Lazy Caturday Reads

mother-cat-cornelis-raaphorst

Mother cat, by Cornelis Raaphorst

Happy Caturday!!

This is going to be kind of a lightweight post, because I’m burned out on serious news at the moment. 

There was a big social event in support of climate change research in Boston over the past few days. I wasn’t really paying attention, and neither was most of the national media; but it was for a good cause. Prince William and Princess Kate toured the Boston area for days, and handed out “Earthshot” awards at a ceremony featuring President Biden and some big name celebrities. This was the second Earthshot awards ceremony. 

From the Earthshot Awards Website: FIVE WINNERS OF THE SECOND EVER EARTHSHOT PRIZE AWARDS UNVEILED.

Tonight, Prince William and The Earthshot Prize revealed the 2022 Earthshot Prize winners – an accomplished group of entrepreneurs and innovators spearheading ground-breaking solutions to repair and regenerate the planet.

Each winner was awarded a £1 million prize at the second-annual Earthshot Prize awards ceremony, which will be broadcast Sunday, December 4 at 17:30pm GMT on BBC and will begin streaming on Monday, December 5 at 2:00pm EST on PBS.org and the PBS app.

Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot challenge in the 1960s, which united millions of people around the goal of putting a person on the moon within a decade, The Earthshot Prize aims to discover and help scale innovative solutions that put the world firmly on a trajectory toward a stable climate by 2030 – a world in which communities, oceans and biodiversity can thrive in harmony.

Each year over the course of this critical decade for the planet, five winners will be chosen for their ground-breaking solutions to five of the greatest environmental challenges facing our planet. These five Earthshots are: Protect and Restore NatureClean our AirRevive our OceansBuild a Waste-free World; and Fix our Climate.

Following a rigorous selection process focused on identifying the most inspirational, impactful, and inclusive solutions, the five 2022 winners are:

Clean our AirMukuru Clean Stoves, Kenya – A start-up providing cleaner-burning stoves to women in Kenya to reduce unhealthy indoor pollution and provide a safer way to cook.

Protect and Restore NatureKheyti, India – A pioneering solution for local smallholder farmers to reduce costs, increase yields and protect livelihoods in a country on the frontlines of climate change.

Revive our OceansIndigenous Women of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia – An inspiring women led program that combines 60,000 years of indigenous knowledge with digital technologies to protect land and sea.

Build a Waste-free WorldNotpla, United Kingdom – A circular solution creating an alternative to plastic packaging from seaweed.

Fix our Climate44.01, Oman – Created by childhood friends who have developed an innovative technique to turn CO2 into rock, and permanently store it underground.

Carl Reichert, Cats and the Cockatoo, 1898Time: Prince William’s Earthshot Prize Winners Include a Seaweed-Based Plastic Startup and Cleaner Cookstoves.

There is no shortage of environmental problems that need to be solved. And today in Boston, Mass.—at a ceremony marked by celebrity appearances and calls to action from around the world—Prince William through his Earthshot Prize handed out over $6 million dollars to help accelerate five solutions to tackling issues on conservation, air quality, oceans, waste, and climate change.

The annual Earthshot Prize, an independent charity founded by Prince William and the Royal Foundation in 2020, awards $1.2 million each to winners in the five categories. The initiative aims to bring the same level of urgency and ambition to today’s environmental challenges as John F. Kennedy’s “moonshot” space-race challenge. (Marc and Lynne Benioff, TIME’s owners and co-chairs, have been among the philanthropic supporters of the effort.)

Among the panel of judges selecting this year’s high-profile awards are naturalist Sir David Attenborough, actress Cate Blanchett, musician Shakira, and Christiana Figueres, former head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The winners were selected from a group of 15 finalists from 10 different countries, and included, among others, grassroots organizations dedicated to forest protection and biodiversity conservation, along with start-ups exploring clean battery technology and alternative leather derived from waste.

It seems I’m not the only Bostonian who was unimpressed with the royals visit to our city.

The New York Times: Bostonians’ Take on the Royals’ Whirlwind Visit? Whatevah.

Crowds had gathered at rain-swept City Hall Plaza to welcome Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales, the photogenic royals who touched down on Wednesday for a whirlwind three-day tour.

So were patrons abuzz about the visit two miles away at Santarpio’s, a bare-bones bar and pizza joint, and East Boston institution?

“Not yet,” a bartender said dryly as he hustled crispy pizzas and plates of steaming sausage to a row of diners Wednesday night, his expression suggesting the likelihood of any buzz was quite low.

As breathless online commentary tracked the royal couple’s every movement and designer wardrobe change for a global audience of devoted palace watchers, laconic swaths of their host city remained unimpressed, if not wholly unaware of their presence.

At a Dunkin’ in the diverse Dorchester neighborhood on Thursday, a woman waiting for her order in a puffy winter coat, hood up, declined to talk to a reporter, then asked what the story was about.

Informed of the topic, she curtly shook her head.

“Don’t care,” she said.

The city’s history helps explain its deep veins of indifference, said Brooke Barbier, a historian who also offers guided tours of Boston. Because its identity is so rooted in the American Revolution and its rejection of monarchy, and because its landscape is still littered with vivid reminders of that past, “it makes sense, even centuries later, that Boston can’t care about the monarchy,” she said. “Even if, secretly, they care.”

Commuters cross the site of the Boston Massacre on their way to the subway (the place where it happened, then King Street, was later renamed); at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, actors routinely re-enact the colonists’ famous 1773 protest against British taxation.

Fans of the first-place Boston Celtics seemed to channel vestiges of that feistiness on Wednesday night, when William and Kate attended a game at TD Garden alongside city officials, and were reportedly met with scattered chants of “USA! USA!” amid the louder cheering, when their faces were shown on a giant screen.

Harpers Bazaar: Boston Is Apparently Really Angry That the Royals Are Visiting.

While some in Somerville, Massachusetts, are appreciative of the fact that the British royals will bring some positive attention to Greentown Labs, an incubator for start-ups aiming to tackle the climate crisis with tech-fueled innovation, others are annoyed about the inconveniences the Wales’s visit will cause for the city—traffic, for example.

Arthur Wardle, The Green Pillow

Arthur Wardle, The Green Pillow

A main concern on the social channels is how difficult it will allegedly be for residents to get to grocery store Market Basket, located on Somerville Avenue. A block of the avenue, from Dane Street to School Street, will be blocked during William and Kate’s visit to the area today, according to an email city officials sent to residents on Wednesday, The Boston Globe reported.

Both directions of travel, the sidewalks, and parking will also be closed to the public, and the MBTA’s route 87 bus will be temporarily rerouted, the city reportedly said, adding that the move was made “to accommodate security measures for the British royal visit.”

A spokesperson for Market Basket said the store will remain open, with access from the Union Square side, per the Globe. But even the Somerville city councilor is outraged at the possibility of having one entrance to the local supermarket temporarily, partially blocked for the royals’ historic visit—their first to the U.S. since 2014.

“Hey, did you know that the royal family is visiting Ward 2 tomorrow? Yeah, me neither until I read it in the press,” City Councilor Jefferson Thomas Scott wrote on Twitter yesterday upon the royals’ arrival in Boston.

“I didn’t invite these people and was unaware of this visit until you found out too,” he added. “The City is not handling the Prince and Princess of Wales’ itinerary, so the times of these transits and closures ending is unknown.”

In other news, here’s the latest on Elon Musk’s ongoing destruction of Twitter.

Remember back in the days of the 2008 financial crisis when Matt Taibbi seemed like a serious journalist to some people even though his reporting style was a weak imitation of Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism? I wasn’t particularly impressed even then. For a time, Taibbi pretended to be a “progressive,” supporting Bernie Sanders for president. But these days Taibbi, like Glenn Greenwald, is a right-winger and apparent Russian asset. Now he has become an Elon Musk puppet. Yesterday he posted a Twitter thread on Hunter Biden’s laptop, at Musk’s request. I couldn’t quite make sense of the thread, but here are some articles about it.

Axios: Musk’s “Twitter Files” spotlights Hunter Biden story ban.

Elon Musk’s Twitter took aim at the firm’s previous management Friday evening with a “Twitter Files” presentation intended to demonstrate “free speech suppression.

Driving the news: Musk’s team apparently provided newsletter author Matt Taibbi with access to internal documents surrounding Twitter’s controversial decision, three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, to limit access to a New York Post article about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

At the time Twitter said that it was blocking the Post story under a policy against stolen and hacked materials. Conservatives said the company was censoring the news. Within two days CEO Jack Dorsey reversed the decision and apologized.

The Post story alleged that in 2015 Hunter Biden tried to arrange a meeting between his father and an executive at a Ukrainian company Hunter Biden worked for. Biden spokespeople denied the allegations at the time.

Details: Taibbi’s “Twitter Files” unrolled Friday on Twitter, stretched out across nearly two hours of posting.

  — The posts show debates inside Twitter over whether the decision to block the Post story was the right call.

 —  Conservative outrage at Twitter’s action was loud and public at the time, but Taibbi also reports messages from outside organizations and a Democratic politician over the move.

 —  A text apparently from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) to a Twitter executive reads, “Generating huge backlash on hill re speech.”

Between the lines: Musk’s following greeted “The Twitter Files” as evidence that Twitter had operated with bias, but there was no smoking-gun evidence of a partisan conspiracy to censor.

Cat Mother with Three Boys, by Julius Adam II, German, 1852-1913

Cat Mother with Three Boys, by Julius Adam II, German, 1852-1913

So that’s the gist of the story. It’s also evident that Musk still doesn’t grasp the meaning of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause. Its purpose was to protect speech from government control and interference. A private company like Twitter is not the government and thus has the right to moderate offensive speech on its platform

Zachary Petrizzo at The Daily Beast on the right wing response: Deeply Underwhelmed’: Right-Wingers on Musk’s Overhyped ‘Twitter Files.’

Elon Musk hyped the release of bombshell revelations Friday about Twitter’s controversial decision to restrict stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop on the platform, but the leak was a resounding flop with many right-wing pundits.

“So far, I’m deeply underwhelmed,” Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump administration official turned right-wing radio host, said. His comments came after journalist Matt Taibbi released a lengthy Twitter thread detailing Musk’s touted findings, namely that Twitter executives themselves were at odds over whether to restrict the Hunter Biden reporting and that Democrats (and Republicans) filed moderation requests with the social media giant….

But the right-wing host didn’t leave it to just a single post. He continued by doubling down when pressed by MAGA diehard followers who were convinced the “Twitter files” promoted by Musk were a smoking gun.

Responding to a Truth Social user claiming the Twitter company emails were “a clear violation of the 1st Amendment,” the radio host fired back: “Err no, it’s not the DNC asking a private company to censor has nothing to do with the First Amendment.”

The back and forth ended with Truth Social users accusing Gorka of being “deep state.” (The radio host failed to address questions on the matter sent to him by The Daily Beast on Friday night.)

Likewise, New York Post columnist Miranda Devine—one of the first right-wing reporters to begin writing about the laptop—told Fox News host Tucker Carlson it wasn’t the “smoking gun we’d hoped for.”

“I feel that Elon Musk has held back some material,” she then alleged, claiming sinister forces were perhaps controlling Musk after the Twitter chief took a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier in the week. “In particular, there’s a tweet in which Matt Taibbi says he hasn’t seen any evidence that law enforcement specifically warned off Twitter from our story. But that’s just not correct.”

Tim Miller at The Bulwark: No, You Do Not Have a Constitutional Right to Post Hunter Biden’s Dick Pic on Twitter. Elon Musk and Matt Taibbi’s First Amendment follies.

While normal humans who denied Republicans their red wave were enjoying an epic sports weekend, an insular community of MAGA activists and online contrarians led by the world’s richest man (for now) were getting riled up about a cache of leaked emails revealing that the former actor James Woods and Chinese troll accounts were not allowed to post ill-gotten photos of Hunter Biden’s hog on a private company’s microblogging platform 25 months ago.

Jules-Gustave-Le-Roy-Brave-Bird, 1856-1921

Jules Gustave LeRoy, Brave Bird

Now if you are one of the normals—someone who would never think about posting another person’s penis on your social media account; has no desire to see politicians’ kids’ penises when scrolling social media; doesn’t understand why there are other people out there who care one way or another about the moderation policies surrounding stolen penis photos; or can’t even figure out what it is that I’m talking about—then this might seem like a gratuitous matter for an article. Sadly, it is not.

Because among Republican members of Congress, leading conservative media commentators, contrarian substackers, conservative tech bros, and friends of Donald Trump, the ability to post Hunter Biden’s cock shots on Twitter is the number-one issue in America this weekend. They believe that if they are not allowed to post porno, our constitutional republic may be in jeopardy.

I truly, truly wish I were joking.

Miller’s take on what it was all about:

Here’s a synopsis for the blessedly uninitiated:

On Friday, Elon Musk promised to reveal “what really happened with the Hunter Biden story suppression by Twitter.” It turns out that he had provided a trove of internal corporate documents to the Tulsi Gabbard of Substack, Matt Taibbi, who said they amounted to a “unique and explosive story”—revealing the juicy details inside Twitter’s decision to suppress the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story, which had previously been rejected by such liberal outlets as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal due to its suspicious provenance. Taibbi agreed to divulge these private emails on Twitter itself rather than via his Substack as part of a “few conditions,” which he does not detail, that were imposed on him, presumably by Musk or a Musk factotum.

The documents Taibbi tweeted on Friday were titillating in the way that reading private correspondence revealing what people were really saying around a controversial subject always is, but nothing new was learned about the contours of the story. The leak mostly relitigates two facts that have already received much ink across the media: 1) How Twitter throttled the New York Post’s initial story about Hunter’s laptop based on what we now know was an incorrect assessment of its source; and 2) How political campaigns and government agencies have worked with social media companies—in this case Twitter—to flag troubling content.

Read more at the Bulwark link if you’re interested.

I’ll wrap up this gossipy post with some HuffPost reporting by Matt Shuham on Trump’s dinner with Nazis: The Mysterious Fourth Man At The Trump-Ye Dinner Tells His Story.

Simerenya, Henriette Ronner Knip

Simerenya, Henriette Ronner Knip

When former President Donald Trump held a now-infamous dinner last month with Ye, the antisemitic rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and a prominent white nationalist, an unnamed additional guest sat alongside the powerful men.

NBC News reported only that the other person in Ye’s group was the parent of a student at Donda Academy, the rapper’s private school in California. But while speaking about the dinner this week, Ye briefly referred to a man named Jamar Montgomery during a livestream with far-right influencer Tim Pool. Ye identified him as a “Boeing engineer.”

HuffPost tracked Montgomery down and spoke with him Thursday night. He is indeed a Boeing employee, though he did not confirm any connection with Donda Academy. Montgomery told a wild tale about how an invitation from Ye, whom he says he barely knew, quickly led to a dinner with the former leader of the free world. Montgomery shared some details from the evening, including some insight into why a mysterious phone call suddenly darkened Trump’s mood, after which he began treating Ye with open hostility.

Montgomery says he didn’t know about Ye’s anti-Semitism and positive views of Hitler when he accepted the invitation.

Montgomery said Ye initially reached out to him about two weeks ago to talk about education, given Montgomery’s experience as an educator and tutor.

Montgomery confirmed he worked for Boeing, but said, “the work that’s most important to me is the work that I do for the people.” He cited his efforts to teach his community about financial literacy, cryptocurrency and political science. A Boeing spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that someone of the same name works for the company. The spokesperson declined to describe Montgomery’s work, citing privacy reasons, and said “we did not have an employee there representing Boeing in any official capacity.”

Montgomery ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana in 2020 as a no-party-affiliation candidate, ultimately earning 5,804 votes, and he currently goes by the moniker “The Crypto Politician.”

And as for the dinner? “I was there as a spectator. I was just along for the ride.”

Those are my offerings for Caturday. Feel free to discuss serious issues in the comment thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Twin Narcissistic Sociopaths

Eileen Rosemary Mayo (1906-94)

Painting by Eileen Rosemary Mayo (1906-94)

Happy Caturday!!

The long holiday weekend continues. I’m still having trouble sleeping at night, so once again this post is embarrassingly late. What news there is is still pretty ugly, with twin narcissistic sociopaths Donald Trump and Elon Musk dominating the headlines.

Trump News

People are still talking about Trump’s dinner with anti-Semite Kanye West and holocaust denying Nazi Nick Fuentes. Dakinikat wrote quite a bit about this yesterday. Here’s the latest:

Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer at The New York Times: Trump’s Latest Dinner Guest: Nick Fuentes, White Supremacist.

Former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night had dinner with Nicewk Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and racist who is one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists, at Mr. Trump’s private club in Florida, advisers to Mr. Trump conceded on Friday.

Also at the dinner was the performer Kanye West, who has also been denounced for making antisemitic statements. Mr. West traveled to meet with Mr. Trump at the club, Mar-a-Lago, and brought Mr. Fuentes along, the advisers said.

The fourth attendee at the four-person dinner, Karen Giorno — a veteran political operative who worked on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign as his state director in Florida — also confirmed that Mr. Fuentes was there….

In recent years, Mr. Fuentes, 24, has developed a high profile on the far right and forged ties with such Republican lawmakers as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, largely through his leadership of an annual white-supremacist event called the America First Political Action Conference.

A Holocaust denier and unabashed racist, Mr. Fuentes openly uses hateful language on his podcast, in recent weeks calling for the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods and demanding that Jews leave the country….

During the dinner, according to a person briefed on what took place, Mr. Fuentes described himself as part of Mr. Trump’s base of supporters. Mr. Trump remarked that his advisers urge him to read speeches using a teleprompter and don’t like when he ad-libs remarks.

Mr. Fuentes said Mr. Trump’s supporters preferred the ad-libs, at which Mr. Trump turned to the others, the person said, and declared that he liked Mr. Fuentes, adding: “He gets me.”

Aleksandra Aleks

Painting by Aleksandra Aleks

I’d have to agree. Trump is clearly an anti-Semite and fascist would love to turn the U.S. into a dictatorship. He’s also a needy narcissist who will listen to anyone who shamelessly flatters and sucks up to him. And it sounds like Fuentes did that.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Trump said: “Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago. Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.” The statement said nothing about Mr. Fuentes’s views.

In a post later Friday on his social media website, Truth Social, Mr. Trump said that Mr. West “unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about.” He said the dinner took place “with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. Then they left for the airport.”

Early Friday evening, Mr. Trump made a third attempt at defending himself, saying that Mr. West had sought business advice from him, “expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’ Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? I also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”

Well Trump has to know who and what Fuentes is now, and he’s still not willing to say anything against him. I’m reminded of the time in 2016 when Trump refused to reject the endorsement of David Duke and claimed to know nothing about him or the KKK. But The Washington Post documented statements by Trump about Duke in 1991 and 2000, in which he “condemned Duke and his views.”

Even taking at face value Mr. Trump’s protestation that he knew nothing of Mr. Fuentes, the apparent ease with which Mr. Fuentes arrived at the home of a former president who is under multiple investigations — including one related to keeping classified documents at Mar-a-Lago long after he left office — underscores the undisciplined, uncontrolled nature of Mr. Trump’s post-presidency just 10 days into his third campaign for the White House.

Marc Caputo at NBC News: ‘F—ing nightmare’: Trump team does damage control after he dines with Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

…[D]espite Trump suggesting that the event was “uneventful,” the fallout over his dinner with Fuentes appears to have thrown Trump’s campaign into damage control mode. The former president took hours to respond publicly after multiple media outlets reported that Fuentes was present at the dinner.

Cat on the Counter, Joanelle Summerfield

Cat on the Counter, Joanelle Summerfield

Even the two Trump advisers winced at how a Holocaust denier like Fuentes was able to wind up with Trump at dinner — even if it was by mistake — along with the rapper, who had just had his Twitter account restored but lost major endorsement deals for making antisemitic remarks.

“This is a f—ing nightmare,” said one longtime Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of stoking the former president’s ire at “disloyal” people who criticize him. “If people are looking at [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis to run against Trump, here’s another reason why.”

All three sources familiar with the dinner told NBC News there was one glaring inaccuracy in Trump’s statement: Trump knew one of the three “friends” brought by the rapper, Karen Giorno. She was the Trump campaign’s Florida director in 2016 and the former president knows her by name and sight, the sources said. In addition to Giorno and Fuentes, Ye also brought along another man who was an associate, according to the sources.

The source familiar with the dinner conversation said the dinner grew heated after Ye — who announced another run for president in 2024 on Thursday — asked Trump to be his running mate. Trump then began insulting Ye’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, according to the source and a video that Ye posted to Twitter on Thanksgiving Day recounting the dinner.

The source also said Fuentes is helping to advise Ye in his second presidential campaign. The rapper has said the campaign would be managed by Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right provocateur and former Breitbart editor who was banned from Twitter in 2016 for inciting a racist campaign against comedian Leslie Jones.

How anyone could possibly vote for someone like Trump is a mystery to me.

John Bolton told the Guardian’s David Smith that: Trump’s act is ‘old and tired’, says his own former national security adviser.

John Bolton, former national security adviser to Donald Trump, has described the former US president’s act as “old and tired” and said the Republican party is ready to move on to a “fresh face”.

Bolton is the latest ex-White House official to condemn Trump after Republicans underperformed in this month’s midterm elections, which added to a losing streak that convinced some he is now hurting rather than helping the party.

“There are a lot of reasons to be against Trump being the nominee but the one I’m hearing now as I call around the country, talking to my supporters and others about what happened on 8 November, is the number of people who have just switched Trump off in their brain,” Bolton told the Guardian.

“Even if they loved his style, loved his approach, loved his policies, loved everything about him, they don’t want to lose and the fear is, given the results on 8 November, that if he got the nomination, not only would he lose the general election, but he would take an awful lot of Republican candidates down with him.”

Musk/Twitter News

NPR: Twitter has lost 50 of its top 100 advertisers since Elon Musk took over, report says.

Half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers appear to no longer be advertising on the website. A report from Media Matters for America states that these 50 advertisers have spent almost $2 billion on Twitter ads since 2020 and more than $750 million just in 2022.

Oh Boy, by Barbara Hranilovich

Oh Boy, by Barbara Hranilovich

Seven additional advertisers have slowed their advertising to almost nothing, according to the report, which was published on Tuesday. These companies have paid Twitter more than $255 million since 2020.

Chevrolet, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Ford, Jeep, Kyndryl, Merck & Co. and Novartis AG all issued statements about halting Twitter ads or were reported and confirmed as doing so. The others ceased advertising on the platform for a “significant period of time following direct outreach, controversies, and warnings from media buyers.”

The report wrote that even with these hits to advertising revenue, Twitter CEO Elon Musk has “continued his rash of brand unsafe actions — including amplifying conspiracy theories, unilaterally reinstating banned accounts such as that of former President Donald Trump, courting and engaging with far-right accounts, and instituting a haphazard verification scheme that allowed extremists and scammers to purchase a blue check.” [….]

Eli Lilly and Co. stopped showing ads on Twitter the day after an account impersonating the pharmaceutical company — complete with a purchased blue check mark — posted, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”

Eli Lilly asked Twitter to take it down, but the tweet remained up for hours, because the platform’s staff was stretched thin due to recent layoffs and resignations. The tweet garnered hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes, and Eli Lilly’s stock soon took a dive.

Endpoints News reported that 12 pharmaceutical giants soon stopped buying Twitter ads, citing Pathmatics, which collects data on corporate advertising and digital marketing trends.

Inc: The ‘Myth Of Elon Musk’ Was His Most Valuable Asset. The Twitter Debacle Means It’s Over.

For Elon Musk, the idea that he is a once-in-a-generation super genius is central to the success of everything he does. It’s one of the most important narratives in business–that he is capable of rallying companies to do what seems to be impossible for everyone else.

Leona Kashigin, Early December Morning

Leona Kashigin, Early December Morning

That myth has taken Musk far in life, including making him the most wealthy man in the world. It’s tempting to think that it must be at least partially true.

If you [are] a Tesla shareholder, for example, you want to believe that Musk is uniquely qualified to bring into existence things like mass-scale electric vehicles (EVs), or autonomous cars that can navigate city streets more safely than human drivers. You also want to believe that when Musk promises to do things like get humans to Mars, that he has a plan and isn’t just throwing things against the wall to see what doesn’t blow up. You have a financial interest in the myth. 

To be fair, the companies Musk leads are–by all of the ways you might measure such a thing–incredibly successful. Tesla has almost single-handedly made EVs a thing normal people will buy. SpaceX is easily the most important private space exploration company ever. It has been able to do in a decade what the full resources of the United States Space program hasn’t been able to do–mostly build a rocket that you can land and use more than once.

Those successes are almost always attributed to the genius of Elon. I’m sure there’s some credit due to him, but I can’t help but think it’s equally as possible that those companies have been wildly successful not because of Elon Musk, but in spite of him. Over the past few weeks, it has become more apparent that the genius of Musk is a myth.

If nothing else, the past month of Twitter under Musk’s ownership–and, more importantly, his leadership–has broken through the myth and revealed that he doesn’t always have a well-thought out plan for success. Sometimes he’s just winging it and gets lucky. Sometimes he’s able to impose his will by the sheer force of his personality. Other times, he pushes too far and things break.

At Tesla and SpaceX, everyone knows who is in charge. The culture is completely built around the myth. Your job, if you work for one of those companies, is to figure out how to turn the myth (or the promises, no matter how detached from reality) into truth. That’s it. That’s what you do. Musk makes a bold claim and you work “extremely hardcore” until it’s accomplished.

None of that is true at Twitter. What is true is that the company is a mess and Musk has no real plan to fix it beyond imposing his personality and hope that the people still there will jump at his latest whim.

Click the link to read the rest.

Ruby Cramer at The Washington Post: Elon Musk says he would support Ron DeSantis in 2024.

Billionaire Twitter owner Elon Musk said he would back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) if he runs for president in 2024. Tweeting into the night on Friday, Musk described DeSantis as a “sensible and centrist” choice.

Roxanne Driedger

By Roxanne Driedger

He said he had been a “significant supporter” of the Obama administration and “reluctantly” supported President Biden over Donald Trump in 2020, but had been disappointed with the results of the last two years. On the eve of the midterm elections this month, Musk urged his more than 115 million followers to support Republicans.

“Would you support Ron DeSantis in 2024, Elon?” a Twitter user named @ProudElephantUS asked on Friday. “Yes,” Musk replied.

Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion late last month. He has made his partisan preferences known on the platform, replying to questions from users about his political worldview and his decision to allow Trump back on the site, breaking with major technology executives who try to maintain a neutral posture in the public eye.

Advertisers are very likely turned off by Musk’s choice to express his partisan views. Either he really believes that people will pay to use what’s left of Twitter, or he is actively choosing to destroy his $44 billion investment.

I’ll add a few more stories in the comment thread and I hope you will too. I hope you are enjoying the long weekend. 


Lazy Caturday Reads

Ophelia Redpath, 1965

By surrealist artist Ophelia Redpath, 1965

Happy Caturday!!

I wish I had kept a record of my sleep patterns and accompanying political events over the past 7 years. I know I rarely slept through the night during the first couple of years of Trump’s “presidency.” I would stay up late, sleep a couple of hours and wake up at 3AM to obsessively check twitter for news, and still get up early the next day. Now I’m going through a period of time when I can’t get to sleep until very late–around 1:00-2:00AM–and then sleeping until 10:00 or 11:00AM. I’m also getting old–I’ll be 75 soon–and it takes me awhile to get going in the morning. Anyway, I slept until 10:00 today, so I’m once again very late in posting. If only we knew what is going to happen with the Trump investigations, maybe I would be able to go back to sleeping like a normal person.

As everyone knows by now, yesterday Merrick Garland announced the appointment of a special prosecutor to decide whether to indict Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents and January 6 insurrection cases–including whether Trump has obstructed justice.

CNN: DOJ announces special counsel for Trump-related Mar-a-Lago and January 6 criminal investigations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday appointed a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigations into the retention of national defense information at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

Both investigations implicate the conduct of Trump, who on Tuesday declared his candidacy in the 2024 presidential race, making him a potential rival of President Joe Biden.

“Based on recent developments, including the former president’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the sitting president’s stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Garland said at the Justice Department on Friday.

Jack Smith, the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo, will oversee the investigations….

The prosecutions of those who physically breached the US Capitol have been the most public aspect of the Justice Department’s January 6 probe, and those will remain under the purview of the US Attorney’s office in Washington, DC. But behind the scenes, prosecutors have subpoenaed scores of witnesses close to the former president for documents and testimony in the probe.

White Cat by Igor Galanin

White Cat by Igor Galanin

“I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” Smith said in a statement Friday. “The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch. I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.” [….]

According to multiple sources, both the Mar-a-Lago investigation and the January 6 investigation around Trump are aiming to gather more information and bring witnesses into a federal grand jury in the coming weeks. Prosecutors sent out several new subpoenas related to both investigations in recent days, with quick return dates as early as next week.

Some of the witnesses being pursued in this round had not spoken to the investigators in these cases before, according to some of the sources.

Most of the TV/Twitter legal experts are saying this was a good decision by Garland. One dissenter is Neal Kaytal, who says it is a big mistake.

From Raw Story: Legal experts: Special counsel investigating Trump will move very quickly.

Former top DOJ official Andrew Weissmann believes that newly-appointed special counsel Jack Smith will move with haste in his investigations of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, after the host said Smith may become the “most important prosecutor in human history,” Weissmann discussed his history with the new special prosecutor.

“So I’ve known Jack for decades,” Weissman said.

“I was the chief of the criminal division when he started in the U.S. Attorney’s office,” he explained.

“And Jack, as you noted, has had all sorts of positions that make him really perfect for this job in the sense of his experience, he’s a career prosecutor, he’s completely apolitical — in public integrity, they prosecuted Democrats and Republicans,” Weissmann said. “They don’t care, if you committed a crime, it doesn’t matter what party you’re in or whether you’re in no party.”

He noted he learned from Robert Mueller that “you can’t slow things down to use as an excuse not to move forward.”

“For people who are worried about this slowing down, I have the exact opposite reaction.”

Marcy Wheeler suggested another reason why Garland might have taken the step of appointing a special counsel:

I think that makes sense. Of course Trump and Republicans will still claim the investigations are political, and I’m pretty sure Garland knows that. This morning at Politico Playbook, Rachel Bade summarized the political reactions so far: A new special counsel sets Washington ablaze.

Attorney General MERRICK GARLAND’s decision to name a special counsel to helm DONALD TRUMP-related probes at the Justice Department roiled the political world on Friday.

In an afternoon statement delivered before cameras at Main Justice, Garland argued the appointment of veteran DOJ hand JACK SMITH was necessary given that Trump and JOE BIDEN could be facing off for the presidency in 2024. “Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said.

Some good it did him. On cue, Republicans called foul — and rushed forward to defend an ex-president who had appeared to be losing his grip on the GOP following the party’s disappointing election performance.

François Batet

By François Batet

AT MAR-A-LAGO … After 10 days of midterm recriminations, the announcement put Trump back in his most comfortable posture: portraying himself as the victim of his corrupt enemies. During a fancy black-tie affair at his Florida resort, Trump told Fox News’ Brooke Singman that he won’t participate in the probe and blasted the DOJ for the “worst politicization” of the department ever.

— “I have been proven innocent for six years on everything — from fake impeachments to [former special counsel ROBERT] MUELLER who found no collusion, and now I have to do it more?” Trump told them. “It is not acceptable. It is so unfair. It is so political.”

ON CAPITOL HILL … Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) tweeted that Republicans should “IMPEACH MERRICK GARLAND!” and insisted her party “refuse to appropriate any funding to Merrick Garland’s Special Counsel and defund any part of the DOJ acting on behalf of the Democrat party as a taxpayer funded campaign arm for the Democrat’s 2024 presidential nominee.”

— The latter is particularly noteworthy: It sets up a new and explosive spending clash that could easily prompt a government shutdown in the next Congress. Why? MTG and likeminded Trump loyalists will press KEVIN McCARTHY (or whoever else manages to become speaker) to toe a hard line while Democrats will absolutely refuse to defund the investigations. Watch this space.

IN LAS VEGAS … Even former Vice President MIKE PENCE blasted the special counsel appointment as “very troubling” during an appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting, according to another good-get interview by Fox’s Brooke Singman and Paul Steinhauser.

— “No one is above the law, but I am not sure it’s against the law to take bad advice from your lawyers,” he said. Pence went on to suggest that the DOJ has been politicized by Democrats and and to knock the FBI for conducting a raid on Mar-a-Lago to fish out classified information Trump had taken to his post-presidency residence. (Note that Smith won’t only be managing the documents probe, but Jan. 6-related matters as well.).

Bade notes that Republicans were all in on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified documents while she was running for president. You can also read a bit of background on Jack Smith at The New York Times.

One more on the Smith appointment from Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: Merrick Garland was right to appoint a special counsel.

Advocates of swift action against Trump no doubt will be alarmed by the announcement, but there is less here than meets the eye. For starters, Smith needs no introduction to the Justice Department. He was appointed first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in February 2015. Before that, he worked as head of the department’s Public Integrity Section and as investigation coordinator in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. He also worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York.

Hold That Tiger by Jeanette Lassen

Hold That Tiger by Jeanette Lassen

Most important, the attorney general announced that the career staff who have been working on these cases will continue in their roles. That, Garland suggested, will mean the query will “not slow down.” Smith will make a recommendation to Garland on whether to prosecute Trump. Until then, Garland will have no direct supervision over Smith.

Did Garland need to wait until Trump’s campaign launch to make the appointment? Perhaps not, but so long as Trump was not an active candidate, there was little reason for Garland to step aside. Now that Trump is a potential opponent to Biden, Garland believes it is essential to add a layer of separation between himself and the line prosecutors.

Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me, “Looking over Jack Smith’s decades of prosecutorial experience, it’s hard to imagine anyone better prepared to hit the ground running and to sew together whatever loose ends remain as he puts together a comprehensive prosecution of the leaders of the attempted coup, with the former president at its center, as well as a powerful prosecution of the former president for his theft of top secret documents as he absconded to Mar-a-Lago.” He adds that, while he previously “publicly urged that there was no need to appoint a special counsel, my principal concern was the need to avoid delay, and it appears that this appointment will solve that problem.”

Norman Eisen, who served as co-counsel to the House impeachment managers during Trump’s first impeachment, agrees. “I have no concern that a special counsel will shy away from charging, and Jack Smith has outstanding experience,” he tells me. Eisen also thinks the move will not cause much of a delay. He observes: “Mr. Smith should move with alacrity. Here, where any other American who had removed the even one classified document would be subject to likely prosecution, and where the former president took dozens, the rule of law demands fast action.”

In other news, The New York Times has an important story about a Supreme Court leak that–like the recent leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade–involves Justice Sam Alito: Former Anti-Abortion Leader Alleges Another Supreme Court Breach.

As the Supreme Court investigates the extraordinary leak this spring of a draft opinion of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a former anti-abortion leader has come forward claiming that another breach occurred in a 2014 landmark case involving contraception and religious rights.

In a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and in interviews with The New York Times, the Rev. Rob Schenck said he was told the outcome of the 2014 case weeks before it was announced. He used that information to prepare a public relations push, records show, and he said that at the last minute he tipped off the president of Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain owned by Christian evangelicals that was the winning party in the case.

Both court decisions were triumphs for conservatives and the religious right. Both majority opinions were written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. But the leak of the draft opinion overturning the constitutional right to abortion was disclosed in the news media by Politico, setting off a national uproar. With Hobby Lobby, according to Mr. Schenck, the outcome was shared with only a handful of advocates….

Joan Barber, Girl stroking cat

Joan Barber, Girl stroking cat

The evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach has gaps. But in months of examining Mr. Schenck’s claims, The Times found a trail of contemporaneous emails and conversations that strongly suggested he knew the outcome and the author of the Hobby Lobby decision before it was made public.

Mr. Schenck, who used to lead an evangelical nonprofit in Washington, said he learned about the Hobby Lobby opinion because he had worked for years to exploit the court’s permeability. He gained access through faith, through favors traded with gatekeepers and through wealthy donors to his organization, abortion opponents whom he called “stealth missionaries.”

The minister’s account comes at a time of rising concerns about the court’s legitimacy. A majority of Americans are losing confidence in the institution, polls show, and its approval ratings are at a historic low. Critics charge that the court has become increasingly politicized, especially as a new conservative supermajority holds sway.

Read the rest at the New York Times.

From Georgia–NBC News reports that: In win for Democrats, Georgia judge allows early voting in Senate runoff on Saturday after Thanksgiving.

A Fulton County judge ruled Friday that the Georgia Secretary of State cannot prohibit counties from voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a victory for the state Democratic Party and Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign.

The order comes after a brief legal battle between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office and the Democratic Party of Georgia over the Dec. 6 Senate runoff between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.

Raffensperger, a Republican, had maintained that changes to Georgia voting laws meant that there could be no early voting on Nov. 26, the only Saturday when it would have been possible for Georgians to cast an early vote in the hotly contested race.

Democrats and Warnock’s campaign filed suit challenging Raffensperger’s determination, and Judge Thomas A. Cox agreed with their arguments in a ruling late Friday afternoon. “The Court finds that the absence of the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the Plaintiffs, their members, and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate,” the judge wrote.

Glenn Harrington

By Glenn Harrington

Raffensberger’s office will appeal the decision.

The dispute centers on a provision of Senate Bill 202, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March 2021, which stipulates early in-person voting must end the Friday before the runoff. This year, that would be Friday, Dec. 2.

The law also stipulates early in-person voting not be held on any Saturday that follows a “public or legal holiday” on the preceding Thursday or Friday. Raffensperger contended that meant there would be no early in-person voting on Nov. 26, the Saturday following Thanksgiving. (It could not be held this weekend because the general election vote is not being certified until Nov. 21.)

Attorneys for the Democrats and Warnock argued the section of the law Raffensperger cited applies to primaries and general elections, but not to runoffs. Cox agreed.

Of course there is tons of news about Twitter and Musk. Here are some links to check out if you’re interested:

Yoel Roth at the New York Times: I Was the Head of Trust and Safety at Twitter. This Is What Could Become of It.

The Guardian: How Elon Musk’s Twitter reign magnified his brutal management style.

The Washington Post: Musk summons engineers to Twitter HQ as millions await platform’s collapse.

The New York Times: Elon Musk’s Twitter Teeters on the Edge After Another 1,200 Leave.

What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Twitter Meltdown, Polls, and the Midterms

Leonid Kiparisov, ‘On a Good Footing’

Leonid Kiparisov, ‘On a Good Footing’

Happy Caturday!!

At least we can celebrate cats and cat art, even though things in the real world are so f’d up. The top story today should be the upcoming midterm elections, and it is; but not in the way it normally would be. Right now we are dealing with a very strange situation in which a social media meltdown is likely to turn the process we’ve become accustomed to completely upside down. There’s really no way to know how it will all shake out, but it’s not looking good. It’s as if Trump himself took over Twitter in order to stoke chaos in the upcoming elections. In addition to the Twitter madness, the polls, which have been less accurate over the past several years, are seemingly more problematic than ever.

Here’s the latest on the Twitter mess. It’s a deep dive on the layoffs and how they could affect the user experience as well as the ability of experts, journalists, and regular people to follow the election results. Ben Collins, Bandy Zadrozny, and David Ingram at NBC News: Days before the midterms, Twitter lays off employees who fight misinformation.

Mass layoffs at Twitter on Friday battered the teams primarily responsible for keeping the platform free of misinformation, potentially hobbling the company’s capabilities four days before the end of voting in Tuesday’s midterm elections, one current and six former Twitter employees familiar with the cuts told NBC News,five of whom had been recently laid off.

Two former Twitter employees and one current employee warned the layoffs could bring chaos around the elections, as they hit especially hard on teams responsible for the curation of trending topics and for the engineering side of “user health,” which works on content moderation and site integrity. The seven people asked to withhold their names out of worry over professional retribution and because they weren’t authorized to speak for the company.

CEO Elon Musk, who’s facing sizable future debt payments and declining revenue at Twitter, said the cuts were needed to ensure the health of the company’s long-term finances a week after he bought it for $44 billion.

The cuts appeared to affect many people whose jobs were to keep Twitter from becoming overwhelmed by prohibited content, such as hateful conduct and targeted harassment, the seven sources said….

Gita Johar, a Columbia University business professor who has studied misinformation on Twitter, said the job cuts risk turning the site into a “free-for-all with rumors, conspiracy theories and falsehoods taking hold on the platform and in people’s imagination.”

Twitter had not released public figures about which teams had been cut the most, but the layoffs were widespread. In an exchange at an investor conference Friday, Musk appeared to confirm that his team had laid off half the company’s workforce, according to CNBC.

“Elon will own a company without employees,” a source inside Twitter told CNBC.

Françoise Collandre

Painting by Françoise Collandre

Musk and his hand-picked spokespeople claim there won’t be any problems; but if you use Twitter regularly, you know that isn’t true.

Twitter’s curation team, which had a variety of roles across the platform, including coordinating the detection and publishing of moments meant to debunk misinformation, appears to be gone, one source said. The team had recently published an explainer about how it tried to keep information accurate and impartial.

Andrew Haigh, a London-based curation lead, said on Twitter that the team “is no more.” 

“Unfortunately, the platform’s history of transparency and supporting research may be just that: history,” said Kate Starbird, a professor of design and engineering at the University of Washington who studies misinformation.

Starbird said it remained to be seen how potential misinformation around the midterms might be affected.

“We were already expecting a surge in rumors and disinformation around the election, even before Musk taking the reins,” she said.

“But the mass layoffs mean that we’ll get to see what an unmoderated major platform truly looks like in 2022, in an era of algorithmic manipulation and networked toxicity, during a massive online convergence event with huge political stakes.”

Read the rest at NBC News if you’re interested in the effects of misinformation and disinformation.

The Verge: Elon Musk’s Twitter layoffs leave whole teams gutted

Elon Musk has now purged roughly half of Twitter’s 7,500 employee base, leaving whole teams totally or near completely gutted, including those tasked with defending against election misinformation ahead of the US midterms next week, The Verge has learned.

The areas of Twitter impacted the most by Musk’s cuts include its product trust and safety, policy, communications, tweet curation, ethical AI, data science, research, machine learning, social good, accessibility, and even certain core engineering teams, according to tweets by laid-off employees and people familiar with the matter. More company leaders, including Arnaud Weber, VP of consumer product engineering, and Tony Haile, a senior director of product overseeing Twitter’s work with news publishers, have also been laid off following Musk’s firings of Twitter’s senior leadership last week.

Given the sweeping nature of Musk’s layoffs and his mandate to cut costs in areas like cloud hosting, employees who remain at Twitter told The Verge that they expect the company to have a hard time maintaining critical infrastructure in the short term. “Shit is gonna start breaking,” said one current employee who requested anonymity to speak without the company’s permission, while another called management’s layoff process “an absolute shit show.”

The rest of the article discusses Musk’s disgusting treatment of employees and upcoming lawsuits by those who have been purged.

The Washington Post: Twitter layoffs gutted election information teams days before midterms.

Devastating cuts to Twitter’s workforce on Friday, four days before the midterm elections, are fueling anxieties among political campaigns and election offices that have counted on the social network’s staff to help them combat violent threats and viral lies.

Slim woman with a cat, geza farago

Slim woman with a cat, Geza Farago

The mass layoffs Friday gutted teams devoted to combating election misinformation, adding context to misleading tweets and communicating with journalists, public officials and campaign staff.

The layoffs included a number of people who were scheduled to be on call this weekend and early next week to monitor for signs of foreign disinformation, spam and other problematic content around the election, one former employee told The Washington Post. As of Friday morning, employee access to internal tools used for content moderation continued to be restricted, limiting staff’s ability to respond to misinformation.

Twitter had become one of America’s most influential platforms for spreading accurate voting information, and the days before elections have often been critical moments where company and campaign officials kept up a near-constant dialogue about potential risks.

But a representative from one of the national party committees said they are seeing hours-long delays in responses from their contacts at Twitter, raising fears of the toll workplace chaos and sudden terminations is taking on the platform’s ability to quickly react to developments. The representative spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

It’s “only” a social media company, but Twitter has become a vital source of information for people in every walk of life. This is going to be a disaster.

Some researchers tracking online threats said they also feared that the cuts would interrupt lines of communication between the company and police that have been used to identify people threatening voter intimidation or offline violence.

“Law enforcement may lose precious minutes in identifying that person who we think is posing an actual threat,” said Katherine Keneally, a senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that studies political extremism and polarization.

Keneally said she’d already seen an uptick in threatening content related to the election. She pointed to one post where a user wrote of the need to “pour in bleach or gasoline” at ballot drop boxes, a target of right-wing conspiracy theories about systematic voter fraud.

President Biden on Friday criticized Twitter’s role in spreading false information.

“Elon Musk goes out and buys an outfit that spews lies all across the world,” he said while attending a political fundraiser in Chicago. “There’s no editors anymore in America.”

The loss of Twitter as we knew it also has consequences for individuals. Here’s an example from a Washington Post writer:

Read the replies on Twitter. The sentiment is widespread.

Here’s another example:

From Vice yesterday, an example of how the lack of moderation is negatively affecting Twitter: Twitter Recommends Ye as Top Follow on ‘The Jews’ as Company Does Mass Layoffs.

“The Jews” is trending on Twitter, and its algorithm has selected Ye as a “Top” person to follow while Elon Musk fires roughly half of the company’s staff, including many of its policy experts and content moderators.

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, recently had his Twitter access limited after saying he would go “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE,” and has been dropped by the vast majority of his business partners after repeatedly making blatantly antisemitic comments over the last few weeks. The freeze on Ye’s account has since been lifted.

“#IStandWithKyrie” is also trending, a reference to Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who recently recommended that people watch an antisemitic documentary and was suspended for five games after declining to apologize and evasively answering a question on whether he holds “anti-semitic beliefs.”

Twitter’s content moderation has always been something of a disaster, and harmful things end up trending all the time. Twitter’s content moderation has always relied more heavily on algorithms than competitors like Facebook do. In any case, Musk has promised to protect the values of “freedom of speech”—with the company now running with thousands fewer employees after mass layoffs. This may well be a window into what that looks like.

Girl with Kitten - Olesya Serzhantova Russian painter

Girl with Kitten – Olesya Serzhantova Russian painter

Twitter is also losing advertisers, which obviously could impact the long-term health of the company. The New York Times: Twitter’s Advertisers Pull Back as Layoffs Sweep Through Company.

The pullback of advertisers from Twitter gathered steam on Friday amid growing fear that misinformation and hate speech would be allowed to proliferate on the platform under Elon Musk’s leadership.

The Volkswagen Group joined several other companies in recommending that its automotive brands, which include Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and Porsche, pause their spending on Twitter out of concerns that their ads could appear alongside problematic content. The Danish brewing company Carlsberg Group also said it had advised its marketing teams to do the same. The outdoor equipment and apparel retailer REI said it would pause posts in addition to advertising spending “given the uncertain future of Twitter’s ability to moderate harmful content and guarantee brand safety for advertisers.” And a spokeswoman for United Airlines, Leslie Scott, confirmed that the carrier had suspended advertising on Twitter earlier this week.

Civil rights groups including GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League held a conference call on Friday urging other companies to abandon Twitter, saying that mass layoffs there were gutting what they described as an already anemic content moderation staff.

Even Mr. Musk acknowledged the advertising slump, tweeting on Friday morning that Twitter “has had a massive drop in revenue,” which he blamed on activist groups pressuring advertisers.

The first chaotic week of Mr. Musk’s ownership of Twitter has given Madison Avenue whiplash, as advertisers struggle to reconcile the billionaire’s promises to make the platform safe for brands with concerns about a surge of extremism and false narratives, including one promoted by Mr. Musk himself.

In his tweet about Twitter’s faltering revenue, Mr. Musk said that “nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists” — a claim that civil rights groups denied.

A minute before he posted his comment, the ad-tracking platform MediaRadar released statistics showing that the number of advertisers on Twitter had dropped from May, soon after Mr. Musk’s bid for the platform was announced, through September, when he was still fighting to get out of the deal he struck to buy Twitter in April.

MediaRadar, which tracks ad campaigns for millions of companies, said data for October, when Mr. Musk took over Twitter, would not be available until later this month.

More details at the link.

Menny Fox, InstagramAnd what about the polls? New York Times polling expert Nate Cohn discusses the situation: Polling Averages Can Be Useful, but What’s Underneath Has Changed. This year, a wave of polls from Republican-leaning firms is driving the averages.

The polls show Republicans gaining heading into the final stretch. They’ve pulled ahead on the generic ballot in the race for the House, and they’ve fought into a closely contested race for Senate control….

On average, Republicans lead by two points on the generic ballot — which asks voters whether they’ll vote for the Democrat or Republican for Congress — and have pulled into very tight Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada, where Democrats were once thought to have the advantage.

This simple poll average is like many others you might have seen over the years. It weights the most recent polls more heavily. It gives more weight to pollsters that belong to a professional polling organization (they tend to be far less biased over the longer term). It doesn’t contain some of the fancier bells and whistles, like an adjustment for whether a poll tends to lean toward Republicans or Democrats.

But in one important respect, this average is very different from polling averages you’ve seen in prior years: The pollsters making up the average are very different.

Many stalwarts of political polling over the last decade — Monmouth University, Quinnipiac University, ABC/Washington Post, CNN/SSRS, Fox News, New York Times/Siena College, Marist College — have conducted far fewer surveys, especially in the battleground states, than they have in recent years. In some cases, these pollsters have conducted no recent polls at all.

And on the flip side, there has been a wave of polls by firms like the Trafalgar Group, Rasmussen Reports, Insider Advantage and others that have tended to produce much more Republican-friendly results than the traditional pollsters. None adhere to industry standards for transparency or data collection. In some states, nearly all of the recent polls were conducted by Republican-leaning firms.

This creates a big challenge for a simple polling average like this one. From state to state, Democrats or Republicans might seem to be doing much better or much worse, simply depending on which kind of pollster has conducted a survey most recently. The race may seem to swing back and forth, from week to week.

This is a subscriber only article, but I sent a gift link to Twitter and I’m posting it here for anyone who wants to read the rest and see charts.

I’m going to end there. As for how things are going in the many important races around the country, I have decided to kind of ignore the news about those. I can’t trust the polls, and I will only end up anxious and depressed if I read too much about what’s happening in the various states. I’m worried, but I figure all I can do is wait and see what happens and then deal with the results.

Please post your thoughts and share links on any topic in the comment thread, and I wish you a nice, peaceful weekend.


Tuesday Reads

Good Day!!

henri-manguin, Dream Landscape

Henri Manguin, Dream Landscape

Is it me or is the news today even more dispiriting than usual?

Paul Pelosi was brutally attacked in his home last week and is still in the ICU in at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, and around the country Republicans are minimizing and even joking about the horrific attack by a MAGA/Qanon crazy.

The New York Times: Republicans Continue to Spread Baseless Claims About Pelosi Attack.

Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, continues to post jokes about it.

Dinesh D’Souza, the creator of a discredited film about the 2020 election called “2000 Mules,” accused the San Francisco Police Department on Monday of covering up the facts.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, wrote that the “same mainstream media democrat activists” who questioned former President Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia were now silencing the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk.

The reason: Mr. Musk deleted a post linking to a newspaper that once claimed Hillary Rodham Clinton was dead when she ran for president in 2016.

In the days since Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attacked by an intruder asking, “Where is Nancy?”, a litany of Republicans and conservatives have spread baseless conspiracy theories about the assault and its motives.

Although the police have not yet detailed all the circumstances of the crime, these theories have already seeped into the Republican mainstream. While many Republican officials have denounced the violence, others have at the very least tolerated, and in some cases cheered, a violent assault on the spouse of a political rival.

The disinformation “isn’t just political,” said Angelo Carusone, the president and chief executive of Media Matters for America, a progressive nonprofit. “It’s much bigger than that; it’s deeper. They’re really rethinking and reshaping a lot of our norms.”

The attack on Mr. Pelosi in the couple’s home in San Francisco early on Friday morning has raised fears about the rise of political violence against elected officials — increasingly, it seems, inspired by a toxic brew of extremism, hate and paranoia that is easily found online.

The assailant, identified by the police as David DePape, 42, posted a series of notes in the days before the attack suggesting that he had fallen under the sway of right-wing conspiracy theories and antisemitism online. Some of the flurry of posts by others questioning the circumstances of the attack appeared intended to deflect attention from Mr. DePape’s views.

the-courtyard-of-the-hospital-in-arles-1889. Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh, The Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles, 1889

Super MAGA Trump follower Kari Lake, who is likely to be the next governor of Arizona, got a big laugh from the audience when she joked about the attack on Pelosi. NBC News: Arizona GOP nominee Kari Lake mocks attack on Paul Pelosi at campaign event.

The Republican nominee for governor of Arizona, Kari Lake, made light of the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in remarks at a campaign event Monday, drawing laughter from the audience.

Asked about school security, Lake suggested the protection afforded to federal lawmakers should be available to students, as well.

“Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. — apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection,” Lake said at a campaign event in Scottsdale, Arizona, sparking laughter from many in attendance….

Lake wasn’t asked about the remark in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News but said: “We can’t talk about all these issues, because the media has told us they’re prohibited. You can’t talk about vaccines, you can’t talk about elections, you can’t talk about Paul Pelosi, and now you can’t talk about Nancy Pelosi.

“I’m talking about all of those things,” she added.

Paul Pelosi was still in intensive care, surrounded by family members, a source with knowledge of the situation said Monday.

Even New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, supposedly moderate Republican has now gone MAGA. William Saletan at The Bulwark: Even the Sane Republicans Are Embracing Election Deniers.

Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire, is one of the saner people in today’s Republican party. He concedes that the 2020 election was free and fair. He acknowledges climate change. He has criticized Republican leaders for ostracizing Rep. Liz Cheney and other principled dissidents while protecting the party’s worst extremists.

That’s why Sununu’s decision in the final weeks of the 2022 campaign to embrace election deniers is a particularly bad sign. Like other Republican officials, he has decided that sabotage of public faith in democracy doesn’t matter, as long as the saboteurs are Republicans. And he’s defending their reckless behavior with pernicious excuses.

On Sep. 13, election deniers won the Republican primaries for two of New Hampshire’s three federal offices. Don Bolduc, who has insisted that “Trump won the election” in 2020, captured the GOP nomination to face off against incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. And Karoline Leavitt, who has said Trump “absolutely” won, got the nomination for one of the state’s two congressional seats.

Sununu could have said that he considered these nominees unfit for office. At a minimum, he could have kept his distance. Instead, he has endorsed Leavitt and praised Bolduc.

Last Tuesday, in a gubernatorial debate, Sununu was asked why he supported candidates who claimed “without evidence that elections were stolen.” He didn’t dispute that characterization of their views. Instead, he said endorsement decisions should be based on more than just “one issue,” as though election denial were no different from energy subsidies or water management.

Two days after Sununu’s comment, Bolduc—who had indicated after the primaries that he would tone down his allegations of fraud—again insinuated that elections were being stolen. In a Senate debate, he said the people of New Hampshire “don’t like the fact that they can’t trust the mail-in ballot system,” that there were “proven irregularities with voting machines,” and that “same-day voter-registration causes fraud.” He added: “We need to make sure that school buses loaded with people at the polls don’t come in and vote.”

Caspar_David_Friedrich, Woman at a Window, 1822

Caspar_David_Friedrich, Woman at a Window, 1822

In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro lost his bid for reelection, and has decided to go the Trump route and refuse to concede. The Daily Beast: Bolsonaro Plays Trump Card: Won’t Concede as Fans Block Roads.

SÃO PAULO—The biggest and busiest city in South America was forced into a stunning standstill Monday night after supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro blocked roads across the city to protest the results of a fair and free election.

Hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters, embittered by the victory of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva on Sunday, blocked the highway to the main airport in São Paulo, setting up barricades, chanting phrases like “Lula the robber!,” and starting fires in the middle of the road.

Hundreds of roadblocks in every state in the country threaten to plunge Brazil into chaos.

The populist rightwinger has yet to concede the election since the unprecedentedly close result was announced Sunday, with leftist former president Lula winning by just 1.8 percentage points. With fears mounting that Bolsonaro could take a leaf from the playbook of his close ally, Donald Trump, and refuse to accept the result, truckers loyal to the incumbent have taken matters into their own hands.

Roadblocks and protests demanding a military coup to stop Lula being certified as president have erupted in all but two Brazilian states, according to reports. Brazil’s federal highway police said over 300 protests had partially or completely shut down roads around the country, while authorities in the capital Brasilia closed traffic access to the central government esplanade amid fears that Bolsonaro’s supporters were planning to stage a demonstration in front of the Supreme Court, which they perceive as having given Lula favorable treatment.

Videos shared on social media show blockages along the 1,000 mile-long BR-163 highway which links companies in the Amazon basin with ports in the north of the country. One clip shows a fire burning as vehicles block the road, with a remix of a Brazilian song using the lyrics “Bolsonaro 22” playing in the background.

Read more at the Daily Beast link.

As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, the right-wing Supreme Court is going to end Affirmative Action in universities. Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: The Supreme Court Has No Reason to End Affirmative Action. They’re Doing It Anyway.

Oral arguments in a pair of much-anticipated cases about the future of affirmative action sprawled over almost six hours on Monday, yet the outcome was obvious within the first 30 minutes: The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority appears poised to overturn almost 50 years of precedent and outlaw race-conscious admissions at institutions of higher education. One case—arising from the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action program—was argued over two and a half hours. The second, a challenge to Harvard’s program, took up the better part of the afternoon. These arguments suggested that six justices will deem affirmative action to be unconstitutional chiefly because the effort to promote diversity in education has reached its sell-by date.

Konrad Vilhelm Mägi, Landscape of Vilsandi, 1913-14

Konrad Vilhelm Mägi, Landscape of Vilsandi, 1913-14

What was perhaps most remarkable in these largely predictable arguments was how much time the conservative justices devoted to pure policy arguments. These justices dislike affirmative action for a whole lot of deep emotional reasons that, it turns out, have nothing to do with the Constitution. They barely even considered the meaning 14th Amendment until Justice Elena Kagan finally brought it to their attention two and a half hours into the UNC arguments. Kagan, along with Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor, were vastly more interested in the history of the Constitution’s equal protection clause than their ostensibly originalist colleagues. If and when the supermajority does eradicate race-conscious admissions, everyone will be able to weigh the strength of their arguments. But no one should pretend the decision was remotely rooted in actual law.

The history of affirmative action at the Supreme Court is not particularly complicated. In 1978’s Bakkedecision, a majority found that universities could consider race to build a diverse student body, identifying educational benefits that flow from diversity. At the same time, a majority prohibited quotas and other rigid metrics that reduced applicants to their race, requiring universities to undertake a holistic review of each applicant. The Supreme Court affirmed this principle in 2003’s Grutter v. Bollinger and again 2016’s Fisher v. Texas.

Although these cases involve both public and private institutions, the Supreme Court has consistently held that federal law simply applies the equal protection clause to private universities that receive federal funds. So, in theory, the justices should’ve been debating the meaning of the Constitution. Instead, the conservative justices continually reverted to free-floating policy discussions about how affirmative action makes them feel. (Hint: they feel bad.)

John Roberts has also put a hold on releasing Trump’s taxes to Congress. The Washington Post: Chief Justice Roberts temporarily delays release of Trump tax records.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday temporarily halted the release of former president Donald Trump’s tax records to a congressional committee, and called for more briefing in the case.

Without the Supreme Court’s intervention, the records could have been handed over to the House Ways and Means Committee as early as Thursday.

Last week, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to review earlier rulings finding that lawmakers are entitled to the documents in the long-running legal battle. The court also said it would not put the release of the papers on hold while Trump’s lawyers sought Supreme Court review.

Roberts, the justice designated to hear emergency orders from that court, put the release on hold and called for a response from the committee by noon on Nov. 10. A committee spokeswoman said in a statement, “The Ways and Means Committee maintains the law is on our side, and will file a timely response as requested. Chairman [Richard E.] Neal (D-Ma.) looks forward to the Supreme Court’s expeditious consideration.” [….]

The Supreme Court generally has not been receptive to Trump’s assertions that he should be allowed to keep records private and that he was immune to investigation while in office. The justices in 2020 upheld Congress’s right to subpoena that information with some limitations, and last year declined to block the release of Trump’s financial records for a New York state investigation.

I hope this really is just temporary.

A_Forest_Stream_by_Peder_Mork_Monsted

A Forest Stream, by Peder Mork Monsted

Finally, it looks as if Elon Musk is about as competent to take over Twitter as Trump was to be POTUS. Rebecca Kern at Politico: Musk’s Twitter: ‘This is exactly what many of us were worried about.’

A day after Elon Musk seemed to confirm critics’ worst fears about his ownership of Twitter by tweeting out right-wing misinformation from his personal account, political leaders and operatives wrestled with a loaded question: Would the most important social-media platform in the political world survive his ownership?

And if it did, should they stay on it?

“This is exactly what many of us were worried about,” said Mark Jablonowski, the managing partner of Democratic digital advertising firm DSPolitical.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce panel on consumer protection, said she was worried about Twitter becoming “a platform that is a sewer of hateful and harmful content” and planned to leave if Musk allowed it to become more of a Wild West.

The immediate anxiety comes from a false story about the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that Musk personally tweeted over the weekend. Musk has now deleted the tweet, but the story continues to ricochet around the conservative political world.

In the larger sense, political players are worried that Musk’s promises to bring Twitter’s policies closer in line with his own ideas about politics and society, as well as his firing of its top accountability executives, will permanently change a platform they’ve come to rely on, and trust to police misinformation and hate speech.

Musk has left no doubt who’s in charge of the company since he took Twitter private Thursday night. He renamed himself “Chief Twit” on his official bio, and told the Securities and Exchange Commission that he dissolved the board and named himself sole director.

Musk doesn’t understand that what makes Twitter so popular is the well known journalists, experts, and popular personalities who post content on the platform. Now he wants to charge these people for being verified with blue checks. The Hollywood Reporter: Elon Musk Defends Controversial $20 Blue Checkmark Twitter Plan to Stephen King.

Elon Musk has responded to Stephen King’s horrified reaction at his reported plan to charge for a blue checkmark — and in the process, confirmed that the surprising and controversial idea is in the works.

On Monday, King went viral with his reaction to a report that Musk wanted to charge verified users a whopping $20 per month to keep their blue checkmarks. “$20 a month to keep my blue check?” King tweeted to his 6.9 million followers. “Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.” When a reader told King he could afford the fee, he replied, “It ain’t the money, it’s the principle of the thing.”

Henri Manguin

Trees, by Henri Manguin

Five Thirty Eight political guru Nate Silver similarly wrote to his 3.5 million followers: “I’m probably the perfect target for this, use Twitter a ton, can afford $20/mo, not particularly anti-Elon, but my reaction is that I’ve generated a ton of valuable free content for Twitter over the years and they can go fuck themselves.”

Early Tuesday, Musk responded to the uproar, replying to King: “We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot entirely rely on advertisers. How about $8?” Musk then added: “I will explain the rational in longer form before this is implemented. It is the only way to defeat bots & trolls.”

But critics have pointed out that verified accounts are not simply a free perk for a certain level of user, but rather a utility that makes the wild-west social media platform/hellscape more credible. Blue checks help everyday readers — as well as journalists — determine whether a comment being made by a public figure is actually from that person instead of their fans or impersonators. It is, in other words, a way of preventing fake news. TechCrunch dubbed Musk’s idea a potential “misinformation nightmare.”

“Musk and his buddies view this plan as a way to get people to actually give Twitter money,” TechCrunch noted. “But by monetizing a symbol that currently has value, they will ultimately remove all of that existing value.”

I’ll end there. Please share your thoughts on these and other current happenings. I hope you all have a great Tuesday!!