The Cambridge Analytica Scandal Explains Why Facebook Can’t Be Trusted

Vox, as usual, has a great explainer (click me!) on what happened in the Cambridge Analytica Scandal. One take-home message for me from this article is that Facebook can’t be trusted because they can’t know what other people will do with the data they obtain on or from Facebook.

It basically describes that someone created an app that several hundred thousand people played with on Facebook. The app gathered raw Facebook data on those people and all their Facebook friends which is what took it to over 50 million profiles, allegedly without notifying those who played with the apps that it would harvest from their friends, too. That appears to be against Facebook’s policies.

Furthermore, the sale of data gathered from other than the people who directly interacted with the app is against Facebook’s policies, also.

So, in a sense, Facebook is blameless? After all, it is alleged someone hacked their system and broke their rules.

For me, blameless or not, Facebook can’t be trusted with all it knows about us. The reason is that even with all the rules and protections in place that it cares to have, Facebook is unlikely to be able to detect many of these kinds of breaches and unlikely to be willing to do anything about those it detects. If my friend steals a candy bar and sells it to me, I’m unlikely to know it was stolen property and the store is unlikely to discover it was sold to another person. The only way I get connected to receiving stolen property is if the thief confesses or I mention I’ve got an unusual candy bar that I shouldn’t have. That’s what happened in the Cambridge Analytica situation, one of their worker bees let it be known that he was working with data he knew he shouldn’t have.

Without those kinds of confessions, such theft will happen without anyone knowing they have been victimized.

Furthermore, Facebook has little in the way of important and close motivators to protect data once out of their hands. Such app creators and advertisers are the real paying customers of Facebook. The money comes from them. Suing the hands that feed you is very very difficult to do. Cutting them off from access to data means cutting them off from the revenue stream. Also, lawsuits are public knowledge. Lawsuits about data mishandling are going to destroy more of the product that Facebook sells (the alleged billions of users). With every news story people choose to leave and others choose to never sign up. Competitors such as Mastodon gain a stronger beachhead with their open-source non-profit system.

So, because Facebook can’t know about data mishandling and there are few proximal motivators for Facebook to try to know, they can’t be trusted. Even if Facebook made all kinds of very nicely worded rules about how naughty app creators will be if they mishandle data, they can’t be trusted because there is literally zero reason to trust them.

I had already decided to walk away from Facebook a month ago and I feel better about it as each news cycle unwinds.



Establishment of a State Religion OK According to Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas is OK with states establishing an official religion and that’s why it is important to vote for Hillary Clinton even if frustrated by Bernie Sanders not getting the nomination. The Supreme court is in the balance.

Clarence Thomas has been a controversial figure since he was first nominated to the Supreme Court. We are approaching the 25th anniversary of his nomination in which accusations of sexual harassment were revealed by National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg. Thomas has been remarkably conservative, some argue even farther to the right than the late Antonin Scalia. Charges of conflict of interest have dogged he and his wife. He virtually never speaks from the bench when cases are presented, so much so that when he finally spoke this past February for the first time in over 10 years it made national news. Just speaking sparks news stories.

So, it is never a surprise that he is in the news again. This time it is for something a good bit more substantial, possibly the biggest issue since his nomination hearings in 1991. He has said that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the individual 50 states from establishing official state religions. It came in a dissent in a 5 to 4 case that allowed prayers at town board meetings. Thomas simply says that the Establishment Clause is not included in the implications of the 14th Amendment. The 14 Amendment is used to justify that the U.S. Constitution applies to States, also. In his rather unusual view, the Establishment Clause says that Congress can’t make laws that establish an official national religion (that is a conventional view) and can’t make laws that interfere with a State making laws to establish an official state religion (that is a non-conventional view).

So, this coming November we all will be facing a crucial decision: Whom to elect for President? There are a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters who are unwavering in their devotion. That is truly great. Sanders views are close to my own Social Democrat* views, I admire him tremendously. But, he will not be the nominee. A lot of Bernie Sanders voters claim that they can’t vote for Hillary Clinton. I guess a lot of folks are not Democrats and feel no obligation to support the Democrats’ nominee. No foul there. But, come November an election will  be held and there will not be a viable Social Democrat on the ticket because there is no Social Democrat party in the US that could reasonably launch a viable national campaign. Therefore, Social Democrats have a decision to make between Clinton and Trump.

Look at the 4-4 Supreme Court. Who do you want deciding the upcoming cases on religious freedom, women’s rights, the influence of money in politics, gun laws, etc? Who do you want to pick the next several Supreme Court Justices, men and women who will have huge influence for the next 20 to 40 years? Do you really want Donald Trump to make that decision?

Come November, it will be time for the Social Democrats to hold their nose and vote for Hillary Clinton. In December, it will be a good time to then gather to form a new Social Democrat party in the USA. Then, start the hard work of getting local officials elected, state officials elected, and eventually national officials. You have to start in the minors to work up to the big leagues. Heck, maybe you bolster the already strong Green Party. If you are lucky, maybe you can get Bernie Sanders to be your founder and standard-bearer. Indeed, this may be Bernie Sanders long game, to use the contact lists he gains from the Democratic Party and his own list of workers and contributors to form the basis for a new Social Democrat Party.

*It is worth noting that there is a difference between Social Democrat and Democratic Socialist views. Social Democrats are strong believers in capitalism as the engine of an economy, but that the primary purpose of a society is to build a social system that is constantly supporting the strength of the next generation with education, health, housing and sustenance. Democratic Socialists want to eliminate the capitalist system as fundamentally incompatible with democratic ideals and with social support systems. They believe the state should own and operate the means of production, distribution, etc. So, they sound the same, but they are somewhat different.


You’re Fired!

Donald Trump has already made it clear he’s a angry and mean. It also appears to some that he exhorts his followers to engage in violence against non-white persons who appear at his rallies. That is a pattern also reflected in his statements that the families of terrorists and ISIS are fair targets in the war on terror. While there appears to be some backing away from killing children by Trump, the fact is, he believes that he can simply give orders and they will be followed.

Not so fast. Rarely do we see military persons get directly involved in political campaigns, yet here we are seeing the military is letting it be known that they won’t follow illegal orders. Trump says that they will follow his orders because, “I’m a leader… I’ve always been a leader, I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they are going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”  But, that’s not what leadership is all about, at all. People follow a leader (orders) because they give over the power to lead them. Trump has already heard from those he intends to lead that they will not give over the power to lead to him.

Of course, Trump will probably just say, “You’re Fired!” to the military brass who buck his orders. They will move another one up to the position, who will be fired until eventually they find someone who is willing to ignore/bend the law to keep the high job. Trump will get his way, eventually.

We’ve seen this play out before in the so-called Saturday Night Massacre. On October 20, 1973, Nixon has realized that Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox is actually doing his job figuring out that the Watergate scandal goes all the way to the Oval Office and was seeking audio tapes from Nixon as hard evidence to support it. Nixon tells his Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox, a clear attempt to undercut a proper prosecutorial process and was counter to a promise he had made to the Congressional investigating committee. Therefore, Elliot Richardson resigns. That puts Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus in charge, who also refused Nixon and resigns (he had also promised Congress to keep hands-off Cox). That put U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork in line to be Acting Attorney General and he was sworn in. He issued the order to fire Cox after promises from Nixon to be appointed to the Supreme Court.* Probably the only reason that eventually a new Special Prosecutor was appointed and Watergate ended up in Nixon’s resignation was that Nixon was already in the toilet that was going to flush him away. If he’d been politically stronger, more support among the public, he might have gotten his way permanently.

So, in a way, Trump is correct, he will have his orders executed, but only after the resignation or firing of several people. As history has shown, eventually he will get to someone who has ambition, lack of moral fiber, or is simply in philosophical agreement with Trump. The orders will be executed and that’s where the problem comes in. We like to imagine that Trump will simply fail in his ambitions for what he wants to do as President because he won’t be able to find people to execute illegal orders. But, he will, and that means we are all in tremendous danger should he become President.

*Side note: For any who wonder why the Democrats fought so vigorously against Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987 need only look to his actions on October 20, 1973.

Trump is just plain mean and he’s at war

This past week we visited Washington, DC for a couple of days, enjoying Smithsonian museums. In one of our walks we happened upon a building site with a bright blue banner above the sidewalk protection rigging with the word TRUMP in huge letters. It was a development for a new hotel, but it felt like political advertising. Here it is from an article in the Washington Post.

Workers at Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C. - Washington, DC

Granted, it is in a serif typeface as Trump uses for his properties, and he uses sans-serif for his official campaign logo. Still, the color of blue is unmistakable, he’s using his building sites as campaign advertising. I’m no expert, but I’m sure this skirts some kind of campaign laws.

Which brings me to the point that’s been circulating for me for weeks and then Trump just freely announced it, for Trump, this is war. And, we all know, there are no rules in war, contrary to whatever civilized nations have tried to cobble together. The above, is just a minor example of skirting/ignoring rules because, rules are for losers. Winners go to war and ignore the rules.

So, what we’ve been seeing is Trump at war, rallying his troops to do horrible deeds (at a Trump rally, his supporters were recorded beating a black man to shut him up), playing to their prejudices, never retreating in the face of facts (Trump refused to back down from false and racist statistics), always attacking, always certain of victory, etc.

The low blow that really set me off some weeks back was something else. I think Trump is just plain mean. When you mock a person’s disabilities in an effort to discredit their reporting, that shows a man with no apparent sense of decency (a phrase that needs to return to currency).

While it is hoped by the remainder of the Republican party that Trump’s numbers finally slide to oblivion, the fact is the emerging alternative is not altogether better: Ted Cruz. He’s not Trump-lite. He’s Trump with a better sense of how to resonate with a wider political base. Worse, he will look sane after Trump. If Trump had not been in the contest, however, Cruz would have been considered the bombastic hate-spewer. Trump has given Cruz a shield that reads, “At least he not Trump.” It’s pretty grim in the Republican party right now.


Trump Trumps Trump

Donald Trump is a horrible horrible person, not that it’s news. Just when you thought he couldn’t get any more idiotic, he throws a reporter out of a press conference. The reason is unclear, but he tells 8-time Emmy winning and veteran Univision nightly evening news (Noticiero Univision) anchor Jorge Ramos, “go back to Univision.” So, something about the coverage by that station, or Ramos, of Trump? Something about it being an Hispanic network? Something about the question being on Trump’s immigration nutbaggery?

Whatever the reason, Trump trumped himself in terms of having been more outlandish than ever before… and stupider. He should heed Mark Twain’s old saying, “Never get into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” The modern equivalent being to never get into a fight with the up and coming network news leader. In many important markets such as NYC, Univision’s newscasts get higher rating than any of ABC, CBS or NBC.

Trump… what a maroon!

Torture is beneath the dignity of the United States of America

It is as simple as that. Torture is a method without moral or scientific justification. We taint our moral standing in the world when we torture. It is a conscious decision, never accidental, never excusable, never appropriate. More importantly, can we get future Presidential candidates to promise they will not reinstate the torture programs of W’s era?