Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 13th, 2019

Elizabeth Warren is right – we must break up Facebook, Google and Amazon

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Robert Reich writes in the Guardian:

The presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren announced on Friday she wants to bust up giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

America’s first Gilded Age began in the late 19th century with a raft of innovations – railroads, steel production, oil extraction – but culminated in mammoth trusts run by “robber barons” like JP Morgan, John D Rockefeller, and William H “the public be damned” Vanderbilt.

The answer then was to bust up the railroad, oil and steel monopolies.

We’re now in a second Gilded Age, ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet, which has spawned a handful of hi-tech behemoths and a new set of barons like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google.

The answer is the same as it was before: bust up the monopolies.

The current effort is bipartisan. At a Senate hearing I attended last week, the arch-conservative Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asked me, rhetorically: “Is there really any wonder that there is increased pressure for antitrust enforcement activity, for privacy activity when these companies behave in the way that they do?”

Hawley added: “Every day brings some creepy new revelation about these companies’ behaviors. Of course the public is going to want there to be action to defend their rights. It’s only natural.”

Nearly 90% of all internet searches now go through Google. Facebook and Google together account for 58% of all digital ads, which is where most ad money goes these days.

They’re also the first stops for many Americans seeking news (93% receive news online), and Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.

With such size comes the power to stifle innovation. Amazon won’t let any business that sells through it sell any item at a lower price anywhere else. It’s even using its control over book sales to give books it publishes priority over rival publishers.

Google uses the world’s most widely used search engine to promote its own services and content over those of competitors. Facebook’s purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram killed off two potential competitors.

Contrary to the conventional view of America as a hotbed of entrepreneurship, according to the Census Bureau, the rate at which new job-creating businesses have formed in the US has halved since 2004.

Size also confers political power.

Amazon – the richest corporation in America – paid nothing in federal taxes last year. Meanwhile, it is holding an auction to extort billions from states and cities eager to host its second headquarters.

It also forced Seattle, its home city, to back down on a plan to tax big corporations like itself to pay for homeless shelters for a growing population that cannot afford sky-high rents caused in part by Amazon.

Facebook withheld evidence of Russian activity on its platform far longer than had been disclosed. When the news came to light, it employed an opposition research firm to discredit critics.

Zuckerberg, who holds the world speed record for falling from one of the most admired figures to one of the most reviled, just unveiled a plan to “encrypt” personal information from all his platforms.

The plan is likely to give Facebook even more comprehensive data about everyone. If you believe it will better guard privacy, you don’t remember Zuckerberg’s last seven promises to do that.

The New America Foundation, an influential thinktank Google helped fund, fired researchers who were urging antitrust officials to take on the company. And Google has been quietly financing hundreds of professors to write research papers justifying Google’s market dominance.

What to do? Some argue the tech mammoths should be regulated like utilities or common carriers, but this would put government in the impossible position of policing content and overseeing products and services.

A better alternative is to break them up. That way,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2019 at 9:37 pm

Sewing the seeds of our nation’s destruction

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Inappropriate self-admiration will be the death of the US. Watch this clip:

FWIW, I think that colleges and universities should totally abandon intercollegiate athletics. Keep athletics, but intramural only, and encourage more participation. The grandstands should be empty of students because all are participating.

Or make the intercollegiate sports enterprise a completely separate entity (as it usually now is, physically): financially, legally, governance—and independent enterprise. And since it is basically a business, the players must be compensated appropriately. OTOH, I don’t see any educational requirement to be faked. The players can simply train and play, the Sports Entity can rake in the dough, and independently make a charitable contribution of a significant portion of its process to educational institutions. That could be worked out, but the main thing is to sepate sports and academics.

Watch:

https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/embedded-video/mmvo1457232963952

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2019 at 6:46 pm

Duck soup redux (still not the movie)

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Fairway market again had duck carcasses, and I snagged a pair. (They’re packed as a brace.) Necks (untouched) included.

This time I was more deft in make the stock:

duck carcasses
water to cover
2 Tbsp salt
2 carrots cut to piece
2 yellow onions, quartered
about 10-12 garlic cloves, whole but peeled
juice of 2.5 juicy and large lemons
2 Tbsp brown rice vinegar
1.5 Tbsp peppercorns

I brought that to boil, reduced heat and covered, and simmered 2 hours. Removed solids—and this time I removed all the vegetables first, since they’re on the top, and put them on the platter, and then I removed the four pieces (two carcasses and two necks) and placed them on the platter.

Now everything cools for an hour, roughly.

I was having trouble getting the meat off the neck of the duck, remembering how with the turkey neck the meat just fell freely away, when I realized that I simmered the turkey for 3 hours but simmered the duck for just 2—presumably unconsciously comparing the size of a duck and a turkey.

Bad thinking. I have the second neck, simmering now for another hour, and I bet you any money that the neck picking problem is gone. – Yep: carcasses should be simmered 3 hours, not 2.

Once the stock had cooled somewhat, I poured it through a strainer into a smaller pot and returned the picked-off meat to the pot. Instead of adding any vegetables, I just drank it from a cup as a meaty broth.

It’s quite rich (i.e., scales noticed my indulgence), so I’ll postpone a reprise, but it is tasty. Good for the dead of winter, I would think.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2019 at 4:46 pm

The Industrial Revolution of Shame

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Salvatore Scibona writes in the NY Times:

In the 1954 John Cheever story “The Country Husband,” a man goes to a dinner party in a New York suburb and recognizes his host’s new maid, but from where? Suddenly, the scene returns to him. Years earlier, at the end of the Second World War, in a small French village where he had been deployed, he had looked on while this same woman — the wartime consort of the village’s German commandant — had been carted into a crossroads. Her neighbors had jeered while a little man had cut off her hair and shaved her skull. They had made her remove her clothes. Someone had spat on her. Crying and naked but for her worn black shoes, she had walked away from the village, alone.

Imagine, if you can bear it, this episode updated to the present: the viral video, the scene captured, shared, archived, never forgotten, its popularity measured in screen views. Rather than the gathering of a few dozen people in a town with one church and one restaurant, imagine the thousands or millions broadcasting their blame in comment sections, tweets, blog posts, many of them available forever to anyone anywhere. The offender is denied even the mercy of exile.

We are undergoing an industrial revolution in shame. New technologies have radically expanded our ability to make and distribute a product. The product is our judgment of one another. As in past industrial revolutions, the mass manufacture and use of a product previously available to just a few or in small amounts has given us the power to do harm at a previously unthinkable scale.

The defendants carted into the virtual crossroads are public figures as well as previously inconspicuous people — a drunk in a parking lot, a girl who overshares on Instagram. One day an actor is accused of faking a hate crime, another day a politician admits he attended a dance contest wearing blackface, another day a high school student’s grin seems to embody the contemptuous privilege of his class, another day those describing his grin that way are shamed for shaming him on preliminary evidence. To bring up any one of these examples is to invite the objection, “That time it was deserved!” Maybe so. But is there no way of discussing these controversies that doesn’t come down to whether an offender deserved the punishment?

Media culture has found a sweet spot in the collective psyche — outrage. Headlines are baited with it, promising an injustice. This is strange bait: It can feel wrong not to take it. Because looking away from an injustice has so often amounted to perpetuating injustice, we may feel we have a duty to click through, read the article and get mad. Even the private person who doesn’t tweet or otherwise share his thoughts in public gets sucked in, his conscience demanding the solidarity of judging in his heart, if not aloud.

However right and necessary all this judgment feels, does it feel good? Doesn’t it quickly feel, sort of, well, awful?

Traditional wisdom cautions us against excesses of judgment (see the casting of first stones, et cetera). Maybe that’s out of concern not only for the Frenchwoman Cheever describes but also for the person who spat on her. Interesting that we describe scorn as “bitter,” as though we can taste it, like a poison. Dishing it out doesn’t feel much better than taking it, but what else can we do?

Judgment serves a crucial end, in both private and public life. Abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, all required many people to assert their judgment that something was wrong and had to change.Yet technology has so multiplied the outrages confronting us that they crowd out our ability to discuss much else. Previously remote controversies now feel so much a part of our lives as to demand that we do something, now, about all of them. This is an impossible and demoralizing standard. The most devoted activist can help fix only a small portion of what offends his conscience. To rage at the rest serves his desire to act, but it doesn’t change anything. It is a refusal to acknowledge the limits of his power.

In this boom time for recrimination, we need a way to save our judgment for the cases that merit the toll it takes on others and ourselves. Both for the sake of those unjustly shamed and for our own mental health, we could use an alternative to judgment.

I think we can find one in literature. I’m talking about stories that take an ordinary person and watch her, through hours and years, inside and out, and strive, if not for objectivity, then at least for evenhandedness. George Eliot watches characters screw up and then asks the reader not to be too hard on them. Cormac McCarthy can use a language so stripped of judgment as to appear, deceptively, unconcerned with conscience. Somewhere in between, Cheever has a remarkable ability (as Joan Didion said of people with self-respect) “to love and to remain indifferent.”

All three have the skill of deep watching. When they describe in detail a conflict that cries out for us to take a side but hold back from explicitly taking a side themselves, they are not overlooking the moral stakes. They are compelling a moral response from us that’s more challenging than approval or disapproval. Under the influence of their restraint, our conscience is engaged in a new way, as a witness.

That word has a more capacious meaning than we tend to allow it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a witness as, among other things, “one who is or was present and is able to testify from personal observation.” It also lists an older meaning: “knowledge, understanding, wisdom.”

Cheever describes the woman’s “empty half smile,” the three-legged stool on which she sits, the gray mustache of the man who takes a straight razor to her scalp — neutral, sensory information that nonetheless feels electrified by the moral crisis. Add a judgy word like “diabolical” before “mustache” and watch the crisis turn into a quaint sermon with no power to hit you where you live.

To witness is to ignore as little as possible. Because a judgment so often impairs the ability to notice what doesn’t conform with it, the witness chooses for the time being to keep judgment at a distance.

If she watches a documentary about a singer’s alleged history of child abuse, she doesn’t fall back on the clichéd excuse that she couldn’t look away from it. She admits that she chose to look. Having chosen, she has a responsibility to herself to notice what she sees — the changing  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2019 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

When Elon Musk Tried to Destroy a Tesla Whistleblower

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Elon Musk doesn’t wear well, I find. Matt Robinson and Zeke Faux report in Bloomberg Businessweek:

By the larger-than-life standards of Elon Musk, the story was far from a blockbuster. On June 4, 2018, Business Insiderreported that Tesla Inc. was scrapping or reworking 40 percent of the raw materials at the Gigafactory, its huge battery plant in the Nevada desert. The article cited a source who figured the inefficiency had cost Musk’s electric car company $150 million, describing giant piles of scrap materials in the factory. Tesla denied the report, and a few hours later, the world moved on.

The world, that is, except Elon Musk. Although he wasn’t asked about the Business Insider story the following day at the company’s annual meeting, he stewed for weeks, dispatching a team of investigators to try to figure out who’d shared the information with the press.

The leaker, they determined, was one Martin Tripp, a slight man of 40 who’d spent his career in a series of low-level manufacturing jobs before finding his way to the assembly line at the Gigafactory. Tripp later claimed to be an idealist trying to get Tesla to tighten its operations; Musk saw him as a dangerous foe who engaged in “extensive and damaging sabotage,” as he wrote in a staff memo. He implied that Tripp had shared the data not only with the press but also with “unknown third parties.”

Could larger forces be at work? Musk wondered out loud. Could Tripp be coordinating with one of Tesla’s many enemies—oil companies, rival automakers, or Wall Street short sellers? “There are a long list of organizations that want Tesla to die,” he warned.

On June 20, the company sued Tripp for $167 million. Later that day, Tripp heard from the sheriff’s department in Storey County, Nev. Tesla’s security department had passed a tip to police. An anonymous caller had contacted the company to say Tripp was planning a mass shooting at the Gigafactory.

When the police confronted Tripp that evening, he was unarmed and in tears. He said he was terrified of Musk and suggested the billionaire might have called in the tip himself. A sheriff’s deputy attempted to cheer up Tripp and then called Tesla to tell the company that the threat, whoever had made it, was bogus. Tripp wasn’t dangerous.

Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.

Tesla’s PR department spread rumors that Tripp was possibly homicidal and had been part of a grand conspiracy. On Twitter, Musk suggested the Business Insider reporter, Linette Lopez, was on the payroll of short sellers and claimed Tripp had admitted to taking bribes from her in exchange for “valuable Tesla IP.” Lopez denied the allegation.

The Tripp incident was the beginning of a social media meltdown so epic that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission forced Tesla to appoint a so-called Twitter sitter, an in-house lawyer who’s supposed to vet Musk’s tweets. Since last summer, Musk’s antics have included:

① Baselessly accusing a British cave diver on Twitter of pedophilia;

② Falsely claiming on (where else?) Twitter that investors had put up funds to take Tesla private at $420 a share, leading to an SEC lawsuit;

③ Somehow igniting a feud with B-list hip-hop artist Azealia Banks (“Elon will learn very soon who is more powerful of us two,” Banks posted on Instagram);

④ Puffing a joint during a live podcast taping, causing the federal government to review the security clearance needed for his rocket company, SpaceX.

Musk’s treatment of Tripp threatens to complicate this legal and regulatory mess. The security manager at the Gigafactory, an ex-military guy with a high-and-tight haircut named Sean Gouthro, has filed a whistleblower report with the SEC. Gouthro says Tesla’s security operation behaved unethically in its zeal to nail the leaker. Investigators, he claims, hacked into Tripp’s phone, had him followed, and misled police about the surveillance. Gouthro says that Tripp didn’t sabotage Tesla or hack anything and that Musk knew this and sought to damage his reputation by spreading misinformation.

A Tesla spokeswoman said in a statement that Gouthro’s allegations “are untrue and sensationalized,” but she didn’t comment on specifics. She pointed out that Gouthro never raised any concerns until he was fired for “poor performance.” Gouthro disputes this and says his performance reviews were mostly positive. He says he’s coming forward to let regulators and the public know what Tesla is capable of.

“They had the ability to do things I didn’t even know existed,” he says. “It scared the shit out of me.”

Gouthro isn’t the first person to blow the whistle on security operatives at a fast-growing transportation company. Two years ago, Richard Jacobs, a manager of global intelligence at Uber Technologies Inc., claimed his colleagues surreptitiously recorded conversations of rival executives and its own employees, among other ethically dubious actions. He later walked back some of his accusations, but Uber’s new management has since apologized, disavowed surveillance, and generally promised to be nicer. Two of the Uber investigators named by Jacobs, Nicholas Gicinto and Jacob Nocon, sued him for defamation, calling his claims “character assassination for cash.” They said his accusations would make it hard for them to get new jobs.

They were wrong. While the press reacted to Uber’s alleged misdeeds with shock—“F—ing blockbuster bonkers criminal allegations,” tweeted Amir Efrati, a reporter at the Information—Musk saw some promising recruits. In early 2018 he named Jeff Jones, a top Uber security executive, as his global security chief and hired Gicinto and Nocon as investigators, interviewing the three personally, according to Gouthro. Musk defended Gicinto to the tech news site Gizmodo, saying he’d been “thrown under the bus by Uber for the sins of others.” Tesla didn’t make Gicinto or Nocon available for comment; Jones, who left Tesla in November, declined to comment.

At this time, the Gigafactory, a huge three-story expanse 20 miles east of Reno, was a chaotic place. Musk had warned repeatedly that Tesla would have to survive “production hell” as it scrambled to hire staff and speed up manufacturing for the Model 3 sedan. He suffered through the experience, sleeping in his office and later giving tearful interviews in which he confessed he was near the end of his rope. “This is like—I tell you—the most excruciatingly hellish several months that I have ever had,” he said at Tesla’s annual meeting in June 2018.

It was this chaos that Tripp, a former U.S. Navy electronics technician who joined the company in late 2017, claimed he wanted to calm. He complained to superiors that the factory was in a constant state of flux and there were parts scattered everywhere, often in ways that seemed to him to be unsafe and wasteful. He suggested his bosses try to cut down on scrap, then wrote an email to Musk that went unanswered. “I kept bringing this up to management, supervisors, anyone who would listen,” Tripp would later tell the Guardian in an interview. “Everyone just said, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ ”

Gouthro says that if Tripp was ignored, it was partly because his problems barely rated in Nevada. The Gigafactory, one of the world’s largest buildings by floor area, had been filled with workers so quickly that it was almost impossible to control. Not long after Gouthro started in January 2018, he discovered that many employees, some of whom were living out of their car in the corners of the industrial park, were using cocaine and meth in the bathrooms. Others were having sex in parts of the factory that were still under construction. Gouthro says the scanners guards used to check badges were unreliable, so they’d wave in anyone with a piece of paper that looked legitimate. Local scrap yards called him to report thieves were trying to sell obscure electric vehicle parts.

Gouthro’s job was to come up with a system to bring order. A 32-year-old former U.S. Marine, he’s tall and buff, with a full sleeve of tattoos on his left arm. He’d worked at Facebook Inc. in an operations center that responded to dangerous situations spotted on live videos. The work had been upsetting, but Gouthro says Facebook’s was a far more professional environment than Tesla’s. Early on, according to Gouthro, a company lawyer told him that the previous head of security at the Gigafactory, Andrew Ceroni, had left after a bitter dispute. The lawyer said Ceroni had spied on a union meeting on Musk’s orders and then threatened to tell the world about it when he left the company. Ceroni declined to comment.

While Gouthro was trying to address the sex, drugs, and raucous disorganization, Tripp decided to go public. He had access to Tesla’s internal production database and dug into it to figure out just how much material was being wasted. He decided to go to Lopez, who’d written about Tesla for Business Insider, emailing and texting her numbers showing wasted material and pictures of battery parts that he said could catch fire.

Tripp hoped that when Lopez’s story came out, Tesla would be forced to make the changes he’d suggested. Instead, Tesla said the waste was normal and no damaged batteries made it into finished cars. “As is expected with any new manufacturing process, we had high scrap rates earlier in the Model 3 ramp,” Tesla told Business Insider. “We want to ensure that only the highest-quality parts are used to create the best vehicles for our customers.”

Meanwhile, Gouthro went to work to identify the leaker, reviewing video footage taken from the floor of the Gigafactory. At the same time, he says, Gicinto and Nocon worked backwards to see who’d accessed data that could result in the numbers published in Business Insider. It turned out Tripp had been the only one to look up the exact information the story cited.

The security team had their man, but they didn’t know what other secrets he might have seen. Tripp and a few other employees were asked to turn their laptops in for a routine update that was, in fact, a forensic audit. Gouthro also sent a plainclothes security guard to the assembly floor to keep an eye on Tripp.

When Tripp arrived at work on June 14, he was met by a human resources representative, who escorted him to a conference room. When he got there, Gicinto and Nocon were waiting. According to a transcript viewed by Bloomberg Businessweek, the conversation started on friendly terms, with the two interrogators asking Tripp about reports he’d made to his bosses. “This to me is a major safety, a public safety concern,” Tripp said, patiently explaining the punctured battery cells he’d seen. They mentioned the Business Insiderstory repeatedly without asking Tripp if he was the source.

Then, two and a half hours into the interview, the investigators disclosed that Tripp had been the only one who’d accessed the manufacturing numbers. Tripp admitted he was the leaker. But the transcript shows that he denied accepting bribes—despite Musk’s later Twitter claims to the contrary—and he said he hadn’t given the information to anyone else. Gouthro, who wasn’t in the interrogation room, says at one point he saw a colleague reading the text messages and emails that Tripp was sending during breaks in the questioning. He says that somehow Tesla was able to access Tripp’s communications in real time.

The interview lasted almost six hours. By the end, the investigators seemed sympathetic, telling Tripp what he’d done was “not even close to anything bad.” Tripp pulled out his phone and showed them a video of himself playing guitar. “Dude, that’s impressive,” one said. Gouthro says they debriefed a furious Musk via video conference. Tesla fired Tripp on June 19.

The following day, news of the lawsuit hit the internet. Tripp Googled himself and saw  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2019 at 4:12 pm

Wells Fargo embarrasses itself again

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Wells Fargo seems little better than a criminal organization that, when it is caught in double-dealing, punishes only the foot-soldiers. Helaine Olen writes in the Washington Post:

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan would have us believe he’s running a changed bank. How seriously we should take him is another matter entirely.

At a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Tuesday on the bank’s practices, one representative after another took their five minutes to blast Sloan and his bank’s business practices. But let’s give a hand to freshman Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), who elicited the most damning detail. She pointed out that the bank’s own lawyers say Sloan’s past statements indicating a commitment to restoring customers’ trust are mere “corporate puffery.” Sloan’s response? “I don’t know why our lawyers are arguing that.”

This is the second get for Porter in a short period of time — last week, she handed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Kathy Kraninger a calculator, and revealed to the world that the nation’s chief personal finance watchdog wouldn’t calculate or didn’t know how to calculate an APR, better known as an annual percentage rate, something vital to understanding how payday loans can negatively impact borrowers. This has not stopped Kraninger from beginning the process of rolling back protections on these dodgy, high-interest loans, making it easier for unscrupulous lenders to hide from financially desperate consumers what they are up against when they borrow such money.

Once upon a time, such answers, discoveries and failure to take responsibility by the people at the top of the decision-making food chain would have been a scandal with a capital S. But now, when Wells Fargo and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau critics are competing against what is the most corrupt presidential administration in modern history (not to mention the news that celebrities and corporate executives allegedly bribed their children’s way into elite colleges), the public barely noticed Sloan’s or Kraninger’s damning admissions. The most they got was a few moments of Twitter hate. This is, to say the least, unfortunate.

Remember, in 2016 Wells Fargo admitted that its employees, under pressure to meet absurdly unrealistic sales goals, opened up millions of fraudulent accounts on behalf of unknowing customers. Despite the fact Wells Fargo has since been fined billions of dollars by various state and federal regulators, and is operating with asset caps placed on it by the Federal Reserve, the bank, as a therapist might say, still has issues.

Within the past week alone, it has been revealed that Wells Fargo agreed to refund customers more than $17 million for selling them on high-fee mutual funds while neglecting to adequately inform them about less costly options. (The firm was one of nearly 80 firms agreeing to repay more than $125 million to clients.) A New York Times investigation published Saturday detailed how bank employees are still challenged to meet sales quotas. This comes on top of such additional revelations as the fact that Wells Fargo improperly foreclosed on several hundred homes, and saddled unwitting customers with pet insurance.

Anything for a sale, I guess.

As for the CFPB, it was the subject of a semiannual review in the Senate on Tuesday, one taking place at the same time House members were grilling Sloan. The agency that once brought Wells Fargo to public attention is now, under the Trump administration, all but gutted. The anodyne personal advice it puts on Twitter cannot begin to compensate for the sharp reduction in its enforcement actions and fines against predatory financial actors.

One of Kraninger’s interrogators: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), who first proposed the CFPB. She told Kraninger, “If you had any decency, you’d either do your job or resign.” It’s hard to disagree. Then again, if Kraninger had any decency, she probably wouldn’t have taken the position at all. When President Trump appointed her to the position last year, it was  . . .

Continue reading.

I think the number of decent people left in the Trump administration is rather small.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2019 at 2:49 pm

Paul Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life”: Revelations from the Unpublished Portions of Andrea Manafort’s Hacked Texts

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Maya Gurantz writes in the LA Review of Books:

(THEY MIGHT TRY to kill me for telling you what I know.)

In 2016 or early 2017, Paul Manafort’s 32-year-old daughter Andrea’s cell phone was hacked. A database containing hundreds of thousands of her purported text messages, many in conversation with her sister Jess, was released online in February 2017. Politico confirmed the veracity of enough of the texts to enter them into the public record.

Various excerpts have been used in every subsequent profile written on Manafort — Trump’s former campaign manager, a career Republican operative, and a lobbyist to foreign dictators — who currently sits in jail for bank fraud, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, and financial conspiracy with a foreign power. These articles quote Andrea and Jess contending with their father’s corruption (“He has no moral or legal compass”), what they believe was his active role in the murder of hundreds of Ukrainian protestors (“Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that / To send those people out and get them slaughtered”), his humiliatingly public affair as a sugar daddy to a much younger woman (“He got her A PRIVATE JET AT ONE POINT”), his role on Trump’s campaign (“He is refusing payment. Bc he doesn’t want to be viewed as Trump’s employee”), and their own tormented desire to free themselves from their family complicities (“Don’t fool yourself. That money we have is blood money.”).

Yet one cluster of texts never entered public discourse in the same way. For eight months after these texts were released online — an eon, in internet time — no one wrote about them. The sleaziest gossip outlets, which enthusiastically published other dirty details about Manafort (including his membership in BDSM sex clubs), wouldn’t touch it. Deep transparency conspiracy theorists didn’t Tweet about it. A March 2018 Atlantic profile on Manafort by Franklin Foer only very delicately alludes to the matter, commenting that, “after the exposure of his infidelity, his wife had begun to confess simmering marital issues to her daughters.”

That’s a rather dainty way to refer to over a decade of coercive and manipulative sexual behavior, in which Manafort allegedly forced his wife, vulnerable from having sustained brain damage after a near-death horseback riding accident years before, to engage in “gang bangs” with black men while he watched.

¤

She shouldnt have to do that and i would feel the same way
she keeps saying she has tried so hard
but she can’t keep doing it
and the stuff he has made her do is outrageous 

mom thinks dad will end their marriage bc she won’t do it anymore
i don’t even know what to think
Im in shock
This is abuse

¤

Seymour Hersh, the journalist famously responsible for bringing the truth about the My Lai massacre to the American public, received a phone call in 1974 from a hospital in California. A doctor informed him that Richard Nixon, who had recently resigned the presidency, had beaten his wife Pat so badly she had just been admitted. Hersh never published the story, partly so as not to put his source — and, by extension, the hospital — at risk. Over the years, as Nixon’s abuse was confirmed by multiple other sources, Hersh maintained his silence. What did wife beating have to do with the man’s diplomacy in China or his role in Watergate? What did a “bad marriage” have to do with a man’s public life?

At a 1998 event with the Nieman Journalism Fellows at Harvard, Hersh shared the story — about Nixon, about the hospital — and was surprised at the response from women journalists in the room, who pointed out that he chose to not write about allegations of repeated criminal behavior by an American president. Hersh told them, “I did not think it was a story, I thought it was his business.” The event was recorded. After 25 years, both Hersh’s knowledge of Nixon’s abuse and his reticence about reporting on it became a matter of public record.

This past summer, Hersh released his memoirs. He includes the Nixon story and the Nieman Fellows event, framing it, apologetically, as an example of his “ignorance”: “I did not think it [Nixon’s abuse] was a crime.” In subsequent televised interviews, however, Hersh appears frustrated that people keep asking about his being caught in this act of omission, stating repeatedly his regret that the Nieman event had been recorded. Hersh seems equally impatient at himself, for not believing the story was relevant in 1974, and at the people who shared the story after 1998, believing it was.

This is contested terrain, obviously — particularly in the era of #MeToo press stories. In this moment, behaviors previously deemed private and professionally irrelevant are now seen as both relevant and potentially disqualifying. Perhaps Hersh did not want to be responsible for shifting Nixon’s legacy on those terms; perhaps by doing so, he would also be shifting his own.

Because when we are given access to evidence of a man’s most private acts and desires, we reread his public conduct through the lens of this information. It is revelatory of an entire ecology of behavior.

During his early years as a Republican strategist, Paul Manafort was responsible for Ronald Reagan’s decision to launch his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi — site of the murder of three Civil Rights activists — as a racist dog whistle to white Southern voters. He then built his fortune making dictators and strongmen like Ferdinand Marcos and Jonas Savimbi — torturers and killers of their own people — palatable to American politicians doling out foreign aid. This subject was addressed as early as 1992 in “The Torturer’s Lobby,” a report published by the Center for Public Integrity. In the same year Spy Magazine ranked Manafort’s firm as having the highest “blood-on-the-hands” score in the Beltway.

Manafort’s job before joining Trump’s campaign was as a longtime consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin candidate he helped get elected president of the Ukraine. Manafort allegedly contributed to Yanukovych’s decision to attack dissidents with deadly violence. WikiLeaks has claimed that the hack of Andrea Manafort’s cell phone was carried out by Ukrainian intelligence. Whether this particular accusation is true or not, it seems certain that Manafort’s sordid personal life was exposed, to some level, as a consequence of his sordid political activity.

When I asked one journalist why he hadn’t written about those texts, he became extremely defensive. What does it matter, he asked, what gets Manafort’s dick hard? The journalist saw the material as Manafort’s private business — not evidence, meriting consideration, that the man was a sexual abuser.

In July 2018, transparency journalist Emma Best rereleased Andrea Manafort’s texts as a searchable database. She claimed, somewhat defensively, that the information “has already been exposed. […] [T]abloids and trolls have already mined the transcripts and exploited them. While this release may result in a small resurgence of this, the real damage has long been done and mitigated.” She asserts that, “[w]hile some personal details may seem lurid, they are ultimately meaningless. People have bodies which sometimes itch, people have sex and personal lives.”

Like the defensive journalist I spoke to, Best clearly wants to believe that Manafort’s behavior toward his wife expresses merely the idiosyncratic cravings shared in an intimate relationship. While she believes that, “in some instances, the personal messages shine a light on things of more significance,” those things reside solely, for her, in the connections between Manafort’s conduct and potential criminal activity related to Trump’s election.

In the months since Best rereleased the texts, two published articles have attempted to address the fraught topic of Manafort’s sexual treatment of his wife. A July 2018 essay in Psychology Today discusses the underpinnings of conservative men’s desire to participate in the “cuck” fetish of wife-sharing. It explores what might be behind Manafort’s sexual fantasy but does not touch upon issues of race, marital rape, abuse, or manipulation. By contrast, an article in The Spectator argues that the texts are critical to understanding Manafort’s criminality yet does not really know how to prove the case. Regarding Manafort’s marriage, it lands by quoting the old French proverb, “no man is a hero to his valet,” concluding that the texts merely describe the “banal truth” that “everyone saves their worst behaviour for those closest to them.”

Manafort’s worst behavior may be many things; “banal” hardly seems one of them. Something terrible happened, and no one knows how to say it.

¤

Revelation 1.

“He was like a Soviet spy” [said] one source who had knowledge of Manafort’s modus operandi. […] “He used information as leverage.”

— Alexander Cockburn and Ken Silverstein, Washington Babylon (1996)

In the weeks and months after the 2016 election, former Tory MP Louise Mensch became our leading Trump/Russia conspiracy theorist. A conspiracy theorist links seemingly unrelated occurrences, revealing (or creating) patterns that explain how the world works. Like artists, conspiracy theorists produce space for meaning-making for their readers or viewers — who, in connecting the dots, get to write the story in their own heads.

One of my favorite of Mensch’s theories came in early 2017, in a series of tweets vaguely insinuating that Obama and Dubya shared a secret, post-election mission to save the country from incoming Russian spies. Dubya handled domestic affairs — Obama, international ones. Actually, Mensch proposed, the Obamas’ post-inaugural vacation to Richard Branson’s island was actually a “work” trip since Russian oligarchs were docked there at the same time. Thus, between windsurfing and cocktails, Obama saved the Republic, though Mensch can’t yet share with us exactly how. But she assures us that, for their secret acts, we will one day know these two men to be true American heroes.

Do I — or did I ever — believe Louise Mensch is, like, factually correct? That’s not what this is about. Rather, Mensch inserted herself into the public imaginary of a stunned nation by telling us what we wanted to hear: dirty tricks were played, and it’s all connected. Her storytelling was supported by our desire to believe it was true, but also by the incredible outpouring of legitimately reported stories about coordinated Russian attempts to hack American political life — from targeted online disinformation campaigns and election interference to Jared Kushner’s attempts to set up “back channel” communications with Russia. Recently, Paul Manafort’s lawyers, in a poorly redacted court filing, inadvertently revealed that, during Manafort’s time as Trump’s campaign manager, he shared campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, an operative with ties to Russian intelligence. Two years after the election, it still becomes ever easier to believe an alternative political reality has been attempting to penetrate our system.

Mensch also reintroduced the narrative erotics of the Cold War into our current political discourse — in particular, the explosive concept of kompromat. Without her flamboyantly leading the charge, we wouldn’t have the subject being written about in measured, serious terms by Adam Davidson in The New Yorkerand Ben Judah in The Atlantic.

Kompromat refers to compromising material that would expose a person in some irrevocably mortifying, career-ending way: financial crimes, sexual indiscretions. Unlike opposition research, which exists to be “dumped,” kompromat exists to be held over the person, so he or she doesn’t step out of line. An ongoing concern regarding Trump’s many-tentacled relationship with Russia is the possibility that Putin is holding some kind of kompromat over him — e.g., the notorious “piss tape” referenced in the Steele Dossier.

Notably, kompromat doesn’t have to be real. It just has to seem real enough for the shame of its possible exposure to undo someone, permanently. Perhaps no one wants to write about Manafort, in part, because the data has already been dumped — and we don’t want to belabor his attachment to such humiliating desires.

¤

Revelation 2.

but apparently he has a thing for black men
hard core.
one time it was 6 black men in a hotel room
i hate him jessica. i think i hate him. 

she asked why so many black men and he said bc they are the ones willing to do it

Cuck. It’s a great word. Aurally palindromic, beginning and ending with those nicely hard “k”s. It sounds nasty, a combination of cunt and fuck. Cuck is the Reddit, 4chan, fringe-right descriptor for leftist and liberal men. As has been written about extensively by a fascinated and aghast mainstream media, the term is a shortened version of cuckold, referring to a man whose wife has been fucked by another man — which itself comes from the cuckoo, a bird that lays its egg in another bird’s nest. By implication, a cuckold might be sexually, genetically, and financially violated: supporting another man’s child in his own home.

As has also been exhaustively discussed, “cuck,” as deployed in the right-wing manosphere, has racialized overtones: in other words, not only has a cuck’s wife been fucked by another man, but specifically by a black man. The baby in your nest does not belong to you — there has been an intruder, and what if the whole world can see it. The cuck thus compromises his standing among his fellow whites by supporting an alien interloper — which is why even conservative men who appear willing to negotiate with liberals get labeled “cuckservatives.” In this worldview, all that matters is white superiority demonstrated through white male ownership of white women, and any other kind of compromise (even political) gets experienced as a sexual violation.

The appearance of the right-wing use of the term “cuck” tracks with a simultaneous and explosive rise in the popularity of online “cuckold” and “interracial” gang-bang pornography — websites like Blacked or the ever-expanding Dogfart Network, a website of porn channels focused almost entirely on interracial gang bangs. Both websites are owned by white Jewish men — Blacked by Greg Lansky and Dogfart by Cable Rosenberg (which is why they sometimes pop up on neo-Nazi websites as proof of a Jewish-black conspiracy). It’s as if black lives insisting they matter — the coming end of white supremacy — triggers rage and fear among white males, and this in turn triggers the erotic impulse to act out those fears by putting black desire under their control.

There’s a direct link here between political anxiety and sexual desire (and the reverse, too: political desire and sexual anxiety) and it’s not new. Judith Giesberg’s 2017 book Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography and the Making of American Morality, for instance, describes the rise of a pornography that reflected specifically American anxieties and cravings related to race and power. In 1842, Congress banned the importation of illicit material, triggering domestic production of pornography. The growth of American porn over the following decade coincided with the explosion of abolitionist literature, which also strove to trigger visceral sensations in readers — and which was criticized for “appealing to readers’ base instincts.” Disgust, fear, and excitement went hand in hand, and readerly arousal could not be entirely controlled. Scenes of interracial sex — termed “amalgamation” — emerged, “accompanied by violence, explicit or implicit.” In Giesberg’s analysis, “antislavery writing both absorbed and contributed to an expansion of the antebellum erotic imagination.”

The allure — and threat — of interracial sex, particularly involving black men and white women, is central to the history traced in Linda Williams’s classic 2001 study Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson. Williams writes how, for every one reader of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s blockbuster novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at least five others saw a “Tom show.” These wildly popular theatrical reenactments of the novel were pre-copyright, multifarious, non-standard — and thus untraceable. We will never grasp their full impact on the American social imaginary. Williams describes what were called “double mammoth” Tom shows, which presented the novel twice in a row, with two separate casts performing two distinct versions: first as high sentimentality, then as extreme burlesque. Viewers would experience a range of sensations, from sadness to horror to hilarity — all inextricably entwined.

In Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (1993), Eric Lott writes: “Because of the power of the black penis in white American psychic life, the pleasure minstrelsy’s largely white and male audiences derived from their investment in ‘blackness’ always carried a threat of castration — a threat obsessively reversed in white lynching rituals.” Part of why we find it so difficult to discuss Manafort’s purported actions is that we cannot help taking a kind of voyeuristic pleasure in it. In so doing, we become complicit in a fetish fantasy based in a conception of black male sexuality that has historically contributed to carceralization of and terror toward black men.

Terror and desire, interpenetrating. We both desire and fear being penetrated by an alternative system that will change us and our relations with one another, irrevocably.

¤ 

Revelation 3.

And by the way, I Googled this guy Roger Stone, because he looks like he pays black guys to bang his wife. And I found out in 1996, he was forced to resign from Bob Dole’s campaign for asking black guys to bang his wife. I’m not kidding. Look it up, it’s fantastic. As a black man, I don’t know whether to feel offended, or a little appreciated.

— Michael CheSaturday Night Live (January 26, 2019)

The above joke, from a recent “Weekend Update” sketch, is the closest the Manafort material has come to reaching a wider audience. Tellingly, it’s displaced from Manafort onto his long-time business partner, Roger Stone, with whom he made the transition from early career Republican dirty trickster to powerful political consultant to, currently, indicted target of the Mueller investigation.

Roger Stone did not ask black guys to bang his wife. He did advertise for “exceptional muscular well-hung single men” to join him in three-ways with his wife (who seemed an enthusiastic participant). The National Enquirer’s exposé on the Stones’ swinging marriage lost Roger his role as Bob Dole’s political consultant during the ’96 presidential campaign. The humiliation appears to have been galvanizing for Stone, who transformed himself into a defiantly flamboyant agent provocateur, rat-fucking on more subterranean levels of the Republican party politic. Stone performs his public self as such an unapologetically sleazy bon vivant (he refers to himself as a “try-sexual” because he’ll “try anything”) it’s easy to make him the target of the joke.

Whole gossip industries run on . . .

Continue reading.

“Otherwise blameless” seems to cover a lot of territory, much of it exceedingly blameworthy.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2019 at 2:37 pm

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