April 17, 2019

Crisis: First Assange, Climate & Computers, The VIPS, The Left vs. the "Left", Reich & Inequality

“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 April 17, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, April 17, 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 April 17, 2019:
1. First Julian Assange, Then Us
2. Bill McKibben: Climate Change, Artificial Intelligence & Genetic

3. VIPS: The Fly in the Mueller Ointment

4. The Divisive Center vs. The Unifying Left

5. Robert Reich on America's inequality crisis
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. First Julian Assange, Then Us

This is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

In a recent episode of “On Contact,” Chris Hedges spoke with historian and Truthdig contributor Vijay Prashad about the arrest of Julian Assange and its possible ramifications. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the interview at the bottom of the post.

Chris Hedges:  Welcome to “On Contact.” Today we discuss the arrest of Julian Assange with the historian Vijay Prashad.

Vijay Prashad:  You know if Chelsea Manning hadn’t decided to download that material, if Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks organization hadn’t decided to put that material out there, you and I who know these things to be true because we’ve seen them, would never have been able to talk about these things in such an open way.  And yet that’s not the conversation. The conversation became about Assange’s personality, about what he’d done in Sweden and so on.

CH:  The arrest of Julian Assange eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and U.S. governments, in the seizure of Assange, are ominous. They presage a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes, especially war crimes, carried out by the corporate states and the global ruling elite, will be masked from the public. They presage a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presage an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment.  The arrest of Assange, I fear, marks the official beginning of the corporate totalitarianism that will define our lives.

Yes, I basically agree with Hedges. I do not know what position Prashad is in fact taking (I guess rather close to Hedges) but in any case I am not interested in "Assange’s personality" for the simple reason that I never met him or mailed with him, and I am also not interested in what he has "done in Sweden" because that is too little, too long ago, and too legal.

Here is some more:

CH:  And yet the press has—and I read every article on Assange, including the editorial and Michelle Goldberg’s horrible column—has just bought into this narrative without seeing that this is an assault on the ability of a press to shine a light into the inner workings of power and in particular, empire. That they, they are going after Assange. They’ve found a kind of legal trick. They’ll charge [Assange with] attempting to assist Manning to change a password, which even they admit he wasn’t able to do. But that’s not why they’re lynching him. They’re lynching him because he embarrassed them.  He exposed their crimes.

Well... I certainly have not "read every article on Assange", also not if this were restricted to his arrest. Also, I am not quite clear who Hedges is talking about in the above bit: The press or the American security forces. I guess the latter, but I am not sure.

Here is more:

VP:  Well, let’s be frank. We know what has happened to the journalist profession. I prefer to call many of my colleagues stenographers of the state, people [who] take press releases from the government or they accept what an official says. You just need to read the story, what is the sourcing of the story? An official said, another official said, a third official said, a fourth official said. Have you tried to verify the information? What is your moral standard?  The moral standard of what appears in corporate media is largely the morality of the state and of the national security system—they take that as ipso facto the truth. That’s a problem for me.

Yes, I agree with this, especially the last bit. Here is more by Hedges:

CH:  We’ve just watched with the seizure of Assange, the violation of several laws, of international law, the right to political asylum, the violation of sovereignty under the Ecuadorian institution. You can’t—on Ecuadorian soil which is what the embassy is considered—you can’t send foreign police in. The whole imprisonment of Assange, who has never committed a crime or even—certainly within Britain—been charged for a crime. This whole bail thing was resolved.  The Swedish charges were dropped. This is a kind of microcosm of how these global elites and this imperial power creates the kind of facade of law, but behind the scenes eviscerate the law. It’s how we in the United States have a right to privacy with no privacy. It’s how we have due process with no due process.

Yes, I basically agree. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

We must now all resist. We must in every way possible put pressure on the British government to halt the judicial lynching of Julian Assange. If Assange is extradited and tried, it will create a legal precedent that will terminate the ability of the press, which Trump repeatedly has called “the enemy of the people,” to hold power accountable. The crimes of war and finance, the persecution of dissidents, minorities and immigrants, the pillaging by corporations of the nation and the ecosystem, and the ruthless impoverishment of working men and women to swell the bank accounts of the rich, and consolidate the global oligarch’s total grip on power, will not only expand, but will no longer be part of public debate. First Assange.  Then us.

Yes, I fear this is also correct. As to "First Assange.  Then us.": In the end, this is because of the internet, which is - by far - the best approach to neofascism there has ever been, for now and since some 20 years, any "national security force" (basically anonymous spies) may know everything about anyone. Also, I do not know how to stop this. And this is a strongly recommended article.

2. Bill McKibben: Climate Change, Artificial Intelligence & Genetic Engineering

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

Has the human game begun to play itself out? That’s the daunting question posed in the new book by environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben. It’s called “Falter.” Thirty years after McKibben wrote the first book about climate change for a general audience, his new work examines looming threats to humanity, including not only devastating climate chaos, but also artificial intelligence and genetic engineering. We speak with McKibben in our New York studio.

I more or less agree with McKibben, in that I think it is by now realistic to consider that there may not be any humanity left bt 2050 or 2100 (especially because of a nuclear war); and that there are several reasons for this, notably the "climate chaos" and "artificial intelligence", although I understand the last term especially in the sense of the surveillance state (see the link!), for the surveillance state knows almost everything about almost everyone (or can find out), which in turn means that extremely few in any surveillance state can control hundreds of millions, either by misleading them or by arresting them.

Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: (..) Well, Bill, you talk so much about climate change. Interestingly, in this book, you expand to talk about the threats of artificial intelligence, of genetic engineering. Why?

BILL McKIBBEN: Put it this way. You know, I’ve described climate change as a possibility of ending nature. These new technologies have the possibility of ending human nature, of taking us from what we’ve been, all through our evolutionary past, and replacing us, quite quickly, with something else. Some of those worries are practical: What does AI do to people’s livelihoods as, you know, we start automating everything that we do? Those practical problems are important, but there’s a deeper problem around sort of human meaning that really gets to me.

I talk a lot in the book about the advances in human genetic engineering, because, as you know, these are now no longer just some distant science fiction threat.

I more or less agree, although I wonder how much McKibben knows about programming.

Here is some more:

BILL McKIBBEN: (..) [W]e don’t exactly know where the lines are, but we begin to sense that there’s a problem about making machines that are smarter than we are, much, much smarter. The scientists who talk about this envision that sometime in the next 10, 20, 30 years, computers, that have already shown they can beat us at chess and beat us at poker and beat us at a lot of other games, will develop a kind of far-reaching, more general intelligence that allows them to outthink us. That’s why, you know, some of the leaders of the technological pack start imagining futures where human beings are essentially pets of these intelligences or whatever it is.

The question to ask ourselves, one of the questions, anyway, is: Why are we doing this? What thing is it that we need to do that requires us to run these kind of risks.

First I answer the question in the second quoted paragraph: "We" are doing this, because the "we" who are doing this are the rich, and to the rich anything is good that keeps them alive, powerful and rich, including knowing everything about anyone.

As to the first quoted paragraph: I am far less concerned with "
making machines that are smarter than we are" than with the fact - as I think it is - that with the present computers it has become possible to track everyone who is on internet, and to find out almost everything they believe and desire and value, and to either mislead them on that basis, or arrest them else.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
BILL McKIBBEN: (..) Look, we’re at such an interesting moment in so many ways. We’re going to find out, in the next 10, 20, 30 years, whether we have some hope of preserving the planet and, with it, the civilizations that we’re accustomed to, and whether we’re capable of preserving the idea of human beings as something not just useful, but kind of beautiful. Look, it’s easy to get annoyed with ourselves, you know? I get upset that human beings have done such a poor job of responding to these threats, of allowing so much injustice, whatever. Human beings are also, at root, funny and kind and capable of great love. Those are things machines will never be capable of, and we shouldn’t sacrifice them easily.
Well... I think I agree with McKibben that "[w]e’re going to find out, in the next 10, 20, 30 years, whether we have some hope of preserving the planet and, with it, the civilizations that we’re accustomed to" and this is a recommended article.

3. VIPS: The Fly in the Mueller Ointment

This article is by the VIPS, and is in fact a letter to the president of the USA. I abbreviated the title. It has a subtitle:
The bug in Mueller’s report to be released Thursday is that he accepts that the Russian government interfered in the election.  Trump should challenge that, says VIPS.
And it starts as follows - and this article is both too long and a bit too technical to excerpt completely. I will therefore give only two bits from it, and this is the first:

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: The Fly in the Mueller Ointment

Mr. President:

The song has ended but the melody lingers on. The expected release Thursday of the redacted text of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” will nudge the American people a tad closer to the truth on so-called “Russiagate.”

But judging by Attorney General William Barr’s 4-page summary, the Mueller report will leave unscathed the central-but-unproven allegation that the Russian government hacked into the DNC and Podesta emails, gave them to WikiLeaks to publish, and helped you win the election. The thrust will be the same; namely, even if there is a lack of evidence that you colluded with Russian President Vladimir Putin, you have him to thank for becoming president. And that melody will linger on for the rest of your presidency, unless you seize the moment.

Mueller has accepted that central-but-unproven allegation as gospel truth, apparently in the lack of any disinterested, independent forensic work. Following the odd example of his erstwhile colleague, former FBI Director James Comey, Mueller apparently has relied for forensics on a discredited, DNC-hired firm named CrowdStrike, whose credibility is on a par with “pee-tape dossier” compiler Christopher Steele. Like Steele, CrowdStrike was hired and paid by the DNC (through a cutout).
I more or less agree on the first and third paragraphs (in the text), but not much with the second one, mostly because I think Trump will not care much and anyway fills most things that may be problematic for him with ever new lies.

Here is the second bit that I quote:
Far too many Americans will still believe this because of the mainstream-media fodder — half-cooked by intelligence leaks — that they have been fed for two and a half years. The media have been playing the central role in the effort of the MICIMATT (the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia -Think-Tank) complex to stymie any improvement in relations with Russia. We in VIPS have repeatedly demonstrated that the core charges of Russian interference in the 2016 election are built on a house of cards. But, despite our record of accuracy on this issue — not to mention our pre-Iraq-war warnings about the fraudulent intelligence served up by our former colleagues — we have gotten no play in mainstream media.

Most of us have chalked up decades in the intelligence business and many have extensive academic and government experience focusing on Russia. We consider the issue of “Russian interference” of overriding significance not only because that the allegation is mischievously bogus and easily disproven. More important, it has brought tension with nuclear-armed Russia to the kind of dangerous fever pitch not seen since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the Russian provocation was real — authentic, not synthetic.
Yes, I basically agree and I like the "Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media- Academia -Think-Tank) complex", although it is a bit long. And this is a recommended article.

4. The Divisive Center vs. The Unifying Left

This article is by Peter Bloom on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Bernie Sanders shocked the mainstream establishment this week by appearing on a Fox News Town Hall. Even more surprisingly, he was triumphant on a station most known for its fervent support for Trump and extreme Conservatism. In the citadel of right wing media he effectively and convincingly promoted progressive policies such as medicare for all. Even if only for a night, he showed that a left wing agenda that promised to address people's real economic and social problems could unify the country in a common radical purpose.

Not surprisingly, though, prominent Democrats were less than impressed. Instead they criticized Sanders leading up to the event as a divider, someone more interested in populist rhetoric than actually leading the country. This came on the heels of a widely seen interview with Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi where she directly attacked progressives as being an insignificant minority who would inevitably bow to her more "moderate" agenda. She proclaimed that they "were like five people" and that "by and large, whatever orientation they came to Congress with, they know that we have to hold the center. That we have to be, go down the mainstream"

Well... I very much dislike Nancy Pelosi, and the second paragraph gives some reasons why, that I will translate as follows:

Nancy Pelosi's "mainstream", if it is limited to the Democrats, consists mostly of corrupt Democrats, who are funded, directly or indirectly, and from thousands to tenthousands and in a few cases hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, that mostly come (it seems) from the Wall Street Bankers (who paid over $500,000 to Hillary Clinton for a few speeches, if you believe that).

That is not democracy: It is corruption. Here is some more:

It further mask the deep seated partisanship at the heart of such self-proclaimed "moderation." Anyone who disagrees with their politics are either "deplorables" or "fanatics." Their hatred for the far right is perhaps only exceeded by their disdain for the "far left." In their efforts to be all things to all people, at once doing the bidding of their corporate donors while claiming to represent those most impacted by it, they rely on a base a[s] rabidly partisan and unreflective as those faith based evangelicals and ignorant Trump supporters they most loathe.

Yes, I think that is basically correct. Here is some more:

Notably, while declaring himself a "democratic socialist" his policies are firmly in the left of centre liberal tradition of Roosevelt in the US and Social Democrats in Europe. Where he and his acolytes are perhaps more revolutionary is in their commitment to a new type of political unity—one based on a shared desire to transform a corrupt system rather than tribal party allegiances. His appearance on Fox News was less a media stunt than a reflection of the progressive desire to bring the nation together in reducing inequality and rebalancing political power for the advantage of the majority.

Yes, I agree that politically (and I don't know Sanders personally at all) Sanders has declared himself to be a "democratic socialist", but in fact he is mostly a social democrat (in politics). Also, while I do not like the European social democrats a lot (and I despise the Dutch social democrats), I think that for the USA this is probably as leftist as Sanders can go while remaining popular with many Americans.

Here is the ending of this article:

In 2020, the first priority for most is and perhaps should be defeating Trump and stemming the rising tide of fascism. It is also imperative we overcome the limits of the divisive Centre—the mainstream ideas and politicians that continue to divide us according to class, geography, and party. To truly proclaim victory over Trump and all he stands for means embracing the possibilities of a unifying Left.

I more or less agree although I also think this is an example of wishful thinking. What I definitely agree with is that Trump must be defeated. And this is a recommended article.

5. Robert Reich on America's inequality crisis

This article is by Chauncey DeVega on Salon. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

Some plain facts and hard truths: The top one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the country's wealth and 90 percent of its income.

When adjusted for inflation, the average income in the United States has remained approximately the same for the last 40 years. By comparison, over the last two decades the richest Americans have seen their income increase by three times, relative to those of the poorest Americans.

If adjusted for economic productivity, the federal minimum wage in America would actually be at least $20 an hour, instead of the $7.25 it is at present.

An increasingly large number of Americans are unable to retire and will have to work until they die. Roughly six in 10 Americans don't even have $1,000 they could use for an emergency.

Twenty-six individuals have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population. This is a global plutocracy.
Yes, I think all of the above is mostly correct - and while I am one of the poorest Dutchmen there is, especially if you count my income over the last 50 years, which was until I was 65 always less than the legal minimum (!!), I am still better off than 6 in 10 Americans.

Anyway... in fact this is mostly an interview that DeVega had with Reich, and the rest of my quotations from this article will be from that interview.

Here is the first bit:

Was the election of Donald Trump a surprise to you? And what do you make of his enduring popularity?

I did not predict Donald Trump per se. But for the last 25 years I have worried with increasing vehemence about the widening divide in this country between a majority that is losing economic security and social standing and a small minority gaining most of the benefits of economic growth.

I could say the same as Reich, but there is one difference between Reich and me, and that is that Reich is pro-capitalist while I am not. Then again, I would be pro-socialist if I was at least fairly certain that most revolutions win (but they don't) and that most revolutions once won will implement the ideas and values of the revolutionaries (but again they don't).

Anyway... here is more:

How do we do a better job of explaining to the American people how this type of gangster-capitalist kleptocracy is a threat to them personally and also the country's democracy?

I think it's very important to emphasize that we are at an inflection point, and a very dangerous one, with great wealth at the top in a relatively few hands, This is incompatible with democracy. This is not the first time this has happened. Louis Brandeis, the great jurist, said in the 1920s, as the United States was coming out of the Gilded Age, "We can have democracy in this country or we can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both."

Yes, I think Reich is correct about this. Here is some more by Reich:

There are two forms of populism. One is authoritarian. We have seen this before in history when large numbers of people are afraid, and then demagogues emerge who pretend that they are the champions of the masses. These demagogues will target minorities as the source of these anxieties. Trump has chosen immigrants and forces outside the United States. But he has also gone after black athletes, and indirectly supported white supremacists. In total Donald Trump has fueled the ugliest kinds of divisiveness in the United States.

The other kind of populism is we might call democratic populism. In 2016 Bernie Sanders represented that alternative, and at this stage he is the only practical alternative to authoritarian populism.

Perhaps the distinctions Reich draws are correct, although they are quite broad. But I agree with the last statement of the above quotation.

Here is some more, this time about "socialism" (as seen in the USA, by many):

Republicans and conservatives have been talking that way for 85 years. They opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan for Social Security by calling it "socialism." They opposed John F. Kennedy and his ideas for economic development as "socialist". They opposed Lyndon Johnson's Medicare as "socialism." The right wing has called socialism anything that helps average working people. But it is much deeper than that. The actual rules and regulations and laws that the wealthy are increasingly able to create have tipped the balance in the United States largely in favor of socialism for the rich and a brutal form of capitalism for almost everybody else.

Well... firstly, what the American rich, conservatives and neoliberals understand by "socialism" has little or nothing to do with what I (or Orwell - and see Crisis: On Socialism ) understand by "socialism". And secondly, Reich's supposed "socialism for the rich" also is not socialism at all, but is simply capitalism while it is powerful.

So I disagree with Reich on either socialism or "socialism". Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

If the United States and its leaders, citizens and culture do not change there are going to be Donald Trumps as far as the eye can see in the future. We are going to lose our democracy. I also think the very survival of species is at stake in terms of climate change and nuclear proliferation.
Yes, I agree with this. The only difference might be that I put nuclear proliferation first, but otherwise I am with Reich and this is a strongly recommended article.

[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 3 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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