Playing Fair Is So Last Century…

What we have been learning  the last few days about Cambridge Analytica’s use of purloined Facebook data to assist the Trump campaign reminds me of that famous scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”–the scene where Harrison Ford is engaged in a ferocious sword fight, and Ford suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots the other guy.

It’s unexpected–and effective–because it breaks a norm of “fair fighting” that that has shaped our expectations. In a movie, that norm-breaking is entertaining; in our communal life, it is considerably less so.

Cambridge Analytics acquired extensive data on the habits, personal characteristics and preferences of fifty million Facebook users. It used that data to assist the Trump campaign. Sophisticated algorithms targeted users with messages tailored to their particular opinions and biases–messages that, by their nature, went unseen by users who had different perspectives or who might have information with which to rebut “facts” being conveyed.

The New York Times and the London Observer mounted the joint investigation through which the covert operation was  uncovered, and Britain’s Channel 4 obtained footage of executives boasting to a reporter posing as a potential client about additional “dirty tricks” the company employed on behalf of its customers: sending “very beautiful” Ukranian sex workers to the homes of opposition figures; offering bribes to candidates while secretly filming them; and a variety of other tactics employing fake IDs and bogus websites.

Who or what is Cambridge Analytica?

The Mercer family owns a majority of the stock in Cambridge Analytics.Before joining Trump’s campaign, Steve Bannon was the company’s vice president. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn served as an adviser to the company.

As Michelle Goldberg wrote in a New York Times op-ed,

After days of revelations, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Cambridge Analytica. But we’ve learned that an operation at the heart of Trump’s campaign was ethically nihilistic and quite possibly criminal in ways that even its harshest critics hadn’t suspected. That’s useful information. In weighing the credibility of various accusations made against the president, it’s good to know the depths to which the people around him are willing to sink.

Her concluding paragraph is particularly pointed.

There’s a lesson here for our understanding of the Trump presidency. Trump and his lackeys have been waging their own sort of psychological warfare on the American majority that abhors them. On the one hand, they act like idiots. On the other, they won, which makes it seem as if they must possess some sort of occult genius. With each day, however, it’s clearer that the secret of Trump’s success is cheating. He, and those around him, don’t have to be better than their opponents because they’re willing to be so much worse.

We now know why Trump insisted that Hillary was “crooked” and the election would be “rigged.” It’s called projection.

My friends who are sports fans become outraged when they believe one team or another has cheated and benefitted from that behavior. (“Deflate-gate anyone?) After all, games have rules, and when rules are broken in order to achieve a win, the game is tarnished. We don’t know who the better player really is.

The “game” of electoral politics has a long history of so-called “dirty tricks,” but nothing of this magnitude–and when those tactics have been detected, they’ve led to widespread condemnation. Americans have a right to expect political combatants to “play fair.” When they don’t, cynicism grows. Trust in government is diminished. Citizens’ compliance with the law declines–after all, if government officials can cheat, people reason they can too.

Trump and his consiglieres in the cabinet and Congress have demonstrated their willingness to bring guns to sword fights–to breach the rules of the game and to sneer at those who”fight fair.”

They pose an existential threat to American government and the rule of law.

35 thoughts on “Playing Fair Is So Last Century…

  1. Did they sort those 50 million Facebook users into categories? One bunch labeled racists, another misogynous, another conspiracy theorists and on and on? Am I in a group labeled “gray haired angry liberals”? Wouldn’t it be informative if Facebook/Cambridge Analytical was forced to reveal to each FB user what category they were in? That would be the mirror of all mirrors held up to the American electorate.

  2. The Trump campaign’s dirty tricks to break in and steal voter data on 50 million Facebook users make Richard Nixon look like a very small-timer.

  3. Who exactly does this statement refer…”They pose an existential threat to American government and the rule of law.”

    The merging of private industry with our government has a long history in this country. Add in decades of Neoliberalism, or privatization and austerity, you see how our government has moved from watchdog over private industry to a complicit partner.

    While Cambridge Analytica was a known entity of the Mercer’s along with Bannon and his media company, the complicitness of Facebook with these entities is worth mentioning. At least the markets are showing their distaste for this “arrangement”.

    Selling our data IS the POINT. A neutral internet has been cannibalized or privatized for the very same reason. Instead of the government protecting the internet for consumers, they’ve worked with private industry to “maximize shareholders wealth”.

    Zuckerberg has lost billions in the last few days not because of what his company did, but because it became public through journalistic efforts. Journalism uncovered what our government is supposed to be doing–regulating private industry to protect consumers.

    And, if you think it’s just to benefit Republicans, you have an intentionally turned a blind eye. 😉

    This arrangement between our government and private industry is the source of our misery across the board in every single case. Both political parties support it because it’s made the politicians instant millionaires. Donnelly votes against bank regulation because he’s received nearly half a million from Wall Street Banks.

    Shocking, huh?

  4. Facebook/Cambridge Analytical simply sucked up all information indiscriminately just as Snowden spewed out those thousands of E-mails indiscriminately. No thought was given as to what use, pro or con, either of their actions would/could accomplish; they simply did what they were capable of doing – “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Neither seems to have had a specific target or goal in mind…Trump seems to be following their lead with his current antics and those from his past appear to be catching up to him. Meanwhile the Republican House and Senate members don’t believe their lying eyes so they sit idle and watch the passing parade of loose cannons.

    Is Snowden still hiding in Russia? Did the Facebook/Cambridge Analytical action accomplish anything other than destroy the trust Facebook users have had as their connection to people and how much help was their information gathering to Russia? Russia again; that ever present heavy weight hanging over our heads; never playing fair with anyone since early in the last century.

  5. We got royally screwed. Try and face up to it. At least for the time being, we’ve lost our DEMOCRACY. We’re dealing with a FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE. There’s no room for any more WISHFUL THINKING. Our only chance is to come up with a new effective ANTI-FASCIST PLAYBOOK.

  6. More on cheating……..
    Mitch McConnell (just one example) criticizes Russia for rigging elections, but I don’t seem to recall his push to end gerrymandering.

  7. Marvin Zindler was an iconic investigative TV reporter in Houston who more often than not would report on unsavory health conditions at local restaurants. With bravado, Zindler exclaimed: “There’s slime in the ice machine!” He is famous for exposing Texas politicians who catered to what later became known as “the best little whorehouse in Texas.” That story became a long running hit on Broadway. But no other show has exceeded box office than Hamilton. Imagine two hundred years from today of yet another Made for Broadway hit beating all numbers at the box office. It will be a hilarious dance comedy how a President was brought down by a prostitute and pornstar beating him by his own game. It will be an all star caste from Mexico, Russia, Korea and Persia with the great, great grandson of Putin playing the title role of his great, great grandfather’s best friend. Leave a legacy for your children’s children because they will need it to buy front row tickets for the all time most entertaining story of our generation.

  8. Sheila,

    “Trump and his consiglieres in the cabinet and Congress have demonstrated their willingness to bring guns to sword fights–to breach the rules of the game and to sneer at those who”fight fair.”

    They can do that and will continue to do the same as the DNA of America’s “body politic” is no longer democratic but neo-fascist. All you have to do is listen to Steve Bannon who is primarily responsible for this disgusting PRESIDENTIAL COUP to understand how bad things really are at this point in time in American history.

  9. As Mueller’s investigation grows closer to Trump’s financial dealings Trump has stepped up his attack on the investigation. It seems to be taking over his life and he is most likely getting scared. Mueller may not be able to pin any Russian collusion on Trump, but it appears that Trump’s illegal business dealings will be what ultimately takes him down. He just may eventually be looking at a vacation in a cell block.

  10. Is there a connection between Trumps presidency, the mass shootings, and the growing unease over the box bomber?

  11. Nancy,

    “He [Trump] just may eventually be looking at a vacation in a cell block.”

    So was Adolph Hitler. However, in the meantime he destroyed Germany.

  12. Regarding “Deflategate”, it wouldn’t have mattered how full of air the balls were, the Colts wouldn’t have beaten the Pats. I love the Colts, but I also love logic.

    No comment necessary on Cambridge Analytica.

  13. Marge,

    “Is there a connection between Trumps presidency, the mass shootings, and the growing unease over the box bomber?”

    It’s called ENCOURAGEMENT, whether intentional or not. Hatred has a bedfellow in Trump.

  14. https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/obama-biden-cronies-made-billions-off-china-trade-deals-and-regulatory-policies-report I suppose you will all read the book and try to dispute the upcoming findings on the Clinton Foundation. Crooked Hillary LIED about Benghazi and allowed some u tube creator to be blamed…she was not the only LIAR on that matter. Her server business was corrupt from the beginning and CRIMINAL even if her underlings could not see such. We do. But, I am happy to sell you a “happy cocoon” in which you can reside, insulated against truths that you don’t like.

  15. wonder why i dont face? its not a secret,,when the social networks came about,I,didnt flinch. but i did watch.. in the time period where i work and read,theres a time when the local tavern is visited. The start was with bush,(king george2) the wordspeak was already flailing away.my discussion,into discourse,was already well into this,2001.. seems the kickback i was getting from,,,,the typical working class, who I associate with, was getting muddy. I was being trivialized by, people who, didnt read beyond the pay stub,or beer label. though you may say, whats this got to do with today, they vote…..they votenon whims and thier buddies bully mouth,or,they go find another den to reak,thier content..sounds tough, but were not pansy ass creaps. working men,women who have decided they can play a game,and win.. big mouth brokers with something to yell. My past was the 60s, as a kid,where we were educated to be aware of the russian propaganda machine, along with reading on how Goebels reaked his words upon germany,1934.. the type of conclusions,the type of subject,and sometimes in that order. propaganda,is propaganda. if someone hasnt a clue how to disect the facts from the crap, we all lose. the working class today has a agenda,get buddies,feel strong,get the best out of life…this has left us with, kicking people,to the curb,poitics that under mine our country, and a run on distroying our goverment. They do not see this, the f,cking golden spoon is shoved so far down their throats,they love it, they believe that this is what its all about,me,me,me,…this working class voter forgot, who died to powder thier ass for life in America. they dont reconize the people who try and get better living conditions,wages,health care,and democracy,so,they and thier families,can live anothet day,in silence.. no,reconition of, yeman,suddan,venezuela,russia. if all of these voters cant see where they are leading us,we can thanks thier education,and social morbid world. Ive all ways been around people who feel they dont need to,pay taxes,farmers,ranchers,and some self imposing types who feel their above the law. Im in the trenches, beyond what many here at this site ever see,or walk next to.
    the diffrence,unlike the above, I reconize,and see,and read, viable journalism. I push subjects,i also push thier limits. I recently walked away from a conversation,like the social media propaganda, it wasnt pretty, i may have pushed to a point of violence, but stood my ground. I will not allow,my country to be sunk,by those who feel they,are ,in the know. If they voted for someone like trump, i just let them know you just f,cked the working class,and put us closer to a line of poverty for the next ten years,thanks..im not even pretty about this,and niether should you. we only have one country,and if anyone ever, thinks they can kick another to the curb,because they are in thier powered ass way,its time to change this..social media has been toatally misued,the mainstream headline media is nothing more than a mainstream to propaganda, of you cant read,or you are too lazy to read,beyong the headlines,do us all a favor and crawl into the hole,you dug and enjoy your mud…

  16. It is very informative to read the rage and frustrations from this blog’s contributors. Some have written extensively to define FASCISM. Some have written briefly to exhibit their bias. Some have merely re-stated the obvious. Then, there’s Leon’s ever-present finger pointing at anything but the real source of our demise: REPUBLICANISM.

    Yes, we let it happen as slothful voters, but who can we blame for the cynical, wickedness of Mercer and the Koch brothers? We allowed the election of George W. Bush which begot Sam Alito and Chief Justice Roberts. Another Bush gave us Clarence Thomas, perhaps the most ridiculous Justice in our history. They begot, along with the egregious Antonin Scalia (another appointee by a Republican, St. Reagan), the equally egregious Citizens United v. FEC decision with removed all pretense from us being a representative democracy. Today’s situation is easily traced back to the infamous Lewis Powell call to arms in 1971, a call for systematic fascism.

    These appointments and decisions added to the lack of political awareness that allowed fascism to rule the courts and the land. The much maligned media reported it. They plastered this downfall all over the place in ALL the media forms. What did the public do? They bought the lies and the deceit of the fascists and allowed the continuation of the dismemberment of our democracy while voting in still more Republicans. The donor class isn’t stupid. They’re just greedy bastards who don’t care about anything but money and profits no matter how they get them – kind of like the way street thugs and gangsters operate.

    So, when strongly biased contributors like Leon Dixon start pointing fingers, they forget that there are three other fingers pointing right back at themselves.

  17. P.S. if Mueller is fired,and if you have the time, join us on every state capital grounds for something that isnt reconized today,,, a vietman like protest.. tell congresss, they have crossed the line…

  18. Each day we have been bothered by bad news. It’s endless and vexing. Today’s though is different. It, to me, portends the death of liberal democracy not through any flaw in it but because technology has been demonstrated that renders it ineffective. We the people cannot any longer effectively hire and fire those who govern based on informed decisions about who is most qualified to.

    All of a sudden Brexit and Trump are explained.

    This revelation creates huge urgent and long term problems. How can an election be held this year? How can elections ever be held again knowing these tools exist and can be bought and sold? If not elections, what?

    Mueller’s criminal investigation is now, while still necessary, not capable of dealing with the root cause of the end of liberal democracy but only some symptoms. If it’s possible to find a solution to cultural manipulation new laws will have to be defined and who will do that? Certainly not the ones who first employed this tool to empower themselves. If they are unqualified to how do we choose their replacements in the light of this capability?

    New reality has turned our world upside down. Can it be righted?

  19. Speaking of “Playing Fair…”; due to the provincial language accusing Trump of sleeping with Stormy, she has publicly admitted they technically did NOT sleep together. She states there was no “sleeping” involved. We need to replay Trump’s Tweets and public statements to see his actual wording – he could be technically speaking the truth for once in language acceptable during the last century. Just sayin’

  20. Comment on Jack Smith’s post: “If Mueller is fired…” and “….join us on every state capitol grounds…” All the reasons important to Trump point to Mueller hearing “You’re fired” in the next 60 – 90 days. And the place to protest is at the local offices of every member of Congress who is supporting our President by not engaging him or holding him accountable. Local press is more impactful than state capitol press. Put a hundred angry, demanding voters protesting outside a Congressperson’s local office every day for a week or two and that will have more impact on that member of Congress than a thousand people outside a state capitol building. Local voters willing to storm a politicians local office attract local media attention, and are votes about to be lost.

  21. So leon, you’re saying that we should ignore and give a pass to Trump, Pruitt, Devos, et.al. in the cabinet and most of congress to focus on this issue with Obama and Biden, who are out of office?

  22. Daleb,

    LOL. Most right-wingers think this way, because they have nothing else to offer and no place else to go.

  23. Whenever I see fox used as a link to a report, I completely ignore it. There is no reason for me to waste my time with reporting from liars, sexual predators, thieves and conspiracy theorists. Find a better source.

    Did you know that there was a link from CA (Cambridge Analytica) to Blackwater? You know the CEO of Blackwater is Betsy DeVos’ brother Erik?

    Listen, I hate to say that I told you so but the 2016 election should be null and voided and should be done over. There is too much evidence that that election was stolen (again) and 45 will be taken away in cuffs.

    I know, I’m just a dreamer.

  24. “After days of revelations, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Cambridge Analytica. But we’ve learned that an operation at the heart of Trump’s campaign was ethically nihilistic and quite possibly criminal in ways that even its harshest critics hadn’t suspected.”

    “Trump and his lackeys have been waging their own sort of psychological warfare on the American majority that abhors them. On the one hand, they act like idiots. On the other, they won, which makes it seem as if they must possess some sort of occult genius. With each day, however, it’s clearer that the secret of Trump’s success is cheating. He, and those around him, don’t have to be better than their opponents because they’re willing to be so much worse.”

    This article, most thankfully, goes a long way in summing up what is being done to us. Knowing what is been done to us doesn’t really help as though in terms of trying to figure out how to prevent it from happening again nor does it help us deal with getting the imperial potentate out of office had got where he is by using it and out of our lives. What other firms are out there that are like Cambridge Analytica that we just don’t know about, yet?

    All of this is like the culmination of every dirty trick used in advertising going all the way back to when people first thought about advertising and one upping their competition except this no longer involves newspapers or magazines or radio or even television. How do we stop this and who determines how for our political operations can go in manipulating data to win elections or to sell cars?
    I first saw Sheila’s blog on my smart phone but instead of shuttling with it to add a common I went to my laptop instead to access my e-mail. Before my e-mail loaded ads from a tax preparer and a Medicaid related one both had to load first. The tax preparer ad probably was loaded on millions of personal computers since it’s tax time and the Medicaid ad showed up because someone knows that I’m in my mid sixties. I guess I’m lucky that I didn’t get an ad from Flanner and Buchanan is well.

    In keying this last paragraph I am stating, no doubt, that which is obvious to all of you – that data on us has been collected electronically by firms who on their worst days could be just like Cambridge Analytica but instead stick to fairly innocuous and somewhat irritating advertising that shows up everywhere. If I access the JC Penney website looking for dress shirts, as an example, ads from JC Penney regarding dress shirts will soon show up in my Facebook feed. I don’t know about you but I find that unnerving.

    Again, we’re faced was something that is so all pervasive and where bad actors can have access to information on all of us at any time for any reason. How to we govern such a system where the use of this information is regulated and who regulates the regulators and how do we know that it’s even happening? I learned long ago while serving in the Navy and what can go wrong will go wrong so even if we act weed out the bad actors like Cambridge Analytica and no doubt others what’s to prevent other organizations from getting the same bright ideas that they did where we also learn about what they have done after the fact and seemingly have no way to prevent it from happening before hand.

    How do we balance personal freedom, freedom of choice for the rapid access to more data we can ever use in a way that makes sense, is equitable to all and is of benefit to society and not a threat to it? Years ago I worked for an organization called the Indiana Commission on Public Records and among all the various things that were under our purview that if was the rules and regulations regarding electronic record keeping for state government. This was when personal computers were first arriving on the market and all of the IBM clones had not been developed yet and even then we had grave concerns, then based on thinking only slightly above ignorance, over how quickly technology was progressing and how far behind it rules and regulations fell and that was at the very beginning of all of this. It is obvious that this situation still exists and that technology still progresses faster than we can figure out how to regulate it for the common good. As a result, we cannot yet prevent bad actors, including the one that sits in the Oval Office, from using it for their own advantage.

  25. My apologies for any syntax errors since I was using my voice activated software and talking in my normal Hoosier voice as opposed to one trained at the Columbia Broadcasting.

  26. We should not be surprised that humans will bend the rules or if the rewards are great enough and the chances of being caught are low will break the rules. We are coming up on the century mark of the infamous Black Sox World Series scandal of 1919.

    Professional boxing has had aura of fixed fights. Jake LaMotta of Raging Bull fame admitted to throwing a fight in 1947.

    Sports has had it’s steroid scandals and now an investigation into College Sports by he FBI. So if companies like Facebook, etc., make a deal with Cambridge Analytics to enhance profits it just follows the capitalist game plan.

    My point is where there is money to made or power to be acquired someone will always make the decision to bend or break rules. Insider trading, junk bonds, the Savings and Loan scandals fit into this philosophy of Steroid Capitalism.

    I suspect what has The Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) sweating will be the revelations of all the scum bag financial deals him and his family are involved in.

  27. Our democracy is not fading before our eyes because of our ability to harness facts and psychological profiles better than ever; rather it’s how we process such harnessed information through the sieve of our own biases which have been created by the likes of Fox, Grover Norquist and other right wing people and organizations interested primarily in making the rich richer at the expense of the poor and middle class. It’s a long way from the pamphleteering of Thomas Paine and Karl Marx to Cambridge Analytical and other algorithm-heavy sources of information, but new and better means of communication (and thus manipulative ability) do not change the idea of America, an idea grounded in democratic values and without which we have nothing and are mere widgets and ATMs and citizens no longer.

    Those who would destroy this American “idea” for power and money (such as the Kochs and Mercers) are the real “enemies of the state” as their democracy-destroying antics are played out in political daylight by such as Bannon, McConnell and Ryan (the latter an Ayn Rand devotee). Bannon’s idea of “deconstruction of the administrative state” and as a self-admitted Leninist should have given every thinking American reason to reject Trump’s choice as his chief adviser, but this strange amalgamation of socialism and capitalism espoused by Bannon which targets the state for extinction in his attempt to mix theoretical oil with water persists with the terminally narcissistic Orange Buffoon and his Putin embrace, market-roiling tariffs, denials of reality that do not fit his narcissistic preconceptions etc. Bannon is officially gone but his ideas are far from gone as Trump is busily involved in deconstruction of the administrative state ( one of the priorities of Lenin during the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century).

    Our task? We must defeat any candidate of any party who is fronting for the Kochs and Mercers and their ilk because these people would destroy our democracy in their lust for money and power via their handmaidens in the Congress and Oval Office and, as I often write here and elsewhere, democracy is our most important asset held in common and one of the last few things worth dying for, and I am sure Marv would agree that we need not wait for June 14th to storm the Bastille in its defense.

  28. Gerald and Tom,

    From Gerald,”…….. democracy is our most important asset held in common and one of the last few things worth dying for, and I am sure Marv would agree that we need not wait for June 14th to storm the Bastille in its defense.”

    I believe it all gets down to PATRIOTISM and the CIVIC COURAGE best expressed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We need to learn from the positive aspects of German history during the 30’s and 40’s. All three of us have a lot in common, not the least of which is military service. That’s where the leadership has to come from. The reality is we’re at WAR….. “War Against American Democracy.”

    And as you said Gerald, “democracy is our most important asset held in common and one of the last few things worth dying for…” We have no other choice than to take potentially dangerous risks despite all the guns and crazies out there.

  29. Gerald and Tom,

    This is from “Linchpin: Are you Indispensable?” by Seth Godin (Portfolio/Penguin, New York, 2010) p. 51-52:

    “CREATING FORWARD MOTION……Imagine an organization with an employee who can accurately see the truth, understand the situation, and understand the potential outcomes of various decisions. And now imagine that this person is also able to make something happen.

    Every organization, every nonprofit, every political body, every corporation desperately seeks this person. This is our leader, our marketer, our LINCHPIN. She creates forward motion.

    There are bosses who might be threatened by someone who can create forward motion, but the shareholders and owners and board of every organization on earth desperately want FORWARD MOTION.

    Doesn’t matter if you’re always right. It matters that you are always moving.”

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