Nel's New Day

March 13, 2019

Facebook Controlled by U.S. Government

Everything on Sue Hardesty’s Facebook page disappeared today, and she couldn’t post anything. Gone were all her writings and photos about marine life, dredging, a trip along the Oregon Coast, and much more. Disclaimer: I have never liked Facebook from its founding for misogynic cruelty through its formation via fraud and theft to the peak of aiding the election of a U.S. president. Now the ultra-wealthy Mark Zuckerberg, worth over $65 billion, has plans to take over the world by controlling everything that you do online—messaging, commerce, payments, etc. FB has destroyed self-esteem with the concept of “defriending” and eliminating privacy, especially for young people. Some people think it’s a nice way to make friends and keep in touch, but Facebook has a much darker side. Hardesty’s FB page may be back—temporarily—but my research shows how Zuckerberg’s company is controlling what you read.

Recently FB removed advertising information from Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren about breaking up Amazon, Google, and Facebook giants to unwind “anti-competitive” tech mergers, including Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram. Her ads read:

“Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google. We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”

The message on the ads read: “This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.” FB claimed that it took down the ads because it used their “corporate logo” but returned them after public protest. Warren responded:

“Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”

FB keeps material supporting Israel—including a page from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—while removing pages about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with “a strong bias in favor of Palestine.” In 2016, the Israeli Justice Ministry in 2016 bragged that FB removed 95 percent of content according to their requests and proposed a bill to allow government to remove content from the internet based on its preferences. Israel’s National Cyber Directorate announced that FB removed “thousands” of accounts ahead of municipal elections. The same thing could happen in the U.S.

Gone is the Hebrew @Polcartoons. Zuckerberg has partnered with the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Lab (DFRLab) to decide what should be removed, and it claimed “curated cartoons from various Israeli news outlets that lampooned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and conservative Israeli political sentiment.” DFRLab told FB to remove @StopMEK for promoting views against the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, an Iranian group opposed to the country’s clerical leader because it was “the largest and most active political opposition group against the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership.” Yet the FB of the Majlis, a coalition critical of President Hassan Rouhani much larger than the MEK, has 2.1 million followers, far more than the tiny MEK.

Atlantic Council, FB’s new partner to vet its content, has been described as a neoconservative “think tank,” directly funded and composed of groups connected to big pharma, the military complex, and government. Contributors include the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and multinational giants like energy titan such as Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, weapon-makers Raytheon, and banks such as JPMorgan Chase. Many foreign countries supporting Atlantic Council lack a strong belief in human fights and press freedoms. FB gave Atlantic Council almost $1 million. Now, Atlantic dictates who is permitted on FB and who is “removed,” and the federal funding takes away FB as a “private” company classification.

Immediately before midterm elections, FB purged years of hard work and six million followers for The Free Thought Project (TFTP) that now follows the government involvement in FB. Under the leadership of Nathaniel Gleicher, FB removed another 800 “pages” with missions of “anti-corruption” or “protest” movements at the same time, many of them antiwar and pro-peace—immediately before last fall’s midterm elections. FB claimed that they were spam. Top adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jamie Fly, took credit for the massive purge of antiwar pages.

Matt Taibbi, a highly respected investigative journalist, reported on the FB purges in December. He began his piece on James Reader, San Diego resident whose pro-Democratic site, Reverb, was judged “high for factual reporting, as all news is sourced to credible media outlets.” With 30 contributing writers, four full-time editors, and an IT specialist, the site reached 13 million people a week on FB and social media. He paid $2,000 to $6,000 a month to FB and followed their suggestions to grow the page. Starting in 2016, Reader’s articles went to right-wing FB groups with negative comments and reports to FB that his stories were spam. Traffic dropped, sales declined, and his investments in FB’s boosting tools weren’t successful. He couldn’t find a human at FB so that he could address these problems. On October 11, 2018, Reverb was taken offline, as an example of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” That day saw the first of two purges with no leading announcement. Twitter accounts also disappeared. All on the same day. Reader was never told why his site wasn’t published. Also gone were his Everlasting TOP Stoppers blog and his America Against Trump with 225,000 followers. He said, “Everything I’d worked for all these years was dead.”

Liberal America from Tiffany Willis Clark was removed on November 2, 2018. With 750,000 followers, the site is about “raising conscious kids who are aware of the suffering of others.” The most political she got was the list “87 Things Only Poor Kids Know and Conservatives Couldn’t Care Less About” including “We go to the doctor when we’re sick, but mom doesn’t.” She put her life savings into boosting readership on a platform that “seems to be redefining its mission minute to minute.”

By claiming to be a “private” company” FB can censor at will, but its connection with official or quasi-official groups creates a problem with “soft censorship,” according to Eric Goldman of the Santa Clara University School of Law. “We’re seeing removal of content that isn’t illegal but the government doesn’t like. It’s a backdoor form of censorship.”

When U.S. senators met with representatives of FB, Google, and Twitter, they supposedly answer outrage about the Russian” fake news” that had been influential for the 2016 presidential election. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) expressed concern about content “intended to worsen racial tensions” with stories about law enforcement abusing blacks. Google revised its search tools that resulted in deep drops for reputable alternative progressive news sources such as Common Dreams and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now as they almost disappeared from the search sources. Traffic for a dozen anti-war, progressive-leaning sites dropped 67 percent, and Alternet went down 63 percent.

A major critic of FB, The Free Thought Project has suffered under fact-checking, but two of its four “false” ratings were later overturned. Yet the FB page was eliminated with no explanation. The methodology for removing pages is opaque. Many removals come from user complaints, another method of information suppression. As Taibbi wrote:

“We’ve empowered a small cadre of ex-spooks, tech executives, Senate advisers, autocratic foreign donors and mainstream-media panels to create an unaccountable system of star-chamber content reviews—which unsurprisingly seem so far to have mostly targeted their harshest critics.”

In the past day, FB apologized for banning content from Zero Hedge, a conservative anti-finance website that predicted the 2008 recession. Complaints have also come about censorship of cannabis content. FB blocks anything about sale or use of the product despite its legality in Canada and many states in the U.S.

After the “paranoia” about being removed from FB with no notice, people finally discovered—with no notice—that FB has been down for much of the day in both Americas and Europe. Nobody knows why, but it bodes ill for using FB for more than social media.

Hardesty has saved much of her beautiful FB posts, some of them in hard copy. Losing the record of her “friends,” many of them school classmates and other writers, would have been sad, but she could recreate some of the material on a new page. On the other hand, my eighth anniversary of writing posts for this blog is April 30, 2019. Publishing almost 400,000 words a year on Nels New Day, I have about 3 million words—far too many to copy. I sometimes use past posts for historical reference and illustrations that have been removed from the internet for political purposes. People like James Reader and Tiffany Willis Clark lost not only years of work but also hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We are all at risk; our history is being “removed.” I’ll subscribe to the saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.” The loss of FB for a day or two may not be a problem to most people, but it should have been a wake-up call about what would happen if FB decided to take you off its social media.

February 2, 2019

How Facebook Damages Our Future

Love it or hate it, Facebook is ubiquitous around the world—making Mark Zuckerberg a multi-billionaire and helping elect Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to the highest office in the United States. On Monday, February 4, it celebrates its 15th anniversary. With over 2.2 billion active users, Facebook has devastated people through the ability to “defriend” others and been the cause of millions of cyberattacks, especially among teenagers. A prevalence of violence, hate speech, and fake news has caused concerned people to look for solutions, but no one, not even creator Zuckerberg, knows how to counteract the negative aspects of Facebook.

Zuckerberg’s early use of social media was well known when he attended Harvard University, according to a piece by Claire Hoffman published ten years ago in Rolling Stone. In 2002, sophomore Zuckerberg got drunk after his girlfriend dumped him and hacked into the university websites. He downloaded female classmates’ photographs and put them next to ones of farm animals for people to rate which ones were more desirable. Pleased with himself, he blogged the process along the way. More than 450 people signed up before Harvard tracked the source and shut off Zuckerberg’s web access. In a hearing, he was accused of violating student privacy and downloading school property without permission. The praise he gained from his peers taught him a lesson that he recorded in a deposition:

“People are more voyeuristic than what I would have thought.”

After Zuckerberg launched Facebook, three classmates sued him, arguing that he stole their invention of a social-networking site after they hired him to code their creation. Zuckerberg liked the idea but dragged his heels in completing his agreement, finally telling them that they should get another programmer. He claimed that he probably didn’t start his own Facebook until after that, but he used his classmates prototype for Facebook. Zuckerberg also failed to tell his former employers that he officially registered the original Facebook site with his web provider before he told the three employers that he couldn’t finish the project. A fourth classmate said that he had already invented an online facebook. On his launch of his Facebook on February 4, 2004, he described himself as “Founder, Master and Commander [and] Enemy of the State.”

In Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg continued to take advantage of people. Former suite-mate Eduardo Saverin gave him $20,000 as a co-investor in Facebook but stayed in New York while Zuckerberg played and worked in Palo Alto. When they had a falling out, Zuckerberg sued Saverin, claiming that he froze Facebook’s bank accounts. Saverin sued, claiming that Zuckerberg never matched his $20,000 and that he used Saverin’s money for personal expenses. Zuckerberg transferred all intellectual-property rights and membership interests to a new version of the company in Delaware, unhinged Saverin’s stock from any further Facebook growth, and fired Saverin as an employee. Then, as now, Zuckerberg let no one stand in his way.

In 2007, Zuckerberg did lose one round—with his users. He sold advertisers Beacon, a program allowing them to put information about users’ purchasers on their Facebook identity. The ensuing revolt made him back off. At the same time, those close to him started to leave him. Lawyers accused Zuckerberg of hiding the code to create Facebook, and key data was missing when the hard drives were final found.

In 2015, a DDT-supporting data company, Cambridge Analytica, took personal data from tens of millions of Facebook profiles without their consent to collect voting patterns, supposedly at the request of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and for support of DDT during the 2016 presidential campaigns. Once again, Zuckerberg apologized for the “leak” that occurred when Facebook allowed a Cambridge University researcher to persuade users to share both their own and their friends’ user data. He said that Facebook stopped letting app creators access data about “friends” without their authorization, but the damage was done, damage that wasn’t discovered until after the 2016 election.

As users burgeoned, Zuckerberg used his “social media” to promote conspiracy theories and pass along misinformation, some of which greatly influenced voters. A Russian company bought Facebook ads for the 2016 presidential election. Zuckerberg enabled hate groups to proselytize, for example his selling ads targeting Facebook users self-identified as “Jew Haters.” Zuckerberg excused himself by claiming that users are self-reporting the data, seemingly ignoring his claim that his algorithms can detect and eliminate hate speech.

In one example of dangerous conspiracies promoted on Facebook, “Pizzagate” made up a story before the 2016 election that Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking operation out of a Washington, D.C. pizza place. One believer showed up at the restaurant, waving a gun and demanding the children. The ridiculous and thoroughly debunked claim recently reemerged with an act of arson in the restaurant. Facebook’s mechanisms can radicalize users to support these conspiracy groups. Like gravitates to like, as Renée DiResta, a researcher of disinformation online, explains:

“Facebook’s recommendation engine says, ‘If you like pseudoscience, I’ll show you chemtrails and flat earth.’ Because of the increase of ominous conspiracies, you’re seeing groups around these conspiracy theories like QAnon or pizzagate being referred to people who would never search for them in the first place.”

Facebook’s “Suggested Groups” includes “Pizzagate Reports,” with this vivid photo-shopped image. From there, people are encouraged to move to groups such as “Real UFO Sightings & Strange Phenomenon,” “Official Flat Earth & Globe Discussion,” and “Q Angels.” While condemning misinformation and “fake news,” Zuckerman defends these groups, as well as Infowars, on his powerful social media. He said he would not ban Infowars although it shares “conspiracy theories or false news” and said that “there are things that different people get wrong—I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” He plans to leave up offensive or deliberately inaccurate posts but downgrade them so that algorithms show them to fewer people. Although Zuckerberg claims that he’ll take down misinformation that incites violence, Pizzagate is still up, and the restaurant is still being threatened with posts on Facebook bragging about frightening the owner to readers’ praise.

Last year, investigators discovered that Facebook uses “ethnic affinity” (aka race) that then permitted advertisers to target or exclude users based on this category. This Facebook characteristic allowed advertisers to deny opportunities for housing and employment. Zuckerberg claimed that he couldn’t see the impact of this category, and backlash caused Facebook to stop using this category—supposedly. Facebook’s abetting racism is profitable because every user is a possible source of revenue for the corporation. The more users, the more ads, and the more user insight to generate money for Facebook.

As Zuckerberg promises to fix one Facebook scam, he creates another. Facebook is secretly paying people to install a “Facebook Research” VPN allowing the company to obtain all the user’s phone and web activity, like Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple banned in June. That one was removed in August. The new Facebook approach may violate Apple policy because the social network can decrypt and analyze the users’ phone activity. Since 2016, Facebook paid users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month and more in referral fees to install this iOS or Android app. To hide its involvement with “Facebook Research,” Facebook documented the app as “Project Atlas” and administers the program through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest. Instagram and Snapchat ads for VPN run by uTest targeted teens 13-17 years old for a “paid social media research study” and promise compensation.

Apple blocked the app the day before Facebook promised to voluntarily pull it from Apple but continue to run the Android version. Collected data includes private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps, photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and ongoing location information from tracking apps. It works whether users’ screens and the VPN are on or off. Facebook claimed that the program is to learn how people use their phones and other services. The spokesperson said, “We don’t share this information with anyone.”

Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, originally independent companies. The result may be more privacy issues because WhatsApp currently doesn’t require a person’s identity, just a telephone number. It also doesn’t store messages and keeps minimal user data. Disturbed by the change, employees at all these companies are leaving. Facebook will also have additional problems in finding and stopping illicit activity and disinformation. WhatsApp blocked disinformation before the Brazilian presidential election by limiting the number of times a message could be forwarded.

In the past, I’ve worried about negative effects of Facebook usage, especially on teens. Studies show problems with self-esteem, feelings of envy, dissatisfaction, narcissism, antisocial behavior, and aggressiveness. Those concerns have moved to fears about radicalization of the far-right and control of elected officials. And Zuckerman just keeps apologizing and raking in the billions with new scams.

March 19, 2018

Data Mining Elected DDT, ‘Corrected’ the Stock Market

Stock markets have been drastically dropping during the past six weeks although sometimes crawling upward only to drop again. Today, the closing Dow Jones as over 2,000 points below February 5 with “corrections by Facebook and tech investments. While investors try to guess why stocks lose ground, today’s loss in Facebook—as much as seven percent at times—was clearly from the problems in a company working to control the win of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in the presidential election.

With the help of Russian oligarchs and officials, multi-billionaire Robert Mercer bought the presidency for DDT, and Mercer’s political-data firm Cambridge Analytica was instrumental in this success by targeting people’s emotional needs with information from social media. Last Friday night at the same time that AG Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, Facebook admitted that Cambridge lied about deleting Facebook user data obtained from Facebook in violation of the social network’s policies.

A detailed Facebook post stated that Russian-American psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, obtained 50 million Facebook users’ information in 2014 with his app “thisisyourdigitallife.” Kogan collected data from people and their friends who took that quiz. Only 270,000 people took the quiz, but Kogan gathered data on another 50 million people from network connections. He promised that the data was exclusively for research purposes and then sent the data to Cambridge Analytica for political purposes. The company funded his app for $800,000, and the Russian government also paid Kogan for his research into the psychology of specific Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica was also involved in the Leave.EU leading to the success of the Brexit vote for separating Britain from the European Union.

Cambridge’s control over voters comes from its “psychographic” targeting that creates psychological profiles to “effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations” that appeal to each person on an emotional level. Kogan claimed that his data predicted individual neuroticism, political views, agreeableness, and interests in subjects such as militarism, horoscopes, and the environment that could be used for targeting voters. Cambridge built profiles by maximizing the use of “up to 5,000 data points on over 230 million American voters,” according to the company’s website.

In August 2016 when Cambridge was targeting voters without their knowledge for DDT’s campaign, Facebook said it was deleting the collected data but didn’t tell Facebook users that GOP operatives were in possession of their data. Kogan’s company Global Science Research had paid people $1 or $2 in 2014 to complete its quiz and required that they download an app and share data about themselves and their social network. Facebook let app developers access data, such as their friends’ names and personal information about both themselves and their network. In 2015, Facebook claimed to receive certification that Kogan, Cambridge Analytica, and founder of Cambridge Christopher Wylie had destroyed all data collected by the quiz. They didn’t.

Wylie, a data analyst for Cambridge, shared the company’s activities with The New York Times and London’s The Observer in addition with UK cybercrime investigators. Former employees and contractors of Cambridge maintain that the company still possesses all or most of the data. In an interview on Today this morning, Wylie said that Cambridge worked with Corey Lewandowski, DDT’s first campaign manager, and Steve Bannon in 2015. Wylie described the method that Cambridge used:

“This data was used to create profiling algorithms that would allow us to explore mental vulnerabilities of people and then map out ways to inject information into different streams or channels of content online so that people started to see things that may or may not be true. This is a company that took fake news to the next level.”

Facebook blocked Wylie, and he retorted:

“Suspended by Facebook. For blowing the whistle. On something they have known privately for two years.”

Tracking responses to social media messages in real time showed the locations where DDT should go and the words that his audience would want to hear. Bannon said just before DDT’s election:

“I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine. Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”

Theresa Hong, an IT member of DDT’s campaign, told BBC in an interview last year, “Without Facebook, we wouldn’t have won.” She explained how a working mother could be targeted with information about child care instead of war with a more “warm and fuzzy” ad without DDT’s voice. She said, “It wasn’t uncommon to have about 35 to 45 thousand iterations of these types of ads everyday.”

Cambridge emerged in Robert Mueller’s investigation last December through its employee emails that revealed the FEC violations about non-U.S. people working on political campaigns. Cambridge’s CEO, Nix, is British, and many of the company’s employees are European or Canadian. In its Russian connections, Cambridge contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in June 2016, and the DDT campaign started paying Cambridge in July–almost $9 million by the end of the campaign.

In now-deleted tweets, Facebook’s head of security, Alex Stamos, tried to justify Kogan’s actions by stating that he “didn’t break into any systems, bypass technical controls, or use a flaw in our system to gather more data than allowed.” Yet Facebook did not permit Kogan to give data to a voter-targeting operation.

An undercover reporter has video of  Cambridge CEO Nix who suggested that his company could use honey traps and bribery to discredit politicians. In defining “deep digging,” Nix said that a way to target someone is to “offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that’s video recorded” and “send some girls around to the candidate’s house…” He added that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well.” Nix said, “I’m just giving you examples of what can be done and what has been done.”

Mercer has largely stayed out of the limelight while he funds Cambridge Analytica, which keeps a shell company in the United States, and he pours his money into electing nationalist candidates. Former CEO of the investment firm Renaissance Technologies, Mercer was also a main funder of Breitbart News and the biggest donor to DDT-supporting Super PACs. Steve Bannon was VP of Cambridge Analytica while he chaired Breitbart News but quit to join DDT’s campaign. Bannon is gone from the White House, but Kellyanne Conway, close friend of Mercer’s daughter Rebecca and creator of the term “alternative news,” stayed.

Some of Mercer’s beliefs:

  • During the 1990s, Hillary Clinton used the CIA for drug trafficking.
  • Blacks were better off economically before the civil rights movement.
  • The only racists in the U.S. now are black, not white.
  • The U.S. should have stripped Iraq of oil.
  • Radiation outside the immediate blast zones of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Japanese people healthier.
  • Nuclear accidents aren’t any big deal.
  • Climate change would cause future generations to “enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life,” as Art Robinson wrote.
  • The U.S. should return to the gold standard.
  • (And many more wacky, radially far-right conspiracy theories.)

Mercer used Breitbart.com as a weapon to promote negative stories about Hillary Clinton that got the most clicks and likes. He put his daughter, Rebekah, on DDT’s transition team where she picked people for top government jobs including Cabinet positions. Her push for John Bolton as Secretary of State failed, but now he’s being considered for national security adviser. She was also behind Michael Flynn’s selection for that job. On the board of Cambridge, Rebekah Mercer plans to stay there.

Elizabeth Denham, Britain’s information commissioner, plans to apply for a warrant to access Cambridge’s servers because the company has not cooperated with her investigation into its illegal activities. The EU and Democrat officials in the U.S. have joined her in demands for further investigation. Republicans, some of whom used Cambridge in their elections such as Sens. Ted Cruz (TX) and Thom Tillis (NC), are mostly staying quiet about the problem.

Cambridge Analytica wasn’t totally responsible for the loss in investment value today: under a new chairman, Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates with another two increases planned before the midterm elections. Rational influences on DDT from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and economic adviser Gary Cohn are gone, replaced by Mike Pompeo who wants to go to war and Larry Kudlow who is usually wrong about economics. Add to that DDT’s rabid tweets against special investigator Robert Mueller last weekend, and the nation has plunged into an uncertainty that frightens investors.

As for data mining, the future may bring regulations.

September 23, 2017

DDT: Week Thirty-five – Health Care, Russia Loom

The UN experience is over for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) although he’s still exchanging childish insults with North Korea. In addition to the cliffhanger question of a world war, Now the U.S. is waiting for a vote in the Senate about health care repeal and replace with less money to most of the states. Sen. John McCain has come out against the bill, but GOP Senate leaders want to buy Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) vote. The bill gives Alaska and Montana—just those two states—continued advantages of the Affordable Care Act: premium tax credits from Affordable Care Act repealed for other states, delayed Medicaid per capita caps delayed, and “an increased federal Medicaid matching rate. Less than three months ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), co-author of this bill, ranted against buying off people to get votes for a health care bill.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) explained the push to get the bill passed in the next week before the filibuster takes over:

“I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign.”

Grassley means that the Koch brothers and friends will pull the plug on donations without legislation. At a June retreat, one donor declared that his “Dallas piggy bank” was closed until the GOP manages to “get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed.”

Congress wants DDT to continue his warmongering throughout the world. Sixty-one senators defeated a measure that would have limited DDT’s ability to wage war anywhere he wants. Congress has abdicated its responsibility to determine times and places of warring on other countries. An amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to the defense bill would have repealed a post-9/11 military authorization allowing DDT to determine times and places of warring on other countries. Paul said:

“What we have today is basically unlimited war anywhere, anytime, anyplace upon the globe. Even if my colleagues say, ‘war, war, that’s the answer everywhere, all the time,’ by golly, come down and put your name on it.”

DDT plans to extend drone strikes and commando raids in any countries where Islamic militants are active without high-level vetting. Such action could lead to attacks in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Russia has threatened retaliation against the U.S. if their troops continue to come under fire. The recent shelling of Syrian government positions by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has also put Russian troops under fire.

Other Russia problems:

Difference of opinion between DDT and his administration:

“The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook.” – DDT

“It is clear, and this administration and the entire government has been clear that Russia meddled in the campaigns and the election. That is inappropriate. Absolutely inappropriate. No one takes issue with that whatsoever.” – State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert

Media reported that federal investigators allegedly secretly wiretapped former DDT campaign manager Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 election and plan to indict him. He was first surveilled for employment by a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party and then watched for his collusion between DDT’s campaign and Russian officials to get DDT elected. Two weeks before DDT became the GOP nominee, Manafort offered to brief a Russian billionaire with close ties to Russia. In July, Mueller executed a “no-knock” search warrant on Manafort’s home to stop him from destroying documents connected with violation of tax laws, money-laundering, and foreign lobbying. Mueller has also asked for documents in 13 areas of interest from the White House and Air Force One, including DDT’s firing former FBI director James Comey and DDT’s son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer.

Information about Michael Flynn’s secret meetings and lobbying for the U.S. to spread nuclear power across the unstable Middle East, possibly with Russia’s help, have been expanded with the knowledge that he was joined by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, who still has security clearance. Michael Flynn’s legal fees are supposedly about $1 million, and he’s asking for donations. DDT and Don Jr. don’t have problems with their legal bills: they’re using money from DDT’s 2020 reelection campaign and the RNC. This the first case of a sitting president using campaign funds for criminal matters.

Facebook’s advertising against Clinton paid by Russia continues with Mueller’s investigating DDT’s campaign digital operation and its overseer, his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Billionaire Robert Mercer’s data firm, Cambridge Analytica, made Facebook’s fake news into Propaganda Center for DDT.

Michael Cohen, former DDT lawyer, will be required to testify in an open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee instead of a closed meeting with staff because he broke his agreement not to release a public statement before the meeting.

Nicaragua has decided to sign the Paris climate agreement leaving the United States alone with Syria in opposition.

Back on the home front:

White House staffers are flocking to headhunters, seeking positions in the private sector. The turnover date seems to be January, one year less than usual for new presidential administrations. White supremacist Sebastian Gorka, fired from the White House, already got a new gig as “chief strategist” with the “MAGA Coalition,” that supports political candidates who will “compete against globalist corporatists interests.” His first gig was with Sarah Palin—yes, the former VP candidate—at a rally for far right evangelist Roy Moore at the September 26 runoff for Alabama GOP senate candidate. A sample of Moore’s rhetoric about Native Americans and Asians from the state Supreme Court Justice who refused to follow the law on marriage equality:

“Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A President? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.”

Opposing Moore is appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), the preference of DDT and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). DDT lukewarm comments at Strange’s rally won’t inspire confidence. “I don’t know him. I met him once.” And “that is the tallest human being I’ve ever seen.” DDT said that he might be making a mistake in backing Strange and would rather be home watching television. It was—“strange.”

The 10th Circuit Court ruled that BLM violated federal law by failing to consider climate impact of four coal leases on federal land in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Three of the leases are actively being mined, and two of them produce about 20 percent of the coal used to generate electricity. A month ago, a federal judge made the same ruling in blocking the expansion of an underground Montana coal mine.

California is suing DDT in opposition to his “wall” because it is unconstitutional and breaches environment laws.

DDT is using a report that censored data in a refugee policy in attempt to show that refugees from war-torn countries “are not a net benefit to the U.S. economy.” His HHS report shows that refugees brought in “$63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.”

A teamsters union representing 120,000 New York workers has declared itself a “sanctuary union” after ICE deported long time member Eber Garcia Vasquez. His asylum case was turned down in 2013, but he annually checked in with immigration authorities and had applied for a green card. Vasquez’s wife and three children are U.S. citizens.

DDT’s old travel ban expires tomorrow, and he needs new plans. One may be to extend the existing six countries that he thinks have not protected against terrorists and criminals coming to the U.S. The current ban goes to the Supreme Court on October 10 for argument. After over eight months since his inauguration and declaration of bans, DDT hasn’t been able to put together a vetting system.

The Trump Organization, still owned by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), has decided to clean up DDT’s bio for posterity. Gone are all references to his birther fight—his attempts to prove that President Obama was not born in the United States—and all his bankruptcies and other failed deals. It also removes any mention to Macy’s dropping DDT’s product line because of his racist remarks about Mexican immigrants and reference to Istanbul’s Trump Towers. DDT doesn’t own that property or most buildings labeled “Trump” outside the United States, but the Turkish owners bought his name for between $1 million and $5 million. A year ago, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted the towers to be renamed because of DDT’s Islamophobic comments.

As part of DDT’s order for anti-leak training at all executive agencies, the EPA required its employees to undergo the hour-long training. Part of the instruction is that they cannot release any information even if unclassified. Training materials were leaked to the press. The EPA has received press about its cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry, its purging federal scientists, and its removal of information about climate change from the EPA website. Other information includes the EPA’s rolling back regulations.

Could this be considered a death threat? Ann Coulter suggested “death squads” for removing the president who didn’t live up to her anti-immigration expectations.

February 2, 2016

Good News Despite Iowa Caucus

The Iowa caucus yesterday was a disaster for country that claims to be a democracy. Want to vote for a presidential candidate? Go to a corner and get counted. Want to decide on a delegate? Toss a coin. Want to have somebody run a caucus? Pick somebody who just showed up to vote and is clueless about structure and responsibilities?  Then there’s the winner. Marco Rubio came out first to declare himself a victor because he got third place for the Republicans—something accurately predicted by polls.

Then there’s the super PAC called Black Americans for a Better Future. Every donor is white. Of the $417,250 received in donations, $400,000 came from Robert Mercer, hedge-fund sugar daddy for Ted Cruz. The sole beneficiary of the super PAC is Raynard Jackson, a GOP black political consultant based in Washington, D.C. The money is  for events encouraging blacks to join the Republican party.

While the Iowa caucus controlled media content, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) admitted that he and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), current chair of the Benghazi investigation, created the attack on Hillary Clinton to keep a Democrat from being elected president. They hope that the committee’s persecution and pushing Clinton’s emails can cause her to lose to “a devout socialist who wants to nationalize almost everything in America,” according to Issa. That can be the rationale for concentrating on her emails and overlooking other high-profile leaders  who use private servers for their government emails.

While House members constantly attack Clinton and repeal health care, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) protects his party members by doing nothing for the next nine months. No decision about ISIS, no criminal justice reform legislation, and probably no trade deals. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) claim that the Senate doesn’t even need to pass a budget, despite the GOP complaints about the Dems in the same position. McConnell plans to string out the 12 annual appropriation bills to appear that he’s doing something.  Of the 34 seats up for re-election in the Senate, 24 are held by Republicans including Johnson and Portman. Losing five of those seats turns the majority in the Senate back to the Democrats.

People of the United States did experience a victory last Friday. For a few months, the United States won’t be giving out any new permits to frack for oil or gas off the California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where Exxon Mobil and other oil companies operate platforms. The settlement from the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles also requires the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to analyze the environmental dangers of offshore fracking and acidization under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After the deadline of May 28, 2016, the public has at least 30 days to review and comment on the assessment.

Over 200 cases of fracking in state and federal waters off California have rubber-stamped permits from federal regulators, and the oil industry dumps over 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean off the California coast every year. At least ten fracking chemicals routinely used offshore kills marine life, including otters and fish. Some of the many fish species that could be harmed by fracking pollution include white seabass, sand and kelp (calico) bass, lingcod, sheephead, ocean whitefish, yellowtail, bonito, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, sculpin, yellow croaker, barred surfperch and dozens of species of rockfish.

The settlement could affect oversight of all federally permitted offshore fracking, including that in the Gulf of Mexico which has never had any environmental review. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 could protect these species, but it has never been fully implemented and enforced, with no protection for ocean pollution, fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, military testing, corporate aquaculture, and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

A state panel to determine so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California between 2009 and 2012 was led by a oil industry lobbyist. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force as her industry fracked the waters with little or no government oversight. State officials promised to review the “marine protected areas” every five years but changed to 10-year reviews.

Conservatives angry about protecting the ocean are also going to be furious about Facebook’s announcement that it will ban users from selling guns on both its main site and its photo-sharing site Instagram. Licensed gun dealers can still post with the requirement that they do not conduct purchases on the site, but it applies to the private gun sales not requiring background checks in most states.

Facebook rules cover gun parts and ammunition as well as guns. Federal laws don’t cover guns if they are 80 percent or less complete, like an “unfinished lower receiver.” In this way, people can buy “incomplete” guns without serial numbers or background checks, and people can buy these parts and put them together for an untraceable gun. Some websites even sell the machines to complete receivers with the promise that buyers can build unserialized firearms legally in your own home. The federal government can’t block this, but Facebook can decide what it doesn’t want to sell—such as marijuana, pharmaceuticals, or other potentially illegal objects.

With one debate before next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, media will be consumed by presidential candidates. At least that state uses real ballots. Both parties debate next week—Dems on February 11 and GOP on February 13—before decisions on a Democratic candidate in Nevada and the GOP candidate in South Carolina on February 20. The two parties can’t even vote on the same day in those states: Democrats wait another week to vote in South Carolina and the GOP won’t caucus in Nevada until February 23. Four weeks from today is Super Tuesday with a solid dozen states. Maybe that will produce a decision—or not.

Martin O’Malley on the Democratic side and Mike Huckabee on the GOP side have both dropped out. Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus in 2008, said, “The voters are sick of me.” In the 2012 Iowa caucus, the first winner was Mitt Romney. After Iowa GOP decided they made a mistake, they selected Rick Santorum and then went on to declare Ron Paul the real winner. The next dropout may be John Kasich who said that he’ll be gone if he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire. No one knows what Donald Trump will decide.

Ted Cruz’s campaign has outdone Trump’s outrageousness by spreading the news during the Iowa caucus that Ben Carson was planning to drop out of the race. Later Cruz apologized, calling it a “mistake” but said that it was “fair game” to update his “grassroot leaders” that “Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.” Twenty minutes after the caucuses began in Iowa, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the Cruz campaign’s national co-chair, tweeted, “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”

Cruz had already gained the ire of Iowa’s secretary of state after Cruz sent mailers that misrepresented state election law. A warning of a “voting violation” in capital letters at the top of the page was followed by that statement that people were receiving notice “because of low expected voter turnout in your area.” The flier continued, “Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.” After that were a list of names, letter grades, and percentage scores.

sandersclintondebate

The highlight of my week will be the Democratic debate on MSNBC Thursday, February 4–if it happens. Moderator Rachel Maddow will moderate, and Fox can watch to see how debates should be run. It’s still up in the air because Bernie Sanders first said he wanted the debate, but now he says he won’t debate unless Hillary Clinton agrees to his conditions on future debates.

And the joke that the U.S. calls democracy continues.

 

March 6, 2014

Change the Culture of Guns

Smoking was really cool, a half century ago, until people found out that the tobacco industry was lying and that tobacco was a horrifying public health issue. As the 21st century started, guns were cool. How did the people in the United States break the stranglehold that corporations held over lawmakers despite the favoritism that courts show the gun industry? They changed the culture. As more and more people learned that tobacco use kills, they pushed legislators into laws protecting people. In the same way, people can loosen the gun industry’s draconian hold on today’s lawmakers.

A tiny chink in the gun culture came yesterday with the announcement that Facebook will no longer post sales of weapons without background checks. The company’s spokesman, Matt Steinfeld, announced that Facebook had been working on curtailing illegal gun trafficking “for quite a while,” but the recent petitions on the Internet from Moms Demand Action and a coalition of other groups may have pushed them.

The social network will no longer allow posts for sales with “no background check required” or promises to send firearms across state lines without a licensed dealer. Another guideline is limiting minors’ access to pages and posts selling guns.

The National Rifle Association threatened retaliation for Facebook’s mandating legal gun sales. The executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, Chris W. Cox, said, “The NRA enjoys 150 times more support on Facebook than Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns.” He added, “NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment rights.”

Members of Facebook’s “Guns for Sale” described the rules as unconstitutional and unnecessary although children and people without IDs can locate sales of assault rifles, handguns, shotguns, etc. in as little as 15 minutes on Facebook. The administrator of “Guns for Sale” did “support the idea of keeping guns out of the hands of children and dangerous people (i.e. criminals who aren’t allowed to own them).”

The same rules will be implemented on Instagram, owned by Facebook. Steinfeld said that monitoring will rely on complaints and send messages telling people who post “to comply with relevant laws and regulations.” A weak start, but a start.

Other facts to help change the culture of “cool” guns:

Having guns in the house make women less safe. A new study shows that higher rates of gun availability are correlated with higher rates of female homicide, especially notable because women in the United States account for 84 percent of all female firearm victims in the world. Men with guns claim that women need firepower to keep the weaker sex safe, but more than twice as many women are killed by husbands or partners than are murdered by strangers who use guns, knives, or other means of killing.

In one study, two-thirds of battered women were threatened with death by an intimate partner with a gun. Even if women use guns to protect themselves from abusive husbands, they are likely to end up in prison for many years as shown by the case of Marissa Alexander in Florida. She only fired a warning shot to protect herself, but she may have a 60-year sentence after fighting the 20-year prison term awarded her. At the same time, George Zimmerman walks free while he threatens the women in his life.

A 2005 study found that men killed themselves after shooting and killing their partners in two-thirds of the cases. Just one example is a Texas police officer who shot and killed his 42-year-old wife last week before he killed himself with the shotgun he had bought her. Sgt. Nick Pitofsky had posted an online video days earlier about buying a shotgun so that Vanessa, his wife of only three years, could protect himself.

Texas cop

Children are more likely to be killed by guns in the United States. In the U.S., children and teenagers are four times more likely to die by gunfire than in Canada, seven times more likely than young people in Israel, and 65 times more likely than children and teenagers in the United Kingdom. Children from 5 to 14 years old are also more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries, suicides, and homicides if they live in states or regions with more rather than fewer guns.

Gun injuries are increasing. Some people argue that the number of deaths from guns is not increasing. No one can know if this is accurate because the NRA has blocked the keeping of accurate statistics. Even if this statement is true (which is unknown), injuries have increased 25 percent within the last decade.

Tough state laws are negatively impacted by other states with lax laws. In Massachusetts, where gun laws are among the most strict in the country, more than half the guns seized and traced in 2012 came from out of state. Federal agent Dale Armstrong compared the problem to barnacles:  “You know, one barnacle on the bottom of your boat’s not a problem. But the collective of a thousand barnacles on the bottom of your boat are a real big problem. They’re hard work to scrape off, nobody wants to help you do it.”

Massachusetts law requires that sales be reported to the state within seven days and a license to carry from local police that requires a background check. In surrounding states such as New Hampshire and Maine, private sales, even at a gun show, require neither background check nor record of the transaction. Not even identification. The law makes it illegal for a prohibited person, such as a felon, to buy a gun, the the seller doesn’t have any responsibility for selling to the person. In 2012, only three states, including Massachusetts, had the majority of seized guns traced to out of state sales.

Market forces could control gun industry. In Miami-Dade County, law enforcement may affect gun manufacturers by requiring them to show how they keep guns from those who are ineligible or “straw buyers” who buy guns to sell them illegally. Organizations such as Arms with Ethics are hoping that this practice catches on across the country in which law enforcement agencies spend over $1 billion for firearms.

At this time, lawmakers give more rights to guns than people, especially women and children. A common phrase is “Children are our future,” but legislators follow the mantra, “Guns are our future.” The people who promote open purchases of weapons with no background checks or registrations care more about a piece of metal that is designed only to destroy and kill than they do for the people who are devastated by shootings. Instead of strengthening protections from guns, most states have made their laws more lax, allowing more guns into the hands of felons and the mentally ill.

The NRA opposes even laws requiring trigger locks and safes for their guns. An example of NRA control is the removal of a provision requiring gun owners to report stolen weapons from a Missouri bill. Instead, Missouri is again considering a law that would remove any laws that would stop anyone from owning guns.

Those who cry Second Amendment rights want unlimited ownership and refuse to believe statistics about the dangers of gun ownership. They need to follow their own advice and not accept the statistics that they use to justify their positions that promote the injuries and deaths of innocent people.

As Tom Diaz wrote in The Last Gun:

“Like the tobacco industry before it, the American gun industry and its lobby have successfully employed political intimidation, the crassest form of flag-waving propaganda, and mass-marketing techniques appealing to fear and loathing to prevent being called to account for the public health disaster it has inflicted on America and to avoid meaningful regulation.”

The next chink in the culture war against unlimited gun ownership might be the protests against Visa’s business partnership with the NRA. Members of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence argue that the purchases made with the NRA Visa card help fund the campaign to block stronger gun protections, including expanded federal background checks for firearm purchases. NRA’s website states that it has raised over $20 million from its affiliation with Visa. It underlines NRA’s sole purpose for existing: money.

May 28, 2013

Facebook Guidelines Need to be Changed

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:08 PM
Tags: , , , ,

MySpace was a popular social network several years ago, but it was quickly taken over by Facebook and pretty much disappeared. Now, the most popular social network is showing very bad judgment.

Last week, protesters boycotted Facebook advertising because the network permitted images of domestic violence against women at the same time that it banned ads about women’s health. Companies that pulled their advertising include online bank Nationwide UK, Nissan UK, and J Street. Dove, a Unilever brand running a “self-esteem” ad campaign for women, faces pressure on Twitter although Procter & Gamble responded, “We can’t control what content they [our advertising] pops up next to. Obviously it’s a shame that our ad happened to pop up next to it.”

Zappos replied that users upset by an ad appearing next to a date rape image “click the X to delete the ad.” Zipcar is still advertising but “expressed to Facebook the critical need to block this content from appearing.” Audible will also keep its advertising on Facebook:

“Audible does not condone or endorse violence against women,” but it “takes pride in and respects the rules that govern our Facebook community and because of this we do not delete negative posts. However, we must delete, and will continue to delete, any content that contains offensive, graphic images.”

As of this morning, 15 companies have disassociated from Facebook advertising.

A Facebook spokesperson said that content featuring battered women, rape, and violence falls under “poor taste” or “crude attempts at humor, but it does not violate its policies. The network screens anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic, and homophobic hate speech but not images of violence against women. At the same time, Facebook rejected an ad about breast cancer because it showed a woman’s breast.

The ad about breast cancer disputes false claims that abortion causes higher instances of breast cancer. The company argued that the ad violated their guidelines preventing the “advertising [of] adult products or services, including toys, videos, or sexual enhancement products.” The ad linked to a page on the National Cancer Institute website reassuring women that “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

Michelle Kinsey Bruns, the online manager of Women’s Media Center and the creator of the ad, said that the rejection shows “the absolute inconsistency that Facebook is willing to apply to a woman’s body as an object of violence, but a woman’s body as a medical object is too scandalous to be approved.”

Also removed from Facebook have been images of “mastectomies, breastfeeding mothers, and other non-sexualized depictions of women’s bodies” and labeling them as “pornographic,” while allowing photographs and forums that make light of abusing and raping women. That content often falls under the “humor” section of Facebook’s content guidelines.

Examples of what Facebook refused to remove—because of the “humor”—are a page titled “Slapping Hookers in the Face with a Shoe” and a picture of a woman lying in a pool of blood with the slogan “I like her for her brains.”

In The Guardian, Emer O’Toole defined the problem:

“The [protest]holds a mirror up to a pervasive element of our culture that many either fail to acknowledge or aggressively insist that feminists laugh off. Officially, violent misogyny is not condoned, and most corporations won’t endanger their brands by being associated with it. Unofficially, violent misogyny is still very much de rigueur. Facebook is a conduit between these official and unofficial attitudes to women and, as such, provides an opportunity for radical intervention.”

Since the protest started a week ago, over 100 women’s movement and social justice organizations have become involved, and people have sent over 60,000 tweets and 5000 emails in an attempt to end gender-based hate speech on Facebook.

The petition that people signed had four demands. The first one reads:

“Make a public statement that rape is never acceptable; that promoting sexual violence and violence against women is repugnant; that Facebook will remove content that advocates rape, sexual violence, and violence against women; and that the terms of service/community standards will be updated to specify this.”

Last month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was under fire because his political group to back immigration reform switched to spending millions of dollars on ads promoting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  Activist organizations, including MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and Progressives United, suspended Facebook advertising in protest. Zuckerberg’s PAC, supposedly a progressive organization, also ran ads praising Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) for trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for attacking Obamacare.

According to activist Soraya Chemaly, Facebook plans to change its approach to hate speech. The response from Facebook read:

”We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying).

“We realize that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence.”

Toward that end, they said that they would review and update their guidelines and update training for teams who evaluate reports of “hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook.” In addition, Facebook  claims it “will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create.”

We all need to watch Facebook and see if they live up to their promises.

May 29, 2012

Getting Facebooked – Borowitz’s Take

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:38 PM
Tags: , ,

Facebook stocks are still going down–down  almost 10 percent just today to $28.84 today from a high of $45 a few days ago.  The $35 billion loss debacle has even resulted in a verb–Facebooked–probably meaning investors’getting screwed over and then suing everybody involved.

A few days ago, Andy Borowitz wrote this satire, a serious problem because the entire situation is a satire. What he has to say may be prophetic. (But it is still funny!)

A Message about Facebook

From Founder Mark Zuckerberg

MENLO PARK, CA (The Borowitz Report) – The following letter to Facebook users was issued today by Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg:

Dear Facebook User,

Hi, it’s Mark.

As you may have heard, our IPO last week didn’t go quite as well as expected.  How badly did it go, exactly?  If you live in a major city, you’ve probably seen homeless guys huddled around bonfires of Facebook stock.  More ominously, I just received a call from my attorney telling me that I probably didn’t need a prenup after all.

If you’re a Facebook investor, you already know what this means: it sucks to be you.  But what if you’re one of the billion Facebook users in the world?  Well, it also sucks to be you, because I am writing to you now to ask for your financial support to help save Facebook.

It’s only fair.  Since its founding in 2004, Facebook has totally revolutionized the way you waste your life.  Without it, you would find yourself in the unpleasant and awkward position of having to speak to your family.  And so, to keep Facebook alive, I am instituting the following new usage charges:

— $1 per poke

— $5 for every ex you crop out of a profile picture

— $10 for every time you stalk someone from high school, college, or job you were fired from because of that HR “incident”

— $15 for every “friend” you have never met (no charge for friends you know, if any)

— $20 for every sheep, bird, or the Scrabble letters Z, X or Q

With your financial help, Facebook should be around for many years to come, providing you with hours upon hours of pointless and isolating activity.  Without your help?  I’ve just got one word for you: Friendster.

Help me,

Mark

 

 

May 24, 2012

Investors Upset about Facebook IPOs

Almost everyone I know seems to belong to Facebook; worldwide the number of members is up to 900 million. I belong only because I had to join in order for a conference get-together four years ago and I can’t get off after losing my password. Occasionally the desire from someone to “friend me” wanders into my email, and I just delete it with the resolution to get rid of my Facebook relationship.

There’s also been lots of discussion within the past year about whether teachers and students can be “friends” and whether employers can demand applicants and employees’ restricted Facebook passwords. Some schools are even asking students for their passwords. (They can look at my Facebook page if they’ll only take me off!)

Last week, however, media attention surrounding Facebook ratcheted up after the company decided to go public. As many people know, it began with the company belonging to the 28-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg providing something called “initial public offering” (IPO) and continued with the brouhaha surrounding the Brazilian co-founder Eduardo Saverin giving up his U.S. citizenship to take his $67 million—tax free—to Singapore where he maintains residency. Singapore doesn’t tax capital gains.

Initially Facebook stock soared from $38 per share to $45, before shooting down to $31, losing $2.9 billion for investors. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg walked off with over $1 billion dollars in his pocket before he got married last weekend.

The investment loss resulted in lots of finger-pointing. Facebook’s CFO David Ebersman decided to increase the number of shares offered to investors by 25 percent just days before the IPO. NASDAQ’s computer systems failed on the morning of the deal; investors couldn’t place orders or cancel orders or find out if their orders had been placed or canceled. A modest stock “pop” probably caused some institutional investors to immediately dump their shares, causing a greater price decline.

The biggest problem, however, may be that estimates developed by the underwriters to determine a fair price were cut partway through the debacle. Facebook told the underwriters, but not the investors, that its business outlook had deteriorated. Institutional investors were okay; individual investors weren’t.

Investors are not happy about the loss, but they’re really not happy about finding out that underwriter Morgan Stanley had cut revenue forecasts before the offering, an action that investors didn’t know until after the stock was listed. Underwriters JPMorgan Chase (of the famous multibillion-dollar losses this spring) and Gold Sachs also “selectively” changed their estimates early on, letting special clients know earlier than the others.

Yesterday, riled investors filed a proposed class-action suit in federal court against not only Zuckerberg but also Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and other underwriters of the IPO, arguing that they were not informed of the trim in revenue expectations. The state of Massachusetts issued a subpoena to Morgan Stanley for documents related to the IPO. Investors also sued the Nasdaq OMX Group because the exchange struggled to process orders during the first half hour of trading.

SEC is trying to figure out what to do: Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said that regulators are “looking into” the “issues.” Congressional lawmakers have raised questions about the deal. Chairs of both the Senate Banking and the House Financial Services committees are getting information about what happened  to see if they should have hearings.

Morgan Stanley has a history and a culture of tricking their own clients into making lousy investments. CNBC reports, “Morgan Stanley may have spent billions of dollars to support the [Facebook] stock price by buying shares in the market.”

Before losing up to $4 billion—so far—in its botched derivatives scam, JPMorgan Chase gave up billions more to settle charges stemming from its rampant foreclosure fraud, which involves mass perjury and forgery, and its bribing of public officials.

Goldman Sachs lied to prospective investors about mortgage-backed securities and illegally shared confidential information with its preferred clients.

Conservatives like to talk about the virtues of a “free market,” but the lack of regulations gives the entire game to the financial corporations. Investors can’t know until it’s too late what the banks are doing to take all their money. In summary, the Facebook IPO demonstrates how shady traders make money by hyping stock while secretly betting against it.

These huge financial corporations can break any law that they want. When they get caught, they just pay a fine that they can afford because they have stolen so much money that it isn’t a problem for them. Maybe losing money will teach Republican investors that their party doesn’t benefit them as individuals.

March 17, 2012

Make Sperm Equal to Women

When I was growing up, men had more rights than women. Many of us didn’t even pay attention. After all, we were allowed to vote. What more could we want?

Because of the second wave of feminism,  girls were allowed to take the same classes in high school as boys, sports teams became more equal, and women were even allowed on juries by the end of the 1970s. Many of us weren’t even aware that we weren’t judged by a jury of our peers until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1975.

By the end of the 20th century, the third wave of feminists made us believe that we were headed toward equality even if our salaries still lagged behind those for men. After almost a century of progress, however, women have a new competitor for equality: sperm.

The GOP is now convinced that sperm rules. It appears that the sperm has the inalienable and God-given right over that of women. Catholic bishops successfully fought our right to birth control until 1965, and now they are working to remove this right as well as women’s right to make a choice regarding abortion.

Seven years after the religious leaders lost the ability to control women’s access to birth control, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government could not prohibit women from stopping the reproductive process after the egg’s fertilization. The court’s decision matched early Catholic policies.

Based on Aristotle’s three embryonic stages, St. Augustine determined the abortion in the first trimester should not be regarded “as homicide, for there cannot be a living soul in a body that lacks sensation due to its not yet being formed.” Pope Innocent II concurred at the beginning of the 13th century when he declared that abortion was not homicide until “quickening,” the feeling of the fetus movement, a time made specific over three centuries later by Pope Gregory XIV after 116 days. This rule wasn’t changed until 1869.

Almost 90 percent of all abortions are done within the 116-day window with 60 percent in the first eight weeks. Ones that occur later are almost always because of state-enacted delaying laws or serious medical issues.

While Republicans are working hard to erase our reproductive rights, they neglect the children.  States with the most punitive laws for abortions spend the least on education, facilitating adoption, and nurturing poor children. Those same states have fewer insurance mandates to cover hospital stays after childbirth. With its sonogram mandate for abortion, Texas cut its family planning budget by almost 70 percent, eliminating services for nearly 284,000 women. The sperm rules.

Women across the country are campaigning to gain equality with sperm. With almost a dozen states requiring transvaginal ultrasounds before abortion and more states leaping on the bandwagon, some women have gone to Facebook pages to protest–those of Republicans who are convinced that they know more about women’s health than women and doctors do, Republicans who believe that limited government and reduction of regulations stop at women’s bodies.

One Republican suffering from women’s ire is Virginia’s state senator and Republican caucus chairman Ryan McDougle. Despite his frantically deleting messages on his Facebook page, he hasn’t kept up. And even when he erases them, someone has already copied them. These messages are all over the Internet. Kansas governor Sam Brownback is getting the same treatment. The following is one of the more benign entries that appeared on the McDougle’s Facebook page:

“Hi senator. I seem to be irregular and my cramping is pretty bad- so bad that I can’t sleep at night or get anything done. Imagine being repeatedly kicked in the crotch for hours, but move the pain up to the whole lower abdomen, because that’s the only way I can describe it to someone who doesn’t have a uterus that can cramp so badly that it restricts blood flow to surrounding tissues. I thought you would be concerned.”

Another way women are fighting for equality with  sperm is to keep it from entering women’s bodies. Liberal Ladies Who Lunch, a women’s right group, is asking for a sex strike in April to oppose conservative infringements on our bodies. According to the group’s call to action, this protest doesn’t rely on picket signs and chants to get across their message. “Younger men and women may not remember the ‘good old days’ when the only reproductive choice we had was to deny men access to sex. In truth, if we lose our hard won rights to medical care, birth control and pregnancy choice, it won’t only affect women. Men will have to go back to the days when they waited for or paid for sex,” explains the group.

In Virginia, former lawmakers have formed the Women’s Strike Force, a political action committee with the goal of defeating state lawmakers who pushed for legislation to prohibit or restrict a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy. “The steps that have been taken by lawmakers in Virginia and states across the country to deprive women of their reproductive rights are a slap in the face to every American wife, mother, sister, and daughter in our country,” former Del. Robin Abbott, the group’s co-chair, said. Former Del. Leslie Byrne said, “As a former member of the General Assembly and Virginia’s first woman in Congress, I fought for women’s rights in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. We must move the Commonwealth and the nation forward, not backslide to denying women rights.”

A week ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the following statements at the Women in the World Summit:

“In America, in Tunisia, anywhere in the world, women should have the right to make their own choices about what they wear, how they worship, the jobs they do, the causes they support. These are choices women have to make for themselves, and they are a fundamental test of democracy.

“Now, we know that young woman in Tunisia and her peers across the region already are facing extremists who will try to strip their rights, curb their participation, limit their ability to make choices for themselves. Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies. Yes, it is hard to believe that even here at home, we have to stand up for women’s rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America needs to set an example for the entire world. And it seems clear to me that to do that, we have to live our own values and we have to defend our own values. We need to respect each other, empower all our citizens, and find common ground.”

That is what women in the United States are now doing—defending our values. Let’s declare equality to sperm.

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