January 21, 2018

Crisis: Presidential Etiquette, Government Shut Down*2, Facebook & Google, Marijuana


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 21, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, January 21, 2018.

1. Summary

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

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) 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 more than 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 I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from January 21, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Etiquette 
2. Federal Government Shuts Down
3. Powerhouse Commission Ponders Reeling In Facebook and Google
     Before It's Too Late

4. Government Shutdown: What’s Closed, Who’s Affected
5. How Uncle Sam Launders Marijuana Money
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. The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Etiquette

This article is by The Editorial Board of The New York Times. It starts as follows:

When the editorial board published the first edition of the Republican’s Guide to Presidential Etiquette last May, we hoped to provide a helpful reminder to those morally upright members of the G.O.P. who were once so concerned about upholding standards of presidential decorum. Remember the hand-wringing when Barack Obama wore a tan suit or tossed a football in the Oval Office?

Yet even as the current occupant of the White House continues to find new and shocking ways to defile his office, congressional Republicans have only lashed themselves more tightly to him. The examples come so fast that it’s easy to forget that the last one happened just four days ago, or just this morning.

As part of our continuing effort to resist the exhausting and numbing effects of living under a relentlessly abusive and degrading president, we present, for the third time in nine months, an updated guide to what Republicans now consider to be acceptable behavior from the commander in chief. As before, these examples, drawn from incidents or disclosures in the last three-plus months, do not concern policy decisions — only the president’s words and actions.

And no, we’re not even opening that Michael Wolff book.

In fact, this is just the introduction. After this - if I have counted well - there are no less than 125 items, all linked to various sources that document the activities and sayings of "a relentlessly abusive and degrading president".

It's a quite interesting collection, and one of its advantages is that it is brief: It does document that "
the current occupant of the White House continues to find new and shocking ways to defile his office", but it leaves the documentation to the links.

And while you may not agree with all items, I think the majority qualifies in showing that the present president of the USA does not, will not, and probably also cannot behave quite differently from behaving as he did the last year: Quite unpresidential, for the USA, and also quite authoritarian.

This is a recommended article.

2. Federal Government Shuts Down

This article is by Zeke Miller, Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram. It starts as follows:
The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunction.

Last-minute negotiations crumbled as Senate Democrats blocked a four-week stopgap extension in a late-night vote, causing the fourth government shutdown in a quarter century. The slide toward closure lacked for high drama: The Senate vote was all but predetermined, and since the shutdown began at the start of a weekend, many of the immediate effects will be muted for most Americans.

Still, it comes with no shortage of embarrassment for the president and political risk for both parties, as they wager that voters will punish the other at the ballot box in November.

Social Security and most other safety net programs are unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay. But if no deal is brokered before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed.

Last Friday this was more or less expected, and indeed it happened.

In fact, I do not know how important a federal government shut down is. On the one hand, if this happened three times before in the last quarter century, it may turn out to be a relatively minor problem; on the other hand, Trump's government, apart from its awfulness, also is - still - rather incomplete.

Here is a bit on the associated blame. Both parties accuse each other:

Even before the vote, Trump was pessimistic, tweeting, “Not looking good” and blaming the Democrats who he said actually wanted the shutdown “to help diminish the success” of the tax bill he and fellow Republicans pushed through last month.

Democrats balked on the measure in an effort to pressure on the White House to cut a deal to protect “dreamer” immigrants — who were brought to the country as children and are now here illegally — before their legal protection runs out in March.

And this is on the last time this happened:

A shutdown would be the first since 2013, when tea party Republicans — in a strategy not unlike the one Schumer is employing now — sought to use a must-pass funding bill to try to force then-President Barack Obama to delay implementation of his marquee health care law. At the time, Trump told Fox & Friends that the ultimate blame for a shutdown lies at the top. “I really think the pressure is on the president,” he said.

This is a recommended article, and there is also more on the shut down below.

3. Powerhouse Commission Ponders Reeling In Facebook and Google Before It's Too Late

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. It starts as follows:
Everywhere you look, high tech is in somebody’s bullseye. Take Apple. On the inside, top investors are worried about its products’ effects on children. On the outside, liberal activists are grousing about its offshore billions it can now bring home under GOP tax reform. Even usually anti-regulation conservatives at the National Review are asking why Big Tech isn’t regulated like Big Oil or Big Tobacco.

These examples, all recently in the news, confirm the trend but skim the surface. New national polling has found public opinion is shifting from a warm embrace to growing skepticism. It’s not just the way so-called fake news on social media had a role in recent elections in the U.S. and led to congressional inquiries. And it's not just calls for federal anti-trust actions aimed at the most popular information curators, Facebook and Google.

Beyond these dots that attest to a backlash is understanding what’s really going on below the screens and in the minds of Facebook’s 2 billion users and Google-owned YouTube’s 1.5 billion users. There is a new phrase describing this sphere of human activity, the technology behind it and its effects. What’s being called the attention economy is coming under new scrutiny because it's seen as undermining the journalism profession as well as trust in public institutions and democracy.
I think all of this is quite warranted (and indeed I also think that the sooner Facebook is closed the better it is for everybody except Mark Zuckerberg), but I do not think much will happen legally, and that for three reasons:

(1) "the law" is and has been very slow (or absent) in setting up good laws to rule the corporations (that now have more members than any country has), indeed in part because computing is difficult and is not a field for most lawyers;
(2) most of law at present is in the hands of corporatist deregulators, who are even more for any deregulation that allows the few rich to exploit the many non-rich than was the case the last 17 years; and
(3) the powers of Facebook and Google, like the money they make for their owners, are enormous.

Here is more on what Rosenfeld called "
the attention economy", which seems to me to be a euphemism for what might be better called the manipulative economy:
“We come here in friendship,” said Anthony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, co-chair of the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, at Stanford University this week. The panel was created last fall to try to fix the attention economy’s biggest problems, which also include the way Google search and Facebook have demoted the visibility of independent media, under the guise of fighting fake news.

Marx’s comments elicited nervous laughter, because he had just presided over a panel that laid out in vivid and disturbing detail how Silicon Valley’s best minds have created brain-tracking, brain-mimicking and brain-triggering computational formulas. These algorithms have turned billions of digital device users into information addicts—and when put at the service of supercomputers, targeting online advertising or content placement, they have fractured society as never before.
I think this is also quite warranted, although I think three things (at least) intersected here:
(i) the brain-manipulating secret programs that are made by workers of Facebook and Google;
(ii) the general lack of good laws that regulate computing; and
(iii) the lacks of knowledge and understanding of computation and the very many abuses that computers connected to the internet may cause in the great majority of internet users.

Here is more on the attention economy:
One of the most outspoken explainers and critics was Tristan Harris, a former “design ethicist” at Google—his company was acquired by it in 2011—who now runs a non-profit, Time Well Spent, which seeks to improve Big Tech’s impact on society. What this under-40, ex-CEO said was as stunning as what looked like a blasť reaction from his industry colleagues.

Harris said the attention economy, or the media on everyone’s smartphones and computers, is not just the endless marketing we all see. There’s a deeper reason why many established news sources can be supplanted by shadowy propaganda on major platforms, why facts can be outrun by opinions and lies, and why narrower tribal loyalties can usurp democratic institutions.   

Harris pointed the finger of blame at the heart and circulatory system of Silicon Valley. Its artificial intelligence algorithms are designed to trigger brain responses and be addictive, he said. They power a business model loosely called online advertising, but that is a superstructure that cashes in by targeting and provoking shared interests, via curated content.
In fact, while I think that Harris is probably quite correct in maintaining that the - secret - programs of the Big Tech are explicitly and quite consciously tapping into addictive behavior, I also think that the main point is less the addictions these cause as the general principle that all of Big Tech use "a business model loosely called online advertising, but that is a superstructure that cashes in by targeting and provoking shared interests, via curated content".

That is also why I spoke of the manipulative economy, rather than the attention economy: It may happen by manipulating your attention, but the point is that it is manipulation, and indeed manipulation calculated to deliver the most profits to advertisers.

Here is more:
As my colleague Roger McNamee, who is [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg’s mentor likes to say, there’s 2 billion people who use Facebook, that’s more than the number of followers of Christianity; 1.5 billion people use YouTube, that’s about the number of followers of Islam. These products have more influence over our daily thoughts than many religions and certainly more than any government.”
Quite so - and note that whereas there are enormously complicated social and religious structures to guide Christians and Islamists, that involve millions upon millions of people, Facebook and Google are private companies run by private persons - who each must have at least as much power, or more, than the leaders of the Christians and the Islamists.

And nearly all they want and all they do are corporate secrets, as are the programs their menials design to manipulate their users.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
“We’re a species that…can study our own ability to be manipulated,” he said. “We have to talk about the advertising-based business model, which, paired with artificial intelligence, poses an existential threat. We have to get really serious about this. If you think about where are the most powerful AIs in the world located right now? Arguably, at two companies: Google and Facebook. The most powerful AIs in the world.

“Instead of pointing them at a challenge like climate change, and saying, let’s solve that, or pointing it at drug discovery for cancer, and saying, let’s solve that, we have pointed the most powerful AI supercomputers in the world at your brain. And we basically said, play chess against this brain and figure out what will engage it the best. And so every time we open up a news feed, we’re playing chess against a supercomputer that’s designed to see 50 million steps ahead on the chessboard of your mind, and figure out what will perfectly engage you.” 
Yes indeed: Google and Facebook have the most powerful AIs in the world, and they use them essentially to manipulate billions of users to make them buy what they advertise, and to deceive and manipulate them.

Unfortunately, I think most of "the law" in the current USA is on their side, and I do not think - alas, alas - they will change a lot without them being legally forced to, which these days very probably will not happen.

This is a recommended article, in which there is considerably more than I reviewed.

4. Government Shutdown: What’s Closed, Who’s Affected

This article is by Richard Lardner on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:
Thousands of federal employees began their weekends gripped with doubt, uncertain of when they’ll be able to return to work and how long they’ll have to go without being paid after a bitter political dispute in Washington triggered a government shutdown.

Many government operations will continue — U.S. troops will stay at their posts and mail will get delivered. But almost half the 2 million civilian federal workers will be barred from doing their jobs if the shutdown extends into Monday.

This relates to item 1 above. It is here because this is a good article that does explain quite clearly what's closed and who's affected. It is a recommended article, that I further leave to the readers' interests.

5. How Uncle Sam Launders Marijuana Money

This article is by Ellen Brown on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Thirty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. The herb has been shown to have significant therapeutic value for a wide range of medical conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, lung disease, anxiety, muscle spasms, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis pain. The community of Americans who rely on legal medical marijuana was estimated to be 2.6 million people in 2016 and includes a variety of mainstream constituency groups like veterans, senior citizens, cancer survivors and parents of epileptic children. Unlike patented pharmaceuticals, which are now the leading cause of death from drug overdose, there have been no recorded deaths from marijuana overdose in the U.S. By comparison, alcohol causes 30,000 deaths annually, and prescription drugs taken as directed are estimated to kill 100,000 Americans per year.

Under federal law, however, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance—a “deadly dangerous drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse”—and its possession remains a punishable offense.

Yes indeed.

First a bit about the authoress: I like Ellen Brown. She is an attorney and specializes mostly on economical matters, as in fact also happens in the present article, since she is considering the laundering of marijuana money that happens by the U.S. government.

I have reviewed several of her earlier articles, and will partially review the present article, in fact because it is a bit long, though interesting.

And second, a bit about marijuana, about which I know a fair amount, mostly because I have been living most of the last 50 years in Amsterdam, Holland, which for the last 50 years also has been remarkably tolerant of the consumption of marijuana.

This did not happen for the above mentioned health reasons, but because the police force wasn't strong enough to maintain these laws (already in 1970: see my autobiography if you read Dutch: here) and also because it was already in 1970 quite obvious that there had been no recorded deaths from marijuana overdose then, and I think this has remained so since 1970 (till 2018).

Incidentally, the remarkable tolerance about marijuana has not been translated into legal actions: The consumption of marijuana, although it is tolerated by the authorities, still is legally forbidden since 1965, while the dealings in marijuana have been the subject of extremely strange political and financial manipulations that started with mayor Ed van Thijn in Amsterdam, who chose against legalization in 1988, and instead chose for protecting the illegal dealers; and giving them "the right" to deal publicly in soft drugs while soft drugs are and remain legally forbidden.

One can reason a lot about this, and I have been one of its victims, because Van Thijn gave his criminal drugsdealing friends - who dealt both in marijuana and in heroin and cocaine - his "personal permission" in writing to deal from the bottom floor of the house where I lived in 1988, and then consented that these criminals gassed me, threatened to murder me, and forced me, in conjunction with much illegal and criminal help from bureaucrats that worked for the City of Amsterdam (see here if you read Dutch: it has all been well documented by me, even though hardly any Dutchman cares to read it), to live for 3 1/2 years above murderous dealers in soft and hard drugs, who threatened to kill me and had gassed me in 1988.

I think mayor Ed van Thijn did what he did because he - and later other mayors - profited a great amount from his policies: Some 10 billion euros are turned over in Holland each year merely in marijuana (see here, if you read Dutch), and much more if the other illegal drugs are also counted, and I think part of these yearly billions disappears since 1988 into the pockets of the mayors and their lawyers who provided the illegal "personal permissions" to criminal dealers to commit their crimes for profit in public.

Also, I have no strict proof of the above. I merely had to live for 3 1/2 years above obvious dangerous drugs criminals who had gassed me and who threatened to murder me, and I have all the time informed the bureaucrats of the City of Amsterdam what happened in their names: It amused them a lot, and for all they cared, the sooner I would die, the better it would be for everyone but me.

But if you think that politicians who decide to give personal permissions to deal in illegal drugs do so because they are worried that the Dutch cannot get their drugs easily enough, and have no interests whatsoever to get part of the 10 - 50 billion euros that are and have been turned over each year in illegal drugs sold from Dutch territory, you are welcome.

Back to Ellen Brown's article. This is on the money laundering that happens in the USA:

As explained by Dr. Richard Rahn, author of “The End of Money and the Struggle for Financial Privacy”:

Money laundering is generally understood to be the practice of taking ill-gotten gains and moving them through a sequence of bank accounts so they ultimately look like the profits from legitimate activity. Institutions, individuals, and even governments who are believed to be aiding and abetting the practice of money laundering can be indicted and convicted, even though they may be completely unaware that the money being transferred with their help was of criminal origin.

The law has focused on banks, but all sorts of businesses accept money without asking where it came from or being required to report “suspicious activity.” As Rahn observes, even governments can be indicted for and convicted of money laundering. Strictly construed (as Sessions insists when interpreting the law), that means the U.S. government itself could be indicted.

As I explained, the same sort of laws operate in Holland - and the Dutch government, the Dutch cities and the Dutch mayors know very well that they are and have been laundering the money from the drugs dealers they personally protect.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

In fact, the U.S. government is the largest launderer of marijuana cash in the nation. The IRS accepts this tainted money in the payment of taxes, turning it into “clean” money; and it is not an unwitting accomplice to the crime. Estimates are that marijuana business owners across the U.S. will owe $2.8 billion in taxes to the federal government in 2018.

The government makes a massive profit off the deal, snatching up to 70 percent of the proceeds of the reporting businesses, as opposed to the more typical rate of 30 percent. It does this by branding marijuana businesses criminal enterprises, which are not entitled to deduct their costs when reporting their income.

This is not only a clear case of the unequal protection of the laws but is a clear admission by the government that it is knowingly accepting illegal funds. The government is a principal beneficiary of a business the government itself has made illegal.

As I explained, I do not know how the Dutch mayors, the Dutch politicians, and the Dutch bureaucrats get their share from the more than 300 billions euros merely in soft drugs that have been illegally but freely (that is: with "personal permission" of the mayors) dealt in Holland and from Holland to the rest of Europe.

And please mark that 300 billion euros (slightly more in dollars) (i) is over the last 30 years, but (ii) also is a fraction of the much larger amounts in hard drugs that are also dealt illegally in and from Holland, with protections from all manner of Dutch mayors, against unknown and illegal profits for them or for their lawyers (<- she has been protecting the illegal dealers in illegal drugs for thirty years now - and was knighted for her services) or for their bureaucrats.

I do believe that when great amounts of illegal money are involved some people profit a whole lot, in secret. In Holland, the systematic illegal profiting from drugs has been systematized by Van Thijn and others, and has been in service for 30 years now.

There is considerably more in Ellen Brown's article - and please also keep in mind that the laws in the USA are now considerably freer in most states than the Dutch drugs laws.

And this is a recommended article.


[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 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 (!!). 

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