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Nederlog

December 19, 2018

Crisis: Facebook´s Thefts, Trump & Courts, Pentagon´s Spending, The 1 Percent, A Maximum Wage



Sections
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 19, 2018
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, December 19, 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 19, 2018:
1. As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech
     Giants
2. Good Luck in Court, Mr. Trump

3. The Pentagon Failed Its Audit Amid a $21 Trillion Scandal (Yes, Trillion)

4. The World Is Now the Property of the 1 Percent
5. Jeff Bezos Has Enough! It’s Time for a Maximum Wage
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. As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants

This article is by Gabriel Dance, Michael LaForgia and Nicholas Confessore on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

I strongly dislike - hate, despise - Facebook. I think it treats everyone who is not a billionaire or at least a substantial millionaire as stupid slaves who are without hardly any knowledge about computing, and who can be tricked into giving away all or most of their privacies for nothing at all.

Also, I think Facebook is fundamentally a deeply criminal organization, that works essentially by fraud and by lying.

The above bit strongly supports me:
  • ¨personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond¨ -
    but even so:
  • all personal data are essentially frauded from their owners (the individuals whose personal data they are): they are either simply taken without any notification, or are obtained by fundamentally false promises, and
  • ¨Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.¨
Besides, the above quotation shows the fundamental difference between billionaires and the rest:

The billionaires who own Netflix, Spotify, Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo are given all the personal information - about you, your friends and their friends - but each and all refuse to tell honestly to the non-rich how their private information is abused, who abuses or has it, and what it is used for.

Here is some more from this article:

Facebook has been reeling from a series of privacy scandals, set off by revelations in March that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly used Facebook data to build tools that aided President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Acknowledging that it had breached users’ trust, Facebook insisted that it had instituted stricter privacy protections long ago. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, assured lawmakers in April that people “have complete control” over everything they share on Facebook.

But the documents, as well as interviews with about 50 former employees of Facebook and its corporate partners, reveal that Facebook allowed certain companies access to data despite those protections. They also raise questions about whether Facebook ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred the social network from sharing user data without explicit permission.

Yes indeed - and Mark Zuckerberg lied again, which - to the best of my knowledge - he always does when he is addressing ¨the public¨, except for a single bit: He described his users (quite a number of years ago) as ¨dumb fucks who trust me¨, and that is the only bit I know of Zuckerberg´s public prose that is true (and originally this was not publc prose at all).

Here is more on Facebook´s frauds:

In all, the deals described in the documents benefited more than 150 companies — most of them tech businesses, including online retailers and entertainment sites, but also automakers and media organizations. Their applications sought the data of hundreds of millions of people a month, the records show. The deals, the oldest of which date to 2010, were all active in 2017. Some were still in effect this year.

This means that the privacies of ¨hundreds of millions of people a month¨ where shared for seven years on end with ¨more than 150 companies¨, none of of which had any right on these data (just as Facebook has no right at owning or reading your private data).

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

Personal data is the oil of the 21st century, a resource worth billions to those who can most effectively extract and refine it. American companies alone are expected to spend close to $20 billion by the end of 2018 to acquire and process consumer data, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Few companies have better data than Facebook and its rival, Google, whose popular products give them an intimate view into the daily lives of billions of people — and allow them to dominate the digital advertising market.

Precisely and I think that neither Facebook nor Google has any right whatsoever on owning or reading anyone´s private data. There is a lot more in this article, that is recommended.


2. Good Luck in Court, Mr. Trump

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

A bit of common sense and common decency intruded on Tuesday into the crazy world of Donald Trump.

In New York, the state attorney general announced that the president had agreed that the “charity” he used as a piggy bank has no reason to exist.

In Washington, a federal judge let a former top presidential aide know that you can parrot political spin or you can tell the truth, but you can’t do both to someone who can send you to prison.

Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, appeared before Judge Emmet Sullivan to be sentenced to what he expected would be a term of probation, after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators about conversations with the Russian ambassador. The office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, had earlier filed a memo that said it would be right for Mr. Flynn to avoid prison after his extensive cooperation in the investigation of Trump ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and after.

Then last week, in a memo about their client’s sentencing, Mr. Flynn’s lawyers implied that he had been tricked into lying and that the F.B.I. acted improperly in interviewing him — points raised by pro-Trump commentators elaborating on the president’s claims of being victimized by a witch hunt.

Judge Sullivan was having none of it.

“I cannot recall an instance of a court ever accepting a guilty plea from someone who did not maintain he was guilty,” Judge Sullivan said, “and I do not intend to start today.”

Yes indeed. Here is some more:

Mr. Flynn should be grateful the judge offered him the chance to come clean. By contrast, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity that provided no charity, quite properly received none from the New York attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood accused it of “a shocking pattern of illegality” that “amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”

Whatever money that remains will be disbursed under the supervision of Ms. Underwood’s office and the judge overseeing the continuing lawsuit her office filed in June, seeking $2.8 million in restitution and a ban on Mr. Trump and his three oldest children serving on the boards of other nonprofit organizations.

In a series of stories exposing the foundation’s true nature, The Washington Post found that its largest donation was to fix a fountain in front the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, which Mr. Trump owned at the time, that its funds were used to buy a portrait of Mr. Trump, and that it illegally provided political donations and paid for personal legal settlements.

I say. And this is a recommended article with more in it than I quoted.

3. The Pentagon Failed Its Audit Amid a $21 Trillion Scandal (Yes, Trillion)

This article is by Lee Camp on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

A few months ago, I covered the story of the $21 trillion that has gone unaccounted for at the Pentagon. That’s right—trillion with a T—an amount of money you can’t possibly come to terms with, so stop trying. Seriously, stop. It’s like trying to comprehend the age of the earth.

(The earth is 4.5 billion years old. To put that into context, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 11 years left to completely change our ways or climate change will make the earth uninhabitable. If you were to take the age of the earth and lay it out on the span of a calendar year, this means we would have less than a millisecond left on Dec. 31 to utterly change our ways or all is lost.)

Anyway, the $21 trillion includes $6.5 trillion unaccounted for at the Pentagon in 2015 ALONE. When I covered all this a few months ago, very few people were talking about it.

In fact, I did review Camp´s story and it is here. And I praised it, except that I disagree about trillions and billions, since these are quite easily (and normally) reckoned with by physicists and others.

Here is some more from the present article:

Anyway, my column on this topic went viral, as did the Forbes article, each garnering hundreds of thousands of views. Yet despite all that, still not a word from Congress, and not a word from the hacks at your mainstream media outlets. But then again, getting important news about the corruption of our military- industrial complex from the mainstream media would be like getting a philosophy lesson from a strip-club dancer (in that it would be most unexpected, and it’s not really why you’re there).

Yes, I agree basically. Here is some background from The Nation:

If they want to learn what real reporting looks like on this same topic, they can read The Nation’s investigative exposé. That article stated:

For decades, the DoD’s leaders and accountants have been perpetrating a gigantic, unconstitutional accounting fraud, deliberately cooking the books to mislead the Congress and drive the DoD’s budgets ever higher. … DoD has literally been making up numbers in its annual financial reports to Congress— representing trillions of dollars’ worth of seemingly nonexistent transactions … according to government records and interviews with current and former DoD officials, congressional sources, and independent experts.

Quite so. Here is more from the same source:

Here’s more analysis from The Nation:

The Pentagon’s accounting fraud diverts many billions of dollars that could be devoted to other national needs: health care, education, job creation, climate action, infrastructure modernization, and more. Indeed, the Pentagon’s accounting fraud amounts to theft on a grand scale—theft not only from America’s taxpayers, but also from the nation’s well-being and its future.

Yes indeed. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which is about how the above facts are reported in the mainstream media: ¨It was just an accounting error¨ (of 6,5 or 21 times 1.000.000.000.000 dollars from the taxes):

These are not “accounting errors.” It’s impossible to have trillions of dollars of “accounting errors.” Since I have now saturated my keyboard with my anger-saliva, I’ll let Laurence Kotlikoff at Forbes answer this:

Let’s recall that this is not simply a matter of boring accounting. Trillions in unaccounted outlays, if that’s what’s involved here, is trillions of our tax dollars being spent without our knowledge. If that’s the case, we’re talking about the biggest government financial deception in the history of the country.

Long story short, this $21 trillion story is starting to gain traction. People can finally see the truth. And right now, it is the corporate media puppets who are trying to make sure you think, “It’s just a few accounting errors. Pay no mind to the fact that it amounts to the largest theft ever perpetrated against the American people.”

Yes, I agree and this is a strongly recommended article.


4. The World Is Now the Property of the 1 Percent

This article is by Nomi Prins on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

As we head into 2019, leaving the chaos of this year behind, a major question remains unanswered when it comes to the state of Main Street, not just here but across the planet. If the global economy really is booming, as many politicians claim, why are leaders and their parties around the world continuing to get booted out of office in such a sweeping fashion?

One obvious answer: the post-Great Recession economic “recovery” was largely reserved for the few who could participate in the rising financial markets of those years, not the majority who continued to work longer hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, to stay afloat. In other words, the good times have left out so many people, like those struggling to keep even a few hundred dollars in their bank accounts to cover an emergency or the 80% of American workers who live paycheck to paycheck.

In today’s global economy, financial security is increasingly the property of the 1%.

Yes, I completely agree - and have been writing about the crisis of 2008 ever since (for ten years now) as a crisis, indeed in part because I - who is very poor, though probably slightly less than over 250 million Americans) - did and do experience it that way.

Here is some more on what happened in 2008 (and in fact I wrote over 2100 articles that all start with ¨Crisis:¨ since September 1, 2008):

To understand how we got here, let’s take a step back. Only a decade ago, the world experienced a genuine global financial crisis, a meltdown of the first order. Economic growth ended; shrinking economies threatened to collapse; countless jobs were cut; homes were foreclosed upon and lives wrecked. For regular people, access to credit suddenly disappeared. No wonder fears rose. No wonder for so many a brighter tomorrow ceased to exist.

Precisely. Here is more:

Thanks to the massive accumulation of wealth by a 1% skilled at gaming the system, the roots of a crisis that didn’t end with the end of the Great Recession have spread across the planet, while the dividing line between the “have-nots” and the “have-a-lots” only sharpened and widened.

Again I wholly agree. Here is what happened between 2009 and 2017:

Or if you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight. And by the way, despite claims by the president that every other country is screwing America, the U.S. leads the pack when it comes to the growth of inequality. As Inequality.org notes, it has “much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.”

In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the differences between the very few rich and the very many poor are larger than they ever were.

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

Even in the U.S., however, where a magnificent recovery was supposed to have been in place for years, actual economic growth simply didn’t materialize at the levels promised. At 2% per year, the average growth of the American gross domestic product over the past decade, for instance, has been half the average of 4% before the 2008 crisis. Similar numbers were repeated throughout the developed world and most emerging markets. In the meantime, total global debt hit $247 trillion in the first quarter of 2018. As the Institute of International Finance found, countries were, on average, borrowing about three dollars for every dollar of goods or services created.

This is more evidence that the crisis that started in 2008 continued ever since for the poor, and only stopped for the rich and very rich. There is a lot more in this article that is strongly recommended.


5. Jeff Bezos Has Enough! It’s Time for a Maximum Wage

This article is by Mark Engler and Sam Pizzigati on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

For Republican members of Congress and cable news pundits, a cap on the earnings of the super rich might sound like a dystopian nightmare. Yet, as author Sam Pizzigati argues in his new book, The Case for A Maximum Wage, those who are not ardent free marketeers should give the idea some serious considerationnot only as a desirable policy, but also one that might be more practical than some might imagine.

Yes, I strongly agree and in fact pleaded the same argument in my Crisis: On Socialism (and I got the idea originally from George Orwell, in fact long before 2008, and quite possibly before 1970, although I am not certain about that).


Here is more:

In 2010, trade union leaders presented elites at Davos with a proposal for a ratio-based maximum wagesomething proposed in the U.S. by Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley. Hanley’s version would mandate that a top executive’s pay be no more than 100 times the salary of the company’s lowest-paid worker. In other words, if the receptionist or janitor makes $35,000 per year, the CEO would take home no more than $3.5 million. To raise his or her pay further, the boss would have to bring up the bottom as well. 

 

While a 100:1 gap comes nowhere close to rigidly enforced equality, it would break from current norms in the U.S., where a CEO in one of the country’s largest 350 firms earns an average of 271 times that of a typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

I did not know about Hanley´s proposal - and in fact my own proposal was 20:1 (instead of 100:1), whereas Orwell´s (from the 1940ies) proposal was 10:1, which should be compared with the desire of American workers, some time ago, that their bosses should earn no more than 7:1 of what the workers did).


Also, I´d say that (i) the differences in power and in wealth are larger than they were ever were before, and (ii) the only way to decrease these successfully is by legally forbidding differences that are larger than x:1 (where the x may be many numbers: see above), which (iii) may be motivated in principle by pointing to the history of the past 2500 years, which were not legally bound in this way, and which was also very unequal, with always a very few rich, supported and maintained by very many non-rich.


Here is more on the idea by Pizzigati:

Of course, since much of the vast wealth of the super rich comes not from salaries but from stock options and returns on accumulated assets, a maximum wage would address only one aspect of inequality. Yet Pizzigati argues that tackling the “predistribution” of corporate profits by stopping runaway executive pay is nevertheless an important part of keeping the gap from widening further.

 

Could a “maximum wage” gain traction more widely in the United States? I spoke with Pizzigati to discuss the nuts and bolts of the ideaand to consider whether such a seemingly radical and egalitarian economic intervention could ever take hold in American politics.

I agree, but at least Orwell and myself argued our proposals not on the basis of wage, but on the basis of all incomes one may get. And I do not consider this very important.


Here is more fron the interview Engler had with Pizzigati. This is on wealth without limits (that is the present norm everywhere):

SAM PIZZIGATI: It’s very common, not just on the conservative side of the political fence. It’s essentially the conventional wisdom of the Democratic Party. But it’s deeply flawed. If we let wealth concentrate at the top without limit, we’re undermining our democracy, we’re coarsening our culture, and we’re leaving our economy less stable.

I agree. Besides, it is simply extremely unfair. Here is more on the Blatcherists Blair and Clinton:

ENGLER: You cite Tony Blair’s Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Mandelson, who said in 1998, “We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich, as long as they pay their taxes.” This notion was part of that Blairite moment.

 

PIZZIGATI: That’s right. The corresponding Clintonian notion was that “if there are rats in the basement where poor people are, worry about that. Don’t worry about what’s happening in the penthouse.”

Quite so. Here is more on Pizzigati´s idea:

ENGLER: I think one of the most important concepts you introduce in your book is the idea of linking minimum wages with maximums. Can you talk about that?

 

PIZZIGATI: Right now we have an exploitation economy. People of great wealth and power do better, personally, by exploiting people of modest or very little means. The more they downsize and outsource and undercut working people, the more they earn. We need a society where the richest, most powerful among us have a vested interest in improving the wellbeing of the poorest. We can do that if we link a cap on income at the top to incomes at the bottomif we create, in a sense, a maximum wage that’s linked to the minimum wage.

Yes indeed - but I had the same idea (and talked about incomes rather than wages, although I do not think the difference is that important).

Here is more on how it was between (roughly) 1946 and 1970 in the USA:

 

PIZZIGATI: Back in the 1960s and 1950s, the typical CEO in the United States of a major corporation took home between 20 and 30 times the pay of the pay of the lowest paid worker in their enterprise. Last year, at least 21 CEOs in major corporations in the United States made over 1,000 times the income of their lowest paid employee. That means that this worker would have to work more than a millennium to make as much as the CEO makes in one year.

I think all of the above is quite correct. Here is more on Pizzigati´s idea:

PIZZIGATI: Of course we’re a long way politically from a situation like that. But you can visualize a society where we’d have a 100 percent top marginal tax rate, and we’d set up a system where that top tax rate went into effect at some multiple of the minimum wage. For instance, that 25 times the minimum wage becomes the point at which this 100 percent marginal top income tax rate goes into effect. That would be a very easy way of putting in a maximum wage. In fact, Franklin Roosevelt proposed a 100 percent top marginal tax rate back in 1942. We have historical precedent. Something like this is doable. I think it should start to enter our political conversation, and there are steps we can take in the interim that could move us in that direction.

I completely agree. Here is the last bit that I quote from this fine article:

ENGLER: You mentioned before  that, historically, limits on top wages were achieved through progressive income taxes. How do you see a maximum wage as being distinct from just high taxes on the rich?

 

PIZZIGATI: In the middle of the twentieth century in the United Statesas well as in major countries in western Europewe had very high top marginal tax rates. For the 20 years after World War Two, the top marginal tax rate hovered around 90 percent. It was 91 percent throughout the Eisenhower years in the 1950s. This redistribution through the tax code worked wonders. In the quarter century after the war, the real incomes of average working people more than doubled. There was very little of an increase at the top over that time.

Yes, but as I said: I do not consider the differences between wages and incomes as very relevant.
And this is a very strongly recommended article.

Note
[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl 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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