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What Really Happened With Jesse Jackson's Reddit Appearance

| Tue Jul. 7, 2015 6:05 AM EDT

You may have read about the situation at Reddit, the online community that devolved into mutinous turmoil after the firing of a popular employee last week. Well, I was pretty close to the center of the storm, and I can tell you that there's more to the story.

The fired employee, Victoria Taylor, coordinated the "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) forum, where celebrities and regular people ranging from Bill Murray and President Obama to some random vacuum-cleaner repairman answer Redditors' questions in real time. In response to Taylor's dismissal, the site's army of volunteer moderators shut down hundreds of the discussion forums known as "subreddits," and while many of them have been revived, Redditors are now calling for the head of CEO Ellen Pao.

Because Taylor was fired a day after overseeing a problematic AMA with Jesse Jackson, many Redditors speculated that the two events were connected. Reddit's leaders and Jackson's people both say otherwise. In any case, I should weigh in, because I was on the phone with Taylor and Jackson during that AMA. Here's what I know:

One of the criticisms of the Jackson AMA was that, in some cases, his responses seemed out of sync with the questions. But this wasn't the standard AMA format, wherein an interviewee reads questions off the screen and types in answers directly. As often happens with other celebrity AMAs, Taylor selected Redditors' questions and asked them to Jackson live. She then transcribed his verbal responses and posted them on his behalf. Yet Jackson's AMA was even more complicated than usual because it was also one of the first in a forthcoming series of video AMAs to be released this fall. In this setup, he answered the questions in front of a camera in a ballroom in Los Angeles' Hyatt Century Plaza while Taylor communicated with him remotely from New York.

The most upvoted question began: "You are an immoral, hate-filled race baiter…" and went downhill from there.

The interview was meant to be an opportunity for Jackson to further discuss his diversity initiatives in Silicon Valley, which I'd covered in this recent Mother Jones feature. We suggested the AMA to him as a way to bring more attention to the issue—and to our piece. I was there in the Reddit feed during the AMA, identified as "Mother Jones," and also listening in on the call, where I helped Taylor identify questions relating to Jackson's work in the tech world. I could hear Jackson's verbal responses.

From the beginning, Jackson attracted a lot of hostile questions. This happens all the time on Reddit, but it soon became clear that his critics on the thread outnumbered supporters. People on Reddit pages can "vote" comments up or down, with the most popular ones rising to the top. The most upvoted question began: "You are an immoral, hate-filled race baiter…" and went downhill from there. Another Redditor pointed out that at least one person posting to the AMA had also posted in a notoriously racist subreddit.

Taylor asked Jackson the upvoted question despite its confrontational nature. It was hard to blame her, since Reddit does call it "Ask Me Anything." Jackson's response was criticized as rambling and nonsensical, and to an extent it was, but the critics may not have realized that he didn't hear the full question. Out of politeness, perhaps, Taylor had paraphrased it to omit the most incendiary language. It's also worth noting that Taylor's transcriptions, while generally accurate, were not verbatim.

Some media accounts called the Jackson AMA a "shitshow," but by Reddit standards, it wasn't all that unusual. If you look past the awkwardness, there were some illuminating and thoughtful responses that were eventually elevated by other Reddit users. This is exactly what Taylor had predicted would happen. She is widely known and loved on the site as someone who just "got" Reddit and worked hard to listen to the community.

That kind of trolling "is very typical for Rev. Jackson being online," said a Jackson spokesman. "We get that same Fox News/Hannity/Colmes/O'Reilly stuff almost every time."

So was the Jackson AMA reason enough to fire Taylor? Probably not. Taylor didn't return my call, but Reddit Chairman Alexis Ohanian told a colleague of mine on Thursday that Taylor's firing "has nothing to do with the Reverend's AMA." He later said on Reddit: "We're phasing out our role being in-between interesting people and the reddit audience so that we can focus on helping remarkable people become redditors, not just stop by on a press tour."

A Jackson representative who helped coordinate the AMA told me last week that he wasn't even aware of Taylor's firing and had never complained to Reddit about how it went. That kind of trolling "is very typical for Rev. Jackson being online," he added. "We get that same Fox News/Hannity/Colmes/O'Reilly stuff almost every time."

The Jackson rumor, however, is convenient for critics of CEO Pao, who now faces a Change.org petition signed by nearly 200,000 people calling for her removal. Pao is perhaps best known as the former Kleiner Perkins employee who unsuccessfully sued the venture capital firm for sex discrimination—a suit that in some ways dovetails with Jackson's efforts to diversify Silicon Valley. Pao has also made tolerance a priority at Reddit. She recently banned five subreddits dedicated to various forms of harassment, including one focused on racism. Reddit's trolls responded by flooding the site with content that harasses Pao.

Pao admits she made a mistake in firing Taylor in the way that she did. The moderators "should have been told earlier about the transition and we should have provided more detail on the transition plan," she told NPR. It also might have helped to consider the proximity of the firing with the Jackson AMA—though had Pao done so, Reddit being Reddit, another conspiracy theory would undoubtedly have risen to take its place.

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Donald Trump Just Issued Another Insane Rant About Mexico

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 6:17 PM EDT

Donald Trump is a dumb person who is dumb. For a very long time that dumbness didn't really come with consequences. He had his TV show and his hotels and a lot of fans in the Republican party. Sure, people knew he was a lunatic, but none of his corporate business partners really cared. That changed a few weeks ago when from his mouth biliously flowed some totally racist nonsense about Mexicans being rapists. Ever since the blow back from businesses newly ashamed of their association with Trump has been unflagging. Univision? Gone. Macy's? Gone. NBC? Gone.

Today, Donald Trump issued a statement aimed presumably to stop the bleeding. It is insane and will not have the desired effect.

Read it! Or don't. You don't have to read it. Read it if you enjoy reading insane ramblings. Don't read it if that isn't your cup of tea.

Statement from Donald J. Trump:

I don’t see how there is any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the statement I made on June 16th during my Presidential announcement speech. Here is what I said, and yet this statement is deliberately distorted by the media:

“When Mexico (meaning the Mexican Government) sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you (pointing to the audience). They’re not sending you (pointing again). They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs.They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people! But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people. It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.”

What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc. This was evident just this week when, as an example, a young woman in San Francisco was viciously killed by a 5 time deported Mexican with a long criminal record, who was forced back into the United States because they didn’t want him in Mexico. This is merely one of thousands of similar incidents throughout the United States. In other words, the worst elements in Mexico are being pushed into the United States by the Mexican government. The largest suppliers of heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs are Mexican cartels that arrange to have Mexican immigrants trying to cross the borders and smuggle in the drugs. The Border Patrol knows this. Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world. On the other hand, many fabulous people come in from Mexico and our country is better for it. But these people are here legally, and are severely hurt by those coming in illegally. I am proud to say that I know many hard working Mexicans—many of them are working for and with me…and, just like our country, my organization is better for it.

The Mexican Government wants an open border as long as it’s a ONE WAY open border into the United States. Not only are they killing us at the border, but they are killing us on trade … and the country of Mexico is making billions of dollars in doing so.

I have great respect for Mexico and love their people and their peoples’ great spirit. The problem is, however, that their leaders are far smarter, more cunning, and better negotiators than ours. To the citizens of the United States, who I will represent far better than anyone else as President, the Mexican government is not our friend…and why should they be when the relationship is totally one sided in their favor on both illegal immigration and trade. I have pointed this out during my speeches and it is something Mexico doesn’t want me to say. In actuality, it was only after my significant rise in the polls that Univision, previously my friend, went ballistic. I believe that my examples of bad trade deals for the United States was of even more concern to the Mexican government than my talk of border security.

I have lost a lot during this Presidential run defending the people of the United States. I have always heard that it is very hard for a successful person to run for President. Macy’s, NBC, Serta and NASCAR have all taken the weak and very sad position of being politically correct even though they are wrong in terms of what is good for our country. Univision, because 70% of their business comes from Mexico, in my opinion, is being dictated to by the Mexican Government. The last thing Mexico wants is Donald Trump as President in that I will make great trade deals for the United States and will have an impenetrable border--only legally approved people will come through easily.

Interestingly, Univision has just announced they are attempting to go public despite very poor and even negative earnings, which is not a good situation for a successful IPO or high stock price—not to mention that I am currently suing them for breach of contract. Remember, Univision is the one who began this charade in the first place, and they are owned by one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest backers. After the speech was made, there were numerous compliments and indeed, many rave “reviews”—there was very little criticism. It wasn’t until a week after my announcement that people started to totally distort these very easy to understand words. If there was something stated incorrectly, it would have been brought up immediately and with great enthusiasm.

The issues I have addressed, and continue to address, are vital steps to Make America Great Again! Additionally, I would be the best jobs President that God ever created. Let’s get to work!

 

Today's Proposal In Legislative Transparency: You Amend It, You Own It

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 5:37 PM EDT

Last week Wisconsin Republicans tried to sneak language into a budget bill that would have gutted the state's open records law. Sadly for them, they got caught and had to withdraw the proposal—which, Gov. Scott Walker hastily assured us, "was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way." Uh huh.

This kind of sleazy behavior is hardly uncommon, but there's one bit of it that's equally common and even sleazier:

State Republicans have refused to disclose who inserted the language into the budget legislation, which was approved late Thursday evening. Before dropping the provisions entirely, the governor's office said Friday it was considering changes to the proposals concerning public records law, but would not comment as to whether Walker was involved in the proposals in the first place.

Here's my proposal for transparency in legislating: every change in every law has to be attributed to someone. There's no virgin birth here. Someone wrote this language. Someone asked that it be inserted. Someone agreed to insert it. You have to be pretty contemptuous of your constituents to clam up and pretend that no one knows where it came from.

This kind of puerile buck-passing is way too common, and it needs to stop. Maybe if they knew their names were going to be attached, legislators would think twice before inserting egregiously self-serving crap like this.

Everyone Who Cheered On the US Women's Soccer Team Should See These Stats

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 5:36 PM EDT

When the US women's national team routed Japan in the World Cup finals Sunday, more than 20 million viewers tuned in, making it the most-watched soccer match ever in the United States. To put that in perspective, more Americans watched Sunday's matchup than last year's men's World Cup championship (roughly 17 million viewers) or all but Game 6 of this year's NBA Finals.

Still, the amount of money earned by the entire women's field compared to what the men made in Brazil is striking. As Mary Pilon points out in Politico

…the total payout for the Women's World Cup this year will be $15 million, compared with the total for the men's World Cup last year of $576 million, nearly 40 times as much. That also means that the Women's World Cup payout is less than the reported $24 million to $35 million FIFA spent on its self-aggrandizing fiction film, United Passions.

And that disparity trickles down to the women's champ: The USWNT will earn $2 million from the victory, nearly 18 times less than the German men's team received after winning the 2014 World Cup ($35 million). Even the US men's team, which was bounced in the round of 16 that year, earned $8 million.

As BuzzFeed's Lindsey Adler writes, "When the disparity in pay for women athletes versus men is raised, the argument often veers toward television ratings, with claims that women's sports are watched by significantly fewer people." Although that argument may not hold up for American audiences, it's worth noting that early viewership figures for this year's World Cup suggest that women's matches, though steadily attracting a global audience, are still far below that of the men's World Cup (188 million on average).

FIFA generated much of its revenue between 2011 and 2014 from TV and marketing rights from the 2014 World Cup, and it remains to be seen how much money in commercial revenue the women's games will produce. (The men's World Cup brought in $4 billion.) So while the most recent ratings suggest that the popularity of the Women's World Cup at home and abroad is heading in a positive direction, it will take far more to close the money gap.

South Carolina Senator Rants Against Gay Marriage During Vote on Confederate Flag Removal

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 5:16 PM EDT

In a historic 37-3 vote, members of South Carolina's Senate just voted to remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds. Monday's vote followed hours of debate, with lawmakers overwhelmingly making the case to do away with the racist symbol once and for all.

Perhaps confused by the subject at hand, Sen. Lee Bright used Monday's debate as an opportunity to voice his support in keeping the flag and dually attack the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision last month, not to mention the "abomination colors" showcased by the White House to celebrate the court's decision.

"This nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and they are under assault by men in black robes who were not elected by you," Bright warned.

"Our governor called us in to deal with the flag that sits out front, let's deal with the national sin that we face today!" he continued. "We talk about abortion but this gay marriage thing, I believe will be one nation gone under like President Reagan said. If we’re not one nation under God, we’ll be one nation gone under."

With more biblical references and anti-LGBT ranting, Bright went onto urge his fellow lawmakers to continue flying the battle flag. It was a rare moment of crazy, perhaps even for his two fellow Confederate flag supporters, who likely knew they had only one fight to lose on Monday.

 

 

Rick Perry Reluctantly Accepts Gays in the Military

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 2:49 PM EDT

A month before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, then-Texas governor Rick Perry tried to save his flailing presidential campaign by tacking hard to the religious right. At the center of his effort was an ad he released in December 2011 titled "Strong," which opens with Perry looking at the camera and stating, "I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

The Rick Perry of the 2016 campaign is sporting a new look, between the Buddy Holly frames, the speeches demanding that his party reconcile itself with its history and appeal to African Americans, and the denouncements of Donald Trump's comments about immigrants. And on gay rights, while he's still far from marching in a pride parade—last month he criticized the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide—Perry is singing a different tune on President Obama's repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. As flagged by Bloomberg Politics, Perry appeared Sunday on ABC's This Week, and when George Stephanopoulos asked if he stood by that ad, Perry sounded as though he still disliked the policy but was resigned to the fact that Don't Ask, Don't Tell wouldn't be restored. "I have no reason to think that is going to be able to be done," Perry said. "I think—you know, that clearly has already—you know, the horse is out of the barn."

Watch Perry on This Week:


ABC US News | World News

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There Are Things That Erode Public Trust in Science. Primordial Gravity Waves Aren't One of Them.

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 2:05 PM EDT

I had to laugh just a little when I read this last night:

Jan Conrad, an astroparticle physicist, claims that "The field has cried wolf too many times and lost credibility," and he worries that false discoveries are undermining public trust in science. He lists some dubious results which have caused a stir amongst physicists and the general public over the past couple of years, including the faster-than-light-neutrinos that weren’t, the primordial gravitational waves that are probably just dust, and several Dark Matter candidates which remain shrouded in uncertainty and contradiction.

When nutritionists constantly change their minds about what's good or bad for us, that undermines public trust in science. This is because everyone eats, and stories about diet and nutrition are plastered all over TV, social media, blogs, magazines, newspapers, and every other form of human communication.

But those primordial gravitational waves that are probably just dust? I'm here to assure you that 99.9 percent of the world doesn't give a shit. Most people have never heard of it. Most of the ones who have heard of it don't understand it. And almost by definition, most of the ones who do understand it have a pretty sophisticated understanding of the conditional nature of delicately measured new results in fields like astrophysics.

So put me in the camp with Jon Butterworth, who wrote the linked article, and Chad Orzel, who argue that the very fact of releasing preliminary results and then correcting them if they turn out to be wrong is what distinguishes science from pseudoscience. Nor, as Butterworth points out, would it help to keep results under wraps until everything is neat and tidy. "As I said at the time regarding the false faster-than-light neutrinos, imagine the conspiracy claims if the data had been suppressed because it didn’t fit Einstein’s theory."

All true. But really, the most important thing is simply that controversies on the bleeding edge of physics are of interest to only a tiny fraction of humanity, and most of them already know when and how to be skeptical. As for the rest of us, we just turn on our cell phones every day and marvel at how cool science is. Nothing about neutrinos or gravitational waves is going to change that.

A Reporter Reveals How the Press Treats Hillary Clinton

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 1:10 PM EDT

In what is obviously a carefully calculated bit of Bob Somerby bait, Jonathan Allen today reveals "the media's 5 unspoken rules for covering Hillary." Here's the nickel summary:

  1. Everything, no matter how ludicrous-sounding, is worthy of a full investigation by federal agencies, Congress, the "vast right-wing conspiracy," and mainstream media outlets.
  2. Every allegation, no matter how ludicrous, is believable until it can be proven completely and utterly false. And even then, it keeps a life of its own in the conservative media world.
  3. The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise.
  4. Everything is newsworthy because the Clintons are the equivalent of America's royal family.
  5. Everything she does is fake and calculated for maximum political benefit.

Read the whole thing for all the details. Bottom line: "This is a problem for Clinton, and it seems unlikely to go away." Yes indeedy.

Food Irradiation: Great Technology, Lousy Name.

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

Roberto Ferdman interviews Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University, about why the public's aversion to GMO foods has stayed strong even as the scientific consensus has become nearly unanimous that GMO foods are safe. Toward the end, though, he finally get to my hot button food issue:

Can you think of other forms of technology that have overcome consumer fears?

A perfect example is pasteurization in milk. At [first] it was very strange to people, and no one knew what to think about it. But today it’s widely accepted and viewed as improving the safety of milk.

Another one is microwaves. Everyone has them in their home today, but back in the 1970s it was close to zero. It took a bit for them to catch on, for people to warm up to them.

But then there are things like food irradiation that are perfectly safe but people seem to be permanently skeptical of.

Food irradiation! Dammit, Lusk is right: despite the fact that it includes the word "radiation," food irradiation is completely harmless. It's also really effective at killing the pathogens that cause all those periodic outbreaks of food poisoning you hear so much about. Irradiate your hamburger and you can safely cook it medium rare if you want. Irradiate your lettuce and worries about e. coli are a thing of the past. I wish someone made a cheap, personal food irradiation machine. I'd irradiate everything I ate. Unfortunately, irradiation machines tend to be the size of a dump truck and cost several million dollars, so that's not in the cards.

Maybe the Japanese should get in on this. They're pretty good at miniaturizing things; they're pretty good at selling consumer tech; and they've got a huge domestic market of people who are gadget and technology crazy and probably aren't afraid of irradiated food. Although I could be wrong about that, what with Hiroshima in their past and Fukushima in their present.

Anyway, food irradiation. It's cheap on an industrial scale, totally harmless, and makes your food safer. What's not to like?

California Should Allow Physician-Aided Suicide

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 11:06 AM EDT

Greece has pressed the self-destruct button, and no one knows what will happen next. Here in California, we are debating whether to create a self-destruct button, and no one knows what will happen next.

(Did you like that segue? Huh? Did you?)

In California's case, the self-destruct button comes in the form of SB 128, and it is both more personal and more literal than Greece's:

The measure, which would allow terminally ill people to end their lives with a doctor's help, passed the Senate last month on essentially a party-line vote, 23-15 — Democrats for, Republicans against.

Because the bill whips up emotion about morality based on religious beliefs and raises questions concerning medical ethics, it makes many legislators uncomfortable politically and personally.

The proposal is slated for its first Assembly hearing Tuesday in the Health Committee. But sponsors say it's short two to five votes. Ten are needed to clear the 19-member panel.

A handful of Southern California Democrats, mostly Latinos under pressure from the Catholic Church, are withholding support.

Great. Yet another reason for me to be revolted by the Catholic Church. If they believe that suicide is a sin, that's fine. They should forbid suicide among Catholics. But I'm not Catholic, and it's no sin for me. So go mind your own business, folks, and represent the will of all Californians, who overwhelmingly support bringing our state into the 21st century. There is no excuse for forcing terminal patients to endure excruciating pain for months if they don't want to. It's time to put the Dark Ages behind us.