Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Facebook Struggles to Contain Russia Narrative

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, walks with Rep. Tony Cardenas to a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, at the Capitol on Oct. 12.  (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, walks with Rep. Tony Cardenas to a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, at the Capitol on Oct. 12. (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By Steven Overly, Li Zhou and Josh Meyer, Politico
31 October 17
Hearings this week will increase the pressure for the company to explain how bots and fake news exploited its network — beyond a narrow focus on political ads.

acebook has been happy to keep congressional investigators focused on the Russian-bought online ads that helped sway voters in last year’s election — despite the many other ways that fake messages and bogus accounts spread on the dark side of social media.

But that may be about to end: Facebook, Twitter and Google are preparing for hearings this week where lawmakers are expected to grill the companies about the broad reach that foreign actors achieved through fake accounts and deliberate misinformation, a topic that encompasses far more than the 3,000 paid political ads that Facebook disclosed last month.

Some lawmakers are already pressing for more details about so-called organic content, including unpaid posts from thousands of fake, automated and hijacked user accounts. Those questions could require Facebook to divulge more details about the priceless proprietary algorithms it uses to decide what messages its users see.

Top Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday for a wealth of additional data about Russian activity on its networks, including all organic content and ads "targeted to any part of the United States" by any users who "may be connected in some way to Russia." The California senator also sent an extensive data request to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, similarly requested a meeting with Google, Facebook and Twitter to discuss both their advertising and broader content management policies. In a letter, Pallone said their platforms have become increasingly powerful and the companies have taken on a "quasi-governmental role" in determining what content is appropriate.

Ads are the "easier problem" to solve, a source close to the Senate probes told POLITICO. Spotlighting paid ads benefits Facebook because it limits the discussion to a relatively small slice of the possible malicious activity that Russia is believed to have engaged in on social media platforms, said a second source, a former Senate staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

"I keep learning about how extensive this ecosystem is and the inter-relationship between paid ads, fake accounts, the ability of the bots to push traffic," Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters Thursday.

Warner also indicated that regulations will be necessary to address the problem. "The notion of self-policing alone, I just don't think that's it, because it would simply move the bad actors onto sites that aren't," he said.

Representatives of all three companies are due to testify at a Senate Judiciary hearing Tuesday on "Russian disinformation online," and at separate House and Senate intelligence committee hearings Wednesday on social media, Russia and the election.

As part of its playbook for shaping the narrative of the Russia probes, Facebook focused on the issue of online advertising when it met with representatives of the Senate intelligence panel, according to a source close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the inquiry. The former Senate aide also described a broader perception on Capitol Hill that tech companies are steering the discussion toward ads.

Facebook offered a glimpse at seven problematic ads during a private Hill briefing last month and, after pressure from lawmakers, agreed to turn over 3,000 of them to investigators. It separately disclosed to the public that the Russia-linked ads cost about $100,000, a figure that drew widespread media attention.

Twitter then followed its lead and presented some similar information to lawmakers' offices.

Both companies have since announced internal plans to require greater oversight of political and issues-based ads — pre-emptive strikes that could blunt recently introduced legislation to force greater disclosure. And Twitter announced Thursday that it was dropping all ads from Kremlin-funded English-language media outlets RT and Sputnik.

But advertising is just one part of the far-reaching Russian influence campaign that the probe has documented so far — one that also included hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, along with shaping public discourse through fake news stories targeted at impressionable Americans.

While Congress’ legislative response so far has consisted of bills targeting social media ads, this week's hearings will provide an opportunity for lawmakers to press beyond ads for the first time in a public forum. Facebook, Google — which owns YouTube — and Twitter will probably face questions about why their platforms seemed to so easily facilitate the spread of misinformation and what the companies are doing to prevent future election-meddling.

"I got a lot of [questions], and I'm going to ask them all at the open hearing," Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a brief interview. He played coy on specifics. "I want to save it so it's a surprise for everybody."

Other lawmakers said they plan to probe the dissemination of fake news, fake Facebook accounts that impersonated people or were actually bots, and the use of online trolls to promote divisive messages.

One issue that could plague the company is the extent to which the Russian entities created fake organic content on both Facebook and Twitter and used those posts to sow chaos in the election and drive undecided potential voters away from Hillary Clinton and into the Donald Trump camp. Facebook has committed to giving material on organic content to the investigators.

Analysts, including some former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials and congressional officials familiar with the probes, said Facebook has provided more information about suspicious organic content than Twitter, and that Senate and House Intelligence committee investigators are only in the early stages of looking into that issue.

Besides creating fake Facebook and Twitter personas and accounts outright, the Russians probably also hijacked potentially thousands of others created by real users that were dormant or suspended. Another likely tactic was to coordinate messaging through thousands of the accounts and automated bots.

"We have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent this kind of abuse on our platform," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement, declining to comment on whether the company focused investigators on Russia-bought ads.

"That's why we're helping investigators — sharing what we know so they can get the full picture of what happened and give that assessment to the American public."

Facebook compiled a report on misinformation for Congress members in April, although that report did not mention Russia explicitly, aside from referencing the January report from the director of national intelligence that concluded the Kremlin had sought to sway the election.

The three companies met privately last month with members of the intelligence committees and their staffs, with several lawmakers later describing the briefings as a disappointment and openly questioning whether Facebook, Twitter and Google grasp the serious threat that foreign interference poses to U.S. democracy. Warner said at the time that Facebook conducted a narrow search and called the ads that Facebook presented "the tip of the iceberg."

The committee did not explicitly focus on ads in its initial queries to the tech companies before those meetings, according to the source familiar with the investigation, who said the emphasis by the companies serves as a bit of a "red herring."

The House and Senate bills calling for greater regulation of online political ads would not be the worst-case scenario for the companies: As much as Facebook and Google resist bureaucrats treading into their business, the proposed rules would apply to a relatively small portion of their total advertising. They would leave larger swaths of their network untouched, while giving companies and lawmakers a concrete change to point to.

One of the top questions the Senate Intelligence Committee has going into its hearing is about how many people encountered unsponsored content from fake Russia-linked accounts, the source familiar with the investigation said. That would mean looking not just at paid ads, but at content those accounts generated in the form of posts shared with followers.

Warner told POLITICO that fake accounts are also of prime interest to the committee, especially after the company was able to detect so many ahead of this year's French presidential election. Facebook said it removed more than 30,000 fake accounts used to spread misinformation during the French election, yet it has only shared findings identifying 470 Russian-linked ones related to interference during the U.S. election.

Zuckerberg has also faced pressure to pin down the locations of "troll farms" that are helping generate fake Facebook accounts and the content that's tied to them, the source said.

More broadly, there's a sense among lawmakers that the 3,000 ads tied to Russia’s Internet Research Agency troll farm may be far from the only content responsible for helping perpetrate this kind of interference.

"I want to figure out if this was the universe of problem accounts or if they just used such a low bar that this is what popped up easily," Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO in an interview.

As congressional investigators dig into how misinformation spreads and whether companies can keep it in check, the door to potential government regulation cracks further open. That's dangerous territory for Facebook and other technology companies, which have long enjoyed a wide road to expand and innovate without bumping up against the federal bureaucracy. To that end, Facebook has been quick to promote steps it's taking to self-regulate, including plans to hire people to manually examine ads that are political in nature.

After Zuckerberg initially said the idea of fake news on Facebook influencing U.S. voters was “crazy,” the company has shifted its tone and sought to convey it takes the issue seriously. Zuckerberg’s deputy, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, made a two-day charm offensive pilgrimage to Washington this month.

Attendees said those meetings were tense at times, but Sandberg conveyed the message that the company treated lawmakers’ concerns seriously and was taking internal steps to address them.

In June, Facebook launched a "Hard Questions" blog where the company discloses to its employees and the public how it grapples with challenges such as hate speech or terrorism. Hamilton Place Strategies, one of the public affairs shops Facebook has retained, has been working with the company on the blog. Facebook has also tapped political communications firms TSD Communications and Definers Public Affairs to help navigate the Russia investigation.

Facebook also devoted a slice of its $2.85 million lobbying budget in the third quarter — a 41 percent increase over what it spent in the same three-month period last year — to topics like "platform integrity" and "platform transparency," though it did not specifically reference the Russia investigations in its filing. At least one of its outside firms, Stewart Strategies and Solutions, has been tapped to work on the investigation. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.

As Facebook more publicly acknowledges its role in the election controversy, lawmakers say it appears to be showing more openness to oversight, if only because the writing appears to be on the wall.

"I hope Facebook will be [open to legislation], because they have proved to be increasingly receptive and reasonable," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a brief interview. "They are much more constructively engaged than ever before, but the proof will be in their substantive positions."

Monday, October 30, 2017

Trump increasingly frustrated his greatness isn't being recognized

TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump awaits the arrival of Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni for meetings at the White House in Washington, DC, April 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
You may have noticed Trump assuring reporters Wednesday of his Ivy league pedigree, his superior intelligence, and his memory being one of the greatest "of all time.” “I went to an Ivy league school,” he reminded them of his lackluster years at UPenn. “I did very well, I'm a very intelligent person.”

Words of desperation, my friends, from an ego practically gasping for air as the windbag-in-chief takes up all the oxygen in the room. See, the Dons just can’t believe all his ahhmaaazing achievements aren’t getting the credit they deserve. Apparently the work isn’t speaking for itself. So he is now indulging in self-congratulatory praise at every turn, even when for instance, he’s supposed to be focused on his supposed No. 1 priority: taxes.
Trump didn’t talk much about tax legislation during his [Tuesday] visit to the Hill. He spent the opening 30 minutes of his closed-door remarks simply reiterating what he considers to be the many accomplishments of his first nine months in office. Most of those things were done through executive actions that took no help from Congress, where the broader agenda items — health care and tax cuts — have stalled.
Good thinking—brag about all the useless things you've managed to do without the help of your GOP colleagues—nothing could be more tremendous than that.

Remember the last time Trump claimed he got a standing ovation—at the CIA, where he forgot to tell some 400 agency staffers they could sit down
“I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time.”
No word yet from Trump on whether his CIA ovation or Hill ovation was bigger. Either way, poor Peyton Manning is clearly envious of all Trump’s wild successes.

Trump’s adventures in bragging this week build on a escalating pattern over the past few weeks. As Politico noted last week:
Friends say President Donald Trump has grown frustrated that his greatness is not widely understood, that his critics are fierce and on TV every morning, that his poll numbers are both low and “fake,” and that his White House is caricatured as adrift.
Yep, that’s the driver for his smoke-and-mirrors show to prove his greatness. No one is immune. 
The president first convened his Cabinet for a discursive soliloquy on issues domestic and foreign. They sat stone-faced as he held forth, meandering from topic to topic.
He then abruptly canceled the daily briefing by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, instead summoning reporters already gathered in the briefing room to the Rose Garden for an impromptu 40-minute news conference, where he faced a frenzy of shouted questions and seemed to want to answer even more.
Ahh, that random press conference no one could explain—now explained. Despite the fountain of lies Sanders spews day in and day out, she just can't seem to convince reporters or most Americans that Trump is truly tremendous. So he had to take matters into his own hands.
He bragged in the Rose Garden that James Lee Witt, a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator under President Bill Clinton, gave his performance on hurricanes an “A-plus” — including Puerto Rico. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for him,” Trump said of Witt. Several Trump aides said they’d never heard of Witt before Monday’s remarks. [...]
He heaped lavish praise on his own performance and ideas. “It will be the largest tax cut in history,” he said of a plan that’s still vague, has uncertain chances of passing and has sparked discord in his own administration.
Health care will be “terrific,” he said, even though he’s been unable to pass a bill and has struggled to understand the particulars. He praised himself as brave for ripping away the health care subsidies that are key to the insurance market. 
Apparently, that display of braggadocio went over so well, he reprised it again this week, which suggests we’re likely to be treated to a lot more incoherent bloviating from the guy who really believes the world owes him a standing ovation. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Following News of Mueller Charges, White House Desperately Tries to Shift Focus to Clinton

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By Aaron Rupar, ThinkProgress
29 October 17
Is Huckabee Sanders becoming bigger bullshitter than Kellyanne Conway?
n the heels of news that special counsel Robert Mueller has filed his first charges connected to the investigation of the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia, the White House is desperately trying to shift blame to Hillary Clinton.

On Saturday morning, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that “[t]he evidence Clinton campaign, DNC & Russia colluded to influence the election is indisputable.”

There’s just one problem — there is in fact no evidence that the Clinton campaign colluded with foreign agents at all.

Sanders’ tweet about a “Clinton spokesman” refers to a story the Washington Post published Friday about how Marc Elias, general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, “hired a private research firm in the spring of 2016 to investigate Donald Trump.” That firm, named Fusion GPS, conducted research that culminated in the partially-verified Steele dossier exploring the Trump campaign’s ties with Russian operatives.

In that story, former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon is quoted as saying, “I am damn glad [Elias] pursued this on behalf of our campaign and only regret more of this material was not verified in time for the voters to learn it before the election.”

Sanders would have you believe that Elias’ decision to hire Fusion GPS — a firm that employed Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who wrote the dossier — is equivalent with the Trump campaign’s eagerness to collude with Russian government operatives in an effort to obtain incriminating information about Clinton: an effort we learned about in part because of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails.

But the Clinton campaign’s relationship with Fusion GPS is not equivalent to Trump campaign’s ties with Kremlin-connected operatives. As Vox details, there are at least three major differences — the initial funding for the Steele dossier came from anti-Trump Republicans, opposition research is not the same as colluding with a foreign government, and some of the claims in the Steele dossier have since been deemed credible by top-ranking U.S. intelligence officials operating independently of any political campaign.

Nonetheless, White House officials and Trump surrogates outside the administration have relentlessly tried to distract from the Trump-Russia scandal by ginning up new controversies around Clinton. During a Fox News interview conducted just hours before news of Mueller’s charges broke, Sanders went as far as to say she was “confident” that Mueller would “close” his investigation soon because “[i]f anyone was colluding with the Russians to influence the election, look no further than the Clintons and the DNC.”

On Saturday morning — hours after news of Mueller’s first charges became public — former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski took the level of delusion up a notch by pretending that it was in fact Clinton who had won the election, not Trump.

“What we should be focusing on are the continued lies of the Clinton administration — the continued fallacies that they perpetuated,” he said.

What Sanders and Lewandowski can’t explain is why Russian propaganda outlets and Kremlin operatives waged a massive disinformation campaign on behalf of Trump, if they were indeed colluding with his opponent.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mueller Sends a Message: He's Deadly Serious

Robert Mueller. (photo: NBC)
Robert Mueller. (photo: NBC)

By John Cassidy, The New Yorker
28 October 17
n Friday night, CNN reported that a grand jury in Washington, D.C., has approved the first charges arising from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and the Russian government. Citing “sources briefed on the matter,” the network said that a judge had ordered the charges kept under seal, but that at least one arrest could take place as early as Monday.

Details were scant. The CNN report didn’t specify what the charges were or whom they had been brought against. But the news created an immediate furor, as other news organizations sought to follow up the story, and people on television and social media began speculating about the nature of the charges. Shortly before midnight, the Wall Street Journal confirmed CNN’s scoop, without providing any additional details.

Speaking on CNN, Michael Zeldin, a lawyer who served as a special assistant to Mueller when he was director of the F.B.I., suggested that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, might be the person charged. Zeldin imagined Mueller taking such a step to pressure Manafort to coöperate. “There is a lot of pressure on people who are under investigation to coöperate with Mueller after this indictment,” Zeldin said. Well before Mueller was appointed special counsel, the F.B.I. had been investigating Manafort’s financial ties to a pro-Russia party in the Ukraine. Mueller took over that investigation after he was appointed, in May. In July, F.B.I. agents staged a pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Virginia.

Manafort isn’t the only name being speculated about. Other commentators suggested that Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign who had his own extensive Russian ties, or Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser who was ousted from the White House over his post-election contact with Russia, might be subjects of the charges. It has been reported that the former F.B.I. director James Comey, when he was leading the Russia investigation, secured permission from a secret court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to tap the communications of Page and Manafort. It has also been reported that Mueller’s team demanded White House documents about Flynn.

A key political question is whether these charges are related to things that happened as part of the Trump campaign, or whether they relate to alleged wrongdoings that occurred before it began or separate from it. If there are direct ties between the charges and the campaign, that will obviously have huge ramifications on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. But if the charges concern alleged actions on the part of Manafort or others that were unrelated to the 2016 campaign, the White House may well accuse Mueller of moving beyond his remit. That allegation wouldn’t be accurate—the terms of Mueller’s appointment gave him license to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly” from the Russia probe—but accuracy has never concerned Trump much.

One thing we can say for sure is that the news of the charges has moved the Mueller investigation firmly into the media spotlight, where it is likely to stay. Since Mueller’s appointment, his team of prosecutors and investigators has operated largely out of the public eye. One of the few known facts was that it had convened a grand jury in Washington. Friday night’s CNN report said that earlier in the day, “top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the D.C. federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.”

There was no immediate comment from the White House about the CNN story. But it was published less than twelve hours after Donald Trump tweeted, “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”

For days, the White House and conservative media organizations have been touting a Washington Post story that revealed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped to pay for the controversial Russia dossier written by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. “I think this further proves if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election, look no further than the Clintons, look no further than the D.N.C.,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, told Fox News on Thursday.

“Everything that the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. were falsely accusing this President of doing over the past year, they were actually doing themselves.”

After CNN published its story on Friday night, some Democrats and commentators suggested that the Trump Administration may have known the Mueller indictments were coming and leaked the Steele story to create a smokescreen. “So clearly target is in crosshairs, alerted Trumpsville, right wing media & Trump engineered mass diversion & main stream media fell for it,” Neera Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton who is the president of the Center for American Progress, tweeted.

Plausible as that theory sounds, it, too, is conjecture. What isn’t speculation is the fact that, five months into his investigation, Mueller has brought a first set of criminal charges. By the standards of recent special prosecutors, that is fast work, and it confirms Mueller’s reputation as someone who doesn’t like to dally. Now that he has started arresting people, there is no reason to suppose he will stop. And that is precisely the message he wants to send.

Friday, October 27, 2017

What Jeff Flake Couldn't Bring Himself to Say About Donald Trump

Sen. Jeff Flake. (photo: Tom Williams/Getty)
Sen. Jeff Flake. (photo: Tom Williams/Getty)

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine
26 October 17

Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today: Jeff Flake’s revolt, what the latest Bill O’Reilly revelations mean for Fox News, and the ineffectiveness of John Kelly.

ith yesterday’s speech on the Senate floor, Jeff Flake becomes the third Establishment conservative, after Bob Corker and John McCain, to begin attacking the direction of the GOP in general terms — and just as the party puts its fundraising muscle behind Alabama’s Roy Moore. Will this trio’s rebellion have any impact?Flake’s powerful indictment of Trump has been viewed by many as a “Have you no sense of decency?” tipping point in fond memory of that moment when the lawyer Joseph Welch’s challenge to Joe McCarthy in a Senate hearing room sped McCarthy’s demise. Yesterday was the day when you could see “the ice beginning to crack,” in the widely repeated words of Peter Wehner, a longtime adviser to Republican presidents who’s a leading Never Trump-er.

But the notion that Flake’s words — or Corker’s or McCain’s — are going to change the mind of a single member of the Trump base, or that lame-duck senators might at last encourage an anti-Trump outpouring among their GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill, is preposterous. They can read polls. Some 80 percent of Republicans still support Trump. If those voters didn’t get off the reservation after “grab ’em by the pussy” or the health-care debacle (to take two of countless examples), the scales will not fall from their eyes now because of the jeremiads of a pair of retiring senators. These loyalists will react to Flake’s speech much as they react to any liberal pundit’s attack on Trump: They love to hear us squeal! Trump’s loyal base knows that all these critics are elitist pawns of the “fake news” network. Their own “news” sources, led by Steve Bannon’s Breitbart and Fox News’ Sean Hannity, tell them so every day.

Sitting Republicans remain as terrified of this base as ever. After all, Flake and Corker are retiring in part because that base was threatening to vote them out in favor of true Trumpists in the 2018 primaries.

The Vichy leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will remain as supine as ever, hoping they land their beloved deep tax cuts in the bargain. Yet even that aim is in jeopardy now that Trump seems determined to alienate some of the 50 senators he needs to get a bill to his desk. It looks like “repeal and replace” déjà vu all over again. But McConnell and Ryan are in too deep, too compromised morally, and too in hock to their donors to bolt now.

They still fail to concede that legislation is not Trump’s aim, not even classic conservative GOP legislation like tax cuts. We have a president who doesn’t know how a bill becomes a law and doesn’t give a damn. With Bannon as his wingman, his aim is to blow up the Republican Party, purge it of a feckless and tired Establishment, and remake it with his own shock troops into a nativist and nationalist regime.

The departure of Corker and Flake, like Roy Moore’s primary victory in Alabama and like the other announced retirements of Republicans in the House, all suggest that the purge is well underway.

Every congressional incumbent who steps down, of course, is a potential gain for the opposition party. What remains to be seen is if the Democrats will find new ways to screw it up.

On her NBC morning show on Monday, Megyn Kelly shared part of an email she had sent to Fox News executives about Bill O’Reilly’s behavior when they both worked at the network, rebutting O’Reilly’s constant refrain that there had been no internal complaints about him. What does news of the $32 million sexual-harassment settlement, or the revelation that Fox increased O’Reilly’s salary afterward, mean for Fox News?

What it means is that the Murdochs, despite their pious public protestations to the contrary, have not cleaned out the putrid culture of sexual harassment and assault that they allowed to metastasize under Roger Ailes for decades. Instead they keep trying to cover it up. The PRrelease given to the Times in response to the latest O’Reilly exposé claimed that “21st Century Fox has taken concerted action to transform Fox News including installing new leaders, overhauling management and on-air talent, expanding training, and increasing the channels through which employees can report harassment or discrimination.” The release added that “these changes come from the top.” But one of the two executives Kelly said had ignored her own complaints about sexual harassment, Jack Abernethy, remains in place. So does the notorious Fox News media relations enforcer Irena Briganti, whom Kelly says even now “pushes negative articles on certain Ailes accusers.” And, as the Times reported, it was all three Murdochs who signed off on a $100 million contract extension for O’Reilly the month after he settled with Lis Wiehl for $32 million. That’s all you need to know about what’s going on at “the top” of 21st Century Fox.

The Murdochs survived the News Corporation phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. by denying, stonewalling, pleading ignorance and amnesia, and simply powering through. Maybe they will escape again. One of the more astonishing examples of how much they force their executives to tow the company line took place last week at a Wall Street Journal conference in California. Gerard Baker, the WSJ editor best known for his obsequious interview of Donald Trump earlier this year, conducted an onstage conversation with the Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg during which Katzenberg implausibly claimed to be one of the few executives in Hollywood who never heard about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual history. Baker was incredulous. “How on Earth could powerful people, yourself included, not have known that he was behaving like this?” he asked.

When Katzenberg held firm, Baker wouldn’t let it go: “You say in all your encounters with Mr. Weinstein directly, you’ve never seen behavior like this. But you must have heard about it?” Which leads to the obvious question: Are we really to believe that Baker, as a top Murdoch executive and powerful journalist, never heard about the behavior of Ailes and O’Reilly? The Journal’s offices are in the same building as the Fox News studios. For years, the Journal has even had its own weekly show on Fox News, The Journal Editorial Report. Katzenberg didn’t have the presence of mind, unfortunately, to turn the tables on Baker.

For all the new revelations of sexual harassment that have cascaded into view since the Fox News and Weinstein revelations — from Hollywood to Wall Street to Congress to previous management of The New Republic to an esteemed restaurant empire in New Orleans — this much is clear: We’re not even close to unmasking and eradicating a misogynistic outlaw culture of sexual harassment and violence that has blighted America from the highest levels of society on down since the days of the Salem witch trials.

Donald Trump’s clumsy condolence call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of one of the four soldiers recently killed in Niger, has become a weeklong slog of White House accusations and outright lies against Gold Star families, a slog that roped in John Kelly. Does Kelly’s inability to contain this feud change your idea of how he manages the White House?

I never believed that Kelly would have any impact on Trump or his White House. Nobody can put that big baby in a corner. The speed with which Kelly has debased himself is impressive even when compared to the likes of a Steven Mnuchin. His lies about Congresswoman Frederica Wilson still remain uncorrected. And that he would even think of casting himself as a noble defender of female virtue and military sacrifice while standing on a podium in Donald Trump’s White House suggests, quite honestly, that he has completely lost touch with reality. He is no more to be trusted with the nuclear codes than the president whose trigger finger he is supposed to be holding in check.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Republican congressman's seven siblings post public letter denouncing their brother's racist rant

Rep. Paul Gosar embarrasses himself and all of Arizona in an interview with Vice News
Rep. Paul Gosar, you are about to have one very awkward holiday season
In early October 2017, Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-04) sat down for an interview with Vice News and embarrassed the entire state of Arizona when he floated an insane theory about who might be funding the modern neo-Nazi movement in America and their violent rallies:

GOSAR: Well, isn’t that interesting. Maybe that was created by the Left.

VICE News: Why do you say that?
GOSAR: Because let’s look at the person that actually started the rally. It’s come to our attention that this is a person from Occupy Wall Street that was an Obama sympathizer. So, wait a minute, be careful where you start taking these people to.
And look at the background. You know, you know George Soros is one of those people that actually helps back these individuals.
Who is he? I think he’s from Hungary. I think he was Jewish. And I think he turned in his own people to the Nazis. Better be careful where we go with those.
VICE News: Do you think George Soros funded the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville?
GOSAR: Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out?
George Soros is a billionaire who has contributed to progressive causes in the past.

He also survived Nazi Germany-occupied Hungary as a Jewish teenager. To suggest he is behind this movement is beyond the pale. His large family could hear his dog whistle all the way from his home state of Wyoming and they published a public letter denouncing their congressman brother:
Our parents are 87 and 83 and we would be outraged if some sleaze did to them what Paul shamelessly did to Mr. Soros.  First, Paul confabulated horrendous lies about Soros as a young boy who survived the Holocaust, and followed it with invented notions that Soros was behind the Charlottesville Nazis.  Paul’s deceit was uttered without a shred of evidence.
Those aren’t our family values or the values of the small Wyoming town we grew up in. Character assassination wasn’t revered. Lies and distortions do reveal much about the character of the congressman of Arizona’s 4th congressional district, however.
Paul had no problem going completely out of his way to malign Mr. Soros on Vice, so we can’t imagine anything less than a complete retraction and genuine apology.  A press release, inadequate. One of those phony apologies that begins with, “If someone was offended by my statements”….” won’t do either.
It is extremely upsetting to have to call you out on this, Paul, but you’ve forced our hand with your deceit and anti-semitic dog whistle.  We look forward to your apology on Vice.
Paul Gosar’s siblings Joan, Dave, Tim, Grace, Gaston, Pete and Jennifer Gosar

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Small Company From Trump Interior Chief's Hometown Wins Massive Contract to Restore Puerto Rico's Power

A woman tries to walks out from her house after 
the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 
21, 2017. (photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A woman tries to walk out from her house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 21, 2017. (photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

By Rebecca Savransky, The Hill
24 October 17
small Montana company located in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown has signed a $300 million contract to help get the power back on in Puerto Rico, The Washington Post reported.

Whitefish Energy had only two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, according to the Post. The company signed the contract — the largest yet issued to help restore Puerto Rico — with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to fix the island's electrical infrastructure.

The company now has 280 workers on the island, the Post reported, a majority of whom are subcontractors.

A former senior official at the Energy Department and state regulatory agencies said it was "odd" that Whitefish Energy would be chosen.

“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” Susan F. Tierney said.

“I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

Whitefish Energy happened to be the first firm "available to arrive and they were the ones that first accepted terms and conditions for PREPA," Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of PREPA, the island's power authority, told reporters.

“The doubts that have been raised about Whitefish, from my point of view, are completely unfounded,” he added.

Whitefish Energy spokesman Chris Chiames told the newspaper that the company is taking "personal risks and business risks working in perilous physical and financial conditions.”

“So the carping by others is unfounded, and we stand by our work and our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico," he said.

Zinke's office said in an email to the Post that Zinke and Whitefish Energy's chief executive know each other.

"Everybody knows everybody" in the town, Zinke's office said, adding that Zinke wasn't involved in the contract.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Facing a massive boycott, Target CEO doubles down on support of LGBTQ rights with these words

CNBC interviewed Target’s CEO Brian Cornell on Wednesday and discussed the company’s liberal stance against discriminatory laws like North Carolina’s HB2. Target now is experiencing a massive backlash and boycott by an anti LGBTQ conservative organization called American Family Association. It’s reported that AFA has 1.2 million signatures on its petition — people pledging to not shop at Target stores because of the retail chain’s pro-LGBTQ position.

Brian Cornell is not only unabashed and unapologetic about his company’s support of transgender and pro-LGBTQ rights, he doubles down on the decision with no indication of changing his mind. Cornell adds that Target has always been about diversity and has had “family” bathrooms for many years. Also he adds that safety has always been the priority for customers. Like many around the country, this issue is not about “safety” and Cornell believes people have a right to use the bathroom that aligns with their own gender identity.

Here is a transcript of the interview followed by the YouTube video clip:
CNBC Squawk Box: Brian, speaking of challenges, businesses have wound up really in the middle of dealing with this North Carolina bathroom law. You guys are no exception to that. I think Target’s policy was to allow people to use the bathroom of their choice. I see here the American Family Association has a boycott going of your stores now. How are you gonna continue to navigate this one?
Cornell responds:
Target CEO Brian Cornell: Kelly, we've had a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion. A couple of weeks ago, I had one of our team members send me a note reminding me that if we went back to the mid sixties, our company was one of the very first to use African-American models in their advertising. And back then, it wasn't well received. We had a lot of tough feedback, but sitting here today, we know we made the right decision. And I certainly recognize that the stance we took, which, by the way, was very similar to many of our retail peers, has received quite a bit of feedback and as a company we're constantly listening. So we listen to our guests, we listen to our team members.
But what's been lost in this story is the fact that the vast majority of our stores—actually over 1,400 of our stores—already have a family restroom. And we're committed over the next few months to make sure every one of our stores has that option, because we want our guests to be welcomed in our stores.
But if there's a question of safety, I can tell you and others—our focused on safety is unwavering, and we want to make sure we provide a welcoming environment for all our guests one that safe, one that's comfortable, and that's our commitment over time.
​So, we took a stance and we're going to continue to embrace our belief of diversity inclusion and just how important it is to our company, but we're also going to make sure our focus on state is unwavering and we're going to provide a great environment for our guests to shop every time they’re in out stores.
Cheers to Brian Cornell, Target and all the many businesses, the musicians, and the everyday American citizens who are coming out to protest discrimination and also to let  the transgender/LGBTQ community know, “We’ve got your back.” And to Target, we got your back as well — expect us.