May 12, 2018

Crisis: Amazon's Alexa, Following Orders, Haspel, Gangsters of the CIA, Europe & Resistance


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from May 12, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, May 12, 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.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from May 12, 2018
1. Experts Say Keep Amazon’s Alexa Away From Your Kids
2. Just Following Orders
3. If Gina Haspel Is Confirmed at CIA, the U.S. Would Be Giving Other
     Nations Green Light to Torture

4. CIA 'Gangster Element' Is a Stain on America
5. Time for Europe to Join the Resistance
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. Experts Say Keep Amazon’s Alexa Away From Your Kids

This article is by Sam Biddle on The Intercept. It starts as follows:
What’s the best way to keep adults from questioning the use of a deeply problematic product? Get them started when they’re too young to question anything. Amazon has a new addition to its line of voice-commanded artificial intelligence Alexa assistants, marketed for use by children as young as 5 years old, who can barely grasp a box of juice, let alone digital privacy. Now, a coalition of children’s privacy and psychology advocates are warning parents away from Amazon’s latest, cutest device, saying it could normalize surveillance and harm children’s mental development.
I agree basically, but my reasons may be a bit different than is stated above: I hate Amazon; I despise its chief Bezos; and I think hardly anything good will come from either that isn't as profitable to them as possible.

And one reason for me to disagree - somewhat - from the above is that I hate TV since 50 years, and have had no TV since 1970 (!!), and indeed saw very little of it the last 50 years. Then again, I did see some of it in 1992 (!!) and then made the following note - in 1992, currently 26 years ago:
20 juni 1992: On the sick sadistic psychopathy served to children

I've been watching TV again and it seems to me that the stuff fed to small children is the most atrocious psychopathic rot imaginable. The worst are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Toxic Crusaders, but there are more. This is such extra-ordinary sick rot that it is amazing it is broadcast - but it is, in programs for small kids. It is sadistic, extra-ordinarily ugly, very violent, quite frightening and completely devoid of any standards except revenge. Also everything gets mixed up with everything: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bear the names of Michelangelo, Rafael, Leonardo etc.; their guru is a rat; violence is interspersed with philosophy-quotes; ice cream shops are called "Chain Saw Massacre"; dissembling is the propagandized norm; and much more. It is really amazing, not only that it is made but that it is broadcast allover the world and tolerated.
If I had children I certainly would forbid them to watch it and fear for their mental health if they did. American "comics" have nearly always been violent (or else sickeningly sentimental), but what these series achieve, as compared with Donald Duck or Woody Woodpecker, is something quite new. There is much more violence; violence is what everything is all organized about (the heroes are warriors to start with; the enemies invariably seek to dominate the world); the bad guys are drawn not just in a mock frightening way, but are really frightening monsters (and in "Toxic Crusaders" the heroes are monsters too); and I really feel I am watching the nightmares of the criminally insane - whereas what I am supposed to be watching is a program for 5-7 year olds.
That is 26 years ago, and I think - having avoided seeing TV since 1968 - that this is a thoroughly sick and sadistic series.

Having made that point, back to the article:

But a group of experts says Amazon’s little Play-Doh-colored pucks have no place near children. A statement released today by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, or CCFC, which previously led a prominent campaign against a version of Facebook Messenger aimed at kids, claims that Dot for kids and its ability to streamline a kid’s interaction with brands “pose significant threats to children’s wellbeing and privacy.” The CCFC statement is joined by critical letters from Senator Edward Markey and Representative Joe Barton. According to the CCFC’s executive director Josh Golin, “Amazon wants kids to be dependent on its data-gathering device from the moment they wake up until they go to bed at night. … AI devices raise a host of privacy concerns and interfere with the face-to-face interactions and self-driven play that children need to thrive.”
I agree. In fact, if you want normal children - that is, children whose emotions are not thoroughly fucked up by Amazon's brand advertising, nor by sadistic programs for 5 to 7 year olds, which in fact is pretty difficult in the present world - I think you should not have a TV in a house in which there are young children. (But hey! I am just a psychologist with a very high IQ. What do I know about what children need?!)

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which co-signed the statement, added his concerns:

Commercially-produced voice-recognition technologies, such as Amazon Echo, are primarily designed to promote products and brands. Amazon is acting irresponsibly by urging parents to unleash an AI-driven Alexa product into their children’s lives, without first ensuring that it will not harm their cognitive and emotional development. Echo Dot Kids is designed to encourage children to give up their personal information so it can drive even more revenues for the E-Commerce colossus.

Precisely. And this is a recommended article.

2. Just Following Orders

This article is by Jeremy Scahill on The Intercept. It starts as follows:
Donald Trump loves Gina Haspel, particularly because of her role in torture. This week on Intercepted: As a bipartisan gaggle of spies and politicians lobby for Haspel to become CIA director, we look at how after World War II, the U.S. and its allies prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American POWs. Journalist Matt Taibbi talks about Trump, Russia, Putin, Stormy Daniels, and the liberal embrace of authoritarianism. Sarah Jaffe reports on the teachers strikes across the U.S., the fight for unions, and the rebellion of low wage workers. Former Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns executive Nomi Prins talks about central banks, the Federal Reserve, and economic neoliberalism. Plus, Melania Trump launches a campaign to educate her husband.
In fact, this is a long and fine article that is composed of a number of interviews that are summarized above. I shall review two bits of it, but I do like to say that I am very glad that the interviews are written out (simply because I read a lot faster than I can speak), and that there are many more good things in the several interviews than I can select for a brief review on Nederlog.

Here is the first bit, that is in fact about the question whether waterboarding is torture, that was in fact no question since around 1600 (when the Dutch tortured Javanese in that way) until first Bush Jr. and then Obama became presidents of the USA, who reverted the American positions on torture, and then Trump, who wants to torture most people who contradict him, or so it seems, and to do so in the worst possible way:

The historian R. John Pritchard described the Japanese rational for using this water torture. He wrote, “The rapid and effective collection of intelligence then, as now, was seen as vital to a successful struggle, and in addition, those who were engaged in torture often felt that whatever pain and anguish was suffered by the victims of torture was nothing less than the just deserts of the victims or people close to them.”

Several Japanese military figures were executed for their role in water torture and other acts, others were sentenced to prison labor camps. Here’s Senator John McCain, himself a victim of torture as a POW in Vietnam.

Scott Pelley: Is waterboarding torture?

Senator John McCain: Sure. Yes. Without a doubt.

SP: So the United States has been torturing POWs.

JM: Yes. Scott, we prosecuted Japanese war criminals after World War II, and one of the charges brought against them, for which they were convicted, was that they waterboarded Americans.

JS: Again, what Senator John McCain is talking about here, took place in tribunals established by the U.S. and its allies.
Precisely. And both the Allies and the U.S. agreed upon this. And this about the torturer from the CIA Gina Haspel:

JS: In related news, Trump’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, is in the midst of her confirmation process and Haspel was just following orders to when she was involved with what the Japanese called water torture.

That is one of the lines being pushed by her CIA defenders: that what she did was lawful, she was ordered to do it, she wasn’t really in charge, she’s an apolitical professional. I’m sure there are lots of people from all sorts of countries and nations throughout history that view their role in torture the exact same way that Haspel and her defenders view it. I’m sure there are many Nazis that could have pointed to laws created in their own country to permit the heinous acts that they committed. But the tribunal said no, just following orders is not a defense.

But, you see, the United States doesn’t believe in international tribunals for its personnel.
Quite so. And as to the claims by Haspel's "CIA defenders":

What she did was not lawful (other than according to the CIA, which contradicts many years of international laws); whether or not "
she was ordered to do it" isn't very relevant, because she is an adult who is responsible for her own acts (as the international courts agree); whether or not she was "really in charge" may be somewhat relevant, but Haspel's doings and responsibilities are willfully obscured by the CIA in general, and by Haspel in person, who had 93 video-tapes destroyed (if I remember well); and it doesn't matter one bit whether she was "an apolitical professional": she tortured people, and she is personally responsible for torturing people.

And as I started this review by saying this is a long and fine article that is composed of a number of interviews, I'll end it by repeating it. This is a strongly recommended article, in which there is a lot more than I can review in a Nederlog.

3. If Gina Haspel Is Confirmed at CIA, the U.S. Would Be Giving Other Nations Green Light to Torture

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday that the U.S. should restart torture interrogation tactics. Cheney’s comment comes a day after President Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, repeatedly refused Wednesday to call the CIA’s post-9/11 treatment of prisoners “torture,” and declined to state whether she believes torture is immoral. Haspel’s prospects for confirmation remain in doubt, after Republican senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona issued statements opposing her nomination. We speak to Laleh Khalili, professor at SOAS University of London and author of “Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies.”
Yes indeed. Here is the first bit I quote from this article:

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on what she has done? You specifically look at black sites.

LALEH KHALILI: I do specifically look at black sites, and it is incredibly harrowing. What is very devastating about what this—what her nomination has done is to essentially rubber-stamp the use of completely and utterly brutal and harrowing modalities of torture on people, whether or not they’re guilty. There is never a sort of a legal process that will allow us to adjudicate whether these people are in any way culpable of anything. And, in fact, loads of innocent people have been subjected to these black sites.

I completely agree, and incidentally "black sites" are secret camps or prisons in which people are being tortured (whether this is known or not, and often it is difficult to establish precisely because these are secret camps or prisons.

Here is the second bit I quote from this article, and it is still Khalili who is talking:

Now, what her confirmation, should it proceed, is going to signal is that all of those countries in the world that acted as black sites—a number of those countries are members of NATO and Eastern—they’re Eastern European states, members of NATO, but which are also members of the EU, had their wrists slapped by the EU, and among them, more specifically, Poland and Romania. But those that are not part of the EU and were engaged in these kinds of—and they allowed their territories to be used as black sites—Thailand foremost among them, but there were others—as well as those countries that acted as countries of extraordinary rendition—for example, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and, in fact, Syria even—all of these countries are essentially going to see this as a carte blanche for conducting torture—not that they ever really needed it, but this is essentially—I mean, one of the things that one hears all the time in the Middle East is, “Well, if the U.S. is doing it, why does anybody care about why Sisi would do it?” And so, I think that, in some ways, it would be an utter travesty, although completely unsurprising, if Gina Haspel is chosen to head the CIA.

Precisely. One very probable effect of nominating a torturer like Haspel as head of the CIA is that - for example - Poland, Romania, Thailand, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Syria will conclude
that Haspel's nomination (if it occurs, that is not known today) is "
a carte blanche for conducting torture" (which is happening there anyway, but for the moment mostly in secret).

And this is a recommended article.

4. CIA 'Gangster Element' Is a Stain on America

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer talked with Ben Norton of The Real News in a two-part interview about whistleblowers who have condemned Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director. Haspel oversaw the agency’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program. Protesters, including former CIA veteran Ray McGovern, disrupted Haspel’s Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Describing Haspel as a “professional liar,” Scheer says, “This is a woman who is trained to lie. This is a woman who’s lied about most of the things in her professional life. To expect her to be accountable about the super-secret agency when she spent her life denying the value of truth, denying the value of logic, never being held accountable for their lives, including whether torture worked. … [and] here is someone who’s taken from that world of error and deceit, distortion, violence, and you’re making her in charge of the whole agency.”

Scheer says there is a destructive “gangster element” in the spy agency that condones assassination and torture.

Yes indeed. I agree with Scheer, and this is - again - a long interview that I cannot treat properly in a Nederlog.

But I do have a brief explanation of Scheer's "
destructive “gangster element” in the spy agency" because it is mentioned below:

It is Scheer's thesis that (i) there are two kinds of persons (?) in the CIA, namely those who analyse and those who practice, and that (ii) the analtysts are basically OK, but the practicians, as a matter of course, also, break laws and agreements if this seems to further their own - usually secret - ends.

Scheer may be correct, although I doubt myself that the distinction is as neat I stated it to be.

Here is Ben Norton:
BEN NORTON: That is Gina Haspel, the CIA director nominee, at the Senate confirmation hearing. Numerous whistleblowers have spoken out against Haspel’s nomination. Former CIA officer Ray McGovern disrupted the Senate hearing in protest of Haspel’s nomination. Police violently brutalized the 84-year-old CIA whistleblower on camera. Ex-CIA analyst John Kiriakou, who was imprisoned for exposing the CIA’s use of torture, has also publicly opposed Haspel’s nomination. And NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden likewise tweeted, quote, “If the Congress confirms Gina Haspel, who admitted to participating in a torture program and personally writing the order to destroy evidence of that crime, is qualified to head the CIA it says more about our government than it does about her.”.
Incidentally, Ray McGovern is 78 at the moment, but otherwise I agree. And here is Robert Scheer:
Ray McGovern himself briefed the president of the United States on a number of occasions. He was a high-ranking expert on Russia, on what was happening in the world. And to have a man of that quality and that patriotism, that seriousness of purpose, be treated as if he was a bank robber on speed or something was obscene. And there are plenty of people around the world who know of Ray McGovern ‘ s work, of his writing, and the idea that he was treated in that way, it’s horrific. And at a hearing in which you’re investigating, really, the dark side. That’s what Gina Haspel comes from. These are the people who do all the mischief and that’s the side of the CIA that has basically gotten it wrong time after time. The Bay of Pigs, you know, figuring out what was happening with terrorism before 9/11. Not talking to the FBI. The torture program. You could go through one chapter after another. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And that’s the part of the CIA that’s a travesty, a stain, that dark stain on American history, and has misled us. And has misled us by using secrecy. They’re not accountable.
I more or less agree, but simply do not know as much as Scheer does. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
RS: (..) I just want to make a point here. The CIA is an agency that is out of control, and they are not doing the job that they were created to do. They’re not making us safer. They keep getting it wrong. And they get it wrong not because of their brilliant analysts like Ray McGovern, who generally develop an accurate view of the world, and it’s complex, and they try to inform the politicians. That’s not where the damage is coming from. The damage is coming from the gangster element. The, the people who believe assassination, and talk about meddling in elections, these people have meddled in almost every election that’s taken place in the post-World War II period.
Again I more or less agree but do not know as much as Scheer does. In any case, this is a recommended article.

5. Time for Europe to Join the Resistance

This article is by Klaus Brinkbšumer on Spiegel. It starts as follows:
Trump's renown is rooted in American hero myths. Trump says that women like Carla Bruni lust after him, something that women like Carla Bruni vehemently deny. Trump says he is exorbitantly rich, yet Trump ran himself into the ground with his casinos to the point that he was 295 million dollars in debt in 1990. He was bailed out by the banks and by his father. The greatest myth, though, has to do with Trump's alleged negotiating expertise. This too is nonsense. Trump was never proficient in the art of the deal. As a businessman, he paid far too much for substandard properties and has shown no patience as a politician. He isn't curious. His preparation is nonexistent. Strategy and tactics are both foreign to him. Trump is only proficient in destruction. And that's what he does.
I mostly agree, and I also dislike Trump.

But I do have two questions about Trump, given the above sum-up by Spiegel: (i) how did Trump survive the last 40 years, if he is as totally inept as Spiegel says he is? And (ii) does Trump has any positive characteristic?

And - in case you doubted this - these are real questions. Here is the second and last bit that I quote from this article:

And what are the benefits of Washington's radical move? There are none. Just chaos where there was once order. Just American capriciousness after decades of stability.

The most shocking realization, however, is one that affects us directly: The West as we once knew it no longer exists. Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust. He wants punitive tariffs and demands obedience. It is no longer a question as to whether Germany and Europe will take part in foreign military interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is now about whether trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and security policy even exists anymore. The answer: No. It is impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled in the last 16 months. Europe has lost its protective power. It has lost its guarantor of joint values. And it has lost the global political influence that it was only able to exert because the U.S. stood by its side.
I say, for these are quite serious conclusions. And while I agree more or less, I also dislike the style, for terms like "Washington's radical move", "American capriciousness", "The West", and "Europe" are extremely abstract metaphors that - nevertheless - are personalized.

And I have a question. I am a psychologist who is now agreeing for over two years that Trump is not sane. To the best of my knowledge, there are currently tenthousands of psychologists and psychiatrists who agree.

Why are these - surely: particularly knowledgeable persons - almost never heard in the modern press, and also not in Spiegel?

I am just asking, again. But this is a recommended article, for the points it makes about Europe and the USA are quite serious.


[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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