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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Trump

"The monstrosity of this, reaching Smiley through a thickening wall of spiritual exhaustion, left him momentarily speechless." 
-- John LeCarre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- based loosely on the story of the Cambridge Five.

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign

Emma Graham-Harrison and Carole Cadwalladr at The Guardian:
Senior executives from the firm at the heart of Facebook’s data breach boasted of playing a key role in bringing Donald Trump to power and said they used “unattributable and untrackable” advertising to support their clients in elections, according to an undercover expose.
In secretly recorded conversations, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, claimed he had met Trump “many times”, while another senior member of staff said the firm was behind the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign.
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape,” said the executive. “And so this stuff infiltrates the online community, but with no branding, so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”
Caught on camera by an undercover team from Channel 4 News, Nix was also dismissive of Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who had questioned him over Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.
Senior managers then appeared to suggest that in their work for US clients, there was planned division of work between official campaigns and unaffiliated “political action groups”.
That could be considered coordination – which is not allowed under US election law. The firm has denied any wrongdoing
 “We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy,” he told reporters who were posing as potential clients from Sri Lanka.
The company’s head of data, Alex Tayler, added: “When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3m votes but won the electoral college vote that’s down to the data and the research.
“You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day. That’s how he won the election.”
Daniel Drezner at WP:
And then, over the weekend, this Guardian story about Cambridge Analytica came over the transom, and it is pretty bonkers. It would appear that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that did data analytics work for the Trump campaign, illegally harvested Facebook data so as to develop its influence techniques. The article contains this sentence: “Dr Kogan — who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan — is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate.” Oh, and of course, Russians are involved on the periphery.

The first story was enough to send Facebook’s stock in the United Kingdom down six points. And then, on Sunday, part II of the story broke, and hoo, boy, Cambridge Analytica is gonna be in big trouble:
The company at the centre of the Facebook data breach boasted of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns around the world, a new investigation reveals.
Executives from Cambridge Analytica spoke to undercover reporters from Channel 4 News about the dark arts used by the company to help clients, which included entrapping rival candidates in fake bribery stings and hiring prostitutes to seduce them.
In one exchange, the company chief executive, Alexander Nix, is recorded telling reporters: “It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed.”
What I want to do, but can’t, is dismiss the whole story as another conspiracy. In a world in which this administration is hemorrhaging scandal after scandal, commentators need to rethink what constitutes a fair deal. And I hate having to think like that.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"I Am the Storm"

Cambridge Analytica and Russia

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign

Issie Lapowsky at Wired:
CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA, A data analysis firm that worked on President Trump's 2016 campaign, and its related company, Strategic Communications Laboratories, pilfered data on 50 million Facebook users and secretly kept it, according to two reports in The New York Times and The Guardian. The apparent misuse of Facebook data—and the social media giant's failure to police it—leave both companies with plenty still to answer for.
Facebook has suspended both Cambridge and SCL while it investigates whether both companies retained Facebook user data that had been provided by third-party researcher Aleksandr Kogan of the company Global Science Research, a violation of Facebook's terms. The suspensions were announced just hours before The New York Times and The Guardian published stories Saturday morning describing how Cambridge Analytica harvested data on 50 million US Facebook users, a number far larger than the 270,000 accounts Facebook initially cited. Facebook says it knew about the breach, but had received legally binding guarantees from the company that all of the data was deleted
Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison at The Guardian:
Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data, had previously unreported ties to a Russian university, including a teaching position and grants for research into the social media network, the Observer has discovered. Cambridge Analytica, the data firm he worked with – which funded the project to turn tens of millions of Facebook profiles into a unique political weapon – also attracted interest from a key Russian firm with links to the Kremlin.
Energy firm Lukoil, which is now on the US sanctions list and has been used as a vehicle of government influence, saw a presentation on the firm’s work in 2014. It began with a focus on voter suppression in Nigeria, and Cambridge Analytica also discussed “micro-targeting” individuals on social media during elections. 
Kogan, a lecturer who worked with Cambridge Analytica on building up the database of US voters then at the heart of the company’s plans, said he had not had any connection to the Lukoil pitch.
But while he was helping turn Facebook profiles into a political tool he was also an associate professor at St Petersburg State University, taking Russian government grants to fund other research into social media. “Stress, health, and psychological wellbeing in social networks: cross-cultural investigation” was the title of one piece of research. Online posts showed Kogan lecturing in Russian. One talk was called: “New methods of communication as an effective political instrument”.
Cambridge University said academics are allowed to take on outside work but are expected to inform their head of institution, a rule Kogan had complied with. “We understand that Dr Kogan informed his head of department of discussions with St Petersburg University regarding a collaboration; it was understood that this work and any associated grants would be in a private capacity,” a spokesman said.
Apart from that, Kogan appears to have largely kept the work private. Colleagues said they had not heard about the post in St Petersburg. “I am very surprised by that. No one knew,” one academic who asked not to be named told the Observer. Russia is not mentioned in a 10-page CV Kogan posted on a university website in 2015. The CV lists undergraduate prizes and grants of a few thousand dollars and links to dozens of media interviews. 
Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison at The Guardian:
The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


  In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal.

Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, on his firing by Trump:
Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey's accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG's focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens. Thursday's comments from the White House are just the latest example of this.
This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel's work.
I have always prided myself on serving my country with distinction and integrity, and I always encouraged those around me to do the same. Just ask them. To have my career end in this way, and to be accused of lacking candor when at worst I was distracted in the midst of chaotic events, is incredibly disappointing and unfair. But it will not erase the important work I was privileged to be a part of, the results of which will in the end be revealed for the country to see.
I have unfailing faith in the men and women of the FBI and I am confident that their efforts to seek justice will not be deterred.

Friday, March 16, 2018

DGA Plagiarizes McCaskill (and She's Probably Fine with That)

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race.

Natasha Korecki and Daniel Strauss at Politico:
The Democratic Governors Association is planning to launch an ad calling Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's right-wing challenger "too conservative" for the state — an apparent move to boost state Rep. Jeanne Ives in her campaign's final days.
The ad, which is slated to begin airing on broadcast and cable TV in the state Friday, begins with a question: "When is a conservative leader too conservative for Illinois?"

But it quickly evolves into a list of Ives' conservative positions, presenting them in a way that could be appealing to some Republican primary voters.

The strategy is more reminiscent of the Missouri Senate primary in 2012, when Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill paid for ads calling then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) — whom she viewed as her weakest possible opponent — "too conservative" for the state.
"Using the guidance of my campaign staff and consultants, we came up with the idea for a 'dog whistle' ad, a message that was pitched in such a way that it would be heard only by a certain group of people," McCaskill wrote later in her memoir. "I told my team we needed to put Akin’s uber-conservative bona fides in an ad — and then, using reverse psychology, tell voters not to vote for him. And we needed to run the hell out of that ad."

Team of Grifters

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal.   An update on his team of grifters.

Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis at WP:
Revelations about repeated use of chartered airplanes forced the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in September. More recently, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has continued to wrestle with the fallout of news that taxpayers covered the expenses for his wife during a 10-day trip to Europe last year — and more recently that his chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to justify the payments.

Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has faced public criticism and the scrutiny of government investigators for his own frequent first-class travels and for other expenditures he made using public funding. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that records showed a soundproof phone booth installed in Pruitt’s office cost $43,000 — $18,000 more than previously disclosed.

At the Interior Department, Secretary Ryan Zinke has faced inquiries about his travel practices, and last fall an official in the agency’s inspector general office wrote that Zinke had failed to properly document his trips since taking office.

And at HUD, public records released this week detail how [Secretary Ben] Carson’s wife was closely involved in the redecorating of his office at the agency, including the purchase of a $31,561 dining set.
Graham Lanktree at Newsweek:
Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has argued that he never took a private jet, because the planes he travelled on had propellers. He made the bizarre statement Tuesday as he faced questions in Congress about his spending of taxpayer dollars for a series of chartered flights.

“I never took a private jet anywhere,” Zinke told Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, when she pressed him about three flights, including a $12,375 flight he made last spring from Las Vegas to Kalispell near his hometown in Montana.

Zinke pointed out that the plane, a Beechcraft King Air 200 owned by oil and gas executives, and the aircraft used during the other two flights, didn’t have jet engines but were driven by propellers.
Jon Swaine at The Guardian:
He said he was a multimillionaire – an international property developer with a plan to fix America’s cities through radical privatization. He felt that Donald Trump’s administration was where he was meant to work.

“It was a natural fit,” Naved Jafry said in an interview. Citing connections across the military, business and academia, he said: “I bring, and draw on, experiences from different areas of knowledge, like a polymath.”

Jafry was contracted to work for Trump’s housing and urban development department (Hud). His government email signature said his title was senior adviser. Jafry said he used his role to advocate for “microcities”, where managers privately set their own laws and taxes away from central government control.

But those plans are now stalled. Jafry, 38, said he had resigned from his position with Hud after the Guardian asked him to explain multiple allegations of fraud as well as exaggerations in his biography.

Jafry, who has also been known by Jafari and Jafri, apologised for inflating his military record but denied making other false claims. He said he resigned because the Guardian’s questions tarnished his reputation inside Hud.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Third-Party Spoilers

Daniel Marans at HuffPost:
Until Tuesday night, Drew Gray Miller, the Libertarian candidate for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, was treated like an afterthought by Democrats, Republicans and most news outlets.

Then the election results came in. Miller had received 0.6 percent of the vote ― accounting for far more than the 0.2 percentage point lead Democrat Conor Lamb ended up holding over Republican Rick Saccone at the end of the night. (Lamb has declared victory, but Saccone is challenging the results.)

Suddenly Miller was the man of the hour, as pundits discovered that Miller’s candidacy might have cost Saccone the race.

When CNN finally flashed Miller’s photo on screen, his 20-person election watch party at Fat Head’s Saloon erupted in cheers. They high-fived one another and took selfies in front of the TV as the party took a rowdier turn. 
At the Independent Record in Helena, Holly K. Michaels reports:
As the clock was running out for candidates to get their name on the ballot for what’s expected to be a hotly contested U.S. Senate race, Tim Adams — a man previously paid by the state Republican Party and who donated to Republican candidates as recently as 2016 — filed to run as a member of the Green Party.

The Green Party was only approved to appear on Montana ballots Monday morning, just hours before the 5 p.m. filing deadline. Six people filed under the party's banner for state legislative and federal races, including Adams, the former Republican operative.

But some question whether Adams, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is really a Green Party member or got into the race to siphon votes away from Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat seeking re-election to a third term.

“Tim Adams is no Green Party candidate,” David Parker, an associate professor of political science at Montana State University, said Tuesday. “He has a long history of conservative activism. It’s curious that he has announced a candidacy and it’s curious that it happened on the last day.”
In 2012, an outside group, Montana Hunters and Anglers, backed Libertarian Senate candidate Dan Cox, apparently with the intent of siphoning votes from Republican Denny Rehberg. The trick worked: Cox's vote exceeded Tester's margin.

It is not all fun and games.  In 2016, the Russians helped Green Party candidate Jill Stein in hopes f bringing down Clinton.  Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti at NYT:
The scope of the operation was sweeping. The Russians assumed their fake identities to communicate with campaign volunteers for Mr. Trump and grass-roots groups supporting his candidacy. They bought pro-Trump and anti-Clinton political advertisements on Facebook and other social media. They used an Instagram account to try to suppress turnout of minority voters and campaign for Ms. Stein, the Green Party candidate.
Weeks before the election, the Russians ratcheted up social media activity aimed at dampening support for Mrs. Clinton.
In mid-October, Woke Blacks, an Instagram account run by the Internet Research Agency, carried the message “hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”
Then, just days before Americans went to the polls, another Instagram account controlled by the Russians — called Blacktivist — urged its followers to “choose peace” and vote for Ms. Stein, who was expected to siphon support from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
“Trust me,” the message read, “it’s not a wasted vote.”