February 18, 2019

Crisis: No Plan for Brexit, Most Dangerous Weapon, Facebook & Google, U.S. Emergencies I & II

“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 18, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Monday, February 18, 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:

. Selections from February 18, 2019:
1. What’s the Plan for Brexit? There Is No Plan
2. The Most Dangerous Weapon Ever

3. Do Facebook and Google need to be broken up?

4. States Prepare Legal Challenge to Trump's Emergency Declaration

5. Trump Is Our One-Man National Emergency
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. What’s the Plan for Brexit? There Is No Plan

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

The chaos of a British exit from the European Union without a deal has been often foretold, and in frightening detail — goods stranded for weeks, shortages of medicines, flight of businesses and jobs. The deadline, 11 p.m. London time on March 29, is so close that the civil service has begun advertising for applicants to an “E.U. Exit Emergencies Centre.” Yet Prime Minister Theresa May and her Parliament seem capable only of futile votes whose main effect is to harden positions and bring the precipice closer.

The votes themselves are often on matters that are symbolic at best — the last, on Thursday, was a nonbinding motion to support Mrs. May’s battered strategy. Her humiliating loss by a 303-to-258 vote was another example of the prime minister’s inability to overcome a deep rift within her own party, much less the partisan divisions in Parliament, since the resounding defeat of her Brexit plan last month.

Yet with every lost vote, her authority — and the European Union’s faith in her ability to get any deal through Parliament — is further diminished. Still, she remains at 10 Downing Street, the nominal head of a bitterly divided party loath to risk an election it could lose to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, an old-fashioned left-winger whose own party is divided over Brexit.

Yes indeed: This all seems quite true for me, as does the title of this article.

I also think there is no plan because of the many contradictions between the Tories and Labour, while these contradictions have been strengthened by the fundamentally undemocratic elections in Great Britain (that still makes Great Britain ruled by one of two parties, the Tories or Labour).

Also, I have been against Brexit from the beginning, mostly based on my expectations that a genuine Brexit will reduce Great Britain to a small nation with huge costs - but I grant that expectation is more personal than well-founded, although they do seem rational.

Here is one more bit from this article:

What is alarming in this whirlpool of conflicting schemes and fears is the evident sentiment among hard-core Brexiteers that a no-deal exit is not only feasible, but perhaps desirable as a way for Britain to dramatically reaffirm its sovereignty. Their contempt for the chorus of warnings from businesses was best expressed by Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, when he was overheard last June to dismiss such concerns with an expletive. The hard-core Conservative camp has voted against any attempt to legislate a rejection of a no-deal exit.

Yes indeed. And I do not know what to expect in terms of a no-deal Brexit or one which will almost undoubtedly will be a bad deal Brexit, but I do expect in case of any Brexit that Great Britain will be considerably poorer. And this is a recommended article.

2. The Most Dangerous Weapon Ever

This article is by James Carroll on Truthdig and originally on TomDispatch. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

Last month, the National Nuclear Security Administration (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) announced that the first of a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons had rolled off the assembly line at its Pantex nuclear weapons plant in the panhandle of Texas. That warhead, the W76-2, is designed to be fitted to a submarine-launched Trident missile, a weapon with a range of more than 7,500 miles. By September, an undisclosed number of warheads will be delivered  to the Navy for deployment.

What makes this particular nuke new is the fact that it carries a far smaller
destructive payload than the thermonuclear monsters the Trident has been hosting for decades — not the equivalent of about 100 kilotons of TNT as previously, but of five kilotons. According to Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the W76-2 will yield “only” about one-third of the devastating power of the weapon that the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Yet that very shrinkage of the power to devastate is precisely what makes this nuclear weapon potentially the most dangerous ever manufactured. Fulfilling the Trump administration’s quest for nuclear-war-fighting “flexibility,” it isn’t designed as a deterrent against another country launching its nukes; it’s designed to be used.  This is the weapon that could make the previously “unthinkable” thinkable.  

Yes, I agree with Carroll's analysis. Also, here is some background on "low-yield" nuclear weapons:

There have long been “low-yield” nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, including ones on cruise missiles, “air-drop bombs” (carried by planes), and even nuclear artillery shells — weapons designated as “tactical” and intended to be used in the confines of a specific battlefield or in a regional theater of war. The vast majority of them were, however, eliminated in the nuclear arms reductions that followed the end of the Cold War, a scaling-down by both the United States and Russia that would be quietly greeted with relief by battlefield commanders, those actually responsible for the potential use of such ordnance who understood its self-destructive absurdity.

I take it this is correct as well, and especially the fact that most of these "low-yield" nuclear weapons had been eliminated for something like thirty or more years.

Here is some more on intercontinental strategic nukes:

Unlike tactical weapons, intercontinental strategic nukes were designed to directly target the far-off homeland of an enemy. Until now, their extreme destructive power (so many times greater than that inflicted on Hiroshima) made it impossible to imagine genuine scenarios for their use that would be practically, not to mention morally, acceptable. It was exactly to remove that practical inhibition — the moral one seemed not to count — that the Trump administration recently began the process of withdrawing from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, while rolling a new “limited” weapon off the assembly line and so altering the Trident system. With these acts, there can be little question that humanity is entering a perilous second nuclear age.

Yes, I fear that is quite correct. Then there is this on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, that has been warning against the spread of atomic weapons and the probable doomsday for every human being this implies by various means, included - since 1947 - the Doomsday Clock.

That clock is now again as close to doomsday as it was (for the last time) in 1953, all thanks to Donald Trump (who has also publicly wondered why nuclear arms aren't used, since they exist).

Here is some more on
the Doomsday Clock:

By 2018, after a year of Donald Trump, it clocked in at two minutes to midnight, a shrill alarm meant to signal a return to the greatest peril ever: the two-minute level reached only once before, 65 years earlier. Last month, within days of the announced manufacture of the first W76-2, the Bulletin’s cover for 2019 was unveiled, still at that desperate two-minute mark, aka the edge of doom.

There is considerably more in the article that I skip. It ends as follows:

In the upcoming season of presidential politics, the nuclear question belongs at the top of every candidate’s agenda. It belongs at the center of every forum and at the heart of every voter’s decision. Action is needed before the W76-2 and its successors teach a post-Hiroshima planet what nuclear war is truly all about.

Yes indeed: I quite agree and this is a strongly recommended article.

3. Do Facebook and Google need to be broken up?

This article is by Matthew Rozsa on Salon. It starts as follows:

It's hard to believe that, as recently as two years ago, there was serious talk of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg running for president. Regardless of whether one supports his idea for a universal basic income, a strong argument can be made that a President Zuckerberg would have been the single most powerful human being to ever live. He would have controlled the world's mightiest superpower and a social media platform that provides him with intimate personal details of around one-third of the world's population while controlling their access to information.

I make this point because, while any incipient Zuckerberg presidential campaign has been thwarted by the endless controversies surrounding Facebook's role in the 2016 election, the sheer power of both that platform and the search engine Google — the most visited website in the world — give them considerable control over a number of businesses. This is something that people in my industry know firsthand: When Facebook or Google decide to change their algorithms, those of us who work in the media immediately worry that our employers will be hurt and our jobs will be on the line. Such was the case, for instance, when Facebook changed its algorithm in 2018, resulting in many layoffs of editors and journalists.

Well... I don't find this hard to believe and I also think that a - criminal - medium like Facebook should not be called "a social media" but an a-social media precisely because Facebook gathers private and "intimate personal details of around one-third of the world's population while controlling their access to information": That must be a crime (or if it isn't should be a crime) just as is the gathering of private and personal data (including all e-mails) of everyone who is a member of Facebook (who almost never know what they are a member of nor how much they are abused, mostly because of their ignorance).

Incidentally, the business of Rozsa is journalism while to the best of my knowledge the actual algorithms Facebook uses are its secret.

Then there are Franklin Foer and Eleanor Fox both of whom are quoted in the article. I will only quote a few bits from them, and start with Eleanor Fox (and I take it the "from me" in the first paragraph is an editing mistake):

She added, "From the European point of view, it is that Google is a gatekeeper and Google has the responsibility of fair dealing to those on its platform. That is a violation under their treaty on the European Union, the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which says that from me not abuse its dominance."

Foer echoed Fox's observation, drawing parallels between the experiences of journalists in the Google/Facebook age and the international economy in general.

"I feel like the problem that journalism is experiencing with Google and Facebook, it’s a broader economic problem which is that we’ve developed these platforms on which everybody else is dependent, and that dependence is ultimately harmful to the world because whatever Facebook and Google decide is most important at any moment then becomes the thing that’s most important for everybody else," Foer explained. "Their values become the values of everyone who depends on the platforms, and that’s problematic."

Well... yes, but I think that both Google and Facebook are not only too big and too powerful, but they also are criminal, and I totally refuse to use them, not only because I very much dislike them, and I think they are criminal (e-mail ought to be private, just as mail that arrives by old-fashioned post), but also because I hate inviting advertisers in my own house who proceed to copy everything they can lay hands on.

Finally, if it is a matter of personal choice, both Google and Facebook should be forbidden and wholly broken up, while the task of gathering search indexes, as Google does, should be given to some publicly controllable entity that doesn't work for profit.

4. States Prepare Legal Challenge to Trump's Emergency Declaration

This article is by Julia Conley on Common Dreams. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

At least five states are preparing a legal challenge to President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration, which he made on Friday to secure funding for a border wall after congressional Democrats refused to approve $5.7 billion in funds for the project.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appeared on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday to say a lawsuit he's preparing with officials in Minnesota, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Oregon will be filed "definitely and imminently."

"We knew something like this might happen, and with our sister state partners we are ready to go," Becerra told Martha Raddatz.

Becerra said Trump's own admission that he "didn't need to" declare the emergency left him vulnerable to legal action like the one he as well as the ACLU, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and other government watchdogs are taking.

"He himself said it," Becerra said. "He did not need to announce or declare a crisis. He did not have to call this an emergency. He has also said he knows he's going to lose in court and he's hoping that he can count on a conservative court in the Supreme Court to give him a victory because he knows he's going to lose all the way up the ladder of the courts, the federal court system."

I say, which I do because I did not know this, and think it is rather important.

Also, I think Becerra is quite right in insisting that the supposed "emergency" of Trump cannot be an emergency, for the simple reason that Trump himself said he
"didn't need to" declare the emergency".

Here is some more:

Becerra added that although Trump has focused largely in recent days on building the portion of the border wall that would separate Texas from Mexico and not the part that would lie in California, his state stands to lose vital funding for disaster relief services should Trump succeed in raiding government funds for up to $6.6 billion in funding for the wall.

"Whether it's emergency response services, or whether it's fires or mudslides in California, or maybe tornadoes and floods in other parts of the country, or whether it's our military men and women and their families who live on military installations that might—that might have money taken away from them, or whether it's money taken away from drug interdiction efforts in places like California, a number of states, and certainly Americans, will be harmed."

Yes indeed: Becerra is right (and Trump's emergency implies that money will be taken from other governmental ends, and given to building the wall), and this is a recommended article.

5. Trump Is Our One-Man National Emergency

This article is by Michael Winship on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

The fact that his predecessor was a smart, witty and popular black man makes Donald Trump crazy. Especially the black part.

Remember the stories about his alleged fury in 2011 when Barack Obama so effectively zinged Trump as he sat fuming from his table at the White House Correspondents Association dinner? Supposedly it was that humiliation at the hands of a black president that convinced Trump to seek the presidency and, God help us, get the last laugh.

As a candidate, and once he assumed the highest office, in addition to its fundamental principle of Not America But Me First, the Trump platform has been built on planks of anything-Obama-did-I-reject-and-attack. So out went Obama regulations and trade deals. Iran nuclear pact? Be gone. Farewell, Paris climate accord.

Well... I don't know whether Winship is correct in the above quotation (and I dislike Obama, although that is hardly relevant), but he is correct - or so I think - that Trump is a racist.

Here is some more:

But in constantly knocking Obama and his time in the White House, the president not only is engaging in his usual pattern of childishly insulting anyone critical of him, he’s reflecting the deep-seated racism that infects so much of him, and what got him into office.

Think back to Trump’s birther madness. His bogus claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya went on for years until 53 days before the 2016 election when he was forced to make a non-apology from a ballroom in the about-to-open Trump International Hotel. "President Obama was born in the United States. Period," Trump announced, begrudgingly. "Now, we want to get back to making America strong and great again." Strong, he meant, and out of the hands of another minority citizen.

I think this is mostly correct. Next, there is this and the speaker in the first paragraph is Philip Klinkner (who is a professor of government):

“I think for many Americans, the whole definition of America is caught up with race: [the belief] that whites are the only people who have the requisite characteristics that would allow them to be full citizens and therefore the political leaders of the country.”

Such racial fabrication and delusions of white superiority were at the heart of Trump’s presidential campaign – from his birther bilge to those Mexican rapists – and subsequently have reignited in so many of the lies and misrepresentations this president has inflicted on the country since he took the oath of office.

Yet there are few so heinous as the great lie and metaphor for hatred and separation of them all, the “big, beautiful wall” for which, he says, we need to call a national emergency.

There is no emergency.
I agree with Winship that building the wall is no emergency (but a useless, expensive and very silly idea).

Here is Winship's idea on what is the real national emergency:

You know as well as I: The real national emergency isn’t refugees of a different color trying to get into the United States. It’s the white guy sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue with too much “executive time” on his hands.

I agree with Winship, but I realize this is mostly due to an agreement on other values than Trump's racism.

[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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