Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is a grave, sorrowful and ill-timed calamity in the escalating crisis of American democracy, the crisis of the American state. The only relevant and timely thing I can think to add is this: You can’t work this kind of problem or operate in this kind of environment unless you’re ready to say what you’re going to do. You can’t start by saying McConnell has to follow his rule. You need to say what you’ll do when he doesn’t. Otherwise you’ve got one side with words and the other with the ability to act. And that’s a loser’s hand.
The thing to do, if Republicans take this course and the Democrats take the presidency and the Senate, to add either two or four new seats to the Supreme Court, for a total of 11 or 13.
We are now back in one of those recurrent waves of bad publicity for Facebook. It deserves every bit of it. Facebook is the prime online, global incubator of racist, quasi-fascist propaganda, conspiracy theories, state-run psyops and agit-prop operations, even in at least one case actual state-backed programs of population transfer and arguable genocide. But to really understand the problem with Facebook we need to understand the structural roots of that problem, how much of it is baked into the core architecture of the site and its very business model. Indeed much of it is inherent in the core strategies of the post-2000, second wave Internet tech companies that now dominate our information space and economy.
Facebook is an ingenious engine for information and ideational manipulation. Good old fashioned advertising does that to a degree. But Facebook is much more powerful, adaptive and efficient. That’s what all the algorithms do. That’s why it makes so much money. This is the error with people who say the fact that people do bad things with Facebook is no different from people doing bad things with phones. Facebook isn’t just a ‘dumb’ communications system. It’s not really a platform in the original sense of the word. (The analogy for that is web hosting.) Facebook is designed to do specific things. It’s an engine to understand people’s minds and then manipulate their thinking. Those tools are refined for revenue making but can be used for many other purposes. That makes it ripe for misuse and bad acting.
The core of all second wave Internet commerce operations was finding network models where costs grow mathematically and revenues grow exponentially. The network and its dominance is the product and once it takes hold the cost inputs remained constrained while the revenues grow almost without limit. With the possible exception of Apple, which is still driven mostly by the production of physical products, that’s the core feature of all the big tech Goliaths.
Only a few days I mentioned a dark new trend that went big with the Gawker lawsuit, backed by Peter Thiel and then was further empowered by President Trump himself, who essentially adopted the lead lawyer, Charles Harder, as his and the White House’s house lawyer threatening new publications with ruin over criticism of the President. Here’s another part of the same broad story.
Tired of the advice he was getting from his actual public health advisors President Trump recently brought in a rightwing radiologist with no experience in epidemiology to advise him on COVID. Scott Atlas is generally held to be an advocate of ‘herd immunity’ strategies for COVID. A group of 78 of his colleagues at Stanford Medical School wrote an open letter accusing him of hawking “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science” in his advice to the President.
Atlas has now gotten another Trump house lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, to send a threat letter to the group threatening a defamation lawsuit.
Before more time goes by a brief follow up on yesterday’s post about the Trumpian build up for a violent showdown after the election. In his late afternoon press conference yesterday President Trump again found an opportunity to declare his readiness to put down election night “riots” or “protests” by force using the US military. He quickly joined this to a conversation about purported voter fraud and election rigging using mail in ballots.
One of the major issues of the 2016 election was the claim that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had to recuse herself from any involvement in a charging decision with respect to Hillary Clinton because she briefly met with former President Clinton on a tarmac. Now Bill Barr is saying we need political appointees to personally manage criminal prosecutions and have them all reviewed by the Attorney General, especially when they involve the President’s friends.
I often find it a clarifying exercise to do the following. In six months we will know the outcome of the 2020 election. We will likely look back to September 2020 and see the eventual outcome as far more known, predictable than it actually appears to us today. This is in the nature of thinking historically. We have lived experience but the people of the future know more than us. My exercise is this: tell the version of me six months in the future how clear or unclear things look right now.
Taking this approach the weight of evidence points to Joe Biden winning a clear if not overwhelming victory over Donald Trump and a good likelihood that Democrats will control both houses of Congress. Looking not emotionally, not with the uncertainty that is so deep-rooted in the Trump Era and not with the weight of all that is at stake, the biggest fact of this election cycle has been the persistence and consistency of Biden’s lead. For all the drama, look at those trend lines. They barely budge.
Looking at all the available evidence, that is the most likely outcome. And I suspect in retrospect it will look even more clear, more likely. After the fact we’ll have only the evidence, the bundle of factual data and not the doubt, uncertainty and the specter of the unknown.
But of course there are other possibilities. The most likely bad outcome is simply that Donald Trump loses the popular vote by three or four percentage points but squeaks out an electoral college win with narrow victories in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona and lucky breaks in maybe Pennsylvania or other states.
But I want to note another storyline being anticipated and demanded by many of Trump’s most ardent supporters. As usual with people in the Trump world, it surfaces either as ‘jokes’ or things his opponents purportedly want to do or start. In his on-going public meltdown, acting HHS comms chief Michael Caputo predicted that Joe Biden and his followers will try to overthrow the government with violence after not accepting Trump’s victory. Trump will have to put them down by force. He warns Trump’s supporters to stock up on fire arms and ammunition for the coming clash, which the Democrats will force on Trump.
I’m not sure it counts as South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s third story about running over a pedestrian two nights ago. Because it’s the first version of the story we’ve heard at length directly from him. But there are significant changes and additions from the revised story from yesterday. (Story one appeared to be that he was involved in a car accident in which someone died; story two was he ran someone over but thought the person was a deer.) You can read the full statement here.
The gist is as follows.
Today we learn that the Roger Stone deputy who now runs the press office at the Department of Health and Human Services says he’s doing battle with a CDC “resistance unit” which is trying to spin the Covid numbers against Donald Trump and murder Caputo. He predicts post-election civil war and encourages supporters to stock up on ammunition. Meanwhile the pardoned Roger Stone is calling for mass arrests against Democrats.
We also learn of a whistleblower complaint against a privately run ICE detention facility for allegedly tricking numerous detainees into getting hysterectomies.
In more pedestrian news the Attorney General of South Dakota ran over and killed a 55 year old man while driving home from a GOP fundraiser. He initially claimed he had hit a deer but the dead man’s body was found the next morning.
It’s only 3:30.
I just started reading this Buzzfeed article about Facebook board member and Trump backer Peter Thiel’s relationship with racist fringe groups. Thiel seems like an outlier in Silicon Valley because of his high profile support for Trump. But he is actually part of a rising tide of neo-authoritarian thought in the tech world which argues that democracy has failed and must be replaced. This reminded me of something I’ve been coming back to again and again with greater clarity and understanding its greater significance as the years have gone by.
At some point in 2015 I was sitting at my desk in TPM’s New York office’s talking with a good friend who worked at Gawker. The Hulk Hogan lawsuit had been on the horizon for a long time before it actually came to trial. In preparation Gawker founder and owner Nick Denton had recently cut some deal with a Russian oligarch to give Gawker deep enough pockets to withstand an adverse judgment which they anticipated and hoped could be reversed on appeal. My friend was walking me through all of these developments. He was very much preaching the Hulk Hogan lawsuit gospel. The future of freedom of the press, he told me, was on the line with Gawker’s fate.
I nodded in agreement with each point. As a publisher and strong supporter of press freedom, I supported Gawker’s position publicly and privately. And yet tucked away in my head part of me was saying, “C’mon. You published a sex tape.” Publishers see every libel suit and think there but for the grace of God. In this case, I knew to a certainty that this particular libel situation was not one TPM ever would have found itself in.