Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cruising the Web

Now that so many gruesome details are emerging from the women that Weinstein abused, assaulted, and harassed such as this piece by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker and the New York Times following up with the stories from three Oscar-winning actresses about Weinstein's harassment of them, we're learning a lot about the dark underbelly of Hollywood. We've heard stories for decades about the "casting couch;" now we're getting the actual stories. It still is amazing that this was kept quiet for so long. Gwyneth Paltrow tells the story of being harassed and sending her then boyfriend Brad Pitt to tell Weinstein to never touch her again. Paltrow's parents were both big shots in Hollywood and her godfather is Steven Spielberg. She was the girlfriend of Brad Pitt, for gosh sake, and this guy didn't hesitate to put the moves on her. This was over 20 years ago and she didn't make it public. She wasn't some powerless, unconnected young woman just starting out. Even when she became a bigger star and had won an Oscar she still didn't go public but instead praised him in public appearances. The story in the New Yorker includes a 2015 tape that the NYPD had made as a young Italian actress, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, agreed to be mic'd up to tape his advances to her. She did what it seems other women didn't - she went to the police and reported that he had assaulted her. But However, the Manhattan D.A., Cyrus Vance, Jr. declined to file charges.
“We had the evidence,” the police source involved in the operation told me. “It’s a case that made me angrier than I thought possible, and I have been on the force a long time.”
And just by coincidence, Weinstein's lawyer, David Boies, gave $10,00 To Vance after Vance dropped the case. I'm sure that was all just a coincidence. And I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Vance decided in 2012 not to prosecute Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. for fraud after receiving a $25,000 donation from their lawyer, Marc Kasowitz.
Just before the 2012 meeting, Vance’s campaign had returned Kasowitz’s $25,000 contribution, in keeping with what Vance describes as standard practice when a donor has a case before his office. Kasowitz “had no influence and his contributions had no influence whatsoever on my decision-making in the case,” Vance said.

But less than six months after the D.A.’s office dropped the case, Kasowitz made an even larger donation to Vance’s campaign, and helped raise more from others — eventually, a total of more than $50,000. After being asked about these donations as part of the reporting for this article — more than four years after the fact — Vance said he now plans to give back Kasowitz’s second contribution, too. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the office’s,” he said.
It's all so cozy. And returning the money four years after the fact once a reporter found out about it doesn't fool anyone.

With all these details coming out and so many witnesses now going on the record as well as the information about how Weinstein used employees of his company to lure young women into thinking they were going into a safe meeting, Weinstein should be very vulnerable to criminal charges. An honest prosecutor could get these women on record and go to the employees who were part of the traps and threaten them as accessories to sexual assault to get them on the record. Many states have no statute of limitations on cases of rape and sexual assault, including New York. Several of the on-the-record story in the New Yorker are within the last few years. Perhaps it's no wonder that Weinstein is planning to go to Europe for sex-rehab treatment. Perhaps he can join his good friend Roman Polanski in Europe and they can trade stories about abusing women.

Interestingly, the detailed on-the-record reporting in Ronan Farrow's piece in The New Yorker was originally done for NBC News. And they wouldn't run it. He had women speaking on camera and the tape from the NYPD.

Given how, apparently, it was an open secret in Hollywood about Weinstein's piggish behavior with young women, did any of the Obamas' good pals in Hollywood think to call them up and warn them about sending Malia to intern with him?

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Jonah Goldberg has a very good column about the selective outrage on both the Left and the Right in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. He points to the hypocrisy out of Hollywood with all their moral preening about every issue under the sun and their self-congratulatory condemnations of Trump.
Consider Hollywood itself. If God punished hypocrisy with lightning bolts, that town would be in smoldering ruins. Even as various insiders condemned Weinstein, they admitted that his alleged wrongdoing had long been an “open secret.”

Why didn’t they speak up earlier? Perhaps because attacking Weinstein had downsides, while attacking, say, Donald Trump promised only rewards.

At last month’s Emmys, the stars of 9 to 5 — an old feminist-lite flick about sexual harassment in the workplace — reunited. “Back in 1980, in that movie, we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” explained Jane Fonda.

“And in 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Lily Tomlin added.

The crowd roared with approval. Take that, Trump!

How many people in that room knew about Weinstein? How many refused to speak up — even after he was fired? Saturday Night Live went silent when it came to Weinstein. “It’s a New York thing,” executive producer Lorne Michaels explained.
But those on the Right should hold their cries of glee because Trump, Roger Ailes, and Bill O'Reilly are stains on our side of the aisle.
If you never spoke up about Trump, or if you responded to those accusations with a dismissive, “What about Bill Clinton?” you should probably just sit this one out.

Because if you decry piggish behavior only when it helps your side, or if you think accusers are telling the truth only when they speak up about people you hate (or don’t need professionally), then you don’t actually care about sexual harassment.

Steve Bannon’s reported this week that Weinstein had visited the Obama White House 13 times. The horror! This is the same Bannon who insists that the first and greatest test of loyalty to Trump was whether you supported him after the Access Hollywood video was released.

I can’t wait for Sean Hannity to ask Bill O’Reilly — ousted from Fox for his crude sexual behavior — to opine on the latest news about those pervs in Hollyweird.

It may be that liberals Weinstein, Bill Clinton, and Bill Cosby together have a worse rap sheet than Trump, ousted Fox News head Roger Ailes, and O’Reilly. But, my God, who cares?

Is it the new standard of the tribalized right that so long as “our” guys don’t sink to the lowest standards of “their” guys, it’s okay?

Is the rule for the left that you can be a personal and professional pig so long as your public politics are correct? I still remember Gloria Steinem dismissing Bill Clinton’s exploits, leading wags to proclaim a “one free grope rule.” No wonder Weinstein thought he could buy off Hollywood by promising to attack the National Rifle Association.
And all these calls on the right for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to issue statements condemning their old pal are so silly. Now they've issued their statements. Does that make change anything? Statements are meaningless.

The NY Times has a fascinating story
about how Israeli intelligence uncovered how Russian hackers were using the Kaspersky antivirus software to hack into government computers.

This follows on the story in the WSJ last week into how Russian hackers were able to get NSA security data because an NSA contractor thought it would be a good idea to take highly secret information home and install it on his own computer which happened to have the Kaspersky program.
The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S.

The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter.

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.

Having such information could give the Russian government information on how to protect its own networks, making it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its work. It also could give the Russians methods to infiltrate the networks of the U.S. and other nations, these people said.

The breach is the first known incident in which Kaspersky software is believed to have been exploited by Russian hackers to conduct espionage against the U.S. government. The company, which sells its antivirus products in the U.S., had revenue of more than half a billion dollars in Western Europe and the Americas in 2016, according to International Data Corp. Kaspersky says it has more than 400 million users world-wide.
What is it with these NSA contractors walking off with top-secret materials?

It was only September of this year that DHS ordered all federal executive branch agencies to stop using Kaspersky products.
That directive, which some officials thought was long overdue, was based, in large part, on intelligence gleaned from Israel’s 2014 intrusion into Kaspersky’s corporate systems. It followed months of discussions among intelligence officials, which included a study of how Kaspersky’s software works and the company’s suspected ties with the Kremlin....

Kaspersky Lab did not discover the Israeli intrusion into its systems until mid-2015, when a Kaspersky engineer testing a new detection tool noticed unusual activity in the company’s network. The company investigated and detailed its findings in June 2015 in a public report.

The report did not name Israel as the intruder but noted that the breach bore striking similarities to a previous attack, known as “Duqu,” which researchers had attributed to the same nation states responsible for the infamous Stuxnet cyberweapon. Stuxnet was a joint American-Israeli operation that successfully infiltrated Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, and used malicious code to destroy a fifth of Iran’s uranium centrifuges in 2010....

Israeli intelligence officers informed the N.S.A. that in the course of their Kaspersky hack, they uncovered evidence that Russian government hackers were using Kaspersky’s access to aggressively scan for American government classified programs, and pulling any findings back to Russian intelligence systems. They provided their N.S.A. counterparts with solid evidence of the Kremlin campaign in the form of screenshots and other documentation, according to the people briefed on the events.
So why did it take two years before the government stopped use of Kaspersky software? That's a question I'd like answered.

I wonder how far behind the U.S. truly is in cybersecurity. We seem to get one of these hacking stories on a regular basis. I know we're not hearing of the millions of times that our security blocked such attacks, but there seem to be massive losses from major companies and government agencies too often for comfort.

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You may have already heard the story of how Twitter blocked Marsha Blackburn's announcement video because they found her factual statement about Planned Parenthood selling body parts as "an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.” As quite a few people on the right have pointed out, Twitter hasn't been bothered by videos from Planned Parenthood. Twitter seems unaware that Blackburn's statements about Planned Parenthood's practices of selling body parts from aborted babies is absolutely true and an official was caught on tape discussing the trade in baby organs.

Who knew that Twitter frowned on "inflammatory" language or posts that would "evoke a strong negative reaction"? That seems to be a large percentage of tweets that I see on Twitter. It sounds very subjective.

David Harsanyi predicts problems for Twitter if it is now going to appoint itself the arbiter of appropriate language in politicians' campaign announcements.
Yet, setting aside the veracity of the claim or the debate itself, if this is the standard Twitter now uses to inject itself into campaigns, it will find itself banning almost every group from promoting political and ideological content, including every Planned Parenthood and NARAL promotion. In fact, you might as well shut down the entire platform. Unless, that is, Twitter has a political motive or ideological disposition that makes it find only certain positions inflammatory.

Most people who have been bombarded with Twitter accounts featuring swastikas and hammer-and-sickles over the past year-and-a-half are likely to find it extraordinary that an ad offering a traditional critique of the abortion industry should be especially incendiary to a sales team. Twitter is, after all, the platform on which liberals regularly accuse Republicans of the premeditated murder of children through the nefarious block-granting of Medicaid funds. Abortion is just one of the many debates that provoke strong negative reactions.

It’s not just the promotions; users buying those ads have been subjected to lopsided ideological tests on their personal accounts. When the pro-life group Live Action attempted to promote its own ads, Twitter claimed that the founder of the group was violating Twitter’s “hate, sensitive topics and violence” advertisement policy. Live Action could only be allowed to promote their group, according to the Twitter’s sales team, if the founder agreed to “remove current and past sensitive content from your website and Twitter feed.” This was puzzling, as Live Action founder Lila Rose was campaigning against violence.

Sure, pro-life groups were free to promote their content on Twitter, as long as they didn’t show pictures of ultrasounds — inflammatory? — or talk about Planned Parenthood in ways that upset Planned Parenthood....

Planned Parenthood was free to promote ads calling their adversaries extremists.

On the political front, this latest intrusion into politics will surely backfire. In truth, Twitter just gifted Blackburn an in-kind donation, helping not only bring attention to her campaign but to one of the animating issues of the conservative activist. “Join me in standing up to Silicon Valley,” says Blackburn.

Over the long term, this kind of meddling in political discourse only erodes the trust consumers have in the platform — on both sides. There will undoubtedly be increased pressure on Twitter to balance out these restrictive impositions on political ads. If they don’t, half their users will turn on them. If they do, all their users will turn on them.
Now Twitter is a private company and they can have any policy they want. However, they can't then promote themselves as a nonpartisan platform welcoming everyone who wants to participate.

Ironically, Marsha Blackburn has received way more attention for her campaign announcement than she would have if Twitter hadn't blocked it. And for someone running in the GOP primary in Tennessee, this little episode may go far to ensuring that she will be the next senator from Tennessee.

For conservatives who are strong proponents of the First Amendment, Stephanie Slade writes at Reason about poll results showing that too many Republicans are fine with violating the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion if it's speech or religions they don't like.
According to the topline poll results (to which I received advance access), 72 percent of Republicans would support making it illegal for an American to burn or desecrate the flag. A little more than half of Republicans would punish the desecrators by stripping them of their U.S. citizenship, something Donald Trump suggested (to great and deserved indignation) a few weeks after he won the election last November.

Most GOPers recognize, at least in theory, that disfavored speech should still be protected: Around seven in 10 agree with the statement that "people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people," compared to less than five in 10 Democrats. Nonetheless, 36 percent of Republicans would support prohibiting offensive public statements aimed at the police, and the same number would ban such comments aimed at the military. By comparison, just 24 percent would outlaw offensive speech aimed at gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

Despite constant declamations from the right on the importance of religious freedom, 67 percent of Republicans favor a law to "prohibit face coverings in public spaces." Nearly half would ban the construction of mosques in their community. That is much higher than among all Americans (28 percent) and among Democrats only (14 percent).
And those on the left aren't any more supportive of speech they don't like.
Lefties, too, hold many lamentable views regarding the legal and cultural importance of free expression in America. Fully half of Democrats think that "government should prevent people from engaging in hate speech against certain groups in public." Some 53 percent say that defending someone else's right "to say racist things" is just as condemnable as "holding racist views yourself." Two in three believe offensive speech constitutes an act of violence, and the same number feel that college administrators "have an obligation to protect students from speech and ideas that could create a difficult learning environment."

It's all very discouraging.

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I cover this story from the Radical Reformation in my AP European History class. It's a wild story of what happened when radical Anabaptists took over the German town of M√ľnster. Eventually, they declared communal ownership of property and polygamy. They controlled the city until a Catholic army invaded and captured the city and executed the leaders whose bodies were hung in cages from the city's church for years and years. And they're so proud of this bizarre episode in the city's history that the cages are still there.