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Member since: Mon Sep 7, 2009, 12:57 AM
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Beware the cult of Brexit

Nick Cohen

In their frequent moments of self-congratulation, conservatives describe themselves as level-headed and practical people. If there were a scintilla of truth in the stories they tell themselves the government would not think of activating Article 50 this week. Unfortunately, for our country, actual conservatives and mythical conservatives have next to nothing in common. Unconstrained by a political opposition and egged on by a Tory press that makes Breitbart seem like a reputable news service, modern Tories resemble no one so much as the right-wing parody of left wingers: utopian, contemptuous of detail and convinced the world owes them a living.

No practical government would invoke Article 50 this week, this month or any time before the end of the year. The next six months in the EU will be filled by the Dutch, French and German elections. The French elections will undoubtedly produce a new government with a different view of Brexit. The German election just might produce one too.

... there is every likelihood that nothing worth noticing will happen in the first six months of the two years, because everyone will be waiting for European electorates to vote. The last months will be taken up with trying to get a deal (assuming there is a deal) ratified by the European parliament (every parliament on the continent will have a say on Brexit, you should note, except the British parliament).

... Political common sense would tell May and the Cabinet to delay implementing Article 50, and to prepare the country for trouble ahead. That they do not suggests that they are in a cultish trance. As does their failure to celebrate. You must have noticed that instead, of rejoicing that they have at last found their heart’s desire, Brexiteers harangue the rest of us with angry diatribes against our refusal to share their faith. They are the spit of true believers who cannot accept that heretics refuse to see the way and the truth and the life.


Leaked emails reveal Nigel Farage's long-standing links to Julian Assange

LONDON — There was much confusion Thursday when Nigel Farage was spotted by BuzzFeed leaving the Ecuadorian Embassy in London — the residence of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Asked why he was there, Farage replied that he couldn't remember what he was doing in the building, adding, "I never discuss where I go or who I see."

Emails leaked to Business Insider, however, reveal that UKIP under Farage's leadership had long-standing links to Assange.


The links involve long-term vigorous lobbying in the European Parliament against the European Arrest Warrant - not just in Assange's long-running Swedish case, but in principle - and goodness knows what else, given the secretive and amnesiac nature of Farage's visit to the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Tory whistleblowers accuse Conservatives of 'huge betrayal' of electorate over expenses

Two members of a Conservative campaigning “hit squad” in the 2015 election tell Channel 4 News the party “cheated” by not properly declaring its election spending.

Over the past year, a Channel 4 News investigations team has unearthed compelling evidence that the Conservative Party may have broken election laws to fight three by-elections in 2014 and win power in the 2015 General Election.

The Battlebus 2015 campaign sent a fleet of coaches filled with Conservative activists into 29 marginal seats in the final weeks of the 2015 General Election – to persuade voters on the doorstep.

The whole Battlebus campaign is now under investigation – after allegations that Conservative candidates may have broken election law by failing to declare the costs on their local spending returns.


Channel 4 News have been dogged on this, which follows on from earlier investigations of theirs. They even have a web page all about it, including a countdown clock to when the two-year statute of limitations expires, here: http://www.electionexpenses.co.uk/

And we could finally see some proper action quite soon:

Tory election fraud: Prosecutions could be started ‘within weeks’

It seems any prosecutions may begin well before the May 9 deadline. And before anybody suggests Theresa May couldn’t have been in on any Tory election fraud, her government will suffer – and could end – if enough MPs lose their seats as a result of this.

According to The Times, Conservative MPs and campaigners involved in the Tory election fraud allegations may face prosecution within weeks.


ETA: Through the wonders of Twitter, I can now add a key snippet from the Channel 4 whistleblower interview.


The whole 10-minute segment is at https://www.channel4.com/news/tory-whistleblowers-election-expenses-conservative-party-battlebus

Unsecured backup exposes global spam farm

A notorious spamming organisation responsible for the sending of up to a billion unwanted messages a day has inadvertently revealed its entire operation by failing to secure a network-available backup of its operations.

A cooperative effort between Mackeeper’s Security Research Centre, CSOonline and Spamhaus took place last month when Chris Vickery, one of Mackeeper’s operatives, discovered an unsecured and publicly exposed repository of company backup files containing damning information about the practices of River City Media (RCM) – an initiative led by notorious spammers Matt Ferris and Alvin Slocombe.

According to Mackeeper, RCM positions itself as a legitimate marketing company, subject to the regulations around mailshots, while surreptitiously {sending} approaching 1 billion illegitimate spam mails daily.


The database exposed contains 1.4 billion user details, including (but not limited to) full names, IP addresses and, in many cases, real-world addresses. Many of the entries are ‘legacy’ in nature, deriving from information gathered over many years, and often out of date. But Mackeeper’s cursory investigations on social media reveal that a great proportion of the entries appear to be valid.


Donald Trump Reportedly Eavesdropped on Private Phone Conversations at Mar-a-Lago

Re-upping this from June last year because this is how Trump rolls (allegedly), and with his current allegations, I have the feeling he imagines Obama was holed up in the Oval Office with his ear glued to a phone as Trump & Co. did whateverthehell it is they did and do:

Despite Donald Trump’s penchant for blacklisting media outlets, the man has an insatiable desire to know what people are saying about him. Every day, his staffers reportedly print out between 30 and 50 Google news results for “Donald J. Trump,” which they dutifully serve their billionaire boss. Trump’s intense urge to know exactly why his ears are ringing may not be limited to the news, either. According to one new report, the presumptive G.O.P. nominee allegedly went so far as to tap the phone lines at his Mar-A-Lago resort, using a special console installed in his bedroom.

Trump allegedly eavesdropped on conversations between staff members and possibly guests at the Palm Beach resort, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday. Citing four anonymous sources, the outlet reveals that club staff members were aware of—and warned that—the real-estate mogul would listen in on calls made using Mar-A-Lago landlines during the mid-2000s. One individual said, “it was acknowledged that when he was at the property there was a likelihood of him listening in on your call,” and another alleged that Trump “could pick up the phone in the bedroom and listen to any conversation that was going on.” The Trump camp has denied the eavesdropping accusations. “This is totally and completely untrue,” spokesperson Hope Hicks told Buzzfeed, whileMar-A-Lago managing director Bernd Lembcke said he had “no knowledge of what you wrote,” in reference to an e-mail inquiry from the outlet.

Two other sources who spoke to BuzzFeed on the record, Trump’s former butler Anthony Senecal and one-time director of security at Mar-A-Lago John Velez, also refuted allegations that the New York billionaire listened in on guests’ and employees’ phone calls. The two did, however, confirm the existence of the console in the New York billionaires’ private apartment on the grounds. This “switchboard” supposedly allowed The Donald to barge into phone calls. Velez said Trump simply used it to “dial out” because “trying to remember extensions to every suite is impossible.” Similarly, Senecal told BuzzFeed, “He’s got lines to all the rooms,” because “a lot of his friends stayed at Mar-A-Lago and he didn’t want to got through the front desk.”

This is not the first time Trump employees have suspected that he might be listening in on their private conversations. Last month, The New York Times reported that campaign staffers thought their offices might be bugged. Even the billionaire himself suffers from eavesdropping paranoia, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt that he assumes people are listening to his phone calls, The Hill reports. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do with the N.S.A.


Labour leapt into Brexit's fires - and now the party is burning


Party loyalists claim Wednesday’s government defeat in the Lords on the issue of EU citizens’ rights was a Labour victory. Not only is this untrue – Labour peers accounted for less than half of the 358 votes against the government – but it is also eclipsed by the importance of a much greater collapse by Labour at the start of this week, when the party voted against an amendment that would have encouraged a soft Brexit – not the hard version beloved by Theresa May.

Most fair-minded people accept that the referendum vote posed a hellish dilemma for Labour. The party, though not its leader, is pro-European. Labour was opposed to the referendum. It campaigned for remain. Its voters, never forget, voted by two to one to remain. But leave won the referendum. Inevitably, that put pressure on Labour to accept the result, not fight it. That was especially true in Labour constituencies where the majority of voters (though not necessarily the majority of Labour voters) opted for leave.

Gina Miller’s victory in the courts in January placed a weight on Labour MPs that they have struggled to bear. Labour voters and MPs are mostly remainers. Labour conference policy, endorsed at Liverpool after the Brexit vote, is to keep open the option of remaining in the EU if the final Brexit terms are unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, instead of standing up as much as possible for Britain’s post-Brexit place in Europe, Labour has increasingly kowtowed to the leavers’ mandate and to the noisy triumphalism of the anti-European press.

Fear of the effect in the Stoke and Copeland byelections played into this defeatism when the article 50 bill came before parliament. Since the referendum, Labour MPs have been transfixed by the belief that their vote in the north and the Midlands was now Ukip’s for the taking because of the issue of immigration. This is not true. As John Curtice put it here last week: “Labour seems to have forgotten (or not realised) that most of those who voted Labour in 2015 – including those living in Labour seats in the north and the Midlands – backed remain. The party is thus at greater risk of losing votes to the pro-remain Liberal Democrats than to pro-Brexit Ukip.”


The Problems with Facts and Persuasion

A trio of articles on this subject. None are the last word, and you may know of others.

Why People Are So Averse to Facts

Facts about all manner of things have made headlines recently as the Trump administration continues to make statements, reports, and policies at odds with things we know to be true. Whether it’s about the size of his inauguration crowd, patently false and fear-mongering inaccuracies about transgender persons in bathrooms, rates of violent crime in the U.S., or anything else, lately it feels like the facts don’t seem to matter. The inaccuracies and misinformation continue despite the earnest attempts of so many to correct each falsehood after it is made. It’s exhausting. But why is it happening?

Many of the inaccuracies seem like they ought to be easy enough to challenge as data simply don’t support the statements made. Consider the following charts documenting the violent crime rate and property crime rate in the U.S. over the last quarter century (measured by the Bureau of Justice Statistics). The overall trends are unmistakable: crime in the U.S. has been declining for a quarter of a century.

Now compare the crime rate with public perceptions of the crime rate collected by Gallup (below). While the crime rate is going down, the majority of the American public seems to think that crime has been getting worse every year. If crime is going down, why do so many people seem to feel that there is more crime today than there was a year ago? It’s simply not true.

There is more than one reason this is happening. But, one reason I think the alternative facts industry has been so effective has to do with a concept social scientists call the “backfire effect.” As a rule, misinformed people do not change their minds once they have been presented with facts that challenge their beliefs. But, beyond simply not changing their minds when they should, research shows that they are likely to become more attached to their mistaken beliefs. The factual information “backfires.” When people don’t agree with you, research suggests that bringing in facts to support your case might actually make them believe you less. In other words, fighting the ill-informed with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it’s actually going to make things worse.


How facts backfire
Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.


How to get people to overcome their bias

One of the tricks our mind plays is to highlight evidence which confirms what we already believe. If we hear gossip about a rival we tend to think "I knew he was a nasty piece of work"; if we hear the same about our best friend we're more likely to say "that's just a rumour". If you don't trust the government then a change of policy is evidence of their weakness; if you do trust them the same change of policy can be evidence of their inherent reasonableness.

Once you learn about this mental habit – called confirmation bias – you start seeing it everywhere.

This matters when we want to make better decisions. Confirmation bias is OK as long as we're right, but all too often we’re wrong, and we only pay attention to the deciding evidence when it’s too late.

How we should {try} to protect our decisions from confirmation bias depends on why, psychologically, confirmation bias happens. There are, broadly, two possible accounts and a classic experiment from researchers at Princeton University pits the two against each other, revealing in the process a method for overcoming bias.

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