March 14, 2018

Crisis: Exit Tillerson, Torturer Haspels, Senate Democrats, TSA Practices, Some Philosophy


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 14, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, March 14, 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 March 14, 2018
1. Trump Replaces Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo
2. Jeremy Scahill: Gina Haspel Ran Secret Torture Black Site
3. Senate Democrats Are Just Openly Antagonizing Their Progressive Base

4. ACLU Demands Answers on a Disturbing New TSA Practice
5. The Consciousness Deniers
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. Trump Replaces Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and said he will replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Trump announced the news on Twitter this morning. He also said CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel will be tapped to succeed Pompeo at the CIA. Both would need to be confirmed by the Senate. If confirmed, Gina Haspel will become the first woman to head the CIA.

Gina Haspel was directly involved in the CIA’s torture program under the George W. Bush administration. She was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand where prisoners were waterboarded and tortured. We air President Trump’s remarks and highlights from Democracy Now! coverage on Pompeo and Haspel.

Yes indeed.

I also have ¨an admission¨ (so to speak): I took this file and the next from Democracy Now! after I had made other selections about these subjects - essentially: Pompeo and Haspel - and found that the present selections, although perhaps outdated in some respects, are better than the original selections (according to my values).

Here is Scahill on Mike Pompeo:
AMY GOODMAN: (..) Democracy Now! spoke to Jeremy Scahill about Mike Pompeo in November of 2016, soon after the election of President Trump. (..)

JEREMY SCAHILL: What I think we’re going to see with someone like Mike Pompeo, if he ends up being the CIA director, first of all, just on a side note that relates to the work we do at The Intercept, Pompeo basically has said that he thinks Edward Snowden should be killed and that he is a treasonous traitor and that he supports domestic surveillance operations, including against American citizens. He has a very strong anti-civil liberties background. And that’s why he’s getting praise from people like General Michael Hayden and others. Democrats also are speaking positively about him. He’s another adult in the room, Juan, like we were talking about Mike Pence.

Yes indeed, and I hope you get the bitter irony. And while this was originally from November 2016, it does sketch who Pompeo is and what he stands for: Domestic surveillance, anti-civil liberties, and torture.

This is a recommended article.

2. Jeremy Scahill: Gina Haspel Ran Secret Torture Black Site

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

Update on 3/13/18: President Trump today nominated Gina Haspel to become CIA Director. This segment first aired on 2/3/17.

President Trump has selected Gina Haspel to be the new deputy director of the CIA. The Intercept reports Gina Haspel was directly involved in the CIA’s torture program under the George W. Bush administration. She was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand where prisoners were waterboarded and tortured. The Intercept also reports Haspel played a role in the 2005 destruction of two interrogation videotapes that depicted the torture of prisoners. We speak with journalist Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, which reported on Haspel’s record at the CIA.

Yes indeed - and see my introduction to the previous selection. Here is Jeremy Scahill on Gina Haspel:

AMY GOODMAN: (..) Last year, I spoke with investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept about Gina Haspel’s record.

JEREMY SCAHILL: She was one of the people that ran a CIA black site where prisoners were mercilessly tortured, waterboarded, etc. And she, we understand, was the agent who led the destruction of the CIA torture tapes at the direction of the main torture ringleader, Jose Rodriguez, at the Central Intelligence Agency. That is the person who now is going to be the number two at Donald Trump’s CIA. And Susan Rice, Obama’s ambassador to the U.N., and all these other Democrats are up in arms because a Republican was bragging about her being, you know, the first woman to be named to such a high position, and that, in fact, Obama had also named a woman to a high position in the CIA. The objection is not the black site, not the torture, not the destruction of tapes, but that there was gender equality somehow under Obama, and now Trump has picked this woman. I mean, that’s the state where we’re at now in our discussion about these policies. The fact is that Trump’s administration: Islamophobes, billionaires, bigots and torture lovers.
Yes indeed. And to be sure: This dates back to February of last year. But it is quite relevant about the question: What type of persons rise in the present CIA? And it seems the type comprises ¨merciless¨ torturers like Haspels - who now is nominated to be the new head of the CIA, and specifically Because She Is A Woman.

I hope you get the bitter irony. And this is a recommended article.

3. Senate Democrats Are Just Openly Antagonizing Their Progressive Base Now

This article is by Sophia Tesfaye on AlterNet and originally on Salon. It starts as follows:

A dozen Senate Democrats are threatening to torpedo any semblance of a unified economic message from the opposition party ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, trampling over the fiercest progressive voices in the party to do so.

“I don’t think a bill like that is good for anybody in America,” warned Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, referring to a Republican effort to roll back rules meant to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis that struck 10 years ago. Warren is the Senate's strongest consumer protection advocate, elected in 2012 in a crusade against big Wall Street bailouts.

Democrats in the Senate joined the Republican majority to end debate on an amendment to a broad financial deregulation package late Monday, advancing the most significant revision of banking rules since the historic 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

Yes indeed - and for me this Democratic development where the Democrats embrace the rich for money, which I think these Democrats do because they are corrupt, is also the end of any hope or faith in the decency or the rationality or the honesty of the vast majority of the Democrats.

Here is some more:

“Too big to fail,” proponents of the deregulation bill argue, has left community banks “too small to succeed.”

Under the Obama-era regulations, financial institutions with at least $50 billion in assets have to undergo frequent "stress testing" by the Federal Reserve to determine whether they have to enough cash on hand to withstand a sudden shock. The new bill backed by several Senate Democrats would require fewer banks to undergo such scrutiny, raising the minimum criteria of big banks to $250 billion in assets, while changing the annual stress tests to unspecified “periodic” tests to be conducted by Trump-appointed regulators.

If the ¨proponents of the deregulation bill¨ do argue as described, they must be - it would seem to me - three things that few people are: (i) pretty rich already; (ii) extremely greedy for themselves and their rich friends; and (iii) utterly and totally insane or else (iii´) utterly and totally dishonest.

I am sorry, but I cannot see this differently - and this does apply to the Democratic proponents of this utter insanity as well (and see the previous paragraph). There is more in this article, which is recommended.

4. ACLU Demands Answers on a Disturbing New TSA Practice

This article is by Julia Conley on AlterNet and originally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Civil liberty defenders are raising alarm over the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) increasingly common searches of domestic travelers' personal electronic devices, including laptops, tablets, and cell phones.

The TSA announced last October that it would begin using heightened procedures to screen electronics, but the details of how the policy is implemented and how agents decide which travelers can be subjected to a warrantless search of their devices remain "shrouded in secrecy," according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

I say. I did not know this, but I think I can explain it, although I do not know how many will believe me:

Trump is a neofascist (you´ll have to read my definition if you wish to make sense of what I am saying); for many neofascists there are fundamental differences between millionaires and billionaires and other people; these fundamental differences are in fact (for those who believe in them) between those who are entitled to a human treatment and those who are not; and in the present USA everybody who makes less than $60,000 a year may be subjected to almost anything by representatives of the government, including the described neofascism of the TSA, that also is both completely warrantless and "shrouded in secrecy".

At least: That is my explanation. Here is some more:

After receiving numerous complaints from Americans regarding what they say is an invasion of their privacy by the TSA, the ACLU's Northern California chapter filed suit on Monday, demanding information about TSA's procedures and protocols for searching travelers' electronics and equipment used to search or extract data from personal devices.

"TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," said Vasudha Talla, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant."

Yes indeed - and as I said, for me this is plain fascism or neofascism, and it also is completely in contradiction with existing laws and with the Constitution.

There is also this:

The national ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation has also challenged Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) practice of searching the personal electronics of people entering the U.S. at border crossings without probable cause. Thirty-thousand searches were performed by the CBP in 2017, up from 5,000 two years earlier.

Quite so. And this is a strongly recommended article (and namely because I insist that the practices described in the article are fascistic or neofascistic, besides being both illegal and non- Constitutional). 

5. The Consciousness Deniers

This article is by Galen Strawson on The New York Review of Books, and it is not a crisis file.

As regular readers of my sites know, in fact I am a philosopher, at least in terms of the time studied, for I read philosophy - very seriously, also - from 1965 or 1968 till 1988, when I was denied my legal right to take my - brilliant - M.A. in philosophy in an intentional extremely sadistic manner,
namely because I was not a Marxist and was for science and for rationality in a ¨university¨ that for some 80 to 90% was purely political and not scientific or rational at all. [2]

But enough of that. This article starts as follows:

What is the silliest claim ever made? The competition is fierce, but I think the answer is easy. Some people have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience. Next to this denial—I’ll call it “the Denial”—every known religious belief is only a little less sensible than the belief that grass is green.

The Denial began in the twentieth century and continues today in a few pockets of philosophy and psychology and, now, information technology. It had two main causes: the rise of the behaviorist approach in psychology, and the naturalistic approach in philosophy. These were good things in their way, but they spiraled out of control and gave birth to the Great Silliness.
In fact, I do not know what is the silliest claim ever made, but I have read a great amount of philosophy, and many - in fact: a large majority - of the claims made by ¨philosophers¨ do strike me as quite false, and very frequently also as quite silly (and this applies to what ¨philosophers¨ of all kinds have said both in the past, sometimes thousands of years ago, and also in the present).

But I agree with Strawson that the denial of conscious experience is both silly and false, while it also has been made for quite a few decades in recent philosophy.

Here is more on what Strawson calls the Denial:

But before that, I need to comment on what is being denied—consciousness, conscious experience, experience for short.

What is it? Anyone who has ever seen or heard or smelled anything knows what it is; anyone who has ever been in pain, or felt hungry or hot or cold or remorseful, dismayed, uncertain, or sleepy, or has suddenly remembered a missed appointment. All these things involve what are sometimes called “qualia”—that is to say, different types or qualities of conscious experience. What I am calling the Denial is the denial that anyone has ever really had any of these experiences.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that most Deniers deny that they’re Deniers. “Of course, we agree that consciousness or experience exists,” they say—but when they say this they mean something that specifically excludes qualia.

Yes, I think that is mostly correct. There probably are some differences between what Strawson says he means and what I mean by the terms ¨experience¨ and ¨qualia¨, and you can get my senses from the last two links, but I also think that the differences are not important here and now.

There is also this - and I think Strawson is mostly right on this:

One of the strangest things the Deniers say is that although it seems that there is conscious experience, there isn’t really any conscious experience: the seeming is, in fact, an illusion.

Then again, I have to make two qualifications.

The first is that the persons Strawson calls ¨the Deniers¨ tend to be all academic philosophers in the analytic tradition, and while their opinions may be fairly well known, their actual scholarly texts are not often read by non-philosophers (indeed in considerable part because they tend to be quite difficult to read).

The second is that having come as far as this - in fact: all of six paragraphs into the prose of Mr. Strawson - we are already firmly ¨in philosophers´ country¨, so to speak, by which I mean that it are only philosophers (as academics) who make such fundamentally confusing claims about the nature of human experiences  (and many other things).

And while there are some other academic subjects that may be as silly as philosophy - religion, psychiatry and psychology come to mind - I do think - and I got an excellent M.A. in psychology after I was denied the right of taking an M.A. in philosophy - that philosophy is, by and large, the least sensible and the least scientific of all subjects, except perhaps for religion.

Here is Strawson on conscious experience:

When it comes to conscious experience, there’s a rock-bottom sense in which we’re fully acquainted with it just in having it. The having is the knowing. So when people say that consciousness is a mystery, they’re wrong—because we know what it is. It’s the most familiar thing there is—however hard it is to put into words.

What people often mean when they say that consciousness is a mystery is that it’s mysterious how consciousness can be simply a matter of physical goings-on in the brain. But here, they make a Very Large Mistake, in Winnie-the-Pooh’s terminology—the mistake of thinking that we know enough about the physical components of the brain to have good reason to think that these components can’t, on their own, account for the existence of consciousness. We don’t.

Well... yes and no. First of all, while I agree that all living human beings experience, in some sense, I don´t think that many experiences some people do have are easily explained or fully known in any sense.

In fact, put ¨dreams¨ for ¨consciousness¨ in the above, or indeed ¨the specific experiences of other people¨ (who may have quite different talents from the ones we have ourselves), and this becomes quite obvious. (And incidentally: I almost never dream and never had a nightmare - which seems to be somewhat rare.)

But then again, it seems to me Strawson is mostly right in the second paragraph. In my terms:

It is - to me - a quite unproblematic fact that I experience, but a quite problematic question how to explain my experiences, and indeed also your experiences, which I assume you have in a similar form as I have them, but with the added difficulty that I do not have your experiences, while also Strawson is quite correct (and I am speaking here as a psychologist as well) that we make a serious mistake if we assume that ¨we know enough about the physical components of the brain¨ to explain how it makes us experience. We do not or only in extremely rough outline.

Then there is this about naturalism:

Naturalism states that everything that concretely exists is entirely natural; nothing supernatural or otherwise non-natural exists. Given that we know that conscious experience exists, we must as naturalists suppose that it’s wholly natural. And given that we’re specifically materialist or physicalist naturalists (as almost all naturalists are), we must take it that conscious experience is wholly material or physical. And so we should, because it’s beyond reasonable doubt that experience—what W.V. Quine called “experience in all its richness… the heady luxuriance of experience” of color and sound and smell—is wholly a matter of neural goings-on: wholly natural and wholly physical.

I agree and I also am a naturalist. There is also this:

Genuine naturalists, then, are outright realists about consciousness, who accept that they are, in many ways, profoundly ignorant of the fundamental nature of the physical. They understand the respect in which the great naturalistic project, spearheaded by physics, hasn’t decreased our ignorance, but increased it—precisely because of its advances and successes. We don’t understand quantum mechanics, or “dark energy,” or “dark matter,” or a host of other things. So be it.

Well... I agree about naturalists, but not with the idea that modern ¨physics, hasn’t decreased our ignorance, but increased it¨. If there is more physics, there is in a sound sense somewhat less ignorance, although I may agree with Strawson that (i) considerable amounts of physics are uncertain, while (ii) all of physics is quite incomplete (there is a lot more to learn and know). And besides, I also think it is probably not physics that will contribute most to our understandings of how we experience, but medicine or biology.

How could anybody have been led to something so silly as to deny the existence of conscious experience, the only general thing we know for certain exists?

The explanation is as ancient as it is simple. As Cicero says, there is “no statement so absurd that no philosopher will make it.” Descartes agrees, in 1637: “Nothing can be imagined which is too strange or incredible to have been said by some philosopher.” Thomas Reid concurs in 1785: “There is nothing so absurd which some philosophers have not maintained.”

I don´t quite agree with the first paragraph, and specifically not with the thesis that ¨conscious experience¨ is ¨the only general thing we know for certain exists¨, and I give three reasons.

My first reason is that while I agree that I experience, and also that you - if you are alive, not asleep and not drugged - also experience I do not think this is ¨the only general thing we know for certain exists¨. In fact, I think that in a plausible probabilistic sense of knowing things (which accordingly may be mistaken) we know quite a lot more, such as language, logic, and mathe- matics. O, and also nonsense: That exists as well, at least mentally.

My second reason is that both the terms ¨we¨ and ¨know¨ (in ¨
we know for certain exists¨) are quite difficult to explain or define in a rational fashion, and there are - at least - considerable differences between what I know about my experiences (whoever is indicated by ¨I¨) and what I know about your experiences, if only because I do not have your experiences (I will assume)

And my third reason is that ¨conscious experience¨ (which I agree you and I have) is quite difficult to explain, especially if we consider terms like ¨I¨, ¨you¨ and ¨we¨. In fact, there are various logics of propositional attitudes, that are about phrases that ¨I know...¨, ¨You believe ...¨, ¨They desire...¨ etc. etc., with ordinary propositions or propositional attitudes on the dots, but there is no widespread agreement on them, and there also are many open problems there.

The second paragraph is quite true (and ought to be wholly non-surprising for any intelligent person).

And here is Strawson´s ending:

Very well, but how is it possible to deny the existence of consciousness? Russell thinks it’s the fault of philosophy. There are things that “only philosophers with a long training in absurdity could succeed in believing.” But it isn’t just philosophers, as Mark Twain notes: “There isn’t anything so grotesque or so incredible that the average human being can’t believe it.”

This is how philosophers in the twentieth century came to endorse the Denial, the silliest view ever held in the history of human thought.

In fact, I agree more with Russell (who was an academically trained philosopher) than with Twain, indeed not because Twain is wrong, but because academically trained philosophers are academically trained in what must be for the most part absurdities and uncertanties, and most of these philosophical absurdities and uncertainties are not shared by non-philosophers.

Also - as I explained - I do not quite agree with Strawson that this is ¨the silliest view ever held¨ (What about the denial of logic? Or the denial of mathematics or physics? Or the insistence that no one exists but oneself? Or the denial there is a past?) but I agree it is quite silly.

And this is a recommended article (though I doubt many will read it, but then it is philosophy).


[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] The background is that in Holland (and this was the only country in the world where this was practised) between 1971 and 1995 the universities were in fact given to the students; many students were very leftist or communist between 1971 and 1984, and after that postmodernists; the Dutch university system was changed in these years to a system in which the University Parliament had the supreme power as the Parliament in the nation, with the Board of Directors as government; all faculties also had parliaments, rather like the cities in Holland; and there were elections for both parliaments each and every year, in which every student, every secretary, every toilet cleaner, every lecturer, and every professor all had 1 vote, which meant that the students and their parties had the absolute majority, always, which in Amsterdam (and Nijmegen and Tilburg) was until 1984 in the hands of com- munist students, that is, members of the Dutch Communist Party (as was admitted from 1991 onwards, by former communists).

This is the background of all Dutch ¨universities¨ between 1971 and 1995 - but at present, after the full authoritarian structure was reimposed in 1995 (when all parliaments totally disappeared, as did the say of any student), the ¨University¨ of Amsterdam seems to pretend that the years 1971-1995 simply did not exist.

In fact, between 1971 and 1995, the largest parts of each and every Dutch university was wholly destroyed for real science.

The average IQ in the University of Amsterdam was 115 in 1984, and is probably around 100 at present - but anybody with sufficient money can make some degree, even if with an IQ of 100, all as Tony Blair wanted it, for the non-rich.

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