Originally Published: 3/24/2018
Cambridge Analytica: This stuff has been all over the news all week but most of it was about the 2016 election - which is just speculation. I wanted the facts on data mining and here’s what I found.
What Is Data Mining?: Cambridge Analytica is a data firm that promises its customers insights into consumer or voter behavior, which, for general marketing purposes, allows advertising to targeted audiences. However, Cambridge Analytica tweaked the model and gathered the data which allows marketing to individual people, rather than groups. As an “upstart” voter-profiling company, Cambridge Analytics prepared to “wade” into the 2014 midterm elections, but it had a problem. It had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, “the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.” So, they went to Global Science Research to harvest private information from Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission. (NY Times) Global Science Research (GSR) is a company that harvested Facebook data “using a personality app under the guise of academic research and later shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.” Joseph Chancellor, a co-director of GSR, is now working for Facebook as its in-house psychologist. “He was hired to work at Facebook as a quantitative social psychologist around November 2015, roughly 2 months after leaving GSR, which had by then acquired data on millions of Facebook users.” (Guardian)
What is the Purpose?: Christopher Wylie, who worked for Cambridge Analytica, explained how “personal information was taken without authorization in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual U.S. voters in order to target them with personalized political advertisements.” I highly suggest that you watch this. Wylie explains that Cambridge Analytica is a “full-service propaganda machine” with the goal of unraveling the fabric of society. He said: “We risk fragmenting society in a way where we don’t have any more shared experiences and we don’t have any more shared understanding. If we don’t have any more shared understanding, how can we be a functioning society?” He also said, “If you want to fundamentally change society, you first have to break it. It’s only when you break it is when you can re-mold the pieces into your vision of a new society. This was the weapon that Steven Bannon wanted to build to fight his culture war.” (You Tube)
Other Companies: Cambridge Analytica isn’t the only data mining company out there. In fact, it didn’t even pioneer the technology. That was done by i360 Themis, the operation founded by the Koch Brothers. And there’s also DataTrust, i360’s competitor operated by Karl Rove. These companies use your credit card purchases, cable TV choices, and other personal information which is much more revealing than your “likes” on Facebook. Watch the short explanation by Greg Palast. (You Tube) But a new company, Emerdata, has been set up by the “power players” behind Cambridge Analytica. Robert Mercer’s daughters, Rebekah and Jennifer, have joined the company as has Alexander Nix, the suspended CEO of Cambridge Analytica. (Business Insider)
What Have We Learned?: Privacy no longer exists. We have turned over our personal lives to corporations to use against us as they wish. Maybe it’s time to have some discussions about this.
Defamation Case: New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer Schecter ruled that the defamation suit against Trump by a former “Apprentice” contestant may go forward. Trump sought to block the legal action but Schecter cited the court ruling that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton that said that “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal court for unofficial acts.” (Washington Post)
Jared Kushner: According to The Intercept, Saudi Crown Price Mohammed bin Salman bragged about having Kushner “in his pocket.” He may also have used intelligence information from the president’s Daily Briefing in his crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia. The Intercept names 3 sources for this information.
Kushner Companies: When the Kushner Companies bought 3 apartment buildings in a gentrifying neighborhood of Queens in 2015, “most of the tenants were protected by special rules that prevent developers from pushing them out, raising rents, and turning a tidy profit.” But the Kushner Companies were able to do that and 2 years later it sold the buildings for $60 million, almost 50% more than what they paid for them. How did they do it? They filed false paperwork with the city “declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, if fact, it had hundreds.” (AP) Nice guys, those Kushners.
John Bolton: He will replace H.R. McMaster as Trump’s national security adviser. McMaster was let go last week (TWW, H.R. McMaster, 3/17/18) but Bolton wasn’t named until this week. (Roll Call) I can’t bear to go into this guy’s background. Suffice it to say, this is a U.S. disaster. This “hawk,” who played a huge role in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, is terrifying people that he’ll take us to war with Iran, something he’s wanted for a long time. Watch what Chris Matthews had to say about it. (You Tube) In an op-ed at the Guardian, Walter Shapiro calls Bolton a “hawk itching for war,” and says that “few are there to stop him.” Michael Fuchs, also writing an op-ed at the Guardian, claims that only Secretary of Defense James Mattis is standing between us and “the abyss.” Pompeo and Bolton. Is Trump assembling a war cabinet?
China: Trump is imposing tariffs on $60 billion in Chinese goods and “limiting China’s ability to invest in the U.S. technology industry.” He said this was in response to Beijing’s history of forcing U.S. companies to surrender their trade secrets in order to do business in China. (Washington Post) China, however, isn’t just rolling over. It threatened to raise tariffs on about $3 billion of U.S. imports if they don’t resolve the dispute. (Washington Post)
Iraq & Syria: 2017 was the deadliest year for civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, “with as many as 6,000 people killed in strikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition. (Airwars) Read all about it, didn’t ya? No? That’s because our media is too busy following Trump’s sexual behavior, his tweets, and all kinds of other stuff that is nothing but salacious fodder for sick minds.
Arizona: The U.S. Supreme Court required the state to continue providing driver’s licenses to Dreamers - registrants for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Court also refused to hear the state’s challenge to end the program. (Reuters)
Illinois: Remember Arthur Jones, a candidate in the Republican primary for the congressional seat representing parts of Chicago? The guy who’s “an outspoken Holocaust denier, activist anti-Semite, and white supremacist?” (TWW, Illinois, 2/10/18) Well 20,339 Illinois Republicans voted for him (Think Progress) and so, as the only person running, he now has the Republican nomination for the congressional seat. (CNBC)
Indiana: Governor Eric Holcomb (R) signed a bill that allows DACA recipients to obtain professional licenses in more than 70 professions, “such as nursing, architecture, and cosmetology.” (Think Progress)
Mississippi: Governor Phil Bryant (R) signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law which bans most abortions after 15 weeks. The only exceptions are if the fetus “has health problems making it ‘incompatible with life’ outside the womb at full term, or if a pregnant woman’s life or a ‘major bodily function’ is threatened by pregnancy.” Pregnancies resulting from rape or incest are not included. About an hour later, the state’s only abortion clinic and one of the physicians who practices there sued him. (Washington Post)
Oregon: It just passed a new gun control law which “makes it more difficult for people with domestic violence convictions to purchase or even possess a firearm.” Since 1996 federal law has prohibited people with domestic abuse misdemeanors from accessing guns, but there is a loophole in the statute. What Oregon did was to expand the definition of domestic partner to “intimate partner,” which includes someone who only dated the victim. (Guardian)
Pennsylvania: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected state Republican legislative leaders’ request to block the redrawing of the state’s congressional map. (TWW, Pennsylvania, 2/10/18) “Monday’s action was the second time that the court declined to get involved in the partisan battle that has roiled Pennsylvania politics.” (Washington Post)
Texas: The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, granted a death-row inmate the time to attempt to obtain funds for evidence that might lead to a reconsideration of his sentence. (Washington Post)
Washington: Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed several bills into law “aimed at increasing participation” in elections.The bills include automatic voter registration when applying for a driver’s license, same-day voter registration starting in 2018, pre-registration for teenagers starting at 16 years old, campaign finance disclosure requirements, and the Washington Voting Rights Act which aims to increase minority representation. (King5)
Wisconsin: Since last year Governor Scott Walker (R) has refused to call special elections to fill vacant, state legislative seats. “Walker’s scheme - which parallels plans by Republican governors in Michigan and Florida to refuse to fill legislative vacancies - would have left hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites without representation for the better part of a year.” Now Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds, a Walker appointee, has ordered Walker to call for special elections. (The Nation)
Omnibus Spending Bill: The House passed a bill on Thursday, hoping to avoid a government shutdown on Friday. It’s a $1.3 trillion appropriation for FFY (federal fiscal year) 2018 which began October 1st. The fiscal year ends September 30th. The appropriations are based on the guidelines agreed to last month. (TWW, New Budget, What’s In It, 2/10/18) Ya think we’ll see another bill in time for next year? Not on your life. Anyway, the House passed it 256 to 167. It increases funding for the Defense Department as well as for some domestic programs. The increased spending caused all those people who voted to cut taxes and increase the deficit to start screaming about - the deficit! Go figure. There’s nothing in the bill about DACA recipients (Roll Call), which probably doesn’t mean much since the courts have pretty much let the program continue. (TWW, DACA, 3/3/18) The Senate passed the bill early Friday 65 to 32. (Roll Call) Trump, however, threatened to veto the bill because it didn’t include a resolution for DACA (what did he want?) and did not fully fund his border wall. “It provides almost $1.6 billion for border security - including new technology and repairs to existing barriers . . . It provides $641 million for about 33 miles of fencing, but prohibits building a concrete structure or other prototypes the president has considered, and allocates the rest of the funding for new aircraft, sensors, and surveillance technology.” He signed it anyway. (NY Times)
Gun Violence: Since the huge Omnibus Spending Bill passed quickly and practically no one had time to read it, it’s going to take a while to figure out what’s in it. As I find out, I’ll let you know. One thing we know is there are 2 things designed to limit people’s use of guns. But, as Amber Phillips at the Washington Post, wrote, the legislation is “so modest that it merely reinforces existing law.” It will supposedly strengthen existing background checks, but gun-control advocates say that “the system is understaffed and underfunded, and there are ways to get around it by buying a gun at largely unregulated gun shows or online.” However, they loosened the law forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from conducting research on gun violence. Now the CDC can do research on gun violence, but not gun control.
Tip Pooling: It appears that the proposed tip rule (TWW, Tip Pooling, 2/10/18) may be dead, at least for a while. An amendment to the Omnibus Spending Bill proposed by Senator Patty Murray (D, WA) partially blocks the proposal. It prevents employers from pocketing the tips, but it doesn’t stop them from pooling the tips in order to share them with non-tipped employees. (Vox)
Transgender Troops: After courts ruled Trump’s ban on transgender troops unconstitutional (TWW, Transgender Troops, 12/23/17), the Pentagon started building a new policy. They finally came up with one that Trump has approved. Transgender troops currently in the military may remain (of course, the courts already decided this) but the Pentagon could require them to serve according to their gender at birth. However, persons who have undergone gender reassignment “are disqualified from military service” but, again, the Pentagon can make exceptions to this where it sees fit. I see another constitutional problem here. (NY Times)
School Shootings: Shootings at schools, while quite rare, have led to lockdowns and active-shooter drills in which kids as young as 4 are taught to hide in closets and bathrooms from imaginary killers. What kind of damage is this doing to our kids? The Washington Post spent a year analyzing data about random vs. targeted shootings, the impact they have on minority students, and role of armed resource officers in stopping attacks, the weapons used and where they were obtained, and who the shooters are. It’s an amazing piece of research. They found that more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine. “Many are never the same.” They also found that targeted shootings “far outnumber” indiscriminate slaughter. And they found that “most kids shaken by school shootings aren’t white.” Check out the graph.
Happiness: The annual World Happiness Report is out. Once again, the top 3 countries are Denmark, Switzerland, and Norway and, this year the number 1 country is Finland. “All the top countries tend to have high values for all 6 key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity.” The U.S. has dropped 4 points from last year - from 14th to 18th place.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch: The Patch has far more debris than previously thought, “heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic.” New research published in Scientific Reports has found that it contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic and is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates. (Guardian)
Hurricane Harvey: The public isn’t being told about the full toxic impact of Hurricane Harvey. “Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just 1 chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston on the upper shores of Galveston Bay. Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene, and other known human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxins released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey’s torrential rains.” In all more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases have been logged but only a handful have been investigated by federal regulators. Texas regulators have investigated 89 incidents, “but have yet to announce any enforcement actions.” (AP)
Interest Rates: The Fed raised interest rates for the 6th time since the 2008 Great Republican Recession. The benchmark rate was raised to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%. They also signaled that they will probably raise rates a couple of times again this year. (NY Times)