December 13, 2018

Crisis: May Survives, Cohen In Jail, Facebook Sells Your Data, On Brexit, On Privatization


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 13, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, December 13, 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 three 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 December 13, 2018:
1. Theresa May Survives Leadership Challenge, but Brexit Plan Is Still in
2. ‘His Dirty Deeds’

3. Facebook Sells Data to Advertisers
4. Conservatives Own the Ongoing Disaster That Is Brexit
5. The Truth About Privatization
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. Theresa May Survives Leadership Challenge, but Brexit Plan Is Still in Peril

This article is by Stephen Castle on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, survived the gravest threat yet to her embattled leadership on Wednesday, winning a party confidence vote and averting a leadership battle that threatened to plunge the country into prolonged crisis.

But the victory celebration, if any, is likely to be short-lived.

While Mrs. May survived to fight another day, the future of her stalled plan to leave the European Union looked bleaker than ever.

She still lacks the votes in Parliament to pass it. She stands little chance of winning the concessions from Europe that she needs to break the logjam.

And the surprisingly strong vote against her within her own party underscores the difficulty she faces in winning approval for any plan for Britain to leave Europe, or Brexit, as the deadline for withdrawal looms.

Yes indeed: I agree. Here is some more, on May:

“Here is our renewed mission,” she said outside her offices at 10 Downing Street after the vote on Wednesday. “Delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that truly works for everyone.”

But even that moment was tempered by loss.

Mrs. May won the vote only after promising that she would step aside soon after the Brexit agonies were over, according to reports from a meeting of Conservative Party lawmakers preceding the vote. That pledge removed the generally unwelcome possibility that she would stand as party leader in the next general election.

I say, which I do because I did not know the last fact. Here is some more, on the voting:

In the vote on Wednesday, on a confidence motion called by her own Conservative Party, Mrs. May won the support of 200 Conservative lawmakers, while 117 voted against her. The protest vote exceeded many forecasts, and is expected to compound her difficulties in Parliament, where her enemies were already pressuring her.

“This was a terrible result for the prime minister,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leader of the hard-line pro-Brexit faction.

The vote does give her some breathing room. Under the Conservative Party’s rules, she cannot be challenged again by her own lawmakers for another year, which at least offers some stability for moving the Brexit plan forward. Had she lost, the Conservatives would have been thrust into a divisive, drawn-out process that would have stretched well into the next month.

Yes, though it seems as if nearly 60% of the Conservatives have no confidence in their own political leader.

Here is the last bit I quote from this article, again on the voting:

In recent days, she suffered two embarrassing setbacks. Last week, the House of Commons voted her government in contempt of Parliament — the first time any prime minister had been censured in that way — for failing to release the advice her government’s lawyers had given on Brexit.

And on Monday, she postponed a vote on the Brexit agreement she had negotiated with the European Union, acknowledging that it stood to be defeated by “a significant margin.” In fact, lawmakers say, views on the topic, which has dominated British politics for nearly three years, are so fragmented that no approach has majority support in Parliament, and probably not even among Conservatives.

I think that may well be correct and this is a recommended article.

2. ‘His Dirty Deeds’

This article is by The Editorial Board on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

There have been some dark days in America in recent months, days when its astonished citizens have had reason to wonder whether its institutions and even its ideals — the Congress, the electoral process, the notion that honesty matters — had become too brittle to withstand what could seem like relentless assault.

Wednesday was not one of those days.

A federal judge in Manhattan sentenced Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, to three years in prison over what the judge called a “veritable smorgasbord” of crimes, most important, paying hush money to two women who said they slept with his ex-boss. Those payments enabled Mr. Trump to conceal the accusations from voters in the closing weeks of the campaign. United States District Judge William Pauley said this violation of campaign finance laws created “insidious harm to our democratic institutions.” In so ruling, he demonstrated that those institutions have some life in them yet.

I say, and I mostly disagree. My reasons are mainly that for decades black people have been disappearing in America´s prisons for twenty to fifty years for possessing some marijuana, whereas a white lawyer, who committed, in the words of the judge sentencing him, a ¨“veritable smorgasbord” of crimes¨, gets sentenced for three years.

And I do not think that is fair, though I also do not know what would have been a fair punishment for Cohen. Here is some more:

Mr. Trump has called the payments to the two women “a simple private transaction.” But prosecutors made clear that the payments were illegal campaign contributions because their purpose was to help win the election.

Yes, of course. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

In pleading for mercy, Mr. Cohen told the judge a sad tale of a starry-eyed man led astray by “a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”

“Time and time again,” he said of his ex-employer, “I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass.”

Lest a tear come to your eye, let’s be clear that Mr. Cohen’s “path of darkness” began with a sleazy legal practice years before meeting Mr. Trump. Prosecutors have made a persuasive case that the moral compass of Mr. Cohen, who also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and bank fraud, didn’t locate true north until he was caught and his home, office and hotel room were raided by the F.B.I.

Yes, that is to say: If you believe Cohen, you must be very stupid. This is a recommended article.

3. Facebook Sells Data to Advertisers

This article is by Michael Kosinski on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

In recent weeks, Facebook confronted yet another privacy scandal, in light of leaked court documents suggesting that its staff discussed the idea of selling user data as long ago as 2012. Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, responded, “To be clear, Facebook has never sold anyone’s data.” It was the same denial that Mark Zuckerberg issued before the Senate in April 2018: “We do not sell data to advertisers. We don’t sell data to anyone.”

As a data scientist, I am shocked that anyone continues to believe this claim. Each time you click on a Facebook ad, Facebook sells data on you to that advertiser. This is such a basic property of online targeted advertising that it would be impossible to avoid, even if Facebook somehow wanted to.

Yes, of course - and this also illustrates (i) what awfully degenerated liars the - extremely rich - owners of Facebook are, and also (ii) how extremely little is really known about Facebook´s practices.

And Kosinski is an assistant professor at Stanford, and he - obviously - speaks the truth, whereas Zuckerberg is - obviously - lying to the ¨dumb fucks¨ (source: Zuckerberg) who trust him: How else did he become one of the richest persons ever, within some ten years?!

Here is some more background on Facebook:

When you click on an ad and are sent to an advertiser’s website, the advertiser knows which ad you saw and thus which bucket you fall in.

Facebook has a lot of data on their users and is eager to monetize it. The advertisers are encouraged to selectively target people according to a mind-boggling range of personal characteristics. Some, such as age, gender or location, are not overly intimate. Others, such as your political views, family size, education, occupation, marital status or interest in a gay dating app, are highly personal.

Facebook would even let advertisers target you based on facts that you may not be aware of, such as that you are a close friend of a soccer fan or of someone who got recently engaged. In a recent study we published, my colleagues and I discovered that advertisers can target users based on their intimate psychological traits, such as personality. If you can think of an important personal characteristic, there’s a good chance it’s targetable on Facebook. Through this ad-targeting system, Facebook discloses facts about you to advertisers, in exchange for money, every time you click on an ad. I’d call that “selling data,” and I bet that you would, too.

Yes, of course. Also, I do not think Facebook should have access to any personal data whatsoever, including ¨age, gender or location¨: I do not see why a sick liar like Zuckerberg should have any access - but I do agree that the internet seems to have been designed on purpose to steal as many personal data from anyone as is possible. See here for some backgrounds: Crisis: Propaganda and Control: Brezezinski 1968.

Here is more on the lies, degeneracies, and sicknesses of Facebook:

But Facebook is extremely clever at dodging this issue. When the company argues that it is not selling data, but rather selling targeted advertising, it’s luring you into a semantic trap, encouraging you to imagine that the only way of selling data is to send advertisers a file filled with user information. Congress may have fallen for this trap set up by Mr. Zuckerberg, but that doesn’t mean you have to. The fact that your data is not disclosed in an Excel spreadsheet but through a click on a targeted ad is irrelevant. Data still changes hands and goes to the advertiser.

Facebook's claiming that it is not selling user data is like a bar’s giving away a free martini with every $12 bag of peanuts and then claiming that it’s not selling drinks. Rich user data is Facebook’s most prized possession, and the company sure isn’t throwing it in for free.

Importantly, this problem is not limited to Facebook. Other Big Tech companies, including Google and Amazon, have similar ad platforms. If a platform can be used to target specific users, then it reveals those users’ data. The advertiser could easily create its own data file based on this information, or merge the information with any other data it has on a customer.

The potential for abuse is obvious.
Yes, quite so - and besides Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and more there also is the fact that everyone is being surveilled these days by any of many ¨national security agencies¨, that are literal - anonymous, heavily protected - spies for their governments, and this also was set up on purpose and since the late 1960ies: See here again for some backgrounds: Crisis: Propaganda and Control: Brezezinski 1968.

Here is the ending of this article:

Facebook cannot be trusted to fix this problem itself. Would you trust Big Tobacco’s claims about lung cancer? What about Big Sugar’s claims about obesity? Then why would you believe what Big Tech has to say about data privacy? Markets, including the market for consumer data, do not work efficiently when a company like Facebook is allowed to abuse its market position to ignore its users’ rights, needs and wishes. Policymakers have no choice but to step in, restore the balance of power and protect citizens’ privacy.
Yes indeed - except that I do not care much for Facebook´s - true - ¨abuse its market position¨ because I care very much more for my real privacy, and the real privacies of everyone else, which I fear have been completely and on purpose been destroyed by internet computing. And see here again for some backgrounds: Crisis: Propaganda and Control: Brezezinski 1968. This is a strongly recommended article.

4. Conservatives Own the Ongoing Disaster That Is Brexit

This article is by Natasha Hakimi Zapata on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind visit to the United Kingdom, where the elephant in every room seems to have grown to such proportions that Brits can hardly breathe without mentioning it with a groan. I’m talking about Brexit, of course, the U.K.’s ill-fated divorce from the European Union, which began over two years ago with a referendum that launched British politics into chaos.

Since that June day in 2016, nothing’s been quite the same in Britain, and almost nothing else has been more pressing on the minds and mouths of Britons everywhere.
Yes indeed, and also see item 1. Here is more:

And yet, nothing has actually happened. Well, a few things have. The gamble-prone David Cameron resigned as prime minister in disgrace; a quick leadership contest in the Tory party led to the rise of former Home Secretary Theresa May over the infamous “Leave” campaigner Boris Johnson; Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was triggered to begin the “divorce” negotiations; May called for a snap election that actually led to Tories losing seats in Parliament; and through it all, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has held his own against threats to his leadership within his party, a hostile media and even a possible government- funded conspiracy.

But in terms of Brexit, the U.K. is no closer now than it was in 2016 to even beginning its formal departure from the EU. May’s government has spent the better part of two years negotiating with the European Union, only to come up with a deal that pretty much no one likes, and that Corbyn calls “the worst of all worlds.”
Yes indeed again: This seems a decent summary. Here is some more:
In the week before Parliament was scheduled to vote on the unpopular deal, a few game-changing events took place. While May had been billing her deal as the lesser of two evils (the other option being a “no deal” scenario that would create bureaucratic turmoil and severe economic consequences), a third option emerged miraculously from the European Court of Justice: Forget Brexit altogether. In an unexpected ruling, the ECJ decided that a country could turn its back on its invocation of Article 50 and leave things as they stood. In other words, the U.K. can still stay in the EU if it so chooses. The other momentous occurrence was that members of parliament successfully demanded to see the full legal advice on the deal, as Corbyn alludes to in his critique.
Yes indeed. Here is the end of this article:
Personally, I like writer and filmmaker Paul Mason’s imagined scenario best: a canceled Brexit and a Labour election victory that would lead to Jeremy Corbyn becoming U.K. prime minister. You may say that Mason and I are dreaming, given the constant barrage of vitriol the progressive leader faces and the inertia pulling the U.K. violently out of the EU even now, but maybe we’re not the only ones.
I happen to agree with Natasha Hakimi Zapata and this is a recommended article.

5. The Truth About Privatization

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

Privatization. Privatization. Privatization. It’s all you hear from Republicans. But what does it actually mean?

Generations ago, America built an entire national highway system, along with the largest and best public colleges and universities in the world. Also public schools and national parks, majestic bridges, dams that generated electricity for entire regions, public libraries and public research.

But around 1980, the moneyed interests began pushing to privatize much of this, giving it over to for-profit corporations. Privatization, the argument went, would boost efficiency and reduce taxes.

The reality has been that privatization too often only boosts corporate bottom lines. 

Yes - of course, I would say. Here is more (and there also are five rules of thumb when not to privatize in the present article, that I skip):

It’s true that private for-profit corporations can do certain tasks very efficiently. And some privatization has worked. But the goal of corporations is to maximize profits for shareholders, not to serve the public interest.

The question should be: What’s best for the public?
Yes - but then I and Einstein and Orwell (to name two big names) were socialists because they thought that was the ¨best for the public¨, and I agree with them (but do not know whether any democratic socialism will ever be realized before humanity has been killed by nuclear arms or natural collapse).

Then again, Reich disagrees: He is for capitalism. Here is the ending of his article:
In other words, for-profit corporations can do some things very well. Including, especially, maximizing shareholder returns. But when the primary goal is to serve the public, rather than shareholders, we need to be careful not to sacrifice the public interest to private profits.

Well... my own opinion is that under capitalism most public interests have been and will be sacrificed to private profits, and the more so as the many non-rich are these days fully known
to the government and by the rich who run Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft. Anyway....

[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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