And Valerian debuts, plus a plutocrat calls out his kin
Well, here’s a pickle for you, if you happen to be the President of the United States. On the one hand, you want law enforcement to have sweeping powers over all data sources in the country, so you can, you know, keep America safe from terrorists, criminals and scoundrels. On the other hand, it turns out that some of that data could implicate you and your campaign in a major investigation being chaired by, well, the folks in charge of law enforcement.
The investigation? Russian meddling in US elections. The data? Use of Facebook’s advertising and promotion tools to boost Russian fake news stories. And the big question? Did the Trump campaign actively work with Russian operatives to promote newsfeed stories that helped Trump’s cause, and harmed Hilary Clinton’s campaign?
Facebook so far has a half-answer to that question: “We have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election.” Perhaps, but what is known is that Trump’s campaign bought a ton of those ads — so many, in fact, that Facebook staff worked “alongside” Trump’s team, helping guide the campaign’s strategy (such coordination is not unusual for a large client). If a significant portion of that spend went to support the Russian fake news campaign, well, that certainly would be suspicious.
But like its kin Twitter, Google, and Apple, Facebook has a history of pushing back against government requests for sensitive data, and in this case, the government itself may well be split. Special counsel Robert Mueller (and every Democrat in DC) would certainly like a look inside Facebook’s records. But President Donald Trump may soon sound like a privacy nut — defending a private company’s right to deny information to the government on the grounds of protecting commercial clients.
No matter how this story untangles, the central role of Facebook in last year’s election will continue to be a major story. While he’s not said as much, it seems clear Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg woke up on November 9th and asked himself: What Hath We Wrought? His February manifesto was his first tepid attempt to address that question. It’s clear there’s far more work to do.
Friday Fun: You Want to See This Film
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets debuts this weekend, and from the trailers we’ve seen, we predict a pretty strong opening. But beyond its astonishing special effects (more than four times as many as in Star Wars Rogue One) or cult-followed director (Luc Besson, anyone remember Fifth Element?!), the movie sports some unique business characteristics, according to Quartz: It’s the most expensive indie-produced film ever ($180mm), but nearly all of that sum was pre-paid by sales of distribution rights — so even before the film comes out, it’s been paid for. That’s a pretty neat trick. Now grab some popcorn and settle in — this one has Bladerunner, Star Wars, Avatar, and The Fifth Element as its grandparents.
Pitchforks for Plutocrats
In an essay remarkable for its singular focus and unflinching language, Seattle-based entrepreneur Nick Hanauer admonishes the wealthy for failing to see what he sees as reality: Trump is a symptom, not a disease. The true sickness is income inequality, and if America’s rich don’t face that fact that “the 5 percent of GDP that used to go to wages … now goes to executive pay and record corporate profits,” America is on a path to either civil war, or dictatorship.
Hanauer is a well known progressive activist — he made his fortune as an investor in Amazon and as an entrepreneur who sold his company to Microsoft for a cool six-plus billion dollars. He’s made this point before, but in this week’s essay, he digs deeply into the policy he believes will address the problem: a federal minimum wage of at least $15 an hour, and strong government policies that protect the middle class.
“The most obvious way to address our crisis of growing inequality is to reverse the policies that undermined the older, more equitable norms,” he writes. “This means raising the minimum wage and the overtime threshold to their inflation-adjusted peaks, and indexing them to the appropriate economic metric. This means restricting the stock buybacks that have propped up executive pay through share price manipulation. This means rethinking our benefits systems and social safety nets to meet the needs of our modern economy. And this means substantially raising taxes on plutocrats like us who continue to capture the bulk of our nation’s economic gains.”
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