his book. “Truly brilliant in its honesty, as one would expect from the man who transformed television from a myopic center of banality into a medium of accountability. All of the major controversies that confront us today, from war and peace on through race relations, gay rights, gender equality, freedom of and from religion, economic inequality, the right and obligation to challenge power and the powerful, and the reality that the American ideal would always be a work in progress was brought into the American home by this genius.”

Norman Lear: If I was to be buried, I would want that on my stone.

RS: Oh, there you go. [Laughter]
I think you had four of the top ten television shows: All in the Family–what else was on then, Sanford and–?

NL: Maude, Sanford and Sons, Good Times, The Jeffersons.

RS: OK. So you were this overwhelming figure dominating the ratings in television, and the amazing thing is you dealt with all the taboo topics; you had a gay football player long before anyone ever discussed the issue; the gay issue was not front and center, you dealt with gender inequality, as all the things I said before.

Yes indeed. There is a lot more in the interview (which is Part One of two parts), and it is recommended.

4. Déjà Voodoo: Plutocratic Economics from Reagan to Trump

This article is by Joseph Stiglitz (<-Wikipedia) on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Having failed to “repeal and replace” the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), US President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican congressional majority have now moved on to tax reform. Eight months after assuming office, the administration has been able to offer only an outline of what it has in mind. But what we know is enough to feel a deep sense of alarm.

Tax policy should reflect a country’s values and address its problems. And today, the United States – and much of the world – confronts four central problems: widening income inequality, growing job insecurity, climate change, and anemic productivity growth. America faces, in addition, the need to rebuild its decaying infrastructure and strengthen its underperforming primary and secondary education system.

But what Trump and the Republicans are offering in response to these challenges is a tax plan that provides the overwhelming share of benefits not to the middle class – a large proportion of which may actually pay more taxes – but to America’s millionaires and billionaires. If inequality was a problem before, enacting the Republicans’ proposed tax reform will make it much worse.

Yes indeed. There is more and the article ends as follows:

An administration of plutocrats – most of whom gained their wealth from rent-seeking activities, rather than from productive entrepreneurship – could be expected to reward themselves. But the Republicans’ proposed tax reform is a bigger gift to corporations and the ultra-rich than most had anticipated. It avoids necessary reforms and would leave the country with a mountain of debt; the consequences – low investment, stalled productivity growth, and yawning inequality – would take decades to undo.

Trump assumed office promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC. Instead, the swamp has grown wider and deeper. With the Republicans’ proposed tax reform, it threatens to engulf the US economy.

Precisely, and this is a recommended article.

5. How Big Corporations Game Our Democracy into Their Plutocracy

This article is by Ralph Nader (<-Wikipedia) on Common Dreams and originally on his site. It starts as follows:
A major chapter in American history – rarely taught in our schools – is how ever larger corporations have moved to game, neutralize and undermine the people’s continual efforts to protect our touted democratic society. It is a fascinating story of the relentless exercise of power conceived or seized by corporations, with the strategic guidance of corporate lawyers.
Yes indeed. Here is how the corporations and their corporate lawyers work, indeed all quite purposively, and mostly together with other corporations and other corporate lawyers, at least since Lewis F. Powell Jr. (<- Wikipedia) attended the rich on how to defend their own interests in 1971:

Institutions that are supposed to represent democratic values, such as Congress and state legislatures are meticulously gamed with the daily presence of corporate lawyers and lobbyists to shape the granular performance of these bodies and make sure little is done to defend civic values. These pitchmen are in the daily know about the inner workings of legislative bodies long before the general public. They often know who is going to be nominated for judicial and executive branch positions that  interpret and administer the law and whether the nominee will do the bidding of the corporate bosses.

Then there is the press. Thomas Jefferson put great responsibility on the newspapers of his day to safeguard our democracy from excessive commercial power and their runaway political toadies. Certainly, our history has some great examples of the press fulfilling Jefferson’s wish. For the most part, however, any media that is heavily reliant on advertisements will clip its own wings or decide to go with light-hearted entertainment or fluff, rather than dig in the pits of corruption and wrongdoing.

What of the educational institutions that purport to convey facts, the lessons of history and not be beholden to special interests? The corporate state – the autocratic joining of business and government – exerts its influence all the way down to the state and local levels, not just in Washington. It works through boards of education and trustees of colleges and universities, drawing heavily from the business world and its professional servants in such disciplines as law, accounting and engineering.

Precisely. Here is more on how the rich defend their very own interests (and only these):

Their subversion even extends to the sacrosanct notion of academic freedom – that these institutions must be independent centers of knowledge. For example, Monsanto, General Motors, Exxon and Eli Lilly are only a few of the companies that have pushed corporate, commercial science over academic, independent science through lucrative consultantships and partnerships with professors.

The unfortunate reality  is that the wealthy and powerful are driven to spend the necessary time and energy to accomplish their raison d’etre,
which are profits and the relentless pursuit of self-interest. Citizens, on the other hand, have so much else on their minds, just to get through the day and raise their families.

This article ends as follows:

The requisite to such an awakening is the awareness that our two precious pillars of democracy – freedom of contract and freedom to use the courts – are being destroyed or seriously undermined by corporate influence. The contract servitude of fine-print contracts, signed or clicked on, is the basis of so many of the abuses and rip-offs that Americans are subjected to with such regularity. Add this modern peonage to the corporate campaign to obstruct the people’s full day in court and right of trial by jury guaranteed by our Constitution. The plutocrats have succeeded in gravely doing just that. Tight court budgets, the frequency of jury trials and the number of filed wrongful injury lawsuits keep going down to case levels well under five percent of what the needs for justice require.

Some fundamental questions are: Will we as citizens use our Constitutional authority to reclaim and redirect the power we’ve too broadly delegated to elected officials? Will we hold these officials accountable through a reformed campaign finance system that serves the people over the plutocrats? Will we realize that a better society starts with just a few people in each electoral district and never requires more than one percent of the voters, organized and reflecting public opinion, to make the corporations our servants, not our masters?

I agree and this is a strongly recommended article, although I must add that I am not optimistic any of this will succeed without a major economical crisis (that will happen, but I do not know when).


[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 1 1/2 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 (!!).

[2] Yes, you are right: I start Nederlogs again with a list of the titles of the articles I review in that Nederlog. In fact, I did start that way around 2011/2012, and instituted it (so to speak) in 2013. This was maintained until June of 2017, when I stopped doing it mostly because my health got worse then. Since my condition now has again somewhat improved I return - more or less - to the style I used in 2013.
      home - index - summaries - mail