— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for March, 2018

Beyond Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

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All of a sudden people all around the wold have woken up to the fact that we are living in a surveillance state of our own making today . . . This time though, the culprit is not called Big Brother. No, this time the culprit is known as Social Media, with Zuck’s business at the forefront, apparently. Facebook has become a constant and usually unacknowledged presence in most of our lives, most if not all of the time . . . particularly, through the medium of the smartphone or iPhone. These devices have turned into men’s best friend, replacing dogs and cats, and arguably also spouses, lovers, and casual acquaintances. But now, Carole Cadwalladr has revealed that the rabbit hole goes way deeper, and that unscrupulous businessmen eagerly exploit voluntarily proferred personal information, colloquially referred to as data these days, which become Big Data when compiled, collated and aggregated: “Cadwalladr told BBC Radio 4’s Media Show [that the] resulting Observer scoop took more than a year to bring together”.1 The PressGazette‘s Charlotte Tobitt summarises neatly that the “investigation, which was first published in Sunday’s paper (18 March 2018), exposed Cambridge Analytica’s alleged harvesting of the data of 50m Facebook users to influence the US presidential elections. Cadwalladr said the Observer took the decision to share the scoop with Channel 4 News and the New York Times prior to publishing. She [furthermore] told the BBC that Facebook had made a ‘series of missteps’ in responding to the revelations and said it had issued legal threats to deter publication”.2 As a result, now the whole world is talking about the once obscure company called Cambridge Analytica (CA). In fact, already last year, Cadwalladr had broken the story about CA’s involvement in the Brexit vote. In her piece, she took the story back to the year 2013, when “London . . . was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. [And t]he world had not yet turned”.3 At the time, her source, ‘a former Cambridge Analytica employee’ whom she called ‘Paul’ told her the following: 2013, “[t]hat was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump . . . It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm”.4

Brexit logo

In the course of her research, Cadwalladr spoke to Professor Jonathan Albright, from Elon University, North Carolina. Cadwalladr explains that Professor Albright “was the first person to map and uncover an entire ‘alt-right’ news and information ecosystem and he was the one who first introduced me to Cambridge Analytica. He called the company a central point in the right’s ‘propaganda machine’, a line I quoted in reference to its work for the Trump election campaign and the referendum Leave campaign. That led to the second article featuring Cambridge Analytica – as a central node in the alternative news and information network that I believed Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, the key Trump aide who is now his chief strategist [, a position he held till he was dismissed on 18 August 2017], were creating. I found evidence suggesting they were on a strategic mission to smash the mainstream media and replace it with one comprising alternative facts, fake history and rightwing propaganda”.5 As such, Professor Albright had also penned a piece about his concerns in December 2016.6 But all that is neither here nor there. And already in 2015, the ‘writer/researcher’ Harry Davies had published a piece on the Cruz campaign and its links with CA: “Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission, to boost his surging White House run and gain an edge over Donald Trump and other Republican rivals, the Guardian can reveal. A little-known data company, now embedded within Cruz’s campaign and indirectly financed by his primary billionaire benefactor, paid researchers at Cambridge University to gather detailed psychological profiles about the US electorate using a massive pool of mainly unwitting US Facebook users built with an online survey. As part of an aggressive new voter-targeting operation, Cambridge Analytica – financially supported by reclusive hedge fund magnate and leading Republican donor Robert Mercer – is now using so-called “psychographic profiles” of US citizens in order to help win Cruz votes, despite earlier concerns and red flags from potential survey-takers”.*

Professor Jonathan Albright

Back to Cadwalladr and Brexit: in February 2017, the journalist wrote that she “ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s affable communications director” in the second half of February 2017.7 Wigmore let Cadwalladr know that “Facebook was the key to the entire campaign” . . . explaining that a Facebook ‘like’ is a “potent weapon”. Wigmore then went on: “[b]ecause using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring . . . It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school”.8 As for CA’s relationship with the Brexit vote and the Leave.EU campaign, Wigmore simply said that “[t]hey [meaning Cambridge Analytica] were happy to help”. And they were happy to help “[b]ecause Nigel [Farage] is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you.’ What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldn’t you?”.9

*COMPOSITE* CxGYElfW8AAU26A.jpg

Right from the horse’s mouth, as it were . . . Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, the Brexit vote and the Trump victory, they are all interconnected. Or, the real culprit is Facebook, or is it?!?!? Has Facebook become the proverbial Big Brother that has turned its awesome archive of social data into a lucrative commodity for the highest bidder available?!?!? Vladimir Duthier states that “Facebook has been named in a proposed class-action lawsuit accusing it of negligence and it has lost nearly $50 billion in market value. A movement to encourage users to delete their accounts, called #DeleteFacebook, has [also] received lots of attention”.10

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Now that the antics of Cambridge Analytica on Facebook have grabbed everyone’s attention, the intrepid journalist Greg Palast is here to remind us that there is more afoot than the mere monies wielded by the Mercers: “[i]n fact, the dark art of dynamic psychometric manipulation in politics was not pioneered by Cambridge Analytica for Trump, but by i360 Themis, the operation founded by . . . the Brothers Koch. Mark Swedlund, himself an expert in these tools, explained in the film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, that i360 dynamically tracks you on 1800 behaviors, or as Swedlund graphically puts it . . . “They know the last time you downloaded porn and whether you ordered Chinese food before you voted.” Swedlund adds his expert conclusion: “I think that’s creepy.” The Koch operation and its competitor, DataTrust, use your credit card purchases, cable TV choices and other personal info — which is far more revealing about your inner life than the BS you put on your Facebook profile. Don’t trust DataTrust: This cyber-monster is operated by Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain,” who is principally funded by Paul Singer, the far Right financier better known as The Vulture”.11

i360

i360 is a data analytics company that maintains “a database of over 250 million 18+ adults, including the 190 million who are registered to vote” sourced from “multiple consumer data compilers”.12

Data Trust

“The Data Trust serves to continually develop a Republican and conservative data ecosystem through voter file collection, development, and enhancement while lowering the cost and barriers to access the data”.13

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Palast explains that the “Cambridge Analytica story was first reported by The Guardian and Observer in 2015. Did we listen? Did any US paper carry the story the British paper worked on for years? So, my first reaction reading this story was nostalgia — for the time when I was a reporter with The Guardian and Observer investigations team. We could spend a year digging deep into complex stories, working with crazy insiders. There, in 2000, I uncovered another cyber-crime: Using database matching to purge felons from Florida voter rolls. (None, in fact, were felons; most were Democrats). I moved back to America, but found I had to give up any hope of doing true, deep investigative reports for newspapers in my own country. US papers will sometimes re-report Guardian news, but American media almost never initiates deep investigation. And THAT, fear of digging out the truth, is a greater threat to America than Steve Bannon”.14

Davies

1 Charlotte Tobitt, “Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr: I became a ‘news slave’ in pursuing Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scoop” PressGazette (22 March 2018).

2 Charlotte Tobitt, “Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr: I became a ‘news slave’ in pursuing Cambridge Analytica data”.

Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” The Guardian (07 May 2017). https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy.

4 Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”.

5 Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”.

6 Jonathan Albright, “Stop worrying about fake news. What comes next will be much worse” The Guardian ( 09 December 2016). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/09/fake-news-technology-filters.

* Harry Davies, “Ted Cruz using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users” The Guardian (11 December 2015). https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/11/senator-ted-cruz-president-campaign-facebook-user-data.

7 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media” The Observer (27 Feb 2017). https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage.

8 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media”.

9 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media”.

10 Vladimir Duthie, “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admits ‘misthttps://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-data-cambridge-analytica-mark-zuckerberg-ceo-statement-today-2018-03-30/akes’ in Cambridge Analytica scandal” CBS News (21 March 2018). .

11 Greg Palast, “Cambridge Analytica Ain’t Nuthin: Look Out For i360 and DataTrust” Greg Palast (19 March 2018). http://www.gregpalast.com/cambridge-analytica-aint-nuthin-look-i360-datatrust/.

14 Greg Palast, “Cambridge Analytica Ain’t Nuthin: Look Out For i360 and DataTrust” .

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Banksy’s Mural Support for Zehra Doğan

Zehra Dogan

On Thursday, 15 March 2018, the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy, in cooperation with another “graffiti artist [named] Borf“ unveiled a mural depicting Zehra Doğan behind bars on the Bowery in New York City. The anonymous artist even spoke to the New York Times in an attempt to draw public attention to the plight of the imprisoned Turkish artist. Banksy said the following: “I really feel for her. I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence”, adding that Dogan had been “[s]entenced to nearly three years in jail for painting a single picture“.1

Zehra Dogan 2 (Banksy, March 18)

Last year, the London-based wrtie and photograpger Perwana Nazif explained that the Turkish-Kurdish painter and journalist Zehra Doğan has been sentenced to two years, nine months, and 22 days in prison for creating a painting which depicted the destruction caused by Turkish security forces in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, a Kurdish region in Turkey . . . According to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, the Mardin Second High Criminal Court in Turkey handed down the sentence because she drew Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish forces. However, according to Artforum, the court expressed that Doğan’s sharing of the image of her work, featuring current military operations, was the cause for her prison sentence“.2

Zehra Dogan (Banksy, March 18)

Doğan herself tweeted “I was given two years and 10 months [of jail time] only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, [the AKP-led Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it”.3 The tweet has since apparently been deleted. There had been a two-year cease-fire in place between Turkish security forces and the PKK, when the negative election outcome in July 2015 led the Prez Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP henchmen to renew hostilities in order for popular sentiment to become more amenable to a renewed AKP mandate . . . which was successfully delivered in a election re-run in November — Turkey’s so-called November Surprise. Since then, all-out war between the two parties has erupted anew, a war which has now also swept into Syria, where the AKP-led government is currently fighting the PKK-affiliated PYD with the help of its Jihadi terrorist warriors carrying the misleading moniker FSA or Free Syrian Army.

Zehra D

1Tom Powell, “Banksy unveils New York art mural as a protest against jailing of Turkish artist Zehra Dogan” Evening Standard (16 March 2018). https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/banksy-unveils-new-york-mural-in-protest-against-jailing-of-turkish-artist-zehra-dogan-a3791411.html.

2Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack” Artnet News (24 March 2017). https://news.artnet.com/art-world/painter-zehra-dogan-sentenced-to-jail-for-artwork-902015.

3Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack”.

Islam in the New Turkey: What is Maududi-ism?!??

YT Marşı

On International Women’s Day, the Prez gave another speech in Ankara . . . Tayyip Erdoğan used his words to reprimand the exploits of a certain Islamic preacher who has garnered a lot of public attention lately. Though he did not mention his name, he verbally attacked Nureddin Yıldız, whose many pronouncements on women and sex have become quite infamous in the New Turkey. As a true exponent of what some have termed ‘Maududi-ism,’1 Yıldız employs the latest techmnologica innovations to spread the word – videos and various social media posting. His mos recent outrage dates back to 3 March, saying that [w]omen should be grateful to Allah because Allah allowed men to beat women and be relaxed”. And, in response, the Prez bluntly called the preacher an “illiterate”.2

Nureddin 1

Not content with just reprimding the wayward figure, Erdoğan next continued to make quite far-reaching and programmatic pronouncements: “We do not seek reform in religion, which is beyond our capability . . . Our holy Quran has and will always have words to say. Its commandments will never change. But the independent reasoning derived from them, the developed rules and their implementation will surely change according to the time, the conditions and the possibilities . . . You cannot implement provisions dating back 14 or 15 centuries . . . Carrying out the regulations and traditions of a specific society at a specific date can only spoil them“. Taking a few steps back in the next instance, specifically realising his own limitations as a mere believe (mümin) who is not an Islamic scholar (alim, plural ulamah or ulema, in Turkish), Tayyip Erdoğan added: “I do not have the authority to speak on such matters. But as a president, as a Muslim, and as a person who has responsibility, I cannot tolerate such discord brought to my religion . . . We cannot ignore the stain and the shadow that such people’s random words about women and youths have brought to Islam. Nobody has the right to cause such confusion and caricature our religion as such . . . The understanding that tries to depict Islam as a religion closed off to change and the understanding that attributes deviancies that have nothing to do with Islam to our religion only serve the same aim“.3

Maududi-ism

In this way, the New Turkey’s President seems to have made a public endorsement of what I have referred to as ‘Maududi-ism’, to use the phrase coined by the left-liberal Pakistani journalist, Nadeem Paracha. As a result, I would now like present some pertinent information: ‘the Pakistani writer Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-79) [wa]s a Muslim who witnessed the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the abject failure of the Indian Khilafat Movement, in his writings, Mawdudi “provided Islamic responses, ideological and organizational, to modern society,” as worded by American professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies, John Esposito. In his analysis of the Pakistani thinker, Esposito explains further that Mawdudi saw “the West . . . [as] a political and economic but also a cultural threat to Muslim societies,” that Abul Ala Mawdudi was a thinker who “self-consciously reapplied Islamic sources and beliefs, reinterpreting them to address modern realities.” He put his thoughts into practice in 1941, founding the Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore, in then-British India. Following independence and partition, Mawdudi and his Jamaat moved to West Pakistan. As an organization, the Jamaat maintains close ties with international Muslim activist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Mawdudi’s organization aims at the establishment of an Islamic state, governed by the Shariah, but maintains that democracy is understood as an integral part of Islamic political ideals’.4

Bacilar

1 C. Erimtan, “Will Turkey become the new Pakistan?” RT Op-Edge (21 Feb 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-ed/turkey-to-become-new-pakistan-099/.

“Don’t stain women in the name of Islam: Erdoğan” Hürriyet Daily News (09 March 2018). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/dont-stain-women-in-the-name-of-islam-erdogan-128529.

3 “Don’t stain women in the name of Islam: Erdoğan”.

C. Erimtan, “Will Turkey become the new Pakistan?”

Drumpfian Attacks on U.S. Environmental Rules

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33 rules have been overturned
  • Flood building standards
  • Proposed ban on a potentially harmful pesticide
  • Freeze on new coal leases on public lands
  • Methane reporting requirement
  • Anti-dumping rule for coal companies
  • Decision on Keystone XL pipeline
  • Decision on Dakota Access pipeline
  • Third-party settlement funds
  • Offshore drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic
  • Ban on seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic
  • Northern Bering Sea climate resilience plan
  • Royalty regulations for oil, gas and coal
  • Inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews
  • Permit-issuing process for new infrastructure projects
  • Green Climate Fund contributions
  • Endangered species listings
  • Hunting ban on wolves and grizzly bears in Alaska
  • Protections for whales and sea turtles
  • Reusable water bottles rule for national parks
  • National parks climate order
  • Environmental mitigation for federal projects
  • Calculation for “social cost” of carbon
  • Planning rule for public lands
  • Copper filter cake listing as hazardous waste
  • Mine cleanup rule
  • Sewage treatment pollution regulations
  • Ban on use of lead ammunition on federal lands
  • Restrictions on fishing
  • Fracking regulations on public lands
  • Migratory bird protections
  • Department of Interior climate policies
  • Rule regulating industrial polluters
  • Safety standards for “high hazard” trains
24 rollbacks are in progress
  • Clean Power Plan
  • Paris climate agreement
  • Car and truck fuel-efficiency standards
  • Offshore oil and gas leasing
  • Status of 10 national monuments
  • Status of 12 marine areas
  • Limits on toxic discharge from power plants
  • Coal ash discharge regulations
  • Emissions standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants
  • Emissions rules for power plant start-up and shutdown
  • Sage grouse habitat protections
  • Regulations on oil and gas drilling in some national parks
  • Oil rig safety regulations
  • Regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels
  • Drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge
  • Hunting method regulations in Alaska
  • Requirement for tracking emissions on federal highways
  • Emissions standards for trailers and glider kits
  • Limits on methane emissions on public lands
  • Permitting process for air-polluting plants
  • Use of birds in subsistence handicrafts
  • Coal dust rule
  • Haze rule for national parks
  • Review process for forest restoration projects
10 rollbacks are in limbo
  • Wetland and tributary protections
  • Methane emission limits at new oil and gas wells
  • Limits on landfill emissions
  • Mercury emission limits for power plants
  • Hazardous chemical facility regulations
  • Groundwater protections for uranium mines
  • Efficiency standards for appliances
  • Efficiency standards for federal buildings
  • Rule helping consumers buy fuel-efficient tires
  • Aircraft emissions standards

As the above list amply illustrates, “[s]ince taking office last year [2016], President Trump has made eliminating federal regulations a priority”.1 

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1“67 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump” NYT (31 Jan 2018). https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/05/climate/trump-environment-rules-reversed.html.