Sunday, April 22, 2018

Last Call For The Snowiest Of Snowflakes

Silicon Valley techbros are asking "what about us white guys?" and want safe spaces away from all that horrible non-whiteness and vagina-having where they can finally feel included in America.

Paul Mann wants to create a safe space for white men.

Mann, a white man who has spent years in the education industry, has begun leading workshops in San Francisco that encourage people in his demographic to explore feelings about race and gender and think about how to better assist women and nonwhites in their workplaces.

Most diversity training is inclusive of all races and genders. But Stepping Up, Mann’s program that began in January, is unusual because the workshops are designed for white men and led by a white man.

It’s an approach that has inevitably stirred controversy. It’s not something that Starbucks, for example, will pursue when it closes its stores in Mayfor a half-day diversity training in the wake of the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia coffee shop. And creating a “safe space,” a stated goal of Stepping Up, is a concept traditionally associated with people who feel marginalized or victimized.

But Mann says some white men are afraid of saying the wrong thing or worry they’ll be put on the defensive — and Stepping Up allows them to express themselves openly and practice language without hurting anyone.

“All this attention has been paid to tech companies not having enough women and not being racially diverse,” Mann said. “It just seems obvious to me that we are ignoring the whole half of the equation, which is white people and men.”

Kim Scott, a former Google executive and author of the leadership book, “Radical Candor,” strongly disagrees with the approach, saying it’s important to learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives.

“I am glad they care enough to discuss the issue,” Scott said. “I’m very sorry to hear that white men feel so fearful that they feel they have to have this conversation without inviting women and minorities to join.”

I have to say, if you feel the need to have a diversity workshop without any actual diversity in your diversity workshop, it's not a diversity workshop.  Sure, asking white men to think about gender and race is definitely needed, but when your first criteria is "needing to limit the space for the discussion on diversity to white men" you're not just missing the point, you're butchering it.

On purpose.

Mitt-igating Circumstances

Mitt Romney finished second in yesterday's Utah GOP primary caucus yesterday, meaning he now faces a June runoff primary against state Rep. Mike Kennedy for Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat.

After a wild and raucous day of voting at the Utah GOP convention, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee was unable to win the 60% that he needed to head to the November ballot unopposed. When none of the 12 candidates were able to cross that threshold, the party continued with successive rounds of caucus voting until one candidate reached 40%. 
On the second round of voting, Utah state representative Mike Kennedy emerged in the lead with 50.88%. Romney came in a close second with 49.12%. 
Romney and Kennedy will now compete in a primary set for June 26. 
After the vote, Romney said he was looking forward to a primary race. 
"This is terrific for the people of Utah, and I really want to thank the delegates who stayed so late to give me the kind of boost that I got here today," Romney said, standing on the convention floor after the proceedings were adjourned. "We're going to have a good primary." 
Kennedy, who had framed the race as David vs. Goliath, said when asked why he had edged out Romney in the vote that he wasn't sure. 
"I don't know," Kennedy said when asked why he thought his message appealed more to delegates than Romney's. "I don't know -- it's just my message."

Or it could be that nobody actually likes the guy.  Still, Romney was able to navigate Utah's byzantine GOP primary rules and if he does win the primary would have to be considered a frontrunner for Hatch's seat.  Hatch is retiring after his 7th term, a whopping 42 years in the US Senate.

Then again, Sen. Mike Lee won the other Utah Senate seat by driving Sen. Bob Bennett out of the party in 2010 as not conservative enough.  Utah Republicans can be weird.

What I do know is that the leading Democratic candidate, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, doesn't have much of a chance.  We could be stuck with Mittens in the US Senate for a while if he wins the primary as he's 71, but if Kennedy wins, well, he could be in there for 42 years too.

No real good news here for Dems unless Utah goes through a major demographic change towards purple/blue like the rest of the US Southwest.  It may happen, but not soon enough to help this time around.

Sunday Long Read: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

As the data privacy debate over social media and online services rages on, it already may be a moot point.  The federal government and many state and local governments are already customers of data analysis giant Palantir, and odds are Palantir knows everything about you already, consent or not.

High above the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City, a former U.S. Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JPMorgan Chase & Co. His insider threat group—most large financial institutions have one—used computer algorithms to monitor the bank’s employees, ostensibly to protect against perfidious traders and other miscreants. 
Aided by as many as 120 “forward-deployed engineers” from the data mining company Palantir Technologies Inc., which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations. Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analyzed these records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behavior that Cavicchia’s team had flagged for potential abuse of corporate assets. Palantir’s algorithm, for example, alerted the insider threat team when an employee started badging into work later than usual, a sign of potential disgruntlement. That would trigger further scrutiny and possibly physical surveillance after hours by bank security personnel. 
Over time, however, Cavicchia himself went rogue. Former JPMorgan colleagues describe the environment as Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now, with Cavicchia as Colonel Kurtz, ensconced upriver in his office suite eight floors above the rest of the bank’s security team. People in the department were shocked that no one from the bank or Palantir set any real limits. They darkly joked that Cavicchia was listening to their calls, reading their emails, watching them come and go. Some planted fake information in their communications to see if Cavicchia would mention it at meetings, which he did. 
It all ended when the bank’s senior executives learned that they, too, were being watched, and what began as a promising marriage of masters of big data and global finance descended into a spying scandal. The misadventure, which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir, one of the most richly valued startups in Silicon Valley. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home
Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company’s engineers and products don’t do any spying themselves; they’re more like a spy’s brain, collecting and analyzing information that’s fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources—financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs. U.S. spies and special forces loved it immediately; they deployed Palantir to synthesize and sort the blizzard of battlefield intelligence. It helped planners avoid roadside bombs, track insurgents for assassination, even hunt down Osama bin Laden. The military success led to federal contracts on the civilian side. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir to detect Medicare fraud. The FBI uses it in criminal probes. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants.

Police and sheriff’s departments in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also used it, frequently ensnaring in the digital dragnet people who aren’t suspected of committing any crime.
People and objects pop up on the Palantir screen inside boxes connected to other boxes by radiating lines labeled with the relationship: “Colleague of,” “Lives with,” “Operator of [cell number],” “Owner of [vehicle],” “Sibling of,” even “Lover of.” If the authorities have a picture, the rest is easy. Tapping databases of driver’s license and ID photos, law enforcement agencies can now identify more than half the population of U.S. adults.

Increasingly in America, Palantir's systems tell cops, fraud investigators, immigration officials,  and employers who to suspect, and once you get into the system, you're trapped there for good.  Never committed a crime?  Too bad: if you have any sort of relationship to anyone who has, you're in Palantir's digital gaze.  Your life is a series of data pages, and Palantir turns it into an open book for the right bidder to read.

We can talk about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica all day, but it's Palantir and data analysis firms like it already involved in every aspect of your life that are the problem outside the voting booth.

Who watches the watchmen?

Nobody knows.  But they are sure as hell watching all of us.

Farming Up Some Votes

Rural Trump voters in red states are coming to terms with what Trump's trade war with China means: already damaged farm economies are only going to get worse. Democrats think there's fertile soil here to grow something strong.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and longtime farmer who is running in another of the nation's most hotly contested races, said that he would support subsidies over nothing at all if Trump doesn't back away from the tariffs.

"I think as a last-ditch effort, yeah," Tester said. "Short of putting people out of business, I'd support them."

But Democrats say Trump's trade agenda has gone in exactly the wrong direction for American farmers.

"What he really needs to do instead of contracting trade markets is expand them, and he's not doing that," Tester said. "Farmers would much rather get their payments from the marketplace, so he needs to expand the markets."

Many Democrats see political opportunity in the treatment the agricultural community has gotten from Trump, who said recently that farmers will "understand that they're doing this for the country" and that he would "make it up to them."

Kristen Hawn, a Democratic strategist who is working with several House candidates, said Trump's message won't land well in the heartland.

"Anyone who tells these hardworking Americans that they should take it on the chin is not just wrong," Hawn said. "They do it at their own political peril."

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said his party was already well positioned to take advantage of a Trump backlash among suburban Republicans and that White House trade policy could help expand the map of politically competitive districts.

"He’s not looking too good in the rural areas either right now," Pallone said. "If [we] start winning seats in Iowa and some of the farm areas, then they are really in trouble.”

Trump's actions forced the debate over tariffs and subsidies, but many Republicans and Democrats — and their rural voters — would like to see him simply walk back the proposed tariffs.

"He brought [subsidies] up but really the whole focus of the discussion shifted to markets and trade and fair trade and not having tariffs," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said after meeting with Trump last week.

But the president also told lawmakers repeatedly that he has his finger on the pulse of rural America.

"He said multiple times he’s very focused [on] getting something that’s very good for agriculture and good for farmers and ranchers, and that farmers and ranchers supported him in his election," Hoeven said.

But even among those farmers, support for the president doesn't automatically translate into support for his agriculture policy.

Raybould, running against Fischer in Nebraska, has endorsed a bill introduced by Sens. Jeff Flake, Ariz., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., that would nullify Trump's proposed action on steel and aluminum imports.

"We need more trading partners, not fewer trading partners," she said.

In a statement released after last week's White House meeting, Fischer said she told Trump "how critical it is that we work together to protect markets" both domestically and internationally.

These issues are "causing anxiety and uncertainty" among her constituents, she said.

I don't have very high hopes for Democrats winning back states like Iowa or Indiana or Kansas, because I don't think for a second that the real issues people vote on in red states have much to do with economics.  Republicans will put together enough of a farm bill package to keep farmers and ranchers loyal, I'm sure.

But the reality is while Trump's trade war may depress GOP turnout, there's a wide chasm between "I'm not going to vote Republican" and "I'll vote for the Democrat in the race instead".  It's not going to be bridged anytime soon.  Trump's approval rating among Republicans remains upwards of 80-85%.

As long as he can prove that his policies are hurting urban Democrats and those people more than farm country, they'll applaud him while their economies burn, if not gladly hand him the matches and the gasoline.
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