Friday, March 24, 2017
antimedia | Government’s meddling in the healthcare business has been disastrous from the get-go.
Since 1910, when Republican William Taft gave in to the American Medical Association’s lobbying efforts, most administrations have passed new healthcare regulations. With each new law or set of new regulations, restrictions on the healthcare market went further, until at some point in the 1980s, people began to notice the cost of healthcare had skyrocketed.
This is not an accident. It’s by design.
As regulators allowed special interests to help design policy, everything from medical education to drugs became dominated by virtual monopolies that wouldn’t have otherwise existed if not for government’s notion that intervening in people’s lives is part of their job.
But how did costs go up, and why didn’t this happen overnight?
It wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon restricted the supply of hospitals by requiring institutions to provide a certificate-of-need.
Just a couple years later, in 1974, the president also strengthened unions for hospital workers by boosting pension protections, which raise the cost for both those who run hospitals and taxpayers in cases of institutions that rely on government subsidies. This move also helped force doctors who once owned and ran their own hospitals to merge into provider monopolies. These, in turn, are often only able to keep their doors open with the help of government subsidies.
This artificial restriction on healthcare access had yet another harsh consequence: overworked doctors.
But they weren’t the first to feel the consequences hit home. As the number of hospitals and clinics became further restricted and the healthcare industry became obsessed with simple compliance, patients were the first to feel abandoned.
angrybearblog | In 2026, an estimated 52 million would be uninsured in the US, a dramatic reversal from the 2016 uninsured count of 28/29 million. Pretty much, the Republicans will put healthcare back to the way it was pre-2014 if Paul Ryan’s bill is passed by Congress and Donald signs the bill in its present form.
- By 2018, 14 million could be uninsured with many of the uninsured practicing the tyranny of a minority, as John S. Mill might call it, upon the rest of the insured population as they drop out. Others will simply lose healthcare insurance as states withdraw from the Medicaid expansion and employers drop the coverage they were required to carry as they had 50 or more employees. Many of today’s insured will be unable to afford the increased premiums due to smaller subsidies. The elderly will be faced with smaller subsidies and a higher 5:1 ratio premium, which is up from the present 3:1 under the ACA program.
- Doctors, clinics, and hospitals have seen increased numbers of patients coming through the front door rather than the rear door due to the expansion of Medicaid to 138% FPL and subsidies for healthcare insurance to those under 400% FPL. My own PCP has seen many new patients who have never been to a doctor before except at the ER. With the proposed reversal of the mandate to have healthcare insurance and the dropping of Medicaid, it will fall upon hospitals and doctors to still provide stabilizing care as defined by law to all who arrive at their door. Except this time, the subsidizing payments for care for the uninsured to hospitals and clinics will not be available as it was reduced with the advent of the PPACA. It appears the AHA is not too pleased with Paul Ryan’s AHCA bill either.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Counterpunch | The investigation methods used to come to the conclusion that the Russian Government led the hacks of the DNC, Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, and the DCCC were further called into question by a recent BuzzFeed report by Jason Leopold, who has developed a notable reputation from leading several non-partisan Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for investigative journalism purposes. On March 15 that the Department of Homeland Security released just two heavily redacted pages of unclassified information in response to an FOIA request for definitive evidence of Russian election interference allegations. Leopold wrote, “what the agency turned over to us and Ryan Shapiro, a PhD candidate at MIT and a research affiliate at Harvard University, is truly bizarre: a two-page intelligence assessment of the incident, dated Aug. 22, 2016, that contains information DHS culled from the internet. It’s all unclassified — yet DHS covered nearly everything in wide swaths of black ink. Why? Not because it would threaten national security, but because it would reveal the methods DHS uses to gather intelligence, methods that may amount to little more than using Google.”
In lieu of substantive evidence provided to the public that the alleged hacks which led to Wikileaks releases of DNC and Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta’s emails were orchestrated by the Russian Government, CrowdStrike’s bias has been cited as undependable in its own assessment, in addition to its skeptical methods and conclusions. The firm’s CTO and co-founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank with openly anti-Russian sentiments that is funded by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, who also happened to donate at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.
In 2013, the Atlantic Council awarded Hillary Clinton it’s Distinguished International Leadership Award. In 2014, the Atlantic Council hosted one of several events with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who took over after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in early 2014, who now lives in exile in Russia.
In August, Politico reported that Donald Trump’s favorable rhetoric to Russia was concerning Ukraine, who have been recovering from Russian interference in their own country’s revolution. The article cited, “Russia wants Trump for U.S. president; Ukraine is terrified by Trump and prefers Hillary Clinton.” Trump recently appointed Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Huntsman as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, which Vox called a “baffling” choice, and Democrats and anti-Russian hysterics haven’t bothered to attempt to criticize, scrutinize or insinuate ties between Huntsman and Russia.
paecon | When Trump was inaugurated on Friday, January 20, there was no pro-jobs or anti-war demonstration. That presumably would have attracted pro-Trump supporters in an ecumenical show of force. Instead, the Women’s March on Saturday led even the pro-Democrat New York Times to write a front-page article reporting that white women were complaining that they did not feel welcome in the demonstration. The message to anti-war advocates, students and Bernie supporters was that their economic cause was a distraction.
The march was typically Democratic in that its ideology did not threaten the Donor Class. As Yves Smith wrote on Naked Capitalism: “the track record of non-issue-oriented marches, no matter how large scale, is poor, and the status of this march as officially sanctioned (blanket media coverage when other marches of hundreds of thousands of people have been minimized, police not tricked out in their usual riot gear) also indicates that the officialdom does not see it as a threat to the status quo."
Hillary’s loss was not blamed on her neoliberal support for TPP or her pro-war neocon stance, but on the revelations of the e-mails by her operative Podesta discussing his dirty tricks against Bernie Sanders (claimed to be given to Wikileaks by Russian hackers, not a domestic DNC leaker as Wikileaks claimed) and the FBI investigation of her e-mail abuses at the State Department. Backing her supporters’ attempt to brazen it out, the Democratic Party has doubled down on its identity politics, despite the fact that an estimated 52 percent of white women voted for Trump. After all, women do work for wages. And that also is what Blacks and Hispanics want – in addition to banking that serves their needs, not those of Wall Street, and health care that serves their needs, not those of the health-insurance and pharmaceuticals monopolies.
ibankcoin | Klayman has detailed all of this in a NewsMax article, followed up with an official letter to Chairman Nunes today, requesting that he question Comey . Perhaps this explains Nunes’ impromptu press conference today admitting that Trump’s team was under “Incidental Surveillance” before making his way to the White House to discuss with the President.
So – we know that evidence exists from a CIA / NSA contractor turned whistleblower, detailing a massive spy operation on 156 judges, the Supreme Court, and high profile Americans including Donald Trump. See the letter below:
Freedom Watch bombshell letter to Rep. Devin Nunes 1/4 https://t.co/CZ4haCVauK pic.twitter.com/NnKogSytSC— ZeroPointNow (@ZeroPointNow) March 23, 2017
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
consortiumnews | It is encouraging that Foreign Affairs magazine, the preeminent professional journal of American diplomacy, took the extraordinary step (extraordinary at least in the current environment) of publishing Robert English’s article, entitled “Russia, Trump, and a new Détente,” that challenges the prevailing groupthink and does so with careful scholarship.
In effect, English’s article trashes the positions of all Foreign Affairs’ featured contributors for the past several years. But it must be stressed that there are no new discoveries of fact or new insights that make English’s essay particularly valuable. What he has done is to bring together the chief points of the counter-current and set them out with extraordinary writing skills, efficiency and persuasiveness of argumentation. Even more important, he has been uncompromising.
The facts laid out by English could have been set out by one of several experienced and informed professors or practitioners of international relations. But English had the courage to follow the facts where they lead and the skill to convince the Foreign Affairs editors to take the chance on allowing readers to see some unpopular truths even though the editors now will probably come under attack themselves as “Kremlin stooges.”
The overriding thesis is summed up at the start of the essay: “For 25 years, Republicans and Democrats have acted in ways that look much the same to Moscow. Washington has pursued policies that have ignored Russian interests (and sometimes international law as well) in order to encircle Moscow with military alliances and trade blocs conducive to U.S. interests. It is no wonder that Russia pushes back. The wonder is that the U.S. policy elite doesn’t get this, even as foreign-affairs neophyte Trump apparently does.”
English’s article goes back to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and explains why and how U.S. policy toward Russia was wrong and wrong again. He debunks the notion that Boris Yeltsin brought in a democratic age, which Vladimir Putin undid after coming to power.
English explains how the U.S. meddled in Russian domestic politics in the mid-1990s to falsify election results and ensure Yeltsin’s continuation in office despite his unpopularity for bringing on an economic Depression that average Russians remember bitterly to this day. That was a time when the vast majority of Russians equated democracy with “shitocracy.”
English describes how the Russian economic and political collapse in the 1990s was exploited by the Clinton administration. He tells why currently fashionable U.S. critics of Putin are dead wrong when they fail to acknowledge Putin’s achievements in restructuring the economy, tax collection, governance, improvements in public health and more which account for his spectacular popularity ratings today.
English details all the errors and stupidities of the Obama administration in its handling of Russia and Putin, faulting President Obama and Secretary of State (and later presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton for all of their provocative and insensitive words and deeds. What we see in U.S. policy, as described by English, is the application of double standards, a prosecutorial stance towards Russia, and outrageous lies about the country and its leadership foisted on the American public.
Then English takes on directly all of the paranoia over Russia’s alleged challenge to Western democratic processes. He calls attention instead to how U.S. foreign policy and the European Union’s own policies in the new Member States and candidate Member States have created all the conditions for a populist revolt by buying off local elites and subjecting the broad populace in these countries to pauperization.
English concludes his essay with a call to give détente with Putin and Russia a chance.
WaPo | “Three of the airlines that have been targeted for these measures — Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways — have long been accused by their U.S. competitors of receiving massive effective subsidies from their governments,” wrote political scientists Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman. “These airlines have been quietly worried for months that President Trump was going to retaliate. This may be the retaliation.”
Farrell and Newman suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration “weaponizing interdependence” — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors. My colleague Max Bearak detailed how this could be a part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, President Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.
“A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” said Trump at that meeting. “I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”
reuters | A broad coalition of advertising trade groups, ad buyers and sellers from Western Europe and the United States have urged the industry to stop using annoying online marketing formats that have fuelled the rapid rise of ad-blockers.
The types of ads the coalition has identified as falling below standard include pop-up advertisements, auto-play video ads with sound, flashing animated ads and full-screen ads that mask underlying content from readers or viewers.
The explosion of ad-blocking tools has launched a prolonged debate within the advertising industry over whether to rein in abusive ad practices or simply freeze out consumers who use ad blocker and still expect access to premium content.
The Coalition for Better Ads said on Wednesday it was publishing the voluntary standards after a study in which more than 25,000 web surfers and mobile phone users rated ads.
They identified six types of desktop web ads and 12 types of mobile ads as falling beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability and called on advertisers to avoid them.
Matti Littunen, research analyst at Enders Analysis focusing on digital media, said the ad formats identified by the coalition "have already been discouraged for years by these bodies and yet are still commonplace."
guardian | Google’s decision-making process over which YouTube videos are deemed “advertiser friendly” faces scrutiny from both brands and creators, highlighting once again the challenge of large-scale moderation.
The company last week pledged to change its advertising policies after several big brands pulled their budgets from YouTube following an investigation that revealed their ads were shown alongside extremist content, such as videos promoting terrorism or antisemitism.
Havas, the world’s sixth largest advertising and marketing company, pulled all of its UK clients’ ads, including O2, BBC and Domino’s Pizza, from Google and YouTube on Friday, following similar moves from the UK government, the Guardian, Transport for London and L’Oreal.
Google responded with a blog post promising to update its ad policies, stating that with 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute “we don’t always get it right”.
However, the inconsistencies behind the company’s ability to police advertising on controversial content are coming to light – and it’s not just advertisers who are complaining. Some YouTube creators argue their videos are being unfairly and inconsistently “demonetized” by the platform, cutting off their source of income that comes from the revenue share on ads placed on videos.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
unz | We have a president who is belligerent towards Iran, who is sending “boots on the ground” to fight ISIS, who loves Israel passionately and who is increasing already bloated defense budgets. If one were a neoconservative, what is there not to like, yet neocons in the media and ensconced comfortably in their multitude of think tanks hate Donald Trump. I suspect it comes down to three reasons. First, it is because Trump knows who was sticking the knife in his back during his campaign in 2016 and he has neither forgiven nor hired them. Nor does he pay any attention to their bleating, denying them the status that they think they deserve because of their self-promoted foreign policy brilliance.
And second, Trump persists in his desire to “do business” with Russia. The predominantly Jewish neocons always imagine the thunder of hooves of approaching Cossacks preparing to engage in pogroms whenever they hear the word Russia. And this is particularly true of Vladimir Putin’s regime, which is Holy Russia revived. When not musing over how it is always 1938 and one is in Munich, neocons are nearly as unsettled when they think it is 1905 in Odessa.
The third reason, linked to number two, is that having a plausible and dangerous enemy like Russia on tap keeps the cash flowing from defense industries to the foundations and think tanks that the neocons nest in when they are not running the Pentagon and National Security Council. Follow the money. So it is all about self-interest combined with tribal memory: money, status and a visceral hatred of Russia.
The hatred of Trump runs so deep that a leading neocon Bill Kristol actually tweeted that he would prefer a country run by bureaucrats and special interests rather than the current constitutional arrangement. The neocon vendetta was as well neatly summed up in two recent articles by Max Boot. The first is entitled “Trump knows the Feds are closing in on him” and the second is “WikiLeaks has joined the Trump Administration.”In the former piece Boot asserts that “Trump’s recent tweets aren’t just conspiratorial gibberish—they’re the erratic ravings of a guilty conscience” and in the latter, that “The anti-American WikiLeaks has become the preferred intelligence service for a conspiracy-addled White House.”
Now, who is Max Boot and why should anyone care what he writes? Russian-born, Max entered the United States with his family through a special visa exemption under the 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment even though they were not notably persecuted and only had to prove that they were Jewish. Jackson-Vanik was one of the first public assertions of neoconism, having reportedly been drafted in the office of Senator Henry Jackson by no less than Richard Perle and Ben Wattenberg as a form of affirmative action for Russian Jews. As refugees instead of immigrants, the new arrivals received welfare, health insurance, job placement, English language classes, and the opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship after only five years. Max went to college at Berkeley and received an M.A. from Yale.
washingtonsblog | As Rep. Adam Schiff tries out for the lead role in a remake of the Joe McCarthy hearings by maligning specific Americans as suspected Russian moles, some of the actual evidence argues against the Democratic notion that the Russians own President Trump and other key Republicans.
For instance, last week, Democrats circulated a report showing that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, had received payments from several Russia-related entities, totaling nearly $68,000.
The largest payment of $45,386 came for a speech and an appearance in Moscow in 2015 at the tenth anniversary dinner for RT, the international Russian TV network, with Flynn netting $33,750 after his speakers’ bureau took its cut. Democrats treated this revelation as important evidence about Russia buying influence in the Trump campaign and White House. But the actual evidence suggests something quite different.
Not only was the sum a relative trifle for a former senior U.S. government official compared to, say, the fees collected by Bill and Hillary Clinton, who often pulled in six to ten times more, especially for speeches to foreign audiences. (Former President Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with ties to the Kremlin, The New York Times reported in 2015,)
Yet, besides Flynn’s relatively modest speaking fee, The Washington Post reported that RT negotiated Flynn’s rate downward.
Deep inside its article on Flynn’s Russia-connected payments, the Post wrote, “RT balked at paying Flynn’s original asking price. ‘Sorry it took us longer to get back to you but the problem is that the speaking fee is a bit too high and exceeds our budget at the moment,’ Alina Mikhaleva, RT’s head of marketing, wrote a Flynn associate about a month before the event.”
So, if you accept the Democrats’ narrative that Russian President Vladimir Putin is engaged in an all-out splurge to induce influential Americans to betray their country, how do you explain that his supposed flunkies at RT are quibbling with Flynn over a relatively modest speaking fee?
Wouldn’t you think that Putin would have told RT’s marketing department that the sky was the limit in paying off Flynn because the ever-prescient Russian president knew from his Ouija board in 2015 that Flynn would be the future national security adviser under President Trump?
After all, it’s become one of Official Washington’s favorite groupthinks that RT is nothing but a Russian propaganda front designed to destroy the faith that Americans have in their democratic process – as if the sleazy and shameful political campaigns financed with hundreds of millions of dollars from billionaires need any help from RT.
reuters | U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a meeting with NATO foreign ministers next month in order to stay home for a visit by China's president and will go to Russia later in April, U.S. officials said on Monday, disclosing an itinerary that allies may see as giving Moscow priority over them.
Tillerson intends to miss what would have been his first meeting of the 28 NATO allies on April 5-6 in Brussels so that he can attend President Donald Trump's expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, four current and former U.S. officials said.
Skipping the NATO meeting and visiting Moscow could risk feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers first, while leaving waiting those smaller nations that depend on Washington for security, two former U.S. officials said.
Trump has often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Tillerson worked with Russia's government for years as a top executive at Exxon Mobil Corp, and has questioned the wisdom of sanctions against Russia that he said could harm U.S. businesses.
Monday, March 20, 2017
counterpunch | I want to move on to one of the issues people have been thinking about today: in light of this new political context, I want to ask you about the chapter in your book “K is for kleptocrat.” The new Trump administration has done a number of things that people are concerned about. With regard to the financial sector, they’ve rolled back the feeble regulations of Dodd-Frank. The Republican Congress is looking into an infrastructure project that largely looks to be a giveaway of public funds to the private sector. This is to say nothing of the president’s direct business interest, but I’m wondering what your reaction is to the new administration. Also, there’s this idea that the Trump administration represents something new. I was wondering what you see that is new, versus what is more or less ‘business-as-usual’?
Michael Hudson: What’s new is that Trump said the emperor has no clothes. He said, “You think you’re getting rich under Obama? You haven’t got rich.” So when Hillary told her supporters to look and see how much better off you are today than when Obama was elected, she made herself look blind, referring only to the One Percent. All the growth in the American economy from 2008 to 2016 accrued only to 5% of the population – the richest. 95% of the population were worse off. Trump saw the obvious – which you would think that any member of the 95% would have seen. When Hillary tried to convince people they were better off, Trump simply said, “Let’s look at reality: You’re worse off.”
Voters thought that if he could see that they’re worse off, he must know how to cure it – instead of knowing how to make them even more worse off. People wanted prosperity and Trump said NATO’s obsolete. There’s no reason for us to maintain it—Russia’s not going to invade Europe. Why should they invade? There’s no way any European country is going to militarily invade another.
The new mode of warfare isn’t military anymore, it’s financial. Russia and China realize that the United States is dissipating its ability to conquer countries financially by spending its economic surplus on military and the FIRE sector. Trump realized that as a real estate developer, he’d been fighting banks all his life. There’s no love there for the banks.
So the neocons are out to get him. They’re saying it is treason to want peace instead of war. We need an enemy sufficient enough to justify giving all the surplus to the upper 5% and spending it on the military. If you don’t advocate doing that, you’re a traitor – to their fortunes. So they’re out to get rid of him.
Adam Simpson: As I understand it, he has promised to increase military spending even without perhaps the enemy that Hillary would have painted Russia to be.
Michael Hudson: On the one hand, he did say that. On the other hand he said look we’re not going to spend so much money on Air Force One, you’re overcharging it. We’re going to get rid of the F-35 fighter—it’s cost almost a trillion dollars. He said that is a waste. We’re going to get rid of the waste. But if you get rid of the waste and what’s not necessary, you’re going to have lower military spending. So I don’t see what Trump is going to spend more military money on.
peakprosperity | Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton recently agreed:
Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might, said Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton on Monday.
If an entrepreneur invents something on the order of another Facebook, Deaton said he has no problem with that person becoming wealthy.
“What is not OK is for rent-seekers to get rich,” Deaton said in a luncheon speech to the National Association for Business Economics.
Rent seekers lobby and persuade governments to give them special favors.
Bankers during the financial crisis, and much of the health-care system, are two prime examples, Deaton said.
Rent-seeking not only does not generate new product, it actually slows down economic growth, Deaton said.
“All that talent is devoted to stealing things, instead of making things,” he said.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
freakonomics | We tend to think of medicine as a science, but for most of human history it has been scientific-ish at best. In the first episode of a three-part series, we look at the grotesque mistakes produced by centuries of trial-and-error, and ask whether the new era of evidence-based medicine is the solution.
freakonomics | How do so many ineffective and even dangerous drugs make it to market? One reason is that clinical trials are often run on “dream patients” who aren’t representative of a larger population. On the other hand, sometimes the only thing worse than being excluded from a drug trial is being included.
freakonomics | By some estimates, medical error is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. How can that be? And what’s to be done? Our third and final episode in this series offers some encouraging answers.
ZH | The percentage of people who are business owners relative to the overall employed population, is at an all time low.
The Fast Company, Shark Tank echo chamber would have you believe that entrepreneurialism is in a bubble.
Unprofitable, tech-centric gimmicks that are fueled by loosed monetary policies from the Fed are in a bubble. Legitimate businesses that produce cash flow and grow the middle class are not being created much, if at all.
Because the US has been waging war on the self-employed since the 1950’s, we not only have very few self-employed people in the workforce, we also have multiple generations of journalists who have ZERO experience engaging with those who run an actual business.
This is why NO ONE in the media gets Trump or the impact of his policies.
None of them have ever had to make payroll or create something from nothing. They’ve spent the last eight years literally kowtowing to a man who openly told the self-employed, “you didn’t build that.”
The same can be said for economists.
Time and again, you will see academics like Paul Krugman write op-eds suggesting that Trump is going to collapse the economy. Krugman has never once had to actually run a business. His entire career has been one of writing the equivalent of glorified book reports for other people who write glorified book reports to read.
If you ran a McDonalds or plumbing business implementing anything Krugman claims, you’d be broke within six months. The man lives in a world of excel spreadsheets and faculty meetings, not the world of revenues and payroll.
So what is Trump doing?
First off, Trump is getting rid of regulations.
Economists don’t understand the impact of this because none of their models include regulations. According to an economist, you simply “start a business.” These people have no concept of the business costs of licenses and the like.
Business owners care far more about regulations than taxes. Get ride of stifling regulations and you can start growing your business more aggressively.
I can tell you, business owners would happily pay more in taxes if they were doing 50% more in revenues. No business owner feels successful paying less in taxes on a business with zero growth.
Regarding taxes themselves, Trump understands them better than anyone in politics in the last 30 years.
Because as a business owner, Trump has been paying more taxes than the media or politicians can believe. This is why the obsession with Trump’s personal taxes is beyond moronic.
As a business owner, Trump has been paying taxes on property, payroll tax, taxes on some products, excise taxes, and a slew of others than journalists and economists don’t even know exist.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
NewYorker | In 1993, when Nick Patterson mailed Robert Mercer a job offer from Renaissance, Mercer threw it in the trash: he’d never heard of the hedge fund. At the time, Mercer was part of a team pioneering the use of computers to translate languages. I.B.M. considered the project a bit of a luxury, and didn’t see its potential, though the work laid the foundation for Google Translate and Apple’s Siri. But Mercer and his main partner, Peter Brown, found the project exciting, and had the satisfaction of showing up experts in the field, who had dismissed their statistical approach to translating languages as impractical. Instead of trying to teach a computer linguistic rules, Mercer and Brown downloaded enormous quantities of dual-language documents—including Canadian parliamentary records—and created code that analyzed the data and detected patterns, enabling predictions of probable translations. According to a former I.B.M. colleague, Mercer was obsessive, and at one point took six months off to type into a computer every entry in a Spanish-English dictionary. Sebastian Mallaby, in his 2010 book on the hedge-fund industry, “More Money Than God,” reports that Mercer’s boss at I.B.M. once jokingly called him an “automaton.”
In 2014, Mercer accepted a lifetime-achievement award from the Association for Computational Linguistics. In a speech at the ceremony, Mercer, who grew up in New Mexico, said that he had a “jaundiced view” of government. While in college, he had worked on a military base in Albuquerque, and he had showed his superiors how to run certain computer programs a hundred times faster; instead of saving time and money, the bureaucrats ran a hundred times more equations. He concluded that the goal of government officials was “not so much to get answers as to consume the computer budget.” Mercer’s colleagues say that he views the government as arrogant and inefficient, and believes that individuals need to be self-sufficient, and should not receive aid from the state. Yet, when I.B.M. failed to offer adequate support for Mercer and Brown’s translation project, they secured additional funding from DARPA, the secretive Pentagon program. Despite Mercer’s disdain for “big government,” this funding was essential to his early success.
Meanwhile, Patterson kept asking Mercer and Brown to join Renaissance. He thought that their technique of extracting patterns from huge amounts of data could be applied to the pile of numbers generated daily by the global trade in stocks, bonds, commodities, and currencies. The patterns could generate predictive financial models that would give traders a decisive edge.
medium | “This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go,” said professor Jonathan Albright.
Albright, an assistant professor and data scientist at Elon University, started digging into fake news sites after Donald Trump was elected president. Through extensive research and interviews with Albright and other key experts in the field, including Samuel Woolley, Head of Research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, and Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at Kings College, it became clear to Scout that this phenomenon was about much more than just a few fake news stories. It was a piece of a much bigger and darker puzzle — a Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine being used to manipulate our opinions and behavior to advance specific political agendas.
By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion. Many of these technologies have been used individually to some effect before, but together they make up a nearly impenetrable voter manipulation machine that is quickly becoming the new deciding factor in elections around the world.
Most recently, Analytica helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump, secured a win for the Brexit Leave campaign, and led Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign surge, shepherding him from the back of the GOP primary pack to the front.
The company is owned and controlled by conservative and alt-right interests that are also deeply entwined in the Trump administration. The Mercer family is both a major owner of Cambridge Analytica and one of Trump’s biggest donors. Steve Bannon, in addition to acting as Trump’s Chief Strategist and a member of the White House Security Council, is a Cambridge Analytica board member. Until recently, Analytica’s CTO was the acting CTO at the Republican National Convention.
Presumably because of its alliances, Analytica has declined to work on any democratic campaigns — at least in the U.S. It is, however, in final talks to help Trump manage public opinion around his presidential policies and to expand sales for the Trump Organization. Cambridge Analytica is now expanding aggressively into U.S. commercial markets and is also meeting with right-wing parties and governments in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
Cambridge Analytica isn’t the only company that could pull this off — but it is the most powerful right now. Understanding Cambridge Analytica and the bigger AI Propaganda Machine is essential for anyone who wants to understand modern political power, build a movement, or keep from being manipulated. The Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine it represents has become the new prerequisite for political success in a world of polarization, isolation, trolls, and dark posts.