Objectifying Naked Male Models to Make a Statement About Sexism

NEWS & POLITICS
After all, the #1 rule of advertising is, sex sells.

Photo Credit: Suistudio

The longstanding irony of the fashion industry is that while it serves mainly female customers, it has capitalized on the decades-old advertising tradition of objectification of women. How many countless brands have used the nude female body to sell a product? In 2017, after three waves of feminist activism, one might think we’d have seen more progress by now. At least one company agrees, and to prove it, they’re using nude male bodies to turn the tables on objectification.

A new campaign for women’s business wear brand Suistudio features chiseled naked men—most of them faceless—lounging around a penthouse apartment while women in well-cut suits touch, ogle and use their bodies to prop up their stilettos. It’s obvious social commentary on the one-sided nature of sexual objectification: it flips the archaic, traditional male-female dynamic on its head by outfitting women in power suits and casting men in submissive positions.

Credit: Suistudio

Credit: Suistudio

Credit: Suistudio

Suistudio USA vice president Kristina Barricelli told UpWorthy, “There is nothing wrong with sex, the naked human body, and the inclusion of that in a campaign. Sex is a big part of fashion. The problem is that in recent history, we haven’t seen a naked man objectified in the background. How strange! Why not?”

The campaign was shot by fashion photographer Carli Hermes and is aptly titled “Not Dressing Men.” Ha.

Could a photo shoot finish the work feminists launched to reverse sexism and finally bring about women’s full equality? Probably not. But it’s fun and provocative and certainly makes a statement. Which is the whole point of fashion, after all.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/fashion-brand-using-naked-male-models-make-statement-about-objectification?akid=16241.265072.SHrjWu&rd=1&src=newsletter1084080&t=10

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Star Trek: Discovery—The latest incarnation of the popular science fiction series

By Tom Hall
18 October 2017

Star Trek: Discovery, the seventh series in the long-running Star Trek television and movie franchise, premiered September 24 on CBS.

Set in the far future, in the mid-23rd century, shortly before the events of the original series released in 1966, Discovery follows the exploits of Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a female Starfleet officer serving aboard first the USS Shenzhou and later the USS Discovery in the midst of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the nefarious Klingon Empire.

When we first meet commander Burnham she is on a humanitarian mission with her mentor, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), the captain of the Shenzhou. Burnham’s promising career, however, is nearly ruined in the course of an encounter between the Shenzhou and the Klingons, with whom Starfleet has had no significant contact for generations.

The Klingons turn out to be a group of religious fanatics dedicated to uniting their long-fragmented empire through a religious war against the Federation. Meanwhile, Burnham, who was raised on planet Vulcan by the diplomat Sarek (James Frain), becomes convinced after consulting her stepfather that the only way to gain the Klingons’ respect and avoid an all-out war is to fire unprovoked on the Klingon vessel. Burnham attempts unsuccessfully to take control of the ship and fire on the Klingons herself and is arrested as a mutineer.

Doug Jones and Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery

Several months later, with the Federation embroiled in an all-out war with the Klingons, Burnham is on board a prison transport that breaks down and gets rescued by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) of the USS Discovery, which is conducting top-secret military research. Burnham is dragooned into working on the project, whose ultimate aim is kept hidden from her.

She eventually deduces that Lorca is developing a banned biological weapon to use against the Klingons. However, when Lorca explains its purposes, including significant civilian applications, Burnham overcomes her initial hesitations and joins the crew of Discovery. The rest of the series deals with her trials and tribulations while fighting the Klingons.

The writing, acting and directing on Star Trek: Discovery is, to put it bluntly, poor. None of the actions the characters take that set into motion the key events of the series make much sense. Why would the Klingons, for instance, who have been supposedly consumed by infighting for decades, decide suddenly to band together against the Federation after a five-minute conversation with a cult leader? How exactly is firing on the Klingons supposed to keep the peace, and why would Burnham or anyone else find this to be plausible?

The dialogue is stilted and clichéd. “I forgot who said statues are crystallized spirituality,” Burnham says to no one in particular after encountering decorative sculptures on the Klingon vessel. An anonymous crewman wanders into Shenzhou’s brig during the climactic battle and asks Burnham, unprompted, “Why are we fighting? We’re explorers.”

The tone of the show is relentlessly grim, from the darkly lit corridors on the various spaceships and the goblin-like Klingons who grunt their lines (delivered in “Klingon” and interpreted for the viewer by subtitles), to the gratuitous violence and furrowed brows and grimaces on everyone’s faces intended to demonstrate the seriousness of the proceedings. The unnaturally cheerful cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who would be irritating under ordinary circumstances, provides some welcome and desperately needed levity.

Star Trek: Discovery

The show’s premise amounts to a pro-war science fiction parable that parrots all the lies with which Washington has sought to justify numerous imperialist crimes over the past quarter century. The Klingons, a warrior society modeled by the writers of previous shows on feudal Japan, and who had gained a certain psychological complexity in their depiction by the premiere of Deep Space 9 in 1993, are here reduced to sub-human religious fanatics, portrayed in a similar fashion to Islamic terrorists in numerous Hollywood blockbusters.

Burnham’s actions in the first two episodes in particular are effectively an explicit endorsement of the doctrine of pre-emptive war, i.e., there is no use negotiating with our enemies, because violence is the only language they understand.

Since first premiering in 1966, Star Trek has become something of a mass phenomenon, with tens of millions of fans throughout the world. Appearances by the former stars of the various Star Trek shows at annual conventions continue to attract significant audiences.

The principal reason for this enduring popularity has been the franchise’s optimistic view of the future and its willingness to grapple with serious human problems. By the 23rd century, in the show’s future history, all of the basic problems of contemporary society, including war, poverty and racial and national divisions, have long since been overcome. The international cooperation among the crew members of the Enterprise suggested that the wars and conflicts of the 20th century, far from representing the essential rottenness of humanity, as has become almost an article of faith in certain artistic circles, would eventually be discarded in the further social and technological development of human civilization.

Originally produced in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, Star Trek also became the first TV show to cast a black woman, Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, in a leading role. Martin Luther King, according to Nichols, was a fan of the show and urged her to continue on the show when she was thinking about quitting.

Star Trek could always be wildly uneven, even campy, but at its best, the show was capable of fairly pointed social commentary, or of exploring difficult ethical or philosophical questions. The conceit of a number of episodes was that 20th century problems, because they were grappled with by culturally more developed 23rd and 24th century humans, could be dealt with at a higher and more clarified level than could be expected in the present.

None of this finds expression thus far in Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, at times that outlook seems more or less consciously repudiated as naive by the goings-on in the show. At one point, a Starfleet admiral declares his commitment to peace only moments before he is incinerated by the Klingons. “Starfleet doesn’t fire first,” Georgiou reminds Burnham, to which the latter replies, “We have to!”

Star Trek: Discovery

In a panel discussion at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, co-creator Alex Kurtzman explained that the “defining factor of [ Star Trek creator Gene] Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future. He envisioned a world where all species, all races came together to not only make our world better, but to make every world better.”

Kurtzman went on, “That being said … we live in very troubled times. … Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and right now … the question is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is [“national security”!] in the weight of a challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war is a very interesting and dramatic problem. And it feels like a very topical one given the world where we live now.”

Star Trek: Discovery seems to have struck a chord among certain layers. They are particularly enthusiastic that the show’s bloody goings-on center around a black woman in a position of authority. It’s “beautiful,” Daily Beast reviewer Ira Madison III writes, “watching two women of color, black and Asian, navigate a realm that traditionally hasn’t included them.”

On one level, given the history of the Star Trek franchise, and indeed the science fiction genre in general, this is simply absurd. On another level, however, this expresses the essential social outlook of identity politics—an indifference to larger social issues, and support for war, together with a ferocious conflict over the spoils.

WSWS

Is the 25th Amendment a Solution to Trump Madness?

And maybe Mike Pence’s lifeline for 2020?

Photo Credit: USA Today

The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for the succession of power when the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It empowers the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to remove an incapable president, over his objections, with the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress.

As alarm about Trump’s mental state ripples from the 30 percent of Americans who think it is “poor” to the 62,000 mental health professionals who have signed a letter of warning to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)—who worries about Trump starting World War III—to the White House staffers who think he is “unraveling,” the 25th Amendment is now getting attention previously devoted to the Constitution’s provisions for impeachment.

This talk is no longer confined to the president’s enemies. When adviser Steve Bannon told President Trump that the real danger to his presidency was not impeachment but the 25th Amendment, Trump reportedly said, “What’s that?”

As Trump and the rest of the country come to understand the 25th Amendment, they may come to agree with Bannon that it poses the greatest threat to Trump’s tenure in office.

Choose Your Remedy

The 25th Amendment and impeachment are remedies for different problems. While the impeachment process controls a president who acts irresponsibly by committing “high crimes or misdemeanors,” the 25th Amendment applies to a president who is incapable of acting responsibly.

Ever since Trump’s unhinged speech in Phoenix in August, his erratic behavior has shifted attention from his political actions to the underlying question of his mental competence.

“I really question his ability to be—his fitness to be—in this office,” former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said after Trump’s rambling speech to a crowd of supporters who grew bored and puzzled by his ranting.

That view seems to be gaining credence within Trump’s own camp.

In August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called a Trump a “moron” after the president demanded a 10-fold increase in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Numerous reports from the White House indicate that Chief of Staff John Kelly is tightly controlling access to Trump in order to curb his self-destructive behavior. One former official even speculated to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump orders a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?”

Even a close Trump friend and ally has said he is “shocked” by Trump’s recent outbursts.

Such worries are elevating the 25th Amendment process from a liberal fever dream to a distant yet real possibility.

If Trump’s extreme behavior grows more extreme, more obvious and more detached from politics, senior officials like Kelly, Tillerson and/or Mattis might feel obliged to invoke the 25th Amendment publicly. Then the Cabinet would have to decide if Trump was capable of holding office. If a majority of the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence agreed, and two-thirds of both houses of Congress agreed, then Pence would become acting president.

The 25th Amendment gives Congress a role in the process. Section 4 states that while the Cabinet must issue a written statement, Congress may create a body to issue “a written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” which would elevate the vice president to acting president, if approved by two-thirds vote in both Houses.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) has introduced legislation to create a panel on presidential incapacity. So far 28 Democrats have signed the resolution.

While the 25th Amendment solution now seems highly unlikely, it was highly unlikely nine months ago that any Cabinet member would disparage Trump’s intelligence (and not publicly deny that he had done so), or that Bannon, of all people, would see the 25th Amendment as a threat to Trump’s presidency.

A year from now, things could be very different. If Trump has failed to pass tax cuts or tax reform; stumbled into war in North Korea or Iran; and alienated more GOP allies with his “malignant narcissism,” the feeling that he is simply incapable of carrying out the duties of office may well grow and spread within his own administration.

One attraction of the 25th Amendment as a solution to the problem of Trump’s mental instability is that the criteria for removal from office is not the abuse of power but the inability to exercise it. The issue is less political than clinical.

Pence’s Lifeline?

If current trends continue, this might eventually make the 25th Amendment attractive to Trump’s supporters. In the event of obviously deranged presidential behavior, Pence and the Cabinet could invoke the 25th Amendment without accusing Trump of abuse of power or renouncing his political agenda.

Indeed, Pence & Co. could advise Trump to take a medical leave of absence in the best interests of the presidency, his family, and his supporters. Trump could declare victory over the “Swamp” and retire to Mar-a-Lago, giving his political heirs a clearer path to power. The 25th Amendment might turn out to be the vehicle that carries Pence (and Bannon) into the 2020 presidential campaign unburdened by Trump’s madness.

In short, if the problem is that the president is clinically incompetent, the solution is the 25th Amendment. If the problem is that the president is constitutionally dangerous, the solution is impeachment. If the president is both—and there is plenty of evidence that he is—the country will have to choose between the political remedy and the medical remedy.

The 25th Amendment beckons as impeachment-lite, a constitutional method of forcing the president out of power without passing judgment on his politics. It’s that hardy Washington solution: an attractive cop-out. Which is why we will be hearing more about it.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press, October 2017).

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Chomsky: Trump’s #1 Goal as President

Donald Trump’s policies will devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans.

Noam Chomsky discusses the recent climate agreement between the US and China, the rise of the Islamic State and the movement in Ferguson against racism and police violence. 
Photo Credit: screen grab via GRITtv

[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.] 

David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office? 

Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.

At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.

These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency — though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.

That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.

Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the U.S. as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.

The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base — voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.

Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.

The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else — and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.

Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.

DB: Do you see any encouraging activity on the Democrats’ side? Or is it time to begin thinking about a third party? 

NC: There is a lot to think about. The most remarkable feature of the 2016 election was the Bernie Sanders campaign, which broke the pattern set by over a century of U.S. political history. A substantial body of political science research convincingly establishes that elections are pretty much bought; campaign funding alone is a remarkably good predictor of electability, for Congress as well as for the presidency. It also predicts the decisions of elected officials. Correspondingly, a considerable majority of the electorate — those lower on the income scale — are effectively disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences. In this light, there is little surprise in the victory of a billionaire TV star with substantial media backing: direct backing from the leading cable channel, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, and from highly influential right-wing talk radio; indirect but lavish backing from the rest of the major media, which was entranced by Trump’s antics and the advertising revenue that poured in.

The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, broke sharply from the prevailing model. Sanders was barely known. He had virtually no support from the main funding sources, was ignored or derided by the media, and labeled himself with the scare word “socialist.” Yet he is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

At the very least, the success of the Sanders campaign shows that many options can be pursued even within the stultifying two-party framework, with all of the institutional barriers to breaking free of it. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party disintegrated at the local and state levels. The party had largely abandoned the working class years earlier, even more so with Clinton trade and fiscal policies that undermined U.S. manufacturing and the fairly stable employment it provided.

There is no dearth of progressive policy proposals. The program developed by Robert Pollin in his book Greening the Global Economy is one very promising approach. Gar Alperovitz’s work on building an authentic democracy based on worker self-management is another. Practical implementations of these approaches and related ideas are taking shape in many different ways. Popular organizations, some of them outgrowths of the Sanders campaign, are actively engaged in taking advantage of the many opportunities that are available.

At the same time, the established two-party framework, though venerable, is by no means graven in stone. It’s no secret that in recent years, traditional political institutions have been declining in the industrial democracies, under the impact of what is called “populism.” That term is used rather loosely to refer to the wave of discontent, anger, and contempt for institutions that has accompanied the neoliberal assault of the past generation, which led to stagnation for the majority alongside a spectacular concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies — the corporations that dominate the economy — in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.

These policies are dedicated to making sure that society no longer exists, Margaret Thatcher’s famous description of the world she perceived — or, more accurately, hoped to create: one where there is no society, only individuals. This was Thatcher’s unwitting paraphrase of Marx’s bitter condemnation of repression in France, which left society as a “sack of potatoes,” an amorphous mass that cannot function. In the contemporary case, the tyrant is not an autocratic ruler — in the West, at least — but concentrations of private power.

The collapse of centrist governing institutions has been evident in elections: in France in mid-2017 and in the United States a few months earlier, where the two candidates who mobilized popular forces were Sanders and Trump — though Trump wasted no time in demonstrating the fraudulence of his “populism” by quickly ensuring that the harshest elements of the old establishment would be firmly ensconced in power in the luxuriating “swamp.”

These processes might lead to a breakdown of the rigid American system of one-party business rule with two competing factions, with varying voting blocs over time. They might provide an opportunity for a genuine “people’s party” to emerge, a party where the voting bloc is the actual constituency, and the guiding values merit respect.

DB: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. What significance do you see in that, and what does it mean for broader Middle East policies? And what do you make of Trump’s animus toward Iran?

NC: Saudi Arabia is the kind of place where Trump feels right at home: a brutal dictatorship, miserably repressive (notoriously so for women’s rights, but in many other areas as well), the leading producer of oil (now being overtaken by the United States), and with plenty of money. The trip produced promises of massive weapons sales — greatly cheering the Constituency — and vague intimations of other Saudi gifts. One of the consequences was that Trump’s Saudi friends were given a green light to escalate their disgraceful atrocities in Yemen and to discipline Qatar, which has been a shade too independent of the Saudi masters. Iran is a factor there. Qatar shares a natural gas field with Iran and has commercial and cultural relations with it, frowned upon by the Saudis and their deeply reactionary associates.

Iran has long been regarded by U.S. leaders, and by U.S. media commentary, as extraordinarily dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous country on the planet. This goes back to well before Trump. In the doctrinal system, Iran is a dual menace: it is the leading supporter of terrorism, and its nuclear programs pose an existential threat to Israel, if not the whole world. It is so dangerous that Obama had to install an advanced air defense system near the Russian border to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons — which don’t exist, and which, in any case, Iranian leaders would use only if possessed by a desire to be instantly incinerated in return.

That’s the doctrinal system. In the real world, Iranian support for terrorism translates to support for Hezbollah, whose major crime is that it is the sole deterrent to yet another destructive Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and for Hamas, which won a free election in the Gaza Strip — a crime that instantly elicited harsh sanctions and led the U.S. government to prepare a military coup. Both organizations, it is true, can be charged with terrorist acts, though not anywhere near the amount of terrorism that stems from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the formation and actions of jihadi networks.

As for Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, U.S. intelligence has confirmed what anyone can easily figure out for themselves: if they exist, they are part of Iran’s deterrent strategy. There is also the unmentionable fact that any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could be alleviated by the simple means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Such a zone is strongly supported by the Arab states and most of the rest of the world and is blocked primarily by the United States, which wishes to protect Israel’s WMD capabilities.

Since the doctrinal system falls apart on inspection, we are left with the task of finding the true reasons for U.S. animus toward Iran. Possibilities readily come to mind. The United States and Israel cannot tolerate an independent force in a region that they take to be theirs by right. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent is unacceptable to rogue states that want to rampage however they wish throughout the Middle East. But there is more to it than that. Iran cannot be forgiven for overthrowing the dictator installed by Washington in a military coup in 1953, a coup that destroyed Iran’s parliamentary regime and its unconscionable belief that Iran might have some claim on its own natural resources. The world is too complex for any simple description, but this seems to me the core of the tale.

It also wouldn’t hurt to recall that in the past six decades, scarcely a day has passed when Washington was not tormenting Iranians. After the 1953 military coup came U.S. support for a dictator described by Amnesty International as a leading violator of fundamental human rights. Immediately after his overthrow came the U.S.-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein, no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed, many by chemical weapons. Reagan’s support for his friend Saddam was so extreme that when Iraq attacked a U.S. ship, the USS Stark, killing 37 American sailors, it received only a light tap on the wrist in response. Reagan also sought to blame Iran for Saddam’s horrendous chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi Kurds.

Eventually, the United States intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War, leading to Iran’s bitter capitulation. Afterward, George H. W. Bush invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear weapons production — an extraordinary threat to Iran, quite apart from its other implications. And, of course, Washington has been the driving force behind harsh sanctions against Iran that continue to the present day.

Trump, for his part, has joined the harshest and most repressive dictators in shouting imprecations at Iran. As it happens, Iran held an election during his Middle East travel extravaganza — an election which, however flawed, would be unthinkable in the land of his Saudi hosts, who also happen to be the source of the radical Islamism that is poisoning the region. But U.S. animus against Iran goes far beyond Trump himself. It includes those regarded as the “adults” in the Trump administration, like James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the secretary of defense. And it stretches a long way into the past.

DB: What are the strategic issues where Korea is concerned? Can anything be done to defuse the growing conflict? 

NC: Korea has been a festering problem since the end of World War II, when the hopes of Koreans for unification of the peninsula were blocked by the intervention of the great powers, the United States bearing primary responsibility.

The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression, but it is seeking and to some extent carrying out economic development, despite the overwhelming burden of a huge military system. That system includes, of course, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond — but its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.

Today, we are instructed that the great challenge faced by the world is how to compel North Korea to freeze these nuclear and missile programs. Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation; to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China regards as a serious threat to its own interests; perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea — which, it is understood, would elicit retaliation by massed artillery, devastating Seoul and much of South Korea even without the use of nuclear weapons.

But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: we could simply accept North Korea’s offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: it calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea’s borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.

The Chinese-North Korean proposal is hardly unreasonable. North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by U.S. bombing, and many may recall how U.S. forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which “the Asian” depends for survival. They are very much worth reading, a useful part of historical memory.

The offer to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea’s border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed. Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by U.S. commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.

The 2017 South Korean elections may offer a ray of hope. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in seems intent on reversing the harsh confrontationist policies of his predecessor. He has called for exploring diplomatic options and taking steps toward reconciliation, which is surely an improvement over the angry fist-waving that might lead to real disaster.

DB: You have in the past expressed concern about the European Union. What do you think will happen as Europe becomes less tied to the U.S. and the U.K.? 

NC: The E.U. has fundamental problems, notably the single currency with no political union. It also has many positive features. There are some sensible ideas aimed at saving what is good and improving what is harmful. Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 initiative for a democratic Europe is a promising approach.

The U.K. has often been a U.S. surrogate in European politics. Brexit might encourage Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, a course that might be accelerated by Trump policies that increasingly isolate us from the world. While he is shouting loudly and waving an enormous stick, China could take the lead on global energy policies while extending its influence to the west and, ultimately, to Europe, based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the New Silk Road.

That Europe might become an independent “third force” has been a matter of concern to U.S. planners since World War II. There have long been discussions of something like a Gaullist conception of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals or, in more recent years, Gorbachev’s vision of a common Europe from Brussels to Vladivostok.

Whatever happens, Germany is sure to retain a dominant role in European affairs. It is rather startling to hear a conservative German chancellor, Angela Merkel, lecturing her U.S. counterpart on human rights, and taking the lead, at least for a time, in confronting the refugee issue, Europe’s deep moral crisis. On the other hand, Germany’s insistence on austerity and paranoia about inflation and its policy of promoting exports by limiting domestic consumption have no slight responsibility for Europe’s economic distress, particularly the dire situation of the peripheral economies. In the best case, however, which is not beyond imagination, Germany could influence Europe to become a generally positive force in world affairs.

DB: What do you make of the conflict between the Trump administration and the U.S. intelligence communities? Do you believe in the “deep state”?

NC: There is a national security bureaucracy that has persisted since World War II. And national security analysts, in and out of government, have been appalled by many of Trump’s wild forays. Their concerns are shared by the highly credible experts who set the Doomsday Clock, advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight as soon as Trump took office — the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the U.S. and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. But I see little sign that it goes beyond that, that there is any secret “deep state” conspiracy. 

DB: To conclude, as we look forward to your 89th birthday, I wonder: Do you have a theory of longevity? 

NC: Yes, it’s simple, really. If you’re riding a bicycle and you don’t want to fall off, you have to keep going — fast.

 

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.

David Barsamian, the director of the award-winning and widely syndicated Alternative Radio, is the winner of the Lannan Foundation’s 2006 Cultural Freedom Fellowship and the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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6 Ways We Can Begin to Rein in Facebook’s Immense Power Over Media and Our Society

How can we protect ourselves from Zuckerberg’s algorithms?

Photo Credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com

Mark Zuckerberg is really, really sorry.

Last year he dismissed as “crazy” the critics who said “fake news” delivered by Facebook might have given the election to Donald Trump. Last week he said he regretted it.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, he apologized for what Facebook has wrought.

On Monday, a senior Facebook executive repented some more, reporting that $100,000 from Russian-sponsored troll farms bought 4.4 million page viewsbefore the 2016 election. “We understand more about how our service was abused and we will continue to investigate to learn all we can,” said vice president Elliot Schrage.

The Facebook leadership, like the U.S. government and the rest of us, is belatedly facing up to what Zuckerberg once denied: the social harms that can be inflicted by digital platform monopolies. The contrition and the voluntary remedies, notes Quartz, are “designed to head off looming regulations.”

What Is To Be Done

Facebook came to dominate social media with an ingenious interface that enables users to escape the Wild West of the open internet and join a sentimental community of family and friends, knitted together by likes, links, timelines, photos and videos.

Along the way, the company employed a scalable and amoral business model: use alogorithms of people’ personal data to mix messges of “promoted posts” with family messages and friendly momentos. Its an automated system that is profitable because it requires relatively little human intervention and can be used by anyone who wants to influence the behavior of Facebook users.

When the Russia government wanted to use the platform to confused and demoralize Democratic voters and promote favorite son Donald Trump, Facebook was ready, willing and able to monetize the opportunity. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has explained, “Facebook’s Ad Scandal Isn’t a ‘Fail,’ It’s a Feature.”

The question is, what can government and civil society do to protect the public interest from a $300 billion monopoly with 2 billion users? “Facebook is so gargantuan,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, “it’s exceeded our capability to manage it.”

One tool is traditional antitrust laws, created in the late 19th century and early 20th century to control railroads, the oil industry and electrical utilities. The reformers, in the Progressive era and the New Deal, passed legislation like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Glass-Steagall Act to prevent and break up concentrations of economic power.

The problem is that since the 1970s, antitrust law has been interpreted through the lens of University of Chicago “free-market” economics. In this view, the test of a monopoly is the short-term harm it does to consumers; i.e., does it raise prices?

If a monopoly doesn’t raise prices, the Chicago School claims, it’s not doing any harm. As a result, most of the legal precedents in antitrust law, developed over the last 40 years, are ideologically hostile to the notion of a “public interest.”

To deal with 21st-century platform monopolies, antitrust law needs to be revitalized or reinvented. A host of new monopoly critics, including economist Barry Lynn, journalist Matt Stoller, law professors Jonathan Zittrain and Frank Pasquale, and elected officials such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), propose to do just that.

As Pasquale, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said, “We need to have institutions that guarantee algorithmic accountability.”

Six Remedies

1. FCC regulation

Jeff John Roberts of Fortune compares Facebook to the highly regulated TV broadcast networks, “at a time when Facebook has become the equivalent of a single TV channel showing a slew of violence and propaganda, the time may have come to treat Facebook as the broadcaster it is.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, a Facebook search yielded a page created by a chronic hoaxer who calls himself an investigative journalist for Alex Jones’ Infowars. “To Facebook’s algorithms, it’s just a fast-growing group with an engaged community,” notes Alex Madrigal of the Atlantic.

Roberts:

“Just imagine if CBS inadvertently sold secret political ads to the Chinese or broadcast a gang rape—the FCC, which punished the network over a Super Bowl nipple incident, would come down like a ton of bricks.”

This would require rewriting the Federal Communications Act to include platform monopolies. Not impossible, but not likely, and probably not the right regulator regime to diminish Facebook’s monopoly power over information.

2. Mandatory FEC Disclosure

One solution is to use existing institutions to force full disclosure of buyers of political ads, a requirement Facebook successfully resisted in 2011.

Last week, Democrats in the House and Senate sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission urging it to “develop new guidance” on how to prevent illicit foreign spending in U.S. elections.” The letter was signed by all of the possible 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants in the Senate, including Warren, Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Kamala Harris (Calif.).

Another Democratic proposal floated in Congress would require digital platforms with more than 1 million users to publicly log any “electioneering communications” purchased by anyone who spends more than $10,000 in political ads online. The FEC defines electioneering communications as ads “that refer to a federal candidate, are targeted to voters and appear within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.”

But such measures probably would not have prevented—or called attention to—the Russian intervention in 2016, because the Russian-sponsored ads usually played on social divisions without referencing a federal candidate, and buyers could have evaded the reporting requirement with smaller payments.

Such measures address the symptoms of Facebook’s dominance, not the causes.

3. Empower Users

Luigi Zingales and Guy Rolnik, professors at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, have a market solution: empower Facebook users to take their friends and their “likes” elsewhere. They propose giving Facebook users something they do not now possess: “ownership of all the digital connections” that they create, or a “social graph.”

Right now Facebook owns your social graph, but that is not inevitable.

“If we owned our own social graph, we could sign into a Facebook competitor — call it MyBook — and, through that network, instantly reroute all our Facebook friends’ messages to MyBook, as we reroute a phone call.”

The idea is to foster the emergence of new social networks and diminish the power of Facebook’s monopoly.

Such a reform alone isn’t going to undermine Facebook. In conjunction with other measures to create competition, it could be helpful.

4. Make Data Ephemeral                        

Facebook’s data collection is a form of surveillance that endangers dissent, says internet entrepreneuer Maciej Ceglowski.

Last January, opponents of President Trump organized the Women’s March on Facebook, and several million people participated.

“The list of those who RSVP’d is now stored on Facebook servers and will be until the end of time, or until Facebook goes bankrupt, or gets hacked, or bought by a hedge fund, or some rogue sysadmin decides that list needs to be made public.”

To ensure privacy and protect dissent, Ceglowski says, “There should be a user-configurable time horizon after which messages and membership lists in these places evaporate.”

Again, this is a small but worthwhile step. If Facebook won’t implement it voluntarily, it could be compelled to do so.

5. Break up Facebook

But Ceglowski has a more audacious idea: break up Facebook into different companies for social interaction and news consumption.

The problem, he said in an April 2017 talk, is the algorithms Facebook deploys to maximize engagement and thus ad revenue.

“The algorithms have learned that users interested in politics respond more if they’re provoked more, so they provoke. Nobody programmed the behavior into the algorithm; it made a correct observation about human nature and acted on it.”

When a monopoly controls the algorithms of engagement, commercial power is converted into political power.

“Decisions like what is promoted to the top of a news feed can swing elections. Small changes in UI can drive big changes in user behavior. There are no democratic checks or controls on this power, and the people who exercise it are trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.”

So government has to step in, he says.

“Just like banks have a regulatory ‘Chinese wall’ between investment and brokerage, and newspapers have a wall between news and editorial, there must be a separation between social network features and news delivery.”

Just as the government broke up the Standard Oil monopoly in the early 20th century and the Bell telephone monopoly in the 1970s and 1980s, splitting up a monopoly firm to reduce its power is a time-tested remedy.

6. Think Big

Most important is political imagination. The ascendancy of free-market thinking since the heyday of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher has transformed citizens into consumers and failed civil society in the process. The rise of income inequality is one result. The emergence of unaccountable platform monopolies is another.

Facebook, the website, is the creation of Zuckerberg and clever programmers. But their enormous power is the result of a selfish and short-sighted ideology that privatizes public space at the expense of most people.

With the Democrats incorporating anti-monopoly ideas into their “Better Deal” platform and right-wing nationalists such as Steve Bannon talking about regulating internet giants “like utilities,” the free-market ideology has lost credibility and there is a growing demand for action. As the Roosevelt Institute puts it, “Let’s Reimagine the Rules.”

The urgency of reining in Facebook is that if the public does not control its surveillance and engagement technologies, those techniques will be used to secretly manipulate, if not control, the public sphere, as they were in the 2016 election.

“Either we work with government to regulate algorithmic systems,” says Pasquale of the University of Maryland, “or we will see partnerships with governments and those running algorithmic systems to regulate and control us.”

Controlling Facebook, in other words, is a matter of self-protection.

This Supreme Court Case Could Determine the Future of American Democracy

NEWS & POLITICS
Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely decide Gill v. Whitford, and the stakes could not be higher.

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

When the worst blizzard in 130 years pummeled Madison, Wisconsin in February 2011, something impossible happened: It stranded Green Bay Packers fans trying to travel to Texas for the Super Bowl.

But even a storm powerful enough to deter hardy crazies known for cheering shirtless in sub-zero temperatures could not stop one thing: Partisan gerrymandering.

That job now rests with one man: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy will now scrutinize the constitutionality of the Wisconsin state assembly districts that the Republican operatives worked through a blizzard to craft. They delivered exactly as intended. In 2012, the first election held on these maps, Democratic candidates won 174,000 more votes. Republicans, nevertheless, won 60 of 99 seats.

That tilted outcome, however, launched the litigation that now provides the best hope in more than a decade of defeating gerrymandering — the toxic art of manipulating maps for partisan advantage — once and for all.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford. The stakes could not be higher, or the court more closely divided. Kennedy, long alarmed by partisan gerrymandering but never convinced that there’s a fair way to determine when it has gone too far, looks like the deciding vote.

It’s a position he asked to be in, and a case he practically invited before the court. “Now we will see if Kennedy was being truthful,” said Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “He asked for a standard. The Wisconsin case provides a very clear example.”

When the Supreme Court last addressed partisan gerrymandering, in the 2004 case Vieth v. Jubelirer, Kennedy sided with a 5-4 conservative majority that rejected an argument from Pennsylvania voters who claimed an aggressive GOP gerrymander interfered with their constitutional right to equal protection.

But while Justice Scalia and three other conservatives wanted to call partisan gerrymandering non-justiciable and slam the door on the court’s involvement in future challenges, Kennedy kept it cracked, unprepared to declare that a fair standard could not someday emerge. Then he dropped breadcrumbs along the path reformers would need to follow to earn his backing next time.

It must be a “limited and precise rationale,” based on a “clear, manageable and politically neutral standard” that shows partisanship was “applied in an invidious manner” or in such a way “unrelated to any legitimate legislative objective.” Kennedy observed that while sophisticated new mapmaking software represented a potential threat to democracy, “these new technologies may produce new methods of analysis that make more evident the precise nature of the burdens gerrymanders impose on the representational rights of voters and parties.” If so, he concluded, “courts should be prepared to order relief.”

“The thing that I took away from the concurring opinion was that he believes that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, so long as we can come up with a standard,” said Gerry Hebert, who argued and won the lower court cases in Whitford, and the executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “Secondly, he expressed, the hope that there wouldsomeday be a standard.”

The Wisconsin case hinges on a three-part test that convinced a lower court last year to declare the GOP maps unconstitutional. First, they presented evidence of discriminatory partisan intent, including dramatic emails between strategists declaring plans to “wildly gerrymander” and dozens of draft maps with titles like “aggressive” and “assertive.”

Then they developed a new standard called the “efficiency gap,” which measures a partisan gerrymander by counting the number of votes on both sides that do not contribute to victory. It helps demonstrate whether a party held an unfair advantage in converting votes into seats. When compared across states and over five decades, the Wisconsin gerrymander was one of the 18 worst in modern history.

“What I think we have here, for the first time, is a standard that can be applied by judges,” said Hebert. “It’s not difficult math. This is 6th grade math we’re talking about here.”

The final part of the standard considers whether there is a compelling justification for the districts being drawn in such a way — such as compliance with the Voting Rights Act, or holding communities of interest together.
While some of the faces have changed since Vieth, none of the four conservative justices, or the four liberals, seem likely to be moved. So what about Kennedy? Will the efficiency gap and these other measures be enough to bring about the first constitutional standard on partisan gerrymandering in our history, right on the eve of the 2020 midterms and the next round of redistricting? Longtime watchers are struggling to read his mind.

“It’s not clear to me that the standards that are proposed are different in kind from what was already addressed in Vieth,” said Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine. “But there are two differences from then. One is that there now seems to be a scholarly near-consensus that it’s possible to do a partisan gerrymander that lasts an entire decade, thanks to improvements in data and computer technology. That might weigh on Justice Kennedy. It imposed more of a hardship on voters.”

The other difference: Kennedy’s retirement appears close at hand. “This is set up as potentially the last big opportunity for him to do something about partisan gerrymandering. He’s much more likely to do something than someone else that Trump might nominate. He has to know that.”

Other scholars express some skepticism about whether the efficiency gap is actually the game-changing standard that some have suggested.

“This case looks pretty much like Bandemer and Vieth,” said Bradley A. Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and chairman of the conservative Center for Competitive Politics. “The efficiency gap doesn’t add much to the analysis. Note that the lower court merely saw the ‘gap’ as evidence, not some new, killer theory.”

Smith argues that Kennedy’s position in Vieth remains about right: It’s not wise to close the door on the possibility that a gerrymander could be unconstitutional, “but as a practical matter, that would be a rare case and very difficult to prove,” he said. “There’s no right to win political races, so unless a gerrymander really boxes out voters over time, it’s not a constitutional problem. I don’t think [Whitford] gets there. But what Kennedy thinks, I don’t know. I don’t see clues in his other writings.”

Michael McDonald, however, a professor at the University of Florida and one of the nation’s leading redistricting experts, pointed to Kennedy’s decision in Cooper v. Harris as one potential signpost. In May, when the Court overturned two North Carolina congressional districts last month as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, Kennedy disagreed and signed onto a dissent by Justice Samuel Alito that expressed concern about whether the Supreme Court ought to arbitrate partisan gerrymandering at all.

McDonald is also unconvinced that the efficiency gap necessarily meets Kennedy’s call for a clear and manageable standard.

“The efficiency gap is fundamentally the same as every other measure that has been put before the court. Fundamentally it’s about translating votes into seats and how well the system does that,” he said. “Kennedy himself has been skeptical of these methods that have been put before him in amicus briefs.

“I just don’t see it. There’s no bright-line standard in the efficiency gap as to say when a redistricting plan is unconstitutional,” he said, arguing that because election conditions and redistricting processes are variable across states, it’s impossible to draw meaningful comparisons.

If the Whitford plaintiffs carry the day, McDonald said, it’s could be because there have been multiple elections in Wisconsin with anti-majoritarian outcomes.

“By multiple measures — not just the efficiency gap — there’s ample evidence to say ‘this is a stacked system,’” he said. “I would hope that Kennedy would take a similar approach that is used in racial gerrymandering cases, look at all the evidence together, and let the courts come to a decision. I hope he will movie in that direction and articulate something in that way. But the efficiency gap alone, I fear, is not going to do it.”

Hebert, however, maintains that the efficiency gap need not be a silver-bullet democracy theorem to carry the day, that Kennedy could simply view it as one useful tool among others. He also knows that time is running out, and that the replacement of Kennedy or any of the four liberal justices by President Trump could provide the fifth vote to make any future partisan gerrymandering cases non-justiciable for good.

“If we don’t win this case, I don’t have much hope that it will happen in my lifetime, if at all,” Hebert said. “Kennedy would really be giving America the greatest gift. We’ve lost a lot of our democracy, and he would give it back to us. That would be an awesome thing to leave as a legacy for his time on his court.”

 

Was Facebook Fooled by the Russians, or Did It Know All Along?

ELECTION 2016
Facebook’s role in influencing the 2016 election is only now being understood.

Photo Credit: YouTube.com

Facebook’s political troubles do not appear to be anywhere near ending, despite mea culpas by founder Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg that the global social media giant now recognizes its platform was used by Russian troll accounts to influence the 2016 election and its automated advertising platform can be gamed to foment racist messaging.

The past two weeks’ media revelations about how, as one New York Times piece put it, Zuckerberg created a 21st-century Frankenstein, a behemoth he cannot control, read like a screenplay from the latest Netflix political thriller. Last weekend, the Washington Post reported that Facebook discovered a Russian-based operation “as it was getting underway” in June 2016, using its platform to spread anti-Democratic Party propaganda. Facebook alerted the FBI. After Facebook traced “a series of shadowy accounts” that were promoting the stolen emails and other Democratic campaign documents, it “once again contacted the FBI.”

But Facebook “did not find clear evidence of Russian disinformation or ad purchases by Russian-linked accounts,” the Post reported. “Nor did any U.S. law enforcement or intelligence officials visit the company to lay out what they knew.” Instead, it was preoccupied with a rash of highly propagandistic partisan pages, both left and right, that came out of nowhere in 2016, the Post reported. These websites stole content from real news sites and twisted it into incendiary claims, drawing readers and shares that exploited Facebook’s royalty-producing business model. “The company found that most of the groups behind the problematic pages had clear financial motives, which suggested that they weren’t working for a foreign government,” the Post said.

This messaging fog prompted Zuckerberg to say it was “crazy” for anyone to suggest that fake news on Facebook played a role in Trump’s electoral victory and the GOP triumph. The Post’s biggest scoop—after noting that Facebook was telling federal agencies during the election about Russian trolling activities, even if it misread them—was President Obama pulling Zuckerberg aside at an international conference, where “Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously… [or] it would only get worse in the next presidential race.”

The Post’s account is a remarkable example of Washington-based reporting. Sources inside Facebook, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are saying that they held in their hands the dots that are only being connected today—much like the federal agents who were tracking some of the 9/11 hijackers before the terrorist attack. Facebook has since changed its tune, giving special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia-Trump campaign collusion and congressional inquests 3,000 Facebook ads placed by one Russian front group. Zuckerberg also issued an online video last week, in which he said, “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy,” and pledged Facebook would now disclose the names of businesses that place political ads.

Meanwhile, after ProPublica this month reported it could use Facebook’s automated ad placement service to target people describing themselves as “Jew haters” or who used terms like “how to burn Jews,” Sandberg announced the colossus had badly erred, and would revamp its ad filtering and targeting system. “The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part,” she said. “Hate has no place on Facebook, and as a Jew, as a mother and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate.”

But even as Zuckerberg makes public commitments about supporting American democracy, and Sandberg makes heartfelt declarations against enabling hate, top technology writers and editorial pages aren’t quite buying Facebook’s mea culpas. The most sympathetic pieces say there was no willful malice on Facebook’s part. They add that when Facebook asked the feds to help them figure out the Russia puzzle, they were met with silence from federal law enforcement agencies. That deer-in-the-headlights narrative has led to characterizing its trials as “Facebook’s Frankenstein moment.” As New York Times business writer Kevin Roose quoted a former Facebook advertising executive, “The reality is that if you’re at the help of a machine that has two billion screaming, whiny humans, it’s basically impossible to predict each and every nefarious use case… It’s a whack-a-mole problem.”

The Times editorial page was less forgiving, calling Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s awakening “belated,” noting that Facebook has opposed federal regulation of online political messaging, and that Zuckerberg’s remedy of disclosing names of businesses that place ads is easily evaded by campaign operatives. “Disclosing the name of Facebook business accounts placing political ads, for instance, will be of little value if purchasers can disguise their real identity—calling themselves, say, Americans for Motherhood and Apple Pie,” the Times said. “Further, even if Facebook succeeds in driving away foreign propaganda, the same material could pop up on Twitter or other social media sites.”

Actually, the Post reported that Facebook has recently deployed software that was able to “disable 30,000 fake accounts” in May’s French national election, and that software was successfully used last weekend in Germany’s national election. That disclosure by the Post, and other investigative reporting by the Times about how Facebook has worked with foreign governments to censor posts by critics and posted pro-regime propaganda, suggests Facebook is not quite the innocent bystander it professes to be.

The Times ran an extensive piece on how Facebook’s future lies with finding hundreds of millions of new users overseas, including in countries where governments want to control the media. Part of trying to access markets like China, where Facebook has been banned, include allowing Chinese state media outlets to buy pro-government ads targeting Facebook’s Hong Kong users. In other words, its ad sales business model has looked past political propaganda to cash in, which Russia adroitly exploited in 2016. Of course, there is a double-standard here. Russia was using Facebook to aim at U.S. elections, upsetting America’s political establishment; whereas when China and other nations used Facebook for political purposes, it’s apparently okay.

Last week Jim Rutenberg, the Times’ “Mediator” columnist, wrote there’s a veritable mountain of detail that still has not been made public by Facebook concerning 2016’s election. This goes far beyond releasing the 3,000 ads bought by a single Russian troll account it shared with Mueller and congressional committees. So far, we know the ads amplified “divisive social and political messages,” that the users who bought the ads were fabricated, and that some ads targeted specific states and voter segments. But what we don’t know, Rutenberg noted, is what those ads looked like, what they specifically said, whose accounts sent them, how many people saw and shared them, which states and counties were targeted, and what actions the ads urged people to take. The Daily Beast reported that at least one ad organized an anti-refugee rally in Idaho, and another report said Russian trolls promoted 17 Trump rallies in Florida.

On Monday afternoon, the Post reported it had spoken to congressional sources familiar with the contents of the 3,000 ads, who said they used references to groups like Black Lives Matter to incite different blocs of voters. “The Russian campaign—taking advantage of Facebook’s ability to simultaneously send contrary messages to different groups of users based on their political and demographic characteristics—also sought to sow discord among religious groups. Other ads highlighted support for Democrat Hillary Clinton among Muslim women,” the Post said.

For these reasons and others, Facebook’s political troubles do not appear to be ending soon. Predictably, some Democratic lawmakers are saying it’s time to require anyone who buys an online political ad to disclose it. But that notion, apart from going nowhere in a GOP-majority Congress, only scratches the surface of what’s going on. Campaign finance laws have proven to be utterly incapable of stopping so-called dark money in recent years, such as front groups created by the Koch brothers or state chambers of commerce. These laws can only regulate explicit political speech, such as ads telling people to vote for or against a certain candidate. How are they going to prevent innuendo-filled messaging, from fake messengers, on a deregulated internet?

Companies like Facebook, which track and parse the behavior of multi-millions of Americans online and sell ads based on those metrics, have embraced all the benefits of its business model. But they have avoided taking the lead to prevent nefarious uses of their platforms, until they’re shamed in public, such as ProPublica’s recent outing of Facebook’s automated ad platform that can be gamed by anti-Semites, or disclosures like the Post report that Obama tried to give Zuckerberg a wakeup call last November.

Internet “companies act as if they own our data. There’s no reason why that should be the case…That data is an x-ray of our soul,” Franklin Foer, author of the new book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, told KQED-FM in San Francisco on Monday. But these companies aren’t regulated in the U.S. The firms own vast files on virtually anyone who is likely to vote, let alone shop. And their automated systems rolled out the red carpet to anyone seeking to target 2016’s voters, from the presidential campaigns to Russian trolls.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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