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2022: A BAD YEAR FOR DICTATORS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 2, 2023 at 12:10 am

The year 2022 proved a disastrous one for dictators.                                              

The first of these profiled in this two-part series was Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

But the United States is not immune to those with dictatorial ambitions. Easily the most dangerous of these is former President Donald Trump.

But after escaping justice for decades, he now stands in danger of its catching up with him.

  • Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg won a resounding verdict against two Trump Organization companies for criminal tax fraud. Their executives had falsified business records in a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation for top executives.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Trump and the Trump Organization for engaging in years of financial fraud to obtain a wide range of economic benefits. Also named in the suit: His children Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump.
  • E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after he accused her of lying when she alleged he raped her in a New York City department store dressing room in the ’90s. Shielded from lawsuits during his Presidency, he lost that immunity when he left office.
  • In 2022, Carroll sued Trump again under the Adult Survivors Act, a newly-passed New York state law that re-opens the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in the state.
  • Altogether, Trump is now a defendant in 17 lawsuits at the local, state and Federal level.

Dictator #3: Elon Musk

Elon Musk had made himself the wealthiest man on the planet through his ownership of Tesla, the premier electric car company. But it wasn’t enough for him.

In October, he bought Twitter for $44 billion.

Immediately afterward, he careened from one self-inflicted crisis to another. Among these:

  • Laying off about half of Twitter’s 7,500 staffers.
  • Giving an ultimatum to the remaining staff that they must do “extremely hardcore” work or leave—causing about 1,000 employees to head for the exits.
  • Firing employees who openly disagreed with him.

An image of Musk smiling in a suit, sans tie

Elon Musk

The Royal Society, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Frequently and arbitrarily changing Twitter’s rules and banning people who violated them—including several tech journalists. 
  • Allowing Right-wingers to engage in misinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech, and restoring permanently banned accounts—such as Donald Trump’s.  

As a result:

  • According to Media Matters for America, Twitter lost half of its top 100 advertisers, which spent $750 million on ads in 2022.
  • Several current and former employees sued Twitter for violating the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 for Musk’s failing to provide a 60-day notice prior to mass firings.
  • As Twitter’s fortunes have increasingly declined, several Twitter alternatives have appeared. One of these is Mastodon, with 2.5 million members. Another is Tribel. Both emphasize their freedom from Right-wing hate speech and conspiracy theories.

Dictator #4: Mark Zuckerberg

Since he created Facebook in 2004, Zuckerberg has ruled as its unchallenged dictator. But his all-consuming drive for absolute control over not only Facebook but other domains has led to a series of highly publicized scandals.

According to the company’s profile on Wikipedia:

“Facebook has often been criticized over issues such as user privacy (as with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal), political manipulation (as with the 2016 U.S. elections) and mass surveillance….

“Facebook has also been subject to criticism over psychological effects such as addiction and low self-esteem, and various controversies over content such as fake news, conspiracy theories, copyright infringement, and hate speech. Commentators have accused Facebook of willingly facilitating the spread of such content as well as exaggerating its number of users to appeal to advertisers.”

Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote (32830578717) (cropped).jpg

Mark Zuckerberg 

Anthony Quintano from Westminster, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2021-22, retribution began catching up with Zuckerberg’s empire.

  • Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, disclosed tens of thousands of Facebook’s internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal in 2021. She testified before Congress that Facebook promotes conflict to increase its readership and keep them reading—and buying. 
  • Haugen’s revelations included that since at least 2019, Facebook had studied the negative impact that its photo and video sharing social networking service, Instagram, had on teenage girls. Yet the company did nothing to mitigate the harms and publicly denied that was the case.
  • In response to Haugen’s testimony, Congress promised legislation and drafted several bills to address Facebook’s power.
  • In April, 2021, Apple launched a new alert system to warn its users how Facebook was tracking their browsing habits. Facebook’s advertising profits have fallen, because a lack of data makes it hard to target people using iPhones.
  • Zuckerberg has spent at least $38 billion to expand his empire and create an immersive, virtual “Metaverse.”  So far, however, the gamble has not paid off.
  • TikTok has siphoned off a large part of Facebook’s original audience.  
  • “I think Facebook is not going to do well as long as [Zuckerberg]’s there,” said Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School. “He’s likely one of the reasons so many people are turning away from the company. He’s really lost his way.” 

“Look to the end,” Solon the Athenian warned King Croesus of Lydia. “Often enough, God gives a man a glimpse of happiness and then utterly ruins him.”

2022: A BAD YEAR FOR DICTATORS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2023 at 12:15 am

The year 2022 was not a good one for dictators.     

Four of them—one Russian, three American—suffered humiliating defeats. If these didn’t herald their coming overthrow, they certainly erased these dictators’ pretense at invincibility.           

Dictator #1: Russian President Vladimir Putin     

When he attacked Ukraine with 200,000 soldiers on February 24, Putin had every reason to believe that his unprovoked war would be a cakewalk. 

Intent on restoring the borders of the former Soviet Union, he had swept from one successful war to the next: 

  • In 1999-2000, he waged the Second Chechen War, restoring federal control of Chechnya.
  • In 2008, he invaded the Republic of Georgia, which had declared its independence as the Soviet Union began to crumble. By war’s end, Russia occupied 20% of Georgia’s territory.
  • In 2014, Putin invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched only verbal condemnations.

The reasons:

  •  Fear of igniting a nuclear war; 
  •  Belief that Russia was simply acting within its own sphere of influence; and/or
  • Then-President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on NATO and displays of subservience to Putin.

The assault on Ukraine opened with missiles and artillery, striking major Ukrainian cities, including its capitol, Kiev.      

Vladimir Putin 17-11-2021 (cropped).jpg

Vladimir Putin

Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

When Russia invaded, the United States—now led by anti-Putin President Joe Biden—and its Western European allies retaliated with unprecedented economic sanctions. 

Among the resulting casualties: 

  • The ruble crashed.
  • Russia’s central bank more than doubled interest rates to 20%.
  • The European subsidiary of Russia’s biggest bank almost collapsed in a massive Depression-era run by savers. 
  • Economists predicted the Russian economy could decline by five percent. 
  • The West—especially the United States—froze at least half of the $630 billion in international reserves that Putin had amassed to stave off tough sanctions.

Meanwhile, on the battlefield, fierce Ukrainian resistance staggered the Russians: 

  • Kiev remained unconquered. 
  • In late August, using missile systems supplied by the United States, Ukrainian forces destroyed Russian ammunition dumps and a Russian air base in Crimea.
  • In September, Ukraine reclaimed 3,090 square miles of northeastern territory from Russian forces.
  • On September 21, with Russian forces bogged down or retreating, Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 military reservists. All male citizens below 60 are now eligible to be drafted.   
  • Ukrainian forces retook the key city of Kherson in November; Russian forces, which had occupied the city since March, withdrew.  

Russia 'threatening Ukraine With Destruction', Kyiv Says | Conflict News - Newzpick

Ukraine vs. Russia

  • On December 11, Putin’s infamous mercenary army, the Wagner Group, suffered “significant losses” after its Luhansk headquarters was hit during a Ukraine artillery strike.
  • Tensions have flared between the regular Russian army and Wagner Group, with each blaming the other for continuing defeats.
  • Unable to win on the battlefield, Putin has turned to terroristic bombings and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure to break the will of the populace. Defiant Ukrainians continue to hunker down in makeshift shelters against cold and hunger.
  • Putin has been plagued by widespread reports that he’s suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s or some other disabling malady. Most embarrassing of all: A report that, going down a flight of stairs, he tripped and soiled himself upon landing at the bottom.
  • Most importantly: Putin’s attack on Ukraine triggered the danger he most feared: A hardening of the NATO alliance against Russia. 

Dictator #2: Donald Trump

The United States has its own share of would-be dictators. Of these, the most dangerous was former President Donald Trump.

For decades, Trump escaped justice for a litany of infamies—including those committed while he was President.  Among these:

  • Giving highly classified CIA Intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 
  • Using his position as President to further enrich himself, in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
  • Firing FBI Director James Comey for refusing to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump—and continuing to investigate Russian subversion of the 2016 election. 
  • Shutting down the Federal Government on December 22, 2018, because Democrats refused to fund his useless “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay for 35 days.

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Donald Trump

  • Allowing the deadly COVID-19 virus to ravage the country, killing 400,000 Americans by the time he left office.
  • Attacking medical experts and governors who urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves against COVID-19.
  • Illegally trying to pressure state legislatures and governors to stop the certification of the vote that had made Joe Biden the President-elect.
  • Inciting his followers to attack the Capitol Building where Senators and Representatives were meeting to count the Electoral Votes won by himself and Joe Biden. His objective: Stop the count, which he knew would prove him the loser.

In 2022, Trump found the law finally closing in on him:

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland launched an investigation into his illegally taking—before he left the White House—11 boxes of highly classified documents. If found guilty for obstruction of justice, mishandling government records and violating the Espionage Act, Trump could go to prison for decades.   
  • After waiting 22 months, Garland finally appointed a Special Counsel to determine if Trump incited a treasonous riot against the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 to prevent Congressional members from determining the winner of the 2020 Presidential election.  

WELCOME TO THE TWITTER SMEAR-A-THON: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 1, 2022 at 12:13 am

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Donald Trump fired nearly 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions. The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

Among these targets were:

  • His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton
  • His fellow Republican Presidential candidates
  • Actress Meryl Streep
  • News organizations
  • President Barack Obama
  • Comedian John Oliver
  • Obamacare
  • Singer Neil Young
  • The state of New Jersey
  • Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Donald Trump

During his first two weeks as President, Trump attacked 22 people, places and institutions on his @realDonaldTrump account.

Then, on March 4, 2017, Trump falsely accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election:

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

Thus, without offering a shred of evidence to back it up, Trump accused his predecessor—on Twitter—of committing an impeachable offense.

President Barack Obama

On May 9, 2017, Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey—for pursuing an investigation into Russian subversion of the 2016 election.

Just 72 hours after firing Comey, Trump threatened him via Twitter: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Trump had no such tapes.

And Twitter’s reaction to such a blatant threat?  Silence.

James Comey official portrait.jpg

James B. Comey

On February 17, 2017, Trump used Twitter to attack the Constitutionally-protected free press:

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNNis not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

“Enemy of the people” was a popular charge during the 30-year reign of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

On July 2, 2017, Trump tweeted a video showing him punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head during a WWE wrestling match.

Yet Twitter’s Terms of Service stated:

Hateful imagery and display names: You may not use hateful images or symbols in your profile image or profile header. You also may not use your username, display name, or profile bio to engage in abusive behavior, such as targeted harassment or expressing hate towards a person, group, or protected category. We will begin enforcing this rule on December 18, 2017. [Italics added.]

Even foreign leaders were unnerved by Trump’s obsession with Twitter. As CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer outlined in a July 3, 2017 article:

“To have one of the most powerful people in the room being someone who is willing to send out explosive and controversial statements through social media, including nasty personal attacks or an edited video of him physically assaulting the media, does not make others….feel very confident about how he will handle deliberations with them.”

On September 25, 2017, Twitter’s top executives justified allowing these repeated violations of “Twitter Rules,” tweeting:

“We hold all accounts to the same Rules, and consider a number of factors when assessing whether Tweets violate our Rules.

“Among the considerations is ‘newsworthiness’ and whether a Tweet is of public interest. This has long been internal policy and we’ll soon update our public-facing rules to reflect it. We need to do better on this, and will.”

Only after Trump incited a mob of his Right-wing followers to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, did Twitter ban him from its website. 

But Twitter has never acknowledged publicly that Trump violated any of its guidelines. It rarely even acknowledged Trump’s tweets.

Trump’s apologists fiercely defended his tweetstorms, claiming they allowed him to bypass the media and “communicate directly with the American people.”

One of those apologists was former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: “I believe it’s really important to have these conversations out in the open, rather than have them behind closed doors.”

Image result for Images of Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey

In April, 2017, Twitter announced that it had added 9,000,000 new users, its largest quarter-over-quarter jump in two years.

“We believe Twitter is the best at showing you what’s happening in the world and what’s being talked about,” said Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief financial officer.

“Having political leaders of the world as well as news agencies participating and driving that is an important element to reinforcing what we’re the best at.”

In short: Trump is good at attracting more Twitter users. and if the company needs to overlook his blatant and repeated violations of its “Twitter Rules,” so be it.

Twitter has been so plagued by trolling that potential investors like the Walt Disney Company have refused to taint their own reputations by partnering with it.

Cyber-bullying, racist comments, violent threats and reputation-smashing phony celebrity accounts have repeatedly brought Twitter harsh criticism. 

And now its new owner, Tessla CEO Elon Musk, clearly intends to restore Donald Trump’s Twitter account.

Not content with that, Musk has engaged in a Twitter-smear of his own.

On October 28, David DePape, a Right-wing QAnon fanatic, assaulted Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in his San Francisco house.

Hours later, Musk tweeted a Right-wing slander: That DePape is a male sex worker who was hired by Paul Pelosi. 

Musk later deleted the tweet. 

Anyone who wanted to know what the “new” Twitter will be like just found out. 

WELCOME TO THE TWITTER SMEAR-A-THON: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 31, 2022 at 12:22 am

Behind the racism
And the tweet
Behind the venom
And the act
Lies the Hatred.

In less than 12 hours, Roseanne Barr demolished her hit show, Roseanne, and threw the lives of dozens of men and women into unemployed chaos.

A short timeline is instructive:

May 28, 2018  – 1:45 a.m.

Roseanne Barr takes to Twitter and tweets: “muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes had a baby = vj”

[“vj” stands for “Valerie Jarrett,” a former senior adviser and assistant for public engagement and intergovernmental affairs for then-President Barack Obama. The reference to “planet of the apes” is Barr’s way of comparing Jarrett—who is black—to an ape.]

PHOTO: Roseanne Barr posted a tweet on May 29, 2018 that read, muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.

May 29 – 6:29 a.m.

“It’s a joke.”

[Apparently, Barr has suddenly realized that posting such a racist, poisonous tweet just might not be a good career move. So she’s trying to defuse the bomb before it can explode on her.]

May 29 – 9:28 a.m.

“I apologize. I am now leaving Twitter.”

[Obviously, she’s really worried now.]

May 29 – 7:33 a.m.

“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans.  I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better.  Forgive me–my joke was in bad taste.”

[This looks like standard boiletplate, perhaps crafted by someone familiar with corporate-speak. It’s clear that Barr or someone close to her not only recognizes the public relations dangers of her tweet but made an “I was only joking” effort to deflect those dangers. Barr’s idol, President Donald Trump, has often hurled despicable insults at people—and then claimed: “I was only joking.”  Perhaps Barr believes—or at least hopes—the same tactic will work for her.]

Related image

Roseanne Barr (Pinterest)

May 29 – 9:15 a.m.

Channing Dungey, entertainment president of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), issues the following announcement: “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”

Robert Iger, CEO of Disney (which owns ABC) tweets:  “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.”

This was, of course, not the first time that Roseanne Barr had starred in her own series.  From 1988 to 1997, she had portrayed Roseanne Conner, wife and mother of an Illinois working-class American family.  John Goodman had played her husband.

Their three children (Becky, Darlene, and DJ) were played by, respectively, Lecy Goranson (and, later, Sarah Chalke); Sarah Gilbert; and Michael Fishman.

The series reached No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings, and became the most-watched television show in the United States from 1989 to 1990.

The show remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons, and in the top 20 for eight seasons.  In 2002, Roseanne was ranked No. 35 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time

So when Roseanne pitched an updated version of her show to ABC in 2017, the network was naturally excited.

On May 16, 2017, ABC announced that it would revive Roseanne as a mid-season replacement in 2018, with the original cast returning. Eight episodes were ordered. In November, ABC ordered a ninth episode.

The rebooted version premiered on March 27, 2018, to an initial audience of 27.26 million viewers. On March 30, thrilled by the success of its premiere, ABC renewed Roseanne for another 13 episodes.

Thirteen new episodes of Roseanne represented steady work for dozens of men and women:

  • Actors portraying the Conner family.
  • Actors in minor roles.
  • Costume designers.
  • Writers
  • Editors
  • Makeup artists.
  • Caterers.
  • Sound techs.
  • Lighting techs.
  • Production assistants.

Then came Roseanne Barr’s tweet.

And, suddenly, all of these people found themselves unemployed—and uncertain about their futures in the fickle and often unforgiving entertainment industry.

Of course, the person most immediately—and rightly—blamed was Roseanne Barr herself. But she was by no means the only one worthy of condemnation.

A major portion of blame is owed the men who run Twitter.

According to “The Twitter Rules,” posted on the Twitter website:

We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up.

In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we prohibit behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.

Context matters when evaluating for abusive behavior and determining appropriate enforcement actions. Factors we may take into consideration include, but are not limited to whether:

  • the behavior is targeted at an individual or group of people;
  • the report has been filed by the target of the abuse or a bystander;
  • the behavior is newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest.

Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice….

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. Read more about our hateful conduct policy.

All of which leads to the question: Why didn’t Twitter police—and purge—the single greatest abuser of its “Twitter Rules”: Donald Trump?

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