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We live in interesting times …
Today’s brief will not be about the ever-growing list of federal indictments and criminal guilty pleas encountered thus far in the Trump-Russia special counsel proceedings.
Instead, we find ourselves seeing guilty verdicts and plea deals entered in relation to a slew of serious, tangentially related criminal complaints that have come as a byproduct of those investigations. Think of them, collectively, as the ultimate example of “follow the money.”
In court today, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight of the eighteen offenses he had been charged with, the jury having been deadlocked on the remaining ten and a mistrial declared, for which prosecutors can potentially look at conducting a retrial of those latter charges.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts of his own in an effort to stave off the threat of a lengthy trial and potentially far more severe consequences for his wrongdoings.
In these proceedings, Cohen intends on pleading guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, one count of making an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution.
Cohen further admitted to having paid out hush money at Trump’s direction (though not by name), an act that was apparently intended to influence the outcome of the election.
Evidence uncovered during the course of the Manafort and Cohen proceedings also suggests prosecutors might go after other individuals whose names have come up in the course of these corruption investigations, including Stephen Calk, the banker who provided the Manafort loans and who allegedly attempted to use his influence in a failed bid to secure a position with the Army.
Further updates will be posted as these stories continue to develop.
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been the subject of content deletions and platform bans by a number of companies over the past two weeks, including Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, YouPorn, and Pinterest, with company spokespeople citing Jones’ repeat violations of net-abuse policies and failure to abide by platform publishing requirements as the common themes and causes of termination.
Before moving on to my own comments on the situation, I’d like to share two responses which I felt were particularly measured and insightful:
On to the bigger picture, then.
First, can we agree it’s time we backed off and left Alex Jones to his well deserved fate? The man made his bed, now he’s welcome to lie in it and go back to being the pariah he was before Donald Trump put him in the spotlight.
Second, can we please stop calling it censorship? Jones doesn’t lack a platform of his own. He’s been self-publishing through his personal InfoWars website and selling products through his online store for many years. Framing this as de-platforming is missing the point. Not only does Jones have a media company he can use any time he wishes without limits, but it was his own decision to ignore the rules of third-party platforms on which he’d grossly overstayed his welcome.
While some aspects of the situation could have been handled differently (I’ll get to that later), overall there is no sympathy due. Jones has been poking and throwing rocks at this particular bear for years, knowing in the back of his mind that one day it was going to wake up and slap the ever-loving shit out of him. The only unexpected part was how long it took.
To those who cry ‘free speech,’ I note that freedom of speech has never been about freedom from logical consequences or freedom from criticism. Both happen in the real world, and in this case several key businesses have come to the conclusion that they’d rather not let Alex Jones use their networks as a vehicle for disinformation, defamation, and alleged defamation.
While American defamation laws and safe harbour protections insulate from lawsuits caused by user-submitted content, they don’t do anything to stave off the bad PR and bruising to corporate image that come from associating with a person who’s made living off of trolling the public in some of the most base and ugly ways imaginable.
As wiser journalists have pointed out, Jones’ flouting of Acceptable Use Policies, harassment of innocents, othering of minorities, and seeming inability to sustain polite relationships with other human beings online rise to the level of corporate governance, but not the First Amendment.
Similar arguments could be made against numerous impressionable Jones fans who’ve taken him too literally over the years and engaged in harassment, violence, and defamation, some of which rises to the level of criminal behaviour.
Years ago, when I first heard about online DNA match services, my reaction was something to the effect of, “Stuff you put online lives forever, you no longer have control of it, so what happens when privacy breaches happen?”
While many people have a preconceived notion of DNA being unique, decisive, and absolutely airtight, the reality is a touch more humbling, as multiple news outlets and law enforcement officials have warned of the perils, error rates, and numbers of false positives involved in family matching. If anything, it reinforces a need to follow the usual rules of investigation: strive to be more thorough, and always tread carefully.
While this particular legal case has raised a lot of eyebrows, to me it seems to be more about the unmasking of a killer than the means by which the latest set of leads was generated. This isn’t a new technology, it’s been around for quite some time. Police have used these services before, but those instances haven’t grabbed headlines in the same way as the case of the Golden State Killer.
To the officers involved, I salute your creativity and perseverance. Hopefully, once justice has taken its course and the case has been tried, you’ll have been able to give some much-needed closure to the families of the victims.
But that’s not why I’m writing.
What’s problematic about the mainstreaming of genetic sequencing and the subsequent breakdown of taboos surrounding our most sensitive personal possession — the DNA code — is not the risk of false positives or accidental misidentification in a police investigation. It’s the line of opportunists who are eager to acquire that data and bend it to their will for all manner of commercial, insurance, medical, and other misuses as people relax their guard and invite more and more strangers to the party to play gatekeeper to this extremely sensitive information.
If you’ve ever been a victim of identity theft, or if you’ve ever had someone run up a bunch of unauthorized charges on your credit card, you already have a glimpse of how it feels.
Your bank can issue a new credit card number, but you don’t get a mulligan once your DNA code makes it into the wild.
These arguments are simply brilliant.
I know a lot of good conservatives and liberals, as well as others who fall somewhere in between the two sides of the political spectrum, and if there’s one lesson we all need to remember in the current climate of anxiety, it’s that we all make mistakes and we possess the agency and capability to look within ourselves and correct those mistakes.
In North America, far-right and far-left ideologies have both been hijacked in recent years by a mutually intense fear and hatred of the other side, such that the fear and hate have both become ends in themselves.
This is why we’ve ended up with some decidedly out-of-place ideas infiltrating each camp that frequently lead to further harm and alienation as the feedback loop intensifies. It’s also why we see some people jumping ship, or jumping straight into the middle of the conflict.
History has shown it takes a delicate and dedicated effort to walk the line and bring people to the middle, or even to maintain one’s own set of values and respect the other side, but it’s worth it. In Canada and in the US, time and time again, the unity of diverse peoples has ushered in many of our very best accomplishments.
As it becomes increasingly obvious a sea change is occurring at YouTube with respect to how the company conducts business and governs its user base, it’s time we had a meaningful conversation about the use of third-party content aggregation platforms and the long-term effects of putting too many eggs into the same basket.
Only a few generations have been lucky enough to witness the birth of the World Wide Web (and mass commercialization of the Internet proper) and still have the privilege of living a reasonable number of years on both sides of that flashbulb moment in history. Mine is one of them: together, we’ve grown with it, nurtured it, augmented our lives with it, watched it evolve — and we’ve drawn incredible benefit from the technological revolution that followed. Today all manner of computer systems cross paths with our lives hundreds of times on a daily basis, and most times, it rarely elicits a thought.
We’ve become so intimately tied to our technology that invisible design has become an exquisitely refined, and generally expected, norm. Where once the sharing of content on the Web was an intellectually expensive and fairly time-consuming undertaking — often requiring an individual to learn various back-end technologies and programming languages as well as visual design and its attendant software — nowadays, most people rely on a multitude of turn-key solutions that do much of the thinking and heavy lifting for us, offering decent integration with very little downtime.
Then we have a problem.
Yesterday was the maiden voyage of the Falcon Heavy and true to its nature, SpaceX didn’t disappoint. Whether we’re looking at the technical execution of landing two boosters vertically after flight at the same time on tandem pads (we’ll ignore that pesky central core), or the inspiration of real-life ‘Starman’ entering orbit to the tune of David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars,’ there’s a lot to be excited about.
What made this launch so memorable was the gutsy aspiration, the heart, the because-we-can’ ethos. Why launch a boring regular test payload when instead, they can test a new space suit and do it in one of the most endearing ways possible? That creativity is a talent in its own right. It doesn’t merely make news, it captures the love and imagination of generations and reminds us exactly why space travel is fucking awesome.
And yes, there are times when we need exactly this kind of boot to the head to wake us from our earthbound problems and inspire us to dream of what humankind can accomplish next — among the stars.
Keep being awesome, SpaceX.
As for the technical side of things, the drone ship video feed was lost after the central core booster hit the ocean at 300 miles per hour, about 300 feet (100 meters) from the drone ship. The rocket was able to restart only one of its three engines during re-entry before it ran out of the TEA-TEB compound required to ignite the fuel mixture.
Elon Musk’s commentary and attitude on this are interesting: in a world where many CEOs tend not to engage actively with the public, he bucks the trend by being casual and upfront, often discussing a lot of the learning opportunities, successes, and failures his company has had over the years.
And yes, there have been some spectacular fireworks at past launches and landings.
Quick update to Tuesday’s story …
It was widely observed by attendees and reported in the media that Neo-Nazis arrived armed and well-prepared at the rally in Charlottesville, then moved in later to attack counter-protestors with bats and other weapons as police took a hands-off approach to a good portion of the violence.
Given that authorities have historically been quick to respond with overwhelming shows of force in the instances of the DAPL Water Protectors protests and the Black Lives Matter protests, it came across as nothing short of infuriating when a major show of force was not taken during the Charlottesville riots in the midst of a far more dangerous situation.
In an article that ProPublica released over the weekend, reporter and witness A.C. Thompson noted, “State police and National Guardsmen watched passively for hours as self-proclaimed Nazis engaged in street battles with counter-protesters.” He then went on to name the main organizational and tactical failures at the event and describe them in nauseating detail.
I’m glad others pointed me to this article, as I’d missed it in the initial media shuffle that took place when the riots began, so thank you for that.
Now, it’s only been a few days since the riots, and it can take time to conduct a formal inquiry into the police response, but here’s a spoiler: when authorities apparently had situational awareness “for a long time” and went on to make errors such as failing to separate camps of protestors and going easy on Nazis who physically attacked officers, the optics of the overall situation don’t look good. As Thompson further notes, “Several times, a group of assault-rifle-toting militia members from New York […] played a more active role in breaking up fights,” after riot police failed to fully intervene.
I’m not sure how to respond to that, besides noting the same conclusion others have acknowledged many times: white privilege, it’s a thing.
Additionally, the fact police didn’t mount a stronger response to stop the fighting and the way they failed to arrest more of those involved in the fighting are things that work to the advantage of far-right instigators, who love the opportunity to be cast as victims of leftist violence.
In other words, letting Nazis slug it out with Antifa for a few days isn’t just a shitty idea, it’s actually a recruitment win for Nazis and their ilk.
I’m sure this isn’t what authorities wanted, but regardless of whether it arose through accidental blunder or planned non-intervention, that’s now the reality they’re going to have to deal with, as will many other cities who are currently facing spin-off rallies in the wake of the mess in Charlottesville.
It will be interesting to read the results of a formal inquiry, if one is ever conducted into these matters.
During one more in a long line of racist clashes in the United States, one protester was murdered and at least nineteen others injured after a Neo-Nazi from Idaho attended the “Unite the Right” rally at Charlottesville, VA, and proceeded to drive his car into the crowd.
A running theme with white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, and other hate groups is they’ve tried repeatedly to avoid the name they’ve earned for themselves while still trying to perpetrate all of the moral and criminal wrongs historically associated with their movements. To varying degrees, they will advocate fervently in public spaces for the advancement of racism, social segregation, racist propaganda, hate speech, acts of violence, and even murder, but if recent news coverage is any indication, many seem unable to stomach the idea of getting caught or called out for their disgusting behaviour.
This, in and of itself, speaks volumes.
Remember — if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then racist apologists be damned, it’s a fuckin’ duck.
The chance of an election turning out exactly as this one has is infinitesimally small, and yet it’s happened. We’ve made history.
The Comox-Courtenay riding, which denied a majority for the Liberals, went to the NDP by an initial margin of 9 votes, later confirmed as 13 votes during final recount, and finalized as a 189-vote NDP lead once the absentee ballots were tallied.
With the Liberals holding 43 seats in the Legislature, the NDP holding 41, and the Green Party holding the remaining 3, this puts the Greens in the unprecedented position of being the fulcrum on which any governing matters will stand.
The privilege of being in such a position essentially lends the Greens a huge megaphone. Being the deciding vote on legislative work brings a stronger bargaining position when it comes to doing good for this province, our residents, and our shared environmental legacy. It also brings enhanced opportunities to build a stronger political track record and candidate portfolio, shape the party into more of a household name, and hopefully secure additional seats in future elections if all goes well.
It’s not easy being green, but it’s an amazing time to be Green … so congratulations, fellow Green voters and party members, wear it well!
This post also wouldn’t be complete without heartfelt thanks to every single person who went out and voted, regardless of affiliation. Being part of the political process is absolutely vital to the health of our democracy and the progress of our future, and if ever there was a time to be reminded of the power of the individual, 2017 has truly showcased this in the most amazing of ways.
Here’s a fairly level-headed explanation of the Trump/Russia coverage that’s paralyzed the news cycle for the past few months, courtesy of Michael Tracey from TYT:
It’s important to note that whether or not the Trump/Russia story has legs, we’ve long since passed the point where irrational narratives became ends and pursuits in themselves, and people have largely chosen to see what they want to see come out of this situation.
If there’s one thing 2016 taught us, it’s that the American political system and electorate are, largely, no longer rational actors. They’re in a bad place and they want to burn something down because they’re understandably pissed off at the status quo. The other side of the coin is most aren’t terribly concerned with how they go about doing it, or what corners they cut when giving it thought.
Get ready, get set, go vote! Your local polling stations will be open today from 08:00–20:00.
It’s important to make yourself heard in an election, not only because current media studies suggest a closely contested electoral race, but also because each party diverges from the others in its own view of ‘common ground’ as well as unique policy decisions.
Please take some time today to read further, get to know the party platforms, and make a choice on who you’d like to support.
Share this message with your friends!
Until now, I haven’t been reporting on the political situation in the United States because news on the subject has been ubiquitous, and many talented individuals and media outlets have been calling the situation for what it is.
Today, this changes. I don’t feel it’s appropriate for a person to stand on the sidelines and wait for others to do one’s duty in the midst of a matter this important. I’ve written on Canadian politics on this site in the past, and arguably US politics can have just as significant an impact on anyone living north of the border due to widespread export of American culture, values, and geopolitical influence.
At the same time, lingering concerns remain on the political and financial affiliations of some media outlets, the impact of compromised journalism in an information driven society, and the pitfalls of the ratings-driven system holding sway on most TV-based media delivery platforms which tends to capitalize on drama and suffering while often failing to deliver context and historical perspective.
While there are many media groups who are doing high quality work and providing in-depth journalism, the mixed nature of technology and its use (or misuse at times) means it’s wise to ensure information is regularly fact-checked and further research is conducted to understand context and establish a broader perspective of current events.
The unfortunate thing about politics is that despite having great importance in daily life, it frequently tends to be treated as a spectator sport. Media companies run round-the-clock news cycles and make money from it, people talk to family and friends about what’s going on in the world, some offices run pools on what they think the next big change might be, but how many of us are actually willing to roll up our sleeves and get involved?
When was the last time you talked with a Congressperson, Member of Parliament, or MLA? Have you ever read legislative documentation to learn the issues? When was the last time you fact checked a political statement? Ever been part of a public commentary hearing? Heck, when was the last time you voted?
Here’s why political engagement matters:
It’s time we had a conversation about censorship.
Recently a mass exodus of major advertisers occurred at YouTube, which has since caused the ecosystem of that platform to fall into disarray. As noted by both YouTubers and mainstream media outlets alike, the precipitating event seems to have been a small number of government and corporate ads appearing alongside racist hate videos on a very small number of channels. The issue was brought to the attention of governments and corporations in a high profile manner, and from there, industry brass decided to pull all advertising off the YouTube platform, citing the desire to not be associated with harmful content.
As various media outlets have reported, it’s an odd narrative to follow given the fact this problem has existed for many, many years. Until the middle of 2016, it’s been an issue that’s rarely made the news. Furthermore, despite the historical efforts made by media companies (especially Google) to stamp out racist and other extremist content, the issue remains difficult to address owing to the sheer volume of data being uploaded at any given time.
In Youtube’s case, at least 300 hours of video is uploaded each minute (though some put that number as high as 400 hrs/min). If we go with the lowest estimate, that’s still 18,000 hours of video in an hour, 432,000 hours of video in a day, or 12.96 million hours in a 30-day month. These numbers are definitely not in Google’s favour, and despite valiant efforts to screen user-generated content, Internet media companies as a rule tend to be faced with a never-ending, uphill battle when it comes to managing these enormous volumes of user-generated content.
Similar to the ongoing situation at Facebook (and its implications for that network’s 1.2 billion daily users), the logistics are impossible when it comes to setting up a purely human intervention as a solution to harmful content. There’s no practical way for Google, or any ultra high volume media company for that matter, to retain sufficient human staffing in order to individually review each piece of user-generated content that comes in the door. As a result, industry standard practices include the use of software algorithms as gatekeepers and the automation of most issues related to policy enforcement and content management.
Tonight’s post isn’t a review so much as a handful of snippets from the talented UK goth group Die Laughing. Having been active from 1986 to 1999, they dissolved the summer before Y2K and eventually re-formed in 2012 with a new single, “Tangled,” and news that they’re working on material for a new album.
Seeing as their international following never really stopped (due in equal parts to the Internet and the periodic releases of their work on other compilation albums) it’s refreshing to hear they’re intent on adding more works to their repertoire.