October 18, 2018

Crisis: On Nader´s Rats, On Fascism 1, On Fascism 2, On Corporations, On Deep-Fake Videos


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

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, October 18, 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 18, 2018:
1. The Rats Revolt
2. Doubt It Can Happen Here? Tell It to Berlin
3. The Fascists Are Coming for Your Social Security and Medicare
4. 157 of World's 200 Richest Entities Are Now Corporations, Not

5. Will Deep-Fake Technology Destroy Democracy?
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 Rats Revolt

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

There is no American who has fought with more tenacity, courage and integrity to expose the crimes of corporate power and to thwart the corporate coup d’état that has destroyed our democracy than Ralph Nader. Not one. There is little he has not tried in that effort. He has written investigative exposés on the unsafe practices of the auto industry; published best-sellers such as “Who Runs Congress?”; founded citizen action and consumer groups; testified before countless congressional committees; written a raft of environmental and worker safety bills that were passed in Congress under the now defunct liberal wing of the Democratic Party; and, when he was locked out of the legislative process by corporate Democrats, been a candidate for president. He even helped organize the first Earth Day.

His latest assault is a fable called “How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress.”
Yes, I quite agree. Here is some more information on Ralph Nader, and one of the things you can see from it that he started his political activism in 1965, which means that he has been busy with the same for nearly 55 years. (He is currently 84.)

Here is more:
The key in Nader’s story to the citizens retaking control of Congress and the government is sustained mass nationwide demonstrations and rallies. These demonstrations, like all protests that are effective, are organized by full-time staff and steadily build in numbers and momentum. The demonstrations are funded by three enlightened billionaires. I don’t share Nader’s faith—also expressed in his other foray into fiction, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us”—in a renegade wing of the oligarchy funding the overthrow of the corporate state, but he is right that successful movements need to be sustained, grow in size and power, have dedicated organizers and amass significant cash and resources so they do not disintegrate.
I agree with Hedges´ lack of faith in Nader´s ¨three enlightened billionaires¨ but I do so mainly because in 50 years of reading about politics I have seen at most one (George Soros). And I hope Hedges and I are mistaken, and Nader is right. (But where are the three billionaires who are, according to Nader, necessary to save the USA from authoritarianism or (neo)fascism?!)

Here is more from Hedges - and this sum-up is quite important:

Indeed, it is only when the elites become afraid of us that there will be any hope of destroying corporate power. Politics, as Nader understands, is a game of fear.

As Nader points out, elected officials have surrendered their constitutional power to do the bidding of corporations in return for corporate money. It is a system of legalized bribery. The consent of the governed has become a joke. Politicians in the two ruling parties are the agents of corporate exploitation and oppression, the enemies of democracy. They no longer hold public hearings at the committee level. They govern largely in secret. They pass bills, most written by corporate lobbyists, and appoint judges to protect corporations from lawsuits by those these corporations have wronged, injured or defrauded. They deny our standing in the courts. They divert money from the country’s crumbling infrastructure and social services to sustain a war machine that consumes half of all discretionary spending. They run up massive deficits to give tax cuts to the ruling oligarchs and orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. They suppress the minimum wage, break unions and legalize the debt peonage that corporations use to exact punishing tribute from the citizenry (...)
They revoke laws, controls and regulations that curb the worst abuses of Wall Street. They abolish our most cherished civil liberties, including the right to privacy and due process. Their public proceedings, as was evidenced in the one held for new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, are shameless political theater that mocks the democratic process.
I think all of the above is quite true, although I do also want to add a consideration of my own: I think that the main reason(s) that the above could happen over the last 40 years is (or are) the stupidity and/or ignorance of large parts of the American voters. (And see below.)

Here is Nader quoted on Congress:

“Congress itself is a clear and present danger to our country,” Nader writes. “It feasts on raw global corporate power and is oblivious to various fateful degradations of life on the planet.” He calls Congress “a concentrated tyranny of self-privilege, secrecy, exclusionary rules and practices.”

Nader warns that any uprising has to be swift to prevent the ruling elites from organizing to crush it.
I think this is also mostly correct (and another way of implying the same is saying that Congress is massively corrupt), but I may disagree with the second paragraph, in considerable part because I think that any uprising that has a chance of succeeding must happen during a deep economic crisis, which also means that the government has far less money. Then again, all of this is mere speculation.

Finally, here is Hedges on Nader´s vision:
No revolution will succeed without a vision. Nader lays out the basics—a guaranteed living wage, full government-funded health insurance, free education including at the university level, the prosecution of corporate criminals, cutting the bloated military budget, an end to empire, criminal justice reform, transferring power from the elites to the citizenry by providing public spaces where consumers, workers and communities can meet and organize, breaking up the big banks and creating a public banking system, protecting and fostering labor unions, removing money from politics, taking the airwaves out of the hands of corporations and returning them to the public and ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry while keeping fossil fuels in the ground to radically reconfigure our relationship to the ecosystem.
I agree with all of that and incidentally observe that none of the above list of ends is politically radical, and this is a strongly recommended article. 
2. Doubt It Can Happen Here? Tell It to Berlin

This article is by Michael Winship on Common Dreams. It starts with a description of Winship´s recent stay in Berlin (Germany) that I skip.

Then he describes the
Topography of Terror Documentation Center (in Berlin) and writes this:
Today the area is designated as the Topography of Terror Documentation Center, a museum of shame and horror documenting the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, along with the unspeakable crimes against humanity committed in their names.

Right now, the center has an exhibit titled “Berlin 1933: The Path to Dictatorship.” It features documents, photographs and texts chronicling the year that Hitler and the Nazi party consolidated power.

On January 30, 1933, Hitler became Germany’s chancellor, taking over with the support of conservatives who believed they could keep him under control. His soon-to-be propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels organized a celebratory torchlight march that night of some 50,000 – although in an ironic foreshadowing of the Trump inauguration, Goebbels claimed it was a million.

To those who still claim it odious or unjust to compare our current White House and the Republican Party to what happened in Germany 85 years ago, I would urge them to come see “Berlin 1933.” Here are the all-too-familiar seeds of a nascent totalitarian regime: the denigration and condemnation of rival political parties, the disintegration of the courts, attacks on organized labor while claiming massive job creation, the dismissal of public servants unwilling to swear undying allegiance to the leader, verbal and written slurs and smears flung against the press and opponents, inciting and legitimizing violence against anyone who dares to disagree.

I more or less agree, and I have three comments.

The first is simply that very few Americans will be able to visit “Berlin 1933: The Path to Dictatorship”, which makes this article a bit less convincing.

My second comment is that Germany in the early 1930ies was quite different from the USA today.

And my third comment is that none of this implies that Winship is not correct.

Here is more (and this refers to the beginnings of Hitler´s rule):

By the following year, Hitler’s cult of personality, “had reached new levels of idolatry and made millions of new converts,” biographer Ian Kershaw wrote. “Disdain and detestation for a parliamentary system generally perceived to have failed miserably had resulted in willingness to entrust monopoly control over the state to a leader claiming a unique sense of mission and invested by his mass following with heroic, almost messianic, qualities. Conventional forms of government were, as a consequence, increasingly exposed to the arbitrary inroads of personalized power. It was a recipe for disaster.”

This, too, sounds familiar. Yes, many, like Harvard legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein maintain that our system of checks and balances and the Constitution will keep us from sliding into the abyss that was Nazi Germany.
Well, this was during the beginnings of Hitler´s rule, that started after he was elected and that was immediately quite radical: The first concentration camp (Dachau) was opened within weeks after Hitler had risen to power (and this is one of the differences between Trump´s USA and Hitler´s Germany).

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Do you see our Republican Congress doing anything to counter Trump’s authoritarian tendencies? “Whatever secret reservations McConnell and other traditional Republican leaders have about Trump’s character, governing style, and possible criminality,” historian Christopher Browning writes, “they openly rejoice in the payoff they have received from their alliance with him and his base.”
Sorry, but when your moral universe is limited to a belief that the ends always justify the means it’s a short trip to oppression and tyranny. To those who think it can’t happen here? Let them come to Berlin. The city has seen it all before.
I more or less agree and this is a recommended article.

3. The Fascists Are Coming for Your Social Security and Medicare

This article is by Thom Hartmann on Common Dreams. It starts as follows (and this is a very good article):

The billionaire fascists are coming for your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And they’re openly bragging about it.

Right after Trump’s election, back in December of 2016, Newt Gingrich openly bragged at the Heritage Foundation that the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress were going to “break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model.” That “model,” of course, created what we today refer to as “the middle class.”

This week Mitch McConnell confirmed Gingrich’s prophecy, using the huge deficits created by Trump’s billionaire tax cuts as an excuse to destroy “entitlement” programs.

“I think it would be safe to say that the single biggest disappointment of my time in Congress has been our failure to address the entitlement issue, and it’s a shame, because now the Democrats are promising Medicare for All,” McConnell told Bloomberg. He added, “[W]e’re talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.”

These programs, along with free public education and progressive taxation, are the core drivers and maintainers of the American middle class. History shows that without a strong middle class, democracy itself collapses, and fascism is the next step down a long and terrible road.

Yes - I think all of this is correct, although I would have spoken rather of the billionaire neofascists, but then again - as I also explained yesterday - so far I have not even seen a journalist who defined fascism, although the present article does come close.

Here is more:

In July of 2015, discussing SCOTUS’s 5 to 4 conservative vote on Citizens United, President Jimmy Carter told me: “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery…” He added: “[W]e’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors…”

As Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page demonstrated in an exhaustive analysis of the difference between what most Americans want their politicians to do legislatively, versus what American politicians actually do, it’s pretty clear that President Carter was right.

They found that while the legislative priorities of the top 10 percent of Americans are consistently made into law, things the bottom 90 percent want are ignored. In other words, today in America, democracy only “works” for the top 10 percent of Americans.

I think this is quite correct as well, and incidentally the 90 vs 10 percent agrees with my own estimates on how power and riches are divided in the USA.

Here is something about happiness that is quite important:

Smith noted, in 1759, that, “All constitutions of government are valued only in proportion as they tend to promote the happiness of those who live under them. This is their sole use and end.”

Smith added a cautionary note, however: “[The] disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition… is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Jefferson was acutely aware of this: the Declaration of Independence was the first founding document of any nation in the history of the world that explicitly declared “happiness” as a “right” that should be protected and promoted by government against predations by the very wealthy.

Yes, this is correct (and there is more on power and happiness in my Philosophical Dictionary, especially under happiness).

Then there is this, which also seems correct:

History shows that the two primary regulators within a capitalist system that provide for the emergence of a middle class are progressive taxation and a healthy social safety net.

As Jefferson noted in a 1785 letter to Madison, “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.”
Tragically, Republicans are today planning to destroy both our nation’s progressive taxation system and our social safety net, in obsequious service to their billionaire paymasters.

Yes, quite so. Also, considering the history of Holland, that I know best because I am Dutch, it seems to me as if the Dutch middle class became real only in the 20th Century: Before that, there was roughly the same distinction between the 10% and the 90%, but with this difference that virtually everybody in the 90% was poor to very poor.

Then there is this about fascism:

“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. ... The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information.

“With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public,” Wallace continued, “but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”

In this, Wallace was using the classic definition of the word “fascist”—the definition Mussolini had in mind when he claimed to have invented the word.

As the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is: “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”

I think this is the first (!!!) more or less reasonable definition of fascism that I´ve read in a journalistic article. I also think that my definition is better, but then that consists of ten criterions rather than three, as the American Heritage Dictionary did.

Here is more:

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism the vice president of the United States saw rising in America, he added:

“They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective, toward which all their deceit is directed, is to capture political power so that using the power of the State and the power of the market simultaneously they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

In the election of 2018, we stand at a crossroad that Roosevelt and Wallace only imagined.

Billionaire-funded fascism is rising in America, calling itself “conservativism” and “Trumpism.”

Quite so. Here is the last bit that I quote from this fine article:

If Trump and the billionaire fascists who bankroll the Republicans succeed in destroying the last supports for America’s enfeebled middle class, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—and succeed in blocking any possibility of Medicare for All or free college and trade school—not only will the bottom 90 percent of Americans suffer, but what little democracy we have left in this republic will evaporate.

Again, quite so. And this is a very strongly recommended article.

4. 157 of World's 200 Richest Entities Are Now Corporations, Not Governments

This article is by Jake Johnson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
As corporations in the United States and around the world continue to reap record profits thanks to enormous tax cuts, widespread tax avoidance schemes, and business-friendly trade and investment policies, an analysis by Global Justice Now (GJN) published Wednesday found that the world's most profitable companies are raking in revenue "far in excess of most governments," giving them unprecendented power to influence policy in their favor and skirt accountability.

Measured by 2017 revenue, 69 of the top 100 economic entities in the world are corporations, GJN found in its report, which was released as part of an effort to pressure the U.K. government to advance a binding United Nations treaty that would hold transnational corporations to account for human rights violations.

"When it comes to the top 200 entities, the gap between corporations and governments gets even more pronounced: 157 are corporations," GJN notes. "Walmart, Apple, and Shell all accrued more wealth than even fairly rich countries like Russia, Belgium, Sweden."

I say, which I do because I had not realized it was as far as the above. Then again, I have now for several years made a distinction between fascism and neofascism, that mostly consisted in the facts that fascists were (and are) for - totalitarian - state power, whereas neofascists are for the power of the corporations.

And see yesterday for fascism and neofascism (no journalist has defined fascism in the 22 years that I am on internet that I saw; no journalist seems to have any idea of neofascism).

But the above quotation seems to show that corporations are already more powerful than most states are, simply in terms of money, and besides in terms of lack of proper control.

Here is the ending of this article:

"Companies are able to evade responsibility by operating between different national jurisdictions and taking advantage of corruption in local legal systems, not to mention the fact that many corporations are richer and more powerful than the states that seek to regulate them," Friends of the Earth concluded. "We must right this wrong."

Quite so - but I do not know how to ¨right this wrong¨. This is a strongly recommended article.

5. Will Deep-Fake Technology Destroy Democracy?

This article is by Jennifer Boylan on The New York Times. The beginning of the article describes two deeply faked videos, one of an artist, the other of Obama.

Here is more:

Both images are the result of digital manipulation, and what, in its most ominous form, is called deep fakes: technology that makes it possible to show people saying things they never said, doing things they never did.

This technology has great potential both as art and snark: One set of deep fakes has cleverly inserted Nicolas Cage into a half-dozen movies he wasn’t involved with, including “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” You can watch that and decide for yourself whether Mr. Cage or Harrison Ford makes for the best Indiana Jones.

But, as always, the same technology that contains the opportunity for good also provides an opening for its opposite. As a result, we find ourselves on the cusp of a new world — one in which it will be impossible, literally, to tell what is real from what is invented.

I mostly agree, but I should add that I rely myself on written texts rather than videos. Then again, I agree that written texts may also be either falsified or contain a lot of false information.

Here is some more on it:

Since Donald Trump became president, we’ve almost become accustomed to his incessant, berserk gobbledygook. Last week, in his second-most dishonest week as president, he made 129 false statements at four campaign rallies and a news conference (his record was 133 lies, in August).

But deep-fake technology takes deception a step further, exploiting our natural inclination to engage with things that make us angriest. As Jonathan Swift said: “The greatest liar hath his believers: and it often happens, that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work, and there is no further occasion for it.”

Yes. Then there is this:

How many people still believe, all evidence to the contrary, that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or that he was born in Kenya?

(The answer to that last question, by the way: two-thirds of Trump supporters believe Mr. Obama is a Muslim; 59 percent believe he was not born in America and — oh, yes — a quarter of them believe that Antonin Scalia was murdered.)

Now imagine the effect of deep fakes on a close election.
Well... as I have been saying for a long time in Nederlog, I think tens of millions of American voters are stupid or ignorant, and the above quote can provide some precision:

Over 40 million Americans - still - believe Obama is Muslim (ten years after his election as president); nearly 40 million believe Obama was not born in America; and some 15 million believe Scalia is murdered.

Do you need bettter evidence, perhaps?! And how do these widespread beliefs differ from stupidity or ignorance?!

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

If you want to learn more about the dangers posed by deep fakes, you can read the new report by Bobby Chesney and Danielle Keats Citron at the Social Science Research Network. It’s a remarkable piece of scholarship — although I wouldn’t dive in if your primary goal is to sleep better at night.

Their report examines solutions, too. One approach — “immutable life log technology” — especially gets my attention. This would be, essentially, a 24-hour alibi service, in which one’s every word and action is captured digitally — thus making it possible to disprove fakes when they arise.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of a future in which I’m surveilled around the clock in order to ward off the threat posed by fake versions of myself — well, let’s just say that the thought somehow fails to cheer me.

In the first place, I think ¨a 24-hour alibi service¨ exists already: it is the USA´s national security. Then again, that is secret.

And as for me (but I am 68 and have been ill the last 40 years with ME/CFS): ¨
the idea of a future in which I’m surveilled around the clock in order to ward off the threat posed by fake versions of myself¨ is sufficient to make me suicide. This is a strongly recommended article.


[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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