Saturday, August 27, 2016

Local LEO's Spying on Maryland Residents?

The Baltimore Police Department has been accused of violating federal law with its use of stingray cellphone trackers. In a complaint filed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday, three civil rights groups said the police department hasn't obtained the license required to use stingray technology, adding that it violates the Communications Act by "willfully interfering" with cellular networks. As Ars Technica reports, the 38-page complaint also argues that the use of stingray trackers disproportionately affects African-American communities.

Stingrays, or cell-site simulators, imitate 2G cell towers to gather information on nearby phones — including their location — and have been shown to disrupt cellular service and 911 calls. Until recently, little was known about how police use stingrays, though police in Baltimore and Chicago have since acknowledged deploying the devices. A report from the New York Civil Liberties Union earlier this year showed that the NYPD used them on more than 1,000 occasions between 2008 and May 2015.

The FCC complaint was filed by Georgetown University law professor Laura Moy on behalf of three civil rights groups: Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute. The groups are calling on the FCC to prohibit the use of cell-site simulators by the Baltimore Police Department, pointing to "widespread network interference caused by rampant unlicensed transmissions." The complaint comes days after the release of a report from the Justice Department, which said that Baltimore police have systematically targeted African-American residents, often on tenuous legal grounds.

"It seems quite likely that the Baltimore Police Department makes the heaviest use of this technology of any police department in the country," Moy tells The Baltimore Sun.

But it's unclear whether the FCC will take any action. Lawyers and privacy experts tell Ars Technica that the complaint would have been stronger with an example of someone whose 911 calls were actually disrupted by the technology, or someone who was targeted by stingrays because of their race. Others say the FCC is unlikely to interfere with the use of a device that has already been approved.

"I’m not optimistic just because I think the FCC believes protecting law enforcement’s ability to spy is more important than Americans ability to make emergency calls," Chris Soghoian, of the American Civil Liberties Union, tells Ars Technica.
The Faraday Cage Solution

Friday, August 26, 2016

Striking FOR Capitalism

from Forbes
Around here we usually make fun of Bolivarian socialism by reference to the idiocies which Nicolas Maduro has been imposing upon the people of Venezuela. They do, after all, call their system “Bolivarian socialism.” Across the continent, in Bolivia, we also have a closely related Bolivian socialism. Evo Morales has often said that he takes inspiration from Hugo Chavez, and that the system he is using in Bolivia is similar. So, Bolivarian socialism in Bolivia then. Umm, perhaps both Bolivian and Bolivarian socialism?

This incident is not one to make fun of - Rodolfo Illanes, a government minister, has been beaten to death by striking miners. That’s not something to joke about. And yet it’s worth pointing out what the miners are actually striking against: socialism. They want the right to work with capitalist companies, the one and very thing which the government is determined they should not be allowed to do. There is of course a simple solution here which is that there should be a free market. No, not just the free market in who may buy and sell what, but a free market in which forms of organisation should be used to do what. This is something which we already allow – people can set up an organisation upon whatever lines they like. We do rule out slavery, child labor and so on, but other than that you can set up a socialist organisation, a cooperative, one owned by the workers, the customers, whatever you wish, as well as the more capitalist idea of a limited company with outside shareholders.

Those striking Bolivian miners are doing so for the freedom which we already possess. And why shouldn’t they also have said freedom?

The story itself:
La Paz (Bolivia): Striking miners in Bolivia kidnapped and beat to death the country’s deputy interior minister after he traveled to the area to mediate in the bitter conflict over mining laws, officials said.
Not good, not good at all.
Earlier, Romero said that Illanes had been kidnapped and possibly tortured, but local media reports that he had been killed by the miners had not been confirmed.

But late on Thursday Romero and Defense Minister Reymi said that the vice minister of government had been beaten to death by the miners, who are demanding more rights, including the right to associate with private companies.
That’s the odd bit there. For these protests have been going on for some time. From earlier in the month:
Bolivian cooperative mineworkers are threatening to radicalize their protests against legislative changes after the government arrested 11 miners during clashes with police.

Mining cooperative federations Fencomin and Fedecomin, which erected roadblocks around the country last week to protest against alleged changes to the country’s general cooperative law, gave the government a 48-hour ultimatum to release their members before occupying government buildings.
The background to this is that Evo Morales nationalised the mines (and all of the country’s mineral resources) soon after being elected in 2006. The cooperatives are able to gain a licence to mine such deposits. Great – but the government insists that such cooperatives cannot then team up with private sector companies. And that’s what the protest is about. Because the miners have realised the thing about mining – it’s a capital intensive business and cooperatives don’t really have any manner of raising large amounts of capital.
The National Federation of Mining Co-operatives of Bolivia, once strong allies of President Morales, began what they said would be an indefinite protest after negotiations failed.

Protesters have been demanding more mining concessions, the right to work for private companies, and greater union representation.
Again, this is a protest against the imposition of socialism, they are demanding the right to be able to work with and for capitalists:
The government says deals between the mining co-operatives and private sector companies is not allowed under the constitution and claimed the real objective of the protest is “blackmail” over changes to the law.
Just so that we’re all entirely clear here. This is not socialism as being price fixing, nor the government owning everything. This isn’t about the idiocy of the Soviet Union’s economic structures. Nor is it about central planning. This is about the proper definition of socialism in an economic sense – the communal ownership of productive assets, as opposed to the capitalist. A workers’ coop (say, Publix or WinCo supermarket chains in the US, John Lewis/Waitrose in the U.K.) is a socialist organisation. The workers within the organisation own the organisation itself. Those examples work very well. As do also Walmart, a capitalist organisation, and Tesco, similarly capitalist. The definition is in who owns. There are other variants, there can be producer coops (many farmers belong to one or another), it can be customer owned (the Co Op in the U.K.), management owned (most legal firms and partnerships) but the point of differentiation is that in a capitalist system it is outsiders who provide the capital and own the organisation, in a socialist one insiders.

Both have their advantages, both have their downsides. And how to work out which is the best one to use in a certain circumstance is one of the things we have markets for. As long as an organisation competes in said market then the market in forms of control is just fine.

What we actually find is that capitalist organisations can work very well as socialist organisations, capital intensive ones not so much. Take a stylised and not very accurate idea of a steel mill using a blast furnace. That might require $1 billion in capital to get up and running. You might end up with 10,000 workers at such a plant. That means, if the workers are going to supply the capital, that you’ve got to find 10,000 would be steel workers with $100,000 each to put into the project. I submit that this is unlikely to be successful as an enterprise. On the other hand say that we’re trying to write a new app. We need four laptops, eight months of time and a crate of Ramen. We might well find four programmers who would chip in to create that and in fact we do, the economic landscape is simply littered with people doing exactly that. And they, as both the workers and the investors, own the resultant company. It is, in our definition here, a socialist organisation.

At which point to the Bolivarian miners. It is indeed possible to go mining with little more than a shovel (spades are what farmers use) and a hard hat but you’re never going to make much money doing so. Income will be low, barely above subsistence level. What is needed is capital, vast great gobs of it, to buy the machinery to make the mines more productive per man hour of labor. And vast great gobs of capital is not something that Bolivian miners up on the altiplano have. Thus their desire to work with and for private companies who can provide that necessary and essential ingredient.

It is possible to say that the capitalists will simply be exploiting the workers. This Marxist idea that all value comes from labor and thus if labor isn’t getting all the value created then they are being expropriated of the sweat of their brow. It is also possible to be sensible here. The employment of more capital would enable the purchase of more advanced machinery. That would raise productivity per labor hour. That, in turn, would raise the wages of the miners. Thus, some of the extra value created by the addition of the capital flows to the labor. Or, if we’re to use the Marxist logic, labor is expropriating the value added by the capital. And, of course, why not? That is what we’re attempting to achieve in an economy after all, a general rise in livings standards for the general guy.

The Bolivian miners have realized this. They know that they will be better off if they can gain access to more capital. Capital which they themselves don’t have – and capital which can be only accessed by splitting the proceeds with the capitalists who have the capital.

Thus these protests. At heart the entire argument is one against the imposition of socialism. Again, there’s absolutely nothing at all wrong with socialism, in this sense of ownership, in certain times and places. However, it’s inappropriate in other times and places. Specifically, when large amounts of capital are needed. Mining needs large amounts of capital – therefore socialism isn’t the right structure for this activity.

But it is fun to see the workers striking in favor of capitalism, isn’t it?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Police Have Their Eyes on You, Baltimore!

from the Baltimore Sun
City Council members plan to call in Baltimore police to explain why officials did not disclose they were using a private company to fly surveillance missions collecting and storing footage of wide swaths of the city.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, public safety committee chairman Warren Branch and vice chairman Brandon Scott are among those planning a hearing on the matter "as soon as possible," said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young.

The council members say they aren't necessarily opposed to the surveillance operation — which has the potential to help catch everything from gun crimes to police misconduct — but believe such monitoring of the public's movements should be vetted by taxpayers.

"When you're dealing with the public's trust, you have to have transparency," Davis said, adding that police brass now understand the need to make the program public. "Obviously a mistake was made, and I think they acknowledge that."

Unlike other high-profile surveillance tactics — such as body cameras and pole cameras — the surveillance plane was not disclosed publicly. The police didn't brief Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

"She was not briefed on the program at its inception, but strongly believes in full disclosure," said Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake. McCarthy said the mayor learned of the plane's existence only "recently," but would not be more specific. Bloomberg Businessweek on Tuesday published an article first reporting the existence of the surveillance operations.

By contrast, the police department's body camera program was the subject of news conferences, legislation, a task force, a series of public meetings and public procurement process.

Davis said Young was "surprised" to learn of the surveillance operations.

"He wants to hear about the program," Davis said. The police will be called to provide a "full accounting of the program, what it's done, and what's going on with it."

"We haven't had a public accounting of the program," Davis said. "The chair and the vice chair of the public safety committee will be working to make that happen as soon as possible."

Branch said he was scheduling an "oversight" meeting of the police after conferring with Scott.

"The commissioner keeps talking about transparency, but every time we turn around, there's something else where we're left on the outside," Branch said. "It's the way this administration has always handled things. They never reach out. You have to pull information out of the administration."

Scott said the oversight hearing would focus on the surveillance plane, but also the recent Department of Justice report that found discriminatory policing practices in Baltimore and the city's persistently high violent crime rate.

"We're going to talk about this plane but also crime and the Department of Justice report," Scott said. He said the hearing would be in September.

Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems has for months been testing sophisticated surveillance cameras aboard a small Cessna airplane flying high above the city. The arrangement was kept secret in part because it never appeared before the city's spending board, paid for instead through private donations handled by the nonprofit Baltimore Community Foundation.

The company conducted 100 hours of surveillance in January and February and 200 hours of surveillance between June and this month, police said Wednesday. It will continue conducting surveillance for another several weeks before the Police Department evaluates its effectiveness and decides whether to continue the program.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the plane's cameras can record footage of 32 square miles of the city. He compared the program to an expansion of the city's existing CitiWatch system of street-level cameras.

When crime cameras were first installed in Baltimore in 2005 under then-Mayor Martin O'Malley, they numbered fewer than 200 and were largely confined to high-crime areas. The city's network has grown to 696, including cameras at the East Baltimore Development Inc. project and surrounding the Horseshoe Casino.

Two years ago, city officials announced they were expanding their public surveillance network to include private security cameras that could potentially quadruple the number of digital eyes on neighborhoods.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said in a statement that CitiWatch cameras have resulted in an average decline in crime of 33 percent in the small areas near each camera. He said an expansion of digital surveillance is needed in a city where there were nearly 1,000 shootings and a record high in homicides last year.

"At a time when 84% of our homicides occur in outdoor public spaces, it seems logical to explore opportunities to capture the brazen killers who don't think twice about gunning down their victims on our streets," Davis said. "Indeed, 43% of this year's killing have occurred in 'broad daylight' hours, an apparent gesture of impunity by trigger pullers who expect not to be revealed."

Even so, Davis said, the surveillance plane program remains in a testing phase.

"We do not know yet if our examination of this technology will result in a recommendation to permanently pursue it, but promise a robust and inclusive community conversation," he said.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pay to Play - Confirmed!

from the AP
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money - either personally or through companies or groups - to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

Donors who were granted time with Clinton included an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran; a Wall Street executive who sought Clinton's help with a visa problem and Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Clinton while her department worked with the firm's corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa.

The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton. Her calendars and emails released as recently as this week describe scores of contacts she and her top aides had with foundation donors.

The AP's findings represent the first systematic effort to calculate the scope of the intersecting interests of Clinton foundation donors and people who met personally with Clinton or spoke to her by phone about their needs.

The 154 did not include U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives. Clinton met with representatives of at least 16 foreign governments that donated as much as $170 million to the Clinton charity, but they were not included in AP's calculations because such meetings would presumably have been part of her diplomatic duties.

Last week, the Clinton Foundation moved to head off ethics concerns about future donations by announcing changes planned if Clinton is elected.

On Monday, Bill Clinton said in a statement that if his wife were to win, he would step down from the foundation's board and stop all fundraising for it. The foundation would also accept donations only from U.S. citizens and what it described as independent philanthropies, while no longer taking gifts from foreign groups, U.S. companies or corporate charities. Clinton said the foundation would no longer hold annual meetings of its international aid program, the Clinton Global Initiative, and it would spin off its foreign-based programs to other charities.

Those planned changes would not affect more than 6,000 donors who have already provided the Clinton charity with more than $2 billion in funding since its creation in 2000.

"There's a lot of potential conflicts and a lot of potential problems," said Douglas White, an expert on nonprofits who previously directed Columbia University's graduate fundraising management program. "The point is, she can't just walk away from these 6,000 donors."

Former senior White House ethics officials said a Clinton administration would have to take careful steps to ensure that past foundation donors would not have the same access as she allowed at the State Department.

"If Secretary Clinton puts the right people in and she's tough about it and has the right procedures in place and sends a message consistent with a strong commitment to ethics, it can be done," said Norman L. Eisen, who was President Barack Obama's top ethics counsel and later worked for Clinton as ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Eisen, now a governance studies fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that at a minimum, Clinton should retain the Obama administration's current ethics commitments and oversight, which include lobbying restrictions and other rules. Richard Painter, a former ethics adviser to President George W. Bush and currently a University of Minnesota law school professor, said Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton should remove themselves completely from foundation leadership roles, but he added that potential conflicts would shadow any policy decision affecting past donors.

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon did not respond to the AP's questions about Clinton transition plans regarding ethics, but said in a statement Tuesday the standard set by the Clinton Foundation's ethics restrictions was "unprecedented, even if it may never satisfy some critics."

Some of Clinton's most influential visitors donated millions to the Clinton Foundation and to her and her husband's political coffers. They are among scores of Clinton visitors and phone contacts in her official calendar turned over by the State Department to AP last year and in more-detailed planning schedules that so far have covered about half her four-year tenure. The AP sought Clinton's calendar and schedules three years ago, but delays led the AP to sue the State Department last year in federal court for those materials and other records.

S. Daniel Abraham, whose name also was included in emails released by the State Department as part of another lawsuit, is a Clinton fundraising bundler who was listed in Clinton's planners for eight meetings with her at various times. A billionaire behind the Slim-Fast diet and founder of the Center for Middle East Peace, Abraham told the AP last year his talks with Clinton concerned Mideast issues.

Big Clinton Foundation donors with no history of political giving to the Clintons also met or talked by phone with Hillary Clinton and top aides, AP's review showed.

Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering low-interest "microcredit" for poor business owners, met with Clinton three times and talked with her by phone during a period when Bangladeshi government authorities investigated his oversight of a nonprofit bank and ultimately pressured him to resign from the bank's board. Throughout the process, he pleaded for help in messages routed to Clinton, and she ordered aides to find ways to assist him.

American affiliates of his nonprofit Grameen Bank had been working with the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Global Initiative programs as early as 2005, pledging millions of dollars in microloans for the poor. Grameen America, the bank's nonprofit U.S. flagship, which Yunus chairs, has given between $100,000 and $250,000 to the foundation - a figure that bank spokeswoman Becky Asch said reflects the institution's annual fees to attend CGI meetings. Another Grameen arm chaired by Yunus, Grameen Research, has donated between $25,000 and $50,000.

As a U.S. senator from New York, Clinton, as well as then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and two other senators in 2007 sponsored a bill to award a congressional gold medal to Yunus. He got one but not until 2010, a year after Obama awarded him a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Yunus first met with Clinton in Washington in April 2009. That was followed six months later by an announcement by USAID, the State Department's foreign aid arm, that it was partnering with the Grameen Foundation, a nonprofit charity run by Yunus, in a $162 million commitment to extend its microfinance concept abroad. USAID also began providing loans and grants to the Grameen Foundation, totaling $2.2 million over Clinton's tenure.

By September 2009, Yunus began complaining to Clinton's top aides about what he perceived as poor treatment by Bangladesh's government. His bank was accused of financial mismanagement of Norwegian government aid money - a charge that Norway later dismissed as baseless. But Yunus told Melanne Verveer, a long-time Clinton aide who was an ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, that Bangladesh officials refused to meet with him and asked the State Department for help in pressing his case.

"Please see if the issues of Grameen Bank can be raised in a friendly way," he asked Verveer. Yunus sent "regards to H" and cited an upcoming Clinton Global Initiative event he planned to attend.

Clinton ordered an aide: "Give to EAP rep," referring the problem to the agency's top east Asia expert.

Yunus continued writing to Verveer as pressure mounted on his bank. In December 2010, responding to a news report that Bangladesh's prime minister was urging an investigation of Grameen Bank, Clinton told Verveer that she wanted to discuss the matter with her East Asia expert "ASAP."

Clinton called Yunus in March 2011 after the Bangladesh government opened an inquiry into his oversight of Grameen Bank. Yunus had told Verveer by email that "the situation does not allow me to leave the country." By mid-May, the Bangladesh government had forced Yunus to step down from the bank's board. Yunus sent Clinton a copy of his resignation letter. In a separate note to Verveer, Clinton wrote: "Sad indeed."

Clinton met with Yunus a second time in Washington in August 2011 and again in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka in May 2012. Clinton's arrival in Bangladesh came after Bangladesh authorities moved to seize control of Grameen Bank's effort to find new leaders. Speaking to a town hall audience, Clinton warned the Bangladesh government that "we do not want to see any action taken that would in any way undermine or interfere in the operations of the Grameen Bank."

Grameen America's Asch referred other questions about Yunus to his office, but he had not responded by Tuesday.

Earlier this month, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau acknowledged that agency officials are "regularly in touch with a range of outside individuals and organizations, including nonprofits, NGOs, think tanks and others." But Trudeau said the State Department was not aware of any actions that were influenced by the Clinton Foundation.

In another case, Clinton was host at a September 2009 breakfast meeting at the New York Stock Exchange that listed Blackstone Group chairman Stephen Schwarzman as one of the attendees. Schwarzman's firm is a major Clinton Foundation donor, but he personally donates heavily to GOP candidates and causes. One day after the breakfast, according to Clinton emails, the State Department was working on a visa issue at Schwarzman's request. In December that same year, Schwarzman's wife, Christine, sat at Clinton's table during the Kennedy Center Honors. Clinton also introduced Schwarzman, then chairman of the Kennedy Center, before he spoke.

Blackstone donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Eight Blackstone executives also gave between $375,000 and $800,000 to the foundation. And Blackstone's charitable arm has pledged millions of dollars in commitments to three Clinton Global aid projects ranging from the U.S. to the Mideast. Blackstone officials did not make Schwarzman available for comment.

Clinton also met in June 2011 with Nancy Mahon of the MAC AIDS, the charitable arm of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by Estee Lauder. The meeting occurred before an announcement about a State Department partnership to raise money to finance AIDS education and prevention. The public-private partnership was formed to fight gender-based violence in South Africa, the State Department said at the time.

The MAC AIDS fund donated between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. In 2008, Mahon and the MAC AIDS fund made a three-year unspecified commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative. That same year, the fund partnered with two other organizations to beef up a USAID program in Malawi and Ghana. And in 2011, the fund was one of eight organizations to pledge a total of $2 million over a three-year period to help girls in southern Africa. The fund has not made a commitment to CGI since 2011.

Estee Lauder executive Fabrizio Freda also met with Clinton at the same Wall Street event attended by Schwarzman. Later that month, Freda was on a list of attendees for a meeting between Clinton and a U.S.-China trade group. Estee Lauder has given between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation. The company made a commitment to CGI in 2013 with four other organizations to help survivors of sexual slavery in Cambodia.

MAC AIDs officials did not make Mahon available to AP for comment.

When Clinton appeared before the U.S. Senate in early 2009 for her confirmation hearing as secretary of state, then- Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, questioned her at length about the foundation and potential conflicts of interest. His concerns were focused on foreign government donations, mostly to CGI. Lugar wanted more transparency than was ultimately agreed upon between the foundation and Obama's transition team.

Now, Lugar hopes Hillary and Bill Clinton make a clean break from the foundation.

"The Clintons, as they approach the presidency, if they are successful, will have to work with their attorneys to make certain that rules of the road are drawn up to give confidence to them and the American public that there will not be favoritism," Lugar said.
Got a State Department issue? Have you tried the concierge services?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Civil Servants Now Working for Tips...(NOT Bribes! Really!)

from the NY Times
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated more than $10 million. Through a foundation, so did the son-in-law of a former Ukrainian president whose government was widely criticized for corruption and the murder of journalists. A Lebanese-Nigerian developer with vast business interests contributed as much as $5 million.

For years the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation thrived largely on the generosity of foreign donors and individuals who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the global charity.
But now, as Mrs. Clinton seeks the White House, the funding of the sprawling philanthropy has become an Achilles’ heel for her campaign and, if she is victorious, potentially her administration as well.

With Mrs. Clinton facing accusations of favoritism toward Clinton Foundation donors during her time as secretary of state, former President Bill Clinton told foundation employees on Thursday that the organization would no longer accept foreign or corporate donations should Mrs. Clinton win in November.

But while the move could avoid the awkwardness of Mr. Clinton jetting around the world asking for money while his wife is president, it did not resolve a more pressing question: how her administration would handle longtime donors seeking help from the United States, or whose interests might conflict with the country’s own.

The Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries that the State Department — before, during and after Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary — criticized for their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues. The countries include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei and Algeria.

Saudi Arabia has been a particularly generous benefactor. The kingdom gave between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation. (Donations are typically reported in broad ranges, not specific amounts.) At least $1 million more was donated by Friends of Saudi Arabia, which was co-founded by a Saudi prince.

Saudi Arabia also presents Washington with a complex diplomatic relationship full of strain. The kingdom is viewed as a bulwark to deter Iranian adventurism across the region and has been a partner in the fight against terrorism across the Persian Gulf and wider Middle East.

At the same time, though, American officials have long worried about Saudi Arabia’s suspected role in promoting a hard-line strain of Islam, which has some adherents who have been linked to violence. Saudi officials deny any links to terrorism groups, but critics point to Saudi charities that fund organizations suspected of ties to militant cells.

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said the Clintons and the foundation had always been careful about donors. “The policies that governed the foundation’s activities during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state already went far beyond legal requirements,” he said in a statement, “and yet the foundation submitted to even more rigorous standards when Clinton declared her candidacy for president, and is pledging to go even further if she wins.”

Mrs. Clinton’s opponent, Donald J. Trump, could face his own complications if he becomes president, with investments abroad and hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate debt — financial positions that could be affected by moves he makes in the White House. And on Friday, Paul Manafort resigned as chairman of the Trump campaign, in part because of reports about his lucrative consulting work on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians.

Still, Mr. Trump has seized on emails released over the past several weeks from Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, in which a handful of donors are mentioned. He has attacked her over an email chain that showed Douglas J. Band, an adviser to Mr. Clinton, seeking to arrange a meeting between a senior American government official and Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian real estate developer who donated between $1 million and $5 million. Mr. Chagoury explained through a spokesman that he had simply wanted to provide insights on elections in Lebanon.

Some emails and other records described donors seeking and in some cases obtaining meetings with State Department officials. None showed Mrs. Clinton making decisions in favor of any contributors, but her allies fear that additional emails might come out and provide more fodder for Mr. Trump.

Craig Minassian, a spokesman for the foundation, said the decision to forgo corporate and foreign money had nothing to do with the emails. The foundation will continue to raise money from American individuals and charities.

“The only factor is that we remove the perception problems, if she wins the presidency,” he said, “and make sure that programs can continue in some form for people who are being helped.”

But Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group that has sued to obtain records from Mrs. Clinton’s time at the State Department, said that “the damage is done.”

“The conflicts of interest are cast in stone, and it is something that the Clinton administration is going to have to grapple with,” Mr. Fitton said. “It will cast a shadow over their policies.”

And in an election year in which a majority of Americans say they do not trust Mrs. Clinton, even some allies questioned why the foundation had not reined in foreign donations sooner, or ended them immediately.

A Bloomberg poll in June showed that 72 percent of voters said it bothered them either a lot or a little that the Clinton Foundation took money from foreign countries while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. In a CNN/ORC International Poll the same month, 38 percent of voters said Mr. Clinton should completely step down from the foundation, while 60 percent said he should be able to continue working with the foundation if his wife became president. Mr. Clinton said Thursday he would leave the foundation’s board if Mrs. Clinton won.

Edward G. Rendell, a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, said the foundation should be disbanded if Mrs. Clinton wins, and he added that it would make sense for the charity to stop taking foreign donations immediately.

“I think they’ll do the right thing,” Mr. Rendell said, “and the right thing here is, without question, that the first gentleman have nothing to do with raising money for the foundation.”

Mr. Minassian said ending foreign fund-raising before other sources of money could be found, and without knowing who will win the election, could needlessly gut programs that help provide, for instance, H.I.V. medication to children in Africa.

Begun in 1997, the foundation has raised roughly $2 billion and is overseen by a board that includes Mr. Clinton and the couple’s daughter, Chelsea. Mrs. Clinton joined when she left the State Department and stepped down in 2015 before beginning her campaign. Its work covers 180 countries, helping fund more than 3,500 projects.

Having a former president at the helm proved particularly productive, with foreign leaders and business people opening their doors — and their wallets — to the preternaturally sociable Mr. Clinton.

Among the charity’s accomplishments: Its Clinton Health Access Initiative — which is run by Ira C. Magaziner, who was a White House aide involved in Mrs. Clinton’s failed effort to overhaul the health care system in her husband’s first term — renegotiated the cost of H.I.V. drugs to make them accessible to 11.5 million people. The foundation helped bring healthier meals to more than 31,000 schools in the United States, and it has helped 105,000 farmers in East Africa increase their yields, according to the foundation’s tally.

In December 2008, shortly before Mrs. Clinton became secretary of state, Mr. Clinton released a list of more than 200,000 donors to defuse speculation about conflicts.

Soon after, Mrs. Clinton agreed to keep foundation matters separate from official business, including a pledge to “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that has a direct and predictable effect upon” the foundation without a waiver. The Obama White House had particularly disliked the gatherings of world leaders, academics and business people, called the Clinton Global Initiative, that the foundation was holding overseas. The foundation limited the conferences to domestic locations while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. On Thursday, Mr. Clinton said the gathering in September in New York would be the foundation’s last.

One of the attendees at these conferences speaks to the stickiness of some donor relationships.

Victor Pinchuk, a steel magnate whose father-in-law, Leonid Kuchma, was president of Ukraine from 1994 to 2005, has directed between $10 million and $25 million to the foundation. He has lent his private plane to the Clintons and traveled to Los Angeles in 2011 to attend Mr. Clinton’s star-studded 65th birthday celebration.

Between September 2011 and November 2012, Douglas E. Schoen, a former political consultant for Mr. Clinton, arranged about a dozen meetings with State Department officials on behalf of or with Mr. Pinchuk to discuss the continuing political crisis in Ukraine, according to reports Mr. Schoen filed as a registered lobbyist.

“I had breakfast with Pinchuk. He will see you at the Brookings lunch,” Melanne Verveer, a Ukrainian-American then working for the State Department, wrote in a June 2012 email to Mrs. Clinton.

A previously undisclosed email obtained by Citizens United, the conservative advocacy group, through public records lawsuits shows the name of Mr. Pinchuk, described as one of Ukraine’s “most successful businessmen,” among those on an eight-page list of influential people invited to a dinner party at the Clintons’ home.

Earlier in 2012, Ambassador John F. Tefft wrote to Mrs. Clinton about a visit to Ukraine by Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, “at the invitation of oligarch, Victor Pinchuk.” Mrs. Clinton replied, “As you know, hearing nice things about your children is as good as it gets.”

In July 2013, the Commerce Department began investigating complaints that Ukraine — and by extension Mr. Pinchuk’s company, Interpipe — and eight other countries had illegally dumped a type of steel tube on the American market at artificially low prices.

A representative for Mr. Pinchuk said the investigation had nothing to do with the State Department, had started after Mrs. Clinton’s tenure and been suspended in July 2014. He added that at least 100 other people had attended the dinner party at Mrs. Clinton’s house and that she and Mr. Pinchuk had spoken briefly about democracy in Ukraine.

A deal involving the sale of American uranium holdings to a Russian state-owned enterprise was another example of the foundation intersecting with Mrs. Clinton’s official role in the Obama administration. Her State Department was among the agencies that signed off on the deal, which involved major Clinton charitable backers from Canada.

There was no evidence that Mrs. Clinton had exerted influence over the deal, but the timing of the transaction and the donations raised questions about whether the donors had received favorable handling.

Even if Mr. Clinton steps down, there could be remaining complications about a potential president’s name being affixed to an international foundation. And Chelsea Clinton, who is its vice chairwoman, would continue her leadership role.

“It is very difficult to see how the organization called the Clinton Foundation can continue to exist during a Clinton presidency without that posing all sorts of consequences,” said John Wonderlich, the interim executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group in Washington. “What they announced only addresses the most egregious potential conflicts.”

Considering the scale and scope of the foundation, Mr. Wonderlich said it was easy to “name a hundred different types of conflicts.”

The reality is, he added, “there are no recusals when you are president.”

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Clinton's to Start Dealing 3 Foundation Monte

Is it Hillary, Chelsea, or Bill's Foundation?

from the Boston Globe
WASHINGTON — Big chunks of the Clinton family’s charitable network would be exempt from a self-imposed ban on foreign and corporate donations if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, loopholes that highlight the complexity of disentangling her from the former first family’s myriad potential conflicts of interest.

The most prominent of the exceptions applies to the Boston-based Clinton Health Access Initiative, which in 2014 accounted for 66 percent of spending by the Clinton network of charities. The initiative’s board plans to meet “soon” to discuss whether to participate in the planned restrictions. Adhering to the policy announced by Bill Clinton on Thursday would starve the organization of much of its operating cash and could gut its work of combating the spread of HIV infections and malaria around the world.

At least two other Clinton-related charities also aren’t immediately affected by Thursday’s decision to limit donations.

They include the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an entity cofounded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, a joint venture between Bill Clinton and Canadian mining billionaire Frank Giustra.

The alliance, a nonprofit that brought in $17.5 million in contributions including money from Nike and the Walmart Foundation, doesn’t have plans to change its fund-raising.

Giustra, in a statement to the Globe, said that his organization would “spin CGEP into an independent entity” to continue its work.

“President Clinton and I believe it is important that we continue the work of alleviating poverty around the world,” said Giustra.

That statement illustrates both the high-minded goals of the Clinton charitable works and the potential for undue political influence if Hillary Clinton occupies the Oval Office. A piecemeal approach to addressing such potential conflicts is the response so far to this challenging juxtaposition of interests.

The job of curbing contributions from particular sources is further complicated by the confusing and sprawling network of Clinton-branded charities, which have been collecting cash under an array of legal entities on behalf of the Clintons’ favored causes for roughly 15 years.

It is an unprecedented situation in American politics, and a major political hurdle en route to another unprecedented possibility: the first former first lady — and the first lady — with a real shot at the presidency.

Bill Clinton’s announcement Thursday also provided Republicans with a new attack line: If the Clinton Foundation could cause conflict of interest for a Hillary Clinton White House, why didn’t the same standard apply to the Hillary Clinton State Department?

The Clintons said when President Obama tapped her for the post in 2009 that the foundation’s interests would be walled off from her work at the State Department. In practice, that border proved porous and problematic and prime fodder for political attacks.

“You’re going to have every GOP candidate in America asking: ‘Do you believe that the Clinton Foundation should be shut down?’ ” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich said he had a two-hour briefing from the Republican National Committee on the various pieces of the Clinton charitable enterprise. “It is staggering,” Gingrich said. “This is a corrupt institution, run for corrupt purposes.”

In financial terms, if not in visibility, the biggest piece of the Clinton charities is the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), with offices on Dorchester Avenue. Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and longtime Clinton lawyer Bruce Lindsey sit on the board of directors for both CHAI and the Clinton Foundation.

“CHAI is a separate legal entity from the Clinton Foundation with its own board,” said CHAI spokesman Regan Lachapelle in a statement. “The CHAI board will be meeting soon to determine its next steps.”

Shutting off all access to foreign government grants would be potentially crippling to the charity, which relied on such funds for 60 percent of its revenue in 2015, according to the charity’s papers. Another 38 percent of funds came from private foundations, some of which are connected to large corporations, including the Ikea Foundation.

Though the CHAI organization is by far the largest piece of the Clintons’ network, it maintains a much lower profile and has a history of failing to follow the rules set up by the related Clinton Foundation to avoid conflicts of interest while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

This charity works in 32 countries and saw a huge increase in foreign donations while she helmed the State Department. But CHAI never reported those increases to the State Department as was required by an agreement hammered out between the charity and the Obama administration. It also failed to report new foreign donations, another requirement.

The Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership has been another flashpoint. It was founded to create “social enterprises that help people lift themselves out of poverty,” according to Clinton charity filings. The New York Times revealed that Giustra benefited when Clinton’s State Department signed off on a deal that helped Giustra’s uranium mining interests.

Chelsea Clinton and Lindsey also serve on the board for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. That group already bans funds from food or beverage companies but otherwise “welcomes everyone to the table,” said Megan Corey, a spokeswoman for the organization. “We will continue to follow our own separate fund-raising policies,” she said.

The broader ban on corporate and foreign donations also would affect charities under the more narrow auspices of the Clinton Foundation, including the Clinton Presidential Center, which houses the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark.

This creates a unique problem for the former president: The donation ban does extend to the sprawling library, according to Clinton Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian, and it would therefore be the only one of its kind starved of corporate donations.

The Clintons have been making some preparations for the big shift that her possible presidency entails: In 2013, after Hillary Clinton stepped down as secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation embarked on a massive fund-raising endeavour aimed at creating a $250 million endowment.

Donors to that cause included people who would now be barred from making contributions to the Clinton Foundation charities, including Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who offered $1 million from his private charity. Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien also contributed.

Narrative, Narrative, Who's Controlling the 'Narrative'?

The Cultural Isolation of the Elites Is Primarily Driven By the National Media
from National Review
Milwaukee erupts in riots that injure police officers, but it barely becomes national news. Louisiana is devastated by floods, but it takes a week for the national press to notice. The number of fatal overdoses has exploded since 2010. The suicide rate has increased by 2 percent per year since 2006, and hit the highest levels in nearly 30 years last year.

If you view the national news media, based in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and a handful of other cities, as way too monolithic in its political views and driven by conscious and subconscious agendas, the half-hearted-at-best interest in these stories isn’t that hard to explain. These stories aren’t easily used to advance the narrative that Republicans are bad and Democrats are good.

If a terrible natural disaster in Louisiana can be blamed on a Republican president, then it’s one of the biggest stories of the decade. If the lack of a public statement on a Louisiana disaster during a presidential vacation might reflect badly on a Democratic president, it’s best to treat the flood as a “page A4″ story, check-the-box journalism.

A paranoid schizophrenic shooting a Democratic Congresswoman in Tuscon warrants national conversation on whether the Tea Party’s rhetoric is inherently inciting to violence, and whether gun owners as a whole represent some threat to their fellow citizens. But an illegal immigrant shooting a young woman in San Francisco offers no further explanation or discussion, no need for a national conversation on whether a “sanctuary city” might protect dangerous criminals. A racist madman shooting up a Charleston church group indicts all Southerners, but the twisted cruelty of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell is just a “local crime story.”

If there really is a giant and widening cultural gap between America’s elites and the rest of the citizenry in “flyover country,” how much of it is driven by narrative-minded journalism? If you die in a particular way that can advance the Democrats’ legislative agenda, your death is going to be an enormously big deal. If the circumstances of your death are politically inconvenient to the Left – Brian Terry or the Benghazi four or those who died on the waiting list for the VA — there are no greater lessons to be learned or need for further action; it’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances. One set of citizens are in the picture; one set of citizens on the periphery get cropped out. It just doesn’t fit the picture that someone wants to create.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Ownership Society

How Corporatism became Capitalism with Asian Values

The problem of politically granting "groups" (ie- corporations) tax advantages over "individuals" in a global society or How "immortals" (corporations) can dominate capital over time in an interest compounding financial system

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Support your local Right Wing Artist!

How Progressive 'Entryism' Has Destroyed American Philanthropy

...and turned it into a Piggy Bank for Supporting Liberal Causes
from the Washington Times
For all its talk of being a street uprising, Black Lives Matter is increasingly awash in cash, raking in pledges of more than $100 million from liberal foundations and others eager to contribute to what has become the grant-making cause du jour.

The Ford Foundation and Borealis Philanthropy recently announced the formation of the Black-Led Movement Fund [BLMF], a six-year pooled donor campaign aimed at raising $100 million for the Movement for Black Lives coalition.

That funding comes in addition to more than $33 million in grants to the Black Lives Matter movement from top Democratic Party donor George Soros through his Open Society Foundations, as well as grant-making from the Center for American Progress.

“The BLMF provides grants, movement building resources, and technical assistance to organizations working advance the leadership and vision of young, Black, queer, feminists and immigrant leaders who are shaping and leading a national conversation about criminalization, policing and race in America,” said the Borealis announcement.

In doing so, however, the foundations have aligned themselves with the staunch left-wing platform of the Movement for Black Lives, which unveiled a policy agenda shortly after the fund was announced accusing Israel of being an “apartheid state” guilty of “genocide.”

Released Aug. 1, the platform also calls for defunding police departments, race-based reparations, breaking, voting rights for illegal immigrants, fossil-fuel divestment, an end to private education and charter schools, a “universal basic income,” and free college for blacks.

As far as critics are concerned, the grab-bag platform combined with the staggering underwriting commitment offer more evidence that Black Lives Matter is being used as a conduit for left-wing politics as usual.

“It’s about time people woke up to the fact that big money is using people as pawns to stoke racial hatred and further their global agenda,” said the Federalist Papers Project’s C.E. Dyer.

Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said corporations and others may want to think twice about partnering with the Ford Foundation, the fifth-largest U.S. philanthropy with $12.4 billion in assets.

“The Ford Foundation has traditionally been leftist, at least since the 1970s, on law-enforcement matters. So it’s not a huge surprise, but it’s certainly disappointing,” said Mr. Johnson. “I guess potential donors may want to look at the [Black Lives Matter] movement and see the damage, destruction and murders that they’ve left in their wake.”

For Black Lives Matter, the grant-making partnership isn’t risk free, lending legitimacy to the movement but also credence to those who say it has strayed from the concerns of black Americans calling for equal treatment at the hands of police.

“I think whoever’s in charge of vetting a grant like that didn’t do their homework,” said Mr. Johnson. “Or maybe this was already in the works before they realized what exactly they were dealing with before this platform came out—before it became more apparent that it’s become today’s Velcro for what the leftist-fringe movement desires.”

And that’s a shame, he said, “because instead of having a serious movement that might have been a basis for dialogue and improving relations in communities, especially communities of color, it’s kind of become in some ways a very violent movement, in some ways a very, very far-left [movement] with an almost statist agenda.”

Borealis and Ford did not return requests Wednesday asking for comment, but one of the newly launched fund’s partners, the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland, California, praised the foundations for bringing resources to “this transformative movement.”

“Ensuring that all Black Lives Matter, in this land and around the world, will require an infusion of assets into Black communities,” said the center in an Aug. 8 statement.

In their July 19 announcement, Ford Foundation program officers Brook Kelly-Green and Luna Yasui said that, “Now is the time to call for an end to state violence directed at communities of color.”

“And now is the time to advocate for investment in public services—including but not limited to police reform—together with education, health, and employment in communities for people that have historically had less opportunity and access to all those things,” they said. “These are the reasons we support the Movement for Black Lives.”

Ford and Borealis are hardly alone: They said the fund will “complement the important work” of charities including the Hill-Snowden Foundation, Solidaire, the NoVo Foundation, the Association of Black Foundation Executives, the Neighborhood Funders Group, anonymous donors, and others.

In addition to raising $100 million for the Movement for Black Lives, the Black-Led Movement Fund will collaborate with Benedict Consulting on “the organizational capacity building needs of a rapidly growing movement.”

Ford has locked horns over Israel before: In 2003, the foundation announced after years of criticism that it would not renew its funding for leftist causes through the New Israel Fund, according to Forward.

The Black Lives Matter movement exploded in August 2014 after an officer shot dead unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, police shootings of black men have prompted rioting and protests in dozens of U.S. cities, as well as the deaths of eight officers in separate incidents this year at demonstrations in Baton Rouge and Dallas.

Mr. Johnson confirmed that his organization, an advocacy group for police, has no grant-making alliance with Ford.

“We don’t receive any funding from Ford. But yeah, thanks very much,” he said with a laugh.

Not that he wouldn’t take it. “Of course it would come in handy — look at what’s going on across this country with the attacks on police,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’re not looking for a handout from Ford, but it would be nice to see groups like that or George Soros try to give some nuts-and-bolts help for people who are hurting, instead of throwing money around on grand schemes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Much Longer Can the Boy Keep His Finger in the Dyke?

You may think the world is falling apart. Steven Pinker is here to tell you it isn't.

from Vox
If you think this has felt like the summer of sadness, you are not alone.

Every week, sometimes every day, seems to bring more stomach-turning news. In June, there was the Orlando nightclub shooting, where dozens were killed and injured in the deadliest terror attack in the US since 9/11. Then came July’s blood-soaked Bastille Day in Nice, when a terrorist drove a truck over holiday revelers, killing 84 people, including 10 children. Before the month was over, ISIS militants had assassinated a French priest in his church and executed the patrons and staff at a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

These are just the more gruesome terror events that grabbed headlines — and only those carried out this summer. I’ve made no mention of what happened in Paris over the last year, or the airport killings in Brussels and Istanbul, or, for that matter, San Bernardino.

And these are just the terrorist attacks. I’ve said nothing of the flaring racial tensions in the US, police shootings of black men, or the multiple reprisal shootings of officers — a cycle that played out again this week in Milwaukee, where protests erupted into burning riots following the police shooting death of 23-year-old black man Sylville Smith.

The political discourse of late hasn’t done much to soothe the anger or quell the hate. If anything, it’s inflamed matters. As Nick Kristof noted in the Times recently, Donald Trump is making America meaner, inciting violence toward immigrants and even his opponent, Hillary Clinton. ("Hang the bitch!" is a common chant at Trump rallies.)

All told, it can feel like we are sliding backward, toward a more violent, less tolerant time in history.

If there’s anyone who can put this moment into context, it’s the Harvard psychology professor and polymath Steven Pinker. A cognitive scientist and linguist, Pinker focused his study of human nature on our propensity for violence — and conversely, cooperation — in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. In the book, Pinker meticulously documented a steady decline in violence over the last several centuries, which he writes, "may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."

I called Pinker recently for a discussion about the data and broader context behind the recent news events. (Hint: He says the world is still in a more peaceful period than at any other time.) We also talked about how the media shapes our views about violence, some worrying trends he thinks politicians should be keeping an eye on, and the danger of pessimism becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

Julia Belluz
You wrote a very optimistic book about the trend toward less violence on earth. But it feels like we’ve seen a lot of violence here in the US since then. We had the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 — and there have been at least 1,069 mass shootings since then. Overseas, more than 1,200 people have died in ISIS-related terror attacks, not including those killed in Iraq and Syria. And we’ve heard a lot about killings of young black men by police, and the killings of police, over the past several years. How do you put all this in context?

Steven Pinker
News is a misleading way to understand the world. It’s always about events that happened and not about things that didn’t happen. So when there’s a police officer that has not been shot up or city that has not had a violent demonstration, they don’t make the news. As long as violent events don’t fall to zero, there will be always be headlines to click on. The data show — since the Better Angels of Our Nature was published — rates of violence continue to go down.

Rates of death in war show something of an uptick because of the war in Syria — but that’s still a fraction of the levels they were in the 1960s through the early 1990s, and that’s to say nothing of the World Wars.

There has probably been a slight increase in the rate of violent crime in the US in 2015, and I say probably because the FBI figures are still not out for that year.

But even then that wouldn’t even be as high as it was in 2012, just three years ago, and that itself is a huge decrease in the levels of '60s, '70, and '80s in the US, where violent crime has fallen by more than half. So there is probably an uptick for 2015 and 2016. But it’s just a wiggle in a curve that’s been going down, down, down.

Even if you even compare situation this year to a random year in the 1970s or 1980s, by every measure our world is much more peaceful.

Julia Belluz
But as you mentioned, there’s been an uptick in war deaths driven by the staggeringly violent ongoing conflict in Syria. Does that not affect your thesis?

Steven Pinker
No, it doesn’t affect the thesis because the rate of death in war is about 1.4 per 100,000 per year. That’s higher than it was at the low point in 2010. But it’s still a fraction of what it was in earlier years. For example, [the death rate in war] was 22 per 100,000 in years of the Korean War. It was nine per 100,000 during the Vietnam War. During the Iraq War in the '80s, it was five per 100,000. Even at its recent peak of 1.4, we’re still talking about a rate that is a fraction of what it used to be.

The trend for 2015 is mostly concentrated in Syria, and it’s not getting much better in Syria. But it’s probably not getting much worse given that there have been ceasefire talks through the year. That won’t necessarily end wars, but it can bring the rate of killing down.

Julia Belluz
Another thing we often lose sight of is that, in terms of global and local violence, terrorism and war deaths are negligible.

Steven Pinker
Yes, the rate of death in homicides far exceeds the rate of death in terrorism at a local level, and for that matter, in wars. More people die in homicides than in wars globally by far.

The rates of terrorism in Western Europe, according to the Global Terrorism Database, were much higher from 1972 to 1992 than they were in 2015, and 2015 was a terrible year for terrorism. Not that it was great in the '70s and '80s, because there were high rates of terrorism, but Europe survived and Europe will survive this round of [terror] attacks.

Terrorist movements always fail. They go out of existence. They do not achieve their strategic aims. Northern Ireland is still part of the UK, and Basque Country is still part of Spain, and Israel continues to exist … the list goes on and on.

Julia Belluz
Rebecca Onion had a great piece in Slate, where she got historians to weigh in on the worst year in history. Both the Black Death in 1348 and the US's 1836 slavery trade peak looked pretty terrible by comparison.

Steven Pinker
That’s completely right. Then in the 1940s, there were the World Wars that resulted in more than 50 million deaths all told.

Rates of terrorism in Europe were higher in the 1970s than they have been at least through 2014. I haven’t seen data for 2015 yet. During the heyday of the Red Brigades and Irish Republican Army, rates of death and terrorism were higher than they are now.

Even though deaths from both terrorism and rampage shootings are relatively small when it comes to violent deaths, [these] are ways in which small numbers of individuals can manipulate the media. The only guaranteed way of becoming famous is kill a lot of innocent people. As long as media will give endless publicity to multiple murderers, they create a niche for people who want to make a difference for a political cause or their own ego.

Julia Belluz
Do you think the media plays a big role in making people think the world is going to hell?

Steven Pinker
I do think the media should take more care in allowing themselves to be used by violent actors. It’s certainly clear from [studies on] rampage shooters that many collect news reports about past killers and anticipate the publicity they will get. [See this chilling Mother Jones story for examples.] That’s also true of terrorist groups — not only are they waging a war against the armed forces of a country, but they are counting on the publicity the gory violence gets in order to put their cause in the spotlight.

I do think events have to be reported, but the coverage should be in greater proportion to the actual human cost.

And everyday homicides — the kinds that police stations worry about — kill far, far more people than rampage shootings, but they dribble in about 30 deaths a day. If any of them occurred in a single event, we would get nonstop news coverage and a president giving a speech. But when they [the single homicide deaths] dribble in one or two at a time, people are unaware of the far greater damage they do.

Julia Belluz
To avoid that kind of glorification, there are some European outlets that no longer post the names or faces of terrorists. What do you think is the best approach to covering terrorists and other mass shooters?

Steven Pinker
I think there should be less coverage of rampage shooters. If there are 30 deaths in a day from individual homicides in the US, and five people died in a mass shooting, it’s not clear why the mass shooting gets 100 times more coverage than individual homicides.

Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy

I certainly think publishing manifestos, videos, photos, and having endless analysis and discussion is encouraging [violent actors]. News should not be repressed, but there should be a sense of proportionality in terms of what the human cost is.

Julia Belluz
Do you think the perception that the world is going the wrong way makes it more likely that progress will be overturned?

Steven Pinker
It certainly is a danger. Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. While we have to be realistic about changes both up and down in rates of violence, we have to remind ourselves that violence is a problem we can deal with, that we have dealt with, and what’s important is to look at it realistically. To keep track of when it does up, when it goes down, and what causes it to go up and go down and do more of what causes it to go down. We know over the last couple of years that it has gone down, so we should figure out what we did to achieve that and do more of it.

Julia Belluz
As you know, some have noted that we may be at an inflection point — that we’re heading into a less peaceful time. We’ve seen the fabric of Europe begin to fray with Brexit, and we have US presidential candidates suggesting they wouldn’t defend America’s allies in NATO if they were attacked by a foreign power. What do you make of these threats to institutions that have likely helped sustain peace in recent years?

Steven Pinker
Brexit and Trump — these are not good developments. I don’t think Brexit is going to lead to another war. I would say it’s not good news. But it’s too early to tell.

I do think that politicians, especially on the left, would be unwise to ignore changes in violence. It’s important not to panic. But there has been a small increase in the US in the last one and a half years, and it would be foolish for politicians to just hand that issue over to the right and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Politicians should acknowledge that there has been a small change in a bad direction and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand
There is a concern over the phenomenon of depolicing — of police being less willing to intervene in potentially violent incidents out of a fear they’ll be accused of racism. There’s reason to think that this phenomenon, post-Ferguson, has been one of the contributors to the increase [in violence] from 2014 to 2015. I think it’s not addressed by liberal politicians and if they pretend it doesn’t exist at all, they’ve created an opening for the right to exploit the issue.

Julia Belluz
How could politicians better address the recent uptick in violence in the US?

Steven Pinker
If I were to give advice to politicians — it would be to seek some balance, and to not allow there to be an impression that the country is falling apart or that we’re in the middle of a crime wave, because we’re not. They should acknowledge that there has been a small change in a bad direction and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand — and therefore to balance the dangers of police shooting innocent people, which really has to be reduced, but at same time not to let that turn into a push back on policing.

Julia Belluz
Humans have demonstrated a capacity to engage in acts of appalling brutality against "others" on account of their ethnicity, religion, or tribal affiliations. It’s often encouraged by politicians — in this US election cycle, Trump — to gain power. Can you suggest how we can diminish or abate this hostility?

Steven Pinker
You’re right that often politicians whip up and organize ethnic hatred. And naturally the news reports convey the impression that everyone hates everyone else.

Aside from blessed apathy — it takes a lot of work to organize a civil war or genocide, and people have lives — the other force that militates against sectarian violence is that the perception of group identities, and of allies and enemies, is fluid. Before 1945, the Germans were our vicious enemies and the Russians are stalwart friends; a few years later and it was the other way around. Statesman forge inclusive identities, as when Nelson Mandela united black and white South Africans around, among other things, the national soccer team.

As I put in The Better Angels of Our Nature, alluding to the famous Seinfeld monologue about team sports, "People root for clothing instead of blood and soil." Psychological experiments going back to the famous 1950s Robbers Cave study show that hostilities can be tamped down when both sides have to work for a superordinate goal, such as pulling a bus out of the mud.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tech Companies Apple, Twitter, Google, and Instagram Collude to Defeat Trump

There is no such thing as Pro-Trump free speech as Clinton corporate allies serve up a carefully curated view of the campaign
from Observer Politics
My dad always told me that conservative candidates have to work twice as hard as their liberal opponents to win elections because they’re fighting two opponents: the Democratic Party and the media.

The usual suspects from left-leaning major media outlets like The New York Times, MSNBC, CNN and even entertainment networks are doing everything in their power to ensure a Clinton victory. Look no further than to Wolf Blitzer mincing around and drinking wine at the Democratic convention, celebrating Hillary’s nomination. But the propaganda skewing this election runs much deeper than just the media: our iPhones, iPads, social media networks, Google and even video games are all in the tank for Hillary Clinton—and it’s chilling.

I began looking into how strong the bias and censorship runs in these forums after I did an interview on the pro-Trump podcast, MAGA. The show’s host, Mark Hammond, was disappointed Apple wouldn’t run his show without an “explicit” warning. Hammond’s podcast didn’t contain content that would be deemed explicit under Apple’s policy, and most other shows in the News & Politics category aren’t labeled as such.

On June 18, Hammond talked to Sandra, a representative from Apple. She explained that, since the description of his show is pro-Trump, his show is explicit in nature—because the subject matter is Donald Trump. So, an Apple employee concluded the Republican presidential candidate is explicit.

iTunes has dozens of podcasts discussing Osama Bin Laden and Adolf Hitler—none of which is marked explicit. I encouraged Hammond to contact Apple again, via email to their podcast support team. Within 48 hours he received a response from “Tim,” who informed Hammond that his podcast would be updated to “clean” within 24 hours.

Further digging on Apple revealed more evidence that the computer giant is feeding users pro-Hillary and anti-Trump propaganda.

Over the past year, Apple twice refused to publish a satirical Clinton Emailgate game, “Capitol HillAwry,” claiming it was “offensive” and “mean spirited” even though the game’s developer, John Matze, cited in communications with Apple that the game fits the standards of Apple’s own satire policy. Apple has, however, approved dozens of games poking fun at Donald Trump—including a game called “Dump Trump,” which depicts the GOP nominee as a giant turd.

On July 25, Breitbart exposed this blatant double standard and favoritism toward Clinton. A few days after the article was released, Apple caved and published Capitol HillAwry, 15 months after Matze’s first attempt to go live.

While it’s commendable that Apple resolved both situations, Trump supporters and conservative users should never have faced such biased treatment in the first place.

Around the same time I was a guest on MAGA, a friend complained to me about how biased his Apple News feed is against Trump. I set up an Apple News account on my iPhone.

First step: select an outlet. Fox News. Conservative. But my news feed? Liberal.

And if there are articles above the fold from more right-leaning sites? They paint Trump in a negative light and Hillary in a positive light. Of all the channels listed in the Apple News politics section, only two of the 16 arguably lean right—the rest are reliably left-wing.

This has, of course, been pointed out before, and anyone with an iPhone or iPad can go to Apple News to determine on his or her own if Apple is pushing leftist propaganda. Apple claims not to endorse candidates, but their actions suggest otherwise, and some of their executives—including CEO Tim Cook—actively support Clinton’s campaign. Buzzfeed recently obtained an invitation to a private $50,000-per-plate fundraiser Cook is hosting for Clinton with his Apple colleague, Lisa Jackson, at the end of this month.

Apple isn’t the only corporation doing Clinton’s bidding. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said Clinton made a deal with Google and that the tech giant is “directly engaged” in her campaign. It’s been widely reported Clinton hired Eric Schmidt—chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google—to set up a tech company called The Groundwork. Assange claims this was to ensure Clinton had the “engineering talent to win the election.” He also pointed out that many members of Clinton’s staff have worked for Google, and some of her former employees now work at Google.

So it should come as no surprise that there have been multiple reports accusing Google of manipulating searches to bury negative stories about Clinton. SourceFed details how Google alters its auto-complete functions to paint Clinton in a positive light.

For example, when you type “Hillary Clinton cri” into other engines like Yahoo! or Bing, the most popular autofills are “Hillary Clinton criminal charges” but in Google it’s “Hillary Clinton crime reform.” Google denies they changed their algorithm to help Clinton, and insists the company does not favor any candidate. They also claim their algorithms don’t show predicted queries that are offensive or disparaging.

But Google has gotten into hot water on multiple occasions for connecting Trump to Adolf Hitler. In June, when users searched “when Hitler was born” it generated the expected information on Hitler but also an image of Trump. In July, searches for Trump’s book, Crippled America, returned images of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kempf. Google has since fixed both—but again, why do these issues always conveniently disparage Trump and help Clinton?

Twitter is another culprit. The company has gotten a lot of slack for banning conservatives and Trump supporters such as Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos and, most recently, rapper Azealia Banks after she came out in support of Trump. Twitter has provided vague answers as to why conservative voices have been banned while they’ve allowed other users to call for the killing of cops.

Just yesterday, Buzzfeed revealed that the social media giant’s top executive personally protected the President from seeing critical messages last year. “In 2015, then-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo secretly ordered employees to filter out abusive and hateful replies to President Barack Obama.”

This year, Twitter isn’t just banning conservatives—the platform also changed its algorithms to promote Clinton while giving negative exposure to Trump.

The founders of some of the most popular pro-Trump Twitter handles—including @USAforTrump2016 and @WeNeedTrump—insist Twitter is censoring their content. They’ve pointed out that Twitter changes trending hashtags associated with negative tweets about Clinton (which has been reported before). On August 4, shortly after the hashtag “HillaryAccomplishment” began trending, it was taken over by anti-Clinton users, who used it to mention Benghazi or Emailgate. Eric Spracklen, @USAforTrump2016 founder, noticed the hashtag was quickly changed—pluralized to #HillarysAccomplishments.

“They take away the hashtag that has negative tweets for Clinton and replace it with something that doesn’t so the average person doesn’t see what was really trending,” Spracklen said. “This happens every day.”

Jack Murphy, founder of @WeNeedTrump, says followers complain they often aren’t able to retweet his pro-Trump tweets.

Instagram has also banned accounts that depict Clinton in a negative light. In June, a conservative comedy group called Toughen Up America was banned with no warning or explanation. Last week, the popular Australian-based graffiti artist, Lushsux, was banned from Instagram after he posted photos of a bikini-clad Clinton mural he painted.

“I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist with a tin foil hat, but the timing of the Hillary Clinton mural posting and the deletion that ensued can’t just be a coincidence,” he told the Daily Mail Australia. Lushsux has posted photos of way more graphic murals, including a topless Melania Trump and a naked Donald with his package in full sight. These images did not trigger any censorship from Instagram.

Facebook has a long history of shutting down pages and blocking conservative users while promoting progressive voices like Black Lives Matter activists. The problem became so transparent that Sen. John Thune sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to explain their practices.

Facebook denies it discriminates against “any sources of ideological origin” and Zuckerberg did meet with conservatives in an attempt to resolve this issue. While some walked away from the meeting encouraged that Zuckerberg wants to repair their relationship, other prominent conservatives rejected the invitation as a publicity stunt. It should be noted that Facebook employees have donated more to Clinton than to any other candidate.

Many conservatives have come to expect this kind of thing from the mainstream media. CNN, which paints itself as the centrist antidote to right-leaning Fox News and left-leaning MSNBC, has actually been among the most disingenuous offenders during this cycle, fully earning its derisive nickname “Clinton News Network.” For example, as NewsBusters pointed out for just one day, “CNN set aside nearly half of its air time on Wednesday’s New Day to various recent controversies involving the Trump campaign — 1 hour, 24 minutes, and 18 seconds over three hours. By contrast, the program clearly didn’t think much of the Wall Street Journal‘s revelation that the Obama administration secretly airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran. John Berman gave a 27-second news brief to the report, but didn’t mention that the payment was sent on “an unmarked cargo plane.” New Day, therefore, devoted over 187 times more coverage to Trump than to the millions to Iran.”

Another favored CNN trick is to present a “balanced” panel comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats and a host, as they did on the afternoon of July 29, just to name one instance of a hundred. However, the Republican side always features one Trump supporter and one “Never Trump” Republican, with the host grilling the Trump Supporter—often a beleaguered Jeffrey Lord—in what amounts to a 4-on-1. So much for balance.

Right now, CNN has a story on its site called “Which Republicans oppose Trump and why?” There’s no corresponding story about Democrats who oppose Clinton, even though her underdog challenger in the primary lasted far longer and received far more votes than any of Trump’s Republican challengers.

No Republican willing to criticize Trump is too insignificant to merit coverage on CNN. When a minor Christie staffer announced on her personal Facebook that she’d be backing Hillary, she somehow merited a 1200 word story on CNN’s website and euphoric coverage on the air by Brooke Baldwin for “splitting with her party.”

So that’s the traditional media. But this new strand, where one cannot even search for alternative viewpoints amid technology companies who stand to benefit from the free-trade policies and eased immigration regulations of a Clinton presidence, represents a dangerous sea change. There’s absolutely no question the digital forums we use every day are censoring conservatives and favoring Clinton. You can’t simply scroll through photos on Instagram, look for a video game in the App Store or do a quick Google search without being fed anti-Trump and pro-Clinton propaganda.

These companies are engaging in activity that can quickly lead down a very dangerous slippery slope and this should concern all freedom-loving Americans—not just conservatives. If you don’t know when the election is, no problem! Just Google it and see for yourself what comes up…

Friday, August 12, 2016

To Protect and Serve and Pander

from the NY Post
The Justice Department’s 164-page report attacking Baltimore cops is a staggering exercise in cynicism and provides an excellent case study of how democracy and governance in our nation are collapsing.

Built on the absurdity that policing in inner-city Baltimore must mirror that in Beverly Hills, the report reaches down past the highest levels of government to pin the blame for urban anarchy on cops patrolling some of the country’s most forlorn places.

Rather than provide enlightenment or a blueprint for protecting the good people of Baltimore, the report relies on anecdotes and selective use of data to pave over complexities and nuances of inner-city policing.

Having drawn its conclusions in advance of seeking “evidence” to support them, DOJ feeds the polarization of our national dialogue and demonizes officers for a political system that’s broken from top to bottom for minorities. It illustrates that extremism is fueled at least as much by omitting facts and data that don’t support your pre-ordained conclusions as by making baldly absurd statements.

Instead of holding political leaders’ feet to the fire, DOJ praised Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who had time in the midst of this crisis to preside over the entire Democratic National Convention, for her willingness to turn state’s evidence against her own police force. The mayor gushed with relief that she’d been excused for her failures, thanking high heavens for the takeover by unaccountable, unelected Justice lawyers of the police department she was elected to fix.

If it’s necessary for the feds to place a department into trusteeship, you’d think the mayor, state prosecutor and entire City Council should offer their resignations, no? Yet DOJ had no interest at all in examining the political dysfunction and abject failure that has been so costly to the impoverished in the city.

Indeed, Vanita Gupta, Justice’s civil-rights chief, emphasized that the report wasn’t about fixing blame. This would be news to six cops fired as a result of the unproven allegations in the report, reflecting its focus on the littlest foot soldiers, while exculpating those whose job is to lead.

It’s not the cops’ fault that, after decades of disinvestment, Baltimore is but one city in meltdown. Police must still patrol streets where an enormous number of people have had contacts with the criminal-justice system, with many convicted of felonies, including drug offenses but also some very violent crimes. Guns are never far away.

Yet the report’s major finding is that the only victims in Baltimore are those stopped unnecessarily (in Justice’s remote, ex post facto opinion) by the police and the only bad guys are the city’s majority-minority police department.

Gupta claimed the conflictive and adversarial work of the police can be done without engendering resentment by those on the receiving end — something I have yet to see anyplace.

Like it or not, many US police departments are so paralyzed and ineffectual, responding slowly to citizen issues — and to the Civil Rights Division.

Deteriorating public safety, the rise of disorder, the fact that millions of Americans are refugees from streets and towns where they feel that they and their children are endangered — none of it ever triggers any interest at the Justice Department. Only police departments that overreach in the name of public safety warrant federal interest and end up in the dock.

The DOJ report says absolutely nothing about crime or disorder, and nowhere endorses police enforcement. An organization charged with protecting civil rights fails to even mention that thousands of young men have been shot, many killed — and that more often than not the shooters get away.

They boldly remain on the streets, free to shoot again — making the cops who must navigate those streets sitting ducks.

It is reprehensible and extremist to omit the realities of the world cops inhabit, but didn’t create.

DOJ apparently shared the report with Police Commissioner Kevin Davis only as it was released on live TV. Parts had already been leaked to the press, making it a multiday story. That hit-and-run approach belies any claim this was more than a selective smear of the BPD.

Baltimore taxpayers will now be on the hook to pay $1,000-an-hour lawyers (including DOJ veterans) out to create the nation’s “best” police department — on paper. Never mind that it will be totally paralyzed, that cops will go completely fetal — that no one with an ounce of sanity would ever sign on to be a cop in a place like Baltimore.

The Justice lawyers second-guess the legality of police stops — but provide no clear guidance about when and how stops should be done. In the real world, police are always concerned first with their safety and the safety of others; the report writers would never do a cops’ job even for 10 minutes, but claim to know best about how it should be done.

This report, so devoid of solutions, exemplifies the sorry state of our political discourse. Maybe when this election is over, the public can insist on the end of a mindlessly partisan, point-scoring debate for one that revolves around the truth: Perfect solutions to complex problems are mythical.

It’s long past time to reward, rather than punish, those who conscientiously roll up their sleeves seeking to make an unfixably unfair world a little more just.