Nov 09 2017

Pondering the Pundits

“Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Pondering the Pundits”.

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Al Franken: We must not let big tech threaten our security, freedoms and democracy

As lawmakers grapple with the revelations regarding Russia’s manipulation of social media during the 2016 election, many are shocked to learn the outsized role that the major tech companies play in so many aspects of our lives. Not only do they guide what we see, read, and buy on a regular basis, but their dominance – specifically in the market of information – now requires that we consider their role in the integrity of our democracy.

Last week’s hearings demonstrated that these companies may not be up to the challenge that they’ve created for themselves. In some instances, it seems that they’ve failed to take commonsense precautions to prevent the spread of propaganda, misinformation, and hate speech. [..]

The platforms that big tech has designed may now be so large and unruly that we can’t trust the companies to get it right when they do start paying attention. If you have five million advertisers a month using your highly sophisticated, nearly instantaneous ad platform, can you ever really know who all of them are? Can you ever catch all the signals that would seem obvious to a pair of human eyes – for example, political ads that are paid for in rubles?

Before I move on, I want to be very clear about something. In my view, the size of these companies is not – in isolation – the problem. But I am extremely concerned about these platforms’ use of Americans’ personal information to further solidify their market power and consequently extract unfair conditions from the content creators and innovators that rely on their platforms to reach consumers.

Rebecca Solnit: One year on, Donald Trump is still an illegitimate president

The 2016 US presidential election was so corrupted in so many ways, small and large, that there is no reason to respect its outcome or regard Donald J Trump as the legitimate president of the United States.

Many things warped the process, including massive intervention on many fronts by a hostile foreign power, apparent collusion by Trump and his associates, and disturbing anomalies in the actual voting process and its outcome. It’s worth remembering that, and reviewing the evidence.

In South Korea in late 2016, popular uprisings and parliamentary impeachment proceedings forced the corrupt president out of office. In Kenya on 1 September of this year, the supreme court annulled a presidential election because of evidence that “the vote had been electronically manipulated” and ordered a new election.

There is no domestic precedent for nullifying a presidential election; there is also no previous election like this one in the nature and range of its corruptions and the unanswered questions about its anomalies.

Gary Younge: Why interviewing Richard Spencer was a risk worth taking

On the last day of the probationary period of my first “job” in journalism, I had a problem. It was an international current affairs magazine programme, and I was taken on as an intern because I spoke foreign languages. In that capacity I had been asked to call the far-right Front National (FN) in France and invite then leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on the show. I wouldn’t do it.

I had two main reasons. The first was journalistic. At the time, the FN had about 12% of the vote and no seats in the legislature. We had the whole world to choose from. Why bother with these?

The second was moral. I felt strongly that we should not give these people airtime to peddle their divisive lies. They were not a group I simply had a political disagreement with. Their politics of discrimination and scapegoating were antithetical to democratic norms. The media, I felt, should not smooth their path to respectability by giving them a platform and treating them like everyone else. The prospect of creating a spectacle, which in turn attracts viewers and clicks, should not override an ethical responsibility to avoid spreading hate speech and offensive propaganda.

Patricia Scotland: Don’t be complacent: climate change will ravage rich and poor alike

In Pointe Michel, on the Caribbean island of Dominica, I met a woman sitting in the middle of a pile of rubble. On her right there was a fridge and on her left a ruined mattress – the only recognisable possessions among the jumble of concrete, wood, metal, glass, galvanised iron and everything else that just a few weeks ago used to be her home. She and her family had been spared but they had lost everything when the wrath of Hurricane Maria exploded there, another terrifying manifestation of climate change. [..]

Dominica is currently classed as upper middle income, which still makes it eligible for Overseas Development Assistance. But Antigua and Barbuda is a high-income country, which excludes it from receiving that assistance. Under criteria set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, those islands will probably cease to be recipients of assistance this year.

The fact is, it is not fair to exclude higher income but climate-vulnerable countries from that vital assistance when they are stuck by a cataclysmic disaster. Certainly not in this new epoch in which category 5 hurricanes, which used to come once in a lifetime, are coming within weeks of each other and with a new kind of ferocity. What Hurricanes Irma and Maria demonstrated, with vicious clarity, is that a high-income country could be made destitute in a matter of hours.

Jill Abramson: Robert Mercer invested offshore dark money to sink Clinton. He must be delighted

Even as he attempts to retreat further into the shadows of dark money, Robert Mercer can’t hide.

The reclusive hedge fund billionaire recently turned over his political operations to other family members, but his outsized role in electing Donald Trump keeps reverberating. A cache of leaked documents known as the Paradise Papers and further reporting by the Guardian revealed on Tuesday that Mercer used secret offshore companies in Bermuda to avoid taxes and fund his efforts to sink Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Leaked documents and newly obtained public filings showed how the Mercer family built a $60m war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to legally avoid US tax. Among the gifts from the foundation was $4.7m the Mercers gave to the Government Accountability Institute run by Steve Bannon.