Trump promotes debunked conspiracy theory that Google favors Clinton

Does Netflix want Donald Trump to become the next president? Is Google trying to tip the balance in Hillary Clinton’s favor?

The key to understanding the relationships between powerful corporations and governments is to remember that corporations hope to wield influence in their own favor whoever controls Washington.

As institutional entities, corporate boards and their executives commonly hold power for much longer than U.S. presidents. Indeed, still in power after 18 years, individuals such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin have more secure positions than most dictators.

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In 2012, when Robert Epstein discovered that Google was displaying a security warning blocking access to his website, instead of coming to the most obvious conclusion — that, as the warning indicated, his site was infected with malware — Epstein became convinced that he was a target of corporate malfeasance. The technology giant was supposedly out to crush the little guy. Why exactly Google would harbor “malice” against Epstein was unclear.

Maybe Epstein should have discussed the matter with a therapist to explore his paranoia. Just as importantly, he should have hired a security expert to fix his site. Instead, as a psychologist sadly lacking in self-awareness, Epstein embarked on a quixotic crusade against Google — he’s still fighting. His most recent ally in that fight is Donald Trump.

Were it not for the fact that Epstein has some credentials that sound more impressive than they really are — such as a PhD from Harvard and former editor in chief of Psychology Today — he could more easily be dismissed as just another conspiracy theorist. But when a “distinguished research psychologist” can point to his “peer-reviewed” “research study” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, he surely carries behind him the full weight of scientific authority, right? Not really.

Making a claim reminiscent of the plot in the Netflix version of House of Cards, Epstein says that Google is trying to rig the election to help Hillary Clinton win.

That’s a claim that dovetails perfectly into Russia’s disinformation campaign designed to undermine the credibility of democracy in America. It should thus come as no surprise that state-sponsored RT would gladly help promote Epstein’s claims and now Kremlin-backed Sputnik joins the effort.

Likewise, as a candidate blind to his own shortcomings, Donald Trump has happily jumped on the Epstein bandwagon.

As for the scientific basis of Epstein’s research findings, all one needs to understand is the data provides to his research subjects. When provided with search results that had been skewed in favor of one candidate over another, the subjects views shift in the same direction. But here’s the thing: Epstein hasn’t unearthed a secret Google bias algorithm. He simply constructs the skewed data himself by manually rearranging search results.

Then, having observed the effects of such manipulation, he concludes that if Google was to engineer similar manipulation, it could affect an election outcome. That’s probably true. But it’s one thing to describe what’s possible and quite another to analyze what’s actually happening.

Companies such as Google and Facebook are indeed fully immersed in efforts to manipulate the way people think and feel, but just like every other business they are driven by the simple goal of profit.

Unless a political force arises in Washington that poses an existential threat to Silicon Valley, I think it’s reasonable to assume that none of the technology giants will place their business interests in jeopardy by trying to rig elections.

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Claims of Saudi role in 9/11 appear headed for Manhattan court

The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia paid millions of dollars to Washington lobbyists to keep it out of court. They have been unsuccessful. And now it is up to the kingdom’s lawyers to limit the damage.

With families of Sept. 11 victims now able to pursue legal claims against the Saudis, the fight over responsibility for the terrorist attacks 15 years ago is likely to shift to a courtroom in Lower Manhattan, not far from where the World Trade Center once stood.

The legal battle could last for years, and would be waged using thousands of pages of documents, deposition transcripts and official government investigations. It could end in millions — or billions — of dollars’ worth of Saudi assets being seized in a court settlement, or a judgment that largely vindicates the Saudi government, which for years has insisted it had no role in the deadly plot.

Lawyers for both sides were shaping a legal strategy on Thursday, the day after Congress overrode a veto of a law allowing the 9/11 suits to go forward. For more than a decade, they have been blunted by a sovereign immunity law protecting foreign governments from American lawsuits.

Now, lawyers say they expect that a federal judge will once again take up the cases originally filed in courtrooms across America, but that several years ago were consolidated into one suit in the Southern District of New York. [Continue reading…]

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The new star of Germany’s far right

Thomas Meaney writes: For decades, the German far right has been a limited force, with easily recognizable supporters—nicotine-stained ex-Nazis in the sixties and seventies, leather-clad skinheads in the eighties and nineties. [Alternative für Deutschland leader, Frauke] Petry is something different, a disarmingly wholesome figure — a former businesswoman with a Ph.D. in chemistry and four children from her marriage to a Lutheran pastor. During a month I spent with her this summer as she drove around Germany giving speeches, she drew connections between politics and laboratory science, sprinkled her speech with Latin phrases, and steered discussions about German culture toward the cantatas of Bach.

Petry is not a gifted orator. Her speeches tend to be dull, with ornate sentences and technocratic talking points, and she is more comfortable citing economic studies than discussing the lives of ordinary people. Her manner belies the extremism of the AfD’s views. At the start of this year, Petry said that, in the face of the recent influx of refugees (many of them fleeing the war in Syria), the police might have to shoot people crossing the border illegally. In April, the Party said that head scarves should be banned in schools and universities, and minarets prohibited. Party members called for a referendum on whether to leave the euro; for the expulsion of Allied troops, who have been stationed in Germany since 1945; and for school curriculums that focus more on “positive, identity-uplifting” episodes in German history and less on Nazi crimes. Most contentious of all was the declaration “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

By American standards, especially in the age of Donald Trump, contemporary German politics is decorous and understated. But although Petry’s crisp style is in many ways the opposite of Trump’s, her rise has similarities to his. She, too, has come late to politics and relishes her outsider status. Like him, she often works by insinuation, fanning right-wing conspiracy theories not merely to stir up grievances but to bind members together with a sense of shared beliefs. Like him, she has been accused of financial improprieties. Like him, she castigates the media for liberal bias but also thrives on media attention. Petry and her colleagues have mastered the art of dominating the news cycle, to the point where a visitor to Germany listening to the radio or reading the newspapers could be forgiven for thinking that the AfD is the party in power. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military is building a $100 million drone base in Africa

Nick Turse reports: From high above, Agadez almost blends into the cocoa-colored wasteland that surrounds it. Only when you descend farther can you make out a city that curves around an airfield before fading into the desert. Once a nexus for camel caravans hauling tea and salt across the Sahara, Agadez is now a West African paradise for people smugglers and a way station for refugees and migrants intent on reaching Europe’s shores by any means necessary.

Africans fleeing unrest and poverty are not, however, the only foreigners making their way to this town in the center of Niger. U.S. military documents reveal new information about an American drone base under construction on the outskirts of the city. The long-planned project — considered the most important U.S. military construction effort in Africa, according to formerly secret files obtained by The Intercept through the Freedom of Information Act — is slated to cost $100 million, and is just one of a number of recent American military initiatives in the impoverished nation.

The base is the latest sign, experts say, of an ever-increasing emphasis on counterterror operations in the north and west of the continent. As the only country in the region willing to allow a U.S. base for MQ-9 Reapers — a newer, larger, and potentially more lethal model than the venerable Predator drone — Niger has positioned itself to be the key regional hub for U.S. military operations, with Agadez serving as the premier outpost for launching intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions against a plethora of terror groups. [Continue reading…]

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Scientists warn global temperatures are still likely to hit dangerous warming levels

The Associated Press reports: A team of top scientists is telling world leaders to stop congratulating themselves on the Paris agreement to fight climate change because if more isn’t done, global temperatures will likely hit dangerous warming levels in about 35 years.

Six scientists who were leaders in past international climate conferences joined with the Universal Ecological Fund in Argentina to release a brief report Thursday, saying that if even more cuts in heat-trapping gases aren’t agreed upon soon, the world will warm by another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) by around 2050.

That 1.8 degree mark is key because in 2009 world leaders agreed that they wanted to avoid warming of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures have already risen about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), so that 2 degree goal is really about preventing a rise of another degree going forward. [Continue reading…]

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Russian hackers harassed journalists who were investigating Malaysia Airlines plane crash

The Washington Post reports: Russian government hackers began targeting a British citizen journalist in February 2015, eight months after he began posting evidence documenting alleged Russian government involvement in the shoot-down of a Malaysian jetliner over Ukraine.

And then in February 2016, a group that researchers suspect is a propaganda mouthpiece of the Russian government — CyberBerkut — defaced the home page of Eliot Higgins’s citizen journalism website, Bellingcat.com.

That same month, CyberBerkut hacked the email, iCloud and social media account of a Bellingcat researcher in Moscow, then posted online personal pictures, a passport scan, his girlfriend’s name and other private details.

Russia’s information operations against Bellingcat are a taste of what may be in store for other media organizations whose reports anger the Kremlin, said a cyber-research firm that has extensively documented the effort. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s debating problems

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Charles M Blow writes: No one with an open mind and sound reason who witnessed the sniffing, sipping, scowling, raging, interrupting display of petulance and agitation that was Donald Trump’s debate performance on Monday could possibly argue that he won that debate or that he is the kind of person to whom we should entrust the presidency.

It appears that Trump thought it wise to wing it.

Katie Pavlich wrote Monday on the conservative site Townhall, “Trump didn’t take the conventional road of preparing for the debate and skipped mock debate practice altogether.”

Pavlich quoted the senior Trump campaign adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders as saying:

“Donald Trump does what works best for him, and I think that is discussing the issues, studying the issues and frankly being himself. He’s not a poll-tested, scripted robot like Hillary Clinton. That’s a great contrast to have and one I think we are certainly excited to see tonight.”

Well, the robot won. And she did so because she had the discipline and forethought to properly prepare.

At one point during the debate, Trump said of Clinton:

“And I will tell you, you look at the inner cities — and I just left Detroit, and I just left Philadelphia, and I just — you know, you’ve seen me, I’ve been all over the place. You decided to stay home, and that’s O.K.”

But Clinton shot back:

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”

The crowd applauded.

It takes a tremendous ego and a healthy dose of hubris to believe that you can simply bluster your way through a presidential debate, but if anyone thinks that way, it’s no surprise it’s the uniquely underqualified and overblown king of bragging and whining: Donald J. Trump. [Continue reading…]

The fact that Trump chose to wing it might be interpreted as meaning that competent guidance was on offer — he simply didn’t make use of it. The picture painted by the New York Times, however, is one in which the candidate was being lots of conflicting guidance.

Mr. Trump’s debate preparation was unconventional. Aides have introduced a lectern and encouraged him to participate in mock debates, but he has not embraced them, focusing mostly on conversations and discussions with advisers.

During the primaries, the group briefing him for debates was small and closely held. By the weekend before the debate on Monday at Hofstra University, there were nearly a dozen people preparing Mr. Trump, including the retired Army generals Michael Flynn and Keith Kellogg, neither of whom has experience in presidential debates.

There were early efforts to run a more standard form of general election debate-prep camp, led by Roger Ailes, the ousted Fox News chief, at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, N.J. But Mr. Trump found it hard to focus during those meetings, according to multiple people briefed on the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. That left Mr. Ailes, who at the time was deeply distracted by his removal from Fox and the news media reports surrounding it, discussing his own problems as well as recounting political war stories, according to two people present for the sessions.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and a friend of Mr. Trump’s who has been traveling with him extensively, took over much of the preparation efforts by the end. But with Mr. Trump receiving so much conflicting advice in those sessions, he absorbed little of it.

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Police brutality leads to thousands fewer calls to 911

The Atlantic reports: Black Americans are less likely to dial 911 immediately following, and for more than a year after the highly publicized assault or death of a black person at the hands of police. That’s the conclusion in “Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community,” a study to be published in October’s American Sociological Review, the official publication of the American Sociological Association.

Three sociologists — Matthew Desmond at Harvard, Andrew Papachristos at Yale, and David Kirk at Oxford — screened and analyzed over 1.1 million 911 calls made to Milwaukee’s emergency dispatch between March 1, 2004 and December 31, 2010. They isolated and further analyzed some 883,000 calls in which a crime was reported within city limits in black, Latino, and white neighborhoods where at least 65 percent of residents fit the race category, per 2000 Census data. They chose those dates in order to study what, if any, impact the brutal beating of Frank Jude by several police officers might have had on residents dialing 911 for help. The effect they found was significant.

“Police misconduct can powerfully suppress one of the most basic forms of civic engagement: calling 911 for matters of personal and public safety,” the authors wrote in the study. The author’s conclusions may also shed some light on the controversial “Ferguson effect,” that is, the idea that a rise in crime follows a high-profile incident of police brutality. [Continue reading…]

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How Clausnitz in Saxony became shorthand for the ugly, xenophobic side of Germany

Takis Würger writes: I spent a month living in Clausnitz. I rented a guest room on a farm for eight euros a night.

One of the first village residents to speak with me was a refugee. Sitting on a bench in front of his home, he told me his story. He comes from a place full of forests and lakes, he said. Before the war, his father had worked at a paper factory, but he then went to the front and died there.

His mother fled with her son – making parts of the journey on foot and others in a horsecart. His mother carefully preserved a paper cornet as they fled that she had filled with a mixture of oatmeal and chocolate. She gave her son three spoonfuls of it each day.

His mother had no money to give to smugglers to ensure they would be taken to safety, so she gave them her wedding ring.

When the boy grew weak, she said to him: “We have to make it to Clausnitz.”

Today, that boy is 76 years old. He hasn’t set eyes on his home village of Hammermühle in Pomerania (in today’s Poland) since he fled 70 years ago. Hans-Peter Neitzke is a tall, upright man with a fisherman’s cap and blue overalls. He rented me my room.

When people learned one year ago that Syrian refugees would be coming to a village next to Clausnitz, his phone rang and a man told him he was collecting signatures against the refugees, Nietzke explains. “But I’m a refugee myself,” he told the man. [Continue reading…]

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7 signs that China is serious about combatting climate change

Grist reports: Two years after President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that their countries would work together to combat climate change, Republicans and conservatives in the U.S. continue to cite China’s rising carbon emissions as a reason not to bother cutting our own.

Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s economic advisor Stephen Moore claimed that limiting our carbon pollution is pointless because of China’s supposedly growing coal dependency. “Every time we shut down a coal plant in the U.S., China builds 10,” Moore told E&E News. “So how does that reduce global warming?”

Not only is Moore’s statement simply untrue, but the broader conservative theory behind it is badly outdated. China’s coal use and carbon emissions have dropped for the last two years. In 2015, China cut its coal use 3.7 percent and its emissions declined an estimated 1–2 percent, following similar decreases in 2014. [Continue reading…]

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The White House asked Congress to keep quiet on Russian hacking

BuzzFeed reports: The White House sought to muzzle two of Congress’s top intelligence officials when they decided to publicly accuse Russia of meddling in the US election last week, sources familiar with the matter told BuzzFeed News.

In a statement released Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff, the vice-chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees respectively, formally accused Russia of attempting to influence the US election. It was the first official, on-record confirmation from US government officials that the Kremlin is actively working to manipulate public confidence in the country’s election system.

But sources tell BuzzFeed News that the White House — which has stayed silent despite mounting pressure to call out its Moscow adversaries — tried to delay the statement’s release. The public accusation was of such concern to the administration that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was personally involved in the negotiations over releasing it, according to a congressional source.

Feinstein and Schiff, both Democrats, agreed to omit part of their original statement for security reasons, according to another congressional source. That request, which stemmed from concerns over classification, came from the CIA, a congressional source added Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

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FBI probes hacks targeting phones of Democratic Party officials

Reuters reports: The FBI is investigating suspected attempts to hack mobile phones used by Democratic Party officials as recently as the past month, four people with direct knowledge of the attack and the investigation told Reuters.

The revelation underscores the widening scope of the U.S. criminal inquiry into cyber attacks on Democratic Party organizations, including the presidential campaign of its candidate, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. officials have said they believe those attacks were orchestrated by hackers backed by the Russian government, possibly to disrupt the Nov. 8 election in which Clinton faces Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. Russia has dismissed allegations it was involved in cyber attacks on the organizations.

The more recent attempted phone hacking also appears to have been conducted by Russian-backed hackers, two people with knowledge of the situation said. [Continue reading…]

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