Jane Mayer is a national treasure. A thoughtful investigative journalist for the New Yorker, Mayer has authored books on torture (The Dark Side) and on the Koch brothers funding the Tea Party uprising (Dark Money). Mayer is scholarly, relentless and enthusiastic for details.
Her new essay in the New Yorker is a great write up on Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund financier (and his family) who helped to create and sustain Donald Trump. The essay has a number of vital arguments to archive:
“In 2011, Bannon drafted a business plan for the Mercers that called for them to invest ten million dollars in Breitbart News, in exchange for a large stake. At the time, the Breitbart site was little more than a collection of blogs. The Mercers signed the deal that June, and one of its provisions placed Bannon on the company’s board.
Nine months later, Andrew Breitbart died, at forty-three, of a heart attack, and Bannon became the site’s executive chairman, overseeing its content. The Mercers, meanwhile, became Bannon’s principal patrons. The Washington Post recently published a house-rental lease that Bannon signed in 2013, on which he said that his salary at Breitbart News was seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
Under Bannon’s leadership, the Web site expanded dramatically, adding a fleet of full-time writers. It became a new force on the right, boosting extreme insurgents against the G.O.P. establishment, such as David Brat, who, in 2014, took the seat of Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman. But it also provided a public forum for previously shunned white-nationalist, sexist, and racist voices.”
2. Those seemingly innocent “personality tests” on Facebook may have been part of the data-mining and political work of Cambridge Analytics.
“In 2012, one area in which the Republicans had lagged badly behind the Democrats was in the use of digital analytics. The Mercers decided to finance their own big-data project. In 2014, Michal Kosinski, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Cambridge, was working in the emerging field of psychometrics, the quantitative study of human characteristics. He learned from a colleague that a British company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, wanted to hire academics to pursue similar research, for commercial purposes. Kosinski had circulated personality tests on Facebook and, in the process, obtained huge amounts of information about users. From this data, algorithms could be fashioned that would predict people’s behavior and anticipate their reactions to other online prompts. Those who took the Facebook quizzes, however, had been promised that the information would be used strictly for academic purposes. Kosinski felt that repurposing it for commercial use was unethical, and possibly illegal. His concerns deepened when he researched S.C.L. He was disturbed to learn that the company specialized in psychological warfare, and in influencing elections. He spurned the chance to work with S.C.L., although his colleague signed a contract with the company.
Kosinski was further disconcerted when he learned that a new American affiliate of S.C.L., Cambridge Analytica—owned principally by an American hedge-fund tycoon named Robert Mercer—was attempting to influence elections in the U.S. Kosinski, who is now an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s business school, supports the idea of using psychometric data to “nudge” people toward socially positive behavior, such as voting. But, he told me, “there’s a thin line between convincing people and manipulating them.”
It is unclear if the Mercers have pushed Cambridge Analytica to cross that line. A company spokesman declined to comment for this story. What is clear is that Mercer, having revolutionized the use of data on Wall Street, was eager to accomplish the same feat in the political realm.”
The rest of Mayer’s article is a great read. Useful to keep a list of the right-wing funded “research” organizations that are thinly-veiled research firms designed to dig up (or create) dirt on an opponent. It is also interesting how small the circle of funders, activists and decision-makers appears to be from this essay.
Astounding images of militarized responses to peaceful protestare emerging from the July actions against police violence. Stunned by the graphic videos of the police killing Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana many people have taken to the streets to express their outrage. They have been met with police seemingly ready for confrontations.
While thinking about heavy-handed police responses it is essential to consider the killings of police officers in Dallas. Police were covering a peaceful #blacklivesmatter rally when they were shot. Five officers were killed and seven people were shot by a sniper unaffiliated with the movement. I can imagine that the police are looking for enemies around every corner.
I hold both things true at the same time. I mourn the dead and hurt police officers in Dallas. I mourn the black people killed by police officers.
DeRay McKesson was arrested in Baton Rouge last night. You may have seen the photo of his arrest.
Mckesson is a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who had traveled to Louisiana to document the protests. One of hundreds arrested, Mckesson was filming when he was tackled by two police officers while walking on the side of the road. The New York Times reports:
Mr. McKesson, 31, repeatedly tells viewers in the broadcast that there is no sidewalk where they are marching. In the background, an officer can be heard shouting, “You with them loud shoes, I see you in the road. If I get close to you, you’re going to jail.”
“I think he’s talking to me, y’all,” says Mr. McKesson, who often wears a blue vest and red sneakers to demonstrations.
Soon after, Mr. McKesson repeats that there is no sidewalk. “Watch the police, they are just literally provoking people,” he says.
Then, about five minutes into the broadcast, the video gets shaky and a police officer can be heard saying: “City police. You’re under arrest. Don’t fight me. Don’t fight me.” Then Mr. McKesson shouts, “I’m under arrest, y’all.”
This seems like a targeted grab to arrest a spokesperson. An arrest to intimidate and bully a journalist. It also seems to be a particularly military response to activists calling attention to disparate racial policing. Police have to know that these gun-waving, activist tackling moments make them look irrational and violent.
So many of these arbitrary and scary arrests appear to intentionally silence people. A protester was doing an interview with Rochester journalist Tara Grimes when she was charged and grabbed and arrested by a circle of armored police officers.
These images are not inspiring. I hope for civil dialogue and rapid cultural change. But along the way we are going to have to document the logic and reasoning of these moments of militarized policing and hold them accountable. I think public visibility is the only hope we have. I bet it will be hard, but it is necessary that communities continue to insist on respectful engaged police.
Louisiana Police killed Alton Sterling. This is the 558th police killing of civilians THIS YEAR. The convenience store clerk (Abdullah Muflahi) who witnessed the killing and reported to The Advocate:
Muflahi, who said he was two feet away from the altercation, said an officer yelled “gun” during the scuffle. An officer then fired four to six shots into Sterling’s chest, he said. “His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket,” Muflahi said, adding that Sterling wasn’t holding a weapon. After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and retrieved a handgun, Muflahi said. “They were really aggressive with him from the start,” Muflahi said about the officers. Sterling appeared to die quickly, Muflahi said. Just after the killing, the officer who fired the bullets cursed, and both officers seemed like they were “freaking out,” Muflahi said. The store owner said he heard one of the officers say, “Just leave him.”
Its worth watching the video of the killing taken by bystanders. Let’s note that both of the officer’s body cameras “fell off” according to law enforcement and the first thing the cops did is seize the surveillance footage from the convenience store.
Thanks to the Guardian for The Counted, the web site which documents police killings in the US. Here is to peace and justice for the family. Here is to accountability and a hope for change.
I’m done with Kanye West. To tweet that you think Bill Cosby is innocent after dozens of his victims have come forward is deeply offensive.
1. I know Kanye doesn’t care, but I have been cheering for him for years. I bought every album. I defended Kanye after interrupting Taylor Swift. I reminded people about his painful speech during the Katrina telethon (‘George Bush doesn’t like black people.’)
No more mashups, no more shout-outs, no more sidebars in my class to discuss Kanye. No more loud Kanye coming out of my car. Total and complete boycott. You are dead to me Kanye West.
2. Fuck you for not believing black women. Sure, you could make the case that many African-American male celebrities have experienced racism. But to chalk up the accusations against Cosby to racism is really disrespectful to the survivors and to all women. One of the reasons Cosby preyed on women of color was his understanding that they wouldn’t be believed.
“I had a few moments where I tried to come forward. But I was just too scared, and I also had the extra burden of not really wanting to take an African-American man down.” —Jewel Allison
Boycott Kanye West’s album. Rape apologists don’t get my money and they shouldn’t get yours. Sure, I like College Dropout, but not as much as I dislike rape.
3. Social media plays a role in accountability. Hold Kanye West accountable. Remember Cosby’s victims, consider the voice of Tamara Green and hold the feet to the fire of rape apologists.
“People often these days say, ‘Well, why didn’t you take it to the police?’ Andrea Constand went to the police in 2005 — how’d it work out for her? Not at all. In 2005, Bill Cosby still had control of the media. In 2015, we have social media. We can’t be disappeared. It’s online and can never go away.” —Tamara Green
Life of refinement endorses Bernie Sanders for President of the United States in 2016. I agree with most of his politics, I think he will listen to constituents if elected and he hasn’t taken big money from large corporations.
As I follow the campaign I can see opinions about my home state of Vermont reflected in the political analysis of Sanders. Take this quote from Edward Mccelland in Salon:
Also, he’s from Vermont, which vies with Utah for Least Typical State. Vermont is America’s version of The Shire, the Hobbit-populated land in “The Lord of the Rings”: a green liberal Zion with no cities, no minorities and no urban problems.