Live Thread: U.S. Senate Commerce Hearing with Facebook Whistleblower [UPDATE-5]

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

The Senate Commerce Committee is conducting a hearing right now; Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is currently testifying before the committee.

You can watch the hearing at C-SPAN at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?515042-1/whistleblower-frances-haugen-calls-congress-regulate-facebook

You can also catch up with the backstory leading into this hearing by catching CBS’s 60 Minutes feature from this past weekend at:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-misinformation-public-60-minutes-2021-10-03/

Haugen is the former Facebook insider who leaked corporate documents to the Wall Street Journal several months ago, culminating in reports published a couple weeks ago. Sadly, the work is paywalled.

These are the key points WSJ reported on based on the documents:

– Facebook internal documents outline an exempt elite who can operate without prohibitions.

– Facebook’s Instagram platform knowingly relies on toxicity dangerous to teen girls.

– Facebook’s 2018 tweaks to algorithms heightened polarization between users.

– Facebook’s response to known use by organized crime from trafficking to drugs is grossly ineffectual.

– Facebook’s own algorithms undermined Zuckerberg’s efforts to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.

All this in addition to its complicity inciting genocide of more than 25,000 Rohingya minority members in Myanmar means that Facebook is beyond toxic. It’s deadly.

I’ll update this post with additional content. Share your comments related to Facebook, social media, and today’s hearing in this thread.

~ ~ ~

On a personal note: I don’t use Facebook for many of the reasons outlined in Haugen’s disclosures and the reasons that the Federal Trade Commission issued a consent decree against Facebook back in 2011 (which Facebook violated, resulting in a $5 billion fine in 2020).

I already had strong doubts about Facebook because my oldest child was bullied by a classmate on the first day they opened a Facebook account. They had begged me to let them open an account and in spite of all my precautionary measures and coaching, they were still tormented immediately and out of view of the other student’s parents.

That was more than 14 years ago. Think of what 14 years of this kind of behavior alone will do to our children and young adults, let alone what troll farms masquerading as children on line will do to them.

And now we know Facebook has known about this toxicity targeting young women and girls, and that it has continued to develop a platform aimed at monetizing children and teens’ use of social media.

Kill it now.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 12:30 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

I missed the earliest part of the hearing, am now going back through earlier portions.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) at 9:27 am expresses reluctance to break up companies or deem social media platforms to be utilities, calling it heavy handed.

Uh, not heavy enough. Yesterday’s outage proved Facebook is a communications system when WhatsApp went down with Facebook and Instagram.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) is prodding about regulatory oversight. Haugen says Facebook’s closed system traps the company and prevents them from changing their operations – a closed loop which it can’t break – and government intervention through oversight would break that loop for them.

Nation-state surveillance comes up next; Facebook could see other countries surveilling users. Haugen says the U.S. has a right to protect Americans from this kind of exposure.

UPDATE-2 — 12:36 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Live hearing again. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) says he sent a letter to Facebook about related concerns well before this hearing. He asks Haugen about age restrictions for users; she feels the restriction should be changed to 16-18 years of age because of teens’ weaker impulse controls and concerns about addictive behaviors.

How to screen for age is tricky, IMO. Kids have gotten around this and parents have been just plain neglectful.

UPDATE-3 — 12:47 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (calls Facebook a “black box,” designed as such by Mark Zuckerberg, referencing legal obligations under Section 230.

Haugen adjusts the point he’s making by noting Facebook had said it could lie to the courts because it had immunity under Section 230.

Well that explains why Zuckerberg believes he can lie to Congress as well, as he has in at least one hearing, and why a representative for Facebook lied just this week to Congress in spite of Facebook documents liberated by Haugen proving otherwise.

Haugen says she doesn’t like seeing people blaming parents. Sorry, too bad — as a parent I know the ultimate authority over internet use at home with parent-funded devices is the parent, and I know far too many parents are just plain lazy when not willfully uniformed about social media use. More parents should have been up in their representatives’ faces all along about social media’s impact on their children.

UPDATE-4 — 12:55 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Haugen is responding to questions from Sen. Todd Young (R-IN). She says Facebook knows how vulnerable people are who’ve had big life changes like divorce or death of a friend/loved one, how they can lose touch with surrounding community in real life because they are framing their perspective on thousands of distortive posts on Facebook.

She also doesn’t believe in breaking up Facebook.

Too fucking bad. The outage yesterday proved Facebook needs to be broken up.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has been given a copy of a tweet by a Facebook employee, Andy Stone, who rebuts Haugen’s credibility based on her work experience. Blackburn invites Mr. Stone and Facebook to be sworn in and testify instead.

You know there will be more concerted attacks on Haugen’s credibility. Sure hope there’s nothing on her in Facebook’s data.

UPDATE-5 — 1:06 PM 05-OCT-2021 —

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asks about Facebook studying children under 13 about eating disorder and whether the company is pushing eating disorder-related content children that age. Haugen implies they are getting ground this by encouraging inauthentic accounts.

Klobuchar asks about banning outside researchers; Haugen says the blocking is an indication that federal oversight is necessary when Facebook goes so far out of its way to block them.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) says he sent a letter to Facebook ten years ago asking if the company was going to collect data on child users on its platform, and now Congress is back revisiting the issue. He plugs further regulation including controls on AI.

Haugen earlier in this hearing said AI was a known problem referring to bias.

Markey brings up the Children’s Television Act of 1990 he authored which protects kids up to age 12.

Sounds like Facebook must have used this as a jumping point for its existing prohibition on accounts for those under age 13.

Haugen responds to Markey saying removing Likes/Comments/Reshares which encourage more engagement aren’t enough to protect children. They’re still exposed to dangerous “extreme and polarizing” content.

Markey asks if Haugen thinks any visible measures of content popularity should be removed on content for children – she’s not quite as forceful on this as his question about removing targeted ads aimed at children to which she’s firmly agreed.

Flashbacks to the 2015 Campaign

Katy Tur at SXSW
[h/t nrkbeta Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) ]

Several years ago, I got Mrs Dr Peterr Katy Tur’s book Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Tur had been the NBC reporter assigned to the Trump campaign in 2015 and 2016, and listening to the impeachment coverage yesterday and the coverage this morning, one episode she recounted in the book came flashing back . . .

In Dec 2015, three days before Trump announced his pledge to institute a Muslim travel ban, Trump got rattled at a rally in Raleigh NC where protesters coordinated their efforts and threw him off his game, interrupting his speech every couple of minutes from different parts of the arena. Disgusted, Trump abruptly left the podium and started shaking hands offstage, and Tur sent out a simple tweet describing what had happened.

Right before lunch the next day, Hope Hicks wrote her to say “Katy, Mr. Trump thought your tweets from last night were disgraceful. Not nice! Best, Hope.” Shortly thereafter, the media gets the word about the travel ban Trump intended to announce that night, and that becomes the big story of the day with Katy doing liveshots all afternoon. That evening, before a rally inside the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier-turned-museum in Charleston harbor), Trump blasted her with four attack tweets in the span of four minutes.

Tur says the rally’s specific location was a surprise, in that it wasn’t held on the carrier deck but inside the belly of the ship, with the media crowded into a pen.

Yes, we are in a pen: a makeshift enclosure made of bicycle racks and jammed full of desks, reporters, and camera equipment. We’re in the middle of the carrier, slammed against the right side wall. As usual, almost all of Trump’s supporters are white and a lot of them are looking at us, not exactly kindly. The campaign and Secret Service force us to stay inside the pen while Trump is onstage. They even discourage bathroom breaks. None of them have a good explanation for why we’re kept separate from the supporters. Are we the threat or are they?

Trump starts his rambling speech, and the crowd eats it up. Then Trump opens up on the media.

“The mainstream media,” Trump says. “These people back here, they’re the worst. They are so dishonest.”

Hoots and hollers.

And then I hear my name.

“She’s back there, little Katy. She’s back there.”

Trump then calls her a liar several times, and a third rate reporter several times as well, before pivoting to a more general attack on the media. Finally, once he’s got the crowd sufficiently whipped up, he formally announces the Muslim ban, and the crowd which she described earlier as looking at her like “a large animal, angry and unchained” went nuts.

She goes live with Chris Matthews as Trump leaves the stage, and when she’s done with that, Chris Hayes takes over and wants to keep her on the air for the lead story on his show that followed Matthews’.

[Trump] supporters are taking their time to leave. They’re still whipped up. I know someone is going to start yelling at me as soon as I start talking. So I do what I always do. I find the pinhole deep in the back of the lens and I tune everything else out.

A couple of minutes later, I’m done. The crowd that had gathered behind my live shot is gone except for a few stragglers, yelling at me. They’re five feet away, held back by those lousy bicycle racks. A Trump staffer shoos them away. MSNBC has cleared me and my bosses want [her cameraman/sound tech] Anthony and me to get out of there as quickly as we can. I don’t quite understand why until we pack up and start to head out. A Trump staffer stops me and says “These guys are going to walk you out.”

I look over and see two Secret Service agents. Thank goodness. They walk Anthony and me along the gangway back to our car. It’s pitch black and I’m nervous. We’re parked with the crowd.

Once we’re moving, I take a look at my phone. My mom has called. And called. And called. I dial her back. “Are you okay? Where are you staying? Can someone stay with you? You need security!? She is crying. And it hits me.

I’m a target.

On that day in December 2015, the security professionals of the US Secret Service recognized that Trump was dangerously inciting a mob, and stepped in to protect the target he had singled out.

On January 6, 2021, Trump again incited a mob, and this time there was no one to stop them.

Donnie The Wimp And His Impeachment Coffin

There was a pretty astounding report by CNN early this morning depicting the, and I am being kind here, disarray in Trump’s impeachment defense. The gist is this:

Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, who were expected to be two of the lead attorneys, are no longer on the team. A source familiar with the changes said it was a mutual decision for both to leave the legal team. As the lead attorney, Bowers assembled the team.
Josh Howard, a North Carolina attorney who was recently added to the team, has also left, according to another source familiar with the changes. Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris, from South Carolina, are no longer involved with the case, either.

No other attorneys have announced they are working on Trump’s impeachment defense.

A person familiar with the departures told CNN that Trump wanted the attorneys to argue there was mass election fraud and that the election was stolen from him rather than focus on the legality of convicting a president after he’s left office. Trump was not receptive to the discussions about how they should proceed in that regard.

That sounds ominous!

But here is the part that even more stuck out to me:

“As the lead attorney, Bowers assembled the team.”

and, most notably,

“The attorneys had not yet been paid any advance fees and a letter of intent was never signed.”

Lol, for the uninitiated, that means Trump never paid a dime as to a retainer, and never signed a fee agreement. That not only is inappropriate, in most jurisdictions it is, in and of itself, unethical. Even when the lawyer is agreeing to do work pro bono, there is a retainer agreement. Always, because real lawyers don’t blithely hang their asses out on the line without specified parameters. That is just how it is.

As I said on Twitter:

A rather large discussion ensued. Go look if you so desire, but I will stand by that for now. No, I do not really know, but it almost makes sense.

Trump is not cash rich. Expending collected campaign funds to perpetrate a fraudulent defense might be a dicey proposition. And no competent attorneys are lining up to pitch that. Trump may literally be down to Rudy and Jenna Ellis. Dershowitz and Jon Turley are squirrely as shit, but even they may not be that stupid.

So, where art thou go Donald?

Larry King Is Dead, Long Live The King

Probably the world knows by now that broadcasting legend Larry King has died at 87. He was not necessarily a journalist, per se, even if news was often broken on his show. He was a massive media presence, and a good one. Unlike so many others, he did not get in the way of his guests and interviewees letting themselves be themselves, for better or worse.

CNN is doing some larger biography, and it is worth watching for a little bit. But King brought together Rabin, Hussein and Arafat on a TV show. You don’t see that every day. Then there was all the OJ Simpson charges and trial coverage. There are a lot of people still in the public view today that came out of that. Some rightfully, some not as much so.

As a parting thought, some love for Ted Turner. He took King off of late night talk radio, that I sometimes listened to on a timed clock radio while falling asleep, before his CNN TV gig, to grow the fledgling CNN. Ted Turner innovated so much it is almost silly. Elon Musk will never, even in his dreams, accomplish as much as the great Ted Turner.

Do you have any memories?

Glenn Greenwald’s Self Hack: “I could go on and on”

As you’ve no doubt learned, Glenn Greenwald left The Intercept in a huff after editors wouldn’t let him publish an article repeating the last illogical rant he made about “censorship” of a non-story about Joe Biden (I unpacked the earlier piece here, and did an interminable thread on the interminable piece he wanted to publish as part of this thread).

Glenn has released a selection of the emails, not all with accompanying metadata, that led up to his departure (I had to sign an NDA when I worked at The Intercept and I’m wondering if he had to or whether all NDAs — including those about the now defunct Snowden archive — are invalid now). I consider this a self-hack, because they actually show Glenn conceding the point his editor, Peter Maass made, and then labeling it censorship.

The thread starts with a story memo (with no timestamp, though it may have been a Doc) laying out ways for Glenn to make his column better. It starts by affirming the value of a column criticizing “liberal” journalists for not asking tougher questions. Glenn even emphasizes this by bolding it.

Glenn, I have carefully read your draft and there is some I agree with and some I disagree with but am comfortable publishing. However, there is some material at the core of this draft that I think is very flawed. Overall I think this piece can work best if it is significantly narrowed down to what you first discussed with Betsy — media criticism about liberal journalists not asking Biden the questions he should be asked more forcefully, and why they are failing to do that.

That is, from the very start Maass committed to his willingness to post a column questioning why Biden hasn’t had to answer more questions about this topic. He committed to call out other journalists who won’t be more confrontational with Joe Biden.

What Maass disagreed with are the many places where Glenn, absent any evidence, makes insinuations about Biden corruption.

There are many places in which the explicit or implied position is a) the emails expose corruption by Joe Biden and b) news organizations are suppressing their reporting on it. Those positions strike me as foundations to this draft, and they also strike me as inaccurate, and that inaccuracy undercuts narrower points that are sound.

This is the story that Glenn wants to tell. Not that the “liberal” media is going easy on Biden, but that emails that have shown no evidence of corruption somehow reflect corruption.

There’s a lot nutty in Glenn’s response, but the most important is this passage, where he claims to address concerns raised by Maass.

3) For almost every personal opinion you express about Biden that you claim I omitted, I actually already included it explicitly in the draft. Just a few examples:

  • YOU: “But it’s very significant that the Journal found no corroborating evidence either of Joe Biden’s involvement in any such deals, or those deals being consummated. These are major issues that I feel undermine the draft’s thesis and are downplayed in the draft.”
  • MY DRAFT: “Thus far, no proof has been offered by Bubolinski that Biden ever consummated his participation in any of those discussed deals. The Wall Street Journal says that it found no corporate records reflecting that a deal was finalized and that “text messages and emails related to the venture that were provided to the Journal by Mr. Bobulinski, mainly from the spring and summer of 2017, don’t show either Hunter Biden or James Biden discussing a role for Joe Biden in the venture.”
  • YOU: “You can certainly note that Shokin’s successor let Burisma off the hook, but that’s not evidence he was installed by Biden in order to achieve that end.”
  • MY DRAFT: “It is true that no evidence, including these new emails, constitute proof that Biden’s motive in demanding Shokhin’s termination was to benefit Burisma.”
  • YOU: “A connected problem is that your draft asserts there is a massive suppression attempt by the entire major media to not report out these accusations, but then doesn’t explore how major news organizations have done significant stories, and those stories, such as the Journal’s, have not found anything of significance. The Times has also reported on the China deal and found the claims wanting.”
  • MY DRAFT: “The Wall Street Journal says that it found no corporate records reflecting that a deal was finalized and that “text messages and emails related to the venture that were provided to the Journal by Mr. Bobulinski, mainly from the spring and summer of 2017, don’t show either Hunter Biden or James Biden discussing a role for Joe Biden in the venture.”…The New York Times on Sunday reached a similar conclusion: while no documents prove that such a deal was consummated, “records produced by Mr. Bobulinski show that in 2017, Hunter Biden and James Biden were involved in negotiations about a joint venture with a Chinese energy and finance company called CEFC China Energy.”

I could go on and on. [my emphasis]

Note that, first of all, Glenn paints Maass’ observations about logical problems in Glenn’s piece as “personal opinion.”

In each case, Glenn is misrepresenting what Maass said. The first quotation, in context, is Maass’ first example of the ways in which Glenn’s assertions about Biden are not backed by the evidence. Maass introduces the few published emails, and then notes that the WSJ didn’t find anything nefarious in them.

There are many places in which the explicit or implied position is a) the emails expose corruption by Joe Biden and b) news organizations are suppressing their reporting on it. Those positions strike me as foundations to this draft, and they also strike me as inaccurate, and that inaccuracy undercuts narrower points that are sound.

There are a couple of published emails and texts in which Hunter Biden or his business partners suggest or hint that Joe Biden might be aware of, or involved in, their dealings with China.

[snip]

But it’s very significant that the Journal found no corroborating evidence either of Joe Biden’s involvement in any such deals, or those deals being consummated. These are major issues that I feel undermine the draft’s thesis and are downplayed in the draft.

The second quotation comes from a paragraph that quotes Glenn’s response!!!! but lays out generally that years of reporting have shown there’s no evidence for Glenn’s insinuations.

In addition, I feel there are substantive problems with the way you present the material on Ukraine. As your draft notes at one point, “It is true that no evidence, including these new emails, constitute proof that Biden’s motive in demanding Shokin’s termination was to benefit Burisma.” However, there are many places in the piece where you say that the material raises serious questions about Biden’s motives, yet you never present any evidence that supports such questions. You can certainly note that Shokin’s successor let Burisma off the hook, but that’s not evidence he was installed by Biden in order to achieve that end (indeed, it appears from the quote Taibbi cites that Biden initially had no idea who Shokin’s proposed successor was). Despite years of reporting by a lot of journalists, American as well as Ukrainian, as well as an exhaustive GOP-led U.S. Senate investigation, no evidence has surfaced of Biden acting corruptly with respect to the replacement of Shokin. (Taibbi’s findings are equivocal, I believe.) The reasonable conclusion, by now, would be that it most likely didn’t happen.

The third quotation notes that once you take into account actual reporting, Glenn’s preferred thesis “starts to wobble.”

A connected problem is that your draft asserts there is a massive suppression attempt by the entire major media to not report out these accusations, but then doesn’t explore how major news organizations have done significant stories, and those stories, such as the Journal’s, have not found anything of significance. The Times has also reported on the China deal and found the claims wanting. There are other pieces I can point to. You should give full notice to those –but once you do, the draft’s overall thesis on suppression starts to wobble. Please note that I nonetheless believe you still have a valid albeit narrower argument about the failure of many journalists to confront the Biden family directly and aggressively with relevant questions about the materials and the legalized corruption of Hunter Biden that they document.

That is, all three of these quotes that Glenn responds to are quotes pointing out that his thesis — that there must be something in these emails that the reporting on the emails have thus far not found that if only “liberal” journalists asked harder questions they could find — is basically bullshit. There’s no evidence of wrong-doing.

And Glenn points that out!!! “I could go on and on,” Glenn asserts, seemingly promising there are endless examples of Glenn admitting there’s no evidence for the claims he is making.

There may well be. But that seems to concede Maass’ argument: that the thesis Glenn wanted to publish — corrupt Joe Biden — isn’t backed by any evidence, even if “corrupt liberal journalists not asking hard questions of Joe Biden” might be.

Immediately after laying out how he conceded over and over that there’s no evidence to support the insinuations he’s making against Biden, he includes this paragraph.

What’s happening here is obvious: you know that you can’t explicitly say you don’t want to publish the article because it raises questions about the candidate you and all other TI Editors want very much to win the election in 5 days. So you have to cast your censorship as an accusation — an outrageous and inaccurate one — that my article contains factually false claims, all as a pretext for alleging that my article violates The Intercept’s lofty editorial standards and that it’s being rejected on journalistic grounds rather than nakedly political grounds.

But your memo doesn’t identify a single factual inaccuracy, let alone multiple ones. And that’s why you don’t and can’t identify any such false claims. And that, in turn, is why your email repeatedly says that what makes the draft false is that it omits facts which — as I just demonstrated — the draft explicitly includes. [my emphasis]

“What’s happening here is obvious” Glenn asserts (after a long passage in which he lays out proof that he’s aware there’s no evidence to back his insinuations about Biden). He claims that it is obvious that “you don’t want to publish the article because it raises questions about [Biden],” then suggests Maass (and presumably Betsy Reed, as well) “can’t explicitly say” that, that their attempts to improve Glenn’s argument about what he sees as the failures of “liberal” journalists to ask questions and their refusal to let him post a screed that, over and over, admits he has no evidence to back his insinuations are really all an attempt to protect Joe Biden.

As he does with Biden himself, he does with his editors: they have pointedly not said they’re doing what they’re doing because they want to protect Biden, and in fact Maass said he was trying to improve Glenn’s argument that journalists, generally, are protecting Joe Biden. But Glenn says it’s “obvious” that’s what’s really going on, even though the evidence says something else.

And he does it after laying out three admissions that there’s no evidence to back his insinuations about Biden, and promising he “could go on and on” providing more examples where he admits he has no evidence to back the claims he’d like to make.

I have asked Maass and Reed for the full email chain (there appear to be earlier emails in this exchange, and Glenn did not include the metadata for communications on October 28). And while I didn’t ask Maass and Reed for this, it bears noting that Glenn has made repeated claims about his contract with The Intercept. If Glenn wants to make these claims, he should be asked by everyone demanding tough questions to prove that his contract says what he claims it does.

Update: Here’s The Intercept’s statement, which is quite good.

Update: I initially spelled Maass’ last name incorrectly here. My apologies to him. Yet more proof everyone can benefit from a good editor.

Update: I keep butchering Maass’ last name. I think it is correct now.

Doesn’t Anyone in the Media Read the Actual Election Laws?

Election Resolution Judges
(h/t Lance Fisher and used under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic [CC BY-SA 2.0])

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and all elections were conducted either with paper ballots or “pull the lever” machines, my high school government class was given an election season project. For the precinct around our high school, we were to do four things: (1) canvas the neighborhood to determine who was registered and who was not, (2) work to increase the number of registered voters, (3) try to get as many of these folks to the polls on election day as possible, and (4) report back to the teacher how it all went.

Shorter #4: It was a blast.

Oh, it was a lot of work, too. Lots of knocking on doors (and going back and back again when no one was home), and also lots of reading the elections laws. What were the deadlines? What did we have to do in order to be polling place observers, so that we could see who voted in the morning in order to start making calls or knocking on doors in the afternoon and evening? What were we allowed to do in the polling place, and what were we not allowed to do? Who would make the GOTV visits in the afternoon and early evening? Who had a driver’s license and a vehicle, so we could offer rides to the polls, if needed? Who could be available to babysit, if needed?

In a precinct that generally had turnout of around 30%, that year it hit 70%. We weren’t allowed to be advocates for a candidate or ballot proposition (this was a non-partisan school project, after all), but simply were trying to get as many folks as possible to the polls, and we did a damn good job. In the years that followed, I’m sure there were campaign strategists who looked at that number and figured it must have been a typo, because it never came close to that again.

Since high school, I’ve worked on a number of campaigns, from local school board stuff to Paul Simon’s presidential campaign and a bunch at every level in between. One thing I’ve never forgotten is simple: read the election law.

With all the “will we have a winner on Election Night?” blather, it seems few in the media have bothered to do that one very simple thing.

So let’s give it a try, OK? From the Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 115:

115.508. Certification of election prohibited prior to noon on Friday after election day.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no election authority or verification board shall certify election results, as required under section 115.507, before noon on the Friday after election day.

What? You mean it’s illegal (at least in Missouri) for an election board – city, county, or state – to certify a winner before Friday?

115.507. Announcement of Results by verification board, contents, when due—abstract of votes to be official returns.—
1. Not later than the second Tuesday after the election, the verification board shall issue a statement announcing the results of each election held within its jurisdiction and shall certify the returns to each political subdivision and special district submitting a candidate or question at the election. The statement shall include a categorization of the number of regular and absentee votes cast in the election, and how those votes were cast; provided however, that absentee votes shall not be reported separately where such reporting would disclose how any single voter cast his or her vote. When absentee votes are not reported separately the statement shall include the reason why such reporting did not occur. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the election authority to tabulate absentee ballots by precinct on election night.

What? You mean that each election jurisdiction has two weeks to submit their certification, and ballot counters don’t have to pull an all-nighter on election night?

115.430. Provisional ballots, used when, exceptions, procedure, counted when, how—rulemaking authority—free access system established—provisional ballot only used,when—no jurisdiction in state courts to extend polling hours.—
All provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility has been verified as provided in this section shall be counted in accordance with the rules governing ballot tabulation. Provisional ballots shall not be counted until all provisional ballots are determined either eligible or ineligible and all provisional ballots must be processed before the election is certified.

Here’s part of why you can’t certify a winner before Friday, and you get two weeks to finish the count. By Missouri state law, every individual provisional ballot has to be either accepted or rejected before ANY provisional ballots are actually tabulated and added to the regular count. If you get a lot of provisional ballots, or if there are lots of challenges to these ballots, this could take a while. And if you have both of those things, it *will* take a while.

What is reported on election night is — and always has been — unofficial. When you go to any state’s election website next Tuesday evening and frantically refresh the page to get the latest numbers, they will tell you that these results are unofficial. They aren’t official until at least a couple of days later, after every precinct has verified and counted all their provisional ballots, checked all their math, and filed a formal certification with their Secretary of State. Careful media voices may project a winner on election night, but it’s not official until the certification of the results is complete.

And at least in Missouri, that is not allowed to happen before the Friday after the election, and could be as much as two weeks after election day.

Look, I get it. I want to know who will win all kinds of different races as soon as anyone, but it’s not an automatic sign of any nefarious goings on if no clear winner is projected on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. More than anything, it’s a sign that everyone from the election judge in your local polling place on up to the Secretary of State wants to be really sure that they got the count right before they declare it to be official.

I know that Donald Trump doesn’t know election law, or even the mechanics of how elections work once the polls close, and I have no illusions about educating him on that subject. I just wish the media would quit imitating his ignorance.

In Dire Need of Creative Extremists

MLK Memorial on the national Mall
(h/t Mobilus In Mobili CC BY-SA 2.0)

While many would point to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial  in August 1963 as his most powerful, the words from King that most move me come from a letter written four months earlier, as he sat in the Birmingham jail. It was a letter written to local pastors, who expressed support for his cause but concern for the manner in which he came to Birmingham to protest. When looking back at historical letters, there are some that are products of their time that illuminate the events of that day, but which need footnotes and commentary to explain to contemporary readers.

King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is *not* one of those letters. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s all too clear, and speaks all too clearly even now.

In that letter, King identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the hoodwearing Klanners or the politically powerful White Citizens Council folks, but the white moderate. These are folks who

  • are more devoted to order than justice
  • prefer a negative peace – the absence of tension – to a positive peace – the presence of justice
  • constantly say they agree with your goals but not your direct methods for achieving them
  • feel no problem in setting a timetable for someone else’s freedom
  • live by the myth of time, constantly urging patience until things are more convenient

Anyone who has watched the news at any time over the last three years knows that this great stumbling block to freedom and justice, the Moderate, is an all-too-familiar presence, appearing in various guises. For example . . .

  • police officers who, as one African-American after another is beaten, abused, and killed by one of their colleagues, silently watch the attack as it unfolds, who refuse to intervene, who write up reports to cover for this conduct, and who by their silence and their words defend and justify assault and murder done under the color of law;
  • staffers at ICE facilities who, as children are separated from their parents, as people are crammed into unlivable facilities, as basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap are withheld, clock in and clock out without saying a word;
  • personal assistants, co-workers, and superiors who watch as victim after victim were abused by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, and untold others, and who said nothing;
  • Susan Collins, hand-wringer extraordinaire, who expresses her deep concerns about this rightwing nominee or that destructive proposed policy, and nevertheless puts her concerns aside time and time and time again to confirm the nominee or enact the proposal into law;
  • media figures who practice “he said/she said journalism,” who twist themselves into pretzels in order to maintain their “access” to inside sources, and who refuse to call a lie a lie in the name of “balance”;
  • corporate bean counters, who place such things as quarterly profits and shareholder value ahead of worker safety and well-being, ahead of environmental concerns, or ahead of community partnership, saying “we can’t afford to . . .” when what they really mean is “we choose not to spend in order to . . .”;
  • lawyers who provide legal cover to those who abuse, torture, and terrorize, and the second group of lawyers who “let bygones be bygones” in order to not have to deal with the actions of the first group;
  • bishops and religious leaders who privately chastise abusive priests and pastors, but who fail to hold them publicly accountable and seek justice, out of a concern to not cause a scandal that would bring the religious organization into disrepute; and
  • leaders of sports programs who value winning so much that they are willing to look the other way when coaches, trainers, and doctors abuse athletes.

The tools of the Moderate are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to The Team, and the explicit and implicit power of the hierarchy. The Moderate may not be at the top of the pyramid, but as long as the Moderate can kiss up and kick down, they think they will be OK. They’ll keep their powder dry, waiting for a better time to act. But all too often, the Moderate refuses to use what they’ve been saving for that rainy day, even when they are in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.

But there are signs of hope, and we’ve seen some of them as well over the last three years:

  • career government professionals – at the State Department like Marie Yovanovitch, at the Department of Defense like Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the Department of Health and Human Services like Dr. Richard Bright, at the Department of Justice like Brandon Van Graak, and others like them – who refused to worry about personal consequences to themselves and fudge the data, ignore the facts, shade the advice,  or stand silently by while others do so;
  • passers-by to acts of injustice, who not only document what is being done but who take action to hold perpetrators to account (NY dog walkers, represent!);
  • young voices like Greta Thunberg who refuse to go along to get along, who ask the tough questions of those in power, and who question the answers that mock the truth, and old voices like Elizabeth Warren who do the same; and
  • voices of political relative newcomers like Katie Porter, AOC, Stacy Abrams, who do not let their low spot on the political totem pole (or lack of a spot at all) keep them from speaking out for justice.

This past week, longtime AIDS activist Larry Kramer passed away. He founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to care for gays stricken with AIDS, while the government turned its eyes away from the problem. Later on, he founded ACT-UP, when he saw GMHC had become too domesticated and unwilling to rock the boat when the boat desperately needed rocking. He called out the gay community and he called out government officials, even those who were trying to help like Anthony Fauci, for not doing anywhere close to what was needed.

And in many respects, it worked. Maybe not as fast as it should have, or as well as Kramer would have liked, but it made a difference. From Kramer’s NY Times obituary:

The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”

“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.

In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.

Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Which brings me back to King’s letter and the title of this post:

. . . though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We’ve got plenty of extremists like Stephen Miller and the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. We’re in dire need of more creative extremists.

Which leaves me with one question: how will you be a creative extremist today?

What Do These ‘Missing’ Candidates Have in Common?

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

I’m putting this question to the media folks who come through here on the regular. Don’t think we don’t notice your foot- and fingerprints.

Last week I pointed out the Senate’s GOP caucus ignored — for lack of a better word — Donald Trump’s mental and physical decline.

But it’s not just the GOP members of the Senate who’ve turned their chickenshit backs on a growing national security threat posed by Trump’s slide.

It’s the media. They’ve enabled the continuing blindness among Trump supporters because they refuse to mention Trump shows signs of cognitive and physical impairment.

They leave it instead to late night comedy shows to point out how bad Trump’s condition has become.

But now the media is doing something just as bad as ignoring a mounting national security threat.

They are erasing the women candidates when they discuss the primaries and caucuses.

It’s not just the media but the ecosystem which relies on the media — like Nate Silver.

Can’t imagine what systematically ignoring the women candidates will do to their polling, can you?

Nate and Clare note Buttigieg has zero stories compared to Bloomberg, but…

Warren is tied with Buttigieg in that poll and yet there’s no mention that Warren has zero coverage, too. Klobuchar is not that far behind that she doesn’t at least deserve a mention.

The media will argue they don’t choose the candidates, but they do — they do by the amount of coverage they provide the public before each poll, before each caucus and primary.

They continue to report this election using stale horse race methodology.

And the political ecosystem like Five Thirty-Eight’s team just follows along for the ride. “Who, us?” they’ll say after the fact.

ALL OF YOU.

COVER ALL THE CANDIDATES WHO ARE STILL IN THE RACE.

At least AP News noted last Thursday that Warren had raised $6 million online after the Iowa caucus. But then CNN covers her and calls her “struggling,” which isn’t exactly an appropriate description for a candidate who came in third in Iowa, behind a presidential candidate who’d campaigned there in 2016.

We know the media has noticed, scratching their heads and asses while just plain not covering the women candidates:

… On CNN Sunday, The Nation’s Joan Walsh addressed the topic as well. “I’m a reporter. I understand some of why this happened,” she said, noting that Sanders and Buttigieg led in delegates in the Iowa caucuses while expected front-runner Joe Biden’s disappointing performance was a “big story.”

“But the woman who finished third — a decent third, not her dream — was really… I was watching multiple cable stations that were jumping around and skipping her,” Walsh said. “Even on the night of the Iowa caucuses, lots of people cut from her to Biden because Biden is the bigger story in that it was a very sad performance.” …

Amy Klobuchar hasn’t gotten much better coverage. It didn’t help that Klobuchar made a gaffe this week but even that received little coverage compared to the men on the ballot who have been wall-to-wall gaffes all along. We can see it, we can even pull our own graph to prove it:

How much of the New Hampshire primary performance could be laid not on the women candidates, their policies, or campaigns? We’ll never really know because the media continues to ignore them.

Don’t even think of saying, “But she ran a bad campaign,” about either of them. The same claim was made about Clinton in 2016 — it’s a familiar refrain. Knowing what we know now about the media’s gross failings, like this NYT classic from October 31, 2016:

…how much of Clinton’s “bad campaign” was the media’s fault with horse race coverage, “But her emails,” and misleading, badly timed stories while foreign influence operations wreaked havoc on Americans’ sentiments?

How much of the crappy racist coverage has already led to another all-white field as it winnows out the remaining women?

If Trump gets re-elected, gods help us all, a big part of the blame will sit firmly on the media for its entrenched misogyny, racism, and its failure to adapt a coverage model for contemporary politics.

And if Trump has a meltdown while in office, at the expense of American security, much of the blame should sit on the media for ignoring the problem just as they ignore the women candidates still in Democratic primary race.

~ ~ ~

This is an open thread.

Here for Misogyny’s Ratio

[NB: Not Marcy, check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

This tweet is a flaming POS and the ratio of Comments to Likes reflects a similar collective sentiment (currently running 7-to-1 Comments to Likes:

Wipe the shocked look off your face, Andrew. Believe it or not, secondary education instructors often have day jobs, and professionals often have instruction gigs.

Those day jobs ensure they are more qualified to speak about their field than instructors who teach on the subject directly out of school.

Best classes I ever took were taught by adjunct professors because they had real life experience to use as examples. (My favorite was my business ethics class taught by a local judge.)

This isn’t restricted to the law, either; pick a field from humanities to STEM and you’ll find instructors who are working in their profession while teaching.

But Andrew Kaczynski isn’t the only problem. The article he retweeted has a problem smack in the middle of it which gives me pause — it’s so bad I have to wonder how much of the rest of this report by Washington Post journalists Elise Viebeck and Annie Linskey may need vetting.

This bit:

One of her most controversial clients was Dow Chemical, which she advised in the mid-1990s. A subsidiary that manufactured silicone gel breast implants faced hundreds of thousands of claims from women who said their implants caused health problems. Dow Chemical denied that it played a role in designing or making the implants and sought to avoid liability as its subsidiary, Dow Corning, declared bankruptcy.

“In this case, Elizabeth served as a consultant to ensure adequate compensation for women who claimed injury from silicone breast implants who otherwise might not have received anything when Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy,” Warren’s list of cases read. “Thanks in part to Elizabeth’s efforts, Dow Corning created a $2.35 billion fund to compensate women claiming injury from Dow Corning’s silicone breast implants.”

The Post could not immediately verify this figure.

Emphasis mine. It took me less than 30 seconds to Google “dow corning $2.35 billion fund” and come up with In re Dow Corning Corp., 280 F.3d 648 (6th Cir. 2002):

And I didn’t have access to resources like the Washington Post’s team — cripes, WaPo probably reported on this case. It’s probably in their archives. What else in this article picking through Elizabeth Warren’s work history is just as thinly researched?

We have a malignant narcissistic lifelong scofflaw in office because the media was unwilling to do adequate research into his background before 2016. They focused to excess on the leading female candidate who had already been heavily researched during her tenure as First Lady, junior senator from New York, and Secretary of State.

Now we see slapdash research pushed misogynistically, to the detriment of a candidate who has also served in public office and proven her work history has informed her work as a senator and her policy proposals.

Imagine it: a corporate lawyer who, after working as a lawyer for corporate clients, decides they need more oversight like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and corporations’ owners need to pay more taxes.

But the media wants you to take away from their coverage that she’s been paid by corporations you may not like while teaching at the same time.

Wait until they figure out she’s a mother, too. OMFG!!1! What kind of being can possibly do all that — parent two kids, teach, and bill out at $675 an hour?

Give me a fucking break.

Reporters: Stop this goddamned double standard immediately. Do a better job of reporting, stay focused on what’s relevant and quit making sensation out of nothing.

Readers: Be more skeptical of everything you read, and when you read, do so carefully. Don’t rely on stupid white men’s tweets to tell you the truth. Demand better quality reporting.

This is an open thread.

All the News Fit to Treat Badly

This screenshot depicts U.S. news media’s gross failure.

There have been numerous stories this week about the Trump cabinet which received slapdash coverage. All of them are scandals and should have resulted in the firing or resignation of two, possibly three cabinet members.

And yet the public is deluged with and seeking more information about a celebrity’s personal screw-up resulting in prosecution — a story which has no real impact on their personal lives. The public doesn’t appear to know how very badly Trump’s cabinet members are treating the public’s trust, or the risk posed by turning a blind eye to these cabinet members’ bad faith and corruption as nearly all of them are in the line of presidential succession.

In short, the public isn’t being informed about real news.

If the public is asking about a celebrity, leave it to celebrity gossip sites to answer. The public needs reporting about these failing cabinet members, and they need to know these stories are far more important than celebrity buzz, affecting the country’s ability to function normally. If the public isn’t asking about these cabinet members, it may be a sign that the media is failing them and/or the trend data may be manipulated.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about Wilbur Ross’s repeated lies about his personal holdings? The Office of Government Ethics refused to certify his most recent financial disclosure statement because he didn’t sell stocks that he said he’d sold. This has been going on since he became Commerce Secretary. His work in that role has been dismal as it is, not to mention his questionable relationship to a bank in Cyprus. But to lie and lie repeatedly to the government about his personal finances? There’s no excuse for his not knowing what assets he’s holding because he has to file a tax return reflecting ownership, earnings and subsequent profits and losses.

There’s also no excuse for news media to treat Ross’s lies as if they are perfectly normal for the person who is eighth in line of presidential succession and responsible for fostering, promoting, and developing the foreign and domestic commerce of the largest economy in the world. News outlets should be asking the White House every damned day why Ross hasn’t been booted out the door.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about former federal prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s role in the ridiculously light sentence human trafficker Jeffrey Epstein received? Or Acosta’s role in violating the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, directly affecting at least 30 of Epstein’s victims?

News media paid a little more attention to this case because the crimes underlying it were of prurient interest. But they have already forgotten justice for the victims, blowing off Acosta’s continued employment in a role overseeing workplaces where human trafficking may occur. Acosta is right behind Ross in the presidential succession lineup. News media should likewise ask why Acosta still has a job as Labor Secretary right after they ask about Ross’s continued employment.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s alleged lies to federal investigators regarding disapproval of Native American casinos? This wasn’t the only probe Interior Department Office of Inspector General had been looking into; it’s the one which has been referred to a grand jury. What other damage may Zinke have done while he was at Interior? What continues under acting Interior Secretary?

Zinke had been two slots ahead of Ross in the presidential succession lineup. At least Zinke is no longer with the administration, unlike Ross and Acosta, or Betsy DeVos.

~ ~ ~

A staffer for Education Secretary DeVos attempted to obstruct investigation into DeVos’ restoration of approval for a college accreditor by trying to remove the acting inspector general looking into the re-approval. It’d be nice to know if DeVos instructed her deputy secretary Mitchell Zais to remove Sandra Bruce because was continuing her investigation, or if Zais tried this on his own. This is yet another cabinet-level scandal the public doesn’t know enough about compared to a celebrity story.

DeVos has been a threat to public education since her approval hearing when she suggested guns were needed in the classroom to protect against bears. She’s a threat to more than education as 13th in line of succession for the presidency, too, given there are open slots for Secretaries of Defense and Interior. College students struggling with tuition debt and students who’ve participated in active shooter drills would love to know why DeVos still has a job. They ought to know someone is asking every day.

~ ~ ~

And Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao couldn’t let these four cabinet secretaries have all the fun. She may have been improperly coordinating with our glorious Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell — also her spouse — to ensure their home state Kentucky received a lion’s share of transportation projects.

Fortunately Chao is not in the line of presidential succession because she is foreign born.

Fortunately, her spouse McConnell isn’t in the succession lineup at all.

Unfortunately, these were just a handful of stories which should have ranked higher in the mind of the public and the media’s effort.

This is an open thread.

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