Twelve Angry Trump Voters

A black-and-white film from 1957 has a strange resonance with contemporary Trumpist America

The 1957 Sidney Lumet classic Twelve Angry Men is a fable about how control of a small tribe shifts from one faction to another.

The “tribe” is actually a jury of twelve men, assembled to rule on the question of guilt of a teenager. But quite apart from the arguments, one can see how one faction (the “Not Guilty” one) starts off powerless, and through moral suasion, ends up snatching the majority from the “Guilty” faction. At the end of the film, the “Guilty” faction ends up where the “Not Guilty” faction had begun: composed of just one man, eyes of the crowd on him, asking him to explain himself.

Now I may be obsessive and I may be a fool—after all, this film was made in 1957—but in it I saw an allegory for contemporary Trumpist America. I saw how xenophobic and authoritarian viewpoints can score early victories and appear invincible. I saw how the smallest crack in that facade can permit moral arguments through. I saw how opening of that smallest crack can find adherents and grow into a movement.

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Don’t let them off the hook: Why Social Media companies are responsible for fake news

Why social media is responsible for our fake news crisis.

We will talk about social media, I promise. But I want to first tell the story of Dan Rather’s fall from grace.

Dan Rather spent decades as the CBS Evening News anchor, one of the big three for nightly news. In 2004, on 60 Minutes Wednesday, he reported on the Killian Documents: a series of memos that were critical of George W Bush’s service during his time in the Air National Guard. It turned out that there were many reasons—including the use of modern typeface—to doubt the authenticity of the memos. Eventually, CBS News recanted the story, fired the producer, and forced Dan Rather to move up his retirement. The entire episode came to be known as RatherGate.

A highly respected decades-long career in news was capped by a “-Gate” because of lack of devotion to fact-checking. Of course no one believed that Dan Rather’s team forged memos themselves. Instead, what people were objecting to was their lack of editorial judgment. Given their giant megaphone, they had the responsibility, as a publisher, to be a gatekeeper for factual news.

Platform or publisher?

Why, then, do we not hold social media companies to the same standard? Why do we let them get away with spreading fake news, propaganda, conspiracies, and hate speech through their platforms?

At heart, I would argue, is a semantic confusion. We generally don’t hold pure platforms accountable for the content that is carried on their wires. For instance, if I was to receive a death threat over my cell phone, not for a minute would I think to blame my wireless carrier, Cricket. The fault would lie with the threat-maker, alone.

On the other hand, we can and do beat up on newspapers, cable shows, even bookstores, that carry objectionable content. As publishers, we expect them to have volition and exercise choice.

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Reading the Mueller Report: Part 3, The Leaks

The story of how the Kremlin fronted leaks through DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and Wikileaks, from the Mueller Report.

GRU Unit 74455 was responsible for leaking documents they had stolen and publicizing the leaks through social media. They used three main channels through which they dumped documents: two websites created by GRU themselves (DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0), and later, Wikileaks—which, given their long experience publishing leaked archives, appears to have had the most impact.

[Part 2 is here. The full report is here. This post deals with Volume I, Section III. B.]

Almost as soon as GRU began to steal documents, they started planning to dump them. They created the domain on April 19, pretty much right as they managed to break into the DCCC computers. They leaked documents through this website in neatly labeled tranches, publicizing them through their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and occasionally directly contacting journalists to give them sneak previews of documents that hadn’t been publicly leaked yet. They hid the GRU ownership of the domain behind an anonymous registration and paid for it with Bitcoin.

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Reading the Mueller Report: Part 2, The Hacks

Fancy Bear a.k.a. Unit 26165: how the GRU hacked the Dems.

[Part 1 is here. This post deals with Volume I, Section III. A. The full report is here.]

The hacking of Democratic networks by the Russian State is the part of the Trump-Russia scandal (picturesquely known as Stupid Watergate) that most closely matches the break-in into the DNC headquarters during Watergate, at the eponymous office complex.

Except instead of five men, the break-in was carried out by Russia’s military intelligence, GRU. And instead of breaking into DNC headquarters, the break-in was into the DNC, DCCC, and the Clinton Campaign staffers’ computer networks. The break-in was virtual but much wider in scope. And the documents they stole, unlike during Watergate, were later weaponized by releasing them drip-by-drip through DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and Wikileaks, timed for maximum impact during key moments of the campaign.

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IANAL but I’m reading the Mueller Report: Part 1, Active Measures

I am a layperson trying to make sense of the Mueller Report. Read along with me!
Part 1: Active Measures.

In this post I read Volume 1, Section II, which deals with the Russian Active Measures social media campaign to interfere with the 2016 election.

The entire report is here. Read along with me as I call out interesting details.

Both Watergate and the Trump-Russia scandal—some call it Stupid Watergate—started with a purloining of Democratic materials. This investigation started in mid-2016 when the DNC announced that “Russian hackers had compromised its computer network.”

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Howard Schultz: this is your brain on platitudes

Schultz has shown himself to be militantly banal and uninterested in these details

Howard Schultz on Velshi and Ruhle | MSNBC | 4/5/2019

I’ve sat through speeches by CEOs with my brain melting from the unceasing assault of platitudes. We all have. The future looks bright, every graph is rising, every employee is dedicated, every manager is a leader, we have one mission and our ideas will shake up the business.

What I didn’t know is that apparently some CEOs get drunk on applause and come to believe their nonsense.

Many people noticed the Ali Velshi/Stephanie Ruhle interview with Starbucks founder and currently unaligned Presidential candidate for 2020, Howard Schultz. It was trenchant.

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Should the filibuster die?

Do the arguments against killing the filibuster hold up?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during the National Action Network convention in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Last week Elizabeth Warren threw down the gauntlet by arguing for killing the Senate filibuster as the only means of accomplishing the agenda that 2020 Democrats have set out for themselves. Without it, given that any decent-sized legislation needs 60 votes to pass, and accepting the impossibility of getting even one or two Republican votes, any progressive agenda is dead in the water.

So the argument in favor of nuking the filibuster is clear and obvious. As Harry Reid said back in 2013 when he invoked the nuclear option to kill the filibuster for most nominees, the Senate must evolve beyond Parliamentary roadblocks.

But generally, the idea of losing the security blanket of 60 votes is not pleasant for the times when one’s party is in the minority; so it isn’t surprising that this idea has not caught on. Senators as diverse as Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders, and Kirsten Gillibrand have shown reluctance to go there, without really admitting that this makes most of their plans moot. But I understand. The possibility of terrible Republican legislation has most of us in a defensive crouch.

So rather than make the positive case in favor of dropping the filibuster, I want to examine the main arguments in favor of keeping it, to see if they hold up. Will the end of the filibuster bring about apocalypse, or be the means of un-jamming a jammed up government?

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Adulting: a How-To for my Teen

Parents of teenagers will be familiar with the turn in their child’s personality: from playful, precious little pets they turn into blasé know-it-alls who can barely be bothered to raise an eyebrow to your fussing. 

Well, you little smart-asses, there’s a lot you don’t yet know. 

How to be an adult

You cannot call yourself an adult until you are able to do these things. I’m aware that many 40-year-olds would not fit this bill. Nor did I, long after my teenage years. But these are the rules. Fail this test, and you are not yet an adult in this here modern world. To be an adult you must:

  1. Be able to open a bank account, deposit and withdraw money.
  2. Have a credit record enough to get a credit card.
  3. Personal grooming: learn how to shower, use deodorant, floss and brush, regularly without anyone nagging you.
  4. Learn to drive and have a license.
  5. Learn to break out of a procrastination cycle. Make todo lists for yourself on something more substantial than sticky notes and check them off.
  6. Exercise regularly. Get outdoors.
  7. Be able to provide meals for yourself: this includes grocery shopping, refrigerating when needed, operating the cooking range and microwave, and cooking basics like pasta, rice, eggs, oats, etc. Have a passing familiarity with spices.
  8. Make grocery lists so you’re not going to the store for each item.
  9. Maintain a set of email addresses and stay on top of spam.
  10. Keep passwords secure, don’t use the same one everywhere, and come up with a way to manage them. Don’t use “password”, “123456”, or your birthday.
  11. Don’t post embarrassing pictures or opinions on social media.
  12. Learn to hurry when needed. Learn to get out of the house without needing to remind yourself of each item separately—keys, phone, money, etc.
  13. Periodically put things away and pick up the room. Organize your things and neaten up. Dust.
  14. Wash your sheets once in a while. Lay your towels flat so they dry.
  15. Learn how to file a claim for insurance.
  16. Stay in touch with friends and family.
  17. Learn how to be polite, greet people and bid goodbyes. Learn how to congratulate and condole. Be able to make pleasant small talk with hairdressers and store clerks without goggling like a fish. 
  18. Catch onto social cues: be aware if you’re being perceived as a boor, a bore or a bully; be able to detect deadpan humor. Catch on if you are being used. Detect if you are being flirted with. Catch on if someone around you needs help; help them.
  19. Know the capitals of several major countries and their currencies. Know what languages are spoken there.
  20. Keep your phone charged. 
  21. Learn to use Google. With quotes.
  22. Keep up to date with major news. Be skeptical of headlines.
  23. Be sufficiently aware of the world so you can detect conspiracy theories. Be aware that sometimes people with platforms will lie to you.
  24. Learn how to vote. Vote.
  25. Develop hobbies so you’re not relying on drugs or alcohol to fill up the empty hours.
  26. Learn how to kick a habit; any habit. Learn how to break out of addictive cycles, whether it is smoking or video games or gambling. Learn to shake yourself free.
  27. Read.
  28. Focus.
  29. Learn how to save and invest your money. Don’t run up thoughtless debts.
  30. Be on time most of the time.
  31. Learn to do laundry and dishes. Try not to send your money or phone or keys through the laundry cycle too frequently.
  32. Be nice to people by default. Don’t be nice if someone’s harassing you or using you.
  33. Visit the doctor for wellness checks and don’t eat too much junk food. Get your shots.
  34. Eat your cereals with milk.
  35. When you travel, immerse yourself.
  36. Exercise moral judgment. Make sure it is your own.