Further Russiagate / General GOP Ratfvckery Open Thread: Cambridge Analytica, Once Again

Think this news kinda got overlooked in the torrent yesterday. I know that CA’s much-vaunted “secret sauce” turned out to be “leave a few bank doors unlocked, tell our Russian clients about it, and pretend we don’t know how the vault, the registers, and the spare change out of the cashiers’ desks got looted”, but this still seems significant. Especially since the NYTimes is careful to point out that the company’s “principal owner” is Robert Mercer:

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary committee [yesterday] as part of the ongoing investigation of Cambridge Analytica and various forms of meddling in the 2016 elections, former employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie said that the company and its then-VP Steve Bannon were pursuing voter suppression tactics aimed at black Americans.

Although Wylie insisted that he himself did not take part in these programs, he testified to their existence.

“One of the things that provoked me to leave was discussions about ‘voter disengagement’ and the idea of targeting African Americans,” he said. “I didn’t participate on any voter suppression programs, so I can’t comment on the specifics of those programs.”…

“I can comment on their existence, and I can comment more generally on my understanding of what they were doing,” he explained under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“If it suited the client’s objective, the firm [SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company] was eager to capitalize on discontent and to stoke ethnic tensions,” read Wylie’s written testimony.

“Steve Bannon believes that politics is downstream from culture. They were seeking out companies to build an arsenal of weapons to fight a culture war,” he explained at another point in the session. He suggested questions on the nature of those weapons, and the specifics of any potential race-based voter suppression tactics, to be directed to Bannon…

“How specifically, then, did they target African American voters,” Sen. Harris had asked, “understanding as you do that the African American population is not a monolith? How did they then decipher and determine who was African American so they would target them in their intent to suppress the vote?”

“Racial characteristics can be modeled and I’m not sure about the studies that my colleague here was referencing but we were able to get an AUC score, which is a way of measuring accuracy for race that was .89 I believe,” Wylie answered.

AUC, he then explained, stands for “Area under the receiving operations characteristic. It’s a way of measuring precision, which [the .89 figure] means it’s very high.”

In other words, black voters could be identified based on their social media presence and other factors, despite the fact that the black community is, obviously, far from homogeneous…

 

After the hearing, Wylie said he was happy both Republican and Democratic lawmakers had attended.

“Although Cambridge Analytica may have supported particular candidates in US elections, I am not here to point fingers. The firm’s political leanings are far less relevant than the broader vulnerabilities this scandal has exposed,” his written testimony read.

Among lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioning Wylie were Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both have operated campaigns that were Cambridge Analytica clients.

Controversy around Cambridge Analytica’s alleged misuse of Facebook data raised a host of new questions about the social media giant’s role in the public discourse and elections, and helped prompt renewed scrutiny in Washington, where last month Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before committees in both houses of Congress.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica was under investigation by the Department of Justice and the FBI.



The DOE Announces Plans For Pit Production

The Department of Energy has been contemplating the future production of nuclear weapon pits – the fissile part of the weapon, usually plutonium. Rocky Flats, between Golden and Boulder, Colorado, used to do it, but it turned into an environmental disaster. All buildings have been removed from the site.

Los Alamos and Savannah River are the only two DOE sites that can work with plutonium. Both put themselves into the running for the task. Both have had some problems with safely handling the stuff, for example. The decision was announced today. Both were, in effect, selected.

This is the kind of bad decision that the DOE has long made. It avoids the political problems that would come with selecting one site or the other. The congressional delegations of both states will be pleased. To be fair, there are people with expertise at these sites and facilities that can be used or upgraded.

And they will need to be upgraded. Whether the funds will be appropriated and whether they will turn out to be adequate when the plans are fully worked out is another question, one that has been answered very poorly by both the DOE and Congress in the past.

The evidence seems to be that pits last a longish time, perhaps up to a century. We have several thousand nuclear weapons, more than we are ever likely to need.

Carson Mark, a Los Alamos weapons physicist, once proposed that we simply let all the tritium, a radioactive component of thermonuclear weapons, decay and not replace it as a partial step toward disarmament. The way the US is going, it looks like something similar is happening with the capability to build nuclear weapons. Russia is keeping its capacity going and is not in a friendly mood to talk about just letting it all go. But I would love to see the US just say F***it, we’re done, and see how that plays.

 

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.



Deplorables Open Thread: Mike Pence Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

Whited sepulchre embraces self-propelled MRSA sore. Per Eric Levitz, at NYMag:

Progressives have long argued that Republicans use “law and order” as a racial dog whistle. A reverence for the letter of the law — and its impartial enforcement — was never actually a cornerstone of conservative politics, the left alleges. Rather, what truly matters to the right is the maintenance of “order”; which is to say, of social and racial hierarchies…

But the indifference of (many) conservative proponents of “the rule of law” to the conventional definition of the phrase has never been more naked than during the Trump era. And last night in Arizona, Mike Pence gave his movement’s contempt for equality before the law some especially indecent exposure…

To say that Joe Arpaio is a “tireless champion” of “the rule of law” is to concede the left’s darkest interpretation of what conservatives mean by that term.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in 2016 for refusing to honor a court order. His office had made a regular practice of detaining its Latino constituents solely because they looked, to Arpaio’s (overwhelmingly white) deputies, like they weren’t legal U.S. residents. The judiciary said this was unconstitutional. Arpaio said (essentially) that he couldn’t care less — and then, so did the president of the United States, who directly undermined the rule of law (at least, under that term’s conventional definition) by handing Arpaio a pardon last August.

But criminally racist profiling was among the lesser offenses on Joe’s (figurative) rap sheet. During his decades-long tenure as sheriff, Arpaio presided over (what he himself called) a “concentration camp,” where low-level offenders and undocumented immigrants were subjected to daily cruel and unusual punishments. In Tent City, men and women who’d been convicted of — or, in most cases, merely charged with — crimes like drug use, shoplifting, and working with false documents were forced to live outdoors, year-round… At least 157 of all Arpaio’s prisoners died before they got out. At least a quarter of those deaths were the result of suicide — for nearly half of them, authorities provided no official cause of death whatsoever.

And the sheriff’s reign of terror extended well beyond his prison’s gates. His officers subjected Latino Arizonans — citizens and noncitizens alike — to routine harassment and abuse… When journalists or local politicians criticized these practices, Arpaio used the law as a weapon against them, raiding the homes of newspaper publishers and indicting office-holders on bogus felony charges…
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Saturday’s Child Open Thread: “Status Anxiety”, *Sigh*…

It’s the latest euphemism for “racism, with a grounding in sexism”. From the Atlantic, “People Voted for Trump Because They Were Anxious, Not Poor”:

After analyzing in-depth survey data from 2012 and 2016, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz argues that it’s the [former]. In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she added her conclusion to the growing body of evidence that the 2016 election was not about economic hardship.

“Instead,” she writes, “it was about dominant groups that felt threatened by change and a candidate who took advantage of that trend.”

“For the first time since Europeans arrived in this country,” Mutz notes, “white Americans are being told that they will soon be a minority race.” When members of a historically dominant group feel threatened, she explains, they go through some interesting psychological twists and turns to make themselves feel okay again. First, they get nostalgic and try to protect the status quo however they can. They defend their own group (“all lives matter”), they start behaving in more traditional ways, and they start to feel more negatively toward other groups…

Mutz examined voters whose incomes declined, or didn’t increase much, or who lost their jobs, or who were concerned about expenses, or who thought they had been personally hurt by trade. None of those things motivated people to switch from voting for Obama in 2012 to supporting Trump in 2016. Indeed, manufacturing employment in the United States has actually increased somewhat since 2010. And as my colleague Adam Serwer has pointed out, “Clinton defeated Trump handily among Americans making less than $50,000 a year.”

Meanwhile, a few things did correlate with support for Trump: a voter’s desire for their group to be dominant, as well as how much they disagreed with Clinton’s views on trade and China. Trump supporters were also more likely than Clinton voters to feel that “the American way of life is threatened,” and that high-status groups, like men, Christians, and whites, are discriminated against…

Michael (no, not *that* guy) Cohen, at the Boston Globe, is more honest:

Mutz found little to no evidence that a decline in income, loss of a job, or concerns over a worsening “personal financial situation” drove voter preference. Rising unemployment or a drop in manufacturing jobs in the area where someone lived wasn’t much of a factor either. In fact, “living in an area with a high median income” was a far more important predictor of a vote for Trump. This is precisely the opposite of what one might expect for an election allegedly decided by “economic anxiety.”…

Many pundits (myself included) came to believe that Trump’s racism would doom his chances. The opposite occurred. It spearheaded his victory. It’s small wonder that as president Trump has stuck to race-baiting and xenophobia on everything from immigration and terrorism to protests at NFL games. The man might not understand anything about policy or how to be president, but he does appear to grasp that his supporters share his cultural and racial resentments — and that the key to his continued political success is to keep fanning those flames.

The lesson for Democrats is that winning over Trump voters on economic issues may not be the most effective message in upcoming midterm election. The better strategy is to activate the multi-racial coalition of blacks, Hispanics, white liberals, and suburban women who supported Clinton in 2016 and who have become the engine of the so-called resistance. Of course, that also means that the racial resentments activated by Trump will not be dissipated — and if the attacks on Clinton are any indication, will be further magnified. It’s a depressing reminder that as much as we’d like to wish 2016 away, it will remain with us for some time to come.

If we can’t change their tiny minds — or, as the Media Village Idiots would prefer, pretend a more thoughtful, less prejudiced electorate into being — then we can at least be clear about who our “friends” really are.



Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: The Proper Commemoration of “Confederate Memorial Day”

One of those “just in the family” things they don’t talk about in front of the Yankees, apparently, because I don’t remember hearing about it before. This year’s commemoration gets a more fitting memorial. Angela Helm, at The Root:

On Monday, Alabama is set to observe Confederate Memorial Day, commemorating the sons of the South killed in the U.S. Civil War. No surprise there. Alabama loves fighting with Mississippi for the title of “most racist state” (though they actually may be running neck and neck with “everything south of the Canadian border” if we’re keeping it real).

I find this amusing, not just because of the abiding ridiculousness of the holiday itself—which for me and most black people is a dressed-up way of reveling in institutional racism and anti-blackness (contrary to claims of “love of heritage”)—but because I just so happen to be in Alabama today, Monday, for a press preview of a memorial and museum dedicated to those both forgotten and annihilated through acts of racial terror across the country, and I will touch this holiest site on … Confederate Memorial Day…

… [H]ere in America, the God some trust is not on the dollar bill, it is the dollar bill. Here, as we all were whispered songs of “sweet lands of liberty,” black Americans perished in a nightmare of running blood and burning flesh and mass rape for pleasure and profit; that story all but erased from history and replaced with men playing war games, re-enacting so-called acts of valor for an indefensible premise…

The national lynching memorial, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, will stand atop a hill, in remembrance of the more than 4,000 victims of racial terror on U.S. soil, which the Montgomery, Ala.-based Equal Justice Institute has meticulously tracked for six years.

The accompanying Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, located in a former slave warehouse, will also tell the tale of our sojourn here: from enslavement to widespread public executions, to Jim Crow, to the continued violence against black bodies through mass incarceration and police violence.

The museum and memorial are but two drops in a bucket recognizing the true “legacy” of this nation; it’s a befitting tribute to those who weren’t able to throw up statues and establish holidays, their bodies sometimes snatched and ripped apart for keepsakes. It finally acknowledges, in a lasting way, what this country wrought upon its literal children, drafted into another war they never signed up for, but one in which they certainly perished, strange fruit hanging from poplar trees…

 
Fred Hiatt, in the Washington Post:

In the Riverfront Park of this state capital, you will find a series of panels depicting the city’s history. They will tell you when the first white settler arrived, how riverboats transformed Montgomery into a trading hub for cotton “and many other important commodities,” and how the city became the cradle of the Confederacy.

They will not tell you that the most important of those other commodities was human beings.

It is the sort of lacuna, says Bryan Stevenson, that allows people to “achieve political victories by celebrating the greatness of America.”

“The question is, which decade are black Americans supposed to want to relive?”
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Him Too?

Looks like Rear Admiral Doctor Ronny Jackson may have erred in inviting the kind of scrutiny no mere physician to the powerful usually encounters:

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee are raising concerns about allegations involving Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the department of Veterans Affairs and are reviewing them to determine if they are substantial enough to upend his nomination.

Committee members have been told about allegations related to improper conduct in various stages of his career, two sources said.

No further details are out yet, beyond the characterization that these are “some fairly raw allegations,” as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) put it.  Pure speculation here, but to my ears this has the ring of #MeToo about it.*

This is clearly not what R. Adm. Jackson anticipated when he too the fatal step of accepting anything from Donald Trump.

No sympathy for him: he did what he did, and he willing chose to pursue a post for which he was clearly ill-placed to fill.   Any sane person would realize the move would bring his conduct under scrutiny.  If bad things are about to rain down on him…well, welcome to the major leagues, son.

But it is also a reminder: Trump diminishes every single person who touches him.

Open Thread.

*Update: It appears it may be workplace issues other than sexual harassment. Memo-to-self: when you don’t know, you don’t know.

Image: Hans Holbein, Henry VIII and the Barber-Surgeons c. 1543 with later alterations.



Late Night Speculation Open Thread: The Permanent GOP Washes Its Hands of Donald Trump

Or so — in conjunction with Paul Ryan’s run for the exits — I have to assume. They no longer have any interest in defending the current Oval Office occupants, just in pushing through whatever convenient pardons and legal shortcuts can be managed before the collapse. There will be pushback on a Libby pardon, media attention to the high crimes & misdemeanors of the Bush Regency crime cartel for which Libby took his fall, and (apart from pwning the libs) no immediate upside for Donald J. Trump, Oval Office Occupant. Since Donny Dollhand has never been one to do a favor without promise of immediate reciprocation, presumably the GOP has promised him something of value in return. Ceremonial burning of the much-discussed pee tape? Cancellation of all his many debts? Pallets of gold bullion and a safe escape flight to a Sevastopol hideaway, or the rumored Bush family compound in Paraguay?…

Per the NYTimes, because they’re the experts on the delicate handling of sensitive topics for plutocrats and other Republicans:

Mr. Libby’s case has long been a cause for conservatives who maintained that he was a victim of a special prosecutor run amok, an argument that may have resonated with the president. Mr. Trump has repeatedly complained that the special counsel investigation into possible cooperation between his campaign and Russia in 2016 has gone too far and amounts to an unfair “witch hunt.”

Mr. Libby, who goes by Scooter, was convicted of four felonies in 2007 for perjury before a grand jury, lying to F.B.I. investigators and obstruction of justice during an investigation into the disclosure of the work of Valerie Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. officer. President George W. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s 30-month prison sentence but refused to grant him a full pardon despite the strenuous requests of Mr. Cheney, a decision that soured the relationship between the two men.

A pardon of Mr. Libby would paradoxically put Mr. Trump in the position of absolving one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, which Mr. Trump has denounced as a catastrophic miscalculation. It would also mean he was forgiving a former official who was convicted in a case involving leaks despite Mr. Trump’s repeated inveighing against those who disclose information to reporters.

Critics of Mr. Trump quickly interpreted the prospective pardon as a signal by the president that he would protect those who refuse to turn on their bosses, as Mr. Libby was presumed not to have betrayed Mr. Cheney. Mr. Trump has not ruled out pardons in the Russia investigation.

Mr. Trump has shown no particular interest in Mr. Libby’s case before. In 2015, during his campaign for the White House, Mr. Trump was asked if he would pardon Mr. Libby and declined to say, calling it an irrelevant issue. It was unclear when Mr. Trump would issue the pardon, which was first reported by ABC News…

The case tested the limits of journalistic independence. Judith Miller, then a reporter for The Times, went to prison for 85 days rather than disclose that Mr. Libby had discussed Ms. Wilson with her. She was freed after Mr. Libby released her from any promise of confidentiality…

The case has its connections to Mr. Trump because Mr. Fitzgerald was friends with James B. Comey, who was then the deputy attorney general who assigned him the investigation after the attorney general recused himself. Mr. Cheney long suspected that Mr. Comey was taking revenge for a dispute between them over the legality of a surveillance program…

(I blame it all on the Republicans who advised Gerry Ford to pardon Nixon back in 1974. Without a public examination of all the CREEPster crimes, its perpetrators were free to reemerge repeatedly over the last forty years, trailing foul clouds of treason and financial impropriety every time.)