Trump, Mercer, online data, mass manipulation

This is a long investigative article but it sheds some light on what has been happening with the use of data based mass manipulation in relation to the Brexit vote and in the US. The names of Robert Mercer, Stephen Bannon, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are intertwined.

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing US computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network

Just over a week ago, Donald Trump gathered members of the world’s press before him and told them they were liars. “The press, honestly, is out of control,” he said. “The public doesn’t believe you any more.” CNN was described as “very fake news… story after story is bad”. The BBC was “another beauty”.

That night I did two things. First, I typed “Trump” in the search box of Twitter. My feed was reporting that he was crazy, a lunatic, a raving madman. But that wasn’t how it was playing out elsewhere. The results produced a stream of “Go Donald!!!!”, and “You show ’em!!!” There were star-spangled banner emojis and thumbs-up emojis and clips of Trump laying into the “FAKE news MSM liars!”

Trump had spoken, and his audience had heard him. Then I did what I’ve been doing for two and a half months now. I Googled “mainstream media is…” And there it was. Google’s autocomplete suggestions: “mainstream media is… dead, dying, fake news, fake, finished”. Is it dead, I wonder? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the mainstream media – we, us, I – dying?

I did the same search and get the same result:

mainstreammediais

That is effective international manipulation of Google search rankings.

I click Google’s first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: “The Mainstream media are dead.” They’re dead, I learn, because they – we, I – “cannot be trusted”.

My first two hits are James O’Keefe (part of the same right wing media network) related, the third is CNS News.

How had it, an obscure site I’d never heard of, dominated Google’s search algorithm on the topic? In the “About us” tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is “America’s media watchdog”, an organisation that claims an “unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture”.

Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding – more than $10m in the past decade – from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trump’s single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump campaign.

The article goes on to detail how Mercer has been involved in funding and assisting right wing interests to gather and use online data, and how they are manipulating Google and Facebook to promote their interests.

Nigel Farage was assisted free of charge in the Brexit campaign.

And they swung from initially supporting Ted Cruz’s campaign to get in behind Donald Trump.And the rest of that campaign is history.

But since then it’s easy to recognise what Trump says on Twitter and in media conferences as carefully littered with key words to provoke emotional responses.

A large number of Americans have been attracted to this, and more than a few Kiwis as well.

Even if you support Trump, and want to continue to support him, you should understand how this is being done – because someone else who you disagree with, perhaps strongly, may place the same game.

It’s good to see that his sort of investigative journalism is not dead, despite how some are trying to brainwash the world.

War with the press strategic

It is fairly obvious that Trump and his campaign team, and now Trump and his White House team, are running a war on the media strategy.

This is made easier by how some of the media have dealt with Trump and how they continue to report on him.

VOX: Trump can be impulsive. But his war with the press is strategic.

Donald Trump very deliberately picked a fight with the media to help fuel his rise to the White House, and now that he’s there — and his administration is struggling — he is strategically escalating it.

On Friday, the administration canceled press secretary Sean Spicer’s scheduled briefing to the full White House press corps, and replaced it instead with an off-camera briefing to which some media outlets were invited — and others were excluded, including CNN, the New York Times, Politico, and BuzzFeed News.

This isn’t an isolated incident. The move came on the heels of a morning speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in which Trump complained, at length, about what he called the “fake” media, saying “they are the enemy of the people.”

And at Trump’s freewheeling press conference last week, he similarly started off by denouncing members of the media who, he said, “will not tell you the truth and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that we deserve.”

Trump can be erratic, reactionary and unpredictable but this is too consistent to be anything other than a deliberate strategy.

Though Trump is surely motivated in part by personal pique here, and he has long complained about the press, it’s now indisputable that the attacks on the press are part of a deliberate White House strategy — one that has the fingerprints of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who early on in the administration suggested the media was the “opposition party” and Trump’s most important foe.

Some claim this is to divert from what the White House are achieving. Andrew Prokop claims this is to hide their lack of achievements, including:

  1. He’s ended his first month without any significant accomplishments (since his controversial immigration and travel order is currently frozen in the courts).
  2.  2) He’s been plagued by a seemingly endless series of leaks from what appears to be every level of the government.
  3. There are burgeoning scandals potentially implicating his administration officials and associates — scandals publicized and often exacerbated by the aforementioned leaks.
  4. With Democrats reduced to minority status in both houses of Congress, and years remaining before candidates begin challenging him for the 2020 election, he’s lacking an obvious enemy to make his foil.

It could be a bit of both – diversion from what they are trying to do and diversion from failures.

Trump appears to be trying to solve all these problems by attacking the press. Doing so changes the subject from his lack of accomplishments and scandals. It also discredits the institution that is the conveyor of a great deal of negative information about him. And it gives Trump a nemesis he can fire up the conservative base by fighting.

The strategy certainly seems be be pleasing at least some of Trump’s support base, who only seem to see positives in him so anyone who criticises is seen as a negative.

But the fairly large number of sceptics and opponents are unlikely to be converted to the Trump cause by this. They also risk losing from support if Trump fails to live up to his boasts.

Trump and his team are deepening the divide. This may or may not be a deliberate strategy.

Will it work? Maybe, to an extent (every President will always have opponents).

The bigger picture here is that being president is difficult, and Donald Trump has had a particularly rocky start to his administration.

With his appointees bogged down in Congress, no evident movement on any of his major legislative priorities, his main executive action blocked in the courts, and his top national security aide already fired and replaced, Trump has little to show for his first month in office.

The idea that he can get his mojo back by attacking the press might seem to make sense. After all, Trump enjoys fighting, so if the goal here is to please the president by picking a fight, then mission accomplished.

But if the goal is to actually get anything done in this administration, it’s not so clear this is wise. Picking random fights with the media won’t help the White House get anything through Congress. It won’t make FBI investigations go away. And it won’t help the administration’s arguments in the courts.

Another problem is that if the administration destroys its own credibility by waging a war on the press, it could have a hard time getting its message out later when it truly needs to — say, during a major crisis of some kind.

A ‘cry wolf’ problem. This also applies to when there is actually valid criticism of some media – it could be largely ignored as just more strategy.

The media has a credibility problem, but so does Trump. It’s likely the bulk of the public will become even more disillusioned with both the politicians and the press.

Moves like this could also make the leak problem worse. The more people inside the government get scared that Trump is threatening democracy, the more they might be motivated to leak a damaging bit of information before it’s too late.

Finally, it’s also worth remembering that presidents can greatly damage themselves by overreacting to leaks. The Watergate scandal came about because President Nixon was furious at leaks, and in an effort to “fight back” against leakers, his White House aides created the “plumbers” to retaliate against leakers and political opponents (because plumbers, you see, fix leaks). This eventually led to the botched Watergate break-in at the DNC headquarters. That didn’t play so well in the press, either.

Trump, Bannon et al may feel that they are invincible, the best anti-press revolutionary strategists ever.

But for all it’s faults the media is a many pronged and resilient combatant, spread around the US and around the world.

And all they have to do is observe, investigate and report. They don’t have to try and run the world’s biggest power and biggest bureaucracy at the same time.

“New political order”…”can’t be stopped

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in the US senior White House Staff have said  “there’s a new political order that’s being formed” and “if the party and the conservative movement are together, it can’t be stopped”.

BBC via RNZ: Bannon hails ‘new political order’

Steve Bannon vowed at a conservative conference to bring together those of “wide and sometimes divergent opinions” in support of “economic nationalism”.

“We are a nation with a culture and a reason for being,” the normally behind-the-scenes adviser told the audience.

He said the president was “maniacally focused” on pursuing his agenda.

“I’ve said that there’s a new political order that’s being formed out of this. And it’s still being formed,” he said.

The former editor of Breitbart News Network appeared with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

During his appearance on Thursday, Mr Bannon repeated his attack on the media, describing members of the press as the “opposition party” who are “always wrong” about Mr Trump.

“I think if you look at, you know, the opposition party,” Mr Bannon said, referring to the media.

It’s likely to be no coincidence that Breitbart fan Cameron Slater has been calling the New Zealand media “the opposition party” for the past few months. It’s a bit pathetic, but those trying to overreach for power often try to talk up enemies to go up against.

“How they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and how they’re portraying the administration – it’s always wrong,” he told Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosted the conference.

Referring to the “corporatist, globalist media”, he said: “If you [the audience] think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken.”

Pot calling kettle black with gross exaggerations saying the media are “always wrong”.

“The truth of the matter is [Trump] brought together the party and the conservative moment, and I’ve got to tell you, if the party and the conservative movement are together, it can’t be stopped,” Mr Priebus said.

With Republican majorities in both the Senate and Congress a lot can probably be done, but Trump’s administration has already found out that another check on power, the US courts, can at least slow them down.

‘President Bannon’

 

It’s no surprise to see that Donald Trump is irked by challenges to his supremacy and authority as President. It didn’t take long for critics to recognise that Stephen Bannon was a likely achilles heel for Trump – both in the risks Bannon posed by trying to overreach with White House actions, and with doubts about who was pulling the White House strings.

NY Times: Trump leans on ‘fake news’ line to combat reports of West Wing dysfunction

The president appears especially irked by the growing narrative of Bannon as the real power in the White House.

President Donald Trump on Monday lashed out via Twitter at a series of news reports revealing the turmoil inside the White House, leaning on his crutch of “fake news” as he struggles to control a hardening narrative about a dysfunctional West Wing.

One of his missives came from Air Force One en route to Tampa, Fla., as Trump panned a New York Times report that detailed the friction inside his administration and its early stumbles.

“The failing @nytimes writes total fiction concerning me. They have gotten it wrong for two years, and now are making up stories & sources!” Trump tweeted at 11:32 a.m., ignoring the fact that many of his top advisers were quoted by name in the story.

Trump seemed particularly incensed by reports and parodies about chief strategist Steve Bannon being the actual decision-maker in the White House.

It comes as The New York Times released an unflattering portrait of Trump’s nights at the White House.

It suggested he spends much of his time watching cable news and wasn’t fully briefed before signing an executive order elevating Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council.

The message came at 7:01 a.m., 52 minutes after Joe Scarborough, whose MSNBC morning show the president is known to watch religiously, had suggested that “maybe Bannon’s calling all the shots.”

Being super sensitive about anything threatening his ego always looked like being a weakness for Trump.

Trump is also grumpy about negative polls (is he happy with positive polls?).

NZ Herald: Donald Trump lashes out over ‘negative polls’

CNN/ORC poll released on Sunday found that 53 per cent of American respondents opposed Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out that Trump tweeted about “fake” polls about 30 minutes after the network revealed the poll results.

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US abuse of charities in politics

There are a lot of abuses in the US involving money in politics. Huge amounts of money are involved, being used to try and attain huge amounts of power. Regulations and laws are generally pathetic when it comes to controlling abuses.

The Washington Post has a story that shows how easy it is to abuse the intent of charities as a way of financing political activism tax free.

Trump adviser received salary from charity while steering Breitbart News

Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon accepted $376,000 in pay over four years for working 30 hours a week at a tiny tax-exempt charity in Tallahassee while also serving as the hands-on executive chairman of Breitbart News Network.

During the same four-year period, the charity paid about $1.3 million in salaries to two other journalists who said they put in 40 hours a week there while also working for the politically conservative news outlet, according to publicly available documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

The salary payments are one part of a close relationship between the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute, a conservative investigative research organization, and for-profit Breitbart News.

Breitbart News openly and actively promoted Trump and trashed Clinton. Bannon was employed as a Trump campaign advisor in August, and will now become one of Trump’s most senior assistants.

The ties between the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) and Breitbart call into question the assertions the institute made in filings to the IRS that it is an independent, nonpartisan operation, according to philanthropic specialists and former IRS officials.

Bannon launched the institute in 2012, shortly after taking the helm of Breitbart. He sought tax-exempt status from the IRS by describing the institute as an education group to help the United States and other countries maintain a “higher quality of life” through “promotion of economic freedom,” according to IRS filings.

The institute’s board of directors included Rebekah Mercer, director of the conservative family charity, who has become an influential adviser to Bannon and Trump, disclosure forms show.

So it’s a tax free sham, like many US political organisations.

Under federal code, tax-exempt groups known as 501(c)3 public charities must “not participate in, or intervene in [including the publishing or distributing of statements], any political campaign on behalf of [or in opposition to] any candidate for public office.” 

That’s a joke.

GAI spokeswoman Sandy Schulz told The Post the institute “is and always has been in total compliance with all 501(c)3 rules.”

So is that, but like others they get away with it.

Rob Reich, a political science professor at Stanford University who studies philanthropy, said the IRS regulations are poorly written and difficult to enforce. As a consequence, ideologically driven charities across the political spectrum are taking advantage of the agency’s minimal oversight.

Huge amounts of money slosh around with impunity in the United States’ corrupt democracy.