Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Last Call For The Anti-Social Network, Con't

Facebook and Twitter execs faced tough questions on Capitol Hill today over failure to stop Russian propaganda operations and white supremacist users (Google didn't even bother to show up apparently) and it did not go well for any of them, especially when Alex Jones showed up as a guest.

The Senate Intelligence committee's hearing on election interference on social media Wednesday swiftly turned into unconventional political theater, complete with a conspicuously empty chair set aside to highlight Google's absence and a notable cameo from InfoWars host Alex Jones.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg fielded questions for nearly three hours on their companies' efforts to combat online disinformation and foreign influence operations ahead of the midterm elections. Lawmakers also pressed the executives on an array of issues including data privacy, hate speech and doing business China.

But it was Jones, who claims he's being silenced by the tech giants, who grabbed attention outside the hearing room, where a scrum of reporters huddled around him as he pontificated on the wrongs he said the industry has done him. The far-right provocateur, known for spreading baseless conspiracy theories, at times took a seat in the front row of the hearing room as Dorsey and Sandberg testified.

No wonder then that new numbers from Pew Research finds Americans are dumping Facebook like toxic waste (along with Trump having the same effect on Twitter) and that the primary social media networks of this decade may not even make it into the next.

Just over half of Facebook users ages 18 and older (54%) say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Around four-in-ten (42%) say they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, while around a quarter (26%) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone. All told, some 74% of Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions in the past year.

The findings come from a survey of U.S. adults conducted May 29-June 11, following revelations that the former consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had collected data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge.

Facebook has separately faced scrutiny from conservative lawmakers and pundits over allegations that it suppresses conservative voices. The Center found that the vast majority of Republicans think that social platforms in general censor political speech they find objectionable. Despite these concerns, the poll found that nearly identical shares of Democrats and Republicans (including political independents who lean toward either party) use Facebook. Republicans are no more likely than Democrats to have taken a break from Facebook or deleted the app from their phone in the past year.

There are, however, age differences in the share of Facebook users who have recently taken some of these actions. Most notably, 44% of younger users (those ages 18 to 29) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the past year, nearly four times the share of users ages 65 and older (12%) who have done so. Similarly, older users are much less likely to say they have adjusted their Facebook privacy settings in the past 12 months: Only a third of Facebook users 65 and older have done this, compared with 64% of younger users. In earlier research, Pew Research Center has found that a larger share of younger than older adults use Facebook. Still, similar shares of older and younger users have taken a break from Facebook for a period of several weeks or more. 

It's Millennials who are abandoning Facebook, and without them, the network is done. Generation Z won't even have Facebook around to get into at this rate.  Google is in the best position of the three, but that's not saying much.

Couldn't happen to a nicer group of privacy-abusing assholes.

The End Of The Session(s), Con't

Last week I talked about Donald Trump all but firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with both Sens. Lindsay Graham and Chuck Grassley giving Trump tacit permissions to fire him after the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was wrapped up. But it seems Trump's true cabinet -- FOX News hosts and right-wing pundit sites -- want Sessions's head on a pike now, and are telling Trump that he needs to make his move as soon as possible.

“It’s clear Jeff Sessions is more concerned with his career than the good of America. That said, it’s high time President Trump fires his ineffective Attorney General,” Eric Bolling, a close Trump friend and a former Fox News personality, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “I would NOT, however, fire [special counsel Robert] Mueller. For no other reason than political optics

He was hardly the only one calling for Sessions’ head for his alleged failure to protect Trump due to the attorney general’s recusal from the Russia probe. According to several people who speak regularly to Trump, the president still keeps polling his inner circle and allies for their take on what he should do about Sessions, all the while highlighting what he views as Sessions’ weaknesses, failings, and annoying qualities.

And nowhere is Trump’s fury on this better reflected and projected than on his preferred conservative media behemoth.

For her Labor Day weekend episode of Justice With Judge Jeanine, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro dedicated her opening monologue to personally and professionally trashing Trump’s attorney general as a witless “shill” and as a pathetic enabler of supposed “corruption by the Democrats.”

Her overarching message to Sessions was: Nobody likes you, nerd.

“What don’t you get? Have you no self-esteem, self-regard, self-respect? Where is your dignity? Why would you stay in a job where you’re not wanted?… And why do you continue to stay?” Pirro said in her lengthy “Opening Statement” on the program. “You’re so clueless you don’t even know you’re being used. You don’t even know you’re nothing but a shill. In fact, the only constituency that wants you is the ‘Deep State’… Are you proud of yourself?”

“Are you kidding? All of America knows the DOJ continues to be to be influenced by politics," she added. "You need to do one of two things: Resign immediately, because you are not wanted. Or put on your big boy pants and be a real attorney general.”

Pirro is a longtime friend and ally of Trump’s, and she had even been interviewedduring the Trump presidential transition for the job of deputy attorney general. The president watches her weekend show routinely, and Pirro stands in the same Trumpworld echelon as someone like Sean Hannity, another Fox star who doubles as a confidant and top outside adviser to Trump.

This seems to me to be a coordinated move in order to get Sessions to resign, by application of a hint fired out of railgun.  The plan of course is to neuter the Mueller probe, and make sure its conclusions never reach the light of day.  Rudy Giuliani gave away that game on Monday.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that the administration may claim executive privilege to block Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from releasing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report when the investigation is finished, according to a New Yorker report.

Giuliani claims that President Donald Trump’s original legal team—which has undergone many mutations since—cut a deal with Mueller that that the White House can object to public dissemination of information from the probe on the grounds of executive privilege.

When asked if the White House is likely to invoke this clause, Giuliani was frank: “I’m sure we will.”

And with Kavanaugh as the fifth vote on SCOTUS even if the Democrats with back the House, Trump then buries the report permanently, the GOP in Congress does nothing, and the investigation vanishes.

Greg Sargent says this is all part of the plan to bury the Mueller report.

Could this work? On Tuesday, I spoke to Andrew Kent, a professor at Fordham University School of Law. The short answer is: Probably not, but there are scenarios under which it could have some success, and a lot may turn on whether Democrats win back one or both chambers of Congress.

Under the special counsel regulations, Mueller is supposed to provide a “confidential” report explaining his conclusions to the attorney general — or, in this case, to Rosenstein, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself. Rosenstein, not Mueller, is then supposed to provide the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate judiciary committees with an “explanation” for the Justice Department’s decision to conclude the investigation.

This explanation can be released publicly if the Justice Department official overseeing the probe decides it would be “in the public interest.” In this scenario, Rosenstein would have a great deal of discretion to decide how much to put in that report — he could keep it very brief, or supply a lot of detail.

Kent tells me the White House could try to override the regulations and stop the report’s release to Congress — or at least part of it — by claiming executive privilege covers certain information in it. Kent says most of the information in the report probably would not plausibly be covered by any such claim, but that Trump might try to assert that much of it is, anyway.

And should Rosenstein object, he's fired or replaced, and the new overseer of the Mueller probe refuses to release the report at all.  The only way it happens is if Congress subpoenas the report, which will never happen unless the Dems can take back the House or Senate in November.

It's possible then, very possible in fact, that Trump may not actually fire Robert Mueller, but simply erase the report.  Either way, Jeff Sessions will not be Attorney General in 2019, that's a 100% certainty at this point.

He may not be Attorney General by the end of the month.

Stay tuned.

Battering Rahm, Or Replacing An Emanuel Transmission

There will be no third term for Chicago's Democratic Mayor and former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as his utter failure in the police killing of Laquan McDonald four years ago has now grown into a millstone large enough to drown him in the Chicago River. Vox's German Lopez:

The primary cause: Emanuel and his office played key roles in delaying the release of video of the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old.

The footage, which was released more than a year after the shooting, revealed that police had lied about what happened. Instead of lunging at police, as officers said, the teenager appeared to stumble around and move away from the officers when he was shot. The video, autopsy, and other forensic evidence also indicated that the officer who shot McDonald did so for as long as 15 seconds straight, with most of the shots seemingly fired after McDonald fell to the ground.

The release of the video led to heavy protests — as the shooting became part of the broader Black Lives Matter movement, which protests racial disparities in policing and particularly police use of force. Much of the criticism fell on Emanuel and other city officials, who in court resisted calls to release the video earlier, citing an ongoing investigation. A judge forced the release of the video despite the mayor’s resistance.

The video led to an investigation of the Chicago Police Department by the US Department of Justice, then led by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The subsequent report found that Chicago police often treat people in minority communities “as animals or subhuman,” resulting in widespread racial discrimination and excessive use of force. The report was a huge political blow for Emanuel (who was White House chief of staff under Obama): As mayor he oversees the city’s police force.

The officer who shot McDonald, Jason Van Dyke, is now on trial over the shooting, facing first-degree murder charges.

It says something that Rahm bailed on his $10 million campaign war chest before the verdict in McDonald shooting (he was done either way, frankly) but the guy has been a complete failure across the board as Mayor.

Emanuel tried to recover in the aftermath of the video’s release and Justice Department report — naming a new police superintendent and carrying out some policing reforms, including the adoption of body cameras and new training. “Nothing less than complete and total reform of the system and the culture that it breeds will meet the standard we have set for ourselves as a city,” he told the City Council, according to the New York Times.

But the efforts were widely seen as too little, too late. As the Times noted, “Mr. Emanuel’s seven and a half years as Chicago mayor can be separated into periods: pre-Laquan and post-Laquan” — with the post-Laquan period marking a downturn for Emanuel as critics demanded his resignation for what they saw as a cover-up in the McDonald police shooting.

There were other problems as well. Gun violence was a big one — leading to big protests across Chicago last month, in which demonstrators demanded that Emanuel resign and other efforts be taken up to clean up the streets and provide new economic and education opportunities in the city’s worst-off neighborhoods. The Tribune also reported that Emanuel “had drawn the ire of some voters for record property taxes he instituted to shore up the city’s woefully underfunded police employee pensions and for closing 50 schools in 2013.”

I'm not sorry to see him go in the least.  There are Democrats who are unremittingly awful human beings who need to be driven out of politics for good, and Rahm Emanuel is one of them.

Door, ass, way out.


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