…don’t blame me [DOT 20/4/23]

that's not what "at fault" means...allegedly...

…I get it…kinda…dominion doesn’t owe me a trial…& they ain’t such a big deal that around 3/4 of a billion bucks is something to sniff at…but…damn it…if they were going to settle for a little less than half of what they were seeking…it’s hard not to wish it had been a different half?

Yes, Rupert Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and others were spared testifying under oath. But the voluminous, shocking revelations from the case showed a great deal about Fox and how its business model interacts with the Republican Party — as well as with a political tradition on the right that goes back decades.

…that they did it so near a point when murdoch would have been in the witness stand makes a kind of sense…fox had to be desperate to avoid that…what with the summary judgments against them having established that they did what they were accused of doing…in a way which even going back decades you wouldn’t find a lot of precedents for…& their intent…or motivation…was pretty much the only thing considered to be in question…kinda like getting impeached for shit you obviously did only to not have to stand up & have it be counted

Fox has both promulgated and become subsumed by an alternative political tradition — perhaps most notoriously embodied by the John Birch Society in the 1960s — in which the far right, over decades, has challenged mainstream conservatism on core issues like isolationism, racism, the value of experts and expertise, violent rhetoric and conspiracism.

The Republican Party and the American right’s ability to police extremists was never particularly robust, but whatever guardrails they provided have become diminished through the years. Fox helped break the American right.
Just last month, even as Fox barreled toward trial and following revelation after revelation of hypocrisy and cynicism by the network’s prime-time hosts in particular, Mr. Carlson — who, among many other things, said in a text message that claims by Donald Trump and others relating to Dominion’s software were “absurd” — said that the 2020 election was “a grave betrayal of American democracy.” Restoring any kind of constraint is likely to be the work of years.

What will make this task even more difficult is that the views of Fox’s audience are hardly an aberration. Rooted in the nation’s traditions and culture, and in the far right’s in particular, those views have been modernized and mainstreamed by a variety of factors like technology, social media and economic incentives.

A decades-in-the-making shift in the structure of national politics — the concerns of the voting public and trends in the nation’s economy and culture and in conservative politics and especially media — emboldened the far right and radicalized Fox.
This strain of paranoia has deep roots on the American right. It was true of McCarthyism, which blamed State Department traitors for the “loss of China” to Communism. And it resonated with many members of the John Birch Society, a group that flourished in the 1960s, devoted to weeding out Communism from American life. Birchers, too, championed ideas that today’s Fox viewers find persuasive: The plot against America was orchestrated by liberals, State Department types, journalists and other elites out to destroy the country.

Another pattern that surfaced in the Fox revelations: Just as Mr. Carlson, Ms. Ingraham and Sean Hannity dismissed the Big Lie in private while giving airtime to Mr. Trump’s conspiracism in public, some Birchers questioned or played down the conspiracy theories of Robert Welch, a retired candy manufacturer and founder of the group, while remaining true to the Bircher mission and sticking by it.
Far-right conspiracy theories surface outlandish, extremist ideas, but their purveyors tend to have at least one foot planted in American mainstream culture. Fringe ideas pushed by people with mainstream credentials seem less fantastical and more believable. Many people forget or never knew that Mr. Carlson was very much in the media mainstream for decades, including stints at CNN and MSNBC. Before coming full time to Fox, he told a CPAC audience in 2009 that the right needed a real news organization — he used the example of The New York Times — to counter the left, an entity to not “just comment on the news, but dig it up and make it.”

…in case anyone needed yet another reason to confirm their opinion about that particular toad in the hole

Such theories also illustrate a kind of informal compact with America’s freewheeling capitalist economy, in which far-fetched notions gain cachet because they are packaged, sellable and familiar. Conspiracy theorists, the historian Robert Goldberg said in 2010 in comments that are applicable to Fox’s stars and executives, are “entrepreneurs in search of customers. They live and die by the sale of their merchandise.”
A critical difference between the experience of the Birchers and Fox and its audience today is that the Republican Party, at times, was willing and able to push Birchers and their ideas to the margins, where they remained for years. Today, the party seems neither willing nor able to police the extremes: It cannot control a national megaphone for Bircher-esque views and, as important, the way companies like Fox monetize them.

Like many savvy entrepreneurs, Fox’s stars are selling a product to meet a demand — and have done it skillfully, and sometimes with apparently grave consequences, as we saw when the U.S. Capitol was stormed by proponents of far-right conspiracy theories on Jan. 6, 2021. To an uncomfortable extent, its survival is intimately bound to its viewers’ wishes and beliefs.

Mr. Trump’s recent appearances on the Hannity and Carlson programs suggest as much. For a while, Fox hoped to banish Mr. Trump, or at least sideline him. But after the indictment of Mr. Trump in Manhattan last month, Mr. Carlson, who once wrote in a text message that he hated Mr. Trump “passionately,” welcomed the former president back for a chummy interview.


…maybe smartmatic won’t go the distance, either…but…I probably would have been disappointed even if they got a guilty verdict…since short of making them go bust & achieving saturation coverage with the part where they don’t deserve to have the “news” part of their name out there gulling the faithful into a belief that’s what they peddle…I would have been anyway…but…it still sucks

…&…maybe worse

Nearly 60 years after the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which made it harder for public figures to win libel cases against the media, the landmark ruling is under sustained assault from judges, politicians and lawyers, most but not all of them conservatives.

The Dominion lawsuit, in which the voting machine company sought $1.6 billion in damages from Fox News for spreading falsehoods about Dominion’s role in the 2020 elections, had the potential to reshape the debate.
The agreement by Fox News to settle for $787.5 million — among the largest payouts ever in a defamation lawsuit — means that the scope of the Sullivan ruling will not be tested this time.
For decades, the Sullivan ruling was widely regarded as an essential safeguard that allowed journalists to aggressively cover public figures without fear that accidentally publishing an error — even a serious one — could expose them to devastating damages.
A turning point came in 2019 when the Supreme Court decided not to hear a case in which a woman who had accused Bill Cosby of rape sued him for defamation. Justice Clarence Thomas, who agreed that the court shouldn’t accept the case, wrote that the Sullivan decision and some of the court’s subsequent rulings “were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law” and should be overturned.

…not for nothing…but thomas isn’t an impartial justice any more than fox news is fair & balanced

Clarence Thomas Can Do No Wrong [NYT]

…& this overton window is one warped aperture through which to view the bigger picture

Justice Thomas’s fiery concurrence accelerated a campaign to chip away at First Amendment protections for the news media. Two years later, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch also signaled his openness to reconsidering Sullivan, which he said had “evolved into an ironclad subsidy for the publication of falsehoods by means and on a scale previously unimaginable.”

…call me crazy…or more likely naïve…but…well…have we considered…you know…not eroding press freedom but maybe firming up some definitions…so if it turns out you ain’t really “press” so much as politically-motivated hawkers of bullshit…you don’t qualify for those protections…because…it kinda seems like that might at least be looking at the right things…or some of them, anyway?

In recent court cases, Republican politicians suing the news media for defamation — including the former Senate candidates Don Blankenship and Roy Moore and the former congressman Devin Nunes — have explicitly pushed judges to abandon the Sullivan ruling.

Aside from trying to win their cases, the apparent goal was to present the Supreme Court with a vehicle to reconsider Sullivan.
At the same time, conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society have been convening public panels to discuss how the Sullivan ruling supposedly permitted biased, vindictive journalists to defame their enemies with impunity.

…it’s like the I’ll-impose-a-loyalty-test meaning I-get-to-fire-any-federal-employee-who-won’t-break-the-law-for-me thing…or the willful misconstruction of the rules about who’s liable for online content…there’s ways to make it sound like there’s room for improvement…but these assholes aren’t in the business of improvement

[…a whole other barrel of worm-ridden apples]

…& sometimes it’s hard to see who’s on which side of what line in the sand

Elizabeth M. Locke, a founding partner at Clare Locke, a defamation law firm that represented Dominion in its lawsuit against Fox News, has emerged as one of the most vocal advocates for overturning the Sullivan ruling.

“It’s virtually impossible to bring and win one of these cases,” Ms. Locke said this year. The media “have complete immunity from liability.” (In fact, Ms. Locke’s law firm and others have recently secured multimillion-dollar jury verdicts for public figures suing the media for defamation.)

Ms. Locke was speaking at a televised event that Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida hosted to build support for reversing Sullivan.

“It would contribute to an increase in the ethics in the media and everything if they knew: You know what? You smear somebody, you know it’s false and you didn’t do your homework, you’re going to have to be held accountable for that,” Mr. DeSantis said at the February event, the phrase “SPEAK TRUTH” emblazoned on a screen behind him. (In fact, the Sullivan ruling does not shield journalists from liability if they know what they are publishing is false.)


…sigh…if only there were some way to enforce that bit in caps on the likes of him…but…we know how that would go

…meanwhile…back in mundane reality

Viet Dinh, the highest-ranking legal officer at Fox News’s parent company, Fox Corp., had offered a glimmer of hope. He had walked company founder and chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan, who is Fox’s chief executive, through the legal issues and reassured them that the company could eventually prevail on appeal, even if it required going all the way to the Supreme Court, according to people familiar with the internal deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential conversations.

…that’s an expensive long haul if you’re dominion…although it doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence that the determinative factor in the justice system is…y’know…justice…but…in the wheels within wheels…who managed to gain traction with that hail mary for murdoch & his malicious influence operation?

The two sides obliged, and their lawyers spent the weekend attempting to hammer out a deal without getting far. Running out of time, they sent an emergency email Sunday morning to longtime mediator Jerry Roscoe, who was floating down the Danube River.
“Would I be willing to mediate an important case?” Roscoe said, recalling the dramatic email he received while on vacation.
Publicly, there was no sign of change in the posture of the two companies. So it was a surprise Sunday night, as dozens of reporters were checking into their hotels in Wilmington, Del., girding themselves for a weeks-long stay, when a strange note was circulated by the public information officer for the court: Judge Davis would delay the trial by one day. No explanation was provided, only an assurance that Davis would say more in court the next morning.

…as I understand it, in a fair few cases that last-minute delay for one last swing at a settlement deal isn’t all that unusual…but…this case was…what with the summary judgement thing & all…&…now we know which way it went…this seems important?

But behind the scenes, Roscoe said, he commissioned calls with lawyers for both sides, trying to feel out their red lines. On Monday morning, he brought them together for their first call.
Inside Fox, as the trial date neared, staffers dreaded the witness testimony that might come with it. Rupert Murdoch was expected to be called second in the witness lineup, right after Dominion’s PR representative, Tony Fratto, according to people familiar with the list. Lou Dobbs was expected to be the third witness. High-profile Fox News hosts such as Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity were also expected to be called, along with several behind-the-scenes staffers.

Revelations from pretrial discovery had been excruciating for the cable network, exposing a backbiting internal culture that featured employees who regularly doubted the content that aired nightly for millions of viewers. They privately rejected the myth that Trump had won the election, even as the network put forth conspiracy theories in the weeks after the November 2020 election.

Murdoch’s testimony loomed. His lengthy deposition, administered over two days, was internally inconsistent and promised a bonanza for Dominion’s lawyers. For example, he said in his deposition that he wasn’t involved in coverage decisions, but internal communications showed his executives relaying his coverage wishes. On Sunday, he waited in New York alongside Lachlan, ready to testify but also getting regular updates on the settlement discussions.
After that first call Monday morning, others quickly followed. Over Monday and into Tuesday, Roscoe estimated that he conducted as many as 50 calls with both sides. Some were long, others short, some on Zoom, others traditional phone calls. Lawyers and company executives joined, he said. When asked if Rupert Murdoch had joined the calls, Roscoe said that no potential witnesses had been part of the discussions with him.
By Monday evening, they still hadn’t made progress, and both parties went to bed expecting a trial the next day. On Tuesday morning, the lawyers suited up and headed for the courtroom.
Roscoe said that he quickly ascertained that Dominion’s monetary demand was not the only issue keeping the two apart. They were also divided by a dispute over the language that Fox would release acknowledging the court’s ruling that Fox had spread falsehoods about the company.

…they make a sound point about the fact dominon’s revenue being up to the point they weren’t planning to bring loss-of-earnings into their argument before the court might have been a chink in their case they were worried might be exploited effectively…but biased or otherwise, I was more interested in this part

Fox executives were also concerned that settling with Dominion could cause Smartmatic, another voting technology company suing the network, to demand an equally large payout. “If you give a large settlement here after discovery, it sets such a bad precedent,” one person familiar with the discussions said.

…well…a precedent, anyway…not a lawyer & all…but if I were…& on the smartmatic payroll…I’d be looking to get a lot of that crop of discovery included in my requests to the court

So at 9 a.m. Tuesday, a trial seemed imminent, even to the parties involved. Lawyers for both sides packed tables in the well of the courtroom and a row of seats behind, so many that one Dominion lawyer was forced to perch, hanging off the bench.
But when 1:30 p.m. arrived, Davis was met at the courtroom door by Dominion and Fox attorneys, and they all quickly stepped into a back room. For hours, the delay went unexplained. A CNN reporter tweeted that he had seen a top Fox lawyer showing a piece of paper to a lawyer for Dominion before the two went to a private room.
At Fox’s offices, top executives had been preparing to tune in to an audio line provided by the court to listen to opening statements and were as shocked as outside observers at the announcement. “They kept this incredibly close-hold until the very, very last minute,” one person familiar with the company said.

It was nighttime in Romania, Roscoe said. “There was just a sense of relief and accomplishment.”

He declined to say which side seemed more interested in settling. “I think they both were interested in getting this matter behind them.”
In a statement, Fox said, “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

…that “continued commitment” crack is such densely-layered hypocrisy that it makes me feel like I’m taking crazy pills…& that’s exerting more gravitational pull on my train of thought than feels productive

It was a far cry from the apology Dominion sought. But a Dominion spokeswoman said that the sheer size of the settlement was enough. “An apology is about accountability, and today Dominion held Fox accountable. Fox paid a historic settlement and issued a statement acknowledging that the statements about Dominion were false,” she said.

…I mean…honestly…I feel like that claim to have held them accountable feels like it’s in the same ballpark? …sure…in terms of the technicalities the court already ruled almost entirely in their favor…so there’s judgments against fox for hawking lies they knew were lies & they only scraped their way out without officially admitting what their controlling motivation was…but…they can eat the financial loss…& they don’t even have to eat discernible crow in public…so…not much of an accounting

There was relief, too, inside Fox, as it was spared more of what one employee called “a traumatic” episode that had preoccupied Fox’s rank and file. Fox executives had also been convinced that Dominion’s lawyers would work to embarrass their stars — and especially Murdoch — on the witness stand, and they were pleased the solution meant those people would be kept out of court, a person familiar with the matter said.


…& I take elie’s point about how maybe you’d feel better if you got a cut…but…I can’t help feel like the debt I feel I might legitimately be owed…isn’t financial?

Facebook users have until August to claim their share of a $725 million class-action settlement of a lawsuit alleging privacy violations by the social media company, a new website reveals.

The lawsuit was prompted in 2018 after Facebook disclosed that the information of 87 million users was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

People who had an active U.S. Facebook account between May 2007 and December 2022 have until Aug. 25 to enter a claim. Individual settlement payments haven’t yet been established because payouts depend on how many users submit claims and how long each user maintained a Facebook account.

How to apply for your share of Facebook’s $725 million settlement in privacy suit [NBC]

…still…deficits come in all manner of shapes & sizes

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers released an outline Wednesday for raising the debt ceiling, providing a competing option to the emerging Republican-only plan.

The proposal is vague. It outsources the task of finding ways to reduce the deficit in the short term to appropriators in a government funding bill and kicks the job of proposing long-term solutions to a new independent commission. It was released as a one-page summary.
It’s far from clear whether the proposal can pass the Republican-controlled House — or if Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will put it to a vote. McCarthy is working on his own GOP plan that he hopes to pass as early as next week.

…I mean…if these are the representatives of “we the people” that we’re working with…figuring out how not to wind up supporting #teamnoone is some convoluted shit

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a centrist who has worked with the Problem Solvers Caucus in the past, said Wednesday he hadn’t seen the proposal and declined to comment on it.

The idea of a bipartisan commission, or a “rescue committee” was proposed by Manchin and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, last year to come up with policy solutions that would keep key government programs, like Social Security, solvent.

Manchin said he discussed the plan earlier this year with McCarthy, who announced on Monday that the House will take up legislation to lift the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts in the coming weeks — a proposal that would have no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.


…particularly when you’re pretty sure there’s abundant proof a great deal of this stuff is enabled, facilitated, motivated & generally in thrall to some extremely profitable concerns that are long bankrupt in moral or ethical terms…even if it is as difficult as deep pockets can make it to follow that money

The day Donald Trump left the White House, his business was facing $900 million of debt coming due in the next four years. Working through those loans would have been a significant undertaking for any firm, but the Trump Organization was contending with additional challenges. Deutsche Bank, Trump’s longtime lender, was reportedly looking to end its relationship with the real estate mogul. Two other financial institutions, Signature Bank and Professional Bank, had spread the word that they were cutting ties in the wake of January 6, 2021. Meanwhile, the Manhattan district attorney was getting close to charging the Trump Organization with a series of financial crimes, including falsifying business records, conspiracy and fraud.

[…] In the last 15 months, the Trump Organization—under indictment, with its founder characterizing the charges as part of a “political Witch Hunt by the Radical Left Demo­crats”—has managed to rework almost all $900 million of the debt it had coming due. Two of its most troublesome Deutsche Bank loans, totaling $295 million, are now off the books. The former president sold his money-losing hotel in Washington, D.C., to an investment shop connected to former Major League Baseball star Alex Rodriguez and retired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, thanks to help from a firm tied to computer billionaire Michael Dell. Trump also refinanced $125 million of debt against a Miami golf resort and reworked a $100 million mortgage at Trump Tower.

[…FYI…this is in the context of a piece that’s dated 29/7/22…but in terms of how one leverages misleading “campaign” fundraising money into shuffling a house-of-debt-cards like that into something that could even charitably be described as fitting the sketchy description of the shape of that financial disclosure from the other day…the mind frankly boggles]

Trump’s business still has plenty of debt—an estimated $1.1 billion in all—but now most of it doesn’t come due until 2028 or later. Two loans that haven’t been refinanced—a $13 million mortgage against a property on Third Avenue in Manhattan and a $45 million loan against a tower in Chicago—mature in 2024. But neither of those should be too difficult to pay back. After all, Trump now has an estimated $375 million in cash on hand, more than three times the sum he had at any point during his presidency, thanks to the spate of dealmaking.

How did he manage to pull all this off? First, he got some help from Steven Roth, his near-billionaire business partner, who has a sterling repu­tation in the real estate world. Then Trump cut a miraculous deal with a murky investment firm called CGI Merchant Group. Finally, he found a Kushner family–connected lender to replace Deutsche Bank, which for years had financed his projects and overlooked his shortcomings. “Every business in the world is completely morality-agnostic when it comes to moneymaking opportunities,” says Mike Offit, who started Deutsche Bank’s relationship with Trump in the 1990s after the future president came off a series of bankruptcies. “He’ll always have lenders. Yes, it may be expensive. But there will always be entities that will lend to him.”

…iirc…he settled in the region of a quarter billion in outstanding debt…though we don’t know at how many pennies on the dollar…& took on maybe a little more…which assuming the terms are less favorable at this point would scale back to a “smaller” loan amount…but…well…it all adds up to something, I’m pretty sure?

Announcing a sale is easier than actually closing a deal, especially with that kind of price tag. One bidder, a local investor named Brian Friedman, offered $175 million, 35% of the proposed price but more in line with what industry sour­ces believed the place was worth. The Trumps turned him down. The pandemic hit shortly thereafter, and on April 3, 2020, the Trump hotel laid off 237 employees. Things stayed mostly quiet for a year and a half until October 2021, when rumors began swirling that Trump had found a buyer willing to pay around $375 million, a long way from $500 million but still well above independent appraisals.

Who would be willing to overpay for the former president’s property? The buyer turned out to be CGI Merchant Group, a small Miami firm with limited experience in the hospitality business, whose investors reportedly include Rodriguez and Mayweather. Hilton, which CGI brought on to manage the hotel under its Waldorf Astoria brand, also put some money in. But the full roster of CGI’s investors remains secret. The firm did not even share the names with the General Services Administration, the fed­eral agency that oversees the lease on the hotel, according to a letter that members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent to CGI. The investment firm did not respond to a list of questions about the deal.

But the huge purchase price prompted specu­lation. After all, Trump couldn’t even produce enough income to sustain a $170 million loan. “Oh, my God,” said Friedman, the investor who had previously tried to buy the hotel, when he first heard about reports that the place could fetch roughly $375 million, wondering whether there might have been some sort of side deal involved. “That asset loses money.”

To finance the purchase, CGI borrowed $285 million from two entities connected to MSD Partners, which invests the assets of computer billionaire Michael Dell, who is the country’s 16th-richest person, worth some $52 billion. A small internet-based bank called Axos, which MSD had worked with on other deals, also took an interest in the loan. The transaction closed in May, providing the former president and his family with enough money to pay back its Deutsche Bank debt, which had been set to mature in 2024. Plus, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, each of whom held a small stake in the hotel, received an estimated $13 million apiece. Their father’s payday, meanwhile, added up to an estimated $135 million.

The little-known bank Axos played a key role in Trump’s financial redemption. Flush with cash, the former president now had the financial strength to tackle his debt, but his previous banking relationships had fallen apart. Deutsche Bank had recently lost Rosemary Vrablic, the high-profile banker who had helped him borrow hundreds of millions of dollars before she resigned from the firm. Meanwhile, Ladder Capital, a real estate investment trust that had also helped lend huge sums to Trump, got wrapped up in an investigation involving Trump’s indicted CFO, Allen Weisselberg, and his son, Jack, a director at Ladder. (Weisselberg plans to fight the charges in court.)

Trump needed new lenders. Enter Axos. A small institution, Axos has $16 billion in assets, making it an afterthought on Wall Street, where lenders like JPMorgan Chase oversee trillions. Foun­ded in 2000, Axos in its early days largely focused on residential loans. The San Diego–based bank slowly expanded other lines of business, accumulating $61 million of commercial real estate loans by 2015. Then things took off. By March of this year, Axos had $4.3 billion of commercial real estate debt on its books, the biggest segment in its portfolio.

Still, Axos isn’t the sort of institution you’d expect to find restructuring a billionaire’s balance sheet. Classified as a savings association, Axos has limits on how much it can lend to any one borrower. As of June 2021, the bank said it was not allowed to dole out more than $204 million to any individual. Its biggest outstanding balance, the bank disclosed, totaled $145 million.

But Axos did do business with some big fish, including the family of Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, who had introduced his father-in-law to Rosemary Vrablic at Deutsche Bank. Axos wanted more. Via a mortgage brokerage firm, it learned about an opportunity to refinance Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s most iconic property. Ladder Capital had helped Trump secure $100 million against it in 2012, but that loan was set to mature in September 2022.


…old news…even if it is about new money…but…does refresh the memory about a thing or two…not to mention the righteous ire

An examination of legal filings, internal documents and land records shows Axos Financial has a history of handling atypical loans. [NBC…way back in april ’22]

…it’s a slippery slope…if you don’t tread carefully you can slide right up against a whole different kind of bad faith argument

On Friday, Fu Xiaodong, a former senior official at China Development Bank, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting 4.3m yuan (£503,466) in bribes during his tenure between 2007 and 2020. Days earlier, the former director of the supreme people’s court enforcement bureau was sentenced to 12 years in prison for accepting bribes worth 22.74m yuan (£2.65m). Meng Xiao was found guilty of abusing his position for financial gain for more than a decade.

That an official whose influence could be bought has been flushed out of the system is ostensibly a win for due process. But last week’s conviction came on the back of a string of investigations launched by China’s anti-corruption watchdog, as Xi renews his drive to clean out and control officials in the Chinese Communist party (CCP) – and beyond. “Intense scrutiny” has become the “new normal” in China, says Yuen Yuen Ang, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of a book on corruption in Chinese politics. “The campaign extends beyond fighting graft and into enforcing ideological conformity with the party line.”

Since Xi came to power in 2012, one of his flagship policies has been his anti-corruption drive. Xi sees corruption as an existential threat to the CCP and has made no secret of wanting to root out “tigers” (senior corrupt officials) and “flies” (low-level cadres). In Xi’s first year in power, more than 180,000 officials were disciplined, compared with about 160,000 the year before. In the next decade, 3.7 million cadres were punished by the party’s anti-graft watchdog, including about 1% of national and provincial leaders.

As well as helping to rid Xi of political rivals, the campaign has been popular with the Chinese public, with many people appalled by the accruement of riches that increasingly accompanied political office. The riches were often astonishing: a new study published by the Stone Center on Socio-economic Inequality, a research institute, found that in the decade after Xi took office, 91% of officials convicted of corruption were in the richest 1% of China’s urban population. Were it not for their ill-gotten gains, only 6% would have been in that elite segment. The authors Li Yang, Branko Milanovic and Yaoqi Lin note that “corruption is thus a very powerful mechanism of upward income mobility”.

Powerful politicians often find friends in China’s booming world of private entrepreneurs. Those businesspeople “prosper when their patrons rise and perish together when their patrons fall,” says Ang, the professor at Johns Hopkins. This year more than 50 senior figures from major banks and state-owned enterprises have either been investigated or disciplined by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the anti-graft watchdog. The party sees financial risks as a matter of national security. In February, the CCDI published an essay about the “battle” against corruption which criticised “financial elitism” in particular.

Several big names have been swept up in the purge. In March, the CCDI referred Zhao Weiguo, a semiconductor tycoon, to prosecutors after concluding that Zhao engaged in corrupt practices when he was the chairman of Tsinghua Unigroup. The firm was once one of China’s leading makers of computer chips, before it was declared bankrupt in 2021. In recent weeks the CCDI also announced investigations into Liu Liange, the former Bank of China chairman, and Li Xiaopeng, the former chairman of the state-owned financial conglomerate China Everbright Group. Bao Fan, a billionaire tech banker, was taken away by the authorities in February to assist with an investigation and hasn’t been seen in public since.

…do I like the sounds of that? …not a whole lot, no…but…do I feel like maybe locking up a whole swathe of money & influence peddling parasites on the body politic might leave the rest of us better off in a host of ways? …uh…kinda gotta go with a yes on that one?

Some might question why, after more than a decade of purges, the party under Xi still seems to be rooting out problems. Ling Li, a lecturer at the University of Vienna, says that the very structure of the party breeds graft: a lack of transparency benefits both autocratic leaders and unscrupulous cadres. Plus, Ling notes, watchdogs such as the CCDI are centralised, while “corruption occurs in a very decentralised fashion. That means you always have more corruption than the anti-corruption agency has the capacity to investigate.”


…see…they may be foreign but they’re just like us, really

Things you thought you’d never see. Hoped even. There are several possible cartoon personas Rishi Sunak might adopt. Lord Snooty, perhaps. Though perhaps Jacob Rees-Mogg has already bagged that one. Certainly the swot head boy. The archetypal snitch. Cuthbert Cringeworthy. But never in your wildest dreams would you have him down as the anti-establishment Dennis the Menace. Yet that is precisely who Rish! appears to now model himself on.

Early on in his exchanges with the Labour leader at prime minister’s questions, Sunak described Keir Starmer as Sir Softy. Clearly modelled on Walter the Softy, Dennis’s arch nemesis. The butt of all his gags. So presumably that makes Suella Braverman or Dominic Raab Gnasher the Dog. Though Gnasher was a great deal more likeable than either of them. But really?

Sunak was clearly delighted with himself. He beamed widely as if he’d said something hysterically funny and thrillingly clever. Several of his staff had been up all night thinking of “Sir Softy”. And Rish! had punched the air when he’d first heard it.

…that’d be this guy

Rishi Sunak has declared his wife’s shareholding in a childcare company that could benefit from a new government policy, four years after she invested in the company, a much-delayed new register of ministers’ interests has shown.
Sunak’s full entry for family interests says: “The prime minister’s wife is a venture capital investor. She owns a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd, and a number of direct shareholdings.” This links to a footnote, which mentions the shareholding in Koru Kids.

The prime minister is being investigated by the parliamentary standards commissioner, Daniel Greenberg, over whether he properly declared his wife’s shareholding.

Unlike the parallel register of MPs’ interests, the register for ministers is much less frequent – it normally comes twice a year rather than every fortnight – and the government’s adviser on ministerial interests does not include every item submitted.
Wednesday’s register is the first prepared by Laurie Magnus, who took over as the standards adviser in December, six months after his predecessor, Christopher Geidt, resigned amid unhappiness over Boris Johnson’s involvement in lockdown-breaking parties. The gap meant it was the first update since May 2022.

In an introduction to the register, Magnus said the list was not intended to be exhaustive, and that ministers should not be expected to list every interest for family members, as this would be unfair.

“The list is not a register of interests and does not therefore include every interest that a minister has declared in relation to themselves and their family members,” he wrote.

“To do so would represent an excessive degree of intrusion into the private affairs of ministers that would be unreasonable, particularly in respect of their family members. The list instead documents those interests, including of close family, which are, or may be perceived to be, directly relevant to a minister’s ministerial responsibilities.”


…that guy…going after a former head of the crown prosecution service…a dude whose job description was literally director of public prosecutions…as “soft on crime”…are we absolutely sure up isn’t down?

But perhaps we’re all just fools to be mugged off as far as the prime minister is concerned. Or maybe he’s just given up and handed himself over to the dark side. No more Mr Nice Guy. Better to fight dirty and stay in the game. Much more of this and voters might run for the hills. If they haven’t already.
Rish! immediately looked shifty, rummaging through his red folder for a killer reply. But he couldn’t find anything. Nada. So he just said that everything was great. Anyone who said anything different was a liar.

That was a bit of a turn-up, the Labour leader responded, raising an eyebrow. How come hospital waiting lists were worse than ever, the NHS was in crisis, rapists were going unpunished, phone calls to the police went unanswered and the government was unable to stop refugees arriving in small boats.

He could also have mentioned that inflation had remained stubbornly over 10%. Not that the government halving it will be quite the feelgood moment Sunak imagines. It’s not as if prices will start coming down. They just won’t go up by so much. A tub of Lurpak will still be unaffordable for many people. Food banks won’t be going out of business anytime soon.
What followed was nothing short of a shambles. The speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, showed that he is unable to maintain order. An ineffectual headteacher who has lost control of his school. Continually making threats on which he never delivers. And everyone knows he won’t, so they just ignore him. Shouting and jeering.

Starmer went personal. First calling out Sunak for being chilled on law and order, then Raab for being more interested in saving his job than doing it. Psycho looked almost teary. As if he knows the damning facts will be laid bare in the report into alleged bullying of staff that’s due any day.

That it’s asking a lot of the prime minister to conclude that 24 people were all making stuff up. Dom might need some quiet time. Just him and his punchbag. And the bodies bobbing gently in the Thames outside his office window.

The final exchanges were just pitiful. Sir Softy – only a few weeks ago he had been Dick Dastardly – and Cuthbert Cringeworthy. Two damp, dank sponges soaking up third-rate insults and attacks. No one any the wiser as they clashed over who had sent more people to prison. Who could lock up crims the longest.

As if the only thing wrong with the justice system was that people weren’t getting banged up for life for drunk and disorderly. Not that offenders weren’t being caught or that the courts and prisons were at breaking point.

You’d have hoped that both Starmer and Sunak would have known better. But both seem to imagine that getting lairy in the playground is the only way to win the local elections.
It was a blessing when Hoyle brought proceedings to a close. Though not for Chris Philp, the neediest MP in Westminster. The only person to take Matt Hancock as a role model. His desperation makes the skin crawl. He makes Tom in Succession look positively self-assured. It was Philp’s misfortune to be forced to answer an urgent question on Chinese police stations in the UK. Something he clearly knew nothing about.

“Um, I’ll have to ask the security minister about this,” he said repeatedly, looking across to his staff for inspiration. “It really should be him answering this UQ but he’s in Northern Ireland.” Of course he was. Tom Tugendhat had never been so thrilled to be awol.

The know-nothing shtick quickly grew thin. He couldn’t imagine how a Tory donor could have set up his own illegal police station for the Chinese state. One of the downsides of not having an imagination.

Philp soldiered on. He would be consulting the “law enforcement community”. He said that twice. Almost as if he was talking about someone security-curious. He was a disaster. That goes without saying. But much more fun than Sunak and Starmer had been 45 minutes earlier.


…that’d be these sorts of chinese police stations


…which is probably as worthy of discussion as this sort of thing

What Republicans Are Doing Is ‘One of the Odd and Scary Things About American Politics’ [NYT]

…or…indeed…this sort of thing

Inaction on ‘Chinese police stations’ under fire over Tory fundraiser link [Guardian]

…or…for different reasons…this stuff

Chatbots cannot think like humans: They do not actually understand what they say. They can mimic human speech because the artificial intelligence that powers them has ingested a gargantuan amount of text, mostly scraped from the internet.

This text is the AI’s main source of information about the world as it is being built, and it influences how it responds to users. If it aces the bar exam, for example, it’s probably because its training data included thousands of LSAT practice sites.

Tech companies have grown secretive about what they feed the AI. So The Washington Post set out to analyze one of these data sets to fully reveal the types of proprietary, personal, and often offensive websites that go into an AI’s training data.

To look inside this black box, we analyzed Google’s C4 data set, a massive snapshot of the contents of 15 million websites that have been used to instruct some high-profile English-language AIs, called large language models, including Google’s T5 and Facebook’s LLaMA. (OpenAI does not disclose what datasets it uses to train the models backing its popular chatbot, ChatGPT)

The Post worked with researchers at the Allen Institute for AI on this investigation and categorized the websites using data from Similarweb, a web analytics company. About a third of the websites could not be categorized, mostly because they no longer appear on the internet. Those are not shown.
The data set was dominated by websites from industries including journalism, entertainment, software development, medicine and content creation, helping to explain why these fields may be threatened by the new wave of artificial intelligence. The three biggest sites were patents.google.com No. 1, which contains text from patents issued around the world; wikipedia.org No. 2, the free online encyclopedia; and scribd.com No. 3, a subscription-only digital library. Also high on the list: b-ok.org No. 190, a notorious market for pirated e-books that has since been seized by the U.S. Justice Department. At least 27 other sites identified by the U.S. government as markets for piracy and counterfeits were present in the data set.
The Post’s analysis suggests more legal challenges may be on the way: The copyright symbol — which denotes a work registered as intellectual property — appears more than 200 million times in the C4 data set.
The News and Media category ranks third across categories. But half of the top 10 sites overall were news outlets: nytimes.com No. 4, latimes.com No. 6, theguardian.com No. 7, forbes.com No. 8, and huffpost.com No. 9. (Washingtonpost.com No. 11 was close behind.) Like artists and creators, some news organizations have criticized tech companies for using their content without authorization or compensation.

Meanwhile, we found several media outlets that rank low on NewsGuard’s independent scale for trustworthiness: RT.com No. 65, the Russian state-backed propaganda site; breitbart.com No. 159, a well-known source for far-right news and opinion; and vdare.com No. 993, an anti-immigration site that has been associated with white supremacy.
Anti-Muslim bias has emerged as a problem in some language models. For example, a study published in the journal Nature found that OpenAI’s ChatGPT-3 completed the phrase “Two muslims walked into a …” with violent actions 66 percent of the time.
Like most companies, Google heavily filtered the data before feeding it to the AI. (C4 stands for Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus.). In addition to removing gibberish and duplicate text, the company used the open source “List of Dirty, Naughty, Obscene, and Otherwise Bad Words,” which includes 402 terms in English and one emoji (a hand making a common but obscene gesture). Companies typically use high-quality datasets to fine-tune models, shielding users from some unwanted content.

While this kind of blocklist is intended to limit a model’s exposure to racial slurs and obscenities as it’s being trained, it also has been shown to eliminate some nonsexual LGBTQ content. As prior research has shown, a lot gets past the filters. We found hundreds of examples of pornographic websites and more than 72,000 instances of “swastika,” one of the banned terms from the list.

Meanwhile, The Post found that the filters failed to remove some troubling content, including the white supremacist site stormfront.org No. 27,505, the anti-trans site kiwifarms.net No. 378,986, and 4chan.org No. 4,339,889, the anonymous message board known for organizing targeted harassment campaigns against individuals.

We also found threepercentpatriots.com No. 8,788,836, a downed site espousing an anti-government ideology shared by people charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. And sites promoting conspiracy theories, including the far-right QAnon phenomenon and “pizzagate,” the false claim that a D.C. pizza joint was a front for pedophiles, were also present.
While C4 is huge, large language models probably use even more gargantuan data sets, experts said. For example, the training data for OpenAI’s GPT-3, released in 2020, began with as much as 40 times the amount of web scraped data in C4. GPT-3’s training data also includes all of English language Wikipedia, a collection of free novels by unpublished authors frequently used by Big Tech companies and a compilation of text from links highly rated by Reddit users. (Reddit, a site regularly used in AI training models, announced Tuesday it plans to charge companies for such access.)

Experts say many companies do not document the contents of their training data — even internally — for fear of finding personal information about identifiable individuals, copyrighted material and other data grabbed without consent.


…but…well…GI:GO…& that’s probably about enough garbage out of me…I mean…I have plenty more…but this is late as it is…& whose fault is that?

…might as well blame it on a classical education, or something

[…not that the other kind of grammar would go amiss, if’n y’asks me?]
[…funnily enough…once upon a time…I recall being told that various things were required for the greeks to birth what russell & others considered to be the history of western thought…one being a slice of society who could afford to sit about contemplating matters other than subsistence…& another…when you add it all up…being the concept of zero…which…along with that natty set of numerals…they cribbed from…well…the kind of place where the kid of a bloke who sold tents could go on to be the hand that writ

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.


…if a book falls open in a library nobody visits…is that still fertile ground? …any which way you look at it I’d admit I’m tempted to move a particular finger in a direction or two]

[…that’s nearly-but-not-quite the whole thread…& apologies for backfilling yet more to scroll through…but it sort of seemed like I was abruptly changing the subject rather than looking for something that might serve a similar function to that rug from the big lebowski?]

…I need coffee…how does it go again…like the desert needs the rain? …hmmm…no…that’s love, isn’t it…like the desert loves the rain…& I don’t love most of this stuff…& am very possibly into dangerously co-dependent territory where the coffee is concerned…so…maybe the tunes will take the edge off…when I get that far?



    • When I arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to live permanently in Manhattan, NYU was kind of a joke for-profit commuter school that out-of-towners conned their parents into paying for so they could party and do drugs downtown for four or six or eight years, whatever, and those parties were epic. Then came Friends and Sex and the City, and suddenly half the country seemed to think that a stint in Manhattan was a rite of passage, and NYU suddenly became competitive. The same thing happened with SVA (the School of Visual Arts) and Pratt in Brooklyn, and the New School. Cooper Union was always competitive, because it was tuition-free (I don’t think that’s true anymore) as were Columbia and Barnard, but they’ve always been real schools.

      It does not shock me to learn that NYU’s Board is stocked with shady people sitting in a sunny boardroom. They’re probably graduates.

  1. This is something that gets lost in the whole Fox thing…


    Hope they came pre-skidmarked!

    Happy 420 people

  2. All these families & even the Jan 6th rioters need to have lawsuits against Fox News!  They are the cancer and need to be destroyed!  This guy sat & watched Fox all day & night, is it really shocking that he was brainwashed to think all black people are trying to kill you?

  3. in unrelated news… my little city made the national news today…..that cant be good


    yep…thats not great…if i had to guess (and for the moment i do) we have our own little angel of mercy now

    last i heard (unconfirmed) 24 counts….which in the states would probably translate to about a million years in prison…. but over here will probably involve fairly little jail time…if any…but a potentially life long stay at a psychiatric hospital…with like weekend leave and shit if they deem him not dangerous to society…

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