Donald the Drone Dealer | Inside Brazil’s “Office of Hate” | Online Shopping’s Dirty Tricks
August 7, 2020
It’s quiz time: Test your knowledge on recent world news with this short quiz. Submissions must be made by 12pm EST Monday, 8/10. The winner, announced Wednesday, will win bragging rights for the week as well as a free Daily Pnut t-shirt.
The Good News:
- Turns out kindness inspires positive change: You want people to do the right thing? Save them the guilt trip (Aeon)
- Building a more inclusive classroom: LEGO is making Braille blocks now (CNN)
- He’s a natural: UK police dog helps find missing woman, 1-year-old on first day (USA Today)
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
Trump Drones On
(U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
In 1987, Republican president Ronald Reagan’s administration helped forge an international weapons export control agreement known as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The agreement is not a treaty, nor does it impose legally binding obligations on the 35 member nations that are signatories. Rather, it is an informal political understanding among states that seek to limit the proliferation of missiles and missile technology. The US has relied on the MTCR for over three decades to help constrain global exports of missiles and missile technology to nations it views as security threats because of their nuclear programs, notably North Korea and Iran.
The Trump administration, however, has strong supporters of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially the president’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser Jared Kushner, who has close ties to the Saudi crown prince. In 2018 the administration said it was expanding armed drone sales, but it hasn’t been able to do so because of the limits set by the MTCR. Congress and the president have long clashed over arms sales to Saudi Arabia for its role in continuing the war in Yemen. In 2019, lawmakers passed a bipartisan resolution that would have required the US government to end its support for the war in Yemen, but President Trump vetoed the measure.
In July 2020, Trump and the State Department announced they would simply ignore the restrictions set by the MTCR and begin distributing licenses for arms sales. The move set off a wave of criticism from lawmakers in both parties, who said the administration’s decision to ignore parts of the agreement it found inconvenient encouraged other nations to do the same, which could lead to global proliferation of the technology.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the sale of advanced armed drones to any nation that is not a close ally of the US. One sponsor of the bill, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said: “If we allow Trump to start selling drones, we set a dangerous precedent that allows and encourages other countries to sell missile technology and advanced drones to our adversaries.” He added that the president’s action would also ” further enable the Saudis to continue killing more innocent civilians in Yemen….”
Nigerien Money Goes Up in Arms and Down the Drain
(Ludovic Marin via Getty Images)
- A confidential government audit of defense spending leaked to the press alleges that Niger has wasted at least $137 million of public money in a series of potentially corrupt international arms deals over an eight year period. Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries and a key regional recipient of western aid.
- The 53-page report by the Inspection Générale des Armées, an independent body that audits Niger’s armed forces, said much of the equipment sourced from international firms in Russia, Ukraine, China and elsewhere was overpriced, had not been delivered, or had been purchased without going through a genuine competitive bidding process. In some instances, documents had been forged and false companies set up, apparently to comply with regulations.
- The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an independent investigative reporting platform that obtained Niger’s government audit, said more than $320 million worth of deals out of a total of $875 million were problematic. The findings have become part of a bitter political battle leading up to presidential and legislative elections scheduled for later this year. (Guardian)
The Presidential Hate Machine
- Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro and his allies have been conducting a campaign of hatred toward the country’s institutions that defend democracy. Brazilians say a threatening, toxic environment has been fomented by the “office of hate,” an operation run by advisers to the president who support pro-Bolsonaro blogs and social media accounts that spread fake news and brutally attack journalists, politicians, artists, and media outlets critical of the president.
- The “office of hate” doesn’t have an official title or budget, but its work is subsidized by taxpayer money. For months, thousands of social media accounts — many of them fake — have been posting threats against the justices of Brazil’s Supreme Court, calling for the court to be abolished, or for a return to a military dictatorship. One Bolsonaro follower spoke of killing and dismembering the justices and their families.
- On June 13, members of a radical militia supporting the president sprayed the Supreme Federal Court building in Brasilia with fireworks meant to simulate a bombing. The action was livestreamed, and protesters could be heard shouting that the justices were “leading the country to communism,” and repeating words Bolsonaro had used to condemn an investigation by the Court against some of his supporters engaged in the dangerous, divisive activities.
- In all, the Bolsonaro administration is facing three investigations directly linked to this ‘hate machine,’ which has successfully pitted Brazilians against each other and eroded trust in democratic institutions. (NYT)
Additional World News:
- Lebanon explosion: What Beirut needs to recover (Vox)
- Gaddafi’s prophecy comes true as foreign powers battle for Libya’s oil (Guardian)
- A man left stateless for seven years: Behrouz Boochani Just Wants to Be Free (NYT, $)
- MI6, the coup in Iran that changed the Middle East, and the cover-up (Guardian)
- China Uighurs: A model’s video gives a rare glimpse inside internment (BBC)
- The last of the Zoroastrians (Guardian)
- The ‘Sweat’ you drink: Inside the meteoric rise of Asia’s answer to Gatorade (CNN)
- Think TikTok is big? Tencent in Talks to Create $10 Billion Streaming Giant (Bloomberg)
- Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’ and the Shadow of Caste (Atlantic, $)
- Poor and Desperate, Pakistani Hindus Accept Islam to Get By (NYT, $)
- The Coronavirus Is Never Going Away (Atlantic, $)
- Overcrowded Housing Invites Covid-19, Even in Silicon Valley (NYT, $)
- Covid-19 Is Killing Affordable Housing, Just as It’s Needed Most (Bloomberg)
- The Pandemic Is Changing My Mind About Having Kids (Atlantic, $)
- So You Want to Volunteer in a Coronavirus Vaccine Trial (NYT, $)
- Georgia teens shared photos of maskless students in crowded hallways. Now they’re suspended. (WaPo, $)
- Arizona was a Covid-19 hot spot a month ago. Here’s how it’s turning things around (CNN)
- After FDA eased hand sanitizer restrictions, some found with toxic chemicals (Vox)
- Hybrid Schooling May Be the Most Dangerous Option of All (Wired, $)
Gunning for the NRA
- New York’s attorney general Letitia James filed a lawsuit Thursday that seeks to dissolve the 148-year-old National Rifle Association (NRA), the most influential gun rights lobby in the country and a staunch supporter of President Trump. The AG has regulatory authority over the NRA because it’s chartered as a nonprofit in New York.
- The AG’s office previously presided over the dissolution of Trump’s scandal-marred charitable foundation. The civil action filed Thursday outlines numerous alleged tax violations by the NRA, and contends that years of corruption and misspending have irreparably undermined the organization’s ability to operate as a nonprofit.
- The suit accuses four current or former top executives of “violating numerous state and federal laws” by enriching themselves, their friends, families, and allies, as well as taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years. Millions in restitution are being sought from longtime NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre, as well as the organization’s general counsel, a former top lieutenant of LaPierre’s, and a former chief financial officer.
- Two more lawsuits were filed Thursday: one by the NRA against James, claiming the Democratic AG’s action was politically motivated and violated the organization’s First Amendment rights; the other by Washington DC’s AG against the NRA and its charitable foundation, based near the city, for misusing millions of dollars of the foundation’s money. (NYT)
No Masks? No Water.
- Hidden in the hills of Los Angeles, wealthy socialites have taken it upon themselves to make up for 2020’s lost party scene. In lieu of night clubs, private mansions have been converted into high profile hangouts, prompting city officials to rethink their approach to limiting social gatherings.
- In a Wednesday briefing, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti drew a firm line in the sand for those who have proven “determined to break the rules.” The verdict was plainly stated: if you are caught hosting multiple gatherings, the city will turn off your water and power. Citing that maskless social events were a major cause of the state’s recent summer case spike, Garcetti announced that those caught facilitating such risky behavior will face swift retribution.
- In cutting offenders off from precious city resources, the mayor is doubling down on his crusade against house parties, which he believes are the primary source for virus spread amongst people ages 18-49. Just when it appeared that the nation’s most populous county had control of the virus, a surge in cases amongst young people forced the state to reinstate a strict lockdown.
- Recent data from the Los Angeles County of Public Health revealed that adults ages 18-49 accounted for 60% of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of June. Especially concerning are the figures regarding those ages 30-49 — who are more likely to be hospitalized — which are responsible for the largest case rate in Los Angeles County.
- Only time will tell if the mayor’s threats will resonate with the rich and ignorant, but in staking such basic necessities such as water and electricity on compliance with city ordinances, Los Angeles could set a new precedent for COVID-19 enforcement. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Pelosi rejects possibility of short-term extension of federal jobless benefits (CNN)
- Senate coronavirus stimulus: Why Republicans are split on the next bill (Vox)
- Republicans Aid Kanye West’s Bid to Get on the 2020 Ballot (NYT, $)
- He Predicted Trump’s Win in 2016. Now He’s Ready to Call 2020 (NYT, $)
- Trump and his spinners are suddenly freaking out about Florida. Here’s why (WaPo, $)
- Biden’s Big-Tent Strategy Seems to Be Working (New Yorker, $)
- Barr Makes It Official—He’s Trump’s New “Fixer” (Politico) & Will Bill Barr Try to Help Trump Win the Election? (NYT, $)
- Mark Meadows isn’t saving Trump. He’s sabotaging the country. (WaPo, $)
- We Are Tracking What Happens to Police After They Use Force on Protestors (ProPublica) & How to address police “testilying.” (Slate)
Who Really Holds the Purchasing Power?
- Months spent confined in our homes have only expedited the inevitable: online shopping rules the retail landscape. As brick and mortar stores see their influence wither away in the Amazon era, we as consumers must learn the new rules of the game. Online marketplaces give sellers a whole new bag of tricks when it comes to dictating shopper activity, and shedding the light on the rise of “dark patterns” in virtual retail is one way users can regain some autonomy in the economy.
- Dark patterns are essentially digital elements of a website’s interface that are intentionally designed to nudge consumer behavior. A surprising move from Amazon during the peak of the pandemic offers a striking example. As supply chains across the world fell into disarray, Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce giant realized they needed to sell less products for the time being.
- Rather than removing products from their site or raising prices, Amazon simply tweaked one of their dark patterns to disincentive excess spending. They temporarily removed the “frequently bought together” feature that often accompanies specific purchases. Another common dark pattern trick is the use of artificial activity notifications: when a shopper clicks on an item, the website may indicate that other users are also looking to purchase said item, creating a false sense of urgency to encourage impulsive buys.
- These unassuming design practices become more worrisome when you consider the amount of personal data that goes into each Amazon recommendation. Large e-commerce sites are known for meticulously recording user’s spending habits and leveraging them for commercial gains. Dark patterns employ a number of individually tailored, psychologically deceptive sales tactics that can almost entirely eradicate a shopper’s autonomy.
- So the next time you hover your mouse over the “Buy Now” button, consider how much of this decision was left up to you, and how much of it was thanks to a crafty algorithm. (Wired)
- Human sperm don’t wiggle, but roll like ‘playful otters’ as they swim, study says (CNN)
- Why Are Plants Green? To Reduce the Noise in Photosynthesis. (Quanta)
- Why the U.S. Dropped Atomic Bombs on Japan (NYT, $)
- An interesting thought experiment on pressing the big red button: Can nuclear war be morally justified? (BBC)
- 3 Men Marooned in the Pacific Are Rescued After Writing SOS in the Sand (NYT, $)
- Antitrust Politics (Stratechery)
- The human body is sometimes surprisingly resilient: How Hot is Too Hot? (NYT, $)
- Beware of find-my-phone, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, NSA tells mobile users (Ars Technica)
- A Founder’s Guide to Writing Well — 8 Writing Tips: “Words and software share a wonderful attribute: Write them once and they can benefit an infinite audience at no additional expense.” (First Round Review)
- Egypt tells Musk pyramids were not built by aliens (BBC)
- Can loneliness be cured with a pill? Scientists are now asking the question (Guardian)
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