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Does Glenn Greenwald Know More Than Robert Mueller?

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Simon van Zuylen-Wood writes in New York magazine:

It’s 10:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro time. Glenn Greenwald and I are finishing dinner at a deserted bistro in Ipanema. The restaurant, which serves its sweating beer bottles in metal buckets and goes heavy on the protein, is almost aggressively unremarkable (English menus on the table, a bossa-nova version of “Hey Jude” on the stereo). Greenwald avoids both meat and alcohol but seems to enjoy dining here. “I really believe that if I still lived in New York, the vast majority of my friends would be New York and Washington media people and I would kind of be implicitly co-opted.” He eats a panko-crusted shrimp. “It just gives me this huge buffer. You’ve seen how I live, right? When I leave my computer, that world disappears.”

Greenwald, now 50, has seemed to live in his own bubble in Rio for years, since well before he published Edward Snowden’s leaks and broke the domestic-spying story in 2013 — landing himself a Pulitzer Prize, a book deal, and, in time, the backing of a billionaire (that’s Pierre Omidyar) to start a muckraking, shit-stirring media empire (that’s First Look Media, home to the Intercept, though its ambitions have been downgraded over time). But he seems even more on his own since the election, just as the agitated left has regained the momentum it lost in the Obama years.

The reason is Russia. For the better part of two years, Greenwald has resisted the nagging bipartisan suspicion that Trumpworld is in one way or another compromised by a meddling foreign power. If there’s a conspiracy, he suspects, it’s one against the president; where others see collusion, he sees “McCarthyism.” Greenwald is predisposed to righteous posturing and contrarian eye-poking — and reflexively more skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community than of those it tells us to see as “enemies.”

And even if claims about Russian meddling are corroborated by Robert Mueller’s investigation, Greenwald’s not sure it adds up to much — some hacked emails changing hands, none all that damaging in their content, maybe some malevolent Twitter bots. In his eyes, the Russia-Trump story is a shiny red herring — one that distracts from the failures, corruption, and malice of the very Establishment so invested in promoting it. And when in January, as “Journalism Twitter” was chastising the president for one outrage or another, Congress quietly passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize sweeping NSA surveillance, you had to admit Greenwald might have been onto something.

“When Trump becomes the starting point and ending point for how we talk about American politics, [we] don’t end up talking about the fundamental ways the American political and economic and cultural system are completely fucked for huge numbers of Americans who voted for Trump for that reason,” he says. “We don’t talk about all the ways the Democratic Party is a complete fucking disaster and a corrupt, sleazy sewer, and not an adequate alternative to this far-right movement that’s taking over American politics.”

Greenwald’s been yelling about this, quite heatedly, since before the election. “In the Democratic Echo Chamber, Inconvenient Truths Are Recast As Putin Plots,” reads the headline of an Intercept piece published in October 2016. “The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook,” reads another, from February 2017. As Mueller’s investigation widened, no fallen domino — not the guilty plea of former Trump national-security adviser Michael Flynn, not the indictment of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — chastened Greenwald. When it was recently reported that Steve Bannon had lobbed a “treason” charge in the direction of Donald Trump Jr. — precipitating his break with the president — Greenwald rolled his eyes. Bannon’s “motives are pure & pristine and he is simply trying to inform the public about the truth,” Greenwald tweeted sarcastically.

This is a year in which even the most anti-Establishment liberals have found themselves rooting for Mueller, a Republican who ran George W. Bush’s war-on-terror FBI. “It is not an insubstantial portion of Democratic online loyalists who believe that if you deviate from Democratic Party orthodoxy on the Trump-Russia question, you are a paid Kremlin agent,” Greenwald says. And many of those who don’t believe Greenwald works for Vladimir Putin tend to think he does his bidding for free. “I love him,” says former Gawker editor John Cook, who worked with Greenwald at the Intercept. “He’s dead, tragically wrong on this.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2018 at 3:45 pm

The Assault on Reason

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Zia Haider Ramen writes in the NY Review of Books:

Albert Einstein was awarded a Nobel Prize not for his work on relativity, but for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. Both results, and others of note, were published in 1905, his annus mirabilis. The prize was denied him for well over a decade, with the Nobel Committee maintaining that relativity was yet unproven. Philosophers of science, most notably Karl Popper, have argued that for a theory to be regarded as properly scientific it must be capable of being contradicted by observation. In other words, it must yield falsifiable predictions—predictions that could, in principle, be shown to be wrong. On the basis of his theory, Einstein predicted that starlight was being deflected by the sun by specified degrees. This was a prediction that was, in principle, capable of being wrong and therefore capable of falsifying relativity. The physicist offered signs others could look for that would lend credibility to his theory—or refute it. Evidence eventually came from the work of Arthur Eddington and the arrival of instruments that could make sufficiently fine measurements, though Einstein’s Nobel medal would elude him for two more years because of gathering anti-Semitism in Europe.

Mathematics, so often lumped together with the sciences, actually adheres to an entirely different standard. A mathematical theorem never submits itself to hypothesis testing, never needs an experiment to support its validity. Once described to me as an education in thinking without the encumbrance of facts, mathematics is unlike the sciences in that no empirical finding can ever shift a mathematical theorem by one iota; it is true forever. Mathematical reasoning is a given, something commonly understood and shared by all mathematicians, because mathematical reasoning is, fundamentally, no more than logical reasoning, a thing universally shared. My own study of mathematics has left me with a deep respect for the distinction between relevance and irrelevance in making a reasoned argument.

These are the gold standards of human intellectual progress. Society, however, has to deal with wildly contested facts. We live in a post-truth world, by some accounts, in which facts are willfully bent to serve political ends. If the forty-fifth president is to be believed, Christmas has apparently been restored to the White House. Never mind the contradictory videos of the forty-fourth president and his family celebrating the holiday.

But there is nothing particularly new about this distorting. In his landmark work, Public Opinion, published in 1922, the formidable American journalist, Walter Lippmann reflected on the functions of the press:

That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.… as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.… Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts, as United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of saying. None of us is in a position, however, to verify all the facts presented to us. Somewhere, we each draw a line and say on this I will defer to so-and-so or such-and-such. We have only so many hours in the day. Besides, we acknowledge that some matters lie outside our expertise or even our capacity to comprehend. Doctors and lawyers make their livings on such basis.

But it is not merely facts that are under assault in the polarized politics of the US, the UK, and other nations twisting in the winds of what some call populism. There is also a troubling assault on reason.

Most of us grasp rudimentary principles of reasoning. We apply such principles in our daily lives, usually without reflection. Yes, the cognitive scientists tell us that human beings are irrational, and, if we’re not slaves to our passions, then at a minimum we’re led by an unruly twinning of reason and emotion. Nevertheless, whenever we stop ourselves and look at something shrewdly, we are capable of seeing basic errors of reasoning.

Consider the “whataboutism” of Donald Trump. Reporters might question him about the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but the American president seems unable to restrain himself from fulminating against Hillary Clinton. What about her and her lies, he asks? Why don’t you go after her? says the most powerful person on the planet.

One hopes most people would understand that his rejoinder is irrelevant. My beloved godson might misbehave and incur my gentle reprimand, but if he were to complain in defense that his friend Jeremy had done what he’d done, I would explain that Jeremy’s conduct does not provide the standards he should apply to himself. Jeremy’s conduct is irrelevant. Besides, Jeremy is a teddy bear and, as everyone knows, teddy bears can be quite naughty.

Whataboutism is only a deflection. But it succeeds as a political strategy because not everyone grasps the irrelevance; not everyone understands the importance of good reasoning.

A class-action lawsuit last year claimed that Donald Trump’s so-called University was essentially a fraud on students. Trump was evidently enraged by the judge’s decision to order the university to release certain documents that might damage the university’s defense. Trump told a rally that the judge was appointed by Barack Obama. “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great, I think that’s fine.” The judge was born in Indiana, the American heartland. In an interview on CNN, Trump said, “I’ve had horrible rulings, I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, OK? I’m building a wall.” Bizarrely, Trump maintained that the judge’s background presented a conflict of interest.

In Britain, too, attacks on judges have come from all quarters over the years, often led by the press. The language has ranged from critiquing the reasoning of the judiciary in a given case, to describing judges of the High Court as enemies of the people, language normally reserved, one would have thought, for terrorists and traitors. Had these men set off a bomb in the Royal Courts of Justice? Had they transmitted state secrets to Vladimir Putin? It turned out that the High Court had ruled that the Constitution of the United Kingdom did not permit the government to use the royal prerogative to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and that an Act of Parliament would be required. The newspaper—the hugely popular Daily Mail—did not feel the need to wait for the outcome of any appeal to the Supreme Court, which, by the way, resoundingly upheld the lower court’s ruling.

On close examination, instances of attacks on the judiciary, in the US, in the UK, and around the world, disclose an assault on reason itself. Legal reasoning is not a science, still less a branch of mathematics. But over a long history, the manner of reasoning in the law has evolved into a form with clear principles and tried and tested modes of argumentation. Judges might be said to be defying the will of millions of citizens, but the will of the people is irrelevant to the work of a judge. This irrelevance is something in which we Britons can rightly take pride. Judges are not adjudicating a talent contest in which they might be swayed by the pleading of the audience. They are trying to apply legal reasoning. That’s their job, a job clarified over centuries of struggling for independence. We should no more desire a judiciary that bends to public opinion than allow our police forces to become instruments of a governing political party. When judges keep to legal reasoning, day in, day out, we are all beneficiaries.

Authoritarian tendencies know that warping the facts is only a start. Warping reason and logic and clarity of thought is the holy grail. George Orwell knew this, too. In his masterpiece, 1984, he wrote: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2018 at 7:09 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Politics

Congressman Combating Harassment Settled His Own Misconduct Case

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This sort of thing seemed to happen frequently in the military, where the officer responsible for fighting sexual assault and harassment was found later to be guilty of same. Katie Rogers and Kenneth Vogel report in the NY Times:

Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement.

A married father of three, Mr. Meehan, 62, had long expressed interest in the personal life of the aide, who was decades younger and had regarded the congressman as a father figure, according to three people who worked with the office and four others with whom she discussed her tenure there.

But after the woman became involved in a serious relationship with someone outside the office last year, Mr. Meehan professed his romantic desires for her — first in person, and then in a handwritten letter — and he grew hostile when she did not reciprocate, the people familiar with her time in the office said.

Life in the office became untenable, so she initiated the complaint process, started working from home and ultimately left the job. She later reached a confidential agreement with Mr. Meehan’s office that included a settlement for an undisclosed amount to be paid from Mr. Meehan’s congressional office fund.

After this article was published online on Saturday, John Elizandro, Mr. Meehan’s communications director, issued a statement saying that the congressman “denies these allegations” and “has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism.” . . .

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And see also “House and Senate Are ‘Among the Worst’ for Harassment, Representative Says.” That article begins:

A senior Senate staff member is accused of trying to tug open a junior aide’s wrap dress at a bar; she said he asked why she was “holding out.” A former aide says a congressman grabbed her backside, then winked as he walked away. A district worker said a House member told her to twirl in a dress for him, then gave her a bonus when he liked what he saw. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2018 at 12:47 pm

Pope Francis, company man: He shocked Chile by accusing victims of pedophile priests of slander

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Kevin Cullen writes in the Boston Globe:

Let the record show that the promise of Pope Francis died in Santiago, Chile, on Jan. 18, in the year of our Lord 2018.

When Pope Francis slandered victims of sexual abuse, ironically by accusing those very victims of slandering a Chilean bishop who was complicit in that abuse, he confirmed what some critics have said all along, what I have always resisted embracing: Pope Francis is a company man, no better than his predecessors when it comes to siding with the institutional Roman Catholic Church against any who would criticize it or those, even children, who have been victimized by it.

I offer my hearty congratulations to His Holiness, His Eminence, or whatever self-regarding, officious title that his legion of coat holders, admirers, apologists, and enablers insist we, the great unwashed, call him. Because he has revealed himself like no one else could.

By saying he needs to see proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the abuse perpetrated by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, Francis has shown himself to be the Vatican’s newest Doubting Thomas. And it’s not a good look.

The pope’s outrageous slander of Karadima’s victims is all the more stunning and disgraceful because the Vatican itself had in 2011 accepted the truth of what those victims said and sentenced Karadima to what it called a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for abusing young people. Sounds like how a previous pope “punished” Cardinal Bernard Law for his dutiful coverup of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston by putting him in charge of one of the great basilicas of Rome and giving him digs in a palatial apartment where he was waited on hand and foot by servile nuns. Some punishment. Where do I sign up?

And just what exactly would constitute the proof that Pope Francis is now seeking, years after the Vatican accepted the claims of Karadima’s victims, who said Bishop Barros facilitated the abuse by refusing to take action against Karadima even though he knew Karadima was a predator?

Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima’s victims and one of Bishop Barros’s most outspoken critics, put it this way: “As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all.”

Like others who have been physically assaulted by priests and mentally tortured by the craven complicity and inaction of bishops who are supposed to protect their flock from predators in Roman collars, Cruz has ruefully concluded that Pope Francis is no better than the others.

“These people are truly crazy,” Cruz said, “and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”

Empty. Good word. Describes what an increasing number of Catholic churches in Chile and in many other countries are becoming.

Oh, well, lucky for the Vatican, there are still many places where people are horribly poor, sadly uneducated, and not served by a robust, free press, where deference to the clergy and the majesty of the Vatican is still as thick as the fine robes that some of the worst enablers of sexual abuse hide behind.

It should be noted that, for all the talk of Pope Francis cutting a new path for the Catholic Church, he was elected by a conclave of cardinals that included some of those cynical and criminal enablers of abuse, like the disgraced and disgraceful former archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony.

To be honest — and the good Sisters of Providence who taught me at Cheverus School in Malden always stressed the importance of honesty — I knew that Francis was no different, that he was right out of central Vatican casting, last year, when Marie Collins quit the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors that Francis had created to much fanfare.

Collins, who was molested by a priest when she was 13, quit the panel because the Vatican was resisting genuine reform. I met Collins years ago in Ireland, where she is from and where I at one time lived, and I think she is a courageous, compassionate person who understands what sexual abuse at the hands of priests can do to one’s soul better than any of the mandarins in the Vatican, including the pope.

That commission, headed by the pope’s closest American confidant, Boston’s own Cardinal Sean O’Malley, was allowed to expire last month without an explanation from the same pope who took figurative bows for forming it in the first place. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2018 at 9:39 am

Russians under every rock

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

Amid the shutdown scramble, McClatchy broke a Russia scandal blockbuster:

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

Torshin is one of a number of shady Russian characters who operate in the overlapping spheres of business and corrupt Russian politics.

Torshin, a leading figure in Putin’s party, has been implicated in money laundering by judicial authorities in Spain, as Bloomberg News first revealed in 2016. Spanish investigators alleged in an almost 500-page internal report that Torshin, who was then a senator, capitalized on his government role to assist mobsters laundering funds through Spanish properties and banks, Bloomberg reported. A summary obtained by McClatchy of the still-secret report links Torshin to Russian money laundering and describes him as a godfather in a major Russian criminal organization called Taganskaya.

What is remarkable is that Torshin also had direct contact, according to reports, with Donald Trump Jr. The Center for American Progress’s Moscow Project found:

Donald Trump Jr. met over dinner with Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, a former Russian Senator and a close Putin ally, at the NRA convention in 2016. Around the same time, Torshin reportedly attempted to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump. Jared Kushner was later criticized for failing to disclose this attempt.

Moreover, Torshin pops up again, at least indirectly:

Maria Butina, who previously worked for Torshin, founded the group “The Right to Bear Arms” to advocate for Russian gun owners in 2011. Julia Ioffe has credited Butina, through her formation of this group, with “almost single-handedly inventing Russia’s gun-rights movement.” The group advocates higher gun ownership rates in the name of self-defense. Butina reportedly currently resides in D.C., where she attends American University as a graduate student.

Russians have exceedingly few gun rights, so the group seems designed for external activities.

So what’s going on here? “If you were running an influence operation with the goal of subverting 70 years of Republican hawkishness on Russia, infiltrating the right’s most powerful lobbying group wouldn’t be a bad way to do it,” CAP’s Max Bergmann, who heads the Moscow Project, tells me. “We already know that at least some of the people that tried to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government did so under the guise of their ‘shared values’ on gun rights and sometimes did so through NRA channels.” But of course since Russia has no real gun rights movement, Bergmann posits that this outfit “has all the markings of a Kremlin front, created with the intention to, in the words of former CIA director John Brennan, ‘suborn individuals‘ in the United States.”

The remarkable part about the Trump campaign is not the appearance of a single Kremlin-connected figure. It is that  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2018 at 2:50 pm

“Harvey’s Concern Was Who Did Him In”: Inside Harvey Weinstein’s Frantic Final Days

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Like the previous post, this one concerns a deeply damaged and dysfunctional man. Adam Ciralsky writes in Vanity Fair:

On Monday, October 2, 2017, Harvey Weinstein arrived at work earlier than usual. As was his custom, he barked orders and moved from room to room inside his spacious office suite at 375 Greenwich Street, the New York City headquarters of the Weinstein Company (T.W.C.), a beautiful old red-brick factory building that had been converted into a center of the film universe.
The producer had formed the enterprise some 12 years earlier after he and his brother and partner, Bob Weinstein, exited their fabled Miramax operation, home to such critical and commercial successes as Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape. And during an equally successful tenure at T.W.C., the brothers, whose films have generated an astounding 81 Oscars since 1999, had ushered into the world The King’s Speech, Inglourious Basterds, Silver Linings Playbook,and The Artist. Now, however, T.W.C., the cinematic supernova, was suddenly imploding. And it was about to consume Weinstein the man and the brand.
The New York Times and The New Yorker, Harvey Weinstein knew, were moving forward with exposés of his personal behavior, going back decades. At first, the producer hewed to a strategy that, in the past, had served him well. He enlisted marquee attorneys to defend him, in this case assembling a legal dream team that eventually came to include renowned litigator David Boies, celebrity lawyer Lisa Bloom (the daughter of high-profile attorney Gloria Allred), and Charles Harder, who had filed the lawsuit that put Gawker out of business. Using combative advocacy for cover, Weinstein also deployed former intelligence operatives and a private-security firm, who were tasked with investigating his potential accusers, journalists reporting the story, and those who might be ratting him out to the press.

But as Weinstein saw that his time and his options were running out, he began to scramble. And as revealed here for the first time, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Weinstein and a coterie of loyalists—according to a dozen current and former T.W.C. employees and Weinstein advisers, as well as the initial findings of an internal company investigation—would allegedly spend his last days at the company searching for and trying to delete documents; absconding with others; surveilling ex-employees’ online communications; and seeking to discover who, in the end, had orchestrated his downfall.

Today, as the #MeToo movement (amplified by allegations about Weinstein) continues to gain strength, and as an array of investor groups have been circling T.W.C. with bids to raise the company from the ashes, this is a tale of the tawdry battle that was waged from inside the Weinstein bunker last fall as the movie mogul made what may prove to be his last stand.

For months, members of T.W.C.’s senior staff had heard rumblings that journalists were combing through Weinstein’s past. And yet, management asserted it did not know the depths of his alleged misdeeds or that, in some cases, he may have misled them about the focus and intensity of the reporting. “Look, anybody who tells you that we didn’t know [certain] things about Harvey is full of shit,” a close Weinstein confidant admitted. “We knew he was a bully, we knew he had a bad temper, and we knew he was a philanderer.” But, as the source went on to explain, “what I know today is somebody completely different. Black ops, Mossad agents [working to gather dirt on his enemies], covering stuff up, [alleged] rape . . . despicable behavior. . . . We heard the r-word only two or three weeks before [the Times storybroke].”
Nicole Quenqua, T.W.C.’s head of publicity, said she had been kept in the dark as well. Seven days before the Times piece would become public, Weinstein invited her to join him at the Tribeca Grill, Robert De Niro’s restaurant downstairs from the T.W.C. offices. And even though Quenqua was in charge of publicity and marketing, it was the first time, she said, that her boss had opened up to her, if cryptically, about the forthcoming news stories about him. “Everything’s going to be fine,” she recalled him assuring her as he ate a serving of sorbet covered with colored sprinkles. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I mean, I might have done some things that are immoral. But I didn’t do anything that was illegal.”
In those frantic final days, Weinstein’s appearance—haggard in the best of times—was deteriorating. “He looked awful and could not focus,” said one colleague, who added that the producer was under tremendous financial pressure. “He was burning through [money]” on attorneys and other advisers and, whether related or not, was working to unload some of his real estate. (He reportedly became so strapped for funds that he requested suspension of child-support payments to two daughters from his marriage to Eve Chilton, a former assistant of his.) . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2018 at 10:24 am

The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought

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Eric Newcomer and Brad Stone write in Businessweek:

A year ago, before the investor lawsuits and the federal investigations, before the mass resignations, and before the connotation of the word “Uber” shifted from “world’s most valuable startup” to “world’s most dysfunctional,” Uber’s executives sat around a hotel conference room table in San Francisco, trying to convince their chief executive officer, Travis Kalanick, that the company had a major problem: him.

The executives were armed that day with something unusual for Uber Technologies Inc.: the results of a survey. Kalanick operated by gut feeling and with a stubborn sense of how people should feel, not how they did. Jeff Jones, Uber’s new president and former chief marketing officer for Target Corp., wanted more substantial insights. Conclusions drawn from the survey were printed and hanging on the walls. About half the respondents had a positive impression of Uber and its convenient ride-hailing app. But if respondents knew anything about Kalanick, an inveterate flouter of both workplace conventions and local transportation laws, they had a decidedly negative view.

As usual with Kalanick, the discussion grew contentious. Jones and his deputies argued that Uber’s riders and drivers viewed the company as made up of a bunch of greedy, self-centered jerks. And as usual, Kalanick retorted that the company had a public-relations problem, not a cultural one.

Then a top executive excused herself to answer a phone call. A minute later, she reappeared and asked Kalanick to step into the hallway. Another executive joined them. They hunched over a laptop to watch a video that had just been posted online by Bloomberg News: grainy, black-and-white dashcam footage of Kalanick in the back seat of an UberBlack on Super Bowl weekend, heatedly arguing over fares with a driver named Fawzi Kamel.

“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit!” Kalanick can be heard yelling at Kamel. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else!”

As the clip ended, the three stood in stunned silence. Kalanick seemed to understand that his behavior required some form of contrition. According to a person who was there, he literally got down on his hands and knees and began squirming on the floor. “This is bad,” he muttered. “I’m terrible.”

Then, contrition period over, he got up, called a board member, demanded a new PR strategy, and embarked on a yearlong starring role as the villain who gets his comeuppance in the most gripping startup drama since the dot-com bubble. It’s a story that, until now, has never been fully told.

The melodrama began, in a sense, with Donald Trump. On Jan. 27 the newly inaugurated president issued his executive order imposing border restrictions on people from seven Muslim countries. Outrage erupted. People took to the streets; tech workers in Silicon Valley walked out of their offices in symbolic protest. And in New York, a small union called the New York Taxi Workers Alliance declared that there would be no taxi pickups from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

For Uber, that would create extra demand at the airport, which meant it could charge more—but this would probably cause a backlash. That had happened before when the company let its “surge pricing” algorithms do their thing. So the New York managers decided to be good citizens and suspend surge pricing for the night.

The backlash hit anyway. After years of negative revelations—spying on passengers, dubious driverless-car experiments in San Francisco, the CEO’s bragging about sexual conquests, to name just a few—the public was already inclined to believe the worst of Uber. If the company wasn’t price gouging this time, maybe it was trying to break up the JFK strike. A new hashtag was trending on Twitter: #deleteuber. Users deleted their accounts by the thousands. Lyft Inc., the rival service that branded itself the anti-Uber, capitalized on the moment and donated $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Further stoking the flames was Kalanick’s decision to join Trump’s business advisory council. Kalanick argued that his participation in the council wasn’t an endorsement of the president; he just wanted a seat at the table, along with Elon Musk, International Business Machines Corp.’s Ginni Rometty, and Walt Disney Co.’s Bob Iger. But intentions didn’t seem to matter. Criticism from riders and drivers intensified, and Kalanick spent days talking to his executives about what to do. They considered whether he should go to the first meeting and find some pretense to object and leave; he even floated the idea of wearing a protest T-shirt to the council meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ultimately, Kalanick decided the whole thing wasn’t worth the trouble and his minders set up a call so he could politely say no to Trump. A chronic pacer, Kalanick walked away from his desk at the appointed time. The first call from the White House came—and went to Kalanick’s voicemail. Then came the second call. Trump was on the line, and Kalanick walked into a glass-walled conference room to deliver the news. The conversation apparently went as one would expect. Kalanick emerged to tell his colleagues that the president was “super un-pumped.”

In mid-February, an engineer named Susan Fowler penned a blog post, “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” about the sexual harassment she had witnessed in her time at the company. The explosive response to that post prompted Kalanick to hire Eric Holder Jr., the former U.S. attorney general and a partner at the firm Covington & Burling LLP, to lead an investigation into Fowler’s claims. “We will leave no stones unturned,” Holder told Bloomberg News at the start of his inquiry. “This company has one opportunity to get this right.”

But the hits kept coming. The infamous dashcam footage surfaced; a few weeks later, the New York Times reported on a secret Uber technology called Greyball, which the company developed to identify and deny service to riders who had violated the company’s contractual terms. In some cities and countries, Uber managers used Greyball to avoid picking up taxi inspectors and other law enforcement officials who might want to ticket drivers or shut the service down.

A common factor in all these crises was Kalanick’s unrelenting combativeness. In meetings, he would alternately impress and alienate employees, investors, and his board. Over time, he turned a lot of friends into enemies with stories to tell. Jones, the president who had commissioned the public survey, resigned in March after only six months on the job, citing differences over “beliefs and approach to leadership.” In exit interviews with Uber board members, he was more specific, excoriating Kalanick’s shotgun management style and unwillingness to listen. Jones seemed so eager to leave the company that he declined to negotiate an exit package, potentially leaving millions of dollars behind.

Google, too, should have been an ally. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2018 at 9:25 am

Posted in Business, Law, Technology

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