April 19, 2018

Crisis: Internet Apologizes, Trump & War, U.S. Oligarchs, Doomsday, The Kochtopus


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from April 19, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, April 19, 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 April 19, 2018
1. The Internet Apologizes …
2. Unlimited Worldwide War: ACLU Warns Senate Against Giving Trump
     Blank Check to Declare War
3. Who Will Protect Elections From U.S. Oligarchs?

4. Stopping the Doomsday Machine

5. Examining the Kochtopus
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 Internet Apologizes ...

This article is by Noah Kulwin on The New York Magazine. It has a subtitle:
Even those who designed our digital world are aghast at what they created. A breakdown of what went wrong — from the architects who built it.
In fact, this is a very interesting article that I strongly recommend everyone to read (you can download it by clicking on the above title), but it has one setback from the point of view of Nederlog: The article clocks in at 633 Kb - which is about ten times as long as the longest Nederlogs I write.

One of the good things about this - very long - article is that one gets (finally indeed, at least as far as my pretty extensive readings are concerned) the voices and ideas of real computer programmers, who know a whole lot about the internet, and also about the corporations that grew on the net.

But it is very difficult to give a decent review of 633 Kb, and I´ll do this review a bit differently from how I do things normally in Nederlog.

First, here is a summary of the introduction:

Something has gone wrong with the internet. Even Mark Zuckerberg knows it. Testifying before Congress, the Facebook CEO ticked off a list of everything his platform has screwed up, from fake news and foreign meddling in the 2016 election to hate speech and data privacy. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility,” he confessed. Then he added the words that everyone was waiting for: “I’m sorry.”

There have always been outsiders who criticized the tech industry — even if their concerns have been drowned out by the oohs and aahs of consumers, investors, and journalists. But today, the most dire warnings are coming from the heart of Silicon Valley itself. The man who oversaw the creation of the original iPhone believes the device he helped build is too addictive. The inventor of the World Wide Web fears his creation is being “weaponized.” Even Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, has blasted social media as a dangerous form of psychological manipulation. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he lamented recently.

In fact, I do not know whose warnings are the direst, and I also do not care. What matters here and now is that many of the founders of important programs on the internet agree that the internet has become quite different from what they thought between - say - 1995 and 2000 (or considerably later).

One major difference the internet brought was its advertising model:

The advertising model of the internet was different from anything that came before. Whatever you might say about broadcast advertising, it drew you into a kind of community, even if it was a community of consumers. The culture of the social-media era, by contrast, doesn’t draw you anywhere. It meets you exactly where you are, with your preferences and prejudices — at least as best as an algorithm can intuit them. “Microtargeting” is nothing more than a fancy term for social atomization — a business logic that promises community while promoting its opposite.

I hate all advertising since I discovered, by myself, at age 10 or 11, that all advertising is in fact paid lying: it is propaganda biased to make you buy products.

And I still think so - and I hate microtargeted advertising (abusing their knowledge of your values, your ideas, your person, your income, your health, your everything) much more than the - also horrible and usually extremely ugly - broadcast advertising.

Then there is this on what caused quite a few makers of important programs on the internet to recast their ideas (at long last, or so it appears to me):

Why, over the past year, has Silicon Valley begun to regret the foundational elements of its own success? The obvious answer is November 8, 2016. For all that he represented a contravention of its lofty ideals, Donald Trump was elected, in no small part, by the internet itself. Twitter served as his unprecedented direct-mail-style megaphone, Google helped pro-Trump forces target users most susceptible to crass Islamophobia, the digital clubhouses of Reddit and 4chan served as breeding grounds for the alt-right, and Facebook became the weapon of choice for Russian trolls and data-scrapers like Cambridge Analytica. Instead of producing a techno-utopia, the internet suddenly seemed as much a threat to its creator class as it had previously been their herald.

I more or less agree. And here is the conclusion from this introduction:

Silicon Valley, it turns out, won’t save the world. But those who built the internet have provided us with a clear and disturbing account of why everything went so wrong — how the technology they created has been used to undermine the very aspects of a free society that made that technology possible in the first place.

Yes, that seems quite correct, and is very dangerous, simply because the internet has allowed the very few rich and the state´s terrorists who present themselves as ¨national security¨ to know everything about anyone on the internet, and to abuse that knowledge in very many usually totally hidden and secret ways.

Second, the set-up of the article is to present 16 titled steps, all with some comments from several of thirteen prominent persons that were asked to comment because each of them was important as programmer or otherwise on the internet.

What I will do is first present only the titles, simply because they do sketch the development of the internet the last 25 or 26 years, and do so quite well (in my opinion):

Step 1            Start With Hippie Good Intentions …

Step 2            … Then mix in capitalism on steroids.

Step 3            The arrival of Wall Streeters didn’t help …

Step 4             … And we paid a high price for keeping it free.

Step 5             Everything was designed to be really, really addictive.

Step 6             At first, it worked — almost too well.

Step 7             No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable …

Step 8             … Even as social networks became dangerous and toxic.

Step 9             … And even as they invaded our privacy.

Step 10           Then came 2016.

Step 11            Employees are starting to revolt.

Step 12            To fix it, we’ll need a new business model …

Step 13             … And some tough regulation.

Step 15             Maybe nothing will change.

Step 16            … Unless, at the very least, some new people are in charge.

I think that is a fair summary - and I grant that I am a pessimist about the internet:

Either a coming major economical crisis will allow the great majority who are neither states´ terrorists (who call themselves ¨national security¨) nor rich corporatists to destroy most of the internet or else the most probable future is a neofascistic one in which the very few very rich have total control, and the great majority are equivalent to manipulated slaves (if they are so happy as to be allowed a chance to earn something).

From Step 2:
… Then mix in capitalism on steroids.

Lanier: We disrupted absolutely everything: politics, finance, education, media, family relationships, romantic relationships. We won — we just totally won. But having won, we have no sense of balance or modesty or graciousness. We’re still acting as if we’re in trouble and we have to defend ourselves. So we kind of turned into assholes, you know?

Rich Kyanka: Social media was supposed to be about, “Hey, Grandma. How are you?” Now it’s like, “Oh my God, did you see what she wore yesterday? What a fucking cow that bitch is.” Everything is toxic — and that has to do with the internet itself. It was founded to connect people all over the world. But now you can meet people all over the world and then murder them in virtual reality and rape their pets.

From Step 3: The arrival of Wall Streeters didn’t help …

Ethan Zuckerman: Over the last decade, the social-media platforms have been working to make the web almost irrelevant. Facebook would, in many ways, prefer that we didn’t have the internet. They’d prefer that we had Facebook.

García: If email were being invented now and Mark Zuckerberg had concocted it, it would be a vertically integrated, proprietary thing that nobody could build on.

From Step 4: … And we paid a high price for keeping it free.

Lanier: What started out as advertising morphed into continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them. It’s a horrible thing that was foreseen by science-fiction writers. It’s straight out of Philip K. Dick or 1984.

Zuckerman: As soon as you’re saying “I need to put you under surveillance so I can figure out what you want and meet your needs better,” you really have to ask yourself the questions “Am I in the right business? Am I doing this the right way?”
From Step 6: At first, it worked — almost too well.
McNamee: If you go back to the early days of propaganda theory, Edward Bernays had a hypothesis that to implant an idea and make it universally acceptable, you needed to have the same message appearing in every medium all the time for a really long period of time. The notion was it could only be done by a government. Then Facebook came along, and it had this ability to personalize for every single user. Instead of being a broadcast model, it was now 2.2 billion individualized channels. It was the most effective product ever created to revolve around human emotions.
From Step 7: No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable …
Parakilas: In terms of design, companies like Facebook and Twitter have not prioritized features that would protect people against the most malicious cases of abuse. That’s in part because they have no liability when something goes wrong. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was originally envisioned to protect free speech, effectively shields internet companies from the actions of third parties on their platforms. It enables them to not prioritize the features they need to build to protect users.
From Step 9: …And even as they invaded our privacy.
Richard Stallman: What is data privacy? That means that if a company collects data about you, it should somehow protect that data. But I don’t think that’s the issue. The problem is that these companies are collecting data about you, period. We shouldn’t let them do that. The data that is collected will be abused. That’s not an absolute certainty, but it’s a practical extreme likelihood, which is enough to make collection a problem.

Stallman: I never tell stores who I am. I never let them know. I pay cash and only cash for that reason. I don’t care whether it’s a local store or Amazon — no one has a right to keep track of what I buy.
From Step 10:
Harris: A lot of people feel enormously regretful about how this has turned out. I mean, who wants to be part of the system that is sending the world in really dangerous directions? I wasn’t personally responsible for it — I called out the problem early. But everybody in the industry knows we need to do things differently. That kind of conscience is weighing on everybody. The reason I’m losing sleep is I’m worried that the fabric of society will fall apart if we don’t correct these things soon enough. We’re talking about people’s lives.
From Step 13:
Stallman: We need a law. Fuck them — there’s no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They’re not important — our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we’re heading toward.
I did not comment on these selections because there is too much to comment on, but I make one general remark: I agree most with Richard Stallman, who is also a man who saw through much of the internet since its beginning, and who did his best to stop many of its awful regulations.

There also are two other bits in the article, namely a part ¨With regrets¨, that offers quite a few opinions from which I select three:
With regrets

“The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today. The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponize the web at scale.” —Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

“Let’s build a comprehensive database of highly personal targeting info and sell secret ads with zero public scrutiny. What could go wrong?” —Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay

“I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won’t allow; I don’t want them on a social network.” —Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

Again I have no comments (except that Omidyar is clearly speaking ironically).

And there is a section ¨
Things That Ruined the Internet¨, again consisting of a list + text, of which I merely copy the list:

Things That Ruined the Internet

Cookies (1994)
The Farmville vulnerability (2007) 
Algorithmic sorting (2006)
The “like” button (2009)
Pull-to-refresh (2009)
Pop-up ads (1996) 
I think most intelligent persons will understand the whole list, but I add that ¨The Farmville vulnerability¨ is in fact what enabled Cambridge Analytica to download 87 million datasets about private individuals from Facebook.

Finally, as I said: This is an important article, but it is too long to properly review in Nederlog, but it is strongly recommended.

2. Unlimited Worldwide War: ACLU Warns Senate Against Giving Trump Blank Check to Declare War

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
The New York Times is reporting President Trump launched airstrikes against Syria on Friday despite opposition from his own defense secretary, James Mattis, who wanted Trump to first get congressional approval. Meanwhile, a number of lawmakers have described the strikes on Syria as illegal since Trump did not seek congressional input or authorization. This comes as Congress is considering rewriting the war powers granted to the president after the September 11 attacks—what’s known as the AUMF, or Authorization for Use of Military Force. On September 14, 2001, the current AUMF passed the Senate 98-0 and 420-1 in the House, with California Democrat Barbara Lee casting the sole dissenting vote. Since then, it’s been used by Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries—many of which were entirely unrelated to 9/11. On Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Democratic committee member Tim Kaine of Virginia introduced legislation to replace the AUMFs with a new one. Corker and Kaine claim their legislation would strengthen congressional oversight. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, warn the proposed legislation would actually expand the authority of President Trump and all future presidents to engage in worldwide war without limitations. For more, we’re joined by Faiz Shakir, national political director for the ACLU.
Quite so, and I quite agree with the ACLU: Corker and Kain are lying, and are trying to ¨expand the authority of President Trump and all future presidents to engage in worldwide war without limitations¨ - as the Americans have been doing since 2002.

Here is Faiz Shakir, for the ACLU:
FAIZ SHAKIR: (..) If you look at the language that Senators Kaine and Corker have proposed, they are offering unlimited war to the president of the United States. And under this president, we should all be concerned. The specific language of the authorization says that the president may just designate various groups to engage in war against, and those wars can proceed in any country around the world, without limit and with congressional authorization. So the president would not need to then go to Congress to seek authorization for any of his expansions of the war effort. Unlike the 9/11 AUMF, it constrains the president’s ability to, let’s say, send ground troops into Libya, under President Obama, who tried to expand the 9/11 AUMF to carry out that war. Under this authorization, the president could just send ground troops and expand the war in perpetuity without congressional authorization.
Precisely. Here is some more:

FAIZ SHAKIR: They have decided that they’re not going to have any role in foreign affairs. And that is literally Tim Kaine’s argument, is that we should have a role. We should—and that they have a role, under Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The Congress is supposed to be the body that declares war. Reassume that responsibility and start having a deliberation.

I mean, unfortunately, we had an abuse of the AUMF under President Obama. He carried out a war in Libya, an air war, and they said, “You know, it’s just an air war, so we can just do it under the 9/11 AUMF.” Nonsense! It was the wrong choice then, and, unfortunately, that precedent is setting a dangerous precedent for the future under Trump.

Quite so. There is more in the article, that is recommended.
3. Who Will Protect Elections From U.S. Oligarchs?

This article is by Paul Street on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

I recently heard on cable news that special counsel Robert Mueller wanted to interview some “Russian oligarchs” about their supposed influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Liberal talking heads at such organizations as MSNBC and CNN keep warning that nothing has been done yet to protect the integrity of our voting process against “Russian interference” as the 2018 midterm elections loom ever closer on the nation’s horizon.

What about the American oligarchs, I wondered, people like businessman Richard Uihlein, who regularly distort U.S. elections at every level—local, state and federal? Who will protect our “democracy” from the plutocratic “wealth primary” power of the American oligarchy?

Yes, indeed: The last two questions are quite good. In case you didn´t know about Uihlein, here is some about him:

So far, Uihlein is the top political contributor in the 2018 federal U.S. election cycle, at $21 million. In 2016, however, he was just the nation’s ninth biggest political investor. Above him on the plutocratic “wealth primary” scale stood the San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer ($91 million, all to Democratic candidates and Democratic Party-affiliated “liberal outside groups”); Las Vegas billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson ($83 million to Republicans and the right); Florida billionaire financier Donald Sussman ($42 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); Chicago multimillionaire media mogul Fred Eychaner ($38 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook and the “world’s youngest self-made billionaire” ($27 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); billionaire mathematician and hedge fund manager James Simons ($27 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer ($26 million to Republicans and right-wing groups); and billionaire right-wing hedge fund manager Robert Mercer ($26 million to Republicans and right-wing groups). Michael Bloomberg rounded out the top 10 list at a cool $23,786,083.

I say (and no, I did not know this either). You may have noticed some billionaires only gave to the Democrats and others only to the Republicans, but the real questions occur at the end of the second paragraph that follows:

These megadonors are the superrich cream atop a deep plutocratic pitcher. The CRP’s list of the top 100 individual contributors to federal candidates during the 2016 election cycle ends with Karen Wright, CEO of a leading gas-compressor manufacturer. She gave a whopping $2.2 million to Republicans and the right.

How are such ridiculously astronomical political investments—far beyond the capacity of all but a super-opulent minority of U.S. citizens—possible under U.S. law? Aren’t there limits on how much rich people can spend on U.S. elections?

And these two very pertinent questions are answered as follows:

Adding to the plutocratic muddle, the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision overthrew a federal ban on corporations and unions making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

This has opened the door to astonishing levels of private spending in the nation’s public elections. “During the 2016 election cycle,” CRP staffer Bob Biersack notes, “the top 20 individual donors (whose contributions were disclosed) gave more than $500 million combined to political organizations. The 20 largest organizational donors also gave a total of more than $500 million, and more than $1 billion came from the top 40 donors. … At a time when Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were confirming that large numbers of people donating small amounts could fund successful campaigns, the extraordinary role being played by the very few donors who give the most may be the most important element in this new era.”

Yes indeed. There is a lot more in the article, that ends as follows:

Nobody in Congress is talking seriously about passing bills to remove private cash from the public elections—or even to mandate reasonable “dark money” disclosure. Fuming about Moscow’s allegedly powerful conspiracy against our supposedly democratic elections looks more than a little ridiculous when considered alongside the deafening official silence on America’s own oligarchic electoral system.

Precisely so, and this is a strongly recommended article.

4. Stopping the Doomsday Machine

This article is by Peter Prontzos on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers first because, “Vietnam is where the bombs are falling.” It took him more than four decades to gather all the documents to write this frankly terrifying look at the growing threat of nuclear omnicide.

In brief, Ellsberg shows that the deliberate targeting of civilians in mass bombing campaigns – a central element in U.S. nuclear war plans – actually began during the Second World War, when the governments of Britain and the United States adopted the same tactic as initially used by fascist Germany and Japan. For instance, around 25,000 innocent people were burned to death in the horrific fire-bombing of Dresden. It was ever worse in Tokyo, where people, “became blazing torches unable to move in the melting asphalt.” Approximately one-hundred thousand people perished in that firestorm. And these were non-nuclear attacks.

Yes, precisely so. First, in case you don´t know about Daniel Ellsberg, this was a link. And second,  Ellsberg is quite right that ¨modern war¨ since Korea, in the early 1950ies, was much more directed against the civilians of the opposing country than against their army.

Next, there is this on Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

Contrary to the U.S. government position, there was no military justification for using nuclear weapons on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, as Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur confirmed - the Japanese government was already trying to surrender. About 185,000 people died in those unnecessary bombings. (One of the true motives for using nuclear weapons on Japanese civilians was to let the Soviets know who was the lone superpower in the post-war world).

Ellsberg shows how the current nuclear war-fighting plans of the U.S. and Russia also target cities, with casualties expected to be literally in the billions, all around the world.
Again, precisely so. Here is some more:

The danger is even greater now, as there are more nuclear powers (France, Britain, Israel, Pakistan, China, India, N. Korea), and today’s nuclear weapons are many times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima.

And the potential for unintended escalations in places like Syria, Iran, and Korea only increase the chances of a nuclear confrontation that nobody intends.

Part of the problem is that most people have no idea how dangerous a situation we are now facing, and some entertain the dangerous idea that it is possible to emerge victorious after a nuclear holocaust.
I again completely agree (and I regard those that ¨entertain the dangerous idea that it is possible to emerge victorious after a nuclear holocaust¨ as insane as General Jack D. Ripper was in Kubrick´s brilliant Dr. Strangelove).

5. Examining the Kochtopus

This article is by Jim Hightower on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
Multibillionaires Charles and David Koch want nothing less than to supplant America's core democratic principle of majority rule — the will of The People — with their core plutocratic principle of inviolable property rights, also known as domination by the wealthy minority. Their notion is that "property" (accumulated wealth and the means to get it) is sacrosanct and cannot be restricted by the pesky majority for the Common Good. Cloaking their efforts with layers of dark-money front groups, the Koch brothers have used their enormous assets to mount a far-ranging, ultrasophisticated assault on American democracy.
With the fervor of religious cultists, they've devoted themselves to the cause of "liberty" — by which they mean the government's only proper role is keeping the avaricious pursuits of the wealthy owner class free from any interference by you, me and the democratic "us." They believe that We The People can neither tax the riches of the owner class nor set rules on how it treats workers, consumers, nature ... and society as a whole.
Precisely so. Here is more on what the Koch brothers intend to bring about:
For nearly 40 years, they and their uber-rich allies have been battering the legal structures and mechanisms that give ordinary people some chance to control their own destinies. Among the brothers' goals are the following:
  • Kill all restrictions on political spending by corporations and the rich.
  • Suppress the voting rights of students, people of color, the elderly and others who tend to oppose Republican policies and candidates.
  • Massacre labor unions.
  • Eliminate the right of consumers, workers and others to sue corporations, forcing them instead into corporate-controlled arbitration.
  • Rip to shreds the social safety net including food stamps, jobless benefits, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Ax regulations that protect people and our environment from corporate abuse.
  • "Preempt" the right of local people to pass laws that corporations oppose. 
  • Subvert democracy through gerrymandering.
  • Pack courts with pro-corporate judges.

The effect of these and hundreds of other national, state and local attacks is that the wealthy few are now grabbing evermore societal wealth and power, shattering America's commitment to the Common Good. It adds up to a coup — and yet, because it has been built slowly and with deliberate stealth over decades, the public has not yet fully grasped the enormity, complexity and effectiveness of this unprecedented conspiracy of billionaires.

Again I agree, though I do not know about all the points in the list (but Hightower may well be right). There is more in the article, that is strongly recommended.


[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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