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February 19, 2011

ai astroturfing

This is also important, not like some video about a baby tearing up a bar which is obviously fake, but more like the way the world is changing around you in ways that are harmful to you and probably unsuspected.

So take the HB GaryGate, ancillary to WikiLeaks of course, which I've already gone on about too much.  Anonymous (if that is in fact their real name) not only cracked HB Gary's server but also posted it for everyone, after which one intrepid DailyKos diarist found a very very interesting email which detailed a specific ploy of "competitive intelligence" which actually goes beyond the threshold — AI astroturfing:

This time, it's internal emails detailing the creation of "persona management" software to simplify the process of pretending to be several people at once online, in order simulate widespread support for a point of view -- astroturfing automation software. The software appears to have been developed in response to a federal government solicitation seeking automated tools for astroturfing message boards in foreign countries.

It's good to know that this is now on the menu of bad-guy kung-fu as far as the Chamber of Commerce and all their members and wanna-be members go, but it's even more good to know that the artificial manipulation of multiple sock-puppets by software is no longer science fiction, but reality.

So welcome to trusting nothing you read in the comments thread, ever ever.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:01 AM

February 18, 2011

david and charles koch buying more grassroots

I suppose I shouldn't let pass this opportunity to mention the names of the Koch brothers, who are implicated in the unfolding labor protests of Wisconsin.  The Koch brothers, if you recall, are two (four?) of the unseen hands that purchase popular opinion and bend it to their Randian ends.

They are also donors to the campaign of Governor Scott Walker, both with PAC cash and a couple million in media buys (thanks to the Citizens United case decided by the Supreme Court).  And Gov. Walker is of course the author of this misfortune, he who created a budget deficit roughly equal to tax giveaways to big business, the putative reason why for trying to end the municipal unions.

And they are also financiers of the greater Tea Party, which is intending to counter-protest in Madison this weekend, which is not at all out of character for the Tea Party, considering the support the original Tea Party showed for the governor and the right of governors to impose taxes on working people.

It's really important to bring this up, and to repeat it to people that are sick of hearing about it, because the Koch brothers are very very wealthy industrialists who think that they can fund all sorts of thinktanks and then sockpuppet popular movements to achieve the no-government laissez faire utopia they've dreamed about (and which would improve their bottom line considerably), without once having to put their own good names on anything.

So they may win this fight or the next, but they will not get to not have their good names on this.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 PM

"shared sacrifice"

You know what I'm feeling these days?  Strident.

It's not necessarily a good look for me.  It used to be, I know, but that was a long time ago and I wonder if stridency on me now would not embarrass the me back when I had the stridency hotness.

But, we don't get to pick!  And it wasn't even Wisconsin that got me, though I sure do feel like taking to a street or two, but rather one phrase in David Brooks' latest OMG-he-gets-paid-for-that?: "shared sacrifice".  He's using it with regards to the federal budget, of course, because the only two things Brooks can bring himself to write about are budget modesty and President Brooks fan fiction, and I nearly threw myself off a moving subway car when I read it.

Sure, "entitlement spending" (which Krugman coincidentally pokes holes in on the very same page) is massive and growing and very very expensive.  But when you cut it, when you cut the social safety net so carefully put into place so that we can demonstrate our national value by how we care for the least fortunate of us, the sacrifice will not be fucking shared.  The sacrifice will be borne by the least fortunate, by the needy, by the working poor, by children, and the sacrifice will be measured by hunger and homelessness and things generally a country does not want to welcome.

So there is no sharing.  In fact, even if taxes were raised on, say, the wealthy, it would be obscene to compare that burden of getting a smaller refund at the end of the year to the misery that would be inflicted by a cut in "entitlements".

In fact, there is no such fucking thing as "shared sacrifice" unless you take a family like David Brooks' and take away all their money and all their jobs and all their stuff and make them live under a bridge for a month or two.  And that will not happen (nor would it be fair).

So let's just agree that there is no such thing as shared sacrifice when it comes to this.  It's a pointed, one-sided sacrifice to be imposed on those of us who can least afford it.  To call it "shared sacrifice" is intellectual cowardice, hiding behind a cheap phrase.  It is a vivid and intense asshole signifier, and it's making my blood boil.

So yes, strident is perhaps not the most attractive foot to put forward on this Internet (which must be approaching post-modern soon?), but that's the foot that's going out there, at least today.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:33 AM

February 17, 2011

quorum denied

I don't want to turn this into a poor approximation of a liveblog, but the word on the streets of Madison is that the budget is up for vote in the State Senate, but a vote will not happen because the Senate Democrats have fled the state, denying quorum and preventing a vote.

Also Abe Sauer tracks the "liberals want to assassinate Gov. Walker" meme to ground and finds it a load of hooey (and gets called a "small blogger" by a rightwing Madison radio host in the process).

In the comments thread, Sauer points to this editorial, accusing Gov. Walker of ginning up a budget deficit by loading the budget with crony handouts so that the "crisis" can be used as an excuse to gut the unions.

That's where it stands now.  And if you see a Senate Dem in Illinois, or Minnesota, please keep it to yourself.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:17 PM

i love space weather

This is not meant to be any more alarming than all the other alarming things in the world, but you should be advised that a giant solar flare is headed for earth.

The good news is that we will not all be incinerated.  Nope, not that kind of solar flare or coronal ejection or what have you.  But that'd be novel, wouldn't it?  Staring at the business end of a tendril of nuclear fire headed planet-wards?

The bad news is that this flare, an "X-Flare" apparently, will interfere with our mortal lives in more discrete ways.  As the charged particles pass through our atmosphere, they will wreak havok on the planetary web of electromagnetics we've set up as our power/communications grid.  How bad will it be?  We don't get to know!  But if your iPhone drops more calls than usual, or if you are suddenly plunged into darkness, you will know why.

Bonus good news: more extensive and vivid aurorae borealis.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:16 AM

comparisons to other street protests are unfair but unavoidable

The most important story of yesterday was the uprising in Madison, Wisconsin, and if you're not up to speed on it, you should be.

Gov. Scott Walker, one of the crop of GOP first-termers with Tea Party tendencies, is using the budget deficits befalling the states as an excuse to strip away nearly all of the collective bargaining rights of the civil service unions.  In response, the unions have done exactly what they have not done in the past years — took to the streets.  The teachers of Madison had a sick-in yesterday, canceling the school day, while protesters swarmed the State House and any place that they thought Gov. Walker, who has yet to meet with the protesters, might be hiding.  For the good-stuff background, check Abe Sauer for The Awl.

The anti-union sentiment is nothing new — in fact, it was pretty much bought and paid for by the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce and your usual suspects.  'The unions destroyed the automobile industry!'  'Lazy teacher unions aren't teaching your children!'  It's all just camouflage for industrialists who think that unions are bad for business because they actually have more equal footing with the employer, and they long for the Gilded Age when if your workers didn't like the dime and hour for fourteen hours you were offering then they could go hang!  Though actually if you subtract unions out of American history then what you get is no middle class, no American prosperity, no consumer culture powering America into ascendancy.  And it's an easy con, because all you have to do to convince the Average Folk that unions are bad is to point out that union employees, government employees get paid better and have better benefits than the Average Folk do, and if there's one thing the Average Folk can't stand it's being outdone incrementally by their peers, so thank you, billionaires, for pointing that out.

Gov. Walker is being disingenuous.  He is no more addressing the budget issues of Wisconsin than I am Donald Duck.  He is taking the chance to make it look like his hands are tied and he has no choice but to eviscerate the unions.  The concept that the budget has a shortfall solely because of the civil service unions is stupid on its face.  He's just looking to take a hammer to the Great Society, and thankfully the people of Wisconsin aren't keen to go along with this.  The outcome is of course cloudy, but we should all be watching, because Wisconsin is not the only state thinking of doing this.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:06 AM

February 16, 2011

nate anderson on competitive intelligence

This is useful, a pretty comprehensive look into the company HB Gary, which is the primary bad actor in the AnonyLeaks sub-scandal, detailing the flagrantly unethical and sometimes illegal "competitive intelligence" proposals floated to Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce and other potential clients:
How did [HB Gary president Aaron] Barr, a man with long experience in security and intelligence, come to spend his days as a CEO e-stalking clients and their wives on Facebook? Why did he start performing "reconnaissance" on the largest nuclear power company in the US? Why did he suggest pressuring corporate critics to shut up, even as he privately insisted that corporations "suck the lifeblood out of humanity"? And why did he launch his ill-fated investigation into Anonymous, one which may well have destroyed his company and damaged his career?

That's a good question!  And a better question is, exactly how beyond the pale is this?  Is this an outrage because it speaks of behaviors that corporations should not be engaging in, or is it an outrage because someone got caught proposing things that business interests already engage in?

Posted by mrbrent at 4:41 PM

the looming scary austerity

OK, so, versions of the House budget and the president's budget are now public, so we can say with some certainty that the Common Wisdom agrees that the biggest problem facing our modest nation is the annual budget deficit.  Now, I don't necessarily agree with this.  In fact, I'm kinda in the camp of Dick Cheney, who said, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter".

Whatever.  Maybe we'll revisit the sudden magnetism of deficits and whether or not it constitutes some dogwhistle or worse a vast hypocrisy in comparing the budget to a household budget instead of a balance sheet.  Maybe someday.

But for the purposes of this morning, and keeping in mind that the GOP budget cuts a kajillion dollars and if we lose a few jobs then so be it, do you think that the Republican party would be so eager to invite a UK-in-the-80s era of austerity upon the electorate if there was not a Democrat in the Oval Office?  Remember that some portion of arsonists are fire fighters looking to create an opportunity to be heroic.  It's not as feckless and wrong as a ginned-up war for oil, but still.

Just a brief, jaundiced thought to kick the day off.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

February 15, 2011

ronaldus maximus

There have been a number of commentaries on Ronald Reagan, from both sides, the hagiographies and the takedowns, since his 100th birthday passed recently.  But this Bob Herbert column, tying in to Eugene Jarecki's new documentary "Reagan" is the most recent I've read, so it gets the link.
What we get with Reagan are a series of disconnects and contradictions that have led us to a situation in which a president widely hailed as a hero of the working class set in motion policies that have been mind-bogglingly beneficial to the wealthy and devastating to working people and the poor.

Obviously I favor the takedown more than I favor the hagiography.

And I agree with Herbert — the appeal of Ronald Reagan is mysterious to me.  It's as if it derives not just from his iconic charisma, but specifically because he represents a victory of surface over substance.  His administration in fact failed demonstrably in many of the qualities attributed to Reagan (raising taxes, growing government, etc.), and yet he remains the figurehead, the plastic Jesus of the entire right wing.  He is whatever you want him to be, divorced from context.

It is kind of fascinating, until you realize that it was during his administrations that the plutocracy really started cooking with gas.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM


Not to shill for the same thing in a week, but that full CD listening party thing I like?  This week they got new releases from PJ Harvey, The Drive-By Truckers, Buffalo Tom and the Cowboy Junkies.  There are also some other albums in there by bands that are less than ten years old (I'm guessing.)

Man, I've been outside of pop music for a while.  But I am not such a geezer that I was not filled with joy at the amount of joy exhibited by The Arcade Fire when they won the Grammy for Best Album Sunday night.  Sadly, I am such a geezer that their first performance, "Month Of May", gave me seizures from all the strobes.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:08 AM

February 14, 2011

fifty awesome books

This is totally useful and non-political — I swear!  The Top Fifty Nonessential Non-Fiction Books For Weirdos, from Cheryl Botchik.

I'm not the sort that would ever generate such a list (being unsure of my own opinion), but I more-than-largely agree with hers.  Zinn is a dealbreaker if it's not there, and the presence of Thomas Frank means more than two hearts.  "Lipstick Traces" is there, Nick Tosches is there, punk rock is there, Naomi Klein is there.

You already agree with the list, in fact, but the fun thing is to find the books you do not have and then go buy them.  There must be an app or an algorithm for this, but why not be neo-Luddite and give a flesh and blood props for her electronic list?

Nice job, Cheryl Botchik.

Posted by mrbrent at 6:44 PM

February 13, 2011

john cole on competitive intelligence

A smart follow up to the WikiLeaks Anonymous Parry Dodge Thrust Dugga Dugga Dugga news event is this bit of comment from Balloon Juice's John Cole on What This All Really Means — Us vs. Them on a very large scale:
And they are well financed, have a strong infrastructure, a sympathetic media, and entire organizations dedicated to running cover for them. They’ve even created their own mythical ideology in which they are superhero Galtian overlords, and this lets a few rubes who babble ignorantly about the free market get to feel like they are playing along, when they are really just being played. It’s these guys versus all of us, yet half the people being rogered (Republicans and glibertarians and hell, half the Democrats) have been convinced the other side is a bigger threat to their well being than the people with all the power, money, and resources. Hell, even in this post I can guarantee that at least five shitheads will come in and tell me they don’t like Glenn Greenwald because he uses too many words or that Jane Hamsher is shrill or because neither of them fellate Obama to satisfaction. Talk about not fucking getting it.

This tracks with what cointelpro target Glenn Greenwald is saying as well, that this is a symptom of a greater problem of unspoken collusion between business interests and the government, sucking the political wind out of the sails of the great unwashed.  Which is like, welcome to forever!  But consider me among those hardheaded enough to believe that writing/shouting about it might actual bring us to some mobilization point in which consensus shifts and the Gilded Agers get nervous.

I ain't afraid of no plutarchs.  (Mostly b/c they can do whatever they want with me no matter how afraid I am.)

Posted by mrbrent at 6:55 PM