February 18, 2018

Crisis:  Wikileaks, Classified Intelligence, Paranoid USA, Mueller, America's Meaning


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 18, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Sunday, February 18, 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 18, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Assange Denies That WikiLeaks Backed the GOP in 2016
2. Who's in Charge of the Classified Intelligence About Trump? Trump. It's
     a Problem

3. A Paranoid America Is Greatly Exaggerating Russian Power
4. Anti-Trumpists Use Mueller Indictments to Escalate Tensions With
     Nuclear-Armed Russia

5. The Meaning of America
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. Assange Denies That WikiLeaks Backed the GOP in 2016

This article is by Emily Wells on Truthdig. It starts like this:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has rejected contentions by The Intercept that he supported the Republican party during the 2016 presidential election in a series of tweets.

The report from The Intercept is based on 11,000 messages in a private Twitter chat group of WikiLeaks’ loyal supporters that were turned over by a longtime supporter of Assange known only as Hazelpress. The messages were sent to The Intercept after the WikiLeaks Twitter account, believed to be run by Assange, made what Hazelpress considered anti-Sem[i]tic remarks about an Associated Press reporter. Also included were messages about why WikiLeaks allegedly wanted the Republican Party to win the 2016 presidential election.

The Intercept writes that the messages provide an “unfiltered window into WikiLeaks’ political goals before it dove into the white-hot center of the presidential election” and that they “reveal a running theme of sexism and misogyny, contain hints of anti-Semitism, and underline Assange’s well-documented obsession with his public image.”

The article also contends that “Assange’s thinking appeared to be rooted not in ideological agreement with the right wing in the US, but in the tactical idea that a Republican president would face more resistance to an aggressive military posture than an interventionist President Hillary Clinton would.”

I say. I first thought that I had reviewed the article Wells refers to, but I had not.

Well... one of the major problems I have now that surveillance by the secret services and by the richest of corporate frauds, liars, and propagandists seem to be the only valid norm there is to determine who speaks the truth and who lies, is to make out who lies in this case.

And I do not know, but I do know I am not going to admit very partial knowledge by a completely anonymous person ("Hazelpress") to make up my mind, and especially not after I have been told that Wikileaks' Twitter account is (bolding added) "believed to be run by Assange" while the opinions of the utterly anonymous Hazelpress about what he or she "considered anti-Sem[i]tic" remarks" seem hardly valid to me. (The writing mistake is in the original and was corrected by me. Also, I should add that having had experiences with wholly anonymous sadists and fascists, I thoroughly dislike anonymous that is: intentionally irresponsible people.)

I am sorry. Here is some more by Assange:

Assange has taken to Twitter to deny that WikiLeaks keeps such messages and says he cannot confirm any messages from a supporter group. He also disparaged the article for failing to carry out “basic fact checking” to realize that the WikiLeaks Twitter account is run by rotating staff and pointed out that the “article uses messages from late October 2016 when I infamously had no internet access.” During that time, WikiLeaks was publishing emails from the private account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta, which damaged her presidential quest.

Assange may be right or wrong, and I don't know. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Assange also accused The Intercept’s owner, eBay founder and billionaire Pierre Omidyar, of having a long-running campaign to “neuter Wikileaks.”

Again I have no idea and no evidence, and therefore no conclusion.

2. Who's in Charge of the Classified Intelligence About Trump? Trump. It's a Problem

This article is by Heather Digby Parton on AlterNet and originally on Salon. It starts as follows:
Ever since the House Intelligence Committee voted to release Rep. Devin Nunes' now-legendary "memo," and then sent it up to the White House for presidential permission to declassify it, I've been wondering: How is it possible that the subject of an investigation gets to look at the evidence against him and decide whether or not it sees the light of day? There's no appeal of President Trump's decision in a case like that. He has the ultimate and unquestioned power to do it.
I say. And I should add that - having only a very partial knowledge of the American laws [2] - I do not know that it is correct. If it is - which I tend to believe - I do know the general answer to Parton's problem: The distinction between the executive and the legal functions of any government has NOT been articulated properly in U.S. law.

And my reason is what was said in this first paragraph: Clearly, no defendant should be able to decide what evidence judges will get to make up their mind whether the defendant is guilty.

Here is some more:
From the moment the House Intelligence Committee decided to investigate foreign interference in the 2016 election, Nunes -- who was a member of the Trump transition himself -- has been coordinating with the White House. He was caught red-handed last summer, making an utter fool of himself by holding a press conference in which he pretended to be delivering recently discovered information to the president, which was later revealed to have been provided to him by the White House in a midnight caper worthy of Inspector Clouseau. Nunes then claimed to "recuse" himself from the probe, but although Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is now supposed to be in charge, Nunes remains involved up to his eyeballs, often working in secret and without consultation with the committee. It's extremely likely that he's still coordinating with the White House and sharing information about the case.
Well... all I know is that I neither like nor trust Nunes, nor his memo.

And here is more on the - supposed (?) - rights of the president of the USA:

As Wray told the committee, the president has the right to classify and declassify any information the government produces and there's nothing that says members of Congress cannot provide him with whatever sensitive evidence they turn up that implicates him. Nobody ever expected members of a congressional oversight committee, even those of the president's party, to be so servile that they would willingly give up their own prerogatives in order to protect a president suspected of conspiring with a foreign government.
As I said above, I do not know that Parton, or indeed Wray, is correct, but I do know that if she or Wray is right in legal terms, then the legal terms in the USA have been extremely badly regulated.

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:
[Trump] is the last person on earth who would recuse himself from an investigation into his own conduct. He would consider that to be just plain stupid. If he can declassify sensitive information that makes him look good and keep secret that which could incriminate him, he'll do it without a second thought. He will push the boundaries as far as possible and they are very far indeed. But the problem goes far beyond Donald Trump. The classification system in the Unites States is a mess.

Yes, I agree, although I am not quite convinced that Parton is right in law. But if she is, this is what I expect Trump to do.

3. A Paranoid America Is Greatly Exaggerating Russian Power

This article is by Vijay Prashad on AlterNet. It starts as follows:
Russia stealing an American election? Russia as the great threat? This is the language of paranoia. Russian hackers might have had an impact on the 2016 US election. Putin might indeed have wanted a benevolent US president in the White House. All those things might have been true. But is Russia really a threat to the United States? That part of the story is based on a hallucination.
In fact, I mostly agree with this, indeed since 2016, although I should add (as a psychologist) that "hallucination" is the incorrect term: What Prashad should have said is delusion.

But apart from this, my own feeling is that Prashad is right: Yes, Russia hacked the USA, just as the USA hacked Russia. And yes, perhaps Putin was more sympathetic to having Trump as American president than having Clinton in the same role.

Then again, I do agree with Prashad that everything else I have read about Russia (and that I believe more than not [3]), including the small amounts of dollars that were involved, makes it unlikely that Russia is a major threat to the USA, or indeed did do what the Democrats claim they did ever since loosing the presidential elections.

Here is some more on recent history:
After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia went into what appeared to be terminal decline. Boris Yeltsin, an alcoholic, conducted a coup against the USSR, earned US support and then signed away the wealth of his country to a group of cronies who became known as the Oligarchs. The immense theft destroyed many of the gains of the USSR. Life expectancy rates dropped, as did Russian military power. The immense Russian landscape appeared to be easy prey for financiers from the West and of these new boyars (lords) of Privatization.
Yes, I agree this is a more or less fair summary of what happened, and I also add two things:

First, not only did the Soviet Union collapse: the whole "socialist" or indeed the state-capitalist construction that was mistaken for socialism was also destroyed, and all formerly socialist states that were under the aegis of the Soviet Union became capitalistic.

And second, I quite agree with Prashad that Yeltsin was a very bad leader, whose bad leadership made life much more difficult for nearly all ordinary Russians, which in turn explains the relative popularity of Putin.

Here is more on Russia-as-is:
Russia’s economy has not fully recovered from the hemorrhage that it underwent in the 1990s. Putin’s reign seemed a miracle because energy prices soared during his time in office, allowing Russia to become a major energy exporter to Europe. Putin used that money to do modest repairs to the broken Russian economy, favoring cities over the countryside and business over the working-class. These reforms - tepid as they were - allowed for recovery from the humiliations of the post-Soviet decade. But energy prices are now down. Russia’s economy remains dependent. It is a weakness that it cannot easily overcome.
Yes, I think that is mostly correct as well. Then there is this on military spending in Russia vs. the same in the USA:
It is important to point out that the increase of the US military budget insisted upon by Donald Trump is greater than the total Russian military budget. The new US budget will spend $105 billion more on the military than it did last year, taking US military spending to $716 billion; Russia’s total military spending is $69 billion.
Yes indeed. This article ends as follows:
Neither China nor Russia is making a push to become the global powerhouse. They are merely seeking to rebalance a world order that has – since the end of the Cold War – tilted unhealthily towards the United States.

So is Russia a threat? Is China a threat? The question really is, to whom? They are threats to any assertion of US dominance over the planet. But they are no threat to the United States as such. They are committed to a multi-polar planet: a sensible solution in our very unstable and dangerous times.

I agree, and this is a recommended article.

4. Anti-Trumpists Use Mueller Indictments to Escalate Tensions With Nuclear-Armed Russia

This article is by Caitlin Johnstone on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
U.S. empire loyalists are so close to telling the truth when they babble about “Russian propaganda.” They are openly admitting that it is wrong to use media to manipulate the ways that Americans think and vote. Now all we need is for them to admit that they themselves do this constantly, and we’ll be on the right track.

The word “Russians” is America’s top trend on Twitter at the time of this writing because of a Mueller indictment of 13 alleged members of a Russian troll farm, those nefarious supervillains who posted pictures of puppies and promoted Bernie Sanders to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. election.”

Predictably, no evidence is added to cohesively tie the establishment Russia narrative together with allegations of Russia hacking the Democratic Party and giving their emails to WikiLeaks, meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. at Trump Tower, any shenanigans with well-hydrated Russian prostitutes, or indeed anything tying the troll farm to Trump or the Russian government at all.

The focus instead is on people disguising their identities to troll Americans on social media, which we have now learned constitutes a “conspiracy to defraud the United States.” As Disobedient Media’s Elizabeth Lea Vos rightly points out, it is also behavior that the Hillary Clinton campaign is known to have funded and engaged in extensively.

I mostly agree with Johnstone on Russia, but I disagree with her that the USA will be "on the right track" if only it admits it is also hacking and propagandizing: I agree it is, but there are lots of - mostly bullshit - reasons which may invalidate her conclusion, one of which is the (I admit rather irritating) conviction that born Americans are better persons than people who were not born Americans.

Here is some more:

In response to this underwhelming revelation, Democrats and Never-Trumpers are howling for new Cold War escalations with Russia. This despite the fact that this administration has already killed Russians in Syria, greatly escalated nuclear tensions with Russia, allowed the sale of arms to Ukraine (a move Obama refused for fear of angering Moscow), established a permanent military presence in Syria with the goal of effecting regime change, forced RTSputnik to register as foreign agents, expanded NATO with the addition of Montenegro, assigned Russia hawk Kurt Volker as special representative to Ukraine, shut down a Russian consulate in San Francisco and expelled Russian diplomats as part of continued back-and-forth hostile diplomatic exchanges. and 

We are already at an extremely dangerous point in the ongoing trend of continuous escalations with a country that is armed with thousands of nuclear warheads. And these deranged lunatics want more.

I mostly agree (but do not know about all items in the first paragraph I last quoted). Here is again more:

Congressmen Ted Lieu and Adam Schiff, Senator Bernie Sanders, popular commentators Preet Bharara and Joe Walsh have all joined in the pile-on, along with many, many others, all demanding that the president do more to escalate tensions with Russia even further than he already has.

This is exactly what renowned U.S.-Russian relations expert Stephen Cohen has been warning of: an extremely dangerous mixture of continually escalating Cold War tensions coexisting with hot proxy wars between two nuclear superpowers, with a president facing immense political pressures to keep advancing and never, ever back down. A narcissist in the White House being baited by his political enemies into a game of nuclear “chicken,” without the ability to swerve when necessary.

I think this is also mostly true. Here is Johnstone's conclusion:

Do you see what is happening here? There is never, ever going to be any proof of Trump-Russia collusion, because that has never been what this is about. We’ve talked about this before: America’s unelected power establishment doesn’t care about impeaching Trump, it cares about hobbling Russia in order to prevent the rise of a potential rival superpower in its ally China. All this lunacy makes perfect sense when you realize this

I agree with Johnstone in the sense that I consider it rather unlikely that there will "any proof of Trump-Russia collusion", but I do not know about the rest.

This ends as follows:

Democrats, it is time to stop letting them bait you into calling for even more escalations with a nuclear superpower and start calling for detente instead. Republicans, it is time for you to stop putting partisan politics ahead of the survival of our species and start pushing against these dangerous escalations that your president has been playing right along with. These escalations are extremely dangerous and getting ever more so, and in the name of all that is holy I implore you to stop before the unthinkable happens.

On my knees I beg you all to stop this madness, for the sake of my children and yours. You lunatics on both sides of the political divide are going to get us all killed. In God’s name, stop. Please.

Well... I don't think this will work.

5. The Meaning of America

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

When Trump and his followers refer to “America,” what do they mean?

Some see a country of white English-speaking Christians.

Others want a land inhabited by self-seeking individuals free to accumulate as much money and power as possible, who pay taxes only to protect their assets from criminals and foreign aggressors.

Others think mainly about flags, national anthems, pledges of allegiance, military parades, and secure borders. 

Trump encourages a combination of all three – tribalism, libertarianism, and loyalty.

Yes, I more or less agree - and I add also that Trump got over 60 million votes, which is relevant for the next bit that I quote:

But the core of our national identity has not been any of this. It has been found in the ideals we share – political equality, equal opportunity, freedom of speech and of the press, a dedication to open inquiry and truth, and to democracy and the rule of law. 

We are not a race. We are not a creed. We are a conviction – that all people are created equal, that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, and that government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Well... I think I should add that - at least as the situation seems to be now - all of this is true only for a rather small and rather well-educated minority of Americans.

Also, I do not think that what I think and what Reich thinks are very similar. Quite possibly the reason is personal, and I am a philosopher and a psychologist, and Reich is neither (though he is quite intelligent and quite well-educated).

In any case, here is my kind of reasoning:

The ideals that many - indeed probably (still) most - Americans rely on in order to judge their own country, are fundamental philosophical ideals that emerged with the Enlightenment. I do understand them, because I have studied philosophy for fifty years (at least), which in turn made me read most of the philosophers that Franklin, Jefferson and others also read.

Reading so much philosophy also convinced me that extremely few individuals in my time read as much as I have, for which reasons most of those who agree with Reich are not so much convinced by the real philosophy, but are usually convinced by ideologies derived from them.

This may be a pity but is unavoidable, if only because of reasons of time and intelligence. If you ask me how many Americans correspond to these distinctions, I must guess, but my guesses are more or less fact-based: I think between 1 and 5% of all American adults has read a fair amount of philosophy (mostly in books); between 5 and 25% has read a fair amount of the corresponding ideologies (mostly in papers or journals); and about 75% of all Americans has read neither.

And you may well ask in what class the - say - 75% of all adult Americans fall, of whom it can be rather safely concluded that they hardly ever read any philosopher; that few of them have taken the trouble to more or less understand the foundational ideologies on which the USA has been based; and that - consequently - most adult Americans simply have no rational ideas about politics, government, welfare, laws, taxes or civilization, at least not in so far as these are based on a rational knowledge of the foundations of these items.

What shall we call the - say - 75%? I'd say: stupid or ignorant.

Here is more by Reich on the common good:

The idea of a common good was once widely understood and accepted in America. After all, the U.S. Constitution was designed for “We the people” seeking to “promote the general welfare” – not for “me the narcissist seeking as much wealth and power as possible.” 

Yet the common good seems to have disappeared. The phrase is rarely uttered today, not even by commencement speakers and politicians.

Yes, I agree with this, and I also add that notions like "the common good" have been washed (so to speak) quite intentionally from the stuff that ordinary people do read, and that this washing of the public propaganda to fit the ideals of the rich has been going on ever since Reagan, and probably before him as well.

Here is Reich's conclusion:

This unbridled selfishness, this contempt for the public, this win-at-any-cost mentality, is eroding America.

Without binding notions about right and wrong, only the most unscrupulous get ahead. When it’s all about winning, only the most unprincipled succeed. This is not a society. It’s not even a civilization, because there’s no civility at its core.

I agree, I am sorry to say.

And my own conclusion is that civilization and civility have been mostly replaced by a combination of stupidity, ignorance and totalitarianism that seems little different from barbarism, indeed not because it is - now - barbarism, but because the majority that spreads these ideas, who seem to be nearly all anonymous as well, simply lacks the intelligence and the knowledge to make rational and reasonable distinctions between barbarism and the foundations of their own civilization (if that term is still correct).

It is very sad, but seems to be a fact.


[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 (!!).

[2] This is quite true, but I am Dutch. Besides, I did read all of the - admirable and interesting - Federalist Papers and I have read some of the American laws, but that is about it. Then again, I should add that I know a bit (but not much) more about the Dutch laws, and considerably less about its foundations, because these are far more murky than for the American laws.

[3] In fact, one of the differences between myself and most people is that I try to make the opinions I have the most probable. In fact, this is or least should be what is taught in the methodologies of the various (real) sciences, but I think I am quite correct if I say that most academics do not have a good understanding of probability, statistics, their foundations, and what use these may be put to.

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