Cambridge Analytica Suspends CEO

London’s Channel 4 ran the last segment of their Cambridge Analytica undercover exposé today — the part about the Trump campaign. Immediately afterward, CA suspended its CEO:

An investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed how Cambridge Analytica claims it ran ‘all’ of President Trump’s digital campaign – and may have broken election law. As the report went on air, the firm announced it has suspended chief executive Alexander Nix, pending a full investigation.

An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed how Cambridge Analytica claims it ran key parts of the presidential campaign for Donald Trump.

The British data company was secretly filmed discussing coordination between Trump’s campaign and outside groups – an activity which is potentially illegal.

Executives claimed they “ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy” for President Trump.

They also claim credit for spreading the “Defeat Crooked Hillary” meme, proving once again that it’s always about projection with these lowdown creeps. Top CA execs were caught bragging about how they evaded congressional investigation and, in a crowning irony, claimed that the candidate is “always” a puppet.

Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ. You can watch the program on YouTube here.

Post Hack, Ergo Propter Hack: R. Cohen Edition

It’s no easy feat to write the worst column on an op-ed page that includes the banal burblings of Megan McArdle, but Richard Cohen manages it at The Post today. It’s not that his thesis is completely wrong — it’s that the column is marred with Cohen’s trademark conceit and moral obtuseness, reminding readers yet again that The Post should have shit-canned this worthless hack ages ago.

The column is entitled “Stormy Daniels — not Robert Mueller — might spell Trump’s doom.” That’s not an absurd supposition, and personally, I’m in favor of Trump’s political doom by whatever instrument. Al Capone, tax evasion, etc. But Cohen manages to be so self-regarding and priggish about the whole thing that I felt compelled to complain about it here.

Cohen begins by informing us that he was inspired to reread “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” because Hemingway’s protagonist, Harry, who dies from a minor scratch that becomes infected, reminds him (Cohen) of Trump, with Daniels in the role of the scratch. Having reminded us that he’s a literary guy, Cohen goes on to inform us that Daniels and Trump are a pair of self-promoting publicity hounds, which is superficially true but unfair to Daniels. He writes:

Sometimes, as with the Iran-Iraq War, it is hard to take sides. Here, too, it is difficult. Daniels, after all, is a porn actress. She directs and writes screenplays as well, but she is best known for having sex in the movies — turning what used to be called a romp in the hay into a payday. But, with the inadvertent cooperation of Trump and his band of merry incompetents, she now comes across as the victim.

Iran and Iraq? For fuck’s sake. Only someone as preening and morally obtuse as Cohen would find it difficult to choose a side in the Trump-Daniels saga, and there’s more than a whiff of entitled, misogynistic priggery in Cohen’s tone about how Daniels chooses to make a buck. She’s not a racist, sexist, xenophobic demagogue who has indelibly stained the honor of her country abroad while stoking divisions at home.

Daniels is not even a washed-up hack who inexplicably clings to a perch at the nation’s premier newspaper, hoovering up untold dollars that might otherwise go to younger, smarter and more diverse hires. It’s near libelous for Cohen to draw a moral equivalency between Daniels and Trump, and I apologize to Daniels for mentioning her in the same sentence as Cohen.

Anyhoo, I know many of you find rants about bad newspaper columnists pointless, and you’re probably right. But this is an open thread, so don’t feel obligated to discuss Richard Fucking Cohen. I’ll try to remember in the future that the less said about that bilious windbag, the better.

Fifteen Years

This is still as true as it was a decade ago:

I see that Andrew Sullivan was asked to list what he got wrong about Iraq for the five year anniversary of the invasion, and since I was as big a war booster as anyone, I thought I would list what I got wrong:


And I don’t say that to provide people with an easy way to beat up on me, but I do sort of have to face facts. I was wrong about everything.

I was wrong about the Doctrine of Pre-emptive warfare.
I was wrong about Iraq possessing WMD.
I was wrong about Scott Ritter and the inspections.
I was wrong about the UN involvement in weapons inspections.
I was wrong about the containment sanctions.
I was wrong about the broader impact of the war on the Middle East.
I was wrong about this making us more safe.
I was wrong about the number of troops needed to stabilize Iraq.
I was wrong when I stated this administration had a clear plan for the aftermath.
I was wrong about securing the ammunition dumps.
I was wrong about the ease of bringing democracy to the Middle East.
I was wrong about dissolving the Iraqi army.
I was wrong about the looting being unimportant.
I was wrong that Bush/Cheney were competent.
I was wrong that we would be greeted as liberators.
I was wrong to make fun of the anti-war protestors.
I was wrong not to trust the dirty smelly hippies.

I mean, I could go down the list and continue on, but you get the point. I was wrong about EVERY. GOD. DAMNED. THING. It is amazing I could tie my shoes in 2001-2004. If you took all the wrongness I generated, put it together and compacted it and processed it, there would be enough concentrated stupid to fuel three hundred years of Weekly Standard journals. I am not sure how I snapped out of it, but I think Abu Ghraib and the negative impact of the insurgency did sober me up a bit.

War should always be an absolute last resort, not just another option. I will never make the same mistakes again.

Who knows how many dead, more wounded, just as many emotionally scarred, trillions lost, and for what? What a disaster, and a personal disgrace for me.

Same Shit, Different Day

Time to set the goddamned “Days Without a School Shooting” counter back to zero. This day’s shooting was at a high school in Maryland. Details are sketchy, but here’s a summary from Channel 4 Washington:

Multiple Injuries Reported in Shooting at St. Mary’s Co. High School

Multiple people were injured in a shooting at a high school in southeast Maryland Tuesday morning, the St. Mary’s County sheriff’s office confirmed.

The shooting happened Tuesday morning at Great Mills High School in Great Mills, Maryland…

Some of the injuries were critical, sheriff’s officials said. It’s not clear how many people were injured at the school about 60 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. Deputies were called to the school just before 8 a.m.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student activists expressed solidarity:

The March for Our Lives rally in DC and 800-plus affiliated events worldwide are taking place this Saturday. If you want to help but can’t make it to the DC march, you can find a local march here.

Open thread.

A plausible agreement zone

One of the things that has happened in the ACA over the past year is that most of the hard edges were smoothed away.  The vegetables got thrown out.

  • Individual mandate — gone
  • Health insurance premium tax — delayed
  • Medical device tax — delayed
  • Cadillac tax — delayed
  • IPAB — gone

Those were all choices put into the bill and the law to reduce costs or finance coverage expansion.  They delivered pain on small, concentrated groups.  Now that pain is gone.  It makes the ACA less efficient and effective, but there are fewer non-ideological interest groups that want to get a pound of flesh back from the law.

One of the last groups of people who have significant pain points with the ACA are non-subsidized individuals.  Some guy writing in the Hill thinks there is a plausible agreement zone to smooth off another rough edge:

Congress should allow any family to receive federal help so that they do not pay more than 10 percent of their income for qualified ACA health insurance. This will make sure that all families will have access to affordable coverage without regard to their health status….

One group of Americans will be hit very hard: middle class families that earn more than 400 percent Federal Poverty Level ($100,400 for a family of four) make too much to qualify for a subsidy and who also have high-cost medical conditions….

As we move back towards a partially bifurcated market where the ACA guaranteed issued, community rated pool partially functions as a high cost risk pool, the moderately well off but sick need a safety net.  They don’t have one right now.  Opening up subsidies even as underwriting expands provides for a safety net that guarantees at least some access to care without penury.

Site Updates Today: RSS, the explainaning


It being a rainy day here, and just a few hours until Spring begins, I’ve decided to do some site work. I’ve got some plugins to update, then the main site. I hope this fixes a few things that bug many and makes it perform better. I expect we’ll make a few more enhancements early Spring; more on that when appropriate.


One issue that many folks have reported in the past few days is RSS not working. This seems to happen every few months, so let me explain how things are setup in hopes that it helps those so afflicted.

RSS feeds from Balloon Juice are an automatic part of WordPress; we host a URL at that is our RSS feed. It is not a service we pay for or otherwise configure – we host a URL, which is automatically served by the same WordPress engine that powers the main site.

There are many RSS readers and services that folks use. These point to our URL and give you the results.  Should your reader or service not have updated content, the first thing to check is that URL, in FireFox (as it has a great RSS feed reader in it). If it shows current content, then the problem isn’t on our side, it’s you or your service.

Some users have reported that removing the Balloon Juice feed from their reader, then re-adding it, makes it sync properly again. One user had to do that twice to succeed.

If I could figure out why this happens, or what triggers it, I’d love to nail this down. So, should this happen to you, please let me know via the contact form the last post that shows up for you.  I suspect there’s a character in some posts that throws things off, and perhaps I can figure that out with user help.

That all said, a few weeks ago I posted about site issues and have not followed up on anything that was mentioned. In my defense, I’m not really working for myself these days as I’m dealing with my mother’s affairs and getting used to the new life/new normal. So I’ve worked on tech things when I’ve had the time and brainpower bandwidth to fully engage with things. I’ve found that working on site issues when tired and semi-braindead is a recipe for bad things, so caution has been my lantern.

So today I’m not overpromising, but I will work through outstanding suggestions and issues as time permits after I do the main stuff today. And I’m scheduling a few hours later this week to continue that work.

On that note, I’m going to kick off some plug-in updates then get a cup of tea.

Health not health insurance policy

There is a nifty new NBER working paper that looks at what happened to asthma in Stockholm after that city instituted a congestion pricing fee. Asthma attacks went down.

We demonstrate that the tax reduced ambient air pollution by 5 to 15 percent, and that this reduction in air pollution was associated with a significant decrease in the rate of acute asthma attacks among young children. The change in health was more gradual than the change in pollution suggesting that it may take time for the full health effects of changes in pollution to be felt….

Reductions in air pollution from traffic by one unit (1 mg/m3) decreased visits for acute asthma to inpatient and outpatient providers by 4 to 15 percent, depending on the length of exposure to reduced pollution. The estimated health effects are comparable with evidence from the epidemiology literature …

I found this paper to be really interesting for three reasons. The first is that this is a clear example of what is called a social determinant of health (SDOH) where health status is driven by non-healthcare factors. Healthcare providers at this point are merely functioning as goalies trying to keep kids out of the hospital while the congestion pricing gets closer to the root cause of the asthma driver — poor air quality. Moving the treatment upstream from the provider officer by reducing pollution saves medical costs while actually raising government revenue instead.

Secondly, this is a pretty cool example of how addressing one externality (congestion time) by putting a price on it addresses a related externality. There might be an argument that the social cost of congestion is higher than the current congestion tax because of the asthma and other related medical costs but solely focusing on congestion, it is also reducing the social cost of respiratory distress.

Finally, I have a personal interest as I’ve mentioned that my son has asthma. I often wonder how much of it was bad luck from his parents and how much of it was living 1.5 miles from the Edgar Thompson steel mill in Braddock and 400 yards from the biggest morning rush hour chokepoint in the Pittsburgh highway system?

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: #FaceBorked

(Mike Luckovich via

Michelle Goldberg, in the NYTimes, on “Trump’s High-Tech Dirty Tricksters”:

After days of revelations, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Cambridge Analytica. But we’ve learned that an operation at the heart of Trump’s campaign was ethically nihilistic and quite possibly criminal in ways that even its harshest critics hadn’t suspected. That’s useful information. In weighing the credibility of various accusations made against the president, it’s good to know the depths to which the people around him are willing to sink.

Created in 2013, Cambridge Analytica is an offshoot of the SCL Group, a British company that specialized in disinformation campaigns in the developing world. It’s mostly owned by the Mercer family, billionaire right-wing donors and strong Trump supporters. Before becoming the Trump campaign’s chief executive, Steve Bannon was Cambridge Analytica’s vice president. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., also served as an adviser to the company…

At a minimum, we’ve learned that the Trump campaign’s vaunted social media program was built on deception. Shortly after the 2016 election, Forbes ran an article crediting Jared Kushner for his father-in-law’s shocking triumph. Thanks to digital tools, it said, the traditional presidential campaign was dead, “and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it.”

For those who knew something of Kushner’s pre-election career, this portrait of him as some sort of analytics genius was befuddling. The small, gossipy New York newspaper he’d owned, The New York Observer, didn’t even have a particularly good website. “He wasn’t tech-savvy at all,” Elizabeth Spiers, the paper’s former editor in chief, told me.

Cambridge Analytica’s corruption helps provide the missing piece in this story. If the Trump campaign had a social media advantage, one reason is that it hired a company that mined vast amounts of illicitly obtained data.

There’s a lesson here for our understanding of the Trump presidency. Trump and his lackeys have been waging their own sort of psychological warfare on the American majority that abhors them. On the one hand, they act like idiots. On the other, they won, which makes it seem as if they must possess some sort of occult genius. With each day, however, it’s clearer that the secret of Trump’s success is cheating. He, and those around him, don’t have to be better than their opponents because they’re willing to be so much worse.

(Jack Ohman via

On the Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Juicers who are are on the road, traveling, or just want to share a little bit of their world via stories and pictures. So many of us rise each morning, eager for something beautiful, inspiring, amazing, subtle, of note, and our community delivers – a view into their world, whether they’re far away or close to home – pictures with a story, with context, with meaning, sometimes just beauty. By concentrating travel updates and tips here, it’s easier for all of us to keep up or find them later.

So please, speak up and share some of your adventures and travel news here, and submit your pictures using our speedy, secure form. You can submit up to 7 pictures at a time, with an overall description and one for each picture.

You can, of course, send an email with pictures if the form gives you trouble, or if you are trying to submit something special, like a zipped archive or a movie. If your pictures are already hosted online, then please email the links with your descriptions.

For each picture, it’s best to provide your commenter screenname, description, where it was taken, and date. It’s tough to keep everyone’s email address and screenname straight, so don’t assume that I remember it “from last time”. More and more, the first photo before the fold will be from a commenter, so making it easy to locate the screenname when I’ve found a compelling photo is crucial.

Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the pictures!

Let’s welcome Spring today with some (once again) amazing pictures from a certain bird magician….

Read more

Late-Night Speculation Russiagate Open Thread: Was North Carolina in 2014 A Trial Run for Cambridge Analytica?

From North Carolina’s own WRAL, “Tillis may have benefited from Facebook data breach”:

The data firm accused of stealing the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users may have used that information to help U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis win his seat in 2014.

North Carolina voters were among the first in the U.S. to be targeted by Cambridge Analytica, which boasted that its cache of “psychographic data” could be used to build personality profiles of voters and target political ads at them to influence their behavior…

n 2014, Tillis’ campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $30,000, and the North Carolina Republican Party paid $150,000, making the GOP the company’s fourth-largest client that year. The party also paid the firm $65,000 in 2015.

Cambridge Analytica now features Tillis’ successful campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan as a case study on its website…

Tillis defeated Hagan by fewer than 50,000 votes following a campaign marked by one negative ad after another on both sides.

Cambridge Analytica’s third-largest client in 2014, the John Bolton SuperPAC, was also highly active in the Tillis/Hagan race, spending nearly $1.5 million to benefit Tillis and damage Hagan. The super-PAC spent $341,000 with the company for messaging consulting.

Tillis didn’t respond Monday to repeated requests for comment on the allegations against Cambridge Analytica’s methods. Republican 10th District Congressman Patrick McHenry, whose campaign also spent $15,000 on Cambridge Analytica’s services in 2014, also didn’t respond to requests for comment…

Still, North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said the new revelations raise a lot of questions about what the GOP, Tillis or McHenry knew about Cambridge Analytica, what they asked the firm to do and when they found out about its connections to Russia…

Meanwhile, per the Daily Beast

Billionaire heiress Rebekah Mercer is standing by embattled data firm Cambridge Analytica––at least for now. A person close to Mercer, who sits on the firm’s board, told The Daily Beast she has no immediate plans to leave her post there, despite a bombshell report alleging the company used Ukrainian sex workers to try to get compromising material about its clients’ political opponents.

“She is working to be part of the solution,” said the source, of one of American conservatism’s most powerful mega-donors.

“She has always worked to make sure she observes and abides by all established norms and legal mandates,” the source added.

The source said Robert Mercer, who co-founded America’s most lucrative hedge fund, is just a passive investor in Cambridge Analytica and has never been on its board. Rebekah Mercer is his daughter, and conducts broad business oversight as a board member…

The Mercers were among Trump’s most generous supporters, spending millions to support his campaign.

Wouldn’t it just be the rancid cherry on this shit sundae, if it turned out that Rebekah threw millions of Daddy’s money down a Russian rathole just for the chance to feel like she was a Serious Important Political Macher, someone “in the room where it happened”? And not just another dumb heiress like Ivanka?

The Problem Isn’t Just Facebook, It’s That You’re a Fucking Idiot

I understand and agree that facebook and Cambridge Analytica did a lot of really awful things, and they should pay a price for that. But if you want to know the real problem, look in the god damned mirror. Every time one of you jackasses authorized one of those stupid god damned third party apps so you could spam my timeline with “what kind of dog are you” or “what’s your real political persuasion” or “if you were a jelly what flavor would you be” or “which member of Friends are you” you were giving them permission to collect all your data.

You did this, you dumb fuckers. Why don’t you start reading shit before you go “oh fuck yeah” and click on it. You stupid pricks haven’t learned a god damned thing since Kevin Poulsen social engineered his ass into jail.

Evening Open Thread

Zooey and Ric are watching the crows in the yard. They are fascinated by them, but frightened, as well they should be. Fortunately, they don’t have to deal directly with them.

I went to a reading of “Copenhagen” last night. It’s about a meeting between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr in 1941. Heisenberg was Bohr’s student, but by then he was the head of the Nazi nuclear program. Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. Nobody knows what happened in that meeting, but there has been lively speculation. I’ll have more to say about that later.

I’ve got tabs up about Russia’s weakness, how spies turn people, and what might be discussed at a US – North Korean summit.

Also David Roberts on why the New York Times doesn’t hire real conservatives, and the 2002 NIE on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

I think I’ll kick back for the evening. You?

Why are you punching yourself (Alexander-Collins)

The partisan Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2018 bill is basically the Republican sponsors asking Democrats to punch themselves in the face repeatedly. It is an attempt at a legislative swirlie.

The big elements of the bill that make this a swirlie attempt are:

  • Funding reinsurance to bring down premiums for upper middle class families
  • Funding CSR that increases net of subsidy premiums for subsidized individuals while decreasing premiums in non-Silver Switch states for upper middle class families
  • Massive expansion of Hyde’s reach

There are other elements which I think are completely plausible parts of an agreement.

The Congressional Budget Office turned around a rapid analysis of the bill and they have the highlights in their supplemental letter:

estimated that enacting the BHCSA would increase the deficit by $19 billion over the 2018-2027 period relative to CBO’s baseline, primarily because of the cost of subsidizing reinsurance or invisible high-risk pool programs in the nongroup health insurance market….

You requested an alternative estimate of section 602(b) of the bill, which would appropriate such sums as may be necessary for payments for cost sharing reductions (CSRs) authorized by section 1402 of the AffordableCare Act (ACA). Specifically, you asked that CBO and JCT provide an alternative estimate that reflects the fact that insurers are not being separately reimbursed through an appropriation for the costs of CSRs….

CBO and JCT estimate that appropriating CSR payments for 2019 through 2021 would, on net, reduce the deficit by $32 billion over the 2019-2027 period relative to the alternative benchmark. In addition, CBO and JCT project that the number of uninsured people would increase by less than 500,000 in 2019 and by between 500,000 and 1 million in 2020 and 2021. Most of those uninsured people would have incomes between 200 percent and 400 percent of the FPL…

This is the two baseline problem. The CBO is mandated by law to assume that entitlement programs will be funded. From that assumption, paying CSR has no new budgetary effect. The only big cost of the bill would be an additional $35 billion dollars in reinsurance made available with a total spend of $19 billion due to some lack of uptake and revenue/APTC feedback.   This would lead to lower premiums and higher enrollment.

However we have a real, pragmatic baseline of reality as it is today; CSR has mostly been rolled up into premiums. This led to the Silver Loading and Gold Gapping where people who earn between 200% to 400% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) ($24,040-$48,080 for a single individual) got really good deals on subsidized Bronze and Gold plans this year. This reality is the alternate analysis. And from there, funding CSR takes $32 billion dollars out of the ACA.

So the bill is a net cut to the ACA and a major reduction in female reproductive autonomy.  And shockingly there is no Democratic support for this bill.

Balloon Juice Podcast Episode 2 – Betty Cracker Comes to Town

Today’s podcast is Betty Cracker and mistermix discussing Florida politics, chickens, dogs and guns.

Breaking: Britain’s Information Officer Moves Against Cambridge Analytica

Here’s the Channel 4 expose of Cambridge Analytica:

Senior executives at Cambridge Analytica – the data company that credits itself with Donald Trump’s presidential victory – have been secretly filmed saying they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.

In an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News, the company’s chief executive Alexander Nix said the British firm secretly campaigns in elections across the world. This includes operating through a web of shadowy front companies, or by using sub-contractors.

In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, Mr Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.

In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”

Offering bribes to public officials is an offence under both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the UK and is registered in the United States.

The admissions were filmed at a series of meetings at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018. An undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

Here’s the actual video:

What Nix and Turnbull are caught describing as their standard operating practice is separate from whatever program Christopher Wylie built for Cambridge Analytica. Rather, they’re describing a hybrid of privatized human intelligence and what are sometimes referred to as black psychological operations (black PSYOP), which is a misuse of the term. Initially black PSYOP was used as short hand for the highly compartmented covert form of PSYOP necessary to support special operations. This is not surprising as Cambridge Analytica is subsidiary business development unit of SCL Group, which claims to provide these services to the British Ministry of Defense and the US DOD. Several boutique companies were created to do this type of work in support of coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and people eventually left these companies and started their own boutique shops. All they’re really doing is creating propaganda and then trying to insert it into the news and social media space without it seeming to come from non-natives.

I’ve had dealings with some of these folks and to be perfectly honest I find them to be largely full of crap about what they actually can and cannot do. Usually they have a very limited understanding of both socio-cultural considerations in general and the specific socio-cultural dynamics of the people they’re trying to influence in specific. One of the most obnoxious of them, another Brit, has only the bare minimum idea of what this work, especially the descriptive statistical analyses, actually entail. But he’s memorized a bunch of jargon, talks a good game, sounds posh, and gets contracts. He gets away with this because there are really no institutionalized quality assurance/quality control programs in place to ascertain if this stuff actually is helpful, let alone if it works, and whether it actually is useful to the uniformed and civilian personnel at the pointy end. And because there are too few folks like me who actually know better, so it is hard to preemptively block these folks before they make there clients dumber and put people’s lives at risk.

Updated at 5:10 PM EDT:

Updated at 5:22 PM EDT:

And this is a very good question:

Delete your Facebook page!

Don’t take any online surveys!

Stay frosty!

Open thread.