Saturday, December 16, 2017

From the NY Review of Books: Democracy and the Machinations of Mind Control

The emerging picture of efforts to manipulate the outcomes of the US election and the Brexit referendum leads to an awkward paradox. For the first time in a long time, voters who recognized the rigged nature of the system voted in large enough numbers to overthrow “the swamp” of “politics as usual”; at the same time, the system itself was perhaps more rigged than ever, thanks to the new-fangled methods. While it is vital to expose how these worked, it is even more important also to develop a politics that validates voters’ legitimate repudiation of a corrupt establishment, rather than dismisses them as ignorant and gullible. The risk of exaggerating the effect of novel methods of subversion is that it will only reinforce cynicism about politics and government in general—and that would be a win for billionaires like Robert Mercer, and their friends and helpers like Nigel Farage, and all they stand for.
Democracy and the Machinations of Mind Control

Anthony Barnett
December 14, 2017, 1:46 pm

The British are catching up with an American awareness of the intertwined political influence of the secretive super-rich, social media, and the Kremlin. In America, illicit support for Trump has been investigated by intelligence agencies, Justice Department officials, and major media organizations. Uncovering election interference in Brexit-Britain has been a more freelance business. About a year ago, Carole Cadwalladr, a regular contributor to The Observer newspaper, started researching the “right-wing fake news ecosystem” and its capture of web searches through Google especially. This line of inquiry has also been followed by ByLine, a crowdfunded investigative journalism initiative, which hosts a regular column by J.J. Patrick, who has been mapping the scale and penetration of Russian trolls and bots sowing hatred and division via social media.

Cadwalladr’s reporting led her to uncover the part played by Cambridge Analytica in the Brexit referendum. This company, London-based but US-owned (principally by the hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who was one of Donald Trump’s biggest donors), generated the “220 million” data sets of US voters’ details that underpinned Trump’s Facebook campaign. This employed so-called black ads only seen by targeted voters, a process that bypasses and undermines the shared political community essential for democracy. Cadwalladr found that the firm had also acted on behalf of the Vote Leave campaign in Britain—though Cambridge Analytica denied elements of her reporting.

In a follow-up article, she described how “a website called… dominated Google’s search algorithm,” flooding it with reports that established media outlets are “fake” and “dead”; this site was backed, too, by Mercer’s foundation. Cadwalladr also met with Andy Wigmore, who had been the director of communications for Nigel Farage, the former head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and leading Leave campaigner who has subsequently emerged as a Trump acolyte. Cadwalladr learned that Farage was friends with Mercer and, as Wigmore told her, that Mercer had directed Cambridge Analytica to help the Brexit campaign. According to the UK’s election law, all gifts in kind must be declared for their monetary worth and none can come from overseas donors. The UK’s Electoral Commission is now investigating this apparent double breach; Cambridge Analytica, meanwhile, is pursuing legal action against The Observer.

In March, Farage was spotted going into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge. As Farage left the embassy, a BuzzFeed News journalist asked what he was doing there. Farage replied that he could not remember. In an overview in May, Cadwalladr pieced together various ties between the Trump campaign, Nigel Farage, and Russian “influence” efforts (including the alleged leaking of hacked information to WikiLeaks). British democracy, she concluded, had been “hijacked”:

There are three strands to this story. How the foundations of an authoritarian surveillance state are being laid in the US. How British democracy was subverted through a covert, far-reaching plan of coordination enabled by a US billionaire. And how we are in the midst of a massive land grab for power by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested and stored. Whoever owns this data owns the future.

As Cadwalladr was developing her thesis about this new machinery of political subversion, the UK editor of openDemocracy, Adam Ramsay, made a discovery of his own (I was the first editor of openDemocracy but was not involved with this story). With Peter Geoghegan, Ramsay showed how large sums of money were sent to the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum via a small, hard-line Loyalist party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). (By curious serendipity, Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to form a coalition government with the DUP after her Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority in the general election of June 2017.) The loophole-ridden regulations governing British elections permit Northern Irish parties the unique privilege of not having to declare the source of their donations. A policy once justified by security concerns during the Troubles was abused by as-yet unidentified Brexit supporters to channel a secret, roughly half-million-dollar donation through the DUP to be spent mostly in mainland Britain.

In September, openDemocracy followed up with further reporting on a story originally broken last year by the satirical and muck-raking magazine Private Eye. A twenty-three-year-old fashion student had set up his own campaign for Brexit, which he called “BeLeave.” During the period immediately before a referendum, such operations must register with the Electoral Commission. They are permitted a maximum expenditure of £700,000 (about $935,000), while the designated lead campaign on each side is permitted up to £7 million ($9.35 million). Vote Leave led for the Brexit side and as it reached its limit, it gave £625,000 ($835,000) to the tiny BeLeave, that apparently paid it to AggregateIQ, a Canadian data analysis company that was assisting Vote Leave. AggregateIQ is, again, linked to Robert Mercer. The protests that followed this openDemocracy report led, at length, to the Electoral Commission’s opening an inquiry into the payment; openDemocracy also published an analysis of the dubious finances of Arron Banks, the major British funder of UKIP and its anti-immigrant call for Brexit. On the basis of Banks’s multimillion-pound funding of Brexit causes, one lawmaker called for the Electoral Commission to investigate whether Russian meddling was involved in the Leave campaign. Banks has dismissed reports of Russian money as “bollocks.”

As Cadwalladr continues to report on the effects of Vote Leave’s “dark campaign” and its funding, she acknowledges others’ arguments that Brexit was also caused by, for example, “rising inequality, frustration with elites, economic uncertainty.” I would add to those factors the resurgence of a particular English nationalism based on the dream of a resurgent “Great Britain,” which was seduced by the pro-Brexit campaign slogan “Take back control.” Nationalist sentiment of this sort will not be undermined by any revelations about Russian trouble-making or covert support from American billionaires—any more than Trump’s base seems likely to abandon the president over what the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller may discover.

In both the US and the UK, investigations into the deployment of these shadowy forces are still in progress. In close contests, every influence counts. There is, therefore, an understandable temptation to emphasize that without secretive billionaires, or the Russians, or Facebook, the outcomes of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election would have been different. And as elections are likely to carry on being close-run, it is important to track down and expose systemic manipulation. But it does not follow that slush funds, algorithms, and alleged conspiracies were primary causes of the electoral shocks of 2016. Nearly 63 million Americans voted for Trump, although Hillary Clinton outspent him by half a billion dollars. In the UK, 52 percent of voters backed Brexit. A widespread revolt against elite entitlement and genuine resentment against a rigged system are the most important explanations in both cases.

Trump, at least, can be voted out of office in three years’ time. Britain’s referendum decision to quit the European Union will not be so easily reversed. Should the UK leave the EU on schedule at the end of March 2019, impoverishment and humiliation are likely; even a successful Brexit, if such is possible, will pitch the UK into permanent competition with the Continent. Either outcome is repugnant for large majorities of voters in London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. With the stakes so high, anything that undermines the legitimacy of Brexit fills its Remain-voting opponents with hopes of a reprieve. This could be a dangerous delusion.

The emerging picture of efforts to manipulate the outcomes of the US election and the Brexit referendum leads to an awkward paradox. For the first time in a long time, voters who recognized the rigged nature of the system voted in large enough numbers to overthrow “the swamp” of “politics as usual”; at the same time, the system itself was perhaps more rigged than ever, thanks to the new-fangled methods. While it is vital to expose how these worked, it is even more important also to develop a politics that validates voters’ legitimate repudiation of a corrupt establishment, rather than dismisses them as ignorant and gullible. The risk of exaggerating the effect of novel methods of subversion is that it will only reinforce cynicism about politics and government in general—and that would be a win for billionaires like Robert Mercer, and their friends and helpers like Nigel Farage, and all they stand for.

This is the trap from which democracy in Britain and America must now extricate itself. There will have to be a credible alternative and not a return to the status quo that led to the revolts of 2016. In Britain, the advocates of Brexit captured a wish for self-government with their slogan “take back control”—a desire for democratic accountability that must be freed from the grasp of demagogy, not derided. As for the US, Trump pledged in Pennsylvania that he would speak for “the millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.” By all means, mock his hypocrisy, but the only way to combat his influence effectively will be by a politics that does speak for millions of workers.

It is possible to spring the trap. Behind both Brexit and Trump was a widespread repudiation of entitlement. Part of its energy in Britain has now gathered around a resurgent Labour Party, which made unexpected gains in June’s general election despite vicious attacks from the right-wing press on its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In the US, the current of opposition and resistance is running through the #MeToo wave of revulsion at sexual harassment and male abuse of power. A groper-in-chief president faces his own public reckoning, as more and more voices—this week, a blistering denunciation from the editorial board of USA Today—call out his presumption of the right to belittle and humiliate. Trump remains in office, and Brexit proceeds, but unearned entitlement is everywhere on the run. The enemies of democracy—from oligarchs to billionaires—have reason to be fearful.

Friday, December 15, 2017

I am ready this year to go to Washington. By Geniusofdespair

It took me a year and some pretty jury-rigged knitting but I am all set to go to Washington, D.C. in January for another women's march.  Are they having one? A Me Too march?

Is anyone else going? I am so proud I finally finished this damn, ugly hat.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

WARNING: Do not file a STATE OF FLORIDA Ethics Investigation Request. By Geniusofdespair

You must pay for the other guys lawyer and costs if the ethics complaint is dismissed or unfounded at the State level.  And we all know how often that happens on the County level. It is pretty hard to get an ethics violation finding at any level of government. Ethics is such a Jello-Like concept. I have filed plenty of complaints at the county level. If I did it at the State Level, I could owe $100,000. Yes that is right.

There is some Tallahassee lawyer raking in the bucks on this. Consumers, citizens, good people don't be a patsy. Ethics complaints never go anywhere anyway. Your costs could be tens of thousands at the State level for one complaint. You don't know what they will tack on (see some of the big bills at this link).

A former elections supervisor Kimberle Weeks, and 2 others, just were ordered to pay $312,000 in fees and awards to their targets. She is to alleged to have taped illegally but she contends they were at a public meeting which would allow for a taped conversation. A Democratic member of the Ethics Commission said:
Michael Cox, a member of the ethics commission–he is a certified financial planner and, like Weeks, a Democrat–alone raised issues on behalf of Weeks, terming himself “disturbed” by the issues Weeks raised and the amount of the fees she was being required to pay. “I don’t know her situation but it could potentially ruin her financially,” Cox said. “Some of the things she’s hitting on are hitting a lot of buttons with me.”
Although, in another case, the State Ethics Commission did find probable cause against State Rep. 112 Nick Duran (but they still dismissed it) for not putting his source of income on his financial disclosure form. Here is a stretch for you: because he put it on another form he filed with the Children's Trust, they sort of thought that made it okay. Nick Duran is the guy I am running against.

More on this later.

"Putin's Revenge" on PBS Frontline ... Share Widely ... by gimleteye

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Detroit: What a surprise! By Geniusofdespair

I decided to go to Detroit when I got a $66 round trip fare. How could I go wrong? Never been and I was pleasantly surprised. The food was good, their people mover was great and the Lyft drivers the best...except for the one that obviously had been smoking pot, but hey you can't get everything you want. The downtown is becoming very hip. There are trendy shops and restaurants even on the outskirts of the Downtown proper. In mid-town Selden Standard was one such place. No they are not making pizza. They are making roasted vegetables. The place was over-booked, popular. Tasty fresh food.

This is a clothing store near Selden Standard in a lovely Victorian house.

There is also a famous store called Shinola in Mid-town, where they sell bikes, leather goods, watches and shoe polish. I bought loose tea there.  I found this ad for Shinola in the New York Times.

Here is the rest of my trip in photos...

Michigan is freakishly close to Canada. What does that mean? My Michigan friend's mom went over to Canada to have her baby because it was cheaper. Also, during the Slave Trade they made a law that Slaves were not safe in Northern States anymore, they had to flee to Canada. Michigan's people helped many slaves to reach freedom in Canada.

Detroit has some awesome architecture. No this is is not a church unless you worship money. It was once promoted as “the Cathedral of Finance.” It is a building that has a history of finances: The Guardian Building.  They say "The Guardian Building is one of the most significant and striking Art Deco skyscrapers in the world."

Then there is the Henry Ford Rouge Factory just outside of Detroit. They build some stupid pick up truck here that everyone seems to like...the F-150.  You can tour the assembly line. I found it pretty incredible. They wouldn't let you take photos. But every worker has a yellow cord to stop the line to make further adjustments. We saw the line stop several times.
The accordion like square under the car goes up and down with each worker to make it easier to perform their task. They work 4 10 hour days. They have a half hour for lunch and I am not sure, but I think one 23 minute break.

They have a green roof over the Rouge plant. I believe it is the world's largest green roof. It was sort of brown when we were there --- you know winter. Below is the green roof and the solar panels that just heat water.

This is porous asphalt that allows the rain water to pass through the the parking lots at the Rogue Factory.  Good idea for South Florida's aquifer.

Back in Downtown Detroit.

This is Greek Town. We got there on the People Mover. It was a great area, like Little Italy in New York. We ate at the Pegasus and had an excellent meal.

Well I would say the $66 fare was worth it. Especially when Frontier Airline sent us a $25 dollar voucher because our plane was late. That brought down the round trip airfare to $41. Great way to spend a long weekend.

Also, they have one of the best Art Museums in the Country. There are two Diego Rivera Wall Murals of the assembly line at the museum and a Titian, Van Gogh and Gauguin I have never seen.  Here is "The Pickers" by Van Gogh.

The auto industry brought massive money to this area. A lot still remains that we all can appreciate, invest here.

In Alabama, sanity won by a scary thin margin ... by gimleteye

Key quote from the NY Times editorial this morning: "Some Republicans have taken to describing Mr. Moore as a type of biblical plague visited upon them. That ignores the complicity of a party in thrall to its extremists. At every pivotal moment, Mr. Moore was aided by party leaders unwilling to take a united, moral stand against him."

That statement of GOP weakness is as true of its support of Donald Trump as of Roy Moore. The Republican Party allowed extremism in service of corporate profit and greed to overwhelm logic and common sense to the point that citizens must do their own work of reversing everything that the GOP claims in order to ferret out the truth.

There will be a day of reckoning for inflicting so much chaos on the United States, on values we cherish that once made us the standard bearer of liberty around the world. Something different is happening as a result of Trump: despots and dictators are embracing his traits and tactics like calling journalists "fake". The reckoning approaches and it has a date: November 6, 2018.

Roy Moore Loses, Sanity Reigns

That Alabama’s voters chose Doug Jones for the United States Senate is cause for celebration. A triumph for decency and common sense in a state that seemed for a time at risk of abandoning both, Mr. Jones’s win narrows the Republicans’ Senate majority and delivers a deeply deserved rebuke to President Trump. It is hard to get too intoxicated by a slim victory over an atrocious candidate, a suspected sexual abuser with bigoted politics, but Alabama, the Senate and the nation will be a whole lot better off with Mr. Jones than with Roy Moore.

Alabama’s deep-red politics argued against Mr. Jones’s chances. A former federal prosecutor, Mr. Jones won convictions of two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four girls, and no Democrat had won a Senate race in two decades. But a report in The Washington Post in which four women accused Mr. Moore of sexually harassing or abusing them as teenagers turned the race into a close contest. Mr. Jones’s victory came thanks to overwhelming support from Alabama’s African-American voters.

Mr. Jones received support from various luminaries, including Barack Obama, as well as an unexpected assist from Alabama’s senior senator, Richard Shelby, a Republican. “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore,” Mr. Shelby said. “The state of Alabama deserves better.” Maybe it shouldn’t count as statesmanship to oppose a cartoonishly unfit candidate, but during the degrading and hyperpolitical Trump presidency, it does.

Mr. Moore’s campaign has been a shame for Alabama, one of the nation’s poorest states, whose need for better-paying jobs, health care, education and infrastructure he almost entirely neglected. He did not abandon the race even as the sex abuse charges multiplied; instead, aided by the political nihilist Steve Bannon, he doubled down, insisting the women were lying, part of a plot by the “establishment” and “fake news” to prevent him from changing Washington.

Mr. Moore was twice removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court, once for flauting a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument that he’d commissioned for the court building, later for ignoring the United States Supreme Court’s protection of gay marriage by ordering Alabama probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses, saying it was their “ministerial duty.” After that uproar, he decided to run for the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, when Mr. Trump appointed him attorney general.

Mr. Moore repulsed many Alabamians even before the campaign. He has referred to Native Americans and Asians as “reds and yellows,” called gay people “perverts” and homosexuality “an inherent evil,” and falsely claimed that Shariah law exists in Illinois and Indiana.

Until Mr. Moore (and Mr. Trump) came along, it was difficult to find many candidates so unfit that credible charges of child molestation could seem only the latest disqualifying feature. Their popularity underscores some Christian conservatives’ seeming determination to apply the law, constitutional or moral, only to their opponents.

Some Republicans have taken to describing Mr. Moore as a type of biblical plague visited upon them. That ignores the complicity of a party in thrall to its extremists. At every pivotal moment, Mr. Moore was aided by party leaders unwilling to take a united, moral stand against him.

“Roy Moore will always vote with us,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Election Day. Alabamians said there was more at stake in this race, choosing a candidate whose record was cause for pride, not shame, one who spent his career battling bigotry, not exploiting it.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Democratic candidate for FL governor Chris King WON'T TAKE MONEY FROM BIG SUGAR! ... by gimleteye

MASSIVE dislocations to democracy through Facebook and social media platforms ... by gimleteye

If Roy Moore wins today in Alabama, the result will have been substantially influenced by social media platforms like Facebook. We know from the results of the 2016 election of Donald Trump that focusing messages to likely voters through social media was enough to deliver an outcome turning "free and fair" elections into a mythic illusion. The effect of these distortions is to create a firestorm, which is exactly what we face today. Read the following from a former top executive at Facebook: he's telling the truth.

From Quartz:

GUILT TALKING: Former Facebook executive has sworn off social media because he doesn’t want to be “programmed”
By Hanna Kozlowska

Life as Laboratory
December 11, 2017

While Facebook’s business is booming and the company continues to expand its tentacles to every corner of the internet, its early employees and investors are growing more and more vocal about the damage it has wrought among its users.

Former Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya said that social media is “eroding the core foundations of how people behave” and that he feels “tremendous guilt” about creating tools that are “ripping apart the social fabric.”

During a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in November, Palihapitiya echoed the words of other Facebook dissenters who have recently taken their guilt and grievances public. (h/t The Verge)

“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed … but now you got to decide how much you’re willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence,” he warned the audience. He said he didn’t want to be programmed himself, emphasizing he “doesn’t use this shit” and his kids are not allowed to use “this shit” either—also recommending that everyone take a “hard break” from social media.

Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007, and is now the CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital, which he founded in 2011.
“The things that you rely on, the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created, are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth,” he said.

His fear is that bad actors can manipulate large groups of people, and that as users, we compound the problem in our quest to create an idealized version of ourselves:

We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, thumbs up—and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and that leaves you even more—admit it—vacant and empty before you did it, because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like “What’s the next thing I need to do now because I need it back?”

Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, spoke last month about the way the platform exploits human psychology, much in the same terms, and said the founders of the company “understood consciously” what they were doing.

Palihapitiya agreed that “in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds” they knew something bad could happen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

1PM TODAY: Live oral arguments in 9th Federal District Court on Climate Change ... by gimleteye

Art Basel Miami: Isaac Cordal ... by gimleteye

There are as many opinions about art at Art Basel as there are artists. Fair enough. But my favorite artist is Isaac Cordal who I met for the first time at the Pinta Fair (Latin American art, mainly).

Cordal is the artist whose image of bald decision makers jabbering about something as the waters rise (sea level) became an instant viral sensation on social media:

At Pinta, Cordal's installation was stuck at the back of the building. He was born in Galacia, Spain, now lives in Brussels, and before deciding to come to Art Basel Miami, he and his gallerist were promised that his installation, "Follow the Leaders", would be located at the entrance to the Pinta Fair.

Cordal wouldn't venture why his work -- whose political context is the disintegration of hope in mankind's built environment under the eyes of old white men -- was reset to the back of the Pinta building.

Here's my educated guess: Jorge Perez, the prince of the fair whose lounging confidence graced the cover of the Art Basel Magazine, and his Related Companies were selling condos from a booth not far from the entrance to Pinta. Perez, former Miami zoning official turned billionaire-who-conned-his-way-through-the-financial-crisis, may not have been happy with Cordal's work up front. Or maybe, the Pinta curator.

Can't have too much truth next to so much enterprise. It was difficult to buck the traffic, for me to see much of Art Basel. But in the main fair, I was struck hard by the relative absence of art reflecting our disturbed times. For that, Isaac Cordal gets my enduring R-E-S-P-E-C-T.