December 21, 2018

Crisis: Exit Jim Mattis, NAACP ¨boycotts¨ Facebook, Putin & Nuclear Arms, Democrats, Consumers


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 21, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Friday, December 21, 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 21, 2018:
1. Mattis Leaving as Pentagon Chief After Clashes With Trump
2. NAACP Launches Boycott of Facebook

3. Putin Issues Chilling Warning on Rising Threat of Nuclear War

4. That Time Democrats Secretly Used Russian Social Media Tactics

5. Groomed to Consume
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. Mattis Leaving as Pentagon Chief After Clashes With Trump

This article is by Zeke Miller and Lolita Baldor on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly said he was resigning Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump overruled his advice against pulling troops out of Syria and pressed forward on discussions to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.

Mattis, perhaps the most respected foreign policy official in Trump’s administration, will leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years struggling to soften and moderate the president’s hardline and sometimes sharply changing policies. He told Trump in a letter that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”

Trump said in a tweet that Mattis was retiring, but that’s not what Mattis said.

Yes - and of course Trump was (as seems usual for him) lying that Mattis was retiring. Here is some more:

The announcement came a day after Trump surprised U.S. allies and members of Congress by announcing the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria, and as he continues to consider shrinking the American deployment in Afghanistan.

Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria has been sharply criticized for abandoning America’s Kurdish allies, who may well face a Turkish assault once U.S. troops leave, and had been staunchly opposed by the Pentagon.

Mattis, in his resignation letter, emphasized the importance of standing up for U.S. allies — an implicit criticism of the president’s decision on this issue and others.

Yes. Here are two or three good points about Mattis:

During his first conversations with Trump about the Pentagon job, Mattis made it clear that he disagreed with his new boss in two areas: He said torture doesn’t work, despite Trump’s assertion during the campaign that it did, and he voiced staunch support for traditional U.S. international alliances, including NATO, which Trump repeatedly criticized.

Mattis was credited by some in the administration for blocking an executive order that would have reopened CIA interrogation “black sites.” Trump has said the Pentagon chief convinced him it wasn’t necessary to bring back banned torture techniques like waterboarding.

This is a recommended article.

2. NAACP Launches Boycott of Facebook

This article is by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now! I abbreviated the title. It starts with the following introduction:

Facebook is under fire again, this time for new revelations that Russian trolls targeted African Americans on social media in an effort to influence the vote ahead of the 2016 election. A pair of bipartisan reports published by the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday claim the Russian government focused on African Americans in its effort to suppress the turnout of voters likely to cast ballots for Hillary Clinton, spreading fake news and sowing discord in the run-up to the election. The NAACP has launched a Facebook boycott in response, demanding the social media giant be held responsible. We speak with Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP.

Yes. I very strongly dislike Facebook (which I have never used and will never use, and have visited only twice, to the best of my knowledge) for I think it is an extremely fraudulent and very dishonest corporation, that also steals the privacies - and the e-mails and everything else, as far as I know - of 4 billion persons as a matter of course.

As to the NAACP and Derrick Johnson, these last two links are to the Wikipedia (that I like less and less, because it lies more and more to the best of my knowledge, but that is not very relevant here).

Finally, as to the ¨Facebook boycott¨: I think that is somewhat mistakingly named, for ¨a boycott¨ of a week is - in my opinion - hardly a serious boycott. (I do not use Facebook at all
and never will, but it is true that I know html and can program. Then again, neither is necessary
if you are willing to use e-mail.)

Here is some more:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: (...) In response, the NAACP has launched a 1-week digital boycott of Facebook, demanding the social media giant be held responsible for allowing the disinformation campaign. The civil rights group says Facebook has a history of data breaches that unfairly target users of color. The NAACP has also returned a recent donation it received from Facebook, in protest.

AMY GOODMAN: The boycott comes as The New York Times reports Facebook gave intrusive access to users’ personal data to dozens of other Silicon Valley companies, exempting them from Facebook’s privacy rules, even as it misled its users into thinking their data was protected. The Times investigation found companies like Microsoft, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon were given access to far more Facebook users’ data than even Cambridge Analytica, the British PR firm that collected the data of 87 million Americans in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump. The data sharing appeared to violate terms of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission on user privacy.

Yes indeed. Here is Derrick Johnson:

DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, you know, you think about African-American usage of Facebook. We over-index with that tool. And if they have allowed the data, personal data of individuals, to be utilized by a foreign nation in an attempt to subvert democracy, but, most importantly, the festering racial intolerance and hate that we’ve seen over the last two years, if their platform was a part of creating this environment, they must make the necessary modifications and begin to remedy those problems.

In addition to that, there are pending lawsuits against Facebook because they’ve also allowed their tool to be used to discriminate in terms of housing purchases and other consumerism opportunity, for African Americans are being excluded as a result of their platform. There is a lot wrong with Facebook today.

I agree (since a long time) but I think that ¨a boycott¨ of a week of Facebook - that is very dishonest - is not very serious.

Here is more by Johnson:

DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, for us, you know, we’re not going to get into what they did or did not do. We are going to get into the impact of their actions or lack thereof. The outcome is what I’m more concerned about.

And the outcome is one in which they’ve allowed their tool to be used to discriminate against African-American communities in terms of home purchases. They’ve allowed their tool to be used by a foreign nation to subvert democracy and seek to suppress African-American votes. They’ve allowed their tool to fester racial hatred. They’ve allowed their culture climate to hire an outside firm to investigate African-American groups and individuals as if we were a candidate to be opposed to. They’ve allowed their platform to subvert democracy in ways in which—is not acceptable.

So, how they got there, why they got there, what steps they’ve taken and stumbled along the way becomes irrelevant. It’s the outcome, the impact, that we’re most concerned about. And we have not seen a sense of urgency or priority by Facebook to remedy the harms they’ve created.

This seems to me mostly correct, in considerable part because I do not think anyone who is not Zuckerberg or Sandberg is going to know what Facebook ¨did or did not do¨: Facebook lies and also hides behind the fact that it is a corporation that will keep its programs (that the mainstream media insist - falsely - should be called ¨algorithms¨) secret - which means that no one who is not in a leading position will know them.

And again: I think ¨a boycott¨ of a week is hardly serious as a boycott. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the Senate also approving the bipartisan bill that would roll back sentences for federal prisoners, about a tenth of the prison population of this country, rolling back mandatory life terms for third-time offenders, as well as mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug users and those convicted of firearms crimes. It’s an astounding array across the political spectrum, the number of Republicans who joined Democrats in voting for this. Your thoughts?

DERRICK JOHNSON: (...) There is so much to be offered for—by so many individuals. If we can get this same type of reform as relates to the 50 states’ sentencing reform laws, we could be a better nation for it. There’s so much talent that’s been thrown away in this nation, and we need to prevent that from ever happening again.

Yes indeed, and the Senate´s approvement of the bipartisan bill is a small improvement. This is a recommended article.

3. Putin Issues Chilling Warning on Rising Threat of Nuclear War

This article is by Vladimir Isachenkov on Truthdig and originally on The Associated Press. It starts as follows:

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a chilling warning Thursday about the rising threat of a nuclear war, saying “it could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet” — and putting the blame squarely on the U.S.

Speaking at his annual news conference, Putin scoffed at Western claims he wants to dominate the world and said Western countries are antagonizing Russia for their own domestic reasons, and at their own peril. He dismissed claims of Russian interference abroad, from a nerve agent poisoning in Britain to an alleged effort to infiltrate the U.S. National Rifle Association.

Instead he sought to paint himself as the world’s protector. Pointing at the U.S. intention to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty, Putin warned that if the U.S. puts intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to take countermeasures.

“We are witnessing the breakup of the arms control system,” Putin said, noting the U.S. plan to opt out of the INF Treaty and its reluctance to negotiate the extension of the New START agreement.
Yes. And while I do not like Putin, he is correct on several points, namely the enormous dangers of a nuclear war; the fact (I think) that he does not want to dominate the world (which seems false to me, not because of Putin´s wishes, but because of the failing strength of Russia); and ¨the breakup of the arms control system¨.

Here is some more:

Putin noted that Western analysts are talking about the possibility of using low-yield nuclear weapons.

“There is a trend of lowering the threshold” of using nuclear weapons, Putin said. “Lowering the threshold could lead to a global nuclear catastrophe.”

“We will have to ensure our security,” he said. “And they shouldn’t squeak later about us gaining unilateral advantages. We aren’t seeking advantages, we are trying to preserve the balance and ensure our security.”

Putin also emphasized that the U.S. is pondering the use of ballistic missiles with conventional warheads, saying that the launch of such a missile could be mistaken for the launch of a nuclear-tipped one and trigger a global catastrophe.

“If that happens, it could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet,” he said.

Yes, I think Putin is right in the above.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, that outlines the differences in strength between the present Russia and the USA:

Putin said it’s the U.S., not Russia, that’s aspiring to dominate the world. He pointed at U.S. annual defense spending exceeding $700 billion, comparing it with Russia’s military budget of $46 billion.

Yes - and since the military budgets are more or less correct, it is a quite relevant thought that Russia´s military spending is less than 0.07th of the USA´s military spending. And this is a recommended article.

4. That Time Democrats Secretly Used Russian Social Media Tactics

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

Remember those dubious Twitter and Facebook tactics the Russians reportedly employed to influence the United States’ 2016 election? You know, the ones that Democrats have been railing against for a couple of years. Turns out that the Democratic Party may be furious about their possible impact on American democracy, but isn’t above using them.

According to The New York Times, “a group of Democratic tech experts” mimicked Russia’s social media tactics in the infamous 2017 Alabama senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones. Jones ultimately beat accused sex offender Moore by a narrow margin, earning Democrats another seat in the Senate.

Yes indeed - and incidentally: I do not deny that the Russians did interfere some in the American elections, but it seems (to me and to informed others) that they did not interfere much, and besides, the USA does similar things to Russia.

Here is part of a quotation of the New York Times in this article that explains what the Democrats did in Alabama:

An internal report on the Alabama effort, obtained by The New York Times, says explicitly that it “experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”

The project’s operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore. It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.

“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says. …

The project had a budget of just $100,000, in a race that cost approximately $51 million, including the primaries, according to Federal Election Commission records.

In fact, though I suppose this did happen, it cannot have amounted to much, for the simple reason that 100,000 : 51 million = less than a 0.002th part.

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

Due to the limited scope of the effort, it’s considered highly unlikely it had a significant impact on the 2017 election. However, as the Times’ piece points out, the cause for concern lies in whether future U.S. elections will be determined by questionable tactics such as these. The Alabama incident illustrates that it’s not just foreign entities that are invested in stacking the odds in favor of their interests. As Republican consultant Dan Bayens put it, “You’ve got Russia, which showed folks how to do it, you’ve got consultants willing to engage in this type of behavior and political leaders who apparently find it futile to stop it.”

Yes, this is more or less correct - and with the internet as it is, I think almost all politicians, and especially American ones, probably will be trying to support their own proposals, plans, propaganda and lies in whatever way that seems successful to them, especially if this can´t be found out easily. And this is a recommended article.

5. Groomed to Consume

This article is by Anja Lyngbaek on Common Dreams and originally on the Economics of Happiness Blog. It starts as follows:

With Christmas coming up, household consumption will soon hit its yearly peak in many countries. Despite homely pictures of tranquility on mass-produced greeting cards, Christmas is more about frenzied shopping and overspending than peace on earth or quality time with family and friends. As with so much of our lives, the holidays have been hijacked by the idea that satisfaction, even happiness, is only one more purchase away.

Two generations ago, my Norwegian grandmother was overjoyed as a child when she received one modest gift and tasted an imported orange at Christmastime. In the modern era of long-distance trade and excess consumption, nobody gets even mildly excited by tasting a foreign fruit or receiving a small gift. Instead, adults dive into a cornucopia of global food (typically followed by a period of dieting) while children expect numerous expensive gifts – with designer clothes and electronic toys, games, and gadgets topping the list.

This comparison is not meant to romanticize the past or demean the present: it’s just a small example of how consumption has come to replace the things that give real meaning to our lives– like creating something with our own hands, or sharing and interacting with others. In the process, we have been robbed of the ability to take pleasure from small wonders.

Most of us are aware that excessive consumption is a prime feature of modern life, and that it is the cause of multiple social and environmental problems. We are living in a so-called “consumer culture” – a rather fancy title for something that has more in common with an abusive affliction, like bulimia or alcoholism, than it does with real living culture.

Well... yes, but if you are against the present consumer culture (which I think is quite justified), I think you are not being quite logical if you say that you do not intend to ¨romanticize the past or demean the present¨, for the simple reason that, at least in the respect of a consumer culture, the past was better than the present.

Here is more:

Rampant consumerism doesn’t happen by itself: it is encouraged by an economic system that requires perpetual economic growth. When national economies show signs of slowing down, citizens are invariable called upon to increase their consumption, which in a country like the US represents 70 percent of GDP. Curiously, when talk turns to the downside of consumerism – resource depletion, pollution, or shoppers trampled at Wal-Mart – it is the greed supposedly inherent in human nature that gets the blame. Rather than look at the role of corporate media, advertising, and other systemic causes of overconsumption, we are encouraged to keep shopping – but to do so “responsibly”, perhaps by engaging in “green consumerism”, a galling oxymoron.

Yes, that seems quite correct, except for “green consumerism”, for - while I agree with the criticism of consumerism, I think that at present there probably is something like “green consumerism”.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article (minus note numbers, that refer to notes that are not present on Common Dreams):

And the pressure to consume is rising, along with the amount of money spent on advertising. It is forecast that global advertising expenditure will hit $568 billion for 2018, a 7.4 percent increase over 2017. According to UN figures, that amount of money would be sufficient to both eradicate extreme poverty and foot the bill for measures to mitigate the effects of climate change worldwide.

Instead, we are “groomed to consume”. In the US, this means that the average young person is exposed to more than 3,000 ads per day on television, the internet, billboards and in magazines, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. While the figure may be lower in other countries, people everywhere are increasingly exposed to advertising – particularly through the internet, which now has over 4 billion users globally. In fact, half of the global “consumer-class” can now be found in the developing world. Although per capita consumption in China and India remains substantially less than in Europe, those two countries now consume more in total than all of Western Europe.

These are quite interesting numbers (that are probably mostly correct) and this is a recommended article, in which there is a lot more than I quoted.

[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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