Looking at the Indivisible Guide for Progressive Tea Party

from the Indivisible Guide Facebook page

New Orleans   Some groups are forming in Congressional Districts as part of the resistance to President Trump’s agenda and are deliberately mimicking the Tea Party’s earlier playbook when they were opposing any and all Obama. Several groups are using Indivisible in their names having been inspired by the Indivisible Guide, which is described as having been written by former Congressional staffers. The Guide is a straightforward how-to piece on going after members of Congress, referred to throughout as MOC’s.

The authors are somewhat unlikely protestors. The names identified by their Twitter handles, which seems so “Age of Trump” it almost made me pause, call themselves the Indivisible Team. They include a 40-year veteran lawyer with his name on a corporate law firm in New York, a public interest lawyer based in San Francisco, an Arlington, Virginia DC beltway woman who seems to be working with and perhaps formerly worked for Tom Perriello, a one term Democratic Congressman who has announced as a candidate for Governor of Virginia, and was a cofounder of the online petitioning group, Avaaz, and finally a health and immigration policy analyst with experience with the National Immigration Law Center. In fact they probably are not really protestors so much as advocates with deep experience as lobbyists, who see this as a hammer that they have seen frighten the bejesus out of Congressional representatives in the past, and have a identified a moment where people are looking to strike a nail back home.

That said, read as a lobbying guide, rather than an organizing program, the Indivisible Guide has real value. It gets to the nuts and bolts including phone script role plays that are reality based. Their tactical descriptions and discussion of preparations for town hall meetings with the local representatives is about the best any organizer could hope to read if they were planning an action at such an event. Their advice on triggering the press for even small 10-person actions with social media and how to employ such tools in organizing their protests also is accurate and helpful. The short story is that for those of us who read – and write – manuals about organizing models and tools, they did a good job.

At the same time, these are not people looking to create big social change or drain the swamp. They totally believe in this system and how it works. They advise against getting caught up in discussions about policy or programs, saying progressives don’t have a chance. In their view this guide and the call of the moment is all about resistance.

I appreciated their transparency and the value of their guide, but resistance without a plan or program that takes the status quo as certain and bounded rigidly by the election cycle, is a stopgap at best and misses the moment and the opportunity, while risking seeming like nothing more than protest for protest sake. Right now protestors are in it for the win, not just to hear their own voices yell, and they need a guide for that strategy as well, not simply a well assembled how-to tactical manual on grassroots lobbying.


Fake News and a Field Guide to Lies

fake-newsNew Orleans You have to love headline news about fake news.  Usually fake news is in the stories, not the headlines.  We all have to appreciate the irony contained in articles in almost any newspaper, especially opinion pieces, about fake news when there is no disclosure of inherent biases contained in any of them.  Nonetheless, it is a real and ageless problem.  What do we do about outright lies that take on lives of their own and move public opinion and often become impossible to ever pry loose?

            Admittedly, I’m jaded about this.  For all of the journalists and columnists now trying to act high and mighty because of their fears about the Trump ascension and the host of different tribes in his movement, it seems a case of “whose ox is being gored.”  Don’t make me go into the total fakery involved in contentions around voter fraud versus voter registration errors once again.  Finally, most commentators have sorted this out, but for conservatives in the USA, it’s too little, too late, since so much of this has seeped into the ideological fabric of the right, when it was always a lie, just never called out in a timely fashion, and without defenders when ACORN and others were attacked and decimated.

            Nonetheless, let’s swallow our bitterness hard, and say, better late than never.  Facebook thus far seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth without a real plan that they are willing to throw money and muscle at, as they vacillate between concerns about free speech and the damage of fake news.  Studies indicate that Facebook is a much louder microphone for all of this than Twitter, but they are all swimming in the same stew of privileging eyeballs and advertising regardless of adverse impacts and real harm to millions.

            But, even if they make progress in some directions, ferreting out the facts in all of the news may be harder than any are willing to admit.  Reading neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s A Field Guide to Lies:  Critical Thinking in the Information Age was a fascinating look at both how easy in our fast moving world it is easy to be fooled if we’re not paying close attention, as well as how determined many of the actors in business and politics are to fool us, and I’m not talking about basement hackers in Russia or scammers in Nigeria.   Some of the bits on advanced math and reasoning might not be helpful to the average bear, but his points on how we are often manipulated by fake facts hidden in preposterous math or deceptive charts and graphs lacking any qualifications or context were excellent and sound a solid cautionary note about how difficult separating facts from fiction may be for many.

            Once again though we have to confront the fact that power plays with fact and fiction.  We do not yet have an accurate count on the number of people who were effectively disenfranchised by the wave of Republican-led voter suppression laws state by state in the recent election, but we know it is in the millions.  We have to weigh all of those unjustly deprived of their votes, particularly among low-and-moderate income and minority families against the right’s argument that even if there are only a handful of actual, proven cases of voter fraud in the US annually they still justify the barriers to voting even if they rob millions of their right to vote.

            Let’s hope the search for truth is not a temporary project or a finger pointing exercise but a real and objective effort to level the playing field with facts rather than fiction.


Glenn Beck Says Facebook is Cool, No Problem

 The entrance to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., where a group of 16 Republican pundits and politicians met with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other top executives on Wednesday. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

The entrance to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., where a group of 16 Republican pundits and politicians met with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other top executives on Wednesday. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

San Francisco    So, Mohammed went to the mountain. Supposedly a dozen or so big name conservatives were rolling into Silicon Valley and, more specifically, Facebook’s headquarters to meet with be top brass there to make sure the Facebook news feed and trending stories weren’t being slanted to the left. There was a lot of buildup to this peacekeeping mission before the meeting several days ago, but pretty much radio silence after that.

Somewhat surprisingly, I was sent the report from one of the big names at the summit, our old nemesis, Glenn Beck, dot connector and conspiracy hunter on radio and television. Beck’s report boiled down to the bottom line was, no problem, this is a much ado about nothing, they’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

He reports that between 25 and 30 folks met with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. He listened to what they had to say, and though being clear that he was a techno-peasant like most of the rest of us, he had listened carefully to his own tech people, and he thought it was one of those things where they were sincere, and it was just one guy with one beef crying that the sky was falling, and not a real problem to his lights. He was clear he had been a long time Facebook fan, and was nothing but positive about Zuckerberg. All of the concerns in the mainstream media about the responsibilities of Facebook as major news source without the proper protocols and accountability to be whispering in the ears and infiltrating the eyes of 1.6 billion, didn’t faze Beck in the least. He was good on all that.

On the other hand, he had some worries he wanted to share, presumably not with the likes of me, but with his conservative readership, that offered an interesting peephole into what the other folks and the room might have been saying. And, what his compadres were saying was worrisome to Beck, because they sounded like a much liberals to our guy, Glenn.

Reading between the lines some of the fire breathers must have seen a meeting with the big whoops of Facebook as a chance to put their noses under the tent and convert this dustup into a permanent presence. They had demands about diversity, Mormon representation, a 6-month training program for the employees so they understood conservatism, etc, etc. In Beck’s words,

It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges. I sat there, looking around the room at ‘our side’ wondering, ‘Who are we?’ Who am I?

He also mentioned some folks that must not have left the meeting in the same “happy place” that Beck had found, like the CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee and some other people unknown to me.

But, before you think, wow, Glenn Beck, what might a meeting have been like where he was the voice of reason, the more worrisome thing to take away is not Beck’s astute note on the similarity of demands from any aggrieved group, but the fact that Beck felt at home with the political philosophy being expressed in Silicon Valley and at Facebook, the sort of libertarian, conservative anarchism that permeates the space. As Beck said elsewhere in his piece,

I understand why conservatives are suspicious of Silicon Valley. It can feel a lot like the main stream media. But I’ve told you many times that I feel at home in Silicon Valley. I love the energy. These are people who want to innovate and disrupt, they want the government to stop regulating their businesses, they want small business to succeed, they value personal responsibility, etc. Why they are liberal? I don’t know, but in general, they’re not Progressives, at least not the folks I met with today (though I’m sure there were a few).

For anyone who thinks Silicon Valley and tech-world is somehow a bastion of progressive folks because you like your IPhone and your Amazon Prime and your Facebook, Beck is giving you the skinny. He’s “sure there were a few” out there, but he’s still looking. He observed that the real problem that under-girded the meeting and this incident is that there was no trust between conservatives and Facebook. Progressives should have the same caution and reserve trust, and perhaps like Beck, even judgement, no matter how much we love the tools. These people are scary.


India Puts a Halt to Facebook’s Arrogance and Colonialism

FacebookNew Orleans   The old saying is that “pride cometh before a fall,” and sometimes pure arrogance continues to be glaringly obvious even after a fall. It will be interesting to see if Facebook learns anything from its disastrous mishandling of internet access and politics in India or the whipping that India just gave them. The bottom line is that the Indian government was able to see through the Trojan horse strategy around Facebook’s claims for its expansion in the country that would advance their commercial interests and provide them control over internet access. Methinks the company doth protest too much, but it’s busted, so hopefully they will cop a plea and walk the line in the future.

Here’s the backstory though. Facebook over the last year rolled out a service, shrewdly named and packaged as Facebook Free Basics in India, just as they have been doing in Africa. Their claim is free access to a limited number of websites that channel internet through Facebook’s servers for technical reasons. They marketed the service through the huge India-based conglomerate Reliance. They claim that they brought 1 million people onto the internet for the first time, which sounds like a lot at first blush, but not so much when you realize that 100 million Indians came online for the first time in 2015, making Facebook a small drop in a big bucket.

The Indian regulator brought Facebook down to size and, importantly, protected “net neutrality,” which Facebook claims to support at least in the United States, by ruling that free services are illegal when they favor any content by waiving mobile fees. In doing so they joined other countries that have banned “zero rating” of content including the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Chile. The slippery way Facebook was back-dooring their business and claiming they were do-gooders while doing the opposite lies in the fact that they would have had the sole decision making ability on any additional services gaining access through Free Basics and its slower bandwidth.

Who did they think they were fooling? As the Software Freedom Law Center told The Wall Street Journal, “Once you create walled gardens that raise barriers of entry, anybody capable of getting into agreements like Free Basics are in a competitive sense the only companies that can be online.” A self-interested Facebook board member seemed to argue that maybe colonialism would be better in India than allowing the country to make these kind of bonehead decisions, prompting outrage from Indians, and forcing Facebook to disavow his comments and muscle him into making an apology.

An apology is simply something coming from the moving parts of the mouth, not a change in mindset, and that is clearly the problem with Facebook’s arrogance. Mark Zuckerberg is developing a happen of claiming something is charity, while making sure he and/or his company grip everything with an iron fist.

The only place the charge of colonialism sticks is on Facebook itself and the way it has handled and set up this program and its sly efforts at global dominance of the internet in developing countries in the guise of charity. India has called them out, and other countries need to follow. Facebook needs to change its tune or hear the chants of protest not only in developing countries but throughout the world.


A Facebook Gift with Ropes Attached

60a2Little Rock    You have to give Mark Zuckerberg credit for some things. Without Facebook providing the legitimacy for unparalleled narcissism through the “selfie,” where would the hardcore narcissists be? He also has a flair for publicity and the dramatic, as we are reminded once again.

Out in the land of the Lilliputians where most of us live, we were already prepared for the announcement of the birth of their first child, a daughter named Max incidentally, to be greeted for a bit as perhaps the richest child in the world being the potential heir to $45 billion from Zuckerberg. Since we don’t formally crown our royalty like they do in Great Britain and other old school countries, but instead anoint the rich in the same way, we would have normally expected baby pictures galore following in the hallowed British tradition. Instead, Zuckerberg upstaged his daughter’s first big moment of fame as he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced through a letter to their daughter on Facebook of course that they were giving almost the whole pile away to something they called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Before you start putting dollar bills in envelopes and collecting cans of corn and beans to send to him in San Francisco, keep in mind that even retaining 1% still leaves the baby and parents comfortable and not just because they are holding onto their day jobs. The one-percent they are keeping still leaves them with $450 million, which continues to be sufficient assets to allow them to escape welfare even in California.

Furthermore, the giveaway is not exactly a giveaway. I’m not sure what you would call it, but it is a little bit like moving money from one pocket to another in some ways.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is being organized as an LLC, a limited liability corporation, under the laws of Delaware. This is not a nonprofit designation. This is not a social enterprise handle. This is not a tax deduction. This is not a foundation, like Ford or Gates or Rockefeller, not that that would have been a good idea either. In fact the tax lawyers consulted by the Wall Street Journal said that given his youth, the stock value, and the fact that there is no dividend income, he would not have gotten a tax advantage out of creating a tax exempt private foundation anyway. Essentially, this is not even a gift but something more akin to an asset transfer. There’s not even any “giveaway” to the gift, because an LLC lets Zuckerberg and his wife control all of the decisions about how the money is spent with no requirement or regulations.

All of this pretty much makes the $45 billion “go wild” money just as it was before the letter to the daughter press release. They can use this as an investment vehicle in both nonprofit and for profit businesses. They can make political contributions from these funds. Heck, they can even give more money away to charter school pilots and the like. They can do whatever they darned well please with the money, because it’s still their money. There aren’t strings attached to this gift, but the sturdiest of ropes tying it right back to their personal interests and pocketbooks.

In fact, some of their “letter” is kind of warped and creepy when they say, “We must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates. Progress must be supported by movements to be sustainable.” The syntax alone is not the sketchiest part. What he is really saying is what is scary. This is a bald assertion that so-called “progress” created by the kind of “policy and advocacy” Zuckerberg would advance from the wallet at the top on down to the rest of us, must also fund “movements” like the kind of grass “tips” groups he and other Silicon Valley techies have been promoting in their own interest, and these faux “movements” — and what a perversion of the word, work and spirit of real movements this is — have to have his kind of “support” in order “to be sustainable.”

Here’s hoping that Max becomes a Hunger Games kind of rebel warrior and joins with the rest of us, because we might all strangle on the strings attached to this kind of so-called gift.


Facebook Rules the World According to Facebook

FACEBOOK_IPO_914259fNew Orleans    There’s nothing so juicy in the world of the billionaires, high flyers, and masters of the universe for the rest of us peons and hoi polloi as when they overstep the boundaries of even standard arrogance.  Not long ago Comcast and its chief lobbyist and bully boy, David Cohen, did so in a lengthy scold which gave everyone a sense of how they would wield their power as a full-on monopoly if the President and the FCC allowed it.   The head of Uber, the ridesharing service and frequent lawbreaker, does so routinely to the degree they are getting pushed out of countries and having to do the “walk of shame” in a number of European cities.  Now on the eve of the big whoops annual winter blowout in Davos, Switzerland, the Facebook folk led by their chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, have leaned into a mess as they claim they are responsible for $227 billion in global economic impact and 4.5 million jobs last year or, as the Wall Street Journal reports, “roughly the gross domestic product of Portugal.”  To risk a pun, even on its face, Facebook must have known this was preposterous.

They bought and paid for the study making such wild claims from the consulting firm Deloitte.  They paid for a high number in assessing their own performance, so not surprisingly they got it, most of which was based on inflating the economic worth of each “like” on Facebook.  Deloitte said that they “looked at how many people responded to events on Facebook and multiplied the estimated number of attendees by the average cost of a pub visit, then added an estimate of the ancillary economic benefits of the gatherings.”  Wow, that just takes the breath way.  Obviously, the Deloitte folks don’t actually use Facebook.  There seems to be no discount value applied to the number of people who might “like” something and then never come back to the site again, which Facebook’s own analytics very accurately document.  The percentages are often infinitely low.  Furthermore on events the discount rate, as any organizer could have told them, can run up to 90% since many will “like” the event or say they will attend just to be supportive, even if it is in a foreign country for crying out loud.  That’s the way Facebook works.  I don’t want to even imagine what Deloitte thinks a so-called “pub visit” costs but given how they did this study, I have a feeling they have spent a lot of time in pubs!

Sandberg and the Facebook self-promo folks who claimed in her statement that they were doing all of this because of a “genuine desire…to understand the economic impact” they were having, and of course increase the ad dollars they could harvest by puffing themselves up.  She thought the fake study might “help influence policies in favor of the tech industry.”   This must be a modern version of Facebook hoping that we all will start saying “what’s good for Facebook is good for the world,” just like the old saying about “what’s good for GM is good for America” went.

Not surprisingly real economists are having a field day of fun with the study.  One from Stanford in the Silicon Valley playpen was plain spoken saying, “The results are meaningless.  Facebook is an effect, not a cause, of the growth of Internet access and use.”  Another said they didn’t create “nearly as many jobs as the report suggests” and that the “study’s calculations” were “bad reasoning.”

The manager of Deloitte’s study cited a European survey saying that 16% of those asked said they “couldn’t live without social media.”  I guess since Facebook claims so much of the world’s economy and employment is coming from their website, we should be glad they are not taking credit for preventing 16% of all Europeans from committing suicide as well.

Anytime you’re ready, Facebookers, take foot out of your mouth and leave “voodoo economics” to the politicians.