Facebook hearings presenting noisy misdirection

171031153500-facebook-twitter-google-testify-2-1280x720Lawmakers painted a frightful picture of last year’s campaign during Senate hearings in October; witnesses told tales of Facebook users being confronted by 80,000 posts linked to a Russian troll farm that could have reached 126 million Americans. The same Kremlin-linked group sent more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and posted roughly 1,000 videos on YouTube. Democrats were indignant. Delaware senator Chris Coons described one post by a user named “Heart of Texas” condemning Hillary Clinton as “nothing short” of direct Russian interference in “our elections.” As general counsel for the social media giant, Colin Stretch told Coons “that advertisement has no place on Facebook,” and assured the senator he would not allow “that sort of behavior” again. What sort of behavior? A cursory review of the content presented on Capitol Hill reveals pages named “Donald Trump America” and “Army of Jesus” promoting the former developer as well as others for “Black Matters” and “United Muslims,” which urged visitors to support Clinton and thus “save American Muslims.” Continue reading

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November 8, 2017 · 9:36 pm

Staples Center’s newest pretty Hype machine

ar-170319878People around me who know I’m a Lakers fan have been razzing me for years about the team’s malaise. Once in a while they’ll suggest I become a Clippers or Warriors fan since they win more games, but I stubbornly refused. The reward was a team whose seasons ended with anxiety over the draft that led to a lottery pick and another Summer of high hope. Fear not, I heard, the purple-and-gold has a new coach or a new commitment to defense; this time they’ll finally turn it around. Whether mindful or cautious, the front office team avoided making big promises that would raise expectations. This began to change when Jeanie Buss deposed her brother then handed the team over to Ervin Johnson and Rob Pelinka. The new management started slow and shrewd, described what they found in February as unacceptable, then started making bold promises. The former agent gushed about coach Luke Walton’s “genuine honesty and coolness” and  found a way to attach the word “championship” to every aspect of the team’s culture. Continue reading

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October 25, 2017 · 11:08 pm

Second Amendment repeal not to be taken lightly

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Bret Stephens is not the first person to question the utility of a Constitutional Amendment — when prohibition was still in force it was routinely assailed, and eventually repealed with another Amendment. The First, Fourth, and Fourteenth have been sidestepped, undermined, and critiqued by college administrators, NSA spooks, and a certain presidential candidate. Yet nobody has suggested one of the first ten should be repealed. Until now. Presumably, the New York Times editorialist would make his case by pointing to Las Vegas and citing the number of Americans who use a gun to kill themselves or their countrymen. He argued that Democrats make their case “in bad faith,” then illustrated the rhetoric’s relationship with reality. First up was the infamous “loophole” that allows people to sell private property, like a gun, without securing a license. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe charged that 40 percent of buyers use it to evade a background check; a 2015 survey carried out by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard reviewed 4,000 cases and put the total at 22 percent. Continue reading

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October 12, 2017 · 9:09 pm

Healthcare battle continues as October looms

1-139_186538In any other environment, Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all bill would be greeted the way Republican attempts to defund or dismantle Obamacare once were — a spirited effort by the minority party to stir its base ahead of the next campaign. The cranky Vermont senator is more true believer than opportunist, every bit an ideological counterweight to Ted Cruz, but there was something missing from the plan he presented, something a salesman would overlook. It certainly wasn’t benefits, controls, or high-minded rhetoric. As it stands, “Berniecare” is very generous: it would cover hospital visits, laboratory services, medical devices, maternity care, prescription drugs, vision, and dental. Consumers would be virtually free from out-of-pocket expenses as Sanders’ plan would effectively bar or disband public and private competition. The missing element from a drive to finish what Sanders called a “long and difficult struggle” to end an “international disgrace” is how he intends to pay for it. Continue reading

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September 29, 2017 · 9:14 pm

Key failure of Afghan war plays out in “Great Escape”

dalton-fury-21Somebody in George W. Bush’s inner circle of advisers had to have been aware of Afghanistan’s reputation before he sent American troops over the border in 2001. The landlocked central Asian nation is known as the “Graveyard of Empires,” having turned back armies led by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, as well as British invaders and Soviet forces. That history colors Al Qaeda’s Great Escape in a prologue that includes a few eloquent passages from Winston Churchill’s coverage of the nineteenth century “Malakand Expedition” for the Daily Telegraph. His commentary haunts everything that follows, as does Philip Smucker’s occasionally dark thoughts about front-line journalism, an experience he equated with returning from an “abyss populated by bloody babies and headless rebels.” Continue reading

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September 6, 2017 · 10:35 pm

Torch-lit march ignited stress-test of American society

170812-charlottesville-car-crash-graphic-ew-413p_e44f0fc9685f46fbb60af1f6a2963c17-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000There was something surreal about watching footage of “Unite the Right” demonstrators marching across the University of Virginia campus chanting “white lives matter” and “you will not replace us.” Reports of “scuffles” with counterprotesters were in the news by Saturday. Nobody could have known just what a storm they were unleashing, one that would rattle the White House and cause aftershocks that reached Southern California’s Hollywood Forever cemetery. Another demonstration followed on Saturday to protest the planned removal of a statue depicting Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was disrupted by police just after Noon when a group organized by local activists was met by counterprotesters; the two sides regrouped and faced off again later in the day as police reportedly stood by, unable or unwilling to keep the two factions apart. The crowd of rivals is the one a twenty-year-old drove his Dodge coupe into before fleeing the scene. Continue reading

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August 22, 2017 · 9:59 pm

American Symphony plays on, despite off-key Notes

144579-fullThere was a sense of Trump fatigue when news of another march appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, then spread online to outlets like DailyNews.com, Breitbart.com, KTLA News, and YouTube. These protests have been occurring fairly regularly since inauguration day, sometimes branded as a “Women’s March” or a “March for Science.” Another group called for impeachment and they, like the group at Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, were confronted by pro-Trump demonstrators who cloak themselves in the flag and chant “USA! USA!” A pair of clever posts by a fellow blogger started the gears turning, now the sight of a folder without any timely yet incomplete drafts in it has motivated me to grapple with my own feelings about American civics, government, and politics. There’s also the little matter of what “great” means in a country governed by a former reality TV star promising to bring back what may have never gone away. Continue reading

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August 13, 2017 · 11:28 pm