The Future of Regulation in the Perma-Cyber-Infowar

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Looks like we could use an open thread to discuss all the stuff not directly related to the Trump-Russia investigation.

I do want to toss out a topic we should visit given the transition of power in the House from one political party to another and the sea change over the last several years in public awareness about information security.

Most regular readers here have been aware of the dynamic tension between civil liberties and national security, individuals’ rights to privacy and autonomy too frequently falling victim to the state’s efforts to surveil and control.

This site has wrestled with the threats to privacy and security posed by hardware (like cell phones and servers) and software (like vulnerabilities, ransomware, cyberweapons).

But how do we address the threats social media and other information platforms pose? Can we really ignore that Facebook has been weaponized against its country of origin let alone other host nations from the U.K. to Myanmar? Does Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up the largest social media platforms and label them ‘platform utilities’ under a new regulatory structure adequately address users’ privacy rights, information security, and national security?

How far should we push for disclosure of proprietary intellectual property like the platforms’ algorithms? How do we regulate the operation of these without jeopardizing their viability?

Do we need a mandatory ethical standard to which startups must build and existing platforms must comply? Facebook’s iffy interpretation of user consent to use in academic research, for example, was key to its weaponization. What regulatory standard would have prevented the abuse of users’ trust and their data?

Does the likely permanence of cyber warfare as well as information warfare require more or less than Warren has proposed?

Hash it out here in comments. Bring all the stray dog-and-cat issues as well.

Back to School: Planning for Climate Change Activism Success

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

Remember this? It’s still a pretty snappy little tune which handily teaches the barest essentials of the legislative process. My kids watched frequently when they were in K-2 grades so they could understand discussions at home about bills and legislation.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to know that an idea begins the legislative process and it ends (some of the time) as a law. The stuff that happens in between these points is more complex than depicted in this cute little animated film. But young kids can understand far more.

I hope that whomever is coaching kids to lobby members of Congress explains more than what’s in this School House Rock video; the children who met with Senator Feinstein didn’t appear prepared. As a parent I think those kids had been manipulated as weapons against an ally.

I don’t care what your position is on Feinstein’s reaction or the kids’ presentation. Both sides were set up for failure.

I care that the effort ended up dividing the party most likely to take action on the Green New Deal.

I care that the effort was wasted and should have been directed at the true bottlenecks to dealing with climate change and the environment.

The truth — which most of you know already if you’re a regular reader or politically awake — is that the GOP majority in the Senate is the obstruction.

The truth is that the GOP as a whole has an abominable track record on environmental protection, from green energy to toxic waste and now on climate change.

Republican president Richard Nixon may be responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency’s inception, but for the last couple decades the GOP abandoned any claim to conserving the environment, preferring instead to suck up to fossil fuel producers. They’ve actively undermined the EPA, going so far as to submit a bill to end it, albeit unsuccessfully (and for this act, Matt Gaetz FL-1 should already have been removed by voters – what the heck is wrong with you Floridians?).

Could Democratic Senators improve their efforts? Certainly; there are a few whose record is below 70% on the League of Conservation Voters’ scoreboard for all environmental legislation, like Joe Manchin (WV) at 45%. With her 90% overall score, Dianne Feinstein is not among them.

But the Republicans clearly have plenty of room for improvement; only one GOP senator scores above 21% on all environmental issues including climate change. The worst GOP senators are:

Strange, Luther (AL)
Perdue, David (GA)
Ernst, Joni (IA)
Kennedy, John (LA)
Sasse, Ben (NE)

All five of these senators had lifetime scores of a staggering 0% according to the League of Conservation Voters. Chances are slim they will change their voting habits much since they appear firmly against any and all pro-environment legislation.

However the following Class II GOP senators are vulnerable on the environment and climate change issues because they are up for re-election in 2020:

Senator

State

2017 Score

Lifetime Score

Ernst Joni

IA

0.00%

0.00%

Perdue David

GA

0.00%

0.00%

Sasse Ben

NE

0.00%

0.00%

Cotton Tom

AR

0.00%

2.00%

Daines Steve

MT

0.00%

2.00%

Rounds Mike

SD

0.00%

2.00%

Cornyn John

TX

0.00%

5.00%

Enzi Mike

WY

0.00%

5.00%

Inhofe James

OK

0.00%

5.00%

Cassidy Bill

LA

0.00%

7.00%

McConnell Mitch

KY

0.00%

7.00%

Risch Jim

ID

0.00%

7.00%

Sullivan Dan

AK

0.00%

7.00%

Tillis Thom

NC

0.00%

7.00%

Gardner Cory

CO

0.00%

10.00%

Graham Lindsey

SC

5.00%

12.00%

Capito Shelley Moore

WV

0.00%

17.00%

Collins Susan

ME

32.00%

63.00%

Hyde-Smith Cindy

MS

McSally Martha

AZ

Roberts Pat

KS

0.00%

9.00%

Alexander Lamar

TN

5.00%

21.00%

Note three of the absolute worst GOP senators on the environment and climate change are up for re-election. All of these Class II senators should be hammered for their performance to date, primary candidates who promise to vote with an eye to the environment should be encouraged to run against them, and their Democratic opponents aided (assuming they will promise to vote along party lines on the environment).

And yes, children should absolutely show up at their door steps and demand to know why these senators are selling out their futures, condemning children like them. Kids can easily understand that elected officials’ jobs are on the line in less than two years; they can tell these senators what they think of the job they’ve done so far and demand better.

The last four senators in the table above are special cases. Two are retiring, both Roberts (KS) and Alexander (TN); they have an opportunity to vote between now and the end of their term to favor the environment and to deter climate change. They should be pressed to do so. Their seats are open for the 2020 race and only candidates promising to vote for the environment should be supported.

McSally and Hyde-Smith don’t have scores at LCV yet. If they vote in line with their party, they need to go. Their Democratic opponents should be supported.

One last point: any entity filing paperwork to avoid paying taxes on revenues should be accountable to the public. That goes for environmental and climate change activism organizations filing as 501c3, 501c4, and PACs. They should have privacy policies and terms of service clearly posted on their websites if they are collecting email addresses and taking donations.

And if these activist groups are shepherding children anywhere, they had better have their organizational structure and team members listed on their site.

I certainly wouldn’t let any group I couldn’t identify fully use my children for their aims — especially if they aren’t doing a good job educating children on effective activism. I’d rather my family contacted its members of Congress directly and bypass any nonprofit organization which isn’t more transparent.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 12:15 P.M. ET —

Because apparently there are adults who need a goddamn picture to understand the problem:

The blue and pink parts of the Senate pie are willing to vote for climate change legislation. They have been friendly to the environment.

The red part of the Senate pie isn’t willing to vote for climate change, but it controls whether any legislation passes.

If you have a goddamn emergency needing legislation passed, there is NO WAY TO PASS IT unless you win over some of the red part of the Senate pie. By win over I mean persuade them now to vote on legislation, or vote them out and replace them with a climate-friendly candidate in 2020.

Further more, passing climate change legislation means not losing any of the blue or pink part of the pie.

A five-year old can understand this. So can a 16-year-old who will be 18 and eligible to vote in November 2020.

(Image source: Teen Vogue which is a damned fine media outlet.)

Open Thread: A Mournful Valentine [UPDATE]

[NB: Check the byline. UPDATE at the bottom. /~Rayne]

A year ago today, fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were killed by a lone 19-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle. More were injured.

Since then nearly 1,200 more children have died due to gun violence.

It’s an American problem, to have so much freedom and an inability to responsibly self-regulate it even though our Constitution clearly calls for a “well regulated Militia.”

The problem is as much money as it is guns. Money has been used to poison Americans’ attitudes toward guns; money has been used to capture legislators to prevent regulation.

The vulnerability of our society to corporate influence and control in pursuit of money has now created an opportunity for asymmetric warfare. Information assaults were launched last year by foreign-controlled bot swarms to propel pro-gun messages and suffocate gun control messages.

And the GOP-led 115th Congress did nothing in response because they were bought by NRA money, infused by Russia.

Oh, pardon me — members of Congress who received much of the $50 million in NRA campaign contributions in 2016 offered thoughts and prayers for the survivors and victims’ loved ones last year as the blood of innocents coagulated and dried on the floor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Stuff your thoughts and prayers sideways, you useful idiots with your mouths flapping platitudes, you fifth columnists with your grasping hands out, greedy for more blood money for your next campaign. They are as helpful today as they were a year ago.

Don’t think for a moment we can’t see how you’ve obstructed the ability of Americans to defend themselves with adequate and timely gun control this past year. It’s past time to fix your disloyalty to this country and its children and pass effective gun control legislation beginning with the House bills H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 and H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019.

This is an open thread. Keep all gun talk in this thread; if it drifts into other threads I will bin it. If such a threat bothers you, have some thoughts and prayers.

_________

UPDATE — 2:45 P.M. ET —

This is a list of the members of Congress SplinterNews listed as offering up thoughts and prayers via Twitter a year ago after MSD-Parkland’s mass shooting and who also received campaign contributions for 2016 from the NRA. I was looking patterns and I don’t see one readily except for political party affiliation. The lone Democratic Party member to receive funds and offer platitudes was Tim Walz, now governor of Minnesota instead of a House rep.

Do you see a pattern in this besides a preference toward Class II and III senators — up for re-election in 2018 and 2020? Are there committee memberships relevant to these donations?

Senate:
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – $9,900 -II <-Majority Leader
Marco Rubio (R-FL) – $9,900 -III
Rob Portman (R-OH) – $9,900 -III
Joni Ernst (R-IA) – $9,900 -II
Thom Tillis (R-NC) – $9,900 -II
Dean Heller (R-NV) – $9,900 -I
Jim Inhofe (R-OK) – $9,450 -II
John Hoeven (R-ND) – $8,450 -III
Steve Daines (R-MT) – $7,700 -II
Ron Johnson (R-WI) – $7,450 -III
John Boozman (R-AR) – $5,950 -III
Todd Young (R-IN) – $5,950 -III
Mike Rounds (R-SD) – $5,450 -II
James Lankford (R-OK) – $5,000 -III
Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – $4,950 -II
Richard Shelby (R-AL) – $4,950 -III
David Perdue (R-GA) – $4,950 -II
Tim Scott (R-SC) – $4,500 -III
Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) – $2,500 -II
Ted Cruz (R-TX) – $350 -I
John McCain (R-AZ) – $300 (RIP)

House:
Barbara Comstock (R-VA) – $10,400
Mike Coffman (R-CO) – $9,900
Will Hurt (R-TX) – $9,900
John Katko (R-NY) – $9,900
Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) -$9,900
Lee Zeldin (R-NY) – $9,900
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) – $7,450
Martha McSally (R-AZ) – $6,500 <-Running for McCain’s seat in 2020
Bill Schuster (R-PA) – $5,950
Richard Hudson (R-NC) – $4,950
Steve Scalise (R-LA) – $4,950
Lamar Smith (R-TX) – $4,950
Ken Calvert (R-CA) – $4,500
Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) – $4,000
Robert Aderholt (R-AL) – $3,500
Michael McCaul (R-TX) – $3,500
Darin LaHood (R-IL) – $3,000
Erik Paulson (R-MN) – $3,000
Tom Reed (R-NY) – $3,000
Diane Black (R-TN) – $2,500
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) – $2,500
Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) – $2,500
Rodney Davis (R-IL) $2,500
John Ratcliff (R-TX) – $2,500
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) – $2,500
Pete Sessions (R-TX) – $2,500
Roger Williams (R-TX) – $2,500
Mike Bishop (R-MI) – $2,000
Bradley Byrne (R-AL) – $2,000
Buddy Carter (R-GA) – $2,000
Chris Collins (R-NY) – $2,000
Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL) – $2,000
Sean Duffy (R-WI) – $2,000
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) – $2,000
Tim Walz (D-MN) – $2,000 <-Now MN governor
Bob Gibbs (R-OH) – $2,000
Paul Gossar (R-AZ) – $2,000
Sam Graves (R-MO) – $2,000
Glenn Grothman (R-WI) $2,000
Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) – $2,000
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) – $2,000
French Hill (R-AR) – $2,000
Bill Huizenga (R-MI) – $2,000
Darrell Issa (R-CA) – $2,000
Bill Johnson (R-OH) – $2,000
Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) – $2,000
Doug Lamborn (R-CO) – $2,000
Luke Messer (R-IN) – $2,000
Kristi Noem (R-SD) – $2,000
Scott Perry (R-PA) – $2,000
Robert Pittenger (R-NC) – $2,000
Ted Poe (R-TX) – $2,000
Tom Rice (R-SC) – $2,000
Martha Roby (R-AL) – $2,000
Mike Rogers (R-AL) – $2,000
Todd Rokita (R-IN) – $2,000
Peter Roskam (R-IL) – $2,000
Dennis Ross (R-FL) – $2,000
Austin Scott (R-GA) – $2,000
Jason Smith (R-MO) – $2,000
Elise Stefanik (R-NY) – $2,000
Steve Stivers (R-OH) – $2,000
Mark Walker (R-NC) – $2,000
Jackie Walorski (R-IN) – $2,000
Mimi Walters (R-CA) – $2,000
Joe Wilson (R-SC) – $2,000
Rob Wittman (R-VA) – $2,000
Steven Palazzo (R-MS) – $1,750
Mike Kelly (R-PA) – $1,500
Steve Womack (R-AR) – $1,500
Ralph Abraham (R-LA) – $1,000
Lou Barlettea (R-PA) – $1,000
Susan Brooks (R-IN) – $1,000
Warren Davidson (R-OH) – $1,000
Ron DeSantis (R-FL) – $1,000
Louie Gohmert (R-TX) – $1,000
Kenny Marchant (R-TX) – $1,000
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) – $1,000
David McKinley (R-WV) – $1,000
Dave Reichert (R-WA) – $1,000
Tom Rooney (R-FL) – $1,000
Randy Weber (R-TX) – $1,000
Daniel Webster (R-FL) – $1,000

[Photo by Piron Guillaume via Unsplash]

Vertical Demand Curve: When Your Money or Your Life Isn’t a Choice

[NB: Byline — check it. /~Rayne]

Hold this thought: depicted above is a gun.

Like nearly every freshman student, I took my Economics 101 along with Intro to Business, Accounting 101, Intro to Marketing my first year of B-school.

This is when the indoctrination begins, when these squeaky-new eager beavers departing their teens are slowly steeped in the toxins of American-style business.

I was an older than average student, though, having switched majors after working for a few years before I returned to school. I’d seen and done things before I returned to the classroom, squinting often at a blackboard in disbelief.

My first econ prof was fairly young himself; he was also an avowed libertarian. Everything he taught was colored with the perspective that government was a bad thing. My younger cohort went along without questioning this view.

And yet our prof had a difficult time saying government was bad when introducing us to  supply and demand curves.

More supply, price goes down. More demand, price goes up. The degree to which the market is sensitive to price or demand is reflected in elasticity. Basic.

But then we were presented with the vertical demand curve — when the buyer will pay anything for the available supply, when demand is perfectly inelastic.

This is the model for business in which the supplier demands your money or your life, a gun to one’s head, “Give me all your money or you’re dead,” a perfectly inelastic demand curve.

Libertarian prof called this extortion. The dutiful 18- and 19-year-olds in class nodded their heads, fighting a yawn. From the look of them none had experienced this caliber of threat.

Prof made a departure from “government is bad,” by insisting this is the point when government should regulate the market. He said it was illegal to base an exchange on forfeiting every claim to rights including one’s life; we prohibit extortion.

This is why health care should be regulated, he said. I was a little skeptical at the time; this was smack in the middle of the Reagan years and there wasn’t a lot of regulation on health care per se. If you got cancer there weren’t many options no matter how much money you had; doctors cut it out or tried to zap it with a limited range of therapies.

The risk then wasn’t the cost as much as the gamble of effectiveness. I lost a dear friend to the after-effects of available therapy; they survived a bone marrow transplant in the early 1980s but their immune system failed.

Decades later we have a sizable number of therapies for illnesses which are effective and keep people alive, but the number of people who suffer from some of these illnesses are so low that these drugs aren’t profitable. The Food and Drug Administration has helped in these cases — until now.

The “gun” in the image above is a money-or-your-life situation for patients with Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), who may require permanent hospitalization or suffocate and die without this drug called Firdapse.

Thanks to the FDA calling Firdapse an “orphan drug,” the company which owns its intellectual property rights will now charge $375,000 a year for this medication.

One patient in Iowa said she’s willing to pay something for the medication but a year’s therapy is three times what her house is worth. She doesn’t know if her health care insurance will cover it.

This isn’t even your money or your life now — she doesn’t have the money.

She’s gotten the business end of the gun without any warning, after having benefited from the drug for years.

This is worse than extortion; it’s a death sentence for anyone who isn’t a billionaire. Yes, billionaire because someone worth a million can pay for a little more than two years of this drug and that’s it.

Why Catalyst, the company which owns Firdapse’s intellectual property, even bothered to buy this drug is beyond me. If the three million patients who currently rely on this drug can’t afford it, there’s no profit to be made, no recouping the cost expended to buy the rights to the drug.

With only a couple thousand billionaires in the world I find it hard to believe enough of them will develop LEMS and pay for Firdapse to make the acquisition worthwhile.

It’s not just an unethical business, creating a gun to hold and fire against the heads of LEMS patients.

It’s really stupid business to aim an economic gun at one’s self.

I wonder all these years later how many former B-school students struggle with the vertical demand curve lessons once they enter the real world.

And I wonder what the supply curve looks like when it comes to insulin, the price of which has jumped dramatically over the last few years so that it has become your-money-or-your-life proposition for many diabetics.

At what point is insulin no longer profitable — after 10, 25, or 50% of insulin-dependent patients die because they can’t afford it, is it no longer profitable to make insulin?

Treat this as an open thread.

If It’s The Weekend, It Must Be Golf

[NB: Once again, check the byline. /~Rayne]

It’s Saturday. This must be our time to gaze with longing on the verdure only golf courses grow — and by verdure I don’t mean the fairways, tees, or greens.

I mean good, old American currency.

My father learned to play golf when I was a toddler living out west. It was a way for a geeky dude who was neither white nor monied nor born in California to inject himself into corporate culture. He won’t admit to it but belonging by playing with guys from work did this for him — a little brown dude from an impoverished background became one of them if only as long as he strove to beat their asses on the golf course.

Golf has been one of only two pricey hobbies my father had. The other has been rebuilding vehicles but the means by which he did the rebuilding was so inexpensive — scrabbling for used parts, reading manuals in libraries — my mom didn’t mind the expense. She’d just roll her eyes as he’d wander off to tinker in the garage during the winter months.

Golf wasn’t quite the same. Clubs, bags, balls, shoes, attire, tee times, transportation, all these things couldn’t be done on the cheap. He played twice a week at least during warmer months; once during the week with a league, at least once on weekends. We kids loved it when he played on Sundays as well as Saturdays because it meant four hours without dad driving us bonkers with some yard work or maintenance chore. Dad’s playing golf? Woohoo! Flip on the television and make like a vegetable for those precious four hours.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the Trump kids. Imagine a father who never really decompresses because his favorite past time is also his business. There’s no escape, no relief. While I condemn Donnie Jr.’s wretched hobby killing animals for sport, I can understand why he does it now.

There’s something very Oedipal for Donnie Jr. about traveling a long way from his father’s sphere and cutting the tail off a large-assed, slow-moving beast, if you think about it.

Imagine how the Trump’s kids’ father’s relationship to golf must have skewed their perceptions about so many things.

Because of my dad I’d grown up seeing golf as decompression time and a means to hang with co-workers though as a woman this had a slightly different utility. It also became a way to get to know in-laws who were hardcore golfers.

And it was the in-laws who changed my perception of golf, and of money.

My dad never belonged to a club. He’s always played at public courses or joined leagues which didn’t require a club membership. As I learned to play and began to golf regularly, I didn’t join either. It simply never occurred to me to join a club until I began playing with in-laws.

They were members, and members at clubs across the country. They’d been members their entire adult lives at the local country club and then they joined courses in Florida. This was a completely different experience for me; I can only liken it to feeling like Danny Noonan in Caddyshack, knowing one’s way around golf clubs but not the club.

(An aside: There’s something here about belonging to a tribe and being an outsider that I can’t quite wrap words around. Keep it in mind as you think about the narcissist Donald Trump and his origins.)

But even my in-laws’ experience, as informative as it was for me, wasn’t Trumpish. It was still a social experience which overlapped with business only because their first membership was in a small town where anybody who owned a business had a social membership if not a full golf membership at the country club. A small business owner would meet both vendors and customers alike over drinks or golf all the time, or dinner and dancing at social events during long, cold winters. But there was still some separation between business and pleasure once they left the country club. There was some greater social obligation besides helping other club members; these people dug each other out of snow banks and babysat each others’ kids. They went to the same churches and fundraising potlucks.

Not so for the Trumps, and increasingly so as Donald Trump invested less money in real estate developments and more into golf course-centered developments.

Look at how Trump’s relationships are characterized. In advance of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination he spoke with “friends and some external advisors” about his choice; at Mar-a-Lago he’s consulted with a “friend and confidante” who “roped in two other friends” to weigh in on Veterans Affairs. There’s no daylight between the people he considers his friends and the members of his golf course clubs, nor external advisors for that matter. How can the public tell them apart without a score card?

In the social circle where golf course and country club memberships are the norm, they really don’t think of the membership fees as access as those outside the circle do. They treat it like ownership in a condominium, and in a way it is — ownership of membership status is an asset which can be sold or passed on to heirs and assigns. There’s generally a cap on memberships in a club — what would be the point if there was no limit to the people who could join? The facilities could be overwhelmed.

Unlimited membership numbers would also reduce the value of the club’s cachet; exclusivity adds value to membership by limiting supply.  It’s Business 101, baby, among the very first things taught in B-school’s indoctrination: if the supply decreases, the price increases. This circle doesn’t even say this; it’s the air they breathe, in their genes.

Trump’s friends don’t see the problem with his consulting them and allowing them to weigh in on governance because they are nearly family — they share this same air, possess the same genes.

Those of us on the outside see this differently. Now we see a family like that in organized crime. We see people who do things for each other, take care of each other, by granting access to resources because of their invested relationship and common interests.

But those resources aren’t theirs — they’re ours.

We fund the Veterans Administration and Veterans Affairs. We elect people who legislate the means by which these functions are administered. We did not elect Ike (who shot a 73, nice game on the back nine) or Bruce (had to take a drop on that last hole, but a nice round), or Marc (developed a nasty slice, needs to spend some time with the club pro) to oversee and direct these public services.

We know absolutely dick about these three guys except that they are friends of Trump and members at Mar-a-Lago.

I made up the modifiers about their golf games but you can see how this stuff works in their world. We’re just abstract fungibles to them, like the stray leaf to be brushed off the 18th green so as not to come between the ball and the cup.

Even Trump’s kids are just abstracts, valued only when they have something to contribute to the rest of the club family.

Hold this last thought about the abstract fungibles. We may start our next round on that tee.

Open Thread: Is that a Smile? [UPDATE]

[FYI, update is at the bottom of this post./~Rayne]

I’m putting up an open thread since the BDTS thread is filling up as the Oversight Committee’s hearing continues.

There have been some developments in the case of National Enquirer owner AMI’s extortive letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, threatening to leak sext images exchanged with his paramour.

If you haven’t read Bezos’ open letter to AMI you really should. There’s something about AMI’s attempt that’s more than squicky; it smells sloppy and desperate.

Perhaps it merely reflects what Bezos says about AMI’s David Pecker — that Pecker was “apoplectic” about Bezos’ attempt to investigate the source of personal text messages leaked by AMI outlet National Enquirer.

Or perhaps it reflects some urgency related to the level of interest from other parties.

In any case, there were a number of discussions in Twitter last night as to whether AMI’s letter met the legal definition of extortion. Former fed prosecutor Renato Mariotti published a thread on the topic and former fed prosecutor Mimi Rocah also had questions about the letter.

Bloomberg reported today that the feds in SDNY are now looking into National Enquirer’s treatment of Bezos’ affair and whether it violates the agreement AMI entered into regarding the Michael Cohen “Catch and Kill” hush money case. The agreement prohibited further illegal activity.

What was it about Bezos’ private investigations that set off David Pecker so badly he’d not think about the implications to AMI’s agreements?

Bezos appears confident — though he hasn’t confirmed this in public — that the messages he exchanged with his married lover were entirely private. This suggests that their leakage was through illegal means.

Why would Pecker risk the possibility such an extortive act might expose illegal surveillance methods had been used against Bezos?

The one other recent case where Pecker’s name has come up in regard to aggressive surveillance and shaping news media coverage was that of Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. Pecker and Weinstein have been characterized as friends:

Mr. Weinstein held off press scrutiny with a mix of threats and enticements, drawing reporters close with the lure of access to stars, directors and celebrity-packed parties. Some journalists negotiated book and movie deals with him even as they were assigned to cover him. The studio chief once paid a gossip writer to collect juicy celebrity tidbits that Mr. Weinstein could use to barter if other reporters stumbled onto an affair he was trying to keep quiet. He was so close to David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The Enquirer, that he was known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable “F.O.P.,” or “friend of Pecker.” That status was shared by a chosen few, including President Trump.

(source: Weinstein’s Complicity Machine, 05-DEC-2017)

Weinstein had hired Black Cube to bat clean up on stories about his sexually abusive behavior. Who referred this private investigation firm to Weinstein?

It’s also possible the effort to silence Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post (owned by Bezos through holding company Nash Holdings) was driven not by Pecker’s relationship with Donald Trump but by Pecker’s desire to do business in Saudi Arabia. What resources would have been used to obtain Bezos’ text messages if Pecker was already tied up with KSA?

Saudi Arabia has now responded by denying any involvement in the conflict between Bezos and AMI, minimizing the dispute as a “soap opera.”

Again, treat this as an open thread.
_______

UPDATE — 4:15 P.M. ET —

Activist Iyad El-Baghdadi has just finished a thread looking at the Bezos-AMI dispute. He had already pointed out each allusion to Saudi Arabia in Bezos’ letter; in his Twitter thread he says a Saudi whistleblower told him Crown Prince MBS is obsessed with the Washington Post and targeting WaPo journalists.

But the bit that clicked for me with regard to David Pecker: with its extortive letter attempting to blackmail performance from Bezos, if AMI was acting on behalf of or in coordination with a foreign nation-state, they may be in violation of Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Now one needs to ask themselves, assuming AMI did this for MBS/KSA, was this the first time they acted on behalf of another nation-state? Or have they acted as agents for foreign powers before and it’s all in their vaults?

Where’s that popcorn?

Was Facebook Biased or Was It Manipulated?

[Notez bien: Cet essai n’a pas été écrit par Marcy ou bmaz mais par moi. Merci. Oh, and some this is speculative. /~Rayne]

Facebook has been in the news a lot this last two weeks with regard to its sneaky surveillance of competitors and users by paying teens for their data as well as its 15th anniversary.

But that’s not what this essay is about.

This is about the 2016 election and in particular a claim I thought was peculiar when it was first reported.

Gizmodo, a former Gawker Media outlet, published two stories claiming that Facebook’s news feed was biased against conservative news based on feedback from contract editors.

It struck me as odd at the time because

  • the first story was published within the week that Trump became the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party;
  • conservative news outlets weren’t complaining about being suppressed by Facebook;
  • the story broke at a troubled outlet via a relatively new technology editor at a lesser technology outlet.

It’d already struck me as bizarre that Trump wasn’t using traditional campaign media practices to reach his base. He wasn’t spending money on ad buys and other media like a new-to-politics candidate would. The commercial media was all over him providing him enough coverage that he didn’t have to buy more. Media coverage of Trump suffocated the rest of the GOP field in addition to swamping coverage of Democrats’ primary race.

So why were these contract editors/curators complaining about Facebook’s bias if so much of the media was focused on a Republican candidate?

Gawker, as you may recall, had been under siege by billionaire Peter Thiel after its founder Nick Denton had allowed Thiel’s sexuality to be outed in an Valleywag article. Thiel helped former professional wrestler and celebrity Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hulk Hogan, sue Gawker for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, publication of private matter, and violation of the right to publicity. Gawker ultimately lost the case in March 2016 in a Florida court; it filed bankruptcy on June 10.

When Gawker lost to Bollea it was clear the media outlet suffered a mortal blow. Bollea won $115 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages and Gawker didn’t have that much in cash or assets. It was only a matter of time before Denton would either fold or sell Gawker.

In that nebulous period when Gawker’s fate hung in the balance, Gizmodo ran two stories about Facebook’s alleged anti-conservative bias within six days’ time.

Why would Facebook’s contract editors reach out to an affiliate of troubled outlet Gawker? Facebook was the largest social media platform in the U.S.; why wouldn’t they have gone to a major U.S. newspaper instead of beleaguered Gawker?

One reason could have been Gawker’s financial vulnerability. A hungry outlet might publish any clickbait-y story when they have little to lose but paychecks.

Another reason might be inexperience. The reporter/editor whose byline appears on the Facebook stories didn’t have years-deep experience in technology reporting, unlike folks at competing dedicated technology journalism outlets. The journalist joined the organization in January 2016 and stayed with Gizmodo through Gawker’s subsequent acquisition; they left for another technology outlet mid-2017. Were they approached by sources because they were relatively inexperienced and working at a distressed outlet?

The journalist’s departure doesn’t appear to be neutral based on the observation a Gizmodo sister outlet, io9, published on his exit (cached copy). Perhaps it was a grumbly “break a leg” farewell a la Larry Darrell’s character in The Razor’s Edge (1984), but this doesn’t appear to be a regular practice at Gizmodo or other Gawker affiliates.

Once Gizmodo published the story, other outlets picked it up and repackaged it as original content. The New York Times stepped in and did more digging, treating this almost like Clinton’s emails with five pieces on Facebook and political bias inside May alone:

09-MAY-2016 — Conservatives Accuse Facebook of Political Bias
10-MAY-2016 — Political Bias at Facebook?
10-MAY-2016 — Senator Demands Answers From Facebook on Claims of ‘Trending’ List Bias
11-MAY-2016 — Facebook’s Bias Is Built-In, and Bears Watching
19-MAY-2016 — Opinion | The Real Bias Built In at Facebook

The story of Facebook’s alleged anti-conservative bias in news editing exploded with a huge push by NYT. (It didn’t stop in May; NYT published at least four more pieces before the election focused on Facebook and political bias though not all reflected negatively on Facebook.)

One outlet published a story based on Gizmodo’s second story seven hours after Gizmodo: the Observer, formerly known as The New York Observer, a small print and online media outlet based in New York city.

At the time it ran its story on Facebook’s alleged bias, it was owned by Jared Kushner.

The media editor’s story at the Observer noted the Gizmodo story trended on Facebook.

Facebook ‘Supression of Conservative News’ Story Is Trending on Facebook‘ published at 5:15 p.m. (assume this was local time in NYC).

Was it possible the Gizmodo article had been elevated by conservative news outlets and blogs rather than normal Facebook users’ traffic from reading the article itself, especially if the contract editors on assignment that day were still applying anti-conservative filters as alleged?

The last update to the Gizmodo article included this excerpt from a statement by Vice President of Search at Facebook, Tom Stocky:

…There have been other anonymous allegations — for instance that we artificially forced ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ to trend. We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. …

If Facebook could not detect foreign interference at that time — and it was known by September 2017 the Black Lives Matter content on Facebook had been elevated by Russian troll bots — would Facebook have been able to detect any artificial elevation of the Gizmodo stories?

Was it possible pro-conservative contract editors set up this scenario in order to skew Facebook’s content so that it would be easier for the Russian Internet Research Agency to amplify what appeared to be conservative content?

Or were the Gizmodo articles used to identify conservative outlets based on their liking the article?

Or was this scenario a proof-of-concept revealing Facebook’s inability or unwillingness to detect artificial manipulation of content?

Was it possible the Observer’s media page had been prepared to cover this development long before other east coast and national news outlets?

The timing of the Gizmodo stories is awfully convenient:

26-APR-2016 — GOP primaries/caucuses in CT, DE, MD, PA, RI, all won by Trump.

03-MAY-2016 — GOP primary in IN won by Trump.

03-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo article published: Want to Know What Facebook Really Thinks of Journalists? Here’s What Happened When It Hired Some.

03-MAY-2016 — Ted Cruz withdrew from race.

04-MAY-2016 — Trump became presumptive GOP nominee.

04-MAY-2016 — John Kasich withdrew from race.

09-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo article published at 9:10 a.m.: Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News.

09-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo updated article noting the piece had begun to trend with pickup by conservative sites; time of update not specified.

09-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo posted a second update at 4:10 p.m., posting Facebook’s initial response to TechCrunch, BuzzFeed, other unnamed outlets inquiries; the social media company denied suppression of content by political ideology.

09-MAY-2016 — Observer article published at 5:15 p.m.: Facebook ‘Supression of Conservative News’ Story Is Trending on Facebook.

10-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo adds final update at 8:10 a.m. with a statement from Facebook denying again any suppression by political ideology.

10-MAY-2016 — GOP primaries in NE, WV won by Trump.

17-MAY-2016 — Guardian-US published an op-ed by a Facebook contract curator pushing back at earlier Gizmodo stories. The article does not stop a steady number of stories repeating the earlier claims of anti-conservative bias.

17-MAY-2016 — GOP primary in OR won by Trump.

24-MAY-2016 — GOP primary in WA won by Trump.

26-MAY-2016 — Trump attains 1,237 total delegates, minimum required to win nomination — after CO, ND, and PA unbound delegates pledged to support Trump.

And by the end of May the race for media coverage isn’t a fight on the right among a broad field of GOP candidates but just Trump against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the next 10 days.

The too-convenient timing creates so many questions. It’d be nice to know if Facebook traffic showed an uptick of troll or bot interest promoting the Gizmodo story but Facebook has been less than forthcoming about traffic even though its business integrity was questioned.

It’d also be nice to know if the Observer had been tipped off ahead of the Gizmodo story trending and if the Observer’s report had other connotations apart from being a random story about social media.

But just as the Gizmodo journalist/editor who wrote the May 3 and May 9 stories moved on, the Observer journalist left their job, departing in late July 2016.

And the names of the Facebook curators/editors never appeared in subsequent coverage. Non-disclosure agreements may be the reason.

The kicker is another interesting bit of timing bookending Gizmodo’s stories:

19-APR-2016 — A domain for DCLeaks was registered.

. . .

06-JUN-2016 — Clinton attained 2383 delegates, the minimum threshold needed to earn the Democratic nomination.

08-JUN-2016 — A fake American identity posted a link in Facebook to a Russian GRU-associated website, DCLeaks, sharing content stolen from American servers including the DNC. The site “had gone live a few days earlier,” sharing small amounts of hacked material.

10-JUN-2016 — Gawker filed for bankruptcy.

By the time DCLeaks’ content was promoted by a fake account, the conservative commentariat from news sites to blogs had been primed to watch Facebook for a change in their coverage and Gawker as we’d known it under Nick Denton was on life support.

One other oddity about the Gizmodo stories about Facebook’s biased curation and the Observer piece observing Gizmodo’s Facebook pieces?

Trump’s name isn’t mentioned once in any of the three articles though his name had swamped all other media.

Hmm.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

KonMari-ing the Confederacy’s Son

[NB: Check the byline — this is a different kind of ‘trash talk’. /~Rayne]

You may already have heard the buzz about Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo and her branded decluttering technique, KonMari. Perhaps you’ve even seen her on Netflix which now features a series called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

She set off a furor across the internet among book lovers when she suggested getting rid of all of one’s books except for those few that spark joy — which is her guiding philosophy to thinning everything one possesses. When one considers a particular personal belonging, what feelings does it inspire? If joy, keep it and store it carefully; if not, release it.

This doesn’t work for books. Some of the most horror-inspiring books may be essential favorites whether fiction or non-fiction. And many book lovers whether readers, authors, or editors thrive in an environment of tsundoku, the weight of unread books providing a wealth of promise rather than oppressive dread.

The hullabaloo about her approach to books forced a reconsideration of the KonMari technique. It doesn’t work uniformly for everyone; what sparks joy for one rouses sadness in others.

But people do share universal values; if we focused on happiness and peace arising from observing these values, there might be a way to reconcile the disparity between ditching books and keeping them whether they spark joy or not.

Looking at our universal values — those we share as humans regardless of our gender identity, race and ethnicity, religious heritage, or country of origin — we have to ask ourselves about much more than whether to keep the tatty high school-issued copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or well-thumbed Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

What is it we should jettison if we are truly keeping that which is honest and trustworthy, responsible, respectful, caring, and fair?

Why worry about an excess of books and holey stray socks when our lives are thrown into chaos every day by people who are not living these shared values?

It could be said the repudiation of Governor Ralph Northam is an example of this kind of purging by Democrats in Virginia and beyond. Has Northam changed since the mid-1980s? Sure — we all have and hopefully for the better, but Northam’s failure to be open as a candidate and now as an elected official about the context of his medical school’s yearbook is a lapse of under universal ethics even if we believed his claims.

Now the people of Virginia wait for Northam to come to grips with the sorting he’s been through.

But as a country we’re not done with our reassessment. What are we keeping that holds us back from realizing our best selves as citizens?

A substantive number of readers will surely suggest impeaching and removing Trump and they’d be right. He’s the antithesis of  honesty and trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, caring, and fairness in nearly everything he does. Decluttering processes have already been set in motion — the Special Counsel’s Office plays a role in them even if its mission isn’t removal per se.

Trump isn’t the only human obstruction to realizing our communal universal values, though.

This needs to go. This should have been KonMari’d more than a dozen years ago, pared out of government. Don’t even think about trying to recycle it, either, it’s beyond redemption. The tradition manifest here has no worth because it disrespects the innate value of fellow humans while elevating a small number of people because of that disrespect.

Kentuckians need to clean their house beginning with this Senate seat. McConnell can’t possibly inspire happiness and peace in their hearts when his actions deny so many their human dignity.

Republicans should do likewise, beginning now with removing McConnell from the majority leadership role. They need to ask themselves if doubling down on their pursuit of power, throwing values to the wind to this end, really sparks joy in their hearts and souls. Do their efforts generate genuine authority, lay claim to authentic leadership, when fellow humans must be denigrated in the process?

Failing to be honest with themselves and respectful of the public will eventually set off other kinds of sparks. Just ask Ralph Northam.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

A Good Walk Foiled

[NB: You should check the byline as always, though nobody else here at emptywheel is stupid enough to write about golf but me. /~Rayne]

The title of this post is an homage to an informative piece of work about the business of golf, A Good Walk Spoiled, written by sports writer John Feinstein. The book was published in 1995 before Tiger Woods turned pro, driving golf into a boom in tandem with the dot com explosion and the crazy amount of expendable income a certain class of people had to spend on the sport.

A Good Walk Spoiled also preceded the rise of Trump-owned and branded golf courses by a few years. Trump built his first course in 1999, the Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Florida. On brand with Trump’s litigiousness, the land was acquired after a lawsuit against Palm Beach County. Without pulling up the relevant suit and land records it’s hard to tell exactly how Trump obtained the 350 acres which became Trump’s first course. It’s certainly not clear from this interview:

In 1985 you bought Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s Florida home, a landmark that had been the estate of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, wife of E.F. Hutton). How did that happen?

Mar-a-Lago was on the market for about five years, but they wouldn’t sell it to me. Now, they had already sold the beach in front of Mar-a-Lago–stupidly sold it–so I bought that, and then the other potential buyers didn’t want the place so much. Especially after I announced a horrendous project for that beach: big houses between Mar-a-Lago and the ocean. Did I really plan to build those houses? No. But it worked. Once I had the beach, I had them, and they sold me Mar-a-Lago. I got a good deal.

After I got it, I was annoyed by the planes going over to Palm Beach International Airport. So I sued the county. They wound up settling, and I got 350 incredible acres–the land that’s now Trump International Golf Club (An attorney for Palm Beach County says the settlement was unrelated to the land). Which has a quite expensive exit from the highway, by the way. The state’s spending $400 million on a highway (Widening and improving interstate 95), but didn’t build me an exit, and I put up quite a fuss about that. They ended up building a $30 million exit (Florida Department of Transportation says the exit cost even more $40 million) that goes to my $45 million course.

Right from the beginning of his current 17-course golf empire, the means and methods by which he operated them were sketchy.

It doesn’t help that the media has given him a pass so many damned times, even in this particular bit of sports writing. What was the settlement really about? How did Trump really acquire the land? It’s waved off in fourteen words enclosed in parentheses and that’s it. The same kind of wave off The New York Times gave him in coverage of their interview with him yesterday, 11 years after Trump’s bullshit explanation to Golf.com.

And I do mean bullshit. Read the rest of that Golf.com article and see if your eyebrows don’t elevate from the reek.

Especially the bit about playing golf with a banker.

Trump is playing golf right now, unsurprisingly, having traveled to his resort Mar-a-Lago for the weekend. I’m disappointed in one of his golf partners. Jack Nicklaus is a Republican and therefore no surprise as one of Trump’s playmates today. But Tiger Woods? Really, Tiger?

I get that Tiger may feel an affinity for someone who loves golf as much as Trump does, but you’d think Tiger would be smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall and the risk to anyone’s personal brand if they’re too tight with Il Douche.

Maybe Tiger’s going along to get along as far too many people have with Trump all his adult life.

In which case today’s round is just a good walk foiled.

Treat this as an open thread.

ADDER — 2:22 p.m. ET —

His moochery bilking us of our tax dollars to promote his golf course disgusts me to no end.

I hope he is counting his golf swings. It would be sweet justice to see one or more of his courses seized if investigations reveal he has defrauded us.

[Photo by Piron Guillaume via Unsplash]

A Neoliberal Argument for Medicare for All

[NB: Note the byline, as always. /~Rayne]

The old white billionaire dudes lipping off about “un-American” expectations of fairness and equity in income distribution jogged something loose in me.

I’m so damned angry about their willingness to complain their ability to buy yet another fucking yacht may be diminished because the average working American has the chutzpah to demand health care for everyone on top of a living wage.

What really cheeses me off is the utter stupidity of these so-called business geniuses.

WHY ARE THEY IN THE HEALTH CARE BUSINESS AT ALL??

Let’s pick on Mr. Luxury Beverage’s business. His core competency is preparing beverages to meet Americans’ tastes in an appealing environment.

Why has he spent any of his corporation’s human resource dollars on health care programs? His corporation’s expertise is NOT health care or insurance; they’re only providing health care because competition for stable, healthy employees is tight and turnover costs a butt-load of money.

I know you’ll love that technical term ‘butt-load’ but seriously, turnover in low-wage jobs in which employers have invested considerable training eats away at profit margins. It can take a year or two for low-level employees to reach maximum productivity — like pouring the optimum level of crema on a double espresso and know the entire menu by heart while operating at full-speed during rush hour.

What does it cost the Luxury Beverage business if workers leave inside that first year because they can get health care elsewhere?

Ditto for Mr. Business News Provider. His core competency is gathering, reporting, distributing timely news preferred by businesses ahead of the rest of the competition; time matters greatly if stock trades on this corporation’s work product. Why is his corporation in the health care business at all?

And yet both disparate businesses — beverage purveyor and news distributor — expect a comparable level of health among their workforce. They aren’t factoring into SWOT analyses the possibility a competitor’s workforce might be more healthy and fit.

If we look at other industries like the automotive industry or construction, healthy workers who can handle physical demands becomes mission critical. Only so much work can be automated or eased with technology and equipment.

And yet the cost of negotiating and providing health care for their employees can be the difference between profitability and business failure.

The challenge is greater when competing with companies overseas as automakers do.  Health care costs for the Big Three here add a significant percentage to the cost of goods sold — far more than $2 billion a year — while their foreign competitors pay less because the costs is absorbed across all of society instead of their businesses’ experience. The costs are based on a population which has had uniform access to health care throughout their lives.

So why are industries which aren’t delivering health care in the business of providing health care at all?

It’s in the best interest of the country and its industries to use economies of scale to acquire good health care at lower cost, provide it to the entire country, so that the country’s businesses can focus solely on their core competencies as well as the features which differentiate them positively from competing overseas products.

This is exactly what the neoliberal “strong but impartial state” is for in concert with “free enterprise, the system of competition,” to provide what the people know is needed to establish economic justice, insure domestic peace, provide for the common defense against health and employment insecurity, promote the general welfare of all citizens and workers, while securing an optimum opportunity for businesses to compete.

The U.S. is going to spend $3.5 trillion on health care this year under this current system. This is nearly two times what comparable countries spend on average. It’s inflating the cost of everything we make and sell. Imagine the profits corporations could make and keep if they didn’t have to spend valuable time and resources on health care benefits management.

But, but socialism! — this is the immediate refrain offered as push back against institutionalizing health care as a federal program to be provided to all.

Do you see either Mr. Luxury Beverages or Mr. Business News Provider complaining about the federal government’s role in assuring baseline education across the country through its K-12 public school system? I would argue this is the most American federal program we have now or have ever had since its inception with the Pilgrims.

But socialized K-12 education!

Imagine having to argue as a presidential candidate that we can’t have education for all though this program has already directly benefited every business and our common defense in some way.

Imagine American corporations, each independently in isolation, spending billions each year on human resources to research and negotiate education programs as an offering for employees and their families. Ridiculous, right? It’d suffocate so many young businesses on the verge of scaling up.

But these old white male billionaires don’t see any problem with publicly-funded education for all which helped make them what they are today.

I can’t believe I’ve had to argue a neoliberal case for publicly-funded health care for all because a guy who grew up in public housing thinks such health care is “un-American.”

 

Treat this as an open thread.

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