Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Being gay, one quickly becomes accustomed to being viewed as "other" - and even worthy of death according to numerous "godly Christian" pastors. So for me, it is easy to understand the term tribalism which drives us to identify with and surround ourselves with those like us or with similar beliefs. But the downside is that it can cause divisions in society as a whole. America now finds itself largely as a divided camp with those on the right, namely religious extremists, racists, those embracing ignorance and the greed driven facing off against those who are secular, educated, and accepting of those who are different in terms of skin color, religious faith (or no faith) and ethnicity. In a very lengthy piece in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan poses the question of whether or not America can survive this new tribalism. Sadly, in my view, he gives a false equivalence to the far right and the far left when it is the far right that deserves the most severe condemnation. It is on the right, not the left that one sees racism and religious based hatred as two of the pillars of the dogma of the right which results in a total denial of the common humanity we all share. Add to this the greed of the GOP agenda that would literally throw millions into the gutter so that the wealthy can enjoy enormous tax cuts, and there simply is no equivalence between the agenda/tribalism of the right and that of the liberals and left. Here are highlights from Sullivan's column:
From time to time, I’ve wondered what it must be like to live in a truly tribal society. Watching Iraq or Syria these past few years, you get curious about how the collective mind can come so undone. What’s it like to see the contours of someone’s face, or hear his accent, or learn the town he’s from, and almost reflexively know that he is your foe? How do you live peacefully for years among fellow citizens and then find yourself suddenly engaged in the mass murder of humans who look similar to you, live around you, and believe in the same God, but whose small differences in theology mean they must be killed before they kill you? In the Balkans, a long period of relative peace imposed by communism was shattered by brutal sectarian and ethnic warfare, as previously intermingled citizens split into unreconcilable groups. The same has happened in a developed democratic society — Northern Ireland — and in one of the most successful countries in Africa, Kenya.
Tribal loyalties turned Beirut, Lebanon’s beautiful, cosmopolitan capital, into an urban wasteland in the 1970s; they caused close to a million deaths in a few months in Rwanda in the 1990s; they are turning Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, into an enabler of ethnic cleansing right now in Myanmar. British imperialists long knew that the best way to divide and conquer was by creating “countries” riven with tribal differences. Not that they were immune: Even in successful modern democracies like Britain and Spain, the tribes of Scots and Catalans still threaten a viable nation-state. In all these places, the people involved have been full citizens of their respective nations, but their deepest loyalty is to something else.
Over the past couple of decades in America, the enduring, complicated divides of ideology, geography, party, class, religion, and race have mutated into something deeper, simpler to map, and therefore much more ominous. I don’t just mean the rise of political polarization (although that’s how it often expresses itself), nor the rise of political violence (the domestic terrorism of the late 1960s and ’70s was far worse), nor even this country’s ancient black-white racial conflict (though its potency endures).
I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other.
I mean two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white; where one tribe lives on the coasts and in the cities and the other is scattered across a rural and exurban expanse; where one tribe holds on to traditional faith and the other is increasingly contemptuous of religion altogether; where one is viscerally nationalist and the other’s outlook is increasingly global; where each dominates a major political party; and, most dangerously, where both are growing in intensity as they move further apart.
The project of American democracy — to live beyond such tribal identities, to construct a society based on the individual, to see ourselves as citizens of a people’s republic, to place religion off-limits, and even in recent years to embrace a multiracial and post-religious society — was always an extremely precarious endeavor. It rested, from the beginning, on an 18th-century hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. It failed once, spectacularly, in the most brutal civil war any Western democracy has experienced in modern times. And here we are, in an equally tribal era, with a deeply divisive president who is suddenly scrambling Washington’s political alignments, about to find out if we can prevent it from failing again.
For the overwhelming majority of our time on this planet, the tribe was the only form of human society. . . . Tribal cohesion was essential to survival, and our first religions emerged for precisely this purpose. . . . Religion therefore fused with communal identity and purpose, it was integral to keeping the enterprise afloat, and the idea of people within a tribe believing in different gods was incomprehensible. Such heretics would be killed.Comparatively few actual tribes exist today, but that doesn’t mean that humans are genetically much different. . . . Successful modern democracies do not abolish this feeling; they co-opt it. Healthy tribalism endures in civil society in benign and overlapping ways. We find a sense of belonging, of unconditional pride, in our neighborhood and community; in our ethnic and social identities and their rituals; among our fellow enthusiasts.
None of this is a problem. Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller, multiple loyalties; when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole; and when it turns rival tribes into enemies. And the most significant fact about American tribalism today is that all three of these characteristics now apply to our political parties, corrupting and even threatening our system of government.
[I]n the first half of the 20th century, with immigration sharply curtailed after 1924, the world wars acted as great unifiers and integrators. Our political parties became less polarized by race, as the FDR Democrats managed to attract more black voters as well as ethnic and southern whites. By 1956, nearly 40 percent of black voters still backed the GOP.
But we all know what happened next. The re-racialization of our parties began with Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964, when the GOP lost almost all of the black vote. It accelerated under Nixon’s “southern strategy” in the wake of the civil-rights revolution. By Reagan’s reelection, the two parties began to cohere again into the Civil War pattern, and had simply swapped places.
Mass illegal Latino immigration added to the tribal mix as the GOP, led most notably by Pete Wilson in California, became increasingly defined by white immigration restrictionists, and Hispanics moved to the Democrats. Newt Gingrich’s revolutionary GOP then upped the ante, treating President Bill Clinton as illegitimate from the start, launching an absurd impeachment crusade, and destroying the comity that once kept Washington from complete partisan dysfunction. Abortion and gay rights further split urban and rural America.
Then there were other accelerants: The arrival of talk radio in the 1980s, Fox News in the ’90s, and internet news and MSNBC in the aughts; the colossal blunder of the Iraq War, which wrecked the brief national unity after 9/11; and the rise of partisan gerrymandering that allowed the GOP to win, in 2016, 49 percent of the vote but 55 percent of House seats. (A recent study found that a full fifth of current districts are more convoluted than the original, contorted district that first gave us the term gerrymander in 1812.) The greatest threat to a politician today therefore is less a candidate from the opposing party than a more ideologically extreme primary opponent. The incentives for cross-tribal compromise have been eviscerated, and those for tribal extremism reinforced.
The result of all this is that a lopsided 69 percent of white Christians now vote Republican, while the Democrats get only 31. In the last decade, the gap in Christian identification between Democrats and Republicans has increased by 50 percent. In 2004, 44 percent of Latinos voted Republican for president; in 2016, 29 percent did. Forty-three percent of Asian-Americans voted Republican in 2004; in 2016, 29 percent did. Since 2004, the most populous urban counties have also swung decisively toward the Democrats, in both blue and red states, while rural counties have shifted sharply to the GOP. When three core components of a tribal identity — race, religion, and geography — define your political parties, you’re in serious trouble.
Some countries where tribal cleavages spawned by ethnic and linguistic differences have long existed understand this and have constructed systems of government designed to ameliorate the consequences. Unlike the U.S., they encourage a culture of almost pathological compromise, or build constitutions that, unlike our own, take tribal conflict seriously. They often have a neutral head of state — a constitutional monarch or nonpartisan president — so that the legitimacy of the system is less easily defined by one tribe or the other. They tend to have proportional representation and more than two parties, so it’s close to impossible for one party to govern without some sort of coalition.
The United States is built on a very different set of institutions. There is no neutral presidency here, and so when a rank tribalist wins the office and governs almost entirely in the interests of the hardest core of his base, half the country understandably feels as if it were under siege. Our two-party, winner-take-all system only works when both parties are trying to appeal to the same constituencies on a variety of issues.
Our undemocratic electoral structure exacerbates things. Donald Trump won 46 percent of the vote, attracting 3 million fewer voters than his opponent, but secured 56 percent of the Electoral College. Republicans won 44 percent of the vote in the Senate seats up for reelection last year, but 65 percent of the seats. To have one tribe dominate another is one thing; to have the tribe that gained fewer votes govern the rest — and be the head of state — is testing political stability.
And so by 2017, 41 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats said they disagreed not just with their opponents’ political views but with their values and goals beyond politics as well. Nearly 60 percent of all Americans find it stressful even to talk about Trump with someone who disagrees with them. A Monmouth poll, for good measure, recently found that 61 percent of Trump supporters say there’s nothing he could do to make them change their minds about him; 57 percent of his opponents say the same thing. Nothing he could do.
Conservatism thrived in America when it was dedicated to criticizing liberalism’s failures, engaging with it empirically, and offering practical alternatives to the same problems. It has since withered into an intellectual movement that does little but talk to itself and guard its ideological boundaries. To be a conservative critic of George W. Bush, for example, meant risking not just social ostracism but, for many, loss of livelihood. . . . so, among tribal conservatives, the Iraq War remained a taboo topic when it wasn’t still regarded as a smashing success, tax cuts were still the solution to every economic woe, free trade was all benefit and no cost, and so on. Health care was perhaps the most obvious example of this intellectual closure. Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act was immediate and total. Even though the essential contours of the policy had been honed at the Heritage Foundation, even though a Republican governor had pioneered it in Massachusetts, and even though that governor became the Republican nominee in 2012, the anathematization of it defined the GOP for seven years. After conservative writer David Frum dared to argue that a moderate, market-oriented reform to the health-care system was not the ideological hill for the GOP to die on, he lost his job at the American Enterprise Institute.
As for indifference to reality, today’s Republicans cannot accept that human-produced carbon is destroying the planet, . . . . Republicans cannot own the fact that big tax cuts have not trickled down, or that President Bush authorized the brutal torture of prisoners, thereby unequivocally committing war crimes.
And then there is the stance of white Evangelicals, a pillar of the red tribe. Among their persistent concerns has long been the decline of traditional marriage, the coarsening of public discourse, and the centrality of personal virtue to the conduct of public office. In the 1990s, they assailed Bill Clinton as the font of decadence; then they lionized George W. Bush, who promised to return what they often called “dignity” to the Oval Office. And yet when a black Democrat with exemplary personal morality, impeccable public civility, a man devoted to his wife and children and a model for African-American fathers, entered the White House, they treated him as a threat to civilization. . . . . And when they encountered a foulmouthed pagan who bragged of grabbing women by the pussy, used the tabloids to humiliate his wife, married three times, boasted about the hotness of his own daughter, touted the size of his own dick in a presidential debate, and spoke of avoiding STDs as his personal Vietnam, they gave him more monolithic support than any candidate since Reagan, including born-again Bush and squeaky-clean Romney.
How to unwind this increasingly dangerous dysfunction? It’s not easy to be optimistic with Trump as president. And given his malignant narcissism, despotic instincts, absence of empathy, and constant incitement of racial and xenophobic hatred, it’s extremely hard not to be tribal in return. There is no divide he doesn’t want to deepen, no conflict he doesn’t want to start or intensify. How on earth can we not “resist”?
|Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, a/k/a the Palmetto Queen - cohorts in cruelty|
Apparently the zeal of Republicans to give a huge tax cut to the wealthiest Americans is never ending. Hence, yet another effort to cobble together 50 votes for perhaps the ugliest GOP repeal and "replace" Trumpcare bill yet. As with the previous GOP bills, this latest abomination would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose health care coverage and punish states that expanded Medicaid and sought to bring health care attainability to the working poor and others previously not qualifying for coverage. Once again, it may be Republican women who may block the most cruel and heartless agenda of male Republicans in the U.S. Senate although that verdict is still out. John McCain is remaining mum on his view of this latest example of the GOP's reverse Robin Hood effort to bring about a new Gilded Age. The New York Times lets loose on Republicans in a main editorial. Here are editorial excerpts:
Republican lawmakers have wasted much of the year trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a move that would deprive millions of people of health insurance. They’re back at it. Like a bad sequel to a terrible movie, a proposal whose main architects are Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would in many ways be worse than bills that came before. It would punish states like California and New York that have done the most to increase access to health care and set in motion cuts to Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides insurance to nearly 70 million people, many of whom are disabled and elderly.
This is not an idle threat. President Trump wants this bill passed by the end of next week, before the expiration of a budget rule that allows the chamber to pass a health care bill with only 50 votes (and a tiebreaker from the vice president). It’s unclear whether the votes are there, . . .
It is hard to overstate the cruelty of the Graham-Cassidy bill. It would eliminate the mandate that even healthy people buy health insurance, end the subsidies that help people purchase coverage and stop the expansion of Medicaid. It would offer states block grants they could use to help people get insurance but would leave people at the mercy of individual state legislatures and, over all, would provide $239 billion less than what the federal government would spend under current law between 2020 and 2026, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Worse, the formula for determining state grants would penalize the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under the A.C.A. so as to provide more money to the 19 states that did not. This is a cynical attempt to win votes by taking money from generous states that are more likely to be governed by Democrats and giving some of it to representatives of stingier states that are more likely to elect Republicans.
Graham-Cassidy would further cripple Medicaid by putting a per-person cap on what the federal government spends on the program. Under current law, federal spending increases automatically to keep up with the rise in medical costs; a per-capita cap would leave governors, who are ultimately in charge of administering Medicaid, in the unenviable position of denying care to poor and older Americans.
The rush job proposed by Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Graham and endorsed by the president is deeply unfair and leaves other lawmakers with little time to understand what’s in the bill or its true costs. The Congressional Budget Office says it will not be able to determine the full impact of the legislation, including its effect on premiums and the number of people who have insurance, for several weeks.
The Senate should show a little patience; a better, more humane option awaits it. Senators Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, are working on a bill that would strengthen the A.C.A. by appropriating money for health subsidies that help low-income families; Mr. Trump has threatened to end those payments administratively. Mr. Alexander and Ms. Murray expect to produce their legislation this week.
Let's hope that the Cassidy/Graham bill fails and that the Alexander/Murray bill moves forward. Meanwhile, it is needful to remember that a hallmark of today's GOP is cruelty to the less fortunate not to mention the coddling of white supremacists.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Paul Manafort may be indicted any day now, Facebook has been served with search warrants for specific foreign owned - read Russian - accounts and questions grow as to how Russians could so specifically target their anti-Hillary posts and fake news that sought to push voters to the Trump campaign. One possible source of assistance to the Russians receiving growing scrutiny is Jared Kushner's data operation he created to assist in Der Trumpenführer's campaign efforts. If this can be proven, obviously the charges that the campaign colluded with Russians who were in effect giving illegal contributions to the campaign, pretty boy Prince Jared could find himself in very serious trouble. A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the growing focus on Kushner and his data operation. Here are highlights:
The headlines were about Facebook admitting it had sold ad space to Russian groups trying to sway the 2016 presidential campaign. But investigators shrugged: they’d known or assumed for months that Facebook, as well as Twitter and other social-media platforms, were a tool used in the Kremlin’s campaign. “The only thing that’s surprising is that more revelations like this haven’t come out sooner,” said Congressman Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And I expect that more will.”
Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics?
“By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh. Indeed: probers are intrigued by the role of Jared Kushner, the now-president’s son-in-law, who eagerly took credit for crafting the Trump campaign’s online efforts in a rare interview right after the 2016 election.
Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.”
Senator Martin Heinrich is leading the charge to update American election laws so that the origins of political ads on social media are at least as transparent as those on TV and in print. Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is tracing Russia’s 2016 tactics. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich said, . . . . . “Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of this campaign. If there is a person who I think is very sophisticated in this stuff, and runs in pretty dicey circles, that is the place where I would dig.”
(Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. . . . . And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”
Or perhaps the chaotic Trump campaign unwittingly enlisted Russian-connected proxies who were eager to exploit any opening to damage Hillary Clinton’s run. It’s also plausible that Trump’s long-shot, anti-establishment bid was willing to take on assistance without asking too many questions. “Are we connecting the dots? I’m finding more dots,” said Quigley, who recently traveled to Prague and Budapest to learn more about the history of Russian influence campaigns. “I believe there was coordination, and I’m going to leave it at that for now.”
Having worked as a special consultant to the the FBI and the U.S Attorney's Office on several occasions, I have seen first hand that sometimes one of the tactics prosecutors may utilize is to indict one target with the goal of causing the targeted individual to opt to go "state's evidence" against other possible targets in exchange for the workout of the a plea deal for the benefit of the initially indicted target. As the New York Times is reporting, Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort may be facing an imminent indict in connection with Manafort's dealings with Russia and his communications with Der Trumpenführer. Reports at CNN seem to confirm the fact that Manafort was under surveillance both before the November 8, 2016, election AND after that date. Obviously, part of special prosecutor Robert Mueller's plan maybe to convince Manafort that it is in his best interests to testify Trump and other Trump campaign members in order to save his own ass (self-preservation often trumps - no pun intended - loyalty to others). It must also be remembered that search warrants are only issued after prosecutors have convinced a judge that there is probably cause that crimes have been committed. Here are highlights from the Times story:
Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.
The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors in the four months since taking over the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, according to lawyers, witnesses and American officials who have described the approach. Dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations, Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry.
Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them. One witness was called before the grand jury less than a month after his name surfaced in news accounts. The special counsel even took the unusual step of obtaining a subpoena for one of Mr. Manafort’s former lawyers, claiming an exception to the rule that shields attorney-client discussions from scrutiny.
“They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’”
Few people can upend Washington like a federal prosecutor rooting around a presidential administration, and Mr. Mueller, a former F.B.I. director, is known to dislike meandering investigations that languish for years. At the same time, he appears to be taking a broad view of his mandate: examining not just the Russian disruption campaign and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates assisted in the effort, but also any financial entanglements with Russians going back several years. He is also investigating whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice when he fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director. The wide-ranging nature of Mr. Mueller’s investigation could put him on a collision course with Mr. Trump, who has said publicly that Mr. Mueller should keep his investigation narrowly focused on last year’s presidential campaign. Mr. Mueller’s team also took the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to Melissa Laurenza, a specialist in lobbying law who formerly represented Mr. Manafort, according to people familiar with the subpoena. Conversations between lawyers and their clients are normally considered bound by attorney-client privilege, but there are exceptions when lawyers prepare public documents that are filed on behalf of their client. To get the warrant, Mr. Mueller’s team had to show probable cause that Mr. Manafort’s home contained evidence of a crime. To be allowed to pick the lock and enter the home unannounced, prosecutors had to persuade a federal judge that Mr. Manafort was likely to destroy evidence.
As for the high surveillance of Manafort, here are excerpts from the CNN piece:Said Mr. Gurulé, the former federal prosecutor, “Clearly they didn’t trust him.”
US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is leading the investigation into Russia's involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications.A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party, the sources told CNN. he FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.
Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI's efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort, the sources told CNN. As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It's not known what they found. The conversations between Manafort and Trump continued after the President took office, long after the FBI investigation into Manafort was publicly known, the sources told CNN. They went on until lawyers for the President and Manafort insisted that they stop, according to the sources.
It's unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance.
Manafort was ousted from the campaign in August. By then the FBI had noticed what counterintelligence agents thought was a series of odd connections between Trump associates and Russia. The CIA also had developed information, including from human intelligence sources, that they believed showed Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered his intelligence services to conduct a broad operation to meddle with the US election, according to current and former US officials.
The FBI surveillance teams, under a new FISA warrant, began monitoring Manafort again, sources tell CNN.
Monday, September 18, 2017
|Photograph by Jochen Tack / Alamy|
As if LGBT individuals did not already have enough to worry about when it comes to facing discrimination and bigotry, a new study claiming that it can use facial recognition computer programs to identify whether or not one is LGBT would seemingly add to the arsenal of bigoted employers who seek to make the lives of closeted employees even more of a living hell. Other frightening uses: anti-gay religious affiliated colleges might decide to screen applicants; Christofascists parents seeking to determine whether they have a gay child; right wing churches screening members. The list goes on and on. The other danger of the software is that it still has a significant margin of error so a goodly number of straights could find themselves incorrectly identified as gay. The New Yorker looks at this dubious and possible dangerous study and its technology. Here are excerpts:
In the twenty-first century, the face is a database, a dynamic bank of information points—muscle configurations, childhood scars, barely perceptible flares of the nostril—that together speak to what you feel and who you are. Facial-recognition technology is being tested in airports around the world, matching camera footage against visa photos. Churches use it to document worshipper attendance. China has gone all in on the technology, employing it to identify jaywalkers, offer menu suggestions at KFC, and prevent the theft of toilet paper from public restrooms. Michal Kosinski, an organizational psychologist at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, told the Guardian earlier this week. The photo of Kosinski accompanying the interview showed the face of a man beleaguered. Several days earlier, Kosinski and a colleague, Yilun Wang, had reported the results of a study, to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggesting that facial-recognition software could correctly identify an individual’s sexuality with uncanny accuracy. The researchers culled tens of thousands of photos from an online-dating site, then used an off-the-shelf computer model to extract users’ facial characteristics—both transient ones, like eye makeup and hair color, and more fixed ones, like jaw shape. Then they fed the data into their own model, which classified users by their apparent sexuality. When shown two photos, one of a gay man and one of a straight man, Kosinski and Wang’s model could distinguish between them eighty-one per cent of the time; for women, its accuracy dropped slightly, to seventy-one per cent. Human viewers fared substantially worse. They correctly picked the gay man sixty-one per cent of the time and the gay woman fifty-four per cent of the time. “Gaydar,” it appeared, was little better than a random guess. The study immediately drew fire from two leading L.G.B.T.Q. groups, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, for “wrongfully suggesting that artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to detect sexual orientation.” They offered a list of complaints, which the researchers rebutted point by point. Yes, the study was in fact peer-reviewed. No, contrary to criticism, the study did not assume that there was no difference between a person’s sexual orientation and his or her sexual identity; some people might indeed identify as straight but act on same-sex attraction. “We assumed that there was a correlation . . . in that people who said they were looking for partners of the same gender were homosexual,” Kosinski and Wang wrote.
True, the study consisted entirely of white faces, but only because the dating site had served up too few faces of color to provide for meaningful analysis. And that didn’t diminish the point they were making—that existing, easily obtainable technology could effectively out a sizable portion of society. To the extent that Kosinski and Wang had an agenda, it appeared to be on the side of their critics. As they wrote in the paper’s abstract, “Given that companies and governments are increasingly using computer vision algorithms to detect people’s intimate traits, our findings expose a threat to the privacy and safety of gay men and women.” The objections didn’t end there. Some scientists criticized the study on methodological grounds. To begin with, they argued, Kosinski and Wang had used a flawed data set. Besides all being white, the users of the dating site may have been telegraphing their sexual proclivities in ways that their peers in the general population did not. . . . . Was the computer model picking up on facial characteristics that all gay people everywhere shared, or merely ones that a subset of American adults, groomed and dressed a particular way, shared?
Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, a pair of professors at the University of Washington, in Seattle, who run the blog Calling Bullshit, also took issue with Kosinski and Wang’s most ambitious conclusion—that their study provides “strong support” for the prenatal-hormone theory of sexuality, which predicts that exposure to testosterone in the womb shapes a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation in later life. In response to Kosinki and Wang’s claim that, in their study, “the faces of gay men were more feminine and the faces of lesbians were more masculine,” Bergstrom and West wrote, “we see little reason to suppose this is due to physiognomy rather than various aspects of self-presentation.” Regardless of the accuracy of the method, past schemes to identify gay people have typically ended in cruel fashion—pogroms, imprisonment, conversion therapy. The fact is, though, that nowadays a computer model can probably already do a decent job of ascertaining your sexual orientation, even better than facial-recognition technology can, simply by scraping and analyzing the reams of data that marketing firms are continuously compiling about you. Do gay men buy more broccoli than straight men, or do they buy less of it? Do they rent bigger cars or smaller ones? Who knows? Somewhere, though, a bot is poring over your data points, grasping for ways to connect any two of them. Therein lies the real worry. Last week, Equifax, the giant credit-reporting agency, disclosed that a security breach had exposed the personal data of more than a hundred and forty-three million Americans; company executives had been aware of the security flaw since late July but had failed to disclose it. (Three of them, however, had off-loaded some of their Equifax stock.) Earlier this week, ProPublica revealed that Facebook’s ad-buying system had enabled advertisers to target their messages at people with such interests as “How to burn jews” and “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’ ” The categories were created not by Facebook employees but by an algorithm—yet another way in which automated thinking can turn offensive. “The growing digitalization of our lives and rapid progress in AI continues to erode the privacy of sexual orientation and other intimate traits,” Kosinski and Wang wrote at the end of their paper. They continue, perhaps Pollyannaishly, “The postprivacy world will be a much safer and hospitable place if inhabited by well-educated, tolerant people who are dedicated to equal rights.” A piece of data itself has no positive or negative moral value, but the way we manipulate it does. It’s hard to imagine a more contentious project than programing ethics into our algorithms; to do otherwise, however, and allow algorithms to monitor themselves, is to invite the quicksand of moral equivalence.
I am not paranoid. I am "out" socially and at work. My most important client base knows I am gay and simply could care less. Many gays, however are not so fortunate and many have good reason to want to stay in the closet at work given the utter lack of employment protections at the federal level and in 29 states, including Virginia.
Pope Francis has made a few statements deemed by a gushing media to indicate a softening of the Roman Catholic Church's centuries old anti-gay jihad (even as the ranks of the clergy remain packed with self-loathing gays) and a majority of everyday Catholics in America are supportive of gay rights and even gay marriage, yet as far as official Church dogma and policy go, we remain more or less untouchables. If we want any possibility of inclusion, we are demanded to live a lonely, loveless life - in short, to be a miserable as much of the clergy that cannot let go of childhood brainwashing and the Church's "natural law" which in essence is based on ignorance and at best 11th century knowledge. One Jesuit has written a book to try to usher in much needed changes, but he has been met with a backlash from the bitter old men in dresses within the clergy and among the lunatic far right of Catholicism which much like white supremacists always need some one they can condemn and feel superior to. A piece in the New York Times looks at the situation which underscores to me that the best thing gay Catholics and their families can do is to leave Catholicism. Here are highlights:
The Rev. James Martin knew his latest book – which urges a dialogue between the Catholic Church and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics who feel estranged from it – would be provocative. Even though the book was approved by his Jesuit superior as being in line with church teachings and was endorsed by several cardinals, he did not expect everyone to agree. That’s fine, he said. That’s why dialogue was needed.
His public position on this hot-button issue – most recently in the book, “Building a Bridge,” but also in speeches, articles and social media – has earned him the gratitude of parents of gay children or adults who feel unwelcome at church because of their sexual orientation. But his stance has also led to “joking” threats of violence and insults against him. Conservative Catholics have called him “effeminate,” a “homosexualist,” “pansified” and guilty of “leading young men to perdition.” In recent weeks, campaigns by people opposed to him have prompted three high-profile Catholic groups to disinvite him from events where he was to be the featured speaker.
On Friday, Theological College, the national seminary at the Catholic University of America in Washington, withdrew its invitation to Father Martin, who was scheduled to deliver a speech on Jesus in early October. The seminary said in a statement that the decision was made after “increasing negative attacks” on social media. And while seminary officials “in no way” agreed with the critics, the college wanted to avoid “distractions” during centennial events, the statement said. Of his critics, Father Martin said that even an invitation to listen to L.G.B.T. people has “unleashed this torrent of hatred.” “It’s insane. This is about reaching out to people on the margins. But on that issue it tells us that we have a lot to learn. If we can’t even begin a dialogue without a charge of heresy, then we need to take a good look at how we understand the gospel.”. . . . . “It’s reaching people where they are. Jesus went to where the people were and spoke to them in their language. And he was always going to the margins.” He had long received desperate messages and impassioned emails seeking counsel or prayer through life’s difficulties, and the publication of “Building A Bridge” prompted even more. He gets about 50 messages daily, in which people talk about things like how a priest would not anoint a dying man in hospice care because he was gay; or how someone was fired from a job at a Catholic institution because of their sexual orientation.
But he has also been the victim of ad-hominem attacks, even from other Catholics who, he said, do not seem to remember Pope Francis’s remark that “who am I to judge” if a member of the clergy was gay.
Despite the name-calling, innuendo and canceled speeches, Father Martin said he will press on. He has received support from bishops – who request boxes of his book — and from his religious order. He will not step back from social media, saying it is part of his order’s tradition to “find God in all things.” “We are not afraid of going to the margins,” he said. “That is what Pope Benedict and Pope Francis asked us to do. As Francis said to us, go to the peripheries where the church has not been serving people or where people need it the most. There is no one more marginalized in the church than L.G.B.T. Catholics. So, I’m right where I should be.”
As I noted above, the best move for gay Catholics and their families is to walk away. The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (I technically remain a member) offer wonderful alternatives. Meanwhile, as history has shown us time and time again, if enough people walk away and cease their financial support to the Church, the fossilized and bitter hierarchy will suddenly have a revelation and adjust its dogma. Money is and always has been the real god of the Vatican.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
A thought provoking piece at Vanity Fair looks at the role that Facebook, Twitter and social media more generally played in Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. Among other things, it raises the question of why no one at these companies noticed the suspicious activities of foreign agents. Facebook can follow my shopping habits, but it did notice the buying activities of agents working in Moscow? With Robert Mueller now having secured search warrants of some of the suspicious foreign accounts, one cannot help but hope that changes will be made to stop anything like this from happening again in the future. Ditto for hate groups using the platforms to spread hate, bigotry and intolerance. Here are highlights from the piece:
Twenty thousand six hundred and fifty-eight. That’s a pretty big number, especially when you consider that it’s the number of people who are currently employed by Facebook. Those 20,000 employees include insanely smart people with degrees from Stanford, Harvard, and M.I.T., many of whom spend their days toiling away on various revenue products, particularly in advertising-technology features—or ad tech, as it’s known in the industry—that helped the company generate some $27.6 billion in total revenue last year.
So why is it that none of those employees noticed that Russian operatives were using Facebook to manipulate the U.S. electoral process? And why is it—months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, and after deadly protests in Charlottesville—that those workers allowed organizations to buy ads on the platform targeting people who searched for phrases such as “Jew haters”?
This ad-targeting mess has quickly become the Exxon Valdez of the Internet. Google, for its part, has 72,053 employees, many of whom are also working on smart algorithms to improve the company’s ad revenue, which accounts for 88 percent of its income. And yet, on Friday, BuzzFeed reported that Google allows groups to target ads toward people searching for racist phrases. So when people type in search queries like “Jewish parasite,” “black people ruin everything,” or “the evil Jew,” ads can potentially be served next to those keywords, and Google makes money off the transaction. The Daily Beast, meanwhile, also reported that Twitter allows people to target users on the platform who use the n-word and other putrid, disgusting, racist terms.
Since the election (and even leading up to it), it’s become abundantly clear that social media presented itself as a profoundly useful tool for the Russians, extremists, and possibly even people within the Trump campaign, to potentially disfigure our electoral process. Before Trump co-opted the term “fake news” to describe entirely accurate, if unfavorable, stories about him, real fake news was being created and proliferated at scale. Algorithms on Facebook didn’t work to try to stop this from happening, but rather to ensure that these fake stories landed right on the digital doorsteps of the people who might find them most interesting, and who might change their votes as a result of that content. Twitter’s problem with political bots has existed for as long as I can remember.
This might seem harmless on some level, but these accounts had been disseminating incredibly divisive (and oftentimes fake) stories about Brexit, Ukraine, and Syria, plus anti-immigration articles from outlets like Breitbart and excessively schismatic articles from the Daily Mail. The researcher also found that these accounts only tweeted between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Moscow time, and only during the week—almost as if it were someone’s job in Russia to do so. The accounts have tens of thousands of followers, and the suspected propagandists behind them stoked the flames of dissent by creating far-left bots which would go after Trump and his supporters.
Of course people are going to try to manipulate these technologies. The larger issue, however, is that these enormous, profoundly wealthy companies aren’t doing enough to stop them, and are not being held accountable. (Twitter and Facebook have attempted to crackdown on trolls in some ways since the election.) Curiously, Wall Street, which still remains oddly buoyant in the Trump era (it’s amazing what the rich will sacrifice for tax reform) is not chastising Silicon Valley for the extensive role it played in the mess we find ourselves in today. Facebook is worth $491 billion, despite months’ worth of news stories indicating it allowed Russian accounts to buy and target pages and ads on its network during the election, which estimates say could have reached 70 million Americans. Twitter’s stock, while bumpy, has barely moved since news definitively broke about all of the “fake Americans” that Russia created and operated on the social network during the election.
There are also reports that there is now a “red-hot” focus on social media by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election. But in both of these instances, there needs to be real consequences. It doesn’t take 20,000 employees to see the apathy and neglect these platforms have played, and continue to play, in the attacks against democracy by the people who want to see it fall.
This past week Facebook admitted that it had allowed itself to be used by pro-Trump operatives who used the platform to disseminate targeted fake news maligning and disparaging Hillary Clinton. It increasingly looks as if some of these operatives were foreign agents and the growing question is whether or not they had assistance from Der Trumpenführer's campaign. More specifically, were Jared Kushner and his agents involved in assisting the careful geographic targeting of the ant-Clinton fake news. her recent interview, Clinton had some choice comments toward Facebook. Now, it has been confirmed that special prosecutor has obtained search warrants against some of these dubious Facebook accounts as part of his effort to confirm (i) that foreign agents illegally contributed to the Trump campaign effort, and (ii) whether the Trump campaign colluded with them. Business Insider looks at the development:
FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the "inauthentic" accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN. Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller's investigation into Russia's election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump's campaign team.
"This is big news - and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference 'deniers,'" said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent. Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime.
Mueller would not have sought a warrant targeting Facebook as a company, Rangappa noted. Rather, he would have been interested in learning more about specific accounts.
"The key here, though, is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts - and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info," she said. "That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference."
It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia's election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint - rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, now a partner at Thompson Coburn LLP, said that the revelation Mueller obtained a search warrant for Facebook content "may be the biggest news in the case since the Manafort raid." The Facebook warrant "means that Mueller has concluded that specific foreign individuals committed a crime by making a 'contribution' in connection with an election," Mariotti wrote on Saturday.
"It also means that he has evidence of that crime that convinced a federal magistrate judge of two things: first, that there was good reason to believe that the foreign individual committed the crime. Second, that evidence of the crime existed on Facebook." That has implications for Trump and his associates, too, Mariotti said. "It is a crime to know that a crime is taking place and to help it succeed. That's aiding and abetting. If any Trump associate knew about the foreign contributions that Mueller's search warrant focused on and helped that effort in a tangible way, they could be charged."
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC earlier this month that he wants to know how sophisticated the Russian-bought ads were - in terms of their content and targets - to determine whether they had any help from the Trump campaign. The House Intelligence Committee also wants to interview the digital director for Trump's campaign, Brad Parscale, who worked closely with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Facebook said in its initial statement that about 25% of the ads purchased by Russians during the election "were geographically targeted," and many analysts have found it difficult to believe that foreign entities would have had the kind of granular knowledge of American politics necessary to target specific demographics and voting precincts.
In a post-election interview, Kushner told Forbes that he had been keenly interested in Facebook's "micro-targeting" capabilities from early on. . . . . "We brought in Cambridge Analytica," he continued. "I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world, and I asked them how to scale this stuff . . . We basically had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started really from scratch."
Meanwhile, Politico is reporting this:
An attorney working on the Justice Department's highest-profile money laundering case recently transferred off that assignment in order to join the staff of the special prosecutor investigating the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia.
|Cover page of Coral Ridge Ministries endorsed anti-gay magazine|
The Southern Poverty Law Center ("SPLC") is perhaps the premier U.S. non-profit organization that monitors the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists – including the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, anti-government militias, Christian Identity adherents, radical Christian extremists and others. It currently tracks more than 1,600 extremist groups operating across the country. It also publishes investigative reports, works to train law enforcement officers and share key intelligence, and offer expert analysis to the media and public. Each year since 1990, it has released an annual census of U.S. hate groups. Its founder, Morris Deas, who I met years ago, helped push for the prosecution of the KKK members who lynched Michael Donald when I lived in Mobile, Alabama. Among the groups SPLC has certified as hate groups are a number of organizations that parade around as "Christian family values" organizations which disseminate deliberate and often grotesques lies and untruths about the LGBT community (they often also have white supremacist and/or white nationalist tendencies). Much of their anti-LGBT propaganda is modeled on the Nazi propaganda against the Jews and does little more that change the word "Jew" to "gay."
The positive results of SPLC's work is that increasingly the mainstream news media has stopped giving platforms to leaders of these organizations. A prime example if Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council who has documented ties to several white supremacy groups and who has pushed vicious lies about LGBT people. Now, some of these groups are suing SPLC because it has rightly exposed them for what they are. While they whine that they are being "persecuted for their religious faith" their real complaint is that they have lost influence and even more importantly, they have lost income as donors have come to recognize their deceitful lies. A piece in Huffington Post by a blogger friend helps to underscore the true viciousness and dishonesty of these organizations and they fact that hate is their main stock in trade. Here are excerpts:
A ministry currently suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for being designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group may soon learn the lesson about past actions coming back to bite.
First, a little background:
D. James Kennedy Ministries, based at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, has filed a federal lawsuit in Alabama against the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center for calling the ministry a hate group. The lawsuit was filed Aug. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery. The lawsuit alleges that the SPLC ‘illegally trafficked in false and misleading descriptions of the services offered by DJKM and committed defamation against DJKM arising from the publication and distribution of false information that libels the ministry’s reputation and subjects the ministry to disgrace, ridicule, odium, and contempt in the estimation of the public,’ according to a statement by the ministry.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has made it clear that anti-LGBTQ hate groups are designated so because they demonize the LGBTQ community in the most lurid, inaccurate terms:
The religious right in America has employed a variety of strategies in its efforts to beat back the increasingly confident LGBT rights movement. One of those has been defamation. Many of its leaders have engaged in the crudest type of name-calling, describing LGBT people as ‘perverts’ with ‘filthy habits’ who seek to snatch the children of straight parents and ‘convert’ them to gay sex. They have disseminated disparaging ‘facts’ about gays that are simply untrue — assertions that are remarkably reminiscent of the way white intellectuals and scientists once wrote about the ‘bestial’ black man and his supposedly threatening sexuality.
And that brings up to the late James Kennedy. The D. James Kennedy Ministries has a huge section dedicated to his life and his work. One thing it doesn’t have is when Kennedy endorsed . . . . [a] 1986 comic book [the cover is at the top of this post] . . . . his endorsement is the first one on the back cover, with his official title as “Senior Minister, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.”
Kennedy said the following in his endorsement:
Dick Hafer [the comic book’s author] has produced a very accurate portrayal of homosexuality and the problem it poses to our nation and civilization. This unique book deserves an open-minded reading by all Americans, and especially by those who serve in leadership capacities.
Kennedy calling this book “unique” is a rather interesting description. If you want, you can go to this link and this one to see the book in its entirety. But I’m warning you now. It’s not pretty. . . . read the list of endorsers again [see image below]. They include a former Congressional leader and another right-wing organization still present in D.C.
[T]he “research” from this book comes from the discredited researcher whom I have mentioned on so many occasions: Paul Cameron. SPLC has an extensive file on him and the anti-LGBTQ hate groups who still cite his junk science.
So, basically breaking this down, there are questions which need to be answered by the D. James Kennedy Ministries before it goes about declaring that it is being “persecuted for its religious beliefs” by SPLC. Most specifically, I’m curious to know if the ministry shares the opinion “expressed” by its namesake when he endorsed that awful booklet. If the ministry doesn’t, then I would recommend that it publicly denounces Kennedy’s past actions. If the ministry doesn’t want to do that, then I guess that answers a lot of questions as to its “hate group” status.
Paul Cameron deliberately falsified his "research" and was thrown out of every professional association to which he had belonged because of his fraudulent studies and utterly false publications. The organizations that routinely cite his work, many of which have earned their own hate group designations, include Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Traditional Values Coalition, here in Virginia, The Family Foundation, and, of course, Coral Ridge Ministries. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that many of these organizations have tax exempt status since they pretend to be "educational organizations." In short, every U.S. taxpayer is indirectly subsidizing them. This needs to end.