February 6, 2019

Crisis: State of the Union, On Facebook's Degeneracies, On Wikipedia, Netflix, Nuclear Dangers

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 6, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

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 February 6, 2019:
1. Fact Checking the 2019 State of the Union Address
2. How to Stop Facebook’s Dangerous App Integration Ploy

3. Who Edits the Wikipedia Editors?

4. Netflix Paid $0 In Income Taxes Last Year

5. Will Europe Be Victim of Nuclear Power Plays?
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. Fact Checking the 2019 State of the Union Address

This article is by Michael Tackett and Eileen Sullivan on The New York Times. It starts as follows (and I converted all to pure text before copying):
President Trump leaned hard on the strength of the American economy during his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, but with a blend of precise statistics and gauzy superlatives that are much more difficult to measure.

He also returned to a theme that dominated the second year of his presidency — a quest for a border wall with Mexico to cope with what he said is a crisis of crime and drugs in the United States caused by illegal immigration.

The two issues dominated his address, which in tone was more measured than his biting Twitter feed, but in substance contained numerous claims that were false or misleading.
I have said several times in Nederlog that I think fact-checking is important. It is because there is real truth in the world as well as real falsity, though the philosophical and logical issues are quite complicated (and in fact do require a knowledge of both philosophy and logic if these issues are to be treated fairly).

Then again, I will not indulge in either philosophy or logic in the
crisis articles in my Nederlog. What I will do is quote the beginning of no less than 22 sayings by Trump in his State of the Union (bolding removed):
Mr. Trump said that American troops have been “fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years.”
   This is false.

Mr. Trump said that the United States and allies have liberated virtually all of the territory held by the Islamic State.
   This is true.

Mr. Trump said that the United States has spent more than $7 trillion in the Middle East.
   This is exaggerated.

Mr. Trump said he has a good relationship with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
   This is misleading.

Mr. Trump claimed El Paso turned from one of the most dangerous to “one of our safest cities” after a border barrier was built.
   This is false.

Mr. Trump said the “socialist policies” of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela have ruined his nation.
   This is misleading.

Mr. Trump said he thought the United States would be in a “major war with North Korea” if he had not been elected president.
   There is no evidence.
In fact there are 15 more such statements, all with some additional text. The overall score is (if I have counted well) that Trump lied 5 times, spoke the truth 2 times, spoke  misleadingly 4 times, had no evidence 2 times, and exaggerated 2 times. And this is a recommended article.

2. How to Stop Facebook’s Dangerous App Integration Ploy

This article is by Sally Hubbard on The New York Times. It starts as follows (and I converted all to pure text before copying):
In response to calls that Facebook be forced to divest itself of WhatsApp and Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg has instead made a strategic power grab: He intends to put Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger onto a unified technical infrastructure. The integrated apps are to be encrypted to protect users from hackers. But who’s going to protect users from Facebook?
The answer to the last question is: Absolutely no one. There is one agency that might have protected Facebook users, but it hardly worked:
Ideally, that would be the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the antitrust laws and protecting consumers from unfair business practices. But the F.T.C. has looked the other way for far too long, failing to enforce its own 2011 consent decree under which Facebook was ordered to stop deceiving users about its privacy claims. The F.T.C. has also allowed Facebook to gobble up any company that could possibly compete against it, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

Not that blocking these acquisitions would have been easy for the agency under the current state of antitrust law. Courts require antitrust enforcers to prove that a merger will raise prices or reduce production of a particular product or service. But proving that prices will increase is nearly impossible in a digital world where consumers pay not with money but with their personal data and by viewing ads.
I am sorry, but it is my opinion that courts who made the above-quoted decision consist of judges who are totally moronic or totally corrupt: They should not consider prices of products but privacies of users, but they do not, and also totally gave up on privacies (which is a degenerate shame: without privacy a person is without freedom).

Here is some more on Facebook:
The integration Mr. Zuckerberg plans would immunize Facebook’s monopoly power from attack. It would make breaking Instagram and WhatsApp off as independent and viable competitors much harder, and thus demands speedy action by the government before it’s too late to take the pieces apart. Mr. Zuckerberg might be betting that he can integrate these three applications faster than any antitrust case could proceed — and he would be right, because antitrust cases take years.

Luckily, the F.T.C. has a way to act quickly. Prompted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the agency has been investigating Facebook for violating that 2011 consent decree, which required it, among other things, to not misrepresent its handling of user information and to create a comprehensive privacy program. The F.T.C. can demand Facebook stop the integration as one of the conditions for settling any charges related to the consent decree, rather than just imposing an inconsequential fine.
But then again, the F.T.C. may not due that and rather impose an inconsequential fine. Here is some more:
If not stopped, the integration will cement Facebook’s monopoly power by enriching its data trove, allowing it to spy on users in new ways. Facebook might decide to sync data from one app to another so it can better track users. And Facebook needs user data: The reason it commands such a large share of digital advertising is that it tracks users — and even people without Facebook accounts — across millions of sites.
For me, this is pure computer terrorism, in part based on the sick greed of Zuckerberg, in part based on the virtual or complete ignorance of computers and programming in the great majority of Facebook users, and in part on the wholesale destruction of all privacy to allow the security forces of any country to know everything about any user anywhere - which extends to Facebook, Google etc. etc. because it is a purely technical matter if the law is not kept, as it has not been kept almost everywhere since 9/11.

Here is a conclusion of this article:
After stopping Mr. Zuckerberg’s integration plan, the F.T.C. should reverse the WhatsApp and Instagram acquisitions as illegal under the Clayton Act, which prohibits mergers and acquisitions where the effect “may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.” Undoing the mergers would give consumers an alternative to Facebook-owned apps and force Facebook to do better.

Without meaningful competition, Facebook has little incentive to protect users by making changes that could reduce profits. Users unhappy about data collection and algorithms that promote fake news and political polarization don’t have anywhere to go.
I am afraid this is what is going to happen and this is a recommended article.

3. Who Edits the Wikipedia Editors?

This article is by Celisa Calacal on Truthdig and originally on the Independent Media Institute. It starts as follows:

At face value, the website Wikipedia advertises itself as the online, de facto encyclopedia. But comedian Stephen Colbert had a different definition for the site on a 2007 episode of “The Colbert Report,” calling it, “The encyclopedia where you can be an authority even if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

Colbert, in his criticisms of Wikipedia, coined the term “wikiality” to signify a shift, that “when Wikipedia becomes our most trusted reference source, reality is just what the majority agrees upon.”

Yes, I agree with Colbert, except that I think it is far more serious:

I know that Wikipedia intentionally publishes false articles, notably those on totalitarianism (which are Brzezinski's opinions, far more than any decent writer on totalitarianism), and also all articles dealing with psychiatry, which seem to be written by the psychiatrists of the American Psychiatric Association, which even has the consequence that totally correct English terms that exist since the 1890ies, like "megalomania" are deleted from the Wikipedia, and are replaced by psychiatrese (such as "narcissistic personality disorder").

There undoubtedly are many more such cases. Here is some more about Wikipedia:

Founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, Wikipedia has steadily grown to house more than 40 million articles across 301 languages, and is the fifth most visited website in the world. Although it holds power as an online arbiter and provider of information, the forces driving its influence—as in, the people creating and editing articles—are a vast network of volunteers.

Yes, I take it this is all true. But there is some more: I have never felt the slightest inclination to write anything for Wikipedia, because apart from Wales and Sanger I have no idea about who anyone really is who writes the articles on Wikipedia (which is quite different from real and good encyclopedias), and besides, I found it utter nonsense that anyone, whoever he or she is (and mostly anonymous) could alter anything in something I had written.

In fact, this is in part a known problem:

This centralized and volunteer-based structure—the fact that anybody can make changes or add information to any article on the site—might be cause for concern for those worried about the accuracy and verifiability of information found online. If just about anybody can become a contributor to a robust online encyclopedia, who’s to say the information is correct in the first place?

Then there’s the issue of the review process for articles and edits that Colbert brought up: What kind of truthfulness does information on Wikipedia really carry if it is deemed factual simply because a majority of volunteer editors and writers say so?

I think the first quoted paragraph is correct, but the second is misleading: The problem is not with "a majority of volunteer editors and writers" but with the fact that a possible writer like myself has no idea who they are, how good they are, whether they have any academic status in academic subjects, or what is their knowledge.

And Wikipedia also can be changed if you have money:

Past reports have also shown that Wikipedia articles can be influenced by conflicting interests willing to pay for the privilege. An article by the Atlantic found that notable figures concerned with how they’re portrayed on Wikipedia can pay freelancers, PR firms and Wikipedia “experts” to make changes to certain articles. Of course, any changes still need to pass the verifiability test, but contributors acting in a certain party’s interest—rather than analyzing the pure accuracy of sources—can still skew the bias of Wikipedia articles.

Yes, of course. And my own opinion on Wikipedia is that it is impossible for any ordinary user of a computer to really know what Wikipedia is and does, and that it is very difficult to know how correct an article is if it is not about a subject you have - academically - studied yourself. It is for these and other reasons that I have not and never will contribute to Wikipedia. And I do use it for Nederlog mostly because some articles are decent, and because it is easily available. This is a strongly recommended article. 

4. Netflix Paid $0 In Income Taxes Last Year

This article is by Jon Queally on Common Dreams. I changed the title. It starts as follows:

Whether you paid $8.99 for basic, $12.99 for standard, or splurged for the $15.99 premium package so you would have the privilege of watching endless streaming shows and movies on Netflix last month, a new analysis shows you still paid much, much more than the company paid in federal and local income taxes for the entire year.

According to Matthew Gardner, senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), "The popular video streaming service Netflix posted its largest-ever U.S. profit in 2018­­—$845 million—on which it didn't pay a dime in federal or state income taxes."

Not a dime. Not one penny.

"In fact," noted Gardner in a blog post on ITEP's website on Tuesday, "the company reported a $22 million federal income tax rebate."

Of course that is a damned shame (and no, I never used Netflix): You make nearly a billion in profits, but you need not pay a single cent in taxes, while you get $22 million in tax rebate.

Here Gardner is quoted:

A 2017 ITEP report identified Netflix as one of 100 profitable Fortune 500 corporations that paid a 0 percent federal income tax rate in at least one profitable year between 2008 and 2015. In fact, Netflix did it twice, and paid an average tax rate of 13.6 percent over the eight-year period, meaning that the company sheltered more than half of its profits from the 35 percent federal income tax rate in effect at the time.

I think this is all true (and also suggests that something like 20% of the "profitable Fortune 500 corporations" may have similar arrangements, although I do not know this).

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

"Netflix appears to be every bit as unaffected by corporate tax laws now as it was before President Trump's 'reform,'" Gardner concludes. "This is especially troubling because Netflix is precisely the sort of company that should be paying its fair share of income taxes."

Precisely. And this is a recommended article.

5. Will Europe Be Victim of Nuclear Power Plays?

This article is by Der Spiegel Staff on Spiegel International. It starts as follows:

On Friday, American President Donald Trump made good on his threat to pull the U.S. out of the INF treaty, meaning one of the last two remaining major disarmament treaties between the U.S. and Russia will expire after six months. Nuclear arms control, which has provided Europe with security and stability for more than three decades, will be history. The result could be a new global arms race.

What may at first glance appear to be a regression to the chilliest days of the Cold War, is in fact much more dangerous. When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF treaty back in 1987, the world was far less complicated. There were only two superpowers, each of which was disinclined to use its nukes thanks to the prospect of Mutually Assured Destruction.

After the treaty was signed, thousands of cruise missiles and rockets with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers were destroyed. Today, there are around a dozen countries -- including China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and North Korea -- that have their own midrange rockets.

Yes, quite so - and I should immediately say that this is quoted from a long article in two parts that is too long to properly excerpt in Nederlog.

But I will give three more quotes from it, and this is the first:

The latest generation of nuclear missiles are difficult to intercept. Advanced warning times have become so short that humans are barely capable of reacting. The danger of an unintentional escalation -- i.e., an accidental nuclear war -- is growing.

The mistrust among today's nuclear powers has reached a level not seen since the peak of the Cold War. When the INF treaty was signed, Russia was led by Gorbachev, the architect of glasnost. Fast forward to today and the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, uses unpredictability as a political weapon. And in Washington, President Trump doesn't see why the U.S. shouldn't just use its nuclear weapons.

Quite so. Here is some more:

The biggest impact of the collapse of the INF treaty is likely to be on Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks of a "great new risk for Europe" and has threatened Russia with countermeasures. "The collapse of the INF treaty is bad for NATO, bad for our security and bad for our relationship with Russia," warns Wolfgang Ischinger, the head of the Munich Security Conference.

I think this is also correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

With only a few minutes until they reach their destination, the flight time of medium-range missiles is so short that it is hardly possible for the opponent to even react. Cruise missiles like the Russian SSC-8 may be significantly slower than rockets because they are powered like a jet by a turbine, but they can adapt their flight path to the terrain and fly so low at a height of 15 to 100 meters that they are barely detectable by the enemy radar and, as such, by missile defense systems.

Again I think this is quite correct. As I said, there is a whole lot more in this article (in two parts), which is strongly recommended.

[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 (!!).
       home - index - summaries - mail