February 11, 2018

Crisis:  The Republicans, Higher Education, Facebook & Youtube, NSA Agents, China


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 11, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, February 11, 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 February 11, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. The Republicans Have Become the Party of Debt
2. The Price of Higher Education
3. Sorry, Russia Is Not the Biggest Threat to Our Elections—Facebook and
     YouTube Are

4. NSA Agents Reportedly Paid Russian Operative $100K for ‘Golden
     Showers’ Intel on Trump

5. What Does China's 'Ecological Civilization' Mean for Humanity's Future?
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 Republicans Have Become the Party of Debt

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

So much for all that sanctimony about fiscal responsibility. Forever and always, it can now be said that Republican lawmakers care about the federal deficit only when they want to use it to bash Democratic presidents.

After embracing $1.5 trillion in debt by slashing taxes on corporations and wealthy families in December, the Republican leaders in Congress pushed through a two-year budget deal on Friday that will increase spending by nearly $400 billion. While a lot of that money will be spent on important priorities like disaster relief, infrastructure and education, a big chunk of it will go to an excessive and unnecessary military buildup. Contrast this with the parsimony Republican lawmakers displayed in 2011 when they refused to raise the federal debt limit until President Barack Obama agreed to deep cuts to government programs.

“If you were against President Obama’s deficits, and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” Senator Rand Paul said as he held up passage of the budget bill for a few hours — perhaps until he realized that the definition fit him, too, since he had voted for the tax cuts that will blow up the deficit.

Well... yes and no.

Yes, I dislike the Republicans; I think they are dishonest; and I think they are mostly enriching themselves and the rich. And yes, I agree that the behavior of the Republicans towards the deficit only benefits the present Republicans and the present rich, and not the United States.

But no, someone who says they believe that it can now be said of the Republicans (and I quote and added the bolding) that they "[f]orever and always" only care about the federal deficit "when they want to use it to bash Democratic presidents" either is quite dishonest or quite stupid:
There are too many Senators and House members who are new, and anyway the memory of the great majority of "the American public" is simply too bad.

That is simply not realistic: it generalizes to "forever and always" what should have been restricted to the current five or ten years.

Here is some more on deficit spending:

Deficit spending can be an indispensable tool — to revive an ailing economy, invest in productive infrastructure, rebuild after natural disasters and pay for unavoidable wars. And it was vital for the government to run large deficits after the financial crisis, when the country was tumbling into the worst recession since the Depression.

But the Republican leaders who opposed stimulus spending in 2011 and 2012, when many Americans were struggling to find jobs and the economy was in the doldrums, are now making the absurd argument that the government ought to do more to fuel the economy at a time when the unemployment rate is about half what it was back then and corporate profits have soared.

This argument seems mostly correct to me. Then again, there are very good reasons why the American government ought to spend money and on what:

Dilapidated roads, bridges, railways and water systems need to be upgraded and repaired. Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida still need help recovering from last year’s hurricanes and making themselves more resilient to future storms. Lawmakers also must spend more to end the opioid epidemic and increase access to substance abuse treatment. The budget bill only partly addresses many of these and other needs.

But much of this does not happen. Instead, the Trumpian government spent its money on the military rather than on the USA's collapsing infrastructure:

But the deal Mr. Trump approved on Friday also includes a $165 billion increase in military spending over two years, more than the Trump administration had even requested. Military spending will jump to $716 billion in 2019, from $634 billion in 2017. In inflation-adjusted terms, that would put the Pentagon’s budget well above the Reagan buildup of the 1980s and nearly as high as in 2010 — the peak of military spending since World War II — when more than 200,000 troops were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even before this latest increase, the Pentagon’s budget exceeded the combined military spending of the next eight biggest defense spenders globally — a list that includes Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and India.

Yes indeed. And my own two inferences from this enormous spending on the USA's military is that (i) Trump seems to anticipate or desire a major war, which (ii) will very probably destroy most or all of the human world.

2. The Price of Higher Education

This article is by Julian Vigo on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
I have been in academia since the mid 1980s—first as a student, then as a university professor. I have seen higher education shift radically over the past three decades: from being a place of learning where intellectual debate, particularly in the humanities, was based on a direct engagement with texts and cultural artifacts, to today, where it is the site of emotional and moral exorcisms and where many humanities departments now discourage reading.
I did not know that "many humanities departments" - in the USA - "now discourage reading" but - if so - I am not amazed. In fact, I can copy most of the above paragraph:

I have been in academia since the mid 1970s—first as a student, then as somebody denied his - excellent - M.A. in philosophy because I was not a Marxist, who also has since then - 1988 - been put on the rubbish heap by the Dutch (where it helped a lot that I am ill since 1.i.1979: I could and would have left Holland in 1980 at the latest if I had not been ill.) And indeed I have seen higher education shift radically over the past five decades: from being a place of learning where intellectual debate, particularly in the humanities, was based on a direct engagement with texts and cultural artifacts, to today, where it is the site of emotional and moral exorcisms, as indeed was my exorcism from the "University" of Amsterdam.

What's more, I had to wait more than twenty years before I read one single man who agreed mostly with me on what had been happening (in Holland) since 1965, and that was Allan Bloom, with his
"The Closing of the American Mind - How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students."

Then it was 1989 (!!) - and I had left school in 1967 because it was (already then!) "fit for morons only", as I put it, also in 1967.

Besides, in these nearly twentyfive years from 1965 till 1989 I was known to and read by very many academics and students of the "University" of Amsterdam, but until 1989 absolutely no one had the least interest in hearing me, and very strong interest in shutting me out or killing me (and I was told in 1989, as if it were nothing, that "most lecturers and professors" of psychology "like to see you dead", and that not because I had offended them, which indeed I had not, but because I had dared to criticize them, in public.

Also, from 1965 till 2018 - 53 years - I have had no support of any Dutch academic whatsoever, except for one professor, and he was good enough to become a professor in the USA, in a first-class university, and did so and remigrated with his family, meanwhile also many years ago.

Finally, I should like to point out to you that my program for the Dutch universities was not radical at all (I wanted the intellectual level and the level of education maintained), but I failed among students because I refused to pretend that I was a Marxist, like the vast majority did, and I failed among professors and lecturers because I was honest and more intelligent than those I met:

Of the very many Dutch academics I have known, precisely one was honest (and he was intelligent enough to become a professor at an elite university in the USA). Every other Dutch academic was first and foremost interested in himself or herself, was next most interested in retaining the high salary and the high status they had, and otherwise mostly pretended.

Also, since I am disappointed now for more than 50 years in the truly horrible - but hardly ever commented (!!) - levels of education in Holland, here is my judgement on the vast majority of Dutch academics:

If I had been a Marxist in 1977-1980, my - real - Marxist father and my - real - Marxist grandfather would have been idolized in the "University" of Amsterdam as if they had been true heroes, which indeed they were, because both were arrested in August of 1941 by the Nazis, having been betrayed by some Dutchman, and were convicted, as "political terrorists" to concentration camp punishment, which my grandfather did not survive.

Well, compared to my - knighted - father and grandfather all but a very small handful of the Dutch academics I have met or known about over the last 50 years were sadofascists, liars, or - at least - complete moral degenerates with only one true value: egoism, and besides, I have not seen in the last 50 years as many as one real Dutch genius (which also is the reason nearly all Dutch academics remain in Holland all their lives: they are not really competent).

Anyway... back to Julian Vigo:
Not only have curricula and course syllabi been sterilized by this move to banish unpopular ideas from university halls, but much academic rigor has been lost, in part because the focus of higher education is dictated by an increasingly reactive and conservative student body, one which demands safe spaces and which “no-platforms” unpopular speakers and ideas.
So it are the students who are responsible for the shit they get as education?! I am sorry, but each of the academics has both far more power than any student, and also far more responsibility than any student (but it is also true that many have status and a high income).

Here is more Vigo:
And in part, higher education is failing simply because the university has been turned into a job training center. So the insularity of “safe spaces” and “taboo subjects” works quite seamlessly within the larger ethos of training students to enter the employment sector. Likewise, they are not trained to question structures of power, inequality, ethics and so forth. The university system is becoming corporatized even without the tacit consent of its contributors, faculty or students.
No, I am sorry: I started out liking Vigo more than not, but an academic of more than thirty years who tells me that the faculty and the students bear little or no responsibility for the corporatization of the universities is not telling the truth.

Here is the last bit I quote from Vigo:
As a scholar, I am concerned by what is a fundamentally capitalist approach to higher education today that seeks to sell students an entry pass into the job market while depriving them of the critical skills that a university degree has historically represented. The issues of increasing rates of tuition and the ethics of student loans are in need of independent scrutiny. But we also need to understand the inextricable links between student loan debt, the decline in learning and the neoliberalism of learning, all of which is producing this decline as well as being a residual factor of the university’s drive to re-create class inequality within its walls.
No, at the very least you are MUCH too late. And since you are about ten years younger than I am, I take it you are nearly pensioned. Do you perhaps want to have a reputation for decency as a pensioned academic? I have no idea, but once again: At the very least you are much too late.

3. Sorry, Russia Is Not the Biggest Threat to Our Elections—Facebook and YouTube Are

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. This is from near its beginning:
“Russia probably realizes, despite what a lot of people in the progressive community and other communities probably think, it’s really hard to change the outcome in a race; to change it [the count] to what they might want to occur,” said a former Justice Department lawyer who now advises state election officials. “That [theft] would require a lot of Americans engaged in an active conspiracy here on the ground; thousands of people.”  

“But for less money and risk, they can get us to do their job for them,” he said. “They can get us to doubt our own election system; to doubt the machinery of American democracy. And they have been enormously successful in that. And I think the NBC piece [this week] is part and parcel of that. When you talk about, hysterically, risks that everyone has known about for nearly a year, and you don’t talk about all the work that’s been done since then, you don’t interview a single election official, you’re basically trying to put people into a state of hysteria about how their vote is not going to count. That’s really damaging. That’s going to undermine our democracy.”

First, Why does "a
former Justice Department lawyer" remain anonymous? I see no reason why a former Justice Department lawyer should remain anonymous, and it certainly makes what he (or she) says considerably more suspicuous.

Second, I have been reading about what I call "Russia-gate" for over two years now, and I have not seen any halfway decent evidence that it is or might be true.

Third, for this reason I am quite willing to accept what seems to be this anonymous
"former Justice Department lawyer" conclusion that Russia probably never did what Hillary Clinton and her mates have been saying since the end of 2016 that they did do.

But fourth, I do not trust an anonymous
"former Justice Department lawyer", and the second paragraph I quoted itself seems complete hysteria to me: There is no decent evidence that Russia did manipulate the American elections by manipulating computers (and mind I am not saying that the Russians don't manipulate computers), and there is even less evidence for what this anonymous "former Justice Department lawyer" claims.

Also, he or she is anonymous, pretends to be against hysteria, but comes with extra-ordinary and quite hysterical claims: Russia - a fully capitalist nation since nearly 30 years (!!) - is now supposed to have gotten the Americans to doubt their own election system, and indeed "
to doubt the machinery of American democracy".

According to me this anonymous
"former Justice Department lawyer" is probably dishonest.

Here is some more (and this is better than an
anonymous "former Justice Department lawyer"):
But back to the bigger picture. Nobody has found any proof that Russia accessed the separate computing systems that tallied 2016 votes, numerous consultants for state election officials and federal authorities have repeatedly told AlterNet. Yet in 2018 we are living in a world where the spread of misinformation reigns, whether it is coming from media seeking greater audiences and ad revenues because suspense and conspiracy sells, or whether it's amplified by Silicon Valley’s giant content curators that have programmed their algorithms to elevate “edgy and hateful content [because it] is engaging,” as an authoritative investigative report in the Guardian put it.

What's clear is who and what is on the losing end of this escalating dynamic: any citizen who believes in the hope of democratic institutions like elections, despite their numerous flaws, from clumsy bureaucratic injuries to partisan betrayals.  
I agree to parts of the first of the above quoted paragraph, but while I agree that "the spread of misinformation reigns" and that this "is coming from media seeking greater audiences and ad revenues because suspense and conspiracy sells", I also like to insist on what absolutely everyone writing in the USA seems to miss consistently and on purpose:

The Americans still choose themselves whom they want to see and to trust, and the majority of all Americans is stupid or ignorant, and for that reason chooses to see and trust liars and propagandists. (In fact, half of the American population is decidedly unintelligent, because half of all Americans - like half of all people - has an IQ below 100.)

And as long as that is missed consistently and on purpose, all discussions about "the American media" are - at least - pretty misleading.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
In today’s world, beyond raising awareness about the dark side of the attention economy, little is being done to substantively counter the reality that propaganda and paranoia are outrunning the facts, reality checks and better, more nuanced, information. Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Youtube might publicly decry the use of their platforms to spread propaganda and fake news, but they are not changing their advertising systems that micro-target and deliver that content and reap them billions every quarter. Meanwhile, shoddy reporting that uses conspiracy theories to generate viewer traffic isn’t helping.
I more or less agree - but I again stress the facts that (i) Americans still choose themselves whom they want to see and to trust, and (ii) half of any population is decidedly unintelligent, but (iii) nearly all of them - in the West, at least - now have a cellphone with which all of them can use Twitter and Facebook.

4. NSA Agents Reportedly Paid Russian Operative $100K for ‘Golden Showers’ Intel on Trump

This article is by Noor Al-Sibai on AlterNet and originally on Raw Story. It starts as follows:

Agents with the National Security Agency and CIA reportedly paid a Russian operative $100,000 for damaging intelligence on President Donald Trump after he took office in 2017.

That intelligence, the New York Times reported Friday evening, included an unverified “15-second clip of a video showing a man in a room talking to two women,” purported to be Trump with two prostitutes in Moscow in 2013. That promised intelligence incident appears to be related to a salacious detail found within the controversial Fusion GPS dossier, which alleged Trump paid two prostitutes to urinate on a bed at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel that former President Barack Obama once slept in.

Intelligence officials said they “saw the information, especially the video, as the stuff of tabloid gossip pages, not intelligence collection.”

I say, which I do this time because this is all extremely vague: "reportedly", "unverified", "purported", and "stuff of tabloid gossip pages".

Part of the reason of this extreme vagueness is that it is "news" from the secret services, but while I more or less agree with the first three of the above four terms, I do not quite agree with the fourth term:

Either the "[i]ntelligence officials" know it very probably is all bullshit anyway, which indeed is quite possible but they do not say, or else - prostitutes urinating on Trump or at least on a bed, paid by Trump - it is is very hot information about the sexual habits of Trump.

And while I agree it probably is the first, simply because Trump must be an utter idiot if he indulges in prostitutes in Russia, we - who are not inside any secret service - are again not given any evidence (beyond the claims it was "unverified" and "purported to be").

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

The Russian operative, the report continues, “claimed the information would link the president and his associates to Russia.” He never provided the NSA hacking weapons, and instead “produced unverified and possibly fabricated information” about Trump that included “bank records, emails and purported Russian intelligence data.”

American officials told the Times on condition of anonymity that the NSA used their official Twitter account, @NSAGov, to communicate in code with the Russian, who was known to the intelligence community for his ties to “Russian intelligence and cyber criminals.”

Well... I think this is all too vague.

5. What Does China's 'Ecological Civilization' Mean for Humanity's Future?

This article is by Jeremy Lent on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Imagine a newly elected President of the United States calling in his inaugural speech for an “ecological civilization” that ensures “harmony between human and nature.”  Now imagine he goes on to declare that “we, as human beings, must respect nature, follow its ways, and protect it” and that his administration will “encourage simple, moderate, green, and low-carbon ways of life, and oppose extravagance and excessive consumption.” Dream on, you might say. Even in the more progressive Western European nations, it’s hard to find a political leader who would make such a stand.

And yet, the leader of the world’s second largest economy, Xi Jinping of China, made these statements and more in his address to the National Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing last October.
Yes indeed - but there are also (at least) three enormous differences between the present China and the rest of the world:

First, China is a very big country with the largest number of inhabitants of the whole world. Second, China has been working extremely hard since around 1980 to become a leading industrial nation, and while it succeeded in doing that, it also destroyed, while doing to, much of nature in and around its cities, which led to very many shortcomings, one of which is the filty air. And third, China is effectively - still - a dictatorship run by the Chinese Communist Party, that led to a society that is much more strict, repressive and authoritarian than the West.

I could say considerably more, but instead summarize the above as follows: China got a whole lot richer since 1980, but it did so at the cost of huge destructions of nature, and it is high time something is done about the destruction of nature.

Here is more about Xi Jinping's plan:
He went on to specify in more detail his plans to “step up efforts to establish a legal and policy framework… that facilitates green, low-carbon, and circular development,” to “promote afforestation,” “strengthen wetland conservation and restoration,” and “take tough steps to stop and punish all activities that damage the environment.” Closing his theme with a flourish, he proclaimed that “what we are doing today” is “to build an ecological civilization that will benefit generations to come.” Transcending parochial boundaries, he declared that his Party’s abiding mission was to “make new and greater contributions to mankind… for both the wellbeing of the Chinese people and human progress.”
Well... I think Xi Jinping does want to do rather a lot to undo the huge destructions of nature that were made the last forty years. But - I think - it should have been added that (i) the huge destructions of nature also were Chinese in origin, and (ii) Xi Jinping is in fact a dictator.

Then again, the Chinese did rather a lot to improve the natural conditions in China:
As a result, China has recently halted previous plans for building more than 150 coal-fired power plants. In electric cars, China is leading the world, selling more each month than Europe and the U.S. combined, with more aggressive quotas on gas-guzzlers than anywhere else in the world, including California. Additionally, China has the world’s most extensive network of high-speed trains, and has already passed laws to promote a circular economy where waste products from industrial processes are recycled into inputs for other processes.
I take it that is all true, but I also do not know how much difference this makes. Then again, the Chinese now do have rather a lot of money:
Astonishingly, China’s GDP is more than fifty times greater than at the time of Mao’s death, the result of a growth rate approaching 10% per year for four decades. This achievement, perhaps the most dramatic economic and social transformation of all time, is bringing China back to the dominant role in global affairs that it held for most of history. Within a decade, China’s GDP is expected to surpass that of the US, making it the world’s largest economy.
Yes indeed. Incidentally, Mao died in 1976, but especially because of the Cultural Revolution he introduced around ten years earlier, the Chinese also were very poor between 1966 and 1976 - but this fact will probably not be stressed by Xi Jinping, who still seems to have the position on Mao that is also about 40 years old: Mao was "3/10th wrong and 7/10th right".

In brief: I like it that Xi Jinping cares for the environment, but I dislike the fact that he is a dictator (and I think the last fact is considerably more important than the first fact). And this is a recommended article in which there is considerably more.


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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