October 14, 2018

Crisis: ¨Russia-gate¨, Germans v. Trump, ¨The Market¨, Facebook & Google, American Politics


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

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, October 14, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

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 mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from October 14, 2018:
1. The Shaky Case That Russia Manipulated Social Media to Tip the 2016

2. "UnTrump the World": Hundreds of Thousands March in Berlin Against
     the Far Right

3. The Market Weighs in on Trump’s Economic Policies
4. Facebook's and Google’s Breaches Show It’s Time for an Internet Bill of

5. See what the two main American political parties have become
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 Shaky Case That Russia Manipulated Social Media to Tip the 2016 Election

This article is by Gareth Porter on Consortium News. It starts as follows:
In their long recapitulation of the case that Russia subverted the 2016 election, Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times painted a picture of highly effective Russian government exploitation of social media for that purpose. Shane and Mazzetti asserted that “anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia could have made the difference” in the election.

“What we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come,” they write elsewhere in the 10,000-word article.

But an investigation of the data they cite to show that the Russian campaigns on Facebook and Twitter were highly effective reveals a gross betrayal of journalistic responsibility. Shane and Mazzetti have constructed a case that is fundamentally false and misleading with statistics that exaggerate the real effectiveness of social media efforts by orders of magnitude.
I think Porter is quite correct in his last paragraph, but I have to add that that I did not read Shane and Mazzetti´s article, in part because it is by the New York Times, in part because it is 10,000 words long,  in part because I know how to program and never believed that Russia moved the election to Trump, and in part also because I am sick of lying.

Here is some more from the beginning of this article:
The Internet Research Agency (IRA), is a privately-owned company run by entrepreneur Vevgeny V. Prigozhin, who has ties with President Vladimir Putin. Its employees poured out large numbers of social media postings apparently aimed at stoking racial and cultural tensions in the United States and trying to influence U.S. voters in regard to the presidential election, as Shane and Mazzetti suggest. They even adopted false U.S. personas online to get people to attend rallies and conduct other political activities. (An alternative explanation is that IRA is a purely commercial, and not political, operation.)

Whether those efforts even came close to swaying U.S. voters in the 2016 presidential election, as Shane and Mazzetti claimed, is another matter.

Shane and Mazzetti might argue that they are merely citing figures published by the social media giants Facebook and Twitter, but they systematically failed to report the detailed explanations behind the gross figures used in each case, which falsified their significance.
Again I think Porter is quite correct in his last paragraph, and indeed he gives quite a few arguments to show this, which I shall reserve to your own interests and skip.

Here is the ending of this article:
The idea promoted by Shane and Mazzetti that the Russian government seriously threatened to determine the winner of the election does not hold up when the larger social media context is examined more closely. Contrary to what the Times’ reporters and the corporate media in general would have us believe, the Russian private sector effort accounted for a minuscule proportion of the election-related output of social media. The threat to the U.S. political system in general and its electoral system in particular is not Russian influence; it’s in part a mainstream news media that has lost perspective on the truth.
I quite agree with this conclusion, and this is a recommended article.
2. "UnTrump the World": Hundreds of Thousands March in Berlin Against the Far Right

This article is by the Common Dreams staff. It starts as follows:

Hundreds of thousands of people marched Saturday afternoon demonstrating against racism and calling for solidarity against the rise of the far-right across Germany and Europe.

On a hot and sunny fall day a 3-mile stretch of Berlin city's center, from Alexanderplatz through the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column, was closed to accommodate the huge parade, which was united under the hashtag #unteilbar ("indivisible").

I review this article because I am European, and also did not know the above, which is not very strange, because in spite of living in ¨A United Europe¨ in fact virtually all the news in all the ordinary papers and weeklies is still quite national (and most Europeans know at most some English next to their own language).

There also was a "Call to Action" issued by the organizers of the demonstration. In part, it reads as follows:

For an Open and Free Society: Solidarity, not Exclusion!

A dramatic political shift is taking place: racism and discrimination are becoming socially acceptable. What yesterday was considered unthinkable and unutterable, has today become a reality. Humanity and human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law are being openly attacked. This is an attack on all of us.

I mostly agree to the above, and draw the same conclusion as I did about the USA, although it seems to be even worse there: The main reasons for these changes are that very many Europeans are stupid and ignorant.

Here is some more:

While the State tightens its ‘so-called’ security laws and extends surveillance in a show of strength, the social system is increasingly characterised by weakness: millions suffer the impact of an underinvestment in basic care, healthcare, childcare, and education. Since ‘Agenda 2010’, the redistribution of wealth from below to above has advanced at an alarming rate.
Well... surveillance of all in everything they do (which is manna for the anonymous ¨security forces¨ aka spies) is merely the counterpart of the setbacks in rights and incomes for ordinary people, and indeed both - and especially surveillance - are strong parts of a strong tendency towards neofascism (but nobody on the internet that I have read has any definition of that term, while only a small minority knows that there are many different ¨definitions¨ of fascism).

Here is the last bit that I quote from this
"Call to Action":
For a Europe of human rights and social justice!
For a solidarity-based society rather than exclusion and racism!
For the right to protection and asylum – against the isolation of Europe!
For a free and diverse society!
Solidarity knows no borders!

I more or less agree, apart from the last statement, for I am convinced there are far more people outside Europe who like to move to Europe than the Europeans can decently manage, but then again I should also say that I have now seen about 60 years of leftish demonstrations in Europe, of which nearly all did not make much or any - real, political - difference.

3. The Market Weighs in on Trump’s Economic Policies

This article is by Robert Freeman on Common Dreams. This is from near its beginning:

Just as Trump was gifted $400+ million dollars from his father and claimed to be a Self Made Man, so, too, he inherited an economy and stock market from Obama that had been rising for the prior eight years, since March 2009.  In true Trumpian fashion, he claimed to have created the greatest economy of all time. 

In truth, the whole of Trump’s economic policy has been a massive injection of debt into an already healthy economy. His tax cuts for corporations and deficit spending for military expansion have added more than $2 trillion to the national debt in just two years.  It’s like injecting adrenaline into an already healthy runner in the middle of a marathon.

Let’s be clear.  Any moron with a handful of credit cards charged off to the next generation can gin up the illusion of prosperity.  That’s all the Trump economy is:  borrowing trillions of dollars from the future, spending it today, and pretending to be a genius. But the market has figured it out. Here’s what it knows.

I more or less agree with the above, but I doubt that ¨the market has figured it out¨, for the simple reason that what ¨the market¨ does figure out is nearly always short term (if only because very few can foresee the long term).

Here is some more:

The interest cost on a 10-year Treasury note is up almost 36% from a year ago, from 2.2% to 3.0% today. Rates on 30-year mortgages are up 19% over the same period.  Remember, the interest rate is the cost of borrowed money.  So, when interest rates rise, everything that requires borrowed money—think cars, homes, credit cards, student loans, inventories—becomes more expensive.    

As you would expect, when things get more expensive, people buy less of them. It’s hitting the residential construction industry especially hard. Existing home sales are down by more than 400,000 units since this time last year.  Building permits are off 6% year-over-year.  Mortgage applications are off 15% from a year ago.  Housing starts are off 5%.  It’s the beginning of a debacle.

Again I more or less agree with the above, while I strongly doubt that the above is good evidence for ¨the beginning of a debacle¨.

Here is some more:

The trade deficit with China, an especially important measure of Trump’s economic prowess—jumped 10% in July.  Since Trump took office, the overall trade deficit—that is, money draining out of the U.S. economy—is up a startling 17%.  Notice, Trump doesn’t talk about the trade deficit any more.  Guess why. 

These are the canaries in the coal mine of an economy that has been driven beyond its sustainable capacity by too much government borrowing and is now cresting.  Think of the marathon runner as the adrenaline starts to wear off.  The crash will be agonizing.  This is what the stock market is now signaling.   

Hm. The trade deficit is not ¨money draining out of the U.S. economy¨ but it is, as Wikipedia says it is (here) ¨the difference between the monetary value of a nation's exports and imports over a certain period¨. (And that is not ¨money draining out of the U.S. economy¨.)

Here is the ending of this article:

Like so much else that is Trump—his business savvy, his negotiating skills, his Self Made Man charade—his economic “miracle” is a fraud.  We’re just now getting a glimpse into the beginning of the end.  It will be a long way down.

I agree Trump is a fraud. And again, I am skeptical about ¨the market¨ (apart from a real crisis, as in 2008).

4. Facebook's and Google’s Breaches Show It’s Time for an Internet Bill of Rights

This article is by Ro Khanna on Common Dreams. It starts as follows (and makes an elementary point - for those who know how to program) that I have seen rarely made, the last 22 years or so:

Our Founding Fathers drafted the Bill of Rights to safeguard our freedoms in the physical world. Today, as Americans are living more of their lives online, the digital age demands that we have new rights to protect our freedoms in the cyber world.

To secure these rights, we will have to overcome gridlock and a knowledge gap in Congress. Following the Equifax breach nearly a year ago and the Facebook hearings on Cambridge Analytica six months back, Congress still hasn’t acted. Besides a few hearings that exposed our Senators’ lack of knowledge of the Internet, Congress adjourned two weeks early to extend the midterm campaigns, instead of staying to work on passing an Internet-reform bill.

The lack of urgency in Congress has persisted even in the wake of recent revelations that a Facebook security breach exposed 50 million users’ personal information to attackers and Google let third-party app developers access information on users who did not give them permission. The truth is that most elected officials and their legislative staff on Capitol Hill simply lack the necessary expertise to write rules for the Internet.

Well... what I do agree with is that ¨most elected officials and their legislative staff on Capitol Hill simply lack the necessary expertise to write rules for the Internet¨, and indeed this still seems to be the case everywhere.

In fact, this is mostly due (it seems to me) to two points: First, most of the holders of some real power in politics are persons who are between 50 and 70, and these are generally to old to have learned programming. And second, decent programming is far from easy and takes considerable time (and probably some mathematical talent).

Then there is this:

In total, with the help of consumer groups and World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee, we came up with ten principles that can help define rights in the digital age. I imagine thoughtful Republicans such as U.S. Representatives Mike Coffman and Will Hurd, along with Matt Lira from the White House’s Office of American Innovation, could collaborate on legislation based on these principles. They are as follows:

Well... I looked them through (and can program, and know a lot about computers) and in fact only three out of ten seem decent to me:

First, you should be able to know and access what personal data of yours companies collect. Instead of reading a long and convoluted legal document, it should be clear and in plain language what information of yours is being collected.

Second, you should be able to opt-in and consent when that personal data is being collected and shared. It should be clear exactly what you are consenting to, but such prompts shouldn’t be relentless to the point of fatigue.
Seventh, you should be able to access the Internet without the collection of data that is unnecessary for providing the requested service. An Internet service provider reasonably needs to know your name and address. But it’s hard to imagine why a provider would need to collect your Internet browsing habits other than to sell your data.

The other seven rules may have some decency, but they also are far too sympathetic to spies and profit-oriented data gatherers like Facebook and Google.

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

My hope is that these ten rights will begin the much-needed and long-overdue conversation in Congress to guide a legislative solution that restores our privacy and protection online.

The American people can no longer wait while their data is being collected, shared and stolen on the web. The Internet can be a tool for more freedom and prosperity, but only if proper rules and guidelines exist. Our constituents tasked us to make those rules. It is now up to Congress to answer that call and bring our laws into the 21st Century.

I don´t share that hope for various reasons, one of which is that most members of Congress - still - do not know much about programming or computers (and besides are probably often paid by corporations that are dedicated to making the internet less free and more corporate).

5. See what the two main American political parties have become

This article is by David Lindsay on The Off-Guardian. It starts with a quote of Noam Chomsky, who wrote:
¨In the US, there is basically one party - the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies.
As is most of the population.¨ - Noam Chomsky

The article starts as follows:
See what the two main American political parties have become. On any one or more of torture, Guantánamo Bay, mass surveillance, workers’ rights, consumer protection, environmental responsibility, treaties with Native Americans, healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions (that is, people like me), the President’s supposed immunity from indictment, and the President’s supposed power to pardon himself, Brett Kavanaugh could easily have been blocked by enough Republicans and all Democrats, plus Bernie Sanders. But instead, the useless Democratic Party made it about a #MeToo and #IBelieveHer story that it was impossible to prove.
This is none too clear, while the first statement does not appear to be a proper statement, and the second is extremely vague.

In fact, most of the rest of this article is a sum-up of paragraphs that all start with ¨So much for¨. Here is a relatively clear bit:
So much for Eisenhower’s ending of the Korean War, his even-handed approach to Israel and the Palestinians, his nonintervention in Indochina, his denunciation of the military-industrial complex, and his still-inspiring advocacy of nuclear power as “atoms for peace” 10 years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings: civil nuclear power as the ultimate beating of swords in ploughshares.
But the rest either assumes too much that is not stated or else is quite ill written. O well....


[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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