How Michael Cohen, Trump’s Fixer, Built a Shadowy Business Empire – The New York Times

He was a personal-injury lawyer who often worked out of taxi offices scattered around New York City.

There was the one above the run-down auto repair garage on West 16th Street in Manhattan, on the edge of the Meatpacking District before it turned trendy. There was the single-story building with the garish yellow awning in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge. There was the tan brick place on a scruffy Manhattan side street often choked with double-parked taxis.

And then there was his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower overlooking Fifth Avenue, right next to the one belonging to Donald J. Trump.

Before he joined the Trump Organization and became Mr. Trump’s lawyer and do-it-all fixer, Michael D. Cohen was a hard-edge personal-injury attorney and businessman. Now a significant portion of his quarter-century business record is under the microscope of federal prosecutors — posing a potential threat not just to Mr. Cohen but also to the president.

Source: How Michael Cohen, Trump’s Fixer, Built a Shadowy Business Empire – The New York Times

‘My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro – POLITICO Magazine

Love, sex, and political intrigue. A great read.

Lisa Howard had been waiting for more than two hours in a suite of the Hotel Riviera, enough time to bathe, dress and apply makeup, then take it all off to get ready for bed when she thought he wasn’t coming. But at 11:30 p.m. on that night in Havana—February 2, 1964—Howard, an American correspondent with ABC News, finally heard a knock at the door. She opened it and saw the man she had been waiting for: Fidel Castro, the 37-year-old leader of the Cuban revolution and one of America’s leading Cold War antagonists.

“You may be the prime minister, but I’m a very important journalist. How dare you keep me waiting,” Howard declared with mock anger. She then invited Castro, accompanied by his top aide, René Vallejo, into her room.Over the next few hours, they talked about everything from Marxist theory to the treatment of Cuba’s political prisoners. They reminisced about President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated just a few months earlier. Castro told Howard about his trip to Russia the previous spring, and the “personal attention” he had received from the “brilliant” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Howard admonished Castro for the repressive regime he was creating in Cuba. “To make an honorable revolution … you must give up the notion of wanting to be prime minister for as long as you live.” “Lisa,” Castro asked, “you really think I run a police state?” “Yes,” she answered. “I do.”

Source: ‘My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro – POLITICO Magazine

These Ex-Spies Are Harvesting Facebook Photos For A Massive Facial Recognition Database

When Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, he tried to describe the difference between “surveillance and what we do.” “The difference is extremely clear,” a nervous-looking Zuckerberg said. “On Facebook, you have control over your information… the information we collect you can choose to have us not collect.”

But not a single member of the committee pushed the billionaire CEO about surveillance companies who exploit the data on Facebook for profit. Forbes has uncovered one case that might shock them: over the last five years a secretive surveillance company founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer has been quietly building a massive facial recognition database consisting of faces acquired from the giant social network, YouTube and countless other websites. Privacy activists are suitably alarmed.

Source: These Ex-Spies Are Harvesting Facebook Photos For A Massive Facial Recognition Database

Cambridge Analytica: links to Moscow oil firm and St Petersburg university | News | The Guardian

Surprise! Russian-born Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan has ties to St. Petersburg and did work for the Russian oil firm Lukoil (if not others). He claims he’s just a scapegoat but he certainly is looking more and more like a key player in Russian election meddling.

I wonder how North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis feels about getting elected with potentially Russian help?

Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data, had previously unreported ties to a Russian university, including a teaching position and grants for research into the social media network, the Observer has discovered. Cambridge Analytica, the data firm he worked with – which funded the project to turn tens of millions of Facebook profiles into a unique political weapon – also attracted interest from a key Russian firm with links to the Kremlin.Energy firm Lukoil, which is now on the US sanctions list and has been used as a vehicle of government influence, saw a presentation on the firm’s work in 2014. It began with a focus on voter suppression in Nigeria, and Cambridge Analytica also discussed “micro-targeting” individuals on social media during elections.The revelations come at a time of intense US scrutiny of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, with 13 Russians criminally charged last month with interfering to help Donald Trump.

In Britain, concerns about Russian propaganda have been mounting, with the prime minister, Theresa May, recently attacking Russia for spreading fake news, accusing Moscow of attempts to “weaponise information” and influence polls.

Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil company, discussed with Cambridge Analytica the data company’s powerful social media marketing system, which was already being deployed for Republican Ted Cruz in the US presidential primaries and was later used to back Brexit and Trump.

Source: Cambridge Analytica: links to Moscow oil firm and St Petersburg university | News | The Guardian

Aleksandr Kogan: The psychologist at the centre of Facebook’s data scandal, Europe News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

In a video published online in September, a social scientist named Alex Spectre made an earnest pitch for his new startup.Clad in the Silicon Valley uniform of open-collar shirt and blazer, Spectre boasted that his company – Philometrics – would revolutionise the way online surveys were done, making it easier for companies to design questionnaires that people would actually respond to on Facebook, Twitter or other sites.

Crucially, he said, the surveys could predict the responses for large groups from a small number of respondents and micro-target ads better.”The reality is working with big data, social media is incredibly difficult,” said Spectre, who more commonly goes by Aleksandr Kogan, which he uses in his role as a Cambridge University researcher.

“You want to work with people who have a lot of experience. You want to connect with people who have been working with these massive data sets.”

Kogan would know. On Friday (March 16), he was suspended by Facebook Inc. for his earlier work mining data on what the New York Times reported was as many as 50 million Facebook users and sharing it with Cambridge Analytica, a political-advertising firm that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election.

Source: Aleksandr Kogan: The psychologist at the centre of Facebook’s data scandal, Europe News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Drawing the lines on sexual harassment

Rep. Duane Hall

Once upon a time, I learned of a former female coworker who had allegedly been sexually harassed by an executive at the company where we both worked. He had locked her in his office and demanded sexual favors from her. The man held all the cards: she was fresh out of college, she reported to him, and who would believe her word against his?

I was shocked and sickened by this allegation, having never had a clue it was going on, and lost all respect for this man to the point that I later turned down a lucrative job offer simply because it would have made him my boss.

I think it’s pretty clear when your boss locks you in his office and attacks you, that’s sexual harassment if not outright rape. It certainly isn’t consensual nor anywhere near that. It’s plainly wrong.

Then the #MeToo movement came around, a long-overdue reckoning of bad-boy behavior. Creep behavior from the likes of Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Matt Lauer, and Louis CK was rightfully called out and, I believe, we could all agree that what they did was wrong. But then Sen. Al Franken was forced to resign for a scripted kiss with LeeAnn Tweeden, a female fellow performer, and for pretending to grope her in a photograph. Both were on a USO tour that was clearly sexually charged by all involved parties.

Is this sexual harassment? Franken had no power over Tweeden. Both had agreed to perform and perhaps both had gotten carried away at times. I failed then and I fail now to see how a scripted kiss between two actors could possibly be construed as sexual harassment. My Democratic Party was all too happy to throw Franken – a man of great integrity who was known to champion women – under the bus to serve some absurdly unrealistic appearance of purity.

Bad taste? Perhaps. Sexual harassment? I’m not so sure.

These incidents were on my mind when last week news broke from Billy Ball at N.C. Policy Watch that several women were accusing N.C. Rep. Duane Hall of sexual misconduct. Hall was accused of chatting up a female Democratic campaign worker when they met at a bar, had a few drinks, and the topic of relationships was broached. I’m sorry, but I fail to see how the banter between an unmarried legislator and a female campaign operative who agreed to meet at a bar could be considered sexual harassment.

It’s a bar, for goodness sakes! That’s what people do at a bar! Stuff that goes on at a bar should be off the record.

As for allegations that Rep. Hall grabbed a woman at the Equality Ball and snapped a selfie with her against her will, he denies the allegation and makes a valid point that there were hundreds of people there, making it difficult to hide any alleged misconduct.

Is what Hall is accused of a hanging offense? I am not convinced. I know Hall and, yes, he can be flirty. I’ve only seen this in social situations, however, and have never seen it in any professional setting. A single male legislator chatting up women in social situations does not strike me as strange. It might seem stranger to me if this weren’t the case. Politics is, was, and always will be a very sexually-charged business. Confidence, competitiveness, and political power are attractive. Not to mention that the unique challenges of holding public office can make it a lonely endeavor.

And it’s not just males who take advantage of this. Many women in political office are known to be just as flirty, even some who are almost certainly speaking out against Rep. Hall under the cover of anonymity. Having been around politics for a while now I, too, have been the subject of this flirting on several occasions, including an unwanted kiss from an elected official. You know what? It’s no big deal to me. My wife chuckled when I told her of the kiss, taking it as seriously as I did. No harm, no foul.

What I do have a problem with is the pretense that our elected officials should be saints because saints are in very short supply and those that arearound tend not to make good leaders. There are degrees of appropriateness in any situation and it’s wrong (and, frankly, stupid) to paint every supposed transgression with the same brush. To group what Rep. Hall allegedly did with the deeds of Harvey Weintstein and others is false equivalence and a dangerous trap to fall into.

How about we always let the punishment fit the crime and not submit to knee-jerk reactions for the sake of saying we’ve done something?

‘A Total F***-up’: Russian Mercenaries in Syria Lament U.S. Strike That Killed Dozens

Russian mercenaries in Syria tried to attack Americans. The U.S. Army kicked their asses. Putin talks a good game but when push comes to shove we win.

Recordings have emerged in which Russian mercenaries subjected to a joint U.S. strike that killed dozens of their comrades describe the incident as “a total fuck-up.”

Polygraph.info, a Voice of America project, published three recordings, which it received from a source close to the Kremlin. The source said that the recorded phone calls were made by personnel from CHVK Wagner, a Russian private military company.

The incident in question occurred on the night and early morning of Feb. 7-8, when Syrian government forces—backed by Russian mercenaries employed by CHVK Wagner—attempted to capture an oil refinery near the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. After Russian personnel came into contact with American troops stationed there, the U.S. forces responded with artillery and air strikes.

Source: ‘A Total F***-up’: Russian Mercenaries in Syria Lament U.S. Strike That Killed Dozens