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Mar 22 2018

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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Katrina vanden Heuvel: Gina Haspel’s role in the torture era demands attention

Fifteen years ago, President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, initiating one of the longest military engagements in U.S. history. In an address to the nation, Bush declared, “America faces an enemy who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality.” He added, “The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.”

Those weapons never materialized, of course, and the decision to go to war under false pretenses proved to be catastrophic for both the United States and Iraq. Nearly 4,500 Americans died. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including at least 180,000 civilians, have been killed since 2003. The financial costs of the war also vastly exceeded the Bush administration’s projections, totaling over $3 trillion, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes.

Yet, in the post-9/11 era the United States sacrificed more than blood and treasure. The country severely damaged its moral standing by adopting a barbaric torture program in brazen defiance of constitutional law and international conventions. That program has been the subject of fierce debate — and often harsh criticism — over the past decade and a half. President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to become the next CIA director is a disquieting reminder that the United States has never truly reckoned with the disgraceful legacy of torture.

E. J. Dionne Jr.: Yes, we should be outraged about Facebook

In 1964, the novelist Eugene Burdick published “The 480.” The best-selling book described, as Burdick wrote in his preface, “people who work with slide rules and calculating machines and computers which can retain an almost infinite number of bits of information as well as sort, categorize and reproduce this information at the press of a button.”

The title refers to 480 categories of voters, defined by demographic characteristics, created by the Simulmatics Corp., a real company, as a way of targeting appeals to small subgroups. The novel’s drama centers on data manipulation’s role in lifting a dark-horse candidate toward the Republican presidential nomination.

We’re told of five different campaign mailings directed “to five carefully selected groups that shared only one quality: they were likely to turn out to vote and they had a special grievance.” I suppose that’s two qualities, but you get Burdick’s point. And, yes, the author’s engaging tale was based on reality: John F. Kennedy used Simulmatics in his 1960 presidential campaign.

“The 480” speaks to how long Americans have worried about the manipulation of our political decisions by tech magicians with access to mounds of information.

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal takes our paranoia to a whole new level. But paranoia, implying psychologically unhealthy delusions, is the wrong word. There is nothing disordered about the outrage created by the invasion of an estimated 50 million Facebook accounts for the ultimate benefit of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The upshot is that private companies that traffic in the enormous amounts of personal data we voluntarily give them are not living up to their obligations both to each of us as individuals and to the common good.

Yanis Varoufakis: Trump and trade tariffs: big lies founded on small truths

Donald Trump is perhaps the US president best equipped to understand that some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.

His personal business plan always involved racking up enormous deficits and debts, before finding a way to unload them on to others – his employees and creditors mostly.

Last week the US president imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. The notion that he did so because he is concerned about America’s trade deficit collapses into a pool of implausibility when projected upon a businessman so intensely relaxed about being in the red.

The fact is, Donald Trump is only pretending to care about the trade deficit. And economic history is on his side. Since the mid-1970s, the United States became the first superpower in history that succeeded in massively boosting its global hegemony on the back of increasing trade … deficits. And how did America pay for these ever-expanding deficits? By maintaining the capacity of Wall Street and certain hi-tech industries to act as a magnet bringing into the country a sizeable portion of foreigners’ rents and profits.

Jill Filipovic: Trump has no right to buy the silence of White House staffers

If there is one defining aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is this: he does not believe himself or members of his staff to be public servants, serving the American people. He believes himself to be a hybrid between a CEO and a king, and sees White House employees as his court and his servants.

His demand that staffers sign non-disclosure agreements is the latest example, and one of the most glaring ones. These non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) extend even beyond the end of his presidency, so White House employees could find themselves on the other end of a Trump lawsuit should they speak about the details of his tenure – and reportedly on the hook for thousands or even millions.

It’s hard to overstate what an egregious violation this is, of both the constitution and democratic norms. These agreements can be toxic in a normal workplace, as the #MeToo movement has shown. By barring women from talking about the conditions of their workplaces, NDAs routinely allow employers to sweep harassment and even assault under the rug, putting more women at risk.

Richard Wolffe: The evil genius of Cambridge Analytica was to exploit those we trust most

How on earth did Donald Trump win the presidency when he lost the popular vote by such historic margins?

To put this in perspective: John Kerry lost the popular vote in 2004 by almost the same number of votes as Donald Trump 12 years later.

This is not a small question, to be noodled over by disgruntled Democrats and political scientists. It lies at the heart of the likely impeachment of Trump himself, and it will dominate at least the next two US elections.

The answer is fundamental to our democratic culture of fair elections, the rule of law, the role of technology and the free media.

Now there are any numbers of factors that could have swung 40,000 votes in three states – Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – which created the catastrophic fluke of the Trump presidency in the electoral college.

But there are no factors as large and persistent as a weaponized Facebook – the trusted and entirely unregulated delivery vehicle for an astonishing amount of highly targeted disinformation.

Without Facebook, there would have been no Pizzagate, and the hacked DNC emails would have struggled to reach their intended audience. The strangely Russia-loving Green party would never have tallied enough votes to skew those three battleground states towards Trump.

All roads lead to Facebook and the small company that plundered its vast user data: Cambridge Analytica. Together the social network looks less like a group of friends and more like the Silk Road black market of arms and drugs dealers.